Friday, April 13, 2012

The Best RPG I ever played in, wasn't one.

Recently I wrote about how the historical wargaming hobby was eaten alive by D&D in the late 70s, but some interesting hybrids did emerge from the fray. I'd like to put the spotlight on one Mr. Peter Rice of Bath, ME and his man-to-man WWII combat game, Follow Me. Peter was one of the pipe-puffing vets I mentioned in the above-linked post. He ran a wargame shop and helped organize cons in the northeast. Peter was one to roll with the changes, and when the D&D wave hit, he obliged -- I bought lots of lead off the man on my excursions up to his shop, mostly Heritage Fantastiques and early Ral Partha 25mm. Follow me if you want to hear more...



He published Follow Me in 1979, and I had the good fortune to play in several one-shot scenarios refereed by Peter at various cons. Picture a beautifully landscaped table with styrofoam scenery, hedges, trees, roads, farmhouses. Exquisitely painted 15mm troops and vehicles. We played with up to five or six guys on each side. It was strict fog of war, with hidden movement managed on a map. The minis didn't come out until your squad stumbled into an ambush or your M4 Sherman wheeled around a corner to find a snotty-nosed Hitlerjugend waiting there with a Panzerfaust. It was white-knuckle stuff -- I've never felt more immersed in a virtual world than playing in those games. The rules were insanely detailed. I seem to remember lots of charts, and a table to determine the effective size of a target at a given range. Hit location was vivid and gruesome. No hit points, but you might find yourself bleeding out from a severed artery or blown to bits. Fortunately Peter did most of the number crunching. You just told him what your men were shooting at and he did the rest.
I think the best of the best was being one of a stick of German fallschirmjaeger paratroops landing on British-held Crete. Peter actually lined us up and had us jump as if we were exiting our air transport. We were scattered and spent the first hour of the game trying to find each other, as the Brits tried to find us. Each of us had maybe three or four men, and when you lost one, it hurt. My heart starts racing a bit even now, thinking about creeping along a road and wondering when the first shot was going to ring out. It was the kind of immersive, suspenseful experience many people say they want an RPG to be, but it lacked most of the "essential" elements: no ability scores, no characters to speak of, completely mundane, no level-ups. Just a disciplined, impartial referee and a high-risk gameworld.

5 comments:

  1. That sounds like a hell of a lot of fun!

    There's no possible way, with or without copyright infringement, I could read those rules is there? I've been googling but finding little. It's apparently super obscure and everyone talking about it seems to have met the author. Maybe if he's still alive he could be persuaded to put them up on lulu or something.

    It's too bad. I know even if I could read them, my sloppy experiments as Ref wouldn't compare at all to playing the game with it's own creator. Especially if there weren't any example scenarios in the book.

    Something about wargaming has never clicked for me. I've always been curious and have taken peeks at Chainmail and Hordes of the Things, but I'm missing some kind of je ne sais quoi. Foundation, I guess.

    I'm open to pointers or suggestions for other games to start with. Does anything like Matthew Finch's Quick Primer for Old School Gaming exist for wargames?

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    1. My copy of Follow Me is long gone, I'm afraid. Peter later co-founded The Companions, a 3rd-party publisher of D&D support material. He had a successful career as a painter of historical and fantasy miniatures and retired somewhere down south.
      The best way to try wargaming is to find a local con and join a game or two. The combined attraction of strategy game and visual spectacle is hard to beat!

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    2. I played a few of those sessions that he ran at MaineCon. He used two 2' square boards that had bombed out buildings. It was great, each side moved just a few soldiers around the board and didn't know where the other side was at all. Lots of suspense as a 17 year old kid.

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  2. Sounds excellent. This blog is so good!

    The only thing I don't like is it's hard to read a bunch of entries at once if i get behind because of the "click for more " way it's set up.

    Does it have to be that way or can you switch to standard format?

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    1. Glad you like it.

      For you, Zak, I'll stop putting cuts in my posts and we'll see if anyone complains about it.

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