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Thursday, 11 February 2016

Throwback Thursday: HeroPress - The Rambling Origin Story...

The first issue of the HeroPress fanzine
(cover art, and some interior art, by Pete, everything else inside handwritten by Steve)

Let us take a journey back in time, to an age without Internet, without websites or email, when fanzines were printed on paper and stapled together by hand, and games were played through "snail-mail".

1987 saw the birth of the HeroPress superhero PBM (play-by-mail) game, with its own, popular - and sporadic - hand-produced fanzine, which kept players abreast of campaign developments as well as publishing fiction, comic strips, 'controversial' opinion pieces etc.

But several years before that Steve, Pete and I produced an A4 magazine (called HeroPress) for our Villains & Vigilantes campaign we were playing at the time (and where my enduring character, the Acrobatic Flea, was born), featuring cartoons, character histories, house rules, background information and so on.

Even though we all raved about the magazine (only a single copy was ever printed so that makes it super rare, fan boy), we never got around to producing an issue two because of impending A-Levels and other horrors.

Superhero campaigns came and went (most featuring the Acrobatic Flea ... hey, it's rare I get a good idea, so I like to milk it when I do!) and in the end we got fed up of not getting anywhere in any of them.

So Steve said he would create us all characters and start a big game round at his house one day, for a whole gang of us (not just him, his bro and me).

Not only did he create The New Patrollers (Warhawk, Devilbeast, Warlock, DragonFist, Hellfire, Microtitan and Ironclad) but also a brilliant giant poster of them all in action and this strange little magazine: HeroPress II.

The thing that struck me about the game was that although Steve was a masterful GM, able to make things up on the fly, and we were all reasonably intelligent players, it didn't capture the feel of the comics that had so inspired us for many years.

So fired up by Steve and Pete's work on issues 1 and 2 of this new HeroPress (issue two was the start of the actual adventure we played) I set to work on something I had been thinking about for a while ... a postal superhero game!

And so with issue 3 of HeroPress (and a small advert in The Adventurer - a professional, glossy, roleplaying magazine - which I never actually got to see), the game was born.

Bad puns were Pete's forte - "Sauce" Book I contained the rough rules for PBM character creation,
thumbnail sketches of existing heroes, maps and background details for three settings etc

As I've said many times before, my earliest 'reading' memories are of comic books. Once I went to Skinners' School, in the early '80s, and met up with my old primary school chum Steve and his brother Pete, I got into comic collecting hardcore. Steve started me off, but then I was flying under my own steam.

Even more than roleplaying games - another hobby we shared - American comic books helped define who I was in my own head.

Comics drove my passion for creating HeroPress and within a year of the game launching, we had a score of players (including one in the States - again, remember, this is pre-Internet so we had to rely on snail-mail, which was very slow across The Atlantic).

One of them sent the rule books etc into Computer + Video Games, a national glossy with a regular play-by-mail column, and we got a glowing review (in 1987) and the columnist - Wayne - became a strong advocate of HeroPress.

Soon we had multiple game masters and more players as the HeroPress juggernaut thundered on.

Then in 1991 one of my players told me he was involved in launching a glossy sci-fi/superhero mag called Fantazia and his colleagues were interested in 'adopting' the game. I explained that it was very labour-intensive and they'd never make any money out of it, but that didn't stop them.

HeroPress had a glamourous 'reboot', with new card-covered rule books and new gamesmasters and players, but quite quickly the people behind Fantazia and its gaming spin-off Gamesmaster, realised I had been right all along and we parted company amicably.

Gamesmaster and Fantazia went belly-up soon after this - I don't think there was any connection, except that their fanboyish enthusiasm for their hobbies probably outweighed their business prowess.

So, the game was firmly back in my hands, but I had a so-called life by then and didn't really want the hassle of running of it all, so I handed over the reins to an old friend and fellow gamesmaster, Mark (in Brighton) - at the time a househusband - with more brains and ideas than I would ever have.

He took the ball and ran with it, eventually, I believe passing it on his friend Richard, who had been the gamesmaster of an 'outer space' campaign in my pre-Fantazia days.

After that ... I don't know, to be honest. I kinda lost touch with my beloved game for a while and hadn't given it much thought until I came out of hospital, with a lot of freetime on my hands and access to this wonderful "new" invention: the Internet.

I knew I didn't want the hassle of starting another "game universe" - and tastes had moved on from play-by-mail anyway - but the name was too good to let die.

And so, after a few false starts, this blog was born.

9 comments:

  1. Do you remember which issue of Adventurer? I have a few in the archives?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have it on my mind that it was issue three. It was just a little classified ad I seem to remember.

      Delete
    2. Ah sorry. 1, 2, 5, 7 and 10. :(

      Delete
    3. Oh well, thanks for looking :)

      Delete
    4. Available on eBay for the cheap, cheap price of £7.50. I did own that issue once upon a time.

      Delete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Happy memories of Heropress the game. I played Slipstream in the Novograd campaign and then Captain Albion in New London. Still got all the "sauce" books and turns. Definitely the best superhero game I've played.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind words, always brilliant to hear from old players.

      Delete

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