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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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GoFundMe drive to help Rick Loomis, founder of Flying Buffalo

Rick was smitten (smoted?) with cancer and even though he is an army veteran, the bills have piled up to over $20,000 and he needs help.

Flying Buffalo is one of the oldest game companies in continuous existence, producing Tunnels & Trolls and all of its spin-off solo dungeons, Nuclear War and its two sequels, the recently republished Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes, Death Dice, and just so much good stuff.  He is one of the founders of the Game Manufacturers Association and served as their President for an insane number of years.  He was an icon at a crazy number of conventions, frequently on the road throughout the spring and summer more than he was at home!

I am proud to have worked at Flying Buffalo, Rick asked me if I wanted a job when he saw me programming away on my TRS-80 Model 100, probably either doing some coding in BASIC or writing a paper for my psych class – the school that I was attending was only about 5 miles away.  And that was my first IT job!

It was also my introduction into learning that gaming is so much more, and ultimately led me to getting in to game design, which really opens your mind in to doing so much more.

The GoFundMe is seeking $20,000 to help Rick and his sisters with his bills.  It started a day ago and is already over 75% of the way there!  The outpouring of love for Rick and Buffalo has been truly amazing.  Even five or ten bucks would be appreciated.  You don’t need an account on GoFundMe, but you do need a credit or debit card.

GoFundMe Campaign Link

A Flying Buffalo Bundle!

I shouldn’t buy this as I’ve been unemployed for a year, but I’m going to.  Bundle of Holding is offering a Flying Buffalo/Catalyst Bundle consisting of: Grimtooth’s Traps 1-4, CityBooks 1-7, Treasure Vault, and Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes (MSPE) AND the MSPE scenario module Adventure of the Jade Jaguar!

This is special to me because I remember the day that the truck with MSPE arrived and helping to unload it when Flying Buffalo was at its 52nd Street location in Tempe!  Fun times.  Lousy pay, but that’s the way the industry was.  Pretty much still is.  But there’s another thing that’s special to me: there’s a lot of my material in some of those books.  While I have hard copies of those books, they are Somewhere, and there’s no easy way for me to lay hands on them.  By getting PDFs of them, at least I can browse them when I want to spend some time strolling down Memory Lane.

To be honest, MSPE isn’t that great of a game, but lots of fond memories playing it over the years.  And with some work to reduce the lethality, it can be quite usable.

What I’ve listed is a combination of both Bundles which is a total of about $20.  The Bundle is available for another 13 days.

https://bundleofholding.com/presents/Catalyst

Have a spare €250 (plus airfare?)

Yesterday, Robin Laws posted about a gaming event in Germany called The Kraken at Schloss Neuhausen (NE of Berlin) in October.  Three days with meals included for €250 or so!  That is a heck of a deal.  And the panels are mostly in English.

Of course, flying to and from, if you’re not already in the area, isn’t exactly chump change.  But Germany in October?!  Man, I’d love to be there.

Humble Science Fiction Book Bundle

This is a heck of a package that is heavy on the classics: Roger Zelazny, George R.R. Martin’s Wildcards, Alfred Bester, Isaac Asimov! In the case of Zelazny, it has both short story collections and the third series of Amber books that were written by John Gregor Betancourt, which I haven’t read. I started reading Zelazny’ The Last Defender of Camelot, and I’m so happy that I did because I had forgotten what an incredible wordsmith that he was. I was re-reading his Amber series last year and I honestly don’t think that it represents his best work, but people will like what they will like.

(personally I copy them in to Dropbox and can load and read them from my desktop, laptop, phone, or tablet)

The bundle is available for both Kindle and ePub formats, is DRM-free, and is available for the next eleven days, so basically through the end of the month. The charities for this bundle help support SFWA’s The Givers Fund, the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, and the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital’s Extra Life fund. Currently the highest tier for all the books is only $15.

https://www.humblebundle.com/books/scificlassics_bookbundle

Bundle of Game Design books!

This bundle is more oriented towards video games, which is fine, it’s just not my particular field of interest (at the moment).  But it does contain one excellent book that is within my interests: Mike Selinker’s Kobald Guide To Board Game Design.  This is a book of essays by well-known game designers, such as Selinker himself, James Ernest (Cheapass Games), Richard Garfield (Magic the Gathering), Jeff Tidball (Pieces of Eight, Cthulhu 500), Matt Forbeck (Marvel Heroes Battle Dice, Brave New World and Lord of the Rings RPGs), Lisa Steenson (Lords of Vegas, Key Largo, Pirates of the Spanish Main), Andrew Looney (Fluxx, et al), and many others.  LOTS of good information on many aspects of board game design, including what makes a good gateway game, how lessons from film making can help design games, personal reflections on trials and tribulations, observations about how to build prototypes, etc.  I thought Andrew Looney’s flowchart on how he creates games was an excellent reflection on a good methodology.  He also suggests using lab books for jotting notes and observations.  It was quite interesting to learn that not only is his background in computer programming, but that some of his code is on the Hubble Space Telescope.  That is quite awesome.

Available for the next 18 days.

https://storybundle.com/games

More things to spend money on!

Bundle of Holding is a dangerous place.

Until the end of January, they’re offering a Nest of Spies, including second edition Spycraft, Classified, Spione, and Covert Ops.  Remember the Victory Games release of the James Bond 007 RPG back in the ’80s?  While that was an officially licensed product, eventually the license went away, I think Victory Games also went away.  Classified is a re-release, and presumably update, of the JB007 RPG with the serial numbers filed off.  I’ve bought the bundle and am really looking forward to looking over what they’ve done with it over an upcoming flight to DC.

https://bundleofholding.com/presents/NestOfSpies

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

BoH is also offering a massive collection of Champions 5th edition: in fact, it’s two bundles.  Both bundles are available for the next 11 days.  As usual, and like the Nest of Spies bundle, they’re split in to two collections.  The Champions collection consists of the following:

Starter Collection – $19.95

  • Hero System Fifth Revised Edition
  • HERO System Sidekick
  • Champions: Superpowered Roleplaying
  • Champions Universe (for Fifth Edition)
  • Hero System Resource Kit

Bonus Collection

  • Conquerors, Killers, And Crooks
  • VIPER: Coils of the Serpent
  • Millennium City
  • Champions Battlegrounds
  • Everyman
  • Stronghold
  • Millennium City University
  • The Stronghold Files, Volume 1
  • The Tablets of Destiny

The Ultimate Champions bundle is:

Starter Collection – $14.95

  • The Ultimate Mentalist (5E)
  • The Ultimate Energy Projector
  • The Ultimate Brick
  • The Ultimate Vehicle

and

Bonus Collection

  • The Ultimate Martial Artist (5E)
  • The Ultimate Metamorph
  • The Ultimate Skill
  • The Ultimate Speedster
  • Hero System Vehicle Sourcebook (5E)

For about $50 for all four Champions bundles, that’s a gobsmackingly huge amount of material….

https://bundleofholding.com/presents/UltimateChampions

Neil Gairmen book bundle!

I really wish they had an ebook of the book Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett, but no such luck.  Regardless, there are A LOT of really good books here!  And in an unusual addition, one of the bonus books recently revealed, was his book Ghastly Beyond Belief.  Very rare.  Humble Bundle claims it was never published, which is not entirely correct, apparently there was a very limited press run and the books fetch a ridiculous price.

The bundle is available for another six days or so.

https://www.humblebundle.com/books

Just what I need — another web site selling bundles of stuff that I’m interested in

This company is called Story Bundle and they sell book and comics collections. A current collection is called Women in SciFi, it’s curated by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and features books, novellas, collections, and songs by the likes of Vonda McIntyre, Cat Rambo, Nancy Kress, Linda Nagata, Catherine Asaro, Judith Tarr, and others.

This deal is available for another 11 days. There are two differences between this site and others. First, there is no charity. The funds are divided between the authors and the site, and you control the split. Second, they wisely have them available as a single downloaded zip, so much easier to get all the content. Everyone gets a single file of MOBIs and Epubs. So that’s pretty convenient.

$15 gets you everything. Just how many more of these bundle sites are there?!

https://storybundle.com/scifi

An interview with Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games!

Not that other Steve Jackson, the fantasy writer. Slashdot did what might be better known as Reddit’s Ask Me Anything, Slashdot has been doing it for far longer than Reddit was a gleam in its creators eyes. The resulting email interview was posted on Friday.

And here it is:
http://interviews.slashdot.org/story/15/08/13/1344216/interviews-game-designer-steve-jackson-answers-your-questions

I used to read Slashdot extensively but for the last year or so I only read the first page, so I missed the post where people proposed questions. The questions that get modded up the most get forwarded to the interviewee, so it’s the things that are of the most interest to the community that are answered.

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