My Amazing High Fantasy Adventure
The origin of High Fantasy role-playing as it first appeared in a blog on Thoul’s Paradise in 2015
Jeffrey C. Dillow
Before I talk about our new books, I would like to give you a few highlights about my most amazing adventure with the role-playing game, High Fantasy. I hope you will find most of this story interesting and very familiar to your own RPG experience. One thing that I have noticed since writing the game in 1974; however, is that “trolls” sure have gotten a lot bigger since then.
My adventure begins in 1974 at Indiana University and then continues today in New Jersey where I have spent most of my life. You see, I am a Hoosier at heart wrapped in the attitude of a Jersey Boy.
Like most of you, I picked up the first publication of Dungeons and Dragons and tried to play it. I found it to be a beautiful concept, but very flawed and nearly unplayable. Now we are talking about the original edition. Slow down “trolls”, this is not meant to be disparaging of the well thought out and fun game Advanced Dungeons and Dragons that came later.
In high school, I played every board game available. I also created games, including a world social event game that was taught in my high school as a social studies elective. So, when I picked up the first edition of D&D, it seemed unfair and out of balance. In game theory there needs to be a balance and a fairness for the players. One of the things I saw early on was that the Wizard character was more powerful and not equal in gaming terms with the other characters. Weapons were not historically accurate in their abilities, ranges, etc. Again, these were flaws I noticed among others and as we all know, were fixed in later editions.
I wrote my own set of rules at Indiana and played and tested them with friends at the school’s gaming clubs. I had no intention of ever publishing.
After graduating college, two of my closest friends and avid High Fantasy players passed away suddenly in a boating accident. My wife and I took the game to the local copy business and printed up 100 copies with a beautiful orange cover where I drew the artwork. There are two amazing facts in that last sentence; one, I never drew anything in my life until then and the cover looks like it; and two, my wife was one of the earliest RPG female game players. So there non-believers. There were actually good looking women playing RPG right from the beginning.
We took our game around to conventions where we set up a large gaming table filled with handmade castles. We had complete working models of all of the adventures that were published later. We took the money made from sales and reinvested to print more booklets. We started to get noticed. We started to have lines waiting at our booth to play the game.
I think we got up to about 1,000 copies sold when we got our first big break. An Indianapolis company called Twinn K saw us and wanted to diversify their chain of products. Who was Twinn K you ask? Twinn K was the largest distributer of racing tires and accessories in the world. I guess I should also mention I am talking about “slot cars”. As slot cars were vanishing, they needed to diversify. Most importantly, through the kindness of the owner we went from selling products locally to suddenly being distributed to every hobby store in America over night! We ditched my hand drawings, went to black and white, and then quickly moved to glorious full color.
Now we were selling! Now we could take those adventure stories we had been playing and publish those, also in glorious color. (Fortress Ellendar and Moorguard)
If you stayed with this story so far hang on because it is about to take off.
Reston Publishing noticed we were selling about 5,000 copies with each printing and offered to take over our publishing. Who is Reston Publishing you ask? Reston Publishing is Prentice Hall. At that time and maybe still today, Prentice Hall was one of the biggest publishing houses in the world. We had no choice but to leave the very good and kind folks at Twinn K and move our publishing. With Reston Publishing in charge, we went from every Hobby Store in America to every Book Store the next day.
That is about the time D&D, who was now being distributed by Random House, took notice. Arneson had left TSR and was suing his co-authors company. This was tough. Random House distribution did not like Prentice Hall distributers and there was a lot of discussion with Book Stores about where and how our books should be displayed compared to AD&D.
Are you still with me? Now the adventure becomes fantastic. At this point in my life my wife and I are still in Indianapolis. We were now making a meager living publishing and expanding our line of books. From my original hand drawn cover we were now starting to commission Jim Steranko for cover art. He did our “Wizards and Warriors” cover and posters. He also did a second commission, but it was stolen from the offices of Reston right before “Goldchester” was published. That is a fantastic story onto itself. I will tell it later.
So a guild of wizards noticed my books in the bookstores. These wizards lived in New Jersey and worked for the David Sarnoff Research Center in Princeton. Wait a minute. I am mixing up my gaming terms with real life. These wizards were actually referred to as “Fellows” and research scientists in real life. What is the David Sarnoff Research Center you ask? It was the premier “think tank” in America for consumer electronics owned by the RCA Corporation.
Why were these wizards…I mean scientists interested in me? Well, if you look through the old reviews of my line of books, I almost always get high praise for my adventures. One of these adventures in particular, “Murder in Irliss,” had caught their eye. This is a play-your-own adventure. Unlike other adventures, it is very complex in its making. Even more important than that, I had written another adventure called “Circle of Truth” that was about to be published. It is incredibly complex in its structure. I did not know it at the time, but one of the scientists told me I based the structure of the book on “State Event Processing” whatever that is supposed to mean. All I know is that I wrote it and it was perfect for “Interactive Movie” making. And interactive movies and advancing digital media is what all the wizards were interested in at that time.
My wife and I moved our little family to the Princeton area and went to work on advance uses of interactive media.
So what happened? Why did I disappear for thirty years? Why am I releasing a new book now?
It has been over thirty years and I did not even know anyone remembered my books until my grown children found blogs and references on the internet. If there really is any interest I will publish the answers in part two of this blog. I promise I won’t wait another thirty years to answer your questions.