Tuesday, January 10, 2023

1984 advertisement for play-by-mail game Crasimoff's World

This full-page advertisement from Dragon magazine #87 (July 1984) touts the play-by-mail roleplaying game Crasimoff's World.

In that era, if you didn't have a group of gaming friends on your block, in your dormitory or in your city, play-by-mail RPGs offered an opportunity to participate in some dungeoning and dragoning with folks from around the country in the years before participation in MUDs (playing by modem) became more feasible and served as the bridge to the dawn of the online multiplayer gaming that dominates today.

For Crasimoff's World, you needed a few dollars, stamps and envelopes. And plenty of patience. Wikipedia states that the game was the brainchild of Kevin Cropper and launched in 1980 in the United Kingdom, where it was very popular. This advertisement was part of the 1984 launch of the game in the United States, through a licensee. It states that "first turns will be processed in August of 1984."

Here's how the Wikipedia article describes the UK gameplay in the early years:
"Players paid £2.50 for the rulebook, selected a cast of nine characters who were either priests, fighters or mages, and gave the group a name. Cropper would then place the new band of adventurers somewhere in his campaign world, and send the new player a letter that described their starting location, as well as campaign news, recent events in the new group's locality, and some rumours. The player would then respond with what they wanted their party to do, including which direction the party was travelling, trades or purchases, possible actions if encountered by hostiles, and any special instructions or requests. Cropper would then send further information and updates, and the player would respond with their next turn. Each turn cost £1.25. If one player's party wandered into an area already inhabited by another player's party, Cropper would give each player the other's contact information so the players could confer directly to share information."

The advertisement pitches the exciting possibilities of the game experience, including being a river merchant, agreeing to protect a town or leading a caravan across the plains. Discovering "the remains of the legendary Astoffs" is hinted at. It touts that the game's human moderators (as opposed to computer code) allowed for surprises and flexibility within the RPG, which was experienced by players like a good fantasy novel each time a new thick envelope showed up in the mailbox. 

There's not a whole lot out there in terms of first-person memories about Crasimoff's World. James Maliszewski of Grognardia, my go-to online historian for 1970s and 1980s fantasy roleplaying, wrote last summer that "PBM gaming is a huge black hole in my own experience of the hobby, so I must admit to having a general difficulty in comprehending how they worked in practice."

I did find a couple other things of note:
  • Mike Lay's website includes a Crasimoff's World section that by some miracle of the interwebs is still online, even though it hasn't been updated since 1999. It contains descriptions of two parties (The Thanatari & The Silent Guard) and some descriptions of the parties' moves. If PBM RPG history is your jam, I might suggest printing out some of Lay's content before it's gone forever.
  • Iain Wilson of the podcast and Twitter account Roll to Save, which are devoted to RPG history, has mentioned in passing on Twitter that he used to play Crasimoff's World.
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  1. I LOVED playing Crasimoff's World! Although memories are hazy, I do remember sitting with anticipation waiting for the packet to turn up every week. Likewise, I remember my little crew protecting a town called "Obin". However, by far my best memory was attending "Crasimeet" in the mid 90s, where myself and a few others turned up in Thorton-Cleevlies in the UK for a weekend of gaming. It was a ton of fun, and I remember corresponding (by mail of course!) with a few of the guys I met there as we tried to get our parties to meet up. That was when I also learned that there were two versions of Crasimoff's world - an older 80s version and one for those like me who started later. I can't quite remember the differences other than spellcaster in the "new" version used powders to cast their spells whereas older casters didn't.

    1. Great details and memories! Thanks so much for sharing this. With so many of these games, they're going to fade from history without people writing or talking about them.