New Game Weekend: Legendary

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I’ve been a Marvel Comics collector and fan since the 1970s, but my gaming experience with my favorite super heroes has always been a less than satisfying experience. TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes Role-Playing Game never really played like the feel of a comic book back in the 1980s, and my brief experience with the Heroclix system in the past few years has also left me flat even with some great looking toys. And so, I was thrilled when I recently got into Legendary, a game that finally placed me directly in the midst of the wide Marvel Universe of heroes and villains.

Legendary Expansions

Fantastic Four, Paint The Town Red and Guardians of The Galaxy expansions

Released by collectibles giant Upper Deck in 2012, Legendary is a deck-building card game in which players take on the roles of super heroes doing battle with super villains in a near endless combination of scenarios and team-ups. Legendary is gloriously illustrated with all-original artwork with a hefty base game box containing heroes and foes primarily drawn from the Avengers, X-Men and Spider Man storylines. Additional expansion sets pull players into the cosmic worlds of the Fantastic Four and Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as the streets of New York populated by Daredevil, Elektra, Black Cat and Spider Woman.

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Sample X-Men and Spider Man cards

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Sample Fantastic Four and Guardians of the Galaxy cards

Each hero is presented in a series of 14 cards of progressively higher value and ability. Team affiliations are depicted with small icons and values for recruiting other heroes and attacks are found at the bottom of the card. Special abilities and bonuses through interaction with other cards are listed along with colorful flavor text under the hero’s illustration. And so, each hero’s range of abilities is represented over the set of cards, allowing each character to grow in strength and use different powers or abilities throughout the game.

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Sample Mastermind, Henchmen and Villain cards

Evil doers in Legendary are divided into three categories. Mastermind cards depict the powerful, lead villian like Doctor Doom, Magneto or Galactus within a given game and are represented with a stack of five cards. Henchmen are a group of identical cards of lower level bad guys such as Doombots and Hand Ninjas with limited abilities. Villain cards feature characters from teams of arch enemies from groups like the Sinister Six, Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Hydra or Skrulls, each with varying abilities, effects and strength. Like the super hero cards, Villains, Masterminds

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The Legendary game board

A game of Legendary is played on two levels. The players work collaboratively as a group of heroes to beat the game itself represented by the villains. If the players collectively win the game, points are tallied with each player based on the number of villains each player has defeated. The player with the most points wins. The mix of individual competition and teamwork is just one of the ways Legendary really feels like a comic book story as super heroes team up to achieve a unified goal while also performing heroic feats as individuals.

Legendary begins with the selection of a Scheme (ie scenario) which gives the conditions of victory for the heroes and villains. A Mastermind is chosen to represent the lead baddie in the game, and then Henchmen and Villain cards are selected. A Villain deck is created by shuffling in all Villains and Henchmen along with Scheme cards and Masterstrike cards which allow for attacks by the Mastermind. Depending on the number of players, a set of Hero cards are also shuffled together into a Hero deck. Choosing the mix of Heroes and Villains are sometimes dictated by the Scheme, can be done randomly or may be done by making specific selections. Part of the fun of Legendary is in the combinations of cards used to create the numerous combinations of Hero and Villain decks

Each player is given a starter deck of identical twelve S.H.I.E.L.D. Hero cards and all other decks are placed on the Legendary game board. Six cards are drawn by each player from their shuffled starter decks. Five Hero cards are drawn from the top and laid out face up in the S.H.I.E.L.D “HQ” area and made available in turn to each player to “recruit” into their deck each turn based on recruitment points on their six cards in hand. Players may also play cards from their hand to fight Villains drawn each turn from the Villain deck and placed face up in the “City” area on the board. As each new Villain is turned up, other Villains shift down the City row and may be fought be players playing attack points on their available hand of cards. Played Hero cards also contain a variety of abilities, often used in combination with other cards to greater effect. Hero abilities can allow for extra cards to be drawn or discarded, stronger attacks, automatic defeat of Villains, extra recruitment value and numerous other special effects. Defeated Villains provide positive and negative effects on players and are then scored in a victory point pile for each player. Villains who move down the City track escape, causing negative impacts to the players. Scheme cards drawn from the Villain deck likewise cause bad things to happen. At the end of a player’s turn, a new hand is drawn back to six cards and play passes to the next player.

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One of my many recent games of Legendary

Legendary thus plays over a variety of turns as more Heroes are recruited into a player’s available deck, Masterminds and Villains are defeated, Bystanders are rescued and progress is made in defeating the Scheme before the bad guys win. Hero cards from the same or aligned teams combine to powerful effect, and certain Villain and Hero cards also interact in different ways. Getting the right number and combination of hero cards moving through a deck is key as the game progresses.

There are so many things I love about Legendary. Primarily, the game just “feels” like a comic book. Teams, like the Fantastic Four, X-Men or Avengers, work best together, combining skills and abilities to powerful effect against Villains. Individual Hero abilities each play with the superpowers known from the comic book canon. For example, Rogue from the X-Men is able to siphon abilities off other Heroes and Hulk rages and sometimes causes damage to Villains and Heroes alike.

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The big Dark City expansion for Legendary

I got into Legendary in a big way over the 2014 holiday season with the base game and Fantastic Four, Paint The Town Red, Guardians of The Galaxy and Dark City expansions. With hundreds of Mastermind, Villain, Henchmen, Hero and Scheme cards available, each game plays in a nearly endless variety. With the modern Marvel Universe dating back to 1961 and re-invigorated with a constant flow of hit blockbuster movies since 2000, Legendary draws richly on the complex intersecting storylines from a half century of comic book popular culture.

Legendary has started me off in 2015 with a new game favorite and one my entire family has enjoyed playing together. As a lifelong fan and gamer, Legendary has finally given me the chance to team up with my favorite heroes from the Marvel Universe.

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New Game Weekend: Shoot N’ Skedaddle

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One of my favorite parts of attending gaming conventions is playing scales, periods and scenarios I usually don’t game. Getting the chance to play in scenarios run by the authors of rules is also a big bonus opportunity to experience a game “straight from the horse’s mouth,” so to speak. This past weekend at Fall In! I had one of those rare sessions that hit all these marks, playing in an Old West 28mm skirmish game of Shoot N’ Skedaddle by Oscar Turner.

Since I was a kid, I’ve been a big fan of Westerns. Starting with re-runs of the old Lone Ranger TV show and radio serials, I graduated up through American Western classics like Red River and The Searchers to the Italian “Spaghetti Westerns” of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood. Over the years I’ve remained dedicated to the now-declining genre, and I’m an enormous fan of Eastwood’s later Unforgiven and Quentin Tarantino‘s Django Unchained

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1992’s Academy Award-winning Unforgiven, produced, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood

Like a lot of American boys, my  interest in Western TV, radio and movies spilled over into my play time. I spent a lot of time gunfighting on my bedroom floor in the 1970s with Gabriel Lone Ranger dolls  and the earlier Marx Johnny West toys. I also had plenty of cheap dimestore plastic cowboys and indians, plus a pretty substantial collection of the cowboys and indians from Britains Deetail and a pile of Western-themed Playmobil toys.

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1970s ad for Gabriel’s Lone Ranger toys

Despite all my interest in Westerns, gaming the genre never became my thing. TSR’s Boot Hill, released in 1975 just as Dungeons & Dragons was taking off, has been a popular RPG option for years. There are a number miniatures ruelsets for the Wild West, and 1992’s Desperado by Monday Knight Productions seems to be the standard I’ve seen played at conventions. So, with nearly zero experience with shoot-outs on the streets of dusty tabletop frontier towns, I was really impressed with my three hours playing through my first game of Shoot N’ Skedaddle this past weekend.

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The Shoot N’ Skedadle cards, dice and equipment needed to play

 With a visually stellar town laid out with incredible laser-cut and plastic scenery, Oscar’s scenario presented a simple scenario of outlaws on the lam with lawmen in hot pursuit. In Shoot N’ Skedaddle, play begins with character cards dealt to players playing on either the Outlaw Gang or Lawmen Posse side. Main characters such as “Judge,”Doc” and “Bandit” team-up with neutral characters like “Thug,” “Cowboy,” “Townsperson” and “Thug.” Characters then draw primary and secondary weapons (if any) which can include anything from a deringer, knife or carbine to a gattling gun, buffalo gun or dynamite. There are 40 character and 72 weapons cards, making for tremedously fun variations in the player Gangs and Posses in Shoot N’ Skedaddle.

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The town set-up for Shoot N’ Skedaddle at Fall In!

After initial deployment according to the scenario, regular playing cards are drawn to randomly activate characters in turn. I really loved this thematically-appropriate mechanic, tying the iconic Old West card game into the play. On a turn, a player can perform a combination of movements and action. Special event cards are also randonly drawn for each side, allowing the resurrection of dead characters, the arrest of an outlaw or an extra character activation. With this simple framework, characters can perform a seemingly endless variety of feats including running, hiding, shooting, grabbing a mule by the reins, jumping between rooftops, crashing through windows, kicking in doors or starting a fist fight. Player imagination bordering on role-playing is really the only boundary to the game.

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Lawmen with guns blazin’ in Shoot N’ Skedaddle at Fall In!

To resolve actions, an incredibly elegant dice mechanic is used. Characters each come with key attributes — Strength, Agility, Scrap, Marksmanship and Guts — with each of these weighted with a D6, D8, D12 or D20. Success when using a particular attribute is resolved by rolling a 5 or better, no matter what the action and no matter what the die. For example, a poor shot would roll a D6 when firing their pistol while a more skilled character might roll a D12. In either case, the player would need to roll a 5 or better to succeed. Wounds, hiding in cover or other game conditions modify the dice downward, so that same crack shot with the D12 Marksmanship would roll a D8 when shooting at someone hiding behind a barrel.

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A local woman acting just a little suspicious in Shoot N’ Skedaddle at Fall In!

Shoot and Skedaddle’s wonderful card and dice structure puts the focus back on the fun on the table like any really great game should. Oscar offers his game as a free PDF ruleset or in a printed set of cards for $25 ($30 with a box). Check out his website at http://shootnskedaddle.blogspot.com/ for downloads, ordering info, development news and more pics and information. The basic rules contain scenarios and a campaign option for longer-term  storylines to be played. I can’t say I’m going to run out and invest in a dozen Western buildings and paint up a bunch of cowboys and local citizens, but if you’re a fan of Old West gaming, I highly recommend checking out Shoot N’ Skedaddle. It’s a bullseye.

Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s: DC Heroes Role Playing Game

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Households tend to gravitate to fan divisions. There are Star Trek people and Star Wars people. In New York City, you’re a Mets fan or a Yankees supporter. With comic books, divisions have fallen for decades between Marvel Comics and DC Comics with endless nerdy debates of the pros and cons for each.

In my home growing up, my brothers and I were Marvel guys. Our cardboard storage boxes were chocked full of bagged and boarded books from the Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Captain America, The Uncanny X-Men, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Alpha Flight. The occasional Batman or Justice League story grabbed our interest, but superheroes who dwelled in the real-world embattled streets of New York City always won our hearts over the denizens of Gotham, Metropolis and Star City.

When we got around to superhero gaming we likewise threw our fandom (and dollars) behind TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes Role-Playing Game. While role-playing our favorite Marvel characters never took off with the passion we had for Dungeons & Dragons, we loved the modules and expanions chocked full of great art, stories and cut-out scenery and foldable heroes.

In 1985, a year after TSR’s comic-themed release, Mayfair Games answered with DC Heroes Role Playing Game. The game was released just as DC’s monumental Crisis On Infinite Earths series hit the comic racks garnering wide praise from long-time fans and the straight press alike. For a tepid DC fan like myself, Crisis was a crash course in DC lore and injected significant emotional realism to the character storylines mimicking much of what Marvel had been up to for a couple decades. The one-two punch of Crisis and the new game had me running to the store to add yet another RPG system to my shelf.

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Like the Marvel role-playing game, the DC system never became a big part of my gaming time but its mechanics had some merits which retain a significant fan base to this day. At its root, the game used a unified “attributes points” design from which all manner of super powers, skills, wealth, time and distance variables could be calculated. Within this single framework, the game could contextually handle normal human characters such as Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen side-by-side with epic heroes like Superman and Shazam.

Similar to TSR’s Marvel game, Mayfair’s DC game box came with a group of manuals for the players and gamemaster as well as a gamemaster’s screen, starter character cards and a manual of powers and skills. While the primary color design was more spare, the DC game’s mechanics and information offered a quicker start than wading through the uneven and occassionally frustrating complexities of the Marvel game.

Despite the surface comic book character interest in the DC game and the earlier Marvel one, my interest in superhero gaming waned pretty quickly. With positives and negatives to each RPG super hero system, what I always walked away with was a feeling of constraint within the boundaries of massive established narrative comic universes. While both games offered rules for creating new characters and scenarios (more effectively in the DC one), my mind inevitably drifted back to known caharacters and storylines I couldn’t imagine breaking into new realms and threads. With plenty of more satisfying fantasy RPG and historical miniature gaming options available to me, one thing I could always reconcile about Marvel and DC alike was that I preferred my comic heroes on the page rather than the tabletop.

Collector’s Note: Mayfair’s DC Heroes Role Playing Game and its expansion modules can be easily found online in the non-heroic $10-30 price range at eBay and elsewhere.

Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s: Marvel Super Heroes Role-Playing Game

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Way back in the late 1970s, well before we had summers filled with superhero movies, I was a comic book collector. Those were the days when my younger brother and I bought our weekly fix of Marvel and DC superheroes off a squeaky rotating rack in a corner store, all for under a dollar each. Eventually our collecting graduated to visiting comic book shops, flea markets, yard sales and small regional comic book conventions in Western New York. As our collection grew into thousands of books by the mid-1980s, my brother and I were receiving weekly warehouse wholesale shipments and were bidding on lots of older books through auctions by mail. Both of us sold-off the majority of our collections in the late 1980s and early 1990s before the market became glutted, eBay arrived on the scene and CCG-graded comics became the new collecting norm.

timetrapI still have a significant, albeit more scaled-down, interest in comic books to this day. Yet as I recall those peak collecting years in the early 80s, my mind eventually takes me to memories of 1984 and TSR’s release of Marvel Super Heroes: The Heroic Roleplaying Game. The game arrived during big expansion years for TSR as the popularity of their flagship Dungeons & Dragons franchise continued to grow in player fandom and pop culture infamy. Winning the Marvel license allowed TSR to launch a new game with a built-in base of players which had a lot of cross-over interest in comic books and gaming (like myself). Despite the promise of the total package of the Marvel Universe delivered in a RPG by the makers of D&D, the Marvel Super Heroes game never really delivered.

murderworldThe core box came with a quick start “Battle Book” and a more detailed “Campaign Book.” Also included was an introductory scenario, “Day of the Octopus,” plus a fold-out map, character reference cards and some rudimentary markers. TSR quickly expanded the game with a number of accessories including a couple sets of poor quality metal miniatures and quite a number of game adventures following the module model which had proven so successful with D&D. An eager collector, I snapped up a bunch of adventure books, including “Time Trap” featuring the Avengers and “Murderworld!” starring the Fantastic Four. Expansions also included a number of adventures which featured “adventure fold-up figures.” Unable to help myself, I happily bought the Hydra-themed “Pit of the Viper” edition along with a few others.

pitofviperDrawing on the stable of established Marvel characters, the game looked great. Mechanics borrowed broadly from D&D with “Attributes” establishing the primary strengths of a super hero on a scale of 1-100. “Superpowers” defined unique abilities while “Talents” were a set of skills a character could draw upon. A system of “Karma” (similar to D&D Experience) allowed for character upgrades. The problem I quickly found with the game was that you played characters within an established set of backgrounds and relationships. Spider-Man, Thor or The Human Torch carried enormous backstories, robbing players of the opportunity to create and grow a character from the ground up like in the more pure RPG realm of D&D. Eventually, I was buying the expansions simply to read the text and assemble the little cardboard figures and terrain pieces.

Despite the mediocre quality of the game overall, TSR went on the release a revised version of the game in the late 1990s. More than anything else, the second edition of the game was probably an effort to retain the license from Marvel. Even so, Marvel and TSR eventually parted ways by the early 2000s.

So much of my generation was defined by the first modern wave of toy licensing with Star Wars that I can hardly fault TSR for jumping on the brand-extending bandwagon with Marvel. It’s amazing to me the game lasted so long given my memory of its lack of interesting play. This is one game I can’t foresee ever returning to. Its true superpower lay in how deep the marketing of those characters was a part of me then and stays with me today.

Collector’s Note: Most probably owing to the low quality of the game, the original TSR  Marvel Super Heroes game starter box set and most expansions can be found on eBay for under $20 each.

Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s: Dungeon!

In 1975, just a year after the release of Dungeons & Dragons, TSR Hobbies released the boardgame Dungeon!. The game mirrored many aspects of D&D’s dungeon-crawling framework while offering a much lower point of entry for players either new to the genre or looking to just play a quick game.

dungeonadI got a copy of Dungeon! after a couple years of spending hours playing D&D and painting my first lead miniatures from the likes of Ral Partha. Dungeon! offered a traditional boardgame format and came as an occasional break from the open-ended role-playing my friends and I were used to with D&D. Ads for the game at the time (left) were also pitching the game to families and casual gamers as a point of entry and enticement to the larger world D&D offered.

Playing as an Elf, Hero, Superhero or Wizard, players moved through six progressively-difficult levels, encountered random monsters and collected treasure. Each character class carried specific strengths and powers, with more powerful characters such as the Wizard or Superhero requiring greater treasure to win the game.

Large chambers such as the Kitchen, Crypt, King’s Library or Queen’s Treasure Room were surrounded by smaller rooms, color-coded to indicate the level. In each large chamber, a stack of three randomized monster cards specific to that level were placed at the beginning at the game. In each smaller room, one monster and a treasure was placed. When a space was entered, the top card was drawn and combat between the player and the monster ensued with a simple die roll. Winning combat won the treasure while ties or losses might result in a retreat or loss of treasure.

For players familiar with D&D like myself, Dungeon! mirrored a lot of the established canon. Monsters fell along the lines of hobgoblins, werewolves, dragons, mummies and snakes. Dungeon pitfalls such as traps might be encountered. Characters like Wizards held special spell cards such as Fireball or Teleport, and found magic items included an ESP Medallion and a Magic Sword, offering certain characters bonuses to their play. Treasure ranged from meager bags of glod found in the easy levels to the covtted Huge Diamond (worth 10,000 points) hidden deep in the sixth level.

Several editions of Dungeon! followed through the years, the most recent in 2012 from Wizards of the Coast, now-owners of the D&D franchise. Longtime players have also created a rich universe of house rules, customized boards and even hand-painted figures to supplement the basics of the game. Despite its relative ease of play, Dungeon! has remained a classic bit of fun among even the most serious gamers today.

Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s: Gamma World

Post-apocalyptic and dystopian futures in pop culture were big fascinations of mine as a kid. Planet of the Apes premiered the year I was born, and the movie sequels, live-action TV show, Saturday morning cartoon and toys were a big part of my imagination through the first half of the 1970s. As I grew into a budding sci-fi fan, movies like The Omega Man, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Logan’s Run, as well as television re-runs of The Twilight Zone further filled my brain with visions of future what-ifs and the destruction of the human race.

In 1981, two things happened. Ronald Reagan became President and would go on to occupy the White House for all my teenage years. During this formative period of my life, my waking mind and night time dreams were filled with the ever-looming threat of nuclear war flowing from Reagan’s amped-up rhetoric toward what was then still the Soviet Union. Suddenly, the fictionalized visions of the end of civilization seemed very, very real.

That same year, I saw Mad Max 2, (aka The Road Warrior). Although shot in Australia with an Aussie-accented Mel Gibson in the lead, the movie resonated as very American to me. With it’s high-desert setting, gunfights, chase scenes and a hero with a hidden past, the film struck me very much like Westerns (particularly those of Clint Eastwood) I already loved. Wrapping the Western genre up in a post-apocalyptic story hit all the right notes in my 13-year-old imagination.

Along the way in the late 70s through early 80s, I was spending a lot of time gaming with Dungeons & Dragons. In 1983, I ran across the second edition of Gamma World in the local bookstore where I bought most of my D&D gaming stuff. Originally introduced in 1978 by TSR, the makers of D&D, Gamma World was a role-playing game set in a post-nuclear war 25th-century Earth populated  by mutants, cyborgs and remnants of the human race. While D&D drew its influence from various fantasy sword-and-sorcery antecedents, Gamma World’s dystopian setting was rooted in the sci-fi themes of stories and movies I loved. From a game mechanics standpoint, Gamma World had a familiar feel to D&D with character attributes, fantastical equipment and a chart and dice-driven combat and encounters system. The similiarities with D&D made it easy to slide into the entirely different storylines Gamma World offered.

I never took to Gamma World with the same depth of interest as D&D, but playing it was pretty fantastic. The world of the game was occupied by giant rabbits, humanoid lizard people, deadly plantlife, robotic killing machines and all other manner of deadly foes and allies. Weaponry ranged from spears and traffic sign shields to laser rifles and nuclear devices. Maps represented entire crumbling city street grids or hidden underground survivalist bunkers. An adventure could involve a quest for an “ancient” 20th-century manuscript holding the key to human salvation or an infiltration mission to destroy a cyborg factory. To my friends and me, Gamma World allowed us to write the scripts and play through the dozens of unmade post-apocalyptic movies living in our heads and influenced by the films already ingested into our psyches.

Gamma World is still published by Wizards of the Coast today, but the popular trend in zombie-themed games occupies most of today’s gaming interest in post-apocalyptic scenarios. That said, for a purely futuristic, dystopian, sky’s-the-limit role-playing game, fast-wording a few centuries to Gamma World can’t be beaten.

Collector’s Note: Original TSR-published Gamma World boxed sets and expansion modules can be found on eBay. Modules and indivdual rule books can run in the range of $15-75 while original complete boxed sets of early editions can run into the hundreds of dollars.

Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s: The Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Album

    

As a kid in the 1970s, I had heaps of activity books of all sorts — brain teasers, mazes, puzzles, coloring, paper doll and cut-out model books. As a new Dungeons & Dragons gamer, I loved 1979’s “The Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Album” which captured two of my childhood passions within 30 or so pages of absolute wonder.

This was no ordinary coloring book on any level. Even as a kid, I was always impressed by its long and prideful title. This was a “coloring album” instead of just another “coloring book.” The drawings were by Greg Irons who famously worked on posters for Bill Graham’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium rock concerts and the 1968 Beatles animated film Yellow Submarine. To my young eye, Irons’s art in the coloring album looked liked the work of a Medieval woodcutter or like uncolored stained glass windows. Lines were dark and heavy, but the drawings wildly animated each page in a progressive story of adventurers and monsters familiar to D&D gamers.

The other aspect that made this publication unlike any normal coloring book was the text by Gary Gygax, the co-creator of D&D. Knit within the story-like captions accompanying the illustrations by Irons, Gygax delivered an actual game you could play. While vastly simplified, Gygax borrowed heavily from some of the basic D&D terminology and concepts with which I was quite familiar by then. And there, at the center of the book, was a two-page dungeon map on which the short adventure could be played. Despite the game having little replay value, I remember playing it repeatedly just because I loved this book so much.

Out of all the stacks of throw-away activity books I had as a kid, “The Official Advanced D&D Coloring Album” is one of the few standouts in my memory. Like the game that inspired it, the book presented and inspired so much fantastic creativity in a way I had never seen before and have seldom seen since.

Collector’s Note: “The Official Advanced D&D Coloring Album” is out of print but scans are available online for free download here and here. Copies of the original unused book can also be found on eBay for an astonishing $75 and up, and partially-colored copies start in the $15 range from online rare book dealers like AbeBooksYou can also check out some of the Fillmore-era posters from Greg Irons at Wolfgang’s Vault, although buying one will run you into the thousands of dollars.