Thursday, April 15, 2021

"Thrown into Barbarism by a Cosmic Cataclysm

 After admitting yesterday that I take great interest in early newspaper and magazine reports about roleplaying games, I received several emails from readers pointing me toward examples of the same. I'd like to thank everyone who's done so, since I'd never seen most of them before and they're amazing windows into the past. 

One article that really caught my eye was sent to me by Thaddeus Moore. It's from the February 12, 1977 edition of the Vancouver Sun. The article, entitled "The Miniature World of Model Makers" by Phil Hanson, is about the hobby show at the Pacific National Exhibition, which showcased model planes and vehicles. Hanson talks to hobby shop owner Bill Murdoch and learns about the growth of model making as both a business and a pastime. Toward the end of the article, Murdoch mentions that "Maybe war games are becoming old hat … The big thing at the hobby convention was fantasy games." The article then goes on to say:

Not only does Hanson talk about D&D, as one might expect, but also Empire of the Petal Throne. That's frankly remarkable. Even nowadays, most gamers have never heard of EPT, let alone know enough about it to describe it as accurately as the paragraph above does. Mind you, this article was published only two years after the appearance of EPT, when there were still only about two dozen RPGs of any kind in print. Nevertheless, I'm impressed and find myself how often the game was ever mentioned in the mainstream press over the years – not often, I'd wager.


  1. I found a mainstream mention of EPT today, actually, when I was looking for something else. On June 17, 1981, the Salem, OR Statesman-Journal ran a brief article on a gaming convention (creatively titled Game Con 1) to be held the next week at Chemeketa Community College. EPT is specifically mentioned as one of the games that will be played.

  2. Don't forget that you could find the first couple of Barker's EPT novels in bookstores nationwide for the better part of a decade. They weren't NY Times best sellers but that certainly helped get Tekumel out in the public eye a bit. I know several modern-day EPT fans who found the setting through the novels rather than encountering the games first.

    Being carried by chains like Waldenbooks and B Dalton's used to really mean something back then. It was well before Amazon and e-readers and the internet began warping traditional publishing and distribution into the sorry mess it is today.

    1. You make a good point, but this particular mention is too early to have been influenced by the books, the first of which appeared in 1984.

    2. True, but that bookseller exposure certainly influenced things later on - and by then EPT was long OOP and had also acquired a certain mystique among newer gamers who'd never encountered it. IIRC I think Barker said the novels were published in part because one of the agents involved had heard of the RPG but never played it, which got him curious enough to take a chance. Interesting, if I'm remembering correctly. Certainly by 1984 the book trade had become well aware of the potential of the RPG market due to dealing with TSR, and to lesser degree other publishers.

      For better or worse, TSR (both before and after Gygax) always seemed to be chasing more mass-market business through licensing deals, book publishing, and getting their products onto book store shelves. It sure helped with publicity and probably with sales, but returns policies were a clear problem for them in the long run.

  3. The wonderful title of this post reminds me of the opening narration of every Thundarr the Barbarian episode.

    Lost of great post titles lately:

    "Ritualistically Murdered by Satan Worshipers"

    B.A.D.D. Arguments

    "Virtually Incomprehensible"

    "That Bastion of Socialist Game Design"

    and the unbeatable "Pulsipher's Sanctimonious Pile of Crap"