Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Ads of Dragon: Sandman

Issue #99 (July 1985) of Dragon had an advertisement for a game that I will long remember:
Sandman may not be the strangest game ever published in the annals of the hobby, but it's probably the strangest game I ever purchased. As you might guess based on the ad's description of Sandman as a "game of dramatic entertainment," Sandman presented itself as something different from the average roleplaying game. Each player took on the role of an amnesiac traveler in a surreal world with which they weren't familiar, so there was no need for character generation or world information, which theoretically made it suitable for complete novices. The idea was that the players would learn about the game's weird setting and their characters through play over the course of many adventures, four of which were included in the initial Map of Halaal boxed set.

Had the game line continued, there'd have been several more boxed sets, each of which provided more clues about the nature of the characters, the setting, and the titular Sandman, a mysterious being who seems to know who the characters are and may or may not be responsible for their presence in the game's bizarre world. Discovering the identity of the Sandman was also the goal of a contest offering a $10,000 prize to the winner. So far as I know, no one ever won the prize, but that might have more to do with the fact that Pacesetter went out of business sometime in 1986 or thereabouts.

As I said, I owned Sandman and was very intrigued by its basic premise, but I never actually played it. Part of it was that I found the adventures very railroad-y, a flaw that I fear was inherent in the nature of the game, given its premise. Likewise, there was no way a referee could create his own adventures, since he knew almost as little as the players about the setting, the characters, or the Sandman. This meant continued play depended on buying future Sandman boxed sets, a notion that didn't sit well with me, even before I discovered that no more boxed sets would be forthcoming. In the end, Sandman had the germs of some good ideas, but its execution left much to be desired and so it remains a curiosity of the hobby rather than a well-loved classic.

18 comments:

  1. Definitely a clever way to force players to buy more boxed sets: make the game virtually dependent on them...or maybe not since the company went under.

    The contest gimmick reminds me of the prizes you could supposedly win by playing the Atari Swordquest games for the 2600. Also a series that was never finished as far as I know. Must have been a trend of the 80's.

    Really though, I must have completely missed this game when it came out as I don't recall it in the slightest. I'll be curious if anyone in my usual circles has either.

    Now an RPG based on Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" might be memorable...

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  2. Wasn't Sandman briefly revived by 54-40 Orphyte, the company that acquired Pacesetter's properties? I seem to have a vague memory of that.

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  3. Totally missed this game too. Didn't even know it existed. And now my collection is whispering "buy it buy it" in my ear...

    Hmmm. Goblinoid Games has the current rights to Timemaster. Precis Intermedia Games got Star Ace. Mayfair Games got Chill. I wonder if anyone picked up this game.

    Who were the authors of this game?

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  4. We played it. It was a trippy surreal mystery. The game system deliver the instant play as described. It was railroad-y but it we enjoyed the narrative aspect. I still have a copy but since the narrative was never finished I can't see revisiting it.

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  5. Available from 54'40 Orphyte
    http://www.orphyte.com/catalog/otherproducts.html
    It used to on RPGNow but not anymore.

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  6. It sounds quite like Lost, so maybe it'd be more popular nowadays.

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  7. Wasn't Sandman briefly revived by 54-40 Orphyte, the company that acquired Pacesetter's properties? I seem to have a vague memory of that.

    Orphyte still owns the rights to the game, I believe, but they never produced anything new for use with it.

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  8. Who were the authors of this game?

    It was written by Mark Acres and Andria Hayday, both of whom have connections to TSR.

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  9. Oh Lord, Sandman! I also purchased it in the day and, while it was an interesting concept and I enjoyed reading it, I knew I'd never get any of my regular gaming cronies to try it. Nor would I subject them to it. We were all anti-railroad (I still am) and thile I'll give it chutzpah points for working in Casablanca into the plot, it was just a mess. This purchase was also a turning point for me; it (and the purchase of Marvel Superheroes Basic)instilled in me the practice of being a Smart Gamer/Consumer, examining my purchases and not just waste my bucks on the Next Flashy New Thing that No One Will Play and for that, I'm thankful.

    -SJ

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  10. @Smokestack Jones

    Would that I had learned to pick my purchases more carefully before it became an economic necessity. (Maybe I'd have more money for games.) When I was flush with cash, I'd buy a game out of idle curiosity, and likely as not flog it back to Noble Knight Games at a fraction of its value.

    A question I ask myself about every new or previously unknown game I hear about is, "why do I need your product?" Why couldn't I adapt an existing system like Fudge On The Fly to a campaign about amnesiacs?

    YMMV, but I'm brimming with ideas, and I have a library of RPGs that I feel comfortable with. What I need are tested mechanics, factual information, and fully worked examples. There's way more value in a published adventure or a GURPS sourcebook -- despite not playing GURPS anymore -- than in Yet Another Quirky Indie Game or a shiny new leather bound fantasy/space/western heartbreaker.

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  11. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the game written in sort of a Choose Your Own Adventure manner?

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  12. This sounds like a great opportunity for someone to track down the original authors and find out wtf the deal with the Sandman was.

    Also, Pacesetter put out 2 of my favorite board games Wabbit's Wampage and Wabbit's Wevenge. good times.... good times...

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  13. @semiprometheous

    Amen, brutha! It also started me down the path of "do I really need this game?" It was also a period in my young life when I had less resale resources...

    -SJ

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  14. @Smokestack Jones

    Unfortunately the PDF market weakens my resolve. "It's only $5", I say ... or $10, or $20. It adds up. Nor have I completely stemmed the tide of dead trees: "Abney Park's Airship Pirates", Call of Cthulhu 30th Anniversary Edition, Campaign Coins (technically not dead tree) ... (Peter Lorre Voice)I can't help it!(/Peter Lorre Voice)

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  15. I got to play a couple of sessions of this, a long time ago. It was interesting, but limited gaming time led us back to D&D.

    Sometimes I think it would be fun to run Sandman and graft on my own explanation. It might make a fun lead-in to a wide-open setting like Amber or Doctor Who.

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  16. One of my favorite games of all time. PLus I still play it from time to time

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  17. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the game written in sort of a Choose Your Own Adventure manner?

    I believe the intro adventure was written that way, yes, though someone who still has a copy handy might know better than I.

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