RIP: Rick Loomis, Founder of Flying Buffalo, Inc.

Buffalo has never been a huge player in the board/RPG industry, but they’ve been around for a very long time and there was one place where they absolutely ruled: play-by-mail (PBM) games. Rick was a pioneer when he started running games while in the Army from shoeboxes in the barracks! After he left the Army, he found a programmer, Steve McGregor (also deceased) who coded them for a Raytheon computer with magnetic core memory and punched tape storage!

The initial games were Battle Plan and Star Web, conquer the earth and conquer the universe, respectively. A financial simulator (conquer Wall Street?) came later, then microcomputers came along and bred Heroic Fantasy, Star Lord – with a color map! (took bloody forever to print!), Galactic Conflict, and a conquer medieval England game whose name eludes me for the moment.

All these games were computer moderated. Every turn you would receive a printout of your position. You fill out your order sheet and send it in. They’re all typed in, and the program would resolve actions in specific sequences, game-dependent. No bias. New printouts generated and mailed, later emailed.

VERY popular with overseas military!

There were other companies in this space, but Buffalo was best! And they bought out a couple of competitors, and still run some PBM games, though I suspect they’re play-by-email. When Steve started coding on the micros, he had the foresight to write in UCSD Pascal using their bootable P-System OS that will run on anything, so some of this code is over 30 years old and runs just fine on contemporary hardware! Which is a good thing since Steve passed away some 15+ years ago.

Flying Buffalo also was a pioneer in fantasy role-playing games. They launched one of the early competitors to Dungeons and Dragons, Tunnels & Trolls, by Ken St. Andre – who is still alive. The beautiful thing about T&T is that it uses ONLY six-sided dice – none of this polyhedral nonsense. Much quicker and easier to play! And T&T HAS HOBBITS, NOT HALFLINGS! Tolkien’s people were able to cow Gygax and company, but when they went after KSA and Buffalo, they produced prior art that predated JRR and showed where he got the name Hobbit from, and they went away quietly!

Tunnels & Trolls is alive and well, having recently gone through a major revision and Kickstarter.

Side by side with T&T, Flying Buffalo produced many solo dungeons, letting you have choose your own adventures when you couldn’t get a group together. These were my first fantasy RPG experience before I graduated high school back in the ’70s, and I loved it. I subscribed to their house publication, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, waiting for the next solo to come out and snarfing it up ASAP.

Then I became mobile, started taking college classes, and found out that Buffalo was about 10 minutes away from my school! I started hanging out there, typing away on my TRS-80 Model 100, either doing some programming or working on homework or maybe writing some character background for a role-playing game. Rick saw me and offered me a job.

And that’s how I started working for a game company.

I don’t remember how long I worked there, probably just a couple of years. Initially I did what I was hired for: enter addresses into the Commercial Mailing List. Rick attended LOTS of game conventions. Not just Origins and GenCon, but all of the LA game cons (there were three Gateway cons at the time), San Jose, all over the place. Basically he was gone pretty much every weekend during the spring and summer. At these conventions he’d collect names and addresses of people who wanted to receive gaming information in the mail – yes, people opting-in to be spammed. Then a game company would approach Rick and say ‘I need a thousand addresses in the south east.’ We would figure out the zip codes, print up the labels, and mail them to the customer. And Rick would collect some cash.

Rick also always went to Essen in Germany, which is a game con that I <i>really</i> want to attend some year. I went to a lot of the Gateway cons with him, helping him run the booth. He was one of the founders of GAMA, the Game Manufacturer’s Association, and served as president for a number of years.

I also processed PBM games, unloaded trucks, helped in the game store, stuffed game turns into envelopes and ran them through the postage meter, basically the same stuff that everyone else did. And on the nights and weekends we would play games until all hours, sometimes literally until the sun came up!

And eventually I left. But I never stopped associating with Flying Buffalo. I made many literally life-long friendships there. I’ve lost contact with several, and this is the fourth death of a Buffalo, and it was the Buffalo Prime.

Rick was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year. As he was a veteran, the VA covered a lot, but not all of the bills. He was put on an experimental treatment plan and seemed to be responding well to it. Most recently he was in a recovery facility and there was optimism that he would be able to return home. Earlier this week a GoFundMe was established to raise $20,000 to cover medical bills beyond what the VA would cover.

That amount was raised in a little over 24 hours.

Steve Crompton, the staff artist for Buffalo, took his laptop to the facility where Rick was and read him the comments and encouragements that people posted, and it seemed to hearten him. I hope he appreciated mine: I chipped in $25 and also posted it to my High Altitude Game Design blog which feeds my Twitter feed. But pancreatic cancer is a bitch, and it got him in the end. Rick passed away yesterday just hours before his birthday today.

He is survived by two sisters. The donation drive currently stands at a little under $40,000, so the medical debt is cleared and the sisters will be able to pay for a decent burial. Rick had been planning to sell Flying Buffalo to a company, I don’t know who, so I have no idea what those plans are or what will become of it.

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