Thursday, September 7, 2017

Old Nerd Retrospect Presents: Adventurer’s Club #1

This last week, I had reason to go back and re-read my series on Classic Enemies from a few years ago. Good times. It was also the last time this blog was really productive, and also the last time I was really well and truly focused on the superhero genre for the long haul. Since some of my current writing projects need that focus, I figured I’d try something similar to get that back.  Looking around, it occurred to me that I have a complete run of Adventurer’s Club, the official Hero Games magazine published from 1983 to 1995, ostensibly on a quarterly basis. Ostensibly. Sometimes years went by without an issue. Anyway, I have all twenty-seven of them, so I figured I’d give each a read-through and report on my findings, recollections, whatever.  Let’s see what happens.

This is Adventurer’s Club, volume one, number one, cover dated Fall 1983. The cover is by Mark Williams. Inside the front cover are two simple ads, one for “Privateer” a piracy-based board game that Hero sold at conventions. I actually played a demo of it at Origins in 1984. It was fun, but not something I was all that interested in.  The other ad highlighted a pair of adventures coming from Hero Games and BLADE (a division of Flying Buffalo): “Border Crossing” (for ESPIONAGE) and “The Adventure of the Jade Jaguar” for MERCENARIES, SPIES, and PRIVATE EYES. The ad touts the fact that each adventure includes game stats for both systems. This wasn’t the first instance of dual-stats in RPG supplements, but it was something Hero Games did quite a bit of throughout the 80s and 90s.

Anyway, let’s look at this magazine. It’s 32 pages (plus cover), digest-sized. The layout looks to be by hand or possibly very early computer-aided pasteup. It’s got a simple, clean and readable look, nothing fancy. Apart from the table of contents, page one lists the AC staff as follows:
  • Editor: Steve Peterson
  • Art Director: Mark Williams
  • Graphics & Production: Michael T. Gray, Mark Williams, & George
  • Advertising & Circulation: Ray Greer
  • Interior Illustrations are by Mike Weatherby and Mark Williams

‘Nuff Said is the editorial introduction page, written by Steve Peterson. For this issue, he lays out their recurring features and mentions a need for writers (a penny a word) and illustrations ($20 a page, $50 for a cover), as well as subscription rates of four issues for ten dollars, which covered shipping. Additionally, subscribers eventually got an Adventurer’s Club membership card that got them into Hero-only events at conventions as well as a (usually) four-page occasional newsletter with additional game stuff or inside information. As I recall, it also got me a playtest copy of Fantasy Hero, so that’s kind of neat.

Between the Lines (also written by Mr. Peterson) is the Q&A feature, where players can get rules clarifications, not unlike the “Sage Advice” feature in Dragon Magazine. This time around, they answer a pair of questions that came from conventions. The first addressed why they used the same game system for ESPIONAGE as CHAMPIONS (albeit with lower point values and a few other rules changes). This is possibly the first appearance in print of the notion of the Hero System as a toolkit. It’s still years away from being a truly unified system, but it’s the first time I recall seeing it addressed in this way. The second question was, in my opinion, of equal importance, namely this: “At what point on the Speed Chart do you start combat? Do you star on segment 1? What if a character is hit by a surprise attack?” The answer, of course, is to start on segment 12 of the previous round for most combats. Believe it or not, this was an important rules clarification and it became standard practice in later editions of the game. It’s cool to see it explained here for the first time.

Superhype, written by Ray Greer, is a promotional column devoted to new and upcoming products. This time around:
  • Another call for subscriptions
  • “Border Crossing,” the first (and only, as it turned out) adventure for ESPIONAGE, Hero’s second RPG.
  • “The Great Supervillain Contest,” a CHAMPIONS adventure by Dennis Mallonee.
  • An announcement of an upcoming “Organizations” book by Aaron Allston. This would ultimately be a couple of books: “The Circle and METE,” and “The Blood and Dr. McQuark,” but no details were available at this early date.
  • An announcement of an agreement with Steve Jackson Games to produce Cardboard Heroes for CHAMPIONS. As I recall, they came out in 1984 or 85, and were reprinted in the 4th edition GM’s Kit.
  • Another agreement with SJG for AUTODUEL CHAMPIONS, a product that allowed for Hero System roleplaying in the Car Wars Universe along with the addition of superpowers to the vehicular combat game.
  • A team-up with BLADE for the cross-compatible adventures advertised inside the front cover.
  • JUSTICE INC., the planned pulp-era RPG has been rolled back “a month or so.” It would come out at Origins in the summer of 1984. A companion adventure “Horror in the Sky” never saw publication. It’s too bad, because it sounded pretty cool. 

Crooks and Crusaders offers a new character. In this case, it’s the first appearance of The Awesome Exo-Skeleton Man, by Bruce Harlick. LeRoy McGowan was a low-level VIPER agent who became Foxbat’s first (and for a very long time, only) agent/sidekick. He’s a normal guy who…well, he wears an exo-skeleton. I mean, it’s right there in the name. It makes him strong and has some armor, life support, and a decent blaster. He’s a solid NPC, all in all. The accompanying illustration by Mike Witherby is a nice departure from Mark Williams. Witherby has a bit of Kirby style and it suits the character.

Below the illustration, we get a ¼ page of “Foxbat Says”, a snippet of rules advice: “Give agents equipment that activates on a 14 or less!” When I first read this, I probably thought it was genius, because it too me many years to realize that points are for players. A GM doesn’t need to worry about the cost accounting on NPCs.  Granted, there are reasons to use Activation Rolls, in order to represent unreliable equipment, but suggesting it as a cost-cutting measure for NPCs is kind of ridiculous in retrospect. However, that was the way we played back then, as if the players would demand to edit the GM’s character sheets or something.

Covert Action, by Steve Peterson is intended to be a recurring column for ESPIONAGE. However, for this first column, the focus is on cops. It’s clear the guys at Hero Games were seeing the potential of using ESPIONAGE to handle any sort of modern non-super adventure setting and this is a first step in that direction. The article gives two package deals (Police Academy Training and Police Detective) and the article suggests basing the game not on real police work, but TV cop shows, modeling the game after the way those shows are structured, along with a brief mention of tropes and the admonition to make sure your adventures include things for each character to do. For a one-page article (two pages with the package deals), it’s pretty solid.

Champions Plus is a recurring feature for new CHAMPIONS rules, powers, etc. This first one is by Dennis Mallonee and brings us Endurance Reserve and Multiform, two powers that would see official publication in CHAMPIONS III (which isn’t CHAMPIONS, third edition). Not much to say beyond that; it’s solid work and good additions to the rules.

Foxbat and Fandom is the letter column. The name is also a pretty terrific pun on a classic SPI air combat game (Foxbat and Phantom). It was in this very first issue that the tradition of people mailing insulting letters to Foxbat (and Foxbat’s irate replies) began. It’s a nice break from the usual dry as toast letter columns we saw in other gaming mags.

The Mechanon Gambit, by Ray Greer and George MacDonald, is an adventure for CHAMPIONS, using villains from the main rulebook. In it, the villain Pulsar attempts to steal an uncompleted body belonging to the robotic conqueror Mechanon. Of course, the heroes and VIPER have to show up to make his life difficult. And possibly a few other villains. And, possibly Mechanon. Fun ensues.

This is a terrific little adventure. It does some nice world-building by establishing that Mechanon has robotic factories secreted around the land, where his consciousness can be transferred into a new body. The opposition is set up to scale with the number of heroes, and the set-up is such that it’s easy to insert into an existing campaign without breaking anything. Plus, it has a nice map of an airport and the robotic factory.

We finish up this issue with a page of submissions guidelines (typewritten, double-spaced, 1” margins, maps drawn on hex paper. A simpler time.

The inside back cover is a Hero Games order form. The available products are:
  • Champions
  • Enemies
  • The Island of Dr. Apocalypse
  • Stronghold
  • GM’s Screen
  • Enemies II
  • Espionage
  • Champions II
  • Deathstroke
  • Privateer
  • Adventurers Club #1

Shipping and handling was a whole dollar.

The back cover is an ad for Adventurers Club subscriptions.

So, that’s it. It’s simple, and fairly primitive, even by early 80s standards. But it was a great start. There's not a lot more to comment on here, other than what I've already said. Maybe next time, I'll have more nuggets of wisdom.


  1. Yay! Thank you! This warmed the cockles of my heart.

  2. Island of Dr. _Destroyer_, Theron. Dr. Apocalypse was someone else. :)

  3. Yep, a Villains and Vigilantes villain (and adventure).