Tag Archives: flying buffalo

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.

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

Flying Buffalo’s Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes is being funded for reissue on Kickstarter!

To further age myself, I remember helping unload the truck when the first print run of this game arrived at Flying Buffalo when we were located at the 52nd Street location in Tempe!

This game by Michael Stackpole has been inert for a long time, it’s nice to see it get a refresh.  It was one of the earliest contemporary adventure games, coming out around the same time as Hero’s Danger International and Justice, Inc. – of course TSR’s Top Secret preceding everybody having come out around 1980.  MSPE is based on Flying Buffalo’s Tunnels & Trolls mechanics and introduced a skills system to the T&T oeuvre.  One feature that I particularly liked was a formula that allowed you to create your own firearms: you could look up a particular weapon from a Shooter’s Bible or gun magazine, find out the cartridge specifications, plug them into the formula, get the stats and you’re off to the show.

We spent a lot of time playing this game, one of my favorite characters came straight from Monty Python: Inspector Dimm of Scotland Yard, a detective on assignment in America.  He carried a Charter Arms .44 Special.  We got in a big fight with a tremendous number of goons, I shot someone, rolled hit location: groin.  Shot someone else, rolled hit location: groin.  All of the goons instantly surrendered.

This release will include material from the 1986 Sleuth Productions edition, several corrections, new material, and updated artwork.  $6 will get you the PDF, $18 a print edition and PDF, $25 a print copy signed by Mike Stackpole and the PDF, and the crew is currently researching whether a hardback edition can be done!

The Kickstarter reached fully funded status today,which is awesome!  And as of this posting, the campaign will be running for another 16 days, so plenty of time to get your order in, but no time to dawdle!  One excellent supplement, Stormhaven, is available directly from Flying Buffalo as well as the two Mugshots books and the solo adventure, The Adventures of the Jade Jaguar, here.

It’s the 50th anniversary of Nuclear War!

No, not some alternative universe RPG, this is the card game created by Doug Malewicki and published by Flying Buffalo. It is a very simple card game where each player is the head of a country and trying to rule the world: first through propaganda, and then pretty much inevitably, through nuclear war. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game won solely through diplomacy. And if you ever get to a game con that Rick is running a game of Nuke War at, you’ll see 20-30 people in a single game blasting the crap out of each other! It’s quite a sight.

But here’s the beauty of it: more often then not, there is no winner! If war begins and the last of your population is destroyed, with your dying gasp you press the ‘Launch All’ button as a bit of final retribution and wreak vengeance upon the person who destroyed you, or upon the world in general. And if they’re eliminated, they also get their final retribution, and so on….

Two additional games were made: Nuclear Escalation and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Since the Kickstarter has doubled its initial goal, WMD will be reprinted. And I learned from this that there is a smartphone app (for $1), both Android and iOS, that Claudia Christian, AKA Commander Ivanova from Babylon 5, will tell you the results — in her Russian accent. What could be better than a Russian telling you how many million people were killed as the result of a nuclear strike?!

The Kickstarter has one final week to run and $42 will get you a new edition of the game with shipping.

(sorry for the lack of anything here, I’ve been off to Germany and the Czech Republic and am working on a new edition of Zombie Cafe along with a anti-spy game that should be interesting if the mechanics work out)

Grimtooth’s Traps, collected and funded via Kickstarter!

Back in the ’80s, Flying Buffalo published an amazing book called Grimtooth’s Traps. Grimtooth the Troll has been a sort of mascot for Buffalo since time in memorial. And now five or six of the books are being republished! The traps are systemless: you decide what it takes to detect and disarm or avoid, you decide how much damage they do. And a lot of the traps are just pure brutal: there was one, I believe it was by Liz Danforth and in the first book (which I have an original cover of), that was called the Cup of Golden Mead. It’s a cup of mead. And if you drink it, the mead transforms in to molten gold as it goes down your gullet. Good luck with that one!

That’s the sort of thing that you’ll encounter. Not all of them are massively lethal, some of them you wish they were.

The publisher is not Buffalo, they’ve authorized Goodman Games to collect them in to a single volume. And here’s the best part: not only is the project fully funded, Goodman has FINISHED ALL THE WORK. They have to work on the stretch goals, but that aside, they’re pretty much ready to go to press. They’ve blown through all their stretch goals: they started asking for $17,000 and they just blew past $142,000.

Here’s the bad part: the Kickstarter ends at 2am MST Wednesday morning, so about 32 hours from now. I apologize for not posting this earlier, the last couple of weeks have been weird and my wife was really sick over the weekend. And now I’m getting sick. So I’m blaming her.

But I have ordered the hardback for myself as I have material in a couple of the books. It’ll be cool to see them again. Now what I want to see is collected reprints of the Citybooks and Maps books!

Who knows. It could happen.

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls up on Kickstarter

Tunnels & Trolls was one of the first FRPGs published, coming out in 1975. I owned both D&D and T&T in the late 70’s, and I found T&T to definitely be more to my liking of the two. You only need one type of dice, six-sided, and once you’re comfortable with the system you pretty much don’t need a rule book. I found it lent itself to more story.

T&T also spawned solo adventures with actual combat, you would roll dice to defeat opponents. LOTS of solo adventures were published, and this Kickstarter will include a couple.

Admittedly I am biased as I worked for T&T’s publisher, Flying Buffalo, and know all of the people involved. But it’s a good product, a good project, and a chance to get it as a PDF.

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls on Kickstarter

Reverb Gamers Master List #2

What is it about gaming that you enjoy the most? Why do you game? Is it the adrenaline rush, the social aspect, or something else?

Definitely two things: social interaction and mind expansion.  The social aspect is key: I like the company of intelligent, witty people, and this includes a lot of gamers.  I like playing games with them, especially role-playing games because they let you do things that are otherwise mostly impossible for we the players to do in real life.  Adrenaline rush?  I don’t get much of that from gaming.

I’ve been experimenting with how I run RPG’s, and that is to go from tightly-scripted to loosely-scripted.  When I ran Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes two years ago at the Flying Buffalo Convention (where I plan on running MSPE again this year), I had an opening scene and I knew where the final conflict would take place, and I turned the players loose.  I had a couple of other scenes in mind, but they didn’t go in those directions, so they weren’t used.  When I ran Lady Blackbird, I had the opening scene and the first complication, everything else was based on what the players did.  Same thing with Fortune’s Fool: opening, vague idea for the closing, and a couple of intermediate stops along the way.  I learned years ago that a tightly-scripted scenario never goes the way you plan it, unless you totally railroad your players, so I’ve just decided to go with the flow and take the occasional well-timed “bathroom break” to figure out what I’m doing next as a GM.

The Atlas Games/Reverb Gamers Master List for 2012

I have a great admiration for Atlas Games.  They’re one of the bigger companies and release a lot of good product.  On January 1 they released a list of 31 questions about your life as a gamer.  It’s a list to encourage reflection and some exploration and exposition.  And though I’m two days behind with little or no intention of catching up, here’s #1:

What was your first roleplaying experience? Who introduced you to it? How did that introduction shape the gamer you’ve become?

I don’t have a clear memory of my first exposure to gaming.  I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy as a kid, and they were in different sections of the book store at that time, and probably had my first exposure to gaming via Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker books, published in the late 60’s.  He worked with Flying Buffalo which included berserkers in the Star Web play-by-mail game (that’s postal mail, not email).  Though I did not drive at the time, it listed Flying Buffalo as being located in Scottsdale, Arizona, maybe 15 miles or so from my parent’s house.  A friend who had a driver’s license was getting in to this stuff, and we went out there and were amazed.  My initial purchases were TSR’s first edition white box D&D, the one with three books, along with GDW’s Traveller and TSR’s Top Secret.  And, of course, Flying Buffalo’s Tunnels & Trolls.

At that time, in the late 70’s, about the only fantasy role-playing games were D&D and T&T.  I like simplicity (a strange thing to hear from someone who played Champions for 25 years), and I did not like the complexity of D&D.  Too many tables and dice, and flipping through more than one book to play a game just isn’t for me.  T&T was a lot easier and only used d6, but it had one huge advantage: solo dungeons.  Buffalo published A LOT of solitaire adventures over the years, along with several campaigns.  They were a lot of fun because you could buy the box set, which came with a couple of solos, and you didn’t need a group, which was good, because there were no groups in my area.

So I was largely self-introduced to roleplaying.

How did it shape the gamer that I became?  I’ve always been a fan of simple systems, and I think T&T was a major influence in that regard.  I’ve played I don’t know how many games over the years of varying complexity, and I’ve always trended towards simpler systems.  It might be that certain games, and certain styles of games, appeal more to my internal logic, and this lets me make the statement that I think Champions is a simple system.  It’s a very logical structure, and if you understand it, pretty much the only time that you need the rules is to design new characters or gadgets.  It has its problems with physics and the like, but every game system has problems like that.

When I design games, I try to keep them simple, and normally I use a d6.  I try to follow the Cheap Ass Games model of a single sheet of rules (when I can) and everything fitting in a 6×9 envelope.  I know it might not work for every design that I have, but I think it’s a good model.  And following that, d6 are a lot more available than d12’s.


The Reverb Gamers Master List can be found at http://blog.atlas-games.com/2011/12/reverb-gamers-master-list.html and on the Atlas Facebook page.

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