The Once and Future Magic Realm

by Richard Hamblen

McKnight: By the way, all of us would die to see a new publication of Magic Realm. Any thoughts on what you might do with your newly-bestowed rights to Magic Realm?

Hamblen: Well, I’m not sure I have the rights. If Hasbro does not have them, then Avalon Hill could have assigned them to anyone. Including me? We’ll have to see what turns up.

I’m not sure what I would do with the rights. I would need to define what products might be created, how much it would cost to produce them, and what kind of a market there was for them. If the profit and enjoyment of producing them looked like it would balance the cost and effort I would have to provide, I would have to sit down and decide what to do. I know a lot about how to produce publishable art and rulebooks, and even a little about printing, from my time at Avalon Hill. Of course computers have changed things a lot, but they seem to have made things easier, if anything–and my wife is up on many of the latest developments because she works in publishing as a senior production coordinator. I think we could create the production models, including the art–I did some of the counter art in Magic Realm myself, and I know how to hire the rest. The real problem will come in printing and die-cutting the components.

The result could be anything from professional-looking die-cut hex tiles and counters, through components printed on flimsier card stock (which dedicated fans could paste onto cardboard and cut out), to just talking about the rules on the Net. So we’re a long way from planning to do anything at all, let alone actually doing it.

However, I am willing to speculate about what I’d like to do. I like the game and like talking and thinking about it, to the point that I have kept working on it now and then as a hobby (partly to correct its faults, I must admit–I don’t like its faults). So I am willing to speculate on what I might do, if wishes were kings. Feel free to comment. My daydreams are protected by their insubstantiality.

The products I speculate I’d like to put out:

1. A Magic Realm reference book. At the very least an index, and possibly are organizing of some of the more complex rules into a new, shorter format.

2. A short rulebook explaining the central basic rules, to go with the reference book above. If I had thought of it, this is what I would have done the first time.

3. Replacement components, for those who own games.

4. New complete games. With all the components, why not?

5. Computer games. I have been approached several times about turning MR into a computer game, but nothing ever came of it. I have given the idea quite bit of thought and think it might do very well as a strategy game (using the computer to speed up the mechanics but keeping the style and manner of play unchanged). I would not want to compete with all the fantasy sims out there–MR is a different kind of game. Would such a game be marketable? I don’t know.

6. New components. New hex tiles, new characters, new natives and monsters, new personal history pads, and new rules, including revisions to the old rules. This all falls into the category of the long-lost “expansion kits”, which are not really normal expansion kits at all. The published game plus the “expansion kits” were originally designed together, at the same time, so they could be combined to form a larger game, a game that never saw light. The part that was published was cobbled together at the last minute. When I got to do the Second edition rulebook I was told to only rephrase the rules that had already been published, but even so I managed to insert a few refinements from the greater game. Since then, I have made a hobby of tinkering with various left-out components, correcting flaws and refining rules.

When Mr. McKnight asked about the expansion kits, I went back a rediscovered whole rules systems that I had forgotten existed! So what I have on hand now is, well, the rest of the game. I don’t see any easy way of breaking it up into expansion kits; it really needs to be presented as a whole. What I am going to do with it I don’t know, except that at the very least I am working up one prototype for myself to play, so I can see my original dream in action, at last!

I think any loyal fans of the game out there deserve to know what’s in the rest of the game, at least, so I will give you an outline below.

The Magic Realm “Expansion Kits”

Magic Realm was originally designed to be a game system with roughly 40 hex tiles, to consist of a starter game (with 15 tiles, 8 characters, etc.) and five expansion kits (each adding 5 tiles, 3 or 4 characters, etc.). Upper management decided to publish it in flatbox format, allowing 20 tiles in the starter game, but expressed disinterest in any expansion kits. In order to include as many aspects of fantasy literature as possible, I promptly cannibalized the expansion kits in order to turn the starter game into a complete game. Certain opportunities were left open in the game to plug in expansion kits, if I could change management’s mind later. The trouble with the rules prevented me from going back to work on the expansion kits.

After I was finally through with the 2nd edition rulebook I went back to fooling around with the expansion kits as a hobby. Cannibalizing the kits had forced me to simplify some things (the mountain and woods hexes in particular), and some of my original ideas just didn’t work out (the river tiles, for example–oh, didn’t you ever wonder why there is no WATER in the Magic Realm?) As a result I had to junk most of the original components and design new ones to fit into the published game.

The Game:
1. Hex tiles.
There are twenty new hex tiles, ten for travel and natives (like the Woods and Valley tiles), and ten for treasure sites and natives. Five of the travel tiles are River tiles, and the rest of the tiles are more mountains, caves, ruins, and Elf country. The tiles are designed to fit together efficiently to form larger structures such mountain ranges, a river, etc.

2. Dwellings and Natives: The number of new dwellings and natives added to the game is more than the number in the original game. These fall into several categories:

2.1 New native groups: There are several new native groups. For example, did you ever wonder why there is only one Dwarf in the game? Some of these native groups appear and move like monsters, except they will deal with certain characters.

2.2 New additions to the old groups: Nearly every group gets at least one new member.

2.3 Clans: The native groups are clumped together into super-groups called “Clans”. For example, the Soldiers, Guard, and Patrol are all in the same “clan”.

2.3/1 When a character targets one member of a clan, the whole clan starts battling him.

2.3/2 When a player gains or loses friendliness with a group, he loses it with the group’s whole clan.

2.4 Magic Users: Native magic users are added to the game. They have spells and Magic values (like the Imp), but some can also be used to create color magic.

3. Monsters: there are plenty of new monsters, including reinforcements for some older types (e.g. Goblins), and numerous new monsters, including some with odd wrinkles.

4. Treasure, sound, and warning chits more than double, for reasons too complex to explain here. The treasure sites are a little trickier to deal with, and on average they hold fewer treasures–the richest treasure sites were put in MR.

5. Treasure and Spell cards: It looks like there will be roughly as many new Spell/Treasure cards as old. I don’t know what they are. Let me explain.

5.1 In designing MR I made up a list of over 250 spell effects to put on Spells and Treasures, and I had to pick out the ones that would work together well without wrecking the game. When I finished the 2nd Edition rulebook and went back to work on the expansion kits, I invented another 350+ spell effects. I haven’t had time to figure out exactly which spells and treasures can be safely added to the game.

5.2 I do intend to provide duplicates of the Potions, and more cards that provide Color Magic, and more cards that can be used as Magic chits. If I have the space, I might well duplicate some of the more useful Spells from MR.

5.3 There will be “Spell scrolls”, like Spell books but with fewer spells. I am pondering whether to add more Spell books.

5.4 There will be more of the “Mouldy Skeleton” type of tricky treasure card, but without the curses. Other Spells will be triggered instead, for better or worse.

6. Characters: Originally I designed some 40+ characters and put the 16 best in MR. Since then I designed another 10 or so. The game should get another 8 characters, but so far I have had time to find only one excellent choice and one passable one. Doing it properly is a tricky and time-consuming process.

7. Rules Changes: Oboy. This is the big one. The original expansion kits were supposed to redefine the rules of the starter game. In cobbling together MR I tried to stick to the starter game rules, and just add those parts I needed from the expansion kits. No one but me has ever seen the intended final version of these rules…and these rules are important. This email is already far too long, and I am far too tired, so for now I’ll just give you a taste.

7.1 When a denizen attacks, roll one red and one white dice. The red die defines the direction of his attack: 1 or 2 means thrust, 3 or 4 means swing, and 5 or 6 means smash. The white die defines the direction of his maneuver: 1 or 2 means charge, 3 or 4 means dodge, and 5 or 6 means duck. On the melee section, put the denizen in the row defined by his direction, and in the column defined by his attack. Resolve the attack from there.

7.2 If you roll doubles, the denizen changes tactics.

7.3 In other words, the denizens do not attack and maneuver in the same direction. They are not necessarily put in the red boxes. There was supposed to be a revised melee section with nine boxes, but it never got printed.

7.4 Be warned. This makes the denizens much more dangerous.

There is more. Much, much more. Later.