Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Ads of Dragon: Fantasy Unlimited

Just ... look at this.
Even in October 1982, back when issue #66 of Dragon was released, and during the height of D&D's popularity, I don't think I ever saw anyone who actually dressed up to play a RPG outside of Mazes & Monsters and, as I recall, that was one of many things we laughed about in its portrayal of our hobby. Now, maybe there were lots of roleplayers who did think it was important to "look the part you play," I don't know. Even so, $60 would have been a lot of money back in 1982, so I have a hard time imagining many gamers shelling out to Fantasy Unlimited for their robe and wizard hat.

52 comments:

  1. We always used to laugh at that ad. It was a running joke around the FLGS.

    ReplyDelete
  2. At every Gen Con I attended in the 1980s, I would see the same man dressed in a wizard's hat, robe, and sandals, carrying a staff. I'm not sure if his outfit had been purchased from Fantasy Unlimited, but his robe looked suspiciously like a bathrobe...

    ReplyDelete
  3. I blame this for the pairing of Cosplay and D&D at conventions.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Never dressed up, but when we play the Dungeon! board game whomever plays a wizard is forced to wear a pointy wizard's cap I got when I was 9 at the MN Renaissance Festival. No one else gets the hat.

    It's tradition.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Whenever anything becomes popular, there are always lots of people who try to cash in on it without bothering to learn much about it. I expect that's probably what was going on here.

    ReplyDelete
  6. You know what I find interesting? It's how many of these services over the long years (historical costumes, fantasy costumes, historical weapons, &c.) seem to be based in Georgia, with many having a Marietta address.

    Is is something in the water down there?

    ReplyDelete
  7. > Labels: ... idiocy

    Pity help the poor LARPers.
    Or Prof. Barker, even. :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Actually, gaming in one's bathrobe sounds quite comfortable.

    I've never ordered a mail-order (or on-line) costume, but my mother did sew me a kick-ass wizard costume for Halloween one year when I was 10 or 11, complete with pointy hat (velvet over cardboard). I never wore it while gaming, though (and I wasn't a kid to wear Halloween costumes except when "trick-or-treating")...plus I never played a magic-user anyway. But for a kid, that was probably the best costume I ever had.
    : )

    ReplyDelete
  9. It would be interesting if one of your readers was able to confirm that they purchased on of these outfits. If so, we need photos.

    ReplyDelete
  10. wow, this is so ridiculous it's hard to believe they paid to advertise it.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Pfft. There's more to being a wizard than a silly robe.

    You need a pointy hat as well.

    ReplyDelete
  12. When I showed this to my wife for her amusement, she reminded me that, when we lived in Seattle, there was a fetish lingerie store there called "Fantasy Unlimited". I hope they don't sell wizard outfits.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Given that I have seen teenagers go about their everyday lives in Newcastle dressed up like Harry Potter or something, this should not surprise me...

    As to Fantasy Unlimited... I guess that would be a magic shop where you can purchase a staff of power. :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. If I wanted to "look the part I play," I would take a magic marker and write 'doofus' on the front of a T-shirt and wear that.

    I don't know when Ren-Faires and SCA and all that kind of stuff started or how much overlap there is between SCAers and D&Ders but wonder if this enterprising tailor may have been working in that field and tried to catch new clients this way. Can't blame them for trying, although in 1982 I was a self conscious teen who would not have been caught dead in something that would have made other people laugh and point. I can't see myself wearing a costume to game night without bringing my fellow players to tears with laughter, but compared to everything else we do (including blogging a lot about an out of print game, I am guilty as charged) is it really that weird?

    ReplyDelete
  15. What would've been ultracool is if the guy who bought one of these had a buddy who ordered a ninja suit from one of those crappy ninja magazines available about the same period. Together, the fight crime!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I've been to enough conventions to know that there are just some enthusiastic gamers who like crafting, and like combining their hobbies, and it's easy to imagine that one or two wondered if they could make some money off of it.

    To me, this looks like the product of naive enthusiasm, not foolish pride.

    I'd expect old-school hobbyists to appreciate that distinction with less snark!

    There is, BTW, a healthy mob of gamers and LARPers down Marietta way. I don't know what's in the water, but they're heavy drinkers there. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  17. What would've been ultracool is if the guy who bought one of these had a buddy who ordered a ninja suit from one of those crappy ninja magazines available about the same period. Together, the fight crime!

    I remember those magazines! A friend of mine was a huge "martial arts" aficionado and used to buy those magazines from the local drug store. As I recall, it was the ninja weapons that caught our eyes more than the costumes, though.

    ReplyDelete
  18. It took the LARP expansion of the early/mid 90s for this type of stuff to come into it's own. The Society of Creative Anachronism is where most of us in NERO LARP got our initial patterns and ideas from.

    Here is a link to some photo galleys

    http://www.nerolarp.com/GalleryTOC.htm

    ReplyDelete
  19. It took the LARP expansion of the early/mid 90s for this type of stuff to come into it's own.

    This is why I wonder about the connection that many people are making between this ad and LARPs. In 1982, outside of the SCA, there wouldn't have been many organized LARP groups and I'm not sure a get-up like this would have been of much interest to a SCAer.

    ReplyDelete
  20. @Anthony


    You know what I find interesting? It's how many of these services over the long years (historical costumes, fantasy costumes, historical weapons, &c.) seem to be based in Georgia, with many having a Marietta address.


    That area always had a very high LARP population. There are many professional COS-players in the area (essentially models who get paid to dress up in genre garb). And White Wolf arguably popularized LARPing with its early official integration into Vampire.

    But this ad is much earlier, so I have no idea what caused it first. I do know that these days, SCAD (Savanah College of Art and Design) does drive some of the COS-playing in the area.

    ReplyDelete
  21. "As I recall, it was the ninja weapons that caught our eyes more than the costumes, though."

    Ah yes, ninja stars, nunchucks, and katanas--every middle school kid's dream arsenal. But those boots with the crazy toes were the best.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Except for one or two costume party games I've only ever seen one person show up at a regular RPG session in a costume and being the mature 18-21 year olds we were at the time we teased him mercilessly and still get a laugh out of it to this day. This wasn't some random fellow who dropped by for his first game either we'd known him and gamed on and off with him for about 5 years at that point and ne day he drops by in a in a costume for the regularly scheduled game.

    An ex-husband of an aunt of mine gamed regularly and has himself a pretty elaborate wizards costume and wears it every chance he gets...
    it takes all types.

    Now LARPing is where it isn't silly to wear wizard's robes and elf ears. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  23. >> It took the LARP expansion of the early/mid 90s for this type of stuff to come into it's own.
    > This is why I wonder about the connection that many people are making between this ad and LARPs.

    Nah... LARP was established well enough conceptually by 1982 in the UK and predates D&D in the US.
    Does the advert say anything about turning up to play D&D dressed in costume, either?

    I'd only mentioned LARP, anyhow, due to that "idiocy" tag, regardless of context. Doesn't seem particularly more "idiotic" than paying for games wherein one could roll dice and act out make-believe roles "in character" at the table... albeit I don't recall seeing any adverts for drama classes in The Dragon to improve one's "role playing".

    (Maybe Prof. Barker's Tékumel cosplay crowd /were/ 30 years ahead of their time :> )

    ReplyDelete
  24. Well, someone bought it...

    http://xkcd.com/442/ (eighth panel)

    ReplyDelete
  25. Twenty-four comments in and no "I put on my robe and wizard hat" jokes? That meme must truly be dead.

    The only time I've seen people wearing costumes while gaming is when RPGs are depicted on TV shows. It's like the directors/producers feel there needs to be a physical prop to signify that people aren't just sitting around a table.

    I did have a brush with a group who dressed up in costume--I was in high school and posted a "gamer seeking group" ad on my FLGS's bulletin board. I got a call from a local gamer whose group ran a pirate RPG (I forget the name) and mentioned off-handedly that they "took it seriously" and used costumes and props and stuff. I never followed up on that lead.

    ReplyDelete
  26. @Gridlore: That's the MMORPG version... :p

    ReplyDelete
  27. @sirlarkins: darn... ninja'd by 3 minutes. Kudos, sir.

    ReplyDelete
  28. "Dressing up in character" is one of the things that has done irreparable damage to D&D and RPGs in general. Thanks for that, dress up crowd, whoever you are.

    I've never met anyone that actually fully dressed up to play D&D but I do remember in our early days we would screen new players to make sure they didn't either. So it was at least a enough of a concern of ours back then that we felt the need to guard against it. In fact if you did wear any kind of garment that was related to your character (later in the 90s I remember dudes started wearing gloves for some reason) you were mocked, then asked to remove it, then booted from the group. In that order.

    "October 1982, back when issue #66 of Dragon was released, and during the height of D&D's popularity"

    So 82 was the height of D&D? I guess that makes sense. Now that I think about it in "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)" the kids in the beginning were playing D&D in their kitchen (or a game that sounded just like it) and I remember recognizing that when I saw the movie so we must have already been playing by then.

    ReplyDelete
  29. "Dressing up in character" is one of the things that has done irreparable damage to D&D and RPGs in general.

    It's certainly one of the more lampooned behaviors in the wider popular culture, even though it's never been a common behavior among roleplayers, then or now.

    So 82 was the height of D&D?

    In terms of faddishness, '82 is pretty close to the height, yes, although I think TSR's best year financially was either '83 or '84. After that, it's mostly downhill with varying degrees of precipitousness.

    ReplyDelete
  30. This is why I wonder about the connection that many people are making between this ad and LARPs.

    In the 80s in my hometown in NW PA among high school and college age gamers, a person dressing at the table would have been viewed as very very strange

    But on the flip side there are very heavy interest in trying to do live-action version of what we did at the table. Now we were not totally crazy and did have a minimal set of safety rules. A very minimal set.

    For two years my neighborhood group did D&D in the woods and came within inches of what NERO and other LARP groups did 7 years later. We floundered on several issues and when most of the local gamers went to college the group broke up.

    From what I know about the early history of NERO, the live-action started first, and then the costuming followed. This made sense to what I experienced with D&D in the woods where we focused on the gear to safely sword fight (with padded wooden dowels, armor, and spell stuff (we never figured that one out).

    If we had figured out a set of rules and kept the initial momentum going then I have no doubt costuming would have followed. And we would not have worn the gear to the table.

    In any case, any LARP group would have looked to the SCA for initial ideas for costumes as they were only well-known group doing anything like what D&D LARP folks wanted to do.

    Even when D&D style LARPS were established by the mid 90s wearing a costume would have been "odd". Now during some of the longer week long events there was a night of two of table top gaming by players taking a break from the event. And because most of the clothes were LARP gear ...

    I have no doubt that at the height of D&D popularity there were groups trying to do their own D&D In the woods. And perhaps that fueled enough of a demand for costuming to warrant a costume ad in Dragon. Certainly there was a considerable overlap with people roleplaying and people going to the SCA.

    Also there that cover picture for Judges Guild's Book of Treasure Map I. That is a couple of years before my experience with D&D with in the woods and perhaps digging into the story behind the photo will shed more light on the popularity of costumes.

    ReplyDelete
  31. My group almost dressed up to play once... almost. We decided that as nerdy as we were, we weren't that gorram nerdy.
    We also toyed with the idea of LARPing, but as we put the RP in RPG, we were afraid of murdering each other and/or unwanted pregnancies.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Ah, the RPGers are ridiculing the LARPers again! Just goes to show that being a member of a ridiculed subculture doesn't necessarily make one any more sympathetic or open-minded. There is always someone more geeky than yourself to make fun of!

    ReplyDelete
  33. Duglas: I've just gone over all of the responses, and I'm not sure where you're seeing anyone here ridiculing LARPers. Could you point out some specific examples?

    ReplyDelete
  34. Ed Greenwood has said that the DM of his first D&D session dressed in costume -- though in his case he says it was a young women dressed in Red Sonja-esque garb, so the effect might have been different...

    ReplyDelete
  35. @faoladh: Forgive me if I extrapolated too much from these postings, but the general vibe I was getting was at least we are not as weird as a dude who dresses like a wizard! Perhaps I was unduly influenced by the "idiocy" tag?

    Lest you think I am some overly-serious dude... I am actually a fan of making fun of pretty much anyone and everything, with the caveat that I acknowledge that I am the biggest dork of all! Society tends to be too constrained and somber as is, in my opinion. I'd like to see more people dressed as wizards walking around town, doing their work, playing their games.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I never dressed up to game, the closest was to have a few candles around and an old book that had a spellbook-like vibe to it. That ended when we had too much trouble reading by candle light.

    I remember dressing up in a cape and whatnot, but I was around ten and we were playing outside, using sticks and the like for swords and wands. And, well, like I said, we were kids.

    As to LARPers and cosplayers, I'm in the SCA. I have no room to talk :) I'm all for people finding their fandom and doing their thing.

    ReplyDelete
  37. I never dressed up to game, the closest was to have a few candles around and an old book that had a spellbook-like vibe to it. That ended when we had too much trouble reading by candle light.

    Yes, I once tried to game by candlelight. It didn't work out very well, for the reason you mentioned.

    ReplyDelete
  38. I remember those Ninja-shoes. The people I knew in Junior high were the ones who would have later been deemed members of the 'trench coat mafia' or whatever paranoid name teachers and the other students come up with those kids who are both weird and not self conscious and do eccentric things.
    I was too self conscious to have even considered wearing such a get up back in the day --- and I consider that a failing on my part --- a missed opportunity --- like all of the girls I wanted to ask out but didn't because I lacked the courage. I guess it's never too late and I could start dressing up like my character now... If I ever get a game going again, maybe I'll get a collection of funny hats and helmets for players to wear. I once made a cyclops mask out of paper for a party(just a piece of paper that was skin colored with a huge eyeball drawn on it and two tiny slits for me to peer out of that covered the top front of my head) that really freaked people out when I wore it...
    I'm not too proud to be above giving my fellow players a laugh at my antics in the spirit of fun.
    As far as SCA or Larping goes, though, never did it and never really wanted to. But I think having D&D players on TV wear costumes when D&D is portrayed on TV makes perfect sense if you want non-players to understand what is going on... i.e.: this guy is pretending to be a wizard so he has a pointy hat and a robe, etc. Or you could do like that Farador Video and have the players first shown sitting around the table dressed in their normal clothes and then when you switch to the action of the game, they dress as their own characters... but a video of people playing D&D just sitting at the table rolling dice would be pretty boring... its one of those, "you have to be there" kind of games.
    And I still get a chuckle out of that Reno 911 episode where the exasperated cop tells a goofy gamer, "This is a +6 billy club of whoopass!" The player later says, "I have boots of Escape!" and tries to run away but the cop shoots him in the leg... and scene...

    ReplyDelete
  39. (aside)

    > Rob Conley wrote
    > Even when D&D style LARPS were established by the mid 90s wearing a costume would have been "odd".
    > I have no doubt that at the height of D&D popularity there were groups trying to do their own D&D In the woods.

    1983, etc. => http://www.ifgs.org/dain.asp

    "Live" D&D LARP-style is described in Jim Lurvey's article in the Great Plains Newsletter around 1975 IIRC.

    Prior to that LARPing was less "formalised" and more Tolkien-centric - see, for example, one set of rules (from several years of play) in "Rules for the Live Ring Game" from 1973: costume not obligatory, however? ;)

    ReplyDelete
  40. In the early-mid 80's we had 3 associated D&D groups, 2 local (even many of the same players) and one about 400 miles away (their DM was a close friend of the prime 'local' DM).

    Once a year we would all get together and play for an entire weekend (2 DM's). Friday night was in costume, with everyone dressed as their character. We never did this outside "the weekender".

    ReplyDelete
  41. >>but a video of people playing D&D just sitting at the table rolling dice would be pretty boring<<

    Oh I don't know, I think COMMUNITY did a heck of a job with it....and the only LARPer in the group was killed off pretty quick...

    ReplyDelete
  42. "1983, etc. => http://www.ifgs.org/dain.asp"

    Ok, so I still don't want it at my table, but that DOES look like fun. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  43. I did a conversion and $60 in 1982 is $139.90 today. And the most expensive option the robe, hat and all with the bracers would be $191.20.

    But doesn't a set of 4E books cost about that much anyway? lol

    ReplyDelete
  44. I wouldnt laugh too loud...the girls who are physically modifying their ears to look elf pointy, or the guys who are getting forehead implants for the Klingon look might beat you up.

    ReplyDelete
  45. I laughed my fool head off when I saw this; thank you for posting it! Anyone who'd actually WEAR such costumes *can't* be a real RPG player; nobody'd be that uncool, even in 1982!

    Viz:

    http://chirinesworkbench.blogspot.com/2011/03/hot-elf-chick-dave-arneson-gary-gygax.html

    Look at that guy in the middle! Sunglasses (actually polarized lenses to correct a vision problem) in armor?!? Really!!! Just WHAT were those goofy Tekumel people think of, anyway???

    What I was thinking of, back in those Stirring Days Of Yesteryear, was performing the arcane ritual of Moving The Merchandise; it worked, and I got the girls, too... :D

    yours, Goofy Geek In Sunglasses

    [ @irbyz: COSplay? Is that what we were doing? :) ]

    ReplyDelete
  46. *chuckles* Cheers, Jeff: I spotted the hook in from your own blog.

    Nah... I was meaning /way/ back per http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v316/harami2000/sinisterra1-3_cover.jpg / http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v316/harami2000/nwcon50-01b.jpg , as you recall. Maybe I'd confused that somewhat by saying "Prof. Barker" since he wasn't yet, at that time.

    For that 1950 context "Tékumel cosplay" is tongue in cheek, of course, since there was also undoubtedly an element of shared world creation (and "role playing" of a sort) rather than "merely" mimicking the creations of others. It still gets a smile, though, to think such "Tékumel cosplay" (presenting their own creations) predates that for Trek, Middle Earth, etc., etc., by a long way. :)

    (copy/your blog)
    > Huh. Could have fooled me; I thought we was doing a role-playing thing... :D

    Sorry, y'can't do that in costume without getting hit by an "idiocy" tag. ;) *ducks*

    IMHO it /is/ possible to roll all those approaches together in a glorious attempt towards "total immersion" (way before such tech is available) but unfortunately RL hang-ups can get in the way for many people who'd otherwise be strong supporters of "suspension of disbelief".

    ReplyDelete
  47. "IMHO it /is/ possible to roll all those approaches together in a glorious attempt towards 'total immersion' (way before such tech is available) but unfortunately RL hang-ups can get in the way for many people who'd otherwise be strong supporters of 'suspension of disbelief'."--irbyz

    I agree.

    But I also think most people's negative reactions to the idea of people dressing up to play RPGs are not likely due to mere hangups.

    I think they're probably mostly due to that idea having been used by others to make RPG players look even sillier than we actually are.

    And I think most people's negative reactions are related soley to the idea of people dressing up to play tabletop RPGs too.

    Because, while dressing up for SCA, Ren-fairs, conventions, LARP, cosplay and the like is just as silly as playing RPGs, dressing up just to sit around a table and play an RPG is silly squared.

    And most people see people who act that silly as at least borderline crazy.

    And, because we're social creatures who care what others think about us, most people are averse to the idea of doing anything that they think will likely make most other people think they're crazy.

    And that's not just a mere hangup. That's being human.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Can't say that I've ever dressed up, but I have been known to bring props to the table...mainly a beer mug and warhammer when I play a Dwarf character.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Rob, great call on the Book of Treasure Maps. Reportedly the great Paul Jaquays is the guy in the helmet. I always loved the unstudied determined look on the girls' faces.

    Hey, irbyz, your juxtaposition of *ducks* with the "idiocy" tag reminds me of the urban legend I was recently reading about White Bear & Red Moon starting in some kind of Staffordian "LARP." Care to weigh in? I suppose active heroquesters will always look a little goofy to those not "caught in the mood"...

    ReplyDelete
  50. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  51. I am going to disagree with most posts here somewhat-- in that, although I have never dressed up in costume in an rpg session, I think if it were done right it could have an interesting effect.

    We do the candle light sessions often--coupled with medieval themed music this has had a very interesting effect and I note that people tend to become much more involved in the game and their characters. If you had trouble with lighting, you didn't have enough candles or large enough candles--we ran a game with perfect lighting this way--each players needs two candles for his or her own use, the DM needs five or six, and the gaming mat needs about ten.

    Candle light is medieval lighting--couple this with the shadows and the sudden removal of your modern room surroundings, and suddenly, you are in a dreamlike atmosphere where the normal everyday people you hang out with beyond the table don't look like themselves--they suddenly seem more like the character they are portraying...I prefer to play this way and I am looking into oil lamps as a safer and cleaner alternative. I can play during the day--but its much more fun in the flickering light. As th light takes the areas outside of the gaming table out of focus, the game world comes more into focus!

    Costumes alone would be a distraction--in the setting I've mentioned I think very simple props and costumes would do something i have a hard time getting my players to do all the time--that is, to speak and act in character during the game. I don't like when player to player discussion becomes academic and detached from the game--I want Nimble the Thief to address Aromaine the Mage as Nimble talking to Aromaine, not Laura talking to John.

    Many people will never take the game or the hobby seriously--I am not worried about impressing them. they already think its satanic, the candles would really freak them out, but they don't mind candle light dinners or watching a play with people dressed in costume. Since they already trip on you, tune them out completely!

    I think if you invested in some very good articles (a cowled cloak, an authentic looking helm, a quiver of arrows...)and placed nice props on table, people would really get into the game!

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.