Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Quick Shot on Vintage RPG

I recently found an Instagram account called @vintagerpg, thanks to being tagged in by John. I was immediately enthused by it, excited to see all of the different games showcased there. There's not a lot of interestingly showcased and easily accessible game material history/curation, and the creator, Stu Horvath, shares a lot of great information about the games shown on Vintage RPG. Stu was willing to answer a few questions of mine - check them out!

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What inspired you to start your Instagram? What makes you excited to post?

My friend Ken (@zombiegentleman on Instagram) prodded me to start @VintageRPG. Over the last couple years, my collection went from respectable to Serious and, coupled with the fact that my brain somehow got packed with RPG history, it just seemed like a no-brainer to find a way to share it. Instagram seemed like the place to do that.

The excitement, that's changed and evolved a bit over the course of the feed's (shockingly short) existence. I've written about tabletop RPGs in the course of my career, so at the start it was mostly just an extension of that, maybe in the service of some nebulous larger project. A lot of the early entries seem like notes for a book, or something along those lines. Still do, I guess. As the feed drew more and more followers (it blows my mind that so many people are following me - I truly expected a couple hundred folks and for the whole thing to fizzle after a few months), I'd be lying if I said that watching the Likes accrue didn't give my lizard brain some primitive satisfaction. 

I spend a few happy minutes every day rooting for new posts to break my top ten most liked. Lately, though, I've been enjoying puzzling out what folks will respond to and it is always a surprise. I run a criticism site called Unwinnable and we long ago closed the comments sections because they were so toxic. The experience with @VintageRPG has been the complete opposite: almost entirely positive, an outpouring of enthusiasm and personal stories. When communication works on social media, its a hell of a drug.


How do you curate the games, and where do you find backup information for them?

Curation is improvisational. A lot of it comes down to my whims - what I feel like photographing and writing about on a given week. A lot of it is context. I try to not do too much of any one thing in consecutive weeks. If I'm bored, I'll do something from totally left field, like covers of fiction books that inspired games. A lot of it is just plain editorial instinct, too. I try to work four to five weeks ahead to give myself some ability to address what I think my followers want to see. Big name games, like D&D (a mainstay) and some of the big licenses like Star Wars and Middle Earth Roleplaying get a lot of attention and demand a lot of interaction, so I try to cool things down after a big week with more obscure games I am passionately interested in but probably won't generate a ton of comments, like the modern indie I covered last week.

I've been reading, reading about and playing RPGs practically my entire life, so a lot of what I'm writing is stuff I've internalized or my critical impressions of art or mechanics or theme or what have you. I have a near complete run of Dragon Magazine that has contributed greatly to my historical knowledge, as has Shannon Applecline's four-volume history of the industry, Designers & Dungeons. If I'm in a bind, I hit up RPG.net or just reach out to the creator in question - a lot of RPG designers are pretty accessible online these days. If all else fails, I guess - and if I get it wrong, someone who knows better points it out in the comments, which is always pretty great.


What are a few of the coolest things you have discovered while running the account? What's something that just really blew you away with how unusual or interesting it was?

I am going to answer this two different ways, if you don't mind.

One of the most surprising things was actually discovered by my pal and DM, @JohnMiserable. We had played through a series of classic modules - Against the Slavers and Against the Giants - and, using Vintage RPG, I publicly guilted him into finishing up the drow modules after a long hiatus. In one session, he noticed something in Bill Willingham's art for the D&D module D1-2: Descent into the Depths of the Earth and it just blew all our minds.

[The following Instagram embed includes art from the aforementioned module, captioned: OK, check this out – don’t flip to the second image yet. This is an illustration from D1-2 - Descent into the Depths of the Earth by Bill Willingham. I posted it a few weeks back. We’re playing it in a 5E conversion now and our DM, @JohnMiserable, spotted something super cool in there. Can you see it? OK, you can flip to the second image now. Captain America’s shield and Iron Man’s helmet, in a drow chest, decorated with what some might call Spider-Man eyes. What the hell did the drow do to the Avengers?!"]



Second, a few months ago, I scored a copy of something I have been searching for a long time: the 1983 Imperial Toys catalog. I love it because Imperial Toys sold knock-off D&D toys and just, you know, totally ripped off the art for the cover in a way only a Hong Kong toy manufacturer in the 80s could. It is delightful in every singe way. So I love it for that, but I also love it because no else does. Most people probably have no clue this exists or how weird it is. That I was able to find something so disposable as a dime store distribution catalog feels important to me in a way I suspect few people would understand. And that's OK! That's why I'm here, doing my thing.

[The following Instagram embed includes images from the 1983 Imperial Toys catalog, including a Pegasus and two-headed dragons, and the caption: "This week, I’m talking about knock-offs. First off: one of the crown jewels of my collection, the 1983 Imperial Toys catalog. I have been looking for this for a very long time and finally scored a near-perfect copy last month. The reason for my desire should be apparent from the cover art, which rips off two things I love in dizzying fashion. First off, don’t those dragons look familiar? That’s because they are crude, modified traces of David C Sutherland III’s art from the Monster Manual. Then there’s the Pegasus/Centurion that seems to want to capitalize on Clash of the Titans. 

The toy line was called Dragons & Daggers. It was a blatant attempt to capitalize on the popularity of LJN’s Dungeons & Dragons toys (right down to the sliding puzzles), aimed at the five & dime market. I got the two-headed dragon at my local Ben Franklin (which I just learned was a chain!). Later additions to the line were a variety of cool riding beasts made in for the scale of Battle Cat and Panthor from the He-Man line. Catalogs like this (and maybe catalogs in general) feel special to me. By their nature, they are disposable, so there can’t be that many of them still in circulation, especially in the case of distro catalogs like this that were aimed toward business owners. I suspect not a lot of collectors know about the odd little corner of D&D history this occupies, and likely even fewer care. It is special in another way. The other toys and junk in the catalog are an amazing trip down memory lane. I have zero nostalgia for this stuff and would never have remembered them if not for seeing them here, but I appreciate the chance the catalog affords me to catch a glimpse of those long gone five & dime shelves."]

This week, I’m talking about knock-offs. First off: one of the crown jewels of my collection, the 1983 Imperial Toys catalog. ¶ I have been looking for this for a very long time and finally scored a near-perfect copy last month. The reason for my desire should be apparent from the cover art, which rips off two things I love in dizzying fashion. First off, don’t those dragons look familiar? That’s because they are crude, modified traces of David C Sutherland III’s art from the Monster Manual. Then there’s the Pegasus/Centurion that seems to want to capitalize on Clash of the Titans. ¶ The toy line was called Dragons & Daggers. It was a blatant attempt to capitalize on the popularity of LJN’s Dungeons & Dragons toys (right down to the sliding puzzles), aimed at the five & dime market. I got the two-headed dragon at my local Ben Franklin (which I just learned was a chain!). Later additions to the line were a variety of cool riding beasts made in for the scale of Battle Cat and Panthor from the He-Man line. ¶ Catalogs like this (and maybe catalogs in general) feel special to me. By their nature, they are disposable, so there can’t be that many of them still in circulation, especially in the case of distro catalogs like this that were aimed toward business owners. I suspect not a lot of collectors know about the odd little corner of D&D history this occupies, and likely even fewer care. ¶ It is special in another way. The other toys and junk in the catalog are an amazing trip down memory lane. I have zero nostalgia for this stuff and would never have remembered them if not for seeing them here, but I appreciate the chance the catalog affords me to catch a glimpse of those long gone five & dime shelves. ¶ #DnD #DungeonsAndDragons #ADnD #DandD #AdvancedDungeonsAndDragons #TSR #RPG #TabletopRPG #roleplayinggame #dragonsanddaggers #ImperialToys #ClashoftheTitans #HeMan #fiveanddime #BenFranklin #MonsterManual #DavidCSutherlandIII
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Thanks so much to Stu for the interview! I hope you'll all check out @vintagerpg on Instagram

Do you have a favorite pre-2000s game cover or piece of game art? Share it on Instagram, G+, or Twitter and tag it #myvintagerpg. 

Feel free to tag me in, too - I'd love to see what you love!



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