Heritage games: Wizards & Heroes

Back in about 1980 or ’81, Heritage Models USA was releasing a lot of rules to go with their miniatures.  The “Paint ‘n’ Play” sets (Crypt of the sorcerer, Cavern of Doom) even made it into Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs*.

They also released a much more ambitious system, Knights & Magick, which I’ve only seen in bits — getting a used copy of the boxed rules booklets will cost you something between treasure type G and H.  My brother got one of the “Paint ‘n’ Play” sets associated with it (Knights of King Arthur, which pitted Arthur and some knights vs. Mordred and his) so we probably saw a brief explanation of the rules there, but for some reason never tried them out — come to think of it, I think we had an incomplete set, lacking the rules, based on some stuff that I’ve seen online.  There was also a Merlin game with some simple magic rules for a game dueling wizards: Morgana La Fey and Merlin could cast spells at each other, and summon various servitors, to duke it out.  The rules of both of these have been scanned here or there online, and I guess you could reconstruct the core mechanics from those two samples (authored by Arnold Hendricks and Greg Sanford) although apparently the Knights & Magick  boxed set was stuffed full of awesome, and sounds like exactly the sort of game I’d like to run some time.  But those rules are are in a sort of limbo; no-one seems to know who owns the rights to them any more.

A pair of knights from the Knights & Magick line; the axeman's axe is a replacement. I love the simple but dramatic poses of the figures in this line.

They also released a series of mini-games,  some of which included plastic miniatures (!).  These included Woman Warrior and Cleric’s Quest; I’m not sure if there were others. The rules for these may have been based on their Swordbearer RPG.  The rules were credited to B. Dennis Sustare.

Another set of rules Heritage released was much less ambitious — Wizards & Heroes.  Coming in at just four pages, I was able to find the complete rules at a Yahoo group.  They are numbered “8210” and priced 25 cents … I am pretty sure they either came with a catalog, or could be ordered for $.25 and a SASE.  The rules are extremely simple and designed to run fast skirmish-sized battles — perhaps a dozen minis to a side, although in principle you could also rune mass battles with the rules, if you come up with some rules for units moving in groups.

Each figure has three stats — fighting, armor, and missiles.  These are rated 1-5, and you hit (or save in the case of armor) by rolling equal to or under the stat’s number.  The turn has four phases:

  1. player one moves, player two shoots;
  2. both sides melee;
  3. player two moves, player one shoots;
  4. both sides melee

You roll at at the start of the game for who will be player one and two (high roll is player one).  Some figures might be Heroes or Wizards, and these have some extra powers — Heroes get two attacks in melee, and wizards can cast spells instead of taking another action in any phase.  Wizards can be level 1-4, and can cast one spell per level per turn (a level 4 wizard would have to forgo moving, missiles, and both both melee phases to cast four spells).  A neat idea in the rules is that wizards gain levels only by surviving battles, and start as level one, so you have to keep your wizard alive three battles in a row to make it to fourth level!  The spell list is very similar to the ones in the Paint ‘n’ Play games. There is also a rudimentary points system to buy troops, and optional rules for morale, parrying & wounds (so a hero might take more than one hit) and monsters (which basically use spell-like powers and are statted out like regular troops).  The rules, like most of the miniatures rules from Heritage, were designed by Arnold Hendrick, and they certainly resemble the presentation and ideas of the other sets. They were published in 1980, and remind me of the ‘free’ simple rules you’d find in Prince August catalogs and the Ral Partha “Rules According to Ral” — there is no question the rules exist mainly to sell miniatures, but they are so rules-light that I am tempted to use them the next time my gaming group gets together but for whatever reason we don’t play D&D.  The only problem is that the version I found is a pretty poor scan and in jpeg format to I’d really need to retype them for reference.

Given their simplicity, and expandability, they might be a good basis for the Dark Tower game I’ve been thinking about — begin with a hero, who builds up a band of followers, searches tombs and ruins for gold and relics, and eventually besiege the Dark Tower, ideally all on one table with maybe a side table for the dungeon crawls, Crypt of the Sorcerer style.  That could a day or two of epic gaming…

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*I am not sure if the “Famous Monsters“** and Superhero sets made it into the catalogs too but I think they must have, since they were an even more mainstream theme.  Unfortunately neither of those sets is very well documented online.  The two fantasy sets are available as scans at the Heritage Reference Yahoo group (my “Dungeon Delvers” rules are based on them too) — and of course Scottsz is still hard at work creating what I think of as an “Advanced” version, Sorcerers of Doom, which from what I’ve seen is a really awesome sort of combination of the original rules, plus a well thought out system to keep it DM-less while running more complex adventures than the random-table-driven originals…one could even run an old TSR module solo using these rules with a few tweaks.

**Apparently there was once an effort to re-publish this game, with Reaper minis back when they were recasting some Heritage minis, but the announcement page (link goes to Wayback machine capture) seems to have come & gone in a flash. Copyright/trademark issues?

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Published in: on January 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm  Comments (11)  
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Some plastic dragons

The Dark Tower game dragon piece, which looks a lot to me like a Superior Models dragon, and more like a Ral Partha drake.

Superior models Dragon #6, attacking.  Image from the Lost Minis Wiki

RP 01-072, Cold Drake. Image from the Lost minis Wiki

Unfortunately he looks kind of silly head-on, as the wings are molded flat:

Here are two dragons from Fantasy Flight’s Descent game (identical models, painted black and blue):

The Descent game is truly awesome for minis.

Published in: on June 23, 2010 at 10:18 am  Comments (4)  
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Dark Tower … the RPG?

The Challenge: to retrieve the Ancient Magic Scepter that has been stolen by a tyrant king. The Scepter is the Power Staff of the Empire, and a kingdom has been offered as reward for its return. The Scepter lies hidden in the Dark Tower, guarded by a fierce band of the tyrant’s Brigands. Three magic keys will open the the tower to you. Find the keys in three foreign kingdoms, and you may lay siege to the Dark Tower.

In search of the key, leave the Citadel in your home kingdom with a handful of warriors. On your journey, you will fight battles, be attacked by dragons, lose warriors to plague and starvation and get hopelessly lost in uncharted territories.

But don’t despair! Visit the Bazaars to buy warriors and other supplies. Stop at the Tombs and Ruins to discover treasures of gold, dragonswords, magic keys, helpful wizards and the flying horse, Pegasus. The Sanctuaries are open to you, too, ready to outfit you with warriors, gold and food.

Once you discover the three keys, begin your siege of the Dark Tower. Start out by solving the Ancient Riddle of the Keys, then fight the Brigands within!

If you have a stout heart, quick wits and undying courage, you will retrieve the Scepter, save the Empire and win a Kingdom. Dare to Lay Siege to the Dark Tower!

–from the game manual, reproduced here.

Gamers of a certain age will remember the Dark Tower electronic board game.  If you’ve never played it, it was fantasy quest game in a “swords & sorcery” setting.  (Also, you can try out a flash version here, or download another version here; you’ll want the documentation linked from here)  Magic is uncommon and weird; the world is generally grim and dangerous, etc.  The game was somewhat simplistic but still did a great job of at least evoking a quest spanning a whole continent, with elements of exploration, dungeon delving, and battles.  In fact it seems a lot like what I have heard about the earliest D&D campaigns at MIT.

I think the “Dark Tower” model could be a really fun sandbox campaign.  The essential elements of the electronic board game were

  • logistics emphasis (food, gold, and encumbrance were a major concern)
  • mini-war game aspect (you had a number of warrior followers that did most of the fighting)
  • exploring tombs/ruins (mini dungeons to recover loot for needed supplies, and possibly magic items like the sword or keys for your quest)
  • multiple “parties” (each player & his forces, really)
  • several important followers/retainers (healer, scout)
  • random encounters (brigands, dragon, wizard)
  • quasi-sword & sorcery setting (nonhumans are monsters, characters are basically fighting men, magic is uncertain and usually hostile)
  • mix of outdoor and dungeon exploration

Anyway those seem like the most important points to me.  To make more of an RPG out of this, you’d probably want to let the players work together.  The really essential bits that would make this different that normal dungeon-crawl style D&D would be the fact that foes are very numerous outdoors and the players will have to command large forces of mercenaries, which will introduce the logistical challenges of feeding them, keeping them plague-free, and not getting lost in the wilderness become very important, since a few lost days is barrels of food & water and you can’t just gather berries.

The over-arching quest to penetrate the dark tower and seize the “scepter” smacks a bit of high fantasy and “adventure paths,” but of course one could easily change the nature of the quest or the Dark Tower itself to fit a more open-ended sandbox model.

Maybe the scepter only represents the throne of the four (fragment) kingdoms.  There would still be other lands to conquer or be invaded by.

Maybe the Dark Tower must be besieged and will take all the player’s forces to have a chance to crack it, leading to a climactic but entirely optional end of the campaign.

Maybe the Dark Tower, casting its ominous shadow over four lands, is a megadungeon (the other ruins & crypts being smaller dungeons), or a portal like a “Black Zigguraut,” or something else entirely.

After reading through some of Jason Vey’s thoughts on Chainmail in OD&D and his Age of Conan supplements, I think there may be real potential.

BTW, what exactly are these things? Aliens? Are they wearing horned tri-corner hats? Or are those antennas? Hair?

For the dungeon crawling, use OD&D and Chainmail.  For outdoors against brigands, use Chainmail, but use the “fantastic combat” rules if a dragon or wizard shows up.  PvP or other duel type fights would be the man to man rules.  Simple. Right?

Maybe.  I’ll be trying out Chainmail to see if it (1) is easy enough to play to be worth using; (2) is easy enough to LEARN to be worth imposing on players; and (3) gives satisfactory results for an RPG (the needs of a war game may not be the same as an RPG, obviously).

I guess I can see a one-shot, hopefully one-evening type game involving a small battle between the players (all fighting men) and some brigands outdoors, using the man-to-man rules. Survivors PCs are promoted to Heroes and they might face the dragon and/or wizard in fantastic combat, and then finally a mass battle siege on the Dark Tower, leading their men against brigands.  If these three systems of rules don’t confuse the hell out of us all, it could be a go.

Published in: on June 2, 2010 at 8:27 am  Comments (3)  
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Wishbook Web

Some time ago I saw a blog posting (I can’t recall where) headlined something like “My first games store was not a games store,” about how you used to be able to find D&D books and figures in department stores like Sears.  I distinctly remember my brother & I going to the Sears hardware store with my dad and finding Grenadier AD&D figures on a rack somewhere near the power tools(!?), which is the only place I’ve EVER seen Grenadier AD&D blisters.  A true hobby shop in town also had some D&D stuff very prominently displayed near the front,  lots of Heritage Models stuff including pre-painted figures and mini-games with plastics figures based on the lead minis, and most importantly open Grenadier boxes under the counter which they sold for $1 a piece — just the right price point for a kid’s allowance.

Anyway that made me remember that when my brother & I first learned about the Heritage adventure games, it was from a Montgomery Ward catalog.  (I remember a Jefferson Ward in town but I don’t think they were exactly the same.)  Hack Slash, another D&D blog, posted a Sears catalog page from WishbookWeb, an amazing nostalgia site, and so I checked the period Ward and — bingo!  Check out page 490 of the 1981 Ward catalog:

Yep, there is some awesomeness here indeed.  Dark Tower, the game with a commercial narrated by Orson Wells and some of the most amazing art ever, not to mention play that still holds up.  (Sadly, this game was quickly pulled, not because it didn’t sell well — it did — but because of an IP lawsuit).  Note also the electronic Dungeons & Dragons game.  I still have working copy but I don’t know if I EVER played the game through to the end, it was very abstract.  Anyway note the Heritage sets on the bottom of the page. (They helpfully note the figures can be used with Dark Tower and the electronic game too!  I suppose that is true, in a way, but I never did.)  I notice the Caverns of Doom aren’t mentioned, but I think they were released just after the Crypt of the Sorcerer.  I love that they share the page with a Ouija board!

What surprised me, though, is an item on page 23 of the same catalog which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.  It looks like a diorama set with Heritage miniatures, and says it is exclusive to Ward, but I think the cardboard diorama may have been sold separately by Heritage at some point:

At $27.99 that was quite a pricey set.  14 figures are mentioned, but no paints.  Some of the figures are recognizable, particularly the Crypt sorcerer in the inset.  Rules are mentioned too, but no map, so I can’t say whether this would be some other Heritage rule set or what.

Oh, and here is something I had completely forgotten about, and will be haunted by in my nightmares:

We laugh and squirt water!  We laugh and float, disembodied, down the hall and creep into your room while you sleep!  You’ll notice they all have the same horrific cretin/Baba Yaga face, with different costumes.  WTF?

Published in: on November 28, 2009 at 2:18 pm  Comments (3)  
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