Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Gripping Game of Action Packed Adventure

Your humble host is thrilled to discuss High Fantasy, a game which deserves more attention than it receives. Jeffrey C. Dillow created and playtested High Fantasy through the auspices of the Simulation Conflict Club at Indiana University in the mid-70's. As far as I am concerned, this is the epitome of 'old school' – enthusiasts at the dawn of the hobby crafting what they think a role-playing game should be. Dillow self-published in 1978 and, the following year, the game gained a new cover and was distributed by Twinn-K (apparently a supplier to hobby stores). In 1981, Reston Publishing (a subsidiary of Prentice-Hall) came out with a second edition. (It is a copy of this second edition which your humble host owns.) A few adventures were released; one supplement, Adventures in High Fantasy, even included a wargaming system. By all accounts, the adventures – some solitaire, some multi-participant – were of good quality. Things were looking good: quality material, big-time publisher, and then...and then...nothing.

Was the profit margin not sufficient for Reston?  After getting their toes wet, did they decide to forgo competition with TSR and Random House?  Did Dillow – for whatever reason – decide to retire the game?  It seems that Dillow treated the High Fantasy publications as an extension of his hobby rather than as a career.  What little information I have been able to locate about Dillow comes from 'Tome of Treasures'.  It appears that Dillow himself signed up with that forum last year only to write a single message.  In that post, he mentions that the 1983 CBS television series Wizards and Warriors acknowledges High Fantasy
in “the fine print at the end [credits].”  Thanks to the magic of YouTube, we can view this acknowledgement.

Specifically, it states, “The title 'WIZARDS AND WARRIORS' is used with the agreement of MATTEL, INC. and RESTON PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC.”  I think it's interesting that they use the word 'agreement' instead of 'permission,' but maybe I'm reading too much into it.  While the television series has nothing to do with the High Fantasy role-playing game, this statement is a recognition of Reston's 'right' to the phrase “Wizards and Warriors.”  You see, Reston had compiled two solitaire adventures that had previously been published separately (In the Service of Saena Sephar and Murder in Irliss) and published them under the title Wizards & Warriors.  It even has a Steranko cover!  Not one of his best, but it's delightful in it's own way.

Image appropriated from The Acaeum

I am of the opinion that the name 'High Fantasy' contributed to the game's obscurity.  I mean, more famously, the phrase refers to a genre; people are much more likely to think of the genre instead of associating the term with a product.  The title 'Wizards & Warriors' may have been an attempt at cultivating a viable brand for the product line.  Alas, the product line was discontinued.  Had Reston published a polished third edition with Steranko quality art and a Wizards & Warriors brand, I think it would have a viable fan base thirty years later.  Even so, the game deserves a reprint – if only from a print-on-demand publisher – for the ideas it presents.


  1. Hey, nice. I remember seeing this in Waldenbooks way back, and I ended picking up "Fantasy Wargaming" instead. When I went back with next month's allowance, the only copy had been purchased and they never got any more back in. I look ocassionally on ebay but never find it.

    Are you going to do a series on this?


  2. Interesting. I confess, I had never heard of this game.

  3. that's great Perdustin, i own High Fantasy and i hold it in esteem.

    As often happens, another fantasy rpg that should be better known by the masses, were they not already be hypnotized by AD&D. Alas.

  4. I adore the goofy-ass cyclops dragon on the cover.

  5. I owned the first edition back in the day and hunted down one of the adventures on eBay a few years back.

    If it showed up on PDF/POD at Lulu or DriveThru I'd buy the whole line in a heart beat.

  6. I loved the solo books as a kid in the early 80s, found the High Fantasy game in early college in a used book store, and many decades later, blew the dust off and currently run a crowd pleasing campaign with a childhood friend and his kids. The lean system and the interesting campaign world are so different than the style of AD&D/Pathfinder that we consider today when someone says "fantasy." I find the simple system allows for more storytelling, and it is a nice break for experienced role-players to revisit the old magic so to speak, and for younger ones to get more comfortable with RPGs in general without feeling overwhelmed with rules.