Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Adventurer's Handbook

Caucasian characters hover over their Caucasian players.
L to R: Aloysious, Barostan, Bridla, Dernfara, Joleen, Rokana

In 1984, our old friends at Reston Publishing produced The Adventurer's Handbook – a guide to role-playing games, “a book written for people new to the role playing field.”  It was written by Bob Albrecht and Greg Stafford.  An introductory RPG guide co-authored by one of the premiere game designers of the old school era deserves examination.

The book is a 'guide' in two ways.  Part 1 (with 145 pages) discusses how to play RPGs while Part 2 (with 50 pages) is a then-current overview of role-playing games including a chapter that lists companies that publish RPGs and/or RPG accessories.  For example, the entire description for Ral Partha states, “Figures are the mainstay of this company, with many high quality lines of figures.  Small games, using special (simple) rules are also made, including Witch Mountain and others.”  (I think they mean Witch's Caldron.)

Part 1 is presented in an 'educational' format; questions are posed to the reader and the answers are provided at the end of each chapter.  An example question:
You are playing in a game and you need to roll 1D20.  Oh oh!  You can't find your D20, with sides numbered 1 to 20.  However, you do have a 20-sided digit die, with sides numbered 0 to 9, each number appearing twice on the die.  How can you use your 20-sided digit die to roll D20?
Reston seems to have published many 'educational' books, such as Essentials of Soil Mechanics and Foundations and Tailoring: Traditional and Contemporary Techniques.  It also seems that Albrecht's other writing credits are limited to 'educational' books about computer programming.  Part 1 teaches the reader about RPGs and gradually introduces an actual system.  According to Chapter 1, “Our system will prepare you to understand and play Magic World (from Worlds of Wonder) and RuneQuest.”  In fact, Part 1 concludes with an Adventurer's Handbook character sheet printed opposite a Magic World character sheet.  Also, one of the example characters, Rurik, is a RuneQuest character somehow visiting from Glorantha.

Part 2 rates RPGs of the time from one to four stars as an indicator of suitability for beginners.  Of the major games systems (identified as D&D, Tunnels & Trolls, Chivalry & Sorcery, Traveller, RuneQuest, AD&D, The Fantasy Trip, DragonQuest, and Worlds of Wonder), all receive a four-star rating except D&D, AD&D, and C&S.  (The Fantasy Trip receives three stars on page 175 but four stars on page 186.)  The authors specifically recommend T&T and Worlds of Wonder.

In its section on Worlds of Wonder, Chapter 11 mentions Worlds of Wonder #2 as though this product was available.  It is described thus:
This is a set of three additional games that explores the available possibilities.  It includes Mutant World, Robot World, and Dinosaur World.  Future releases will explore historical and traditional themes as well.
Sadly, this product never reached market and Worlds of Wonder fell by the wayside.

The point of an introductory handbook about role-playing games is to educate people about the hobby and potentially bolster the ranks of RPG players.  As such, the tone should be welcoming.  A cover that features half-a-dozen white folk and no concession to other ethnicities sends a message of exclusion.  Of course, half of the players and their respective characters are female.  This is interesting in that, according to the handbook's character generation rules, gender is determined by a die roll.  An even result indicates the character is female.  “(After all, you didn't think two male authors would dare use 'odd' for female, did you?  You did?  Beware!)”  Evidently, misandry is real.

The Adventurer's Handbook does a thorough job of presenting the mechanics of RPGs but it could have provided more information about the nuances of being a player.  There is no advice on being a game master, but the book doesn't claim to be a resource for game masters.

Chapter 2 contains a section about probability called 'You will probably skip this section'.  Although such knowledge might be helpful, it certainly isn't necessary for a beginner.  It would be better suited as an appendix instead of a section early in the book where it might intimidate someone trying to learn about role-playing games.

An introductory guide does not need irrelevant comments inserted by the authors.  Members of the Thieves' Guild in the handbook's setting “may not steal from the poor.”  This is immediately followed by, “In our time, most large corporations and governments could not qualify for this Thieves' Guild – there are other, less honorable guilds for them.”  Elsewhere in the handbook, “Note:  In America, we have kings and generals who love war machines more than they love people.”  Whether you agree with the sentiment or not, these statements have no bearing on the subject matter; they serve only to distract.

As a last observation for this post, the art in The Adventurer's Handbook is simplistic and bland; even a book on soil mechanics deserves better.  I mean books in Braille have better illustrations.

Pulse-pounding RPG action!  Will he leave a tip?!?


  1. This is an interesting piece of history. Does one get a prize for making hand drawn figures look like they were computer drawn? Or were they early computer drawn figures? Re: the last one. He won't leave a tip. That looks like me at a bar, hiding from the bill...

    1. Albrecht wrote several books on computer programming, so it's possible it was computer art. However, in my opinion, it is hand drawn in a “clip-art deco” style.

      Incidentally, no credit is given to the artist. (Perhaps it wasn't deserved?) Then again, no credit is given to the editor (if there was one).

    2. Looks handdrawn to me. 1984 was awfully early for digital art at a pricepoint a small publsher could afford and have come out looking that good.

  2. There were pans for aWorlds of Wonder #2 and those asshats didnkt move forward..... Jerkwads the first set was an excellent gateway drug to other BRP games and the small rulebooks didn't scare off payers. I had plenty of MagicWorld, a brief futureword campaign and superworld was a goto game for when we couldn't get enough people together for a proper dungeon romp. It was. Aheck of a lot easier to get people into MagicWrld when it was 16 or so pages in addition to the BRP booklet than it ever was to get peope into Runequest.

    1. I can't confirm this, but I think the Worlds of Wonder product line may have been discontinued because of litigation.

    2. Litigation? Do you mean Hero Games thought Superworld looked too much like Champions?

    3. No, nothing was wrong with Superworld; certainly not from the perspective of Hero Games. There were a couple of dual-statted Superworld/Champions adventures published.

      I found something about WoW legal issues on the Internet (which was why I was hesitant to claim it as fact). Unfortunately, I cannot immediately locate the source of that information.

    4. Here it is:


      Take it for what it's worth.

  3. I'm not sure about the cover "sending a message of exclusion". More likely the author was white, had mainly white friends and lived in a mainly white neighborhood, so he just created what seemed natural to him. The idea that he should take care to create a vision that mirrored the demographics of the nation as a whole, as a kind of special gesture or outreach, is to impose an anachronistic morality.

    1. 'Morality' is your word, not mine. I'm speaking in terms of marketing. The creators made certain to emphasize a 50/50 gender ratio. The creators also included political commentary. They were sufficiently aware of social issues that they ought to have considered racial demographics.
      I'm not saying that the creators intended to exclude non-whites but it's not the intent that matters, it's the effect.