I never saw the original books, Melee and Wizard, that made up Metagaming's foray into the field of fantasy RPGs. They were released in 1977 and 1978, respectively, a couple of years before I entered the hobby, and they were no longer on store shelves by the time I took notice of games other than D&D. But their successors, Advanced Melee and Advanced Wizard (along with In the Labyrinth, the GM's book), were and it's through them that I encountered The Fantasy Trip.
Written by Steve Jackson and published in 1980, it's probably no surprise to note that TFT is a proto-GURPS, for good and for ill. Characters possess the same for stats (Strength, Dexterity, Health, and IQ), for example, with both DX and IQ being inordinately useful. There were differences, of course. Although not strictly a class-based game, characters were either "wizards" or "warriors," with spells being the specialty of the former and skills (called "talents") being the specialty of the latter. A character could learn the abilities of the other type but at increased cost, something GURPS doesn't do. Consequently, TFT retains a more strongly archetypal feel to it, in line with most of the game designs of its era. Unlike GURPS, there are no advantages or disadvantages, which also means that the mechanical differentiation between characters is much more limited than its descendant.
Combat received the most detail, as one would expect. Movement was hex-based and had a very strong miniatures wargame feel to it. Indeed, the original releases of Melee and Wizard feel more like simple wargames than RPGs, which is understandable, given Metagaming's focus on wargames. Still, it was no less possible to roleplay with them than it was with OD&D, although Melee and Wizard did include a lot less "supporting" material to enable this, leaving the referee to make up a lot for himself. This changed in the 1980 releases, which greatly expanded the scope -- and rules -- of the game. There was even a very sketchy setting included that bears some resemblance to Yrth from GURPS Fantasy, right down to the inclusion of real world religions into otherwise imaginary setting. Clearly, Steve Jackson is not a man to let go of an idea.
I never extensively played TFT back in the day. I already had D&D and wasn't really ever in the market for another fantasy RPG. Like DragonQuest, TFT was, at best, a momentary flirtation and a very momentary one at that. It wasn't until fairly recently that I even thought about the game again, having encountered a small but thriving community of support for it. Steve Jackson, as I understand it, tried for years -- unsuccessfully -- to regain the rights to TFT from Howard Thompson. GURPS, which began its life as a one-to-one combat simulation called Man to Man, is clearly Jackson's attempt to recreate The Fantasy Trip and build upon its initial concept. Despite at least two attempts, I've never been able to get into GURPS. I find its tendency toward comprehensiveness off-putting, even if the underlying mechanics of the game are quite sound.
On the other hand, The Fantasy Trip does hold some appeal for me, if only as a matter of historical curiosity. In both its original and 1980 incarnations, it's a fairly simple and straightforward game, without all the additional wrinkles and complexities of GURPS that drive me to distraction. There are, I am told, a couple of retro-clones of TFT, although I haven't had the chance to look at them. There's definitely a niche for a simple, skill-based fantasy RPG ruleset that's easy to house rule and, at its best, that's what The Fantasy Trip was.