Tag Archives: role playing games

Throwback Thursday: TSR’s “Endless Quest” books!

Okay.  Who remembers these?  I do, and fondly.

I always assumed that the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that every 80’s kid remembers were inspired by the “Dungeons & Dragons” role-playing games.  But I was wrong.  Edward Packard penned the first draft of “Sugarcane Island,” the very first CYOA book, way back in 1969, half a decade before Gary Gygax and Dave Ameson at TSR released the groundbreaking first edition of “D&D” in 1974.

The “Endless Quest” books, which arrived on the scene in 1982 and 1983, conversely seem like TSR’s attempt to cash in on the CYOA phenomenon.  And they did a damn fine job, if you ask me.

These were far better written.  And they seemed aimed at older children or young adults — maybe the same target demographic that TSR was hoping would graduate shortly thereafter to its RPG’s.  A few of them arrived under the Christmas tree for me when I was, oh … maybe in the fifth grade or so.  And I was thrilled to discover that they were frikkin’ awesome.

They were slightly different than the CYOA books.  For one, the “you” described in the story wasn’t really a reader avatar. It was already a fully realized character, with a backstory in the context of a TSR fantasy universe.  The diverging storyline options were less random, too — they were all part of a larger, more detailed and coherent overall story.

Maybe the “Endless Quest” books didn’t appeal as much to every kid.  They certainly weren’t as popular as CYOA.  A more detailed story meant far more text in each book’s introduction, and in the “choice” sections.  That meant fewer choices could be made within the length of the book.  If memory serves, for example, you had to read 11 or 12 pages to set up the story in “Mountain of Mirrors” in order to reach the first junction of the narrative.  My best friend and next-door neighbor, Shawn Degnan, complained about that.

All of my books were authored by Roses Estes.  I think my favorite was “Dungeon of Dread.”  That had a straightforward story that most closely resembled a game of “D&D;” you proceeded room to room in a dungeon, fighting monsters in turn.  And monsters appealed slightly more to this grade-school boy than magic swords and spellcasting and codes of honor and such.

In fact, “Dungeon of Dread” boasted what remains one of my all-time favorite monsters to this day — the wicked-cool, alliteratively named “water weird.”  You entered a room with an ornate well at the center, where a stone-inscribed warning advised you to “Watch The Water That Is Not Water.”  If you failed to be so circumspect, then the quite ordinary-looking clear water in that well would magically form up into the shape of a serpent and rip your goddam head off.  (I don’t think that this is much of a spoiler, as the water weird and its method of attack is depicted right there on the book’s cover; you can see it below.)  A smarter child might have wondered why whoever built this dungeon and placed the creature there would also include a helpful PSA about how to avoid the monster.  But that didn’t occur to me at the time.

It was a fairly dark fantasy book, too, at times.  One room revealed the fate of a less fortunate adventurer — he had been captured by some unknown bad guy, and chained to a wall where a running fountain of fresh water was easily reached.  His cruel captor had deliberately fated him to starve to death.

“Mountain of Mirrors” was my second favorite “Endless Quest” book; it had frost giants.  Yes, the intro was lengthy, but Estes did a great job in establishing a sense of setting for a freezing cold mountain range.  I enjoyed “Revolt of the Dwarves” slightly less; it was a little strange to see dwarves cast as antagonists when I they were the good guys in the animated film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.”

The only book about which I felt equivocal was Estes’ “The Hero of Washington Square.”  That wasn’t even a fantasy adventure at all. It was just some average kid getting swept up in a spy adventure — it was based on a different RPG created by TSR called “Top Secret.”  “The Hero of Washington Square” was a toothless adventure that seemed more aimed at younger kids, if I recall.  It was lame.  It had little in common with the James Bond films that I absolutely loved, even if I did grow up in the Roger Moore era.  And my love for Tom Clancy’s universe would only bloom many years later, when I read my sister’s thick paperback copy of “The Cardinal of the Kremlin” the summer before college.

The Internet informs me that the “Endless Quest” books are still easily purchased.  They were rereleased in 2008.  And they’re edited now so that “you” are described in gender-neutral language, so that girls can better enjoy the books.

I honestly would recommend these for older children or pre-teens.  Parents, keep these in mind for Christmas.

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Throwback Thursday: Dungeons & Dragons miniatures

Maybe metal fantasy miniatures shouldn’t be the subject of a Throwback Thursday post, as I know that a lot of hobbyists still collect and paint them.  But they’re a “throwback” for me, as the last time I sat down to paint a knight, orc, or skeleton warrior was in middle school.  It was a fantastically enjoyable hobby, but time-consuming, and maybe even a little expensive for a kid.

It was also usually a solitary avocation.  I don’t know what others’ experiences may have been, but I remember this being an unusual hobby in the mid-1980’s.  Not a lot of my classmates even knew about it, and might have been puzzled by a centimeters-high, heavy, lead figurine of a dwarf or a troll.

But, MAN, did I ever love fantasy miniatures — even if I almost never got the chance to actually employ them for a game of Dungeons & Dragons (another pursuit my to which my peers were not partial).

You’d buy them unpainted, if you could find a specialty hobby shop, along with paints, brushes, and optional primer.  My father took my older brother and I to what remains one of my favorite places in all of New York — Men At Arms Hobbies in Middle Island.  The sublimely good-natured proprietor there was an obvious enthusiast himself, who knew about all things wizardly and hobbity and monstery and undead — along with the historical military miniatures that also evidently had a huge following.  And he was the coolest guy — he always addressed me chipperly as “Sir,” which I think was the first time an adult ever called me that.

Various individual adventurers and monsters didn’t cost much.  The larger, awe-inspiring dragons ran between $20 and $25, if memory serves, and were out of my price range at the age of 13 or so.  They weren’t all quite as grand as the example you see pictured below, but they were pretty frikkin’ awesome.  Seeing them crouching on their lead bases, about to take flight over their daunting hand-penned price-tags, was the first time in my life I truly found myself wishing that I was rich.

Then you painted them at home.  Cruel retrospect allows me the understanding that I SUCKED at it.  Yeesh.  Really.  It must have taken every ounce of reserve and deportment that my parents and older brother had to compliment my work with a straight face.  (It was my brother, a veteran D&D player, from whom I learned the hobby.)

My rangers and hobbits looked, at best, like something out of an impressionist painting completed by an impatient imbecile who was having a bad day.  My skeleton warriors upon their skeleton horses were probably happy they were dead.  (So, too, were their bony steeds; I’m sure of it.)  The worst, however, were my wood orcs.  (Am I remembering them correctly?  Were “wood orcs” a thing?)  I painted their armor the fairest, most cheerful, cerulean sky-blue after a creative decision that was as bad as anything during the filming the second “Highlander” movie.  As an adolescent, I had a very confused understanding of Tolkien’s mythology.  I thought, for example, that Nazguls were repelled by water, for some reason — in much the same manner that Superman is allergic to Kryptonite.  Hey … I never claimed to be the smartest kid in the class, okay?

I still treasured those damned miniatures, though.  My favorites included a squat, fat, Budda-esque devil, some beautifully crafted samurai that thankfully went unpainted, pewter conquistadores, and a wolf rider.

Like my “dungeon master” brother and his high school friends, I lovingly kept them in cardboard jewelry boxes secured from my mother and sisters, and assiduously protected their bendable swords and scythes there with cotton or tissue paper.  The entire collection was housed in something that was both damned cool and … also a bit weird, I guess.  Somehow, I’d gotten my hands on an antique ballot box.  It was a thick, heavy oak box with a slit at the top for ballots, probably once employed by people supporting Herbert Hoover.  (No, I can’t remember how on earth I acquired so strange an item.)

I will never forget the thick, dusky scent of its oak interior.  Every time I opened it, that scent hijacked my imagination entirely, and sent it off to other worlds — either Tolkien’s universe, or one of my own making.  I realize how pollyanna that sounds, young people, but this was how a kid traveled to other worlds in the days before Netflix and online multi-player games.

I think I still have that oak box in storage.  If I lay hands on my miniatures again soon, I’ll post pictures here.

New Yorkers, Men At Arms Hobbies is still in business right there on Middle Country Road.  If you want to pull your kids away from television, videogames and the Internet for a night or so, then shut all of those things off, put some brushes in your kids’ hands, and introduce them to Middle Earth at the dining room table.  It’ll be fun.  I guarantee it.

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