Sunday, 10 December 2017

Ringworld & It's Place In My Life

Back in 1984, I was sat in my Dad's car on a warm Friday evening, around 6PM, opening the latest White Dwarf  - which was still a great magazine then and not the nightmarish monstrosity it is today - when out fell issue 2 of The Black Sun fanzine - Why they named a fanzine after a Nazi order is beyond me. OK, I know it's a take on the White Dwarf bit, but... - which was the news organ of the GW mail order department and a splendid little read on par with Flying Buffalo News.

It was this 'zine which brought you 'Battle Chairs' the rather tasteless - by today's weak chinned, liberal standards - expansion for the Battle Cars game which allowed injured drivers to get back on the highways in armed wheelchairs - don't knock 'em.

As I write my copy of the 'zine is at the side of me, but here's an intergoogweb pic of the cover:

There were some great articles in issue 2, but I was drawn to the centre spread which told of a forthcoming, nay, imminent game from Chaosium by the name of 'Ringworld' based on the books by Larry Niven.

Now, I read it, re-read it and I was hooked despite the eye watering £25 price tag which was I can tell you, bloody steep. Call of Cthulhu had been £19.99 and nearly wiped me out, so an 8 week saving plan of every penny I had spare was going to be like a lifetime in purgatory.

But, by use of my already burgeoning brush skills, I painted a few figures from the Grenadier Call Of Cthulhu monsters set - thereby rendering the set incomplete - and in a week had the funds as well as the cost of the promised Ringworld Companion.

Now came the inevitable round of daily - sometimes THRICE daily - visits to Games Workshop where I was a resident pain in the arse as outlined elsewhere and in fact ingrained into the psyche of former staff forever. I don't care who you were back than, there is no way, no way at all that you were in that store as much as me without receiving a salary for doing so, so don't even try to claim otherwise.

Anyway, for a change the release date came around pretty much as promised and I shelled out the funds for what was one of the densest sets of rules ever. Not only was the box filled with rule books and charts, but the books themselves were absolutely crammed to the point of bursting forth in a shower of 8 point type all over the place. And the artwork, oh the artwork. This was up there if not better than the 'Masks Of Nyarlathotep' or 'Horror On The Orient Express'. No it was definitely better as this was just 'something else' when compared to other sci-fi RPGs on offer.

Now, I had spent £3.99 on a copy of the Ringworld novel from Sheffield Space Centre and had read it twice by the time I got the game. I was a voracious reader and I can clearly recall being stretched out in my bedroom on the Dangermouse quilt cover with my 5 foot high pile of rule sets at the side of the bed, reading both game and novel as I listened simultaneously to 'Fugazi' by Marillion which was itself a fresh album and probably the most played album of that year for me. I remember as if I was there, that as 'Incubus' played, I daydreamed of observing the Ringworld from space, feeling myself tumble in the ink black sky, an infinitesimal speck against this monstrous artificial world.

Yes, I was hooked...

We played the game at Sheffield Wargames Society a few times, but this was a game which needed you to concentrate and put the time into it, so it faded as a favourite of our group in favour of Twilight 2000, but not before Darren Ashmore had his character's pet hamster, dropped into the food processing unit of his flycycle by Mark Bamford's Kzinti - 9 foot high feline warriors - character who then forced the resulting food brick down the stunned Darren's throat with the command 'EAT!'

Eventually the game went the way of all my games back then and was sold. Over the years I have picked up a few replacements but never got around to playing again, and as the game has become recognised as a classic, the prices have become staggering. In 1996 I paid £50 for the game and £30 for the companion - of which there were far more produced than there were rule sets - and felt I had got a good deal. On average I've paid £100 for a full set , so you my imagine that when I searched last week on a whim, I was amazed to find one for £49, which yes, I bought on the spot.

The morning after the purchase, I casually searched for the companion, with no real plan to buy on. But £10 ? £10 and MINT?

Too bloody right...

And so, as I cannot work without music or spoken word, I purchased the first 3 Ringworld audiobooks and rattled through the first one in two working days and started the second volume on Friday.

I cannot express just how much this game and the books impacted upon me. They got me interested in Larry Niven as a writer which led me to Robert Silverberg and a love for well crafted sci-fi writing of the space opera variety. I'd been introduced to Silverberg again, through the pages of White Dwarf and the excellent 'Critical Mass' column by Dave Langford - I think many of my generation can thank Mr Langford for broadening their reading tastes - and ever since that fateful evening in '84, I've retreated into a Niven or Silverberg fuelled reverie and thence into the 80s in my mind's theatre when I have felt down or stressed out.

This next week is going to be absolute hell as I try to finish orders in order to be able to close for three weeks on Friday the 15th, so I will keep myself on track by listening to the audiobooks. Once I get my studio broken down and cleaned on Saturday, I am going to pour myself a drink, stretch out on the bed, pop Fugzi on the iPod and read those rules once again. Perhaps I will bring memories both bitter and sweet to the fore, and I am certain I'll take more than a few moments to remember those friends who I, who we lost in the last 12 months. Hell, I know I'll end up crying and well and trully depressed, but I think it's time that I let the 'black dog' out for a run, to allow me to focus for what will hopefully be my 50th birthday year.

We shall see. We shall see...


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