Crazy Campaign Chronicles: Childhood toys…

Introductory note: I wrote a previous post on this series about those crazy ideas one gets for campaigns and never gets to plays. This is a little different because I got to try to play with this idea but it never took off. I still have hopes for this idea. This is a little rantish, proceed at your own peril, you have been warned.

I had a lot of toys as a kid. I was never into toy cars, model kits or sports paraphernalia. I liked board games, later electronic games, but my favorites where action figures. Most people my age remember the Star Wars Action Figures, GI Joe, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Transformer and the myriad other toys of that golden age of action figure and TV show synergy called the 80s. But I am old enough to remember some older toys, like the larger GI Joes and the Mego dolls (yes boys played with dolls!). In that transitional period from the larger doll type action toys and the supremacy of the smaller action figure there were one set of toys I was particularly fond of, the Fisher Price Adventure Series.

These were toys, according to the promotional sheet that is the first illustration on this post, designed for the growing child from three years of age into the early grades. They were play sets of real life professions, adventurers and other exciting activities. There was a safari set, ambulance, scuba divers and motorcyclists among others. Real life adventure heroes! Typically they had vehicles with two or more action figures with only 5 points of articulation. They were simple and fun and I spent hours playing with them, eventually amassing a large collection of Adventure Series figures and vehicles.

By now you may be thinking, what is this guy doing writing about toys in a role-playing blog? Well amazingly many of the games and storylines I played as a child have inspired me later in life either as themes for stories I have written, games plots or even entire campaigns. Others are still undeveloped waiting for the right time to become a campaign. This is the story of a weird little hybrid experience and how the toys of my youth inspired me. If you want the story of how I imagined this read on. If you just want to go to the details of the actual game scroll down the page, I’ll be sure to let you know when we are back on topic! (See this is almost like a “choose your own adventure” but only in post form).

BACKGROUND STORY (full of childhood reminiscing but no actual gaming involved)

The metaplot of the Adventure Series

The storyteller in me was active from an early age, even if I had no concept of what RPGs were or truly understand my love of telling a good yarn. This disparate set of Adventure Series action figures became a large group of interrelated people, with familial ties, relationships and antagonists (the effects of too many Latin American soap opera on a young impressionable mind!). At first my favorite was the Safari Set and the father of the group (I assumed he was the father, the woman dressed in yellow his wife and the others their kids) my “hero”. He was the protagonists of the stories and he and his family were usually aided in their adventures by the characters from the other sets. That’s how I eventually decided the two divers in green swimsuits were related to the safari family. The blond diver was their older daughter and the guy her boyfriend. The other two divers (actually a recolor of the same two diver figures, but with yellow swimsuits and the woman had brown hair) were the sister and husband of the safari mom.

But my adventures took an unexpected twist when during an outing to Kentucky Fried Chicken (back when it was not simply KFC and they only served chicken) I dropped the safari dad action figure and an employee sweeping the floor put him in the trash. I was devastated; I had no hero, what was to become of my Fisher Price adventures?

(Small aside here, I didn’t manage to replace safari dad for years, it wasn’t until much later when I managed to buy the toy in single card, and by then I had stopped playing with these toys much. But I did take them out to play out the return of the long lost father. But I’m getting ahead of myself, back to the story…)

I played around with my Adventure Series toys for a while and eventually found my new protagonists, the motorcycle guy. What made him the hero? Well besides the fact that he rode a motorcycle (which to me seemed like the coolest thing back then), he had two extra points of articulation, he could bend his knees! I soon renamed him Frank (again the name seemed cool to my young impressionable mind), he was an orphan who became a champion motorcycle driver that fell in love with the safari family’s older diver daughter, who left her boyfriend for him and all the animals the safari family had captured in their trips became Frank’s pets.(Does that mean as a child I wanted to be a motorcycle ridding guy with lions and other wild animals as pets? Back to the post…) The Action Series crew became a troubleshooting team lead by Frank. I eventually got other sets like a space shuttle and green robot figures so the group traveled all over the world, even to space.

The island of Rodan!

(SPOILER ALERT, read no further unless you want Christmas ruined!) At this age I would await the arrival of the big store Christmas catalogs with gusto. At five I had figured Santa Claus and the Three Kings, the major gift givers in the Puerto Rico holiday season mythology, did not exists and all the loot came from family members. So when the catalogs arrived I would flip to the toy section and begin circling all the toys I wanted. That Christmas while perusing one of the catalogs I came upon a mysterious toy… (END OF SPOILERS, safe to go back to reading!)

I discovered a Rodan toy and I wanted it! You can see the picture in this post. Which self respecting child would NOT want that red pterodactyl like creature perched on his arm? (The kid on the picture further down looks a little disturbed I know, but I did not get that subtlety back them). I had no idea who Rodan was, not having seen the “classic” Japanese movies, but I knew it was cool. So it went to the top of my Christmas loot list and the waiting began.

With some months to go I could not stop thinking about Rodan. I wanted to play with the toy, but since I could not I did the next best thing; I worked him into my stories. Frank and his Action Series crew were soon contacted to explore this mysterious island out in the middle of the ocean. When they arrived they discovered they were trapped, just like others before them. The island was populated by many other people (i.e. other toys) who had travelled there, and just like Frank and his team, were unable to leave. They also discovered the island travelled though time and to other worlds, so unless they found a way home soon they might never be able to leave. (This may sound strangely like LOST, but I was a big fan of Verne’s The Mysterious Island which my grandmother had read to me and the Mystery Island TV show, so those may be seen as more appropriate inspirations)

Frank and his crew began to investigate the island and learned about a mysterious being called Rodan. He lived in a volcano in the middle of the island and he was responsible for keeping everybody trapped. So Frank being the adventuresome fellow that he is gathers his crew and begins the trek across the islands jungles, mountains and rivers, to find this Rodan and escape. In their journey they met other people (again different toys) some that helped them and others that tried to stop them, one of the robots (yes there where Action Series robots) was corrupted and became a spy for those working to protect Rodan, some in the team decided Frank was not helping them escape but instead putting them in more danger and some even decided to stay and sabotaged Frank’s goals.

Months passed and Christmas was around the corner, by then Frank and his team, along with some allies they had picked along the way, where close to the volcano. They approached it the day before Christmas. I was ready for the next morning when I would open up the box, take Rodan out and play out the final confrontation. To my great disappointment the Rodan in the box had a broken wing… So my grandfather explained to me the toy would have to be sent back and I would eventually get a replacement. I was devastated, I had other gifts and it did NOT ruin my holyday season, but I wanted to keep playing with my then favorite toys, and I had been doing all this build up for nothing…

The best laid plans…

So I improvised. When Frank, his friends and allies enter the volcano they found a giant statue of Rodan but not the creature itself. Instead they faced and were captured by an evil scientist (the action figure of Doctor Hans Reinhardt from the Black Hole movie), as any good villain will oft do he explained his evil plans. Like all the others he had arrived in the island and become trapped, puzzled by the islands effect he travelled to the volcano and discovered machines that caused the islands erratic traveling across space and time. This apparently was a side effect, as the machines had been created to trap Rodan inside the volcano.

The evil scientist deciphered how the machines caused the islands traveling and took control of them; he made the island appear where he wanted to gather the specimens he desired for his experiments. And he was also Frank’s father! (Cue dramatic music… Too much soap operas I tell you!)

The group escaped, hid from evil scientist absentee dad (if you psychoanalyze me through play I’m sure this all would be telling) and plotted to stop his scheme and destroy the machines. This was all a delaying tactic on my part. I was just bidding my time until the replacement Rodan arrived.

When it did I was ready to finish this month long adventure. Frank and his friends defeated evil scientist dad and destroyed the machines causing the island to reappear on earth. As they were getting ready to leave the volcano begins to erupt. From the bowels of its lava prison emerged that terrible creature RODAN! They fought the beast, defeat it but it escapes the island and Frank’s team remains together to hunt and stop the destruction caused by releasing Rodan upon an unsuspecting world.

Looking back that seems like an awfully complex storyline for a child’s game, and I am sure in putting it in adult terms I have made it seem more mature than it was, but I had a vivid imagination and my family played with me a lot so I got their input and help as I played; and the ending? What a downer… I’m pretty sure my players will tell you thats the beginning of my obsession with endings where the good guys never truly win.

Back TO GAMING (or something nominally related…)


Inspired by my childhood games

Years later, when in college I wanted to play a modern game with a twist, a game were players would begin the as regular folk and them be thrown into an unexplained and dangerous situation. At the time I played a lot of Palladium games (Robotech, RIFTS, Heroes Unlimited, Ninjas & Superspies, TMNT, you name it!) so it seemed like the logical fit for my game.

Round 1…

I actually had two aborted starts to this game. In both instances I asked the players to create “normal” people, scientist, soldiers, and law enforcement officers and put them in weird situations. The first time around I attempted my adaptation of my childhood games with two players. I think one was an FBI agent and another police detective, both working the scene of a terrible train wreck. They were few survivors, but when they begin to investigate they realize the survivors were NOT passengers on the train. In included many famously disappeared people, including the crew of the Mary Celeste and some supposedly dead persons such as Christa McAuliffe, the teacher that died in the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle.

(A very important caveat, by using her as an NPC I meant no disrespect on her memory. It was a reference I knew both players would immediately get and be shocking, that’s all, sorry of anybody finds that disturbing. It was NOT my intention!)

When they interview the presumed dead teacher they learn the crew of the Challenger did NOT die in the explosion. They instead found themselves transported somewhere else. There they joined other people who seemed to be likewise taken from Earth and other places. They fought evil and secretive overlords that kept them isolated in different regions of a larger landmass, each region separated by nearly insurmountable mountains. These overlords would pit one group against another through manipulation and deception. The people that arrived in the train wreck were a group of rebels who used a portal to escape.

When the PCs examine the devices the escapees from this “other world” brought along with them they discover they are emitting a signal in a hitherto unknown frequency (yes I know how implausible that sounds, but it is after all a game!). Soon after an island appears in the middle of the Atlantic, the media begins to call it Atlantis and the players were in route to investigate, and that was that. We never played that game again. They were supposed to get there and get lost in an island travelling through space and time.

Round 2…

I tried the idea a second time, with a larger group including the same two players that had participated on the first version of the campaign. Again I used the Palladium system, but this time around I planned a little more. I asked each player to create a real world person, any profession, but someone who would be one of the top people in his or her own field. I also asked them not to create loners, I wanted fully fleshed out persons with families and responsibilities. All the better to tie them to their real lives and motivate them to try to return once they became trapped in the island.

They were all gathered by the US Government and flown to a ship in the Pacific Ocean. There they were briefed on the sudden appearance of an island in the middle of the ocean. The island had appeared 72 hours earlier and while satellites confirmed its existence they could NOT gather any data as they went haywire over the landmass. The team had been put together to go in and explore, determine where it came from and if it posed any danger.

There were a couple of wrenches thrown into the mix, one of the NPCs was a supposed psychic who had predicted the islands arrival, but he was in fact a psychopath serial killer contacted by the island’s mysterious masters to bring people to the island. Also the military team providing support for the exploration team had been infiltrated by an agent of the island’s masters.

The teams arrived on the island by boat and soon discovered the jungles were populated by dinosaurs (a nod to Jurassic Park, it was BIG back then). After capturing a few specimens and making camp the team got to testing them. The military support noticing movement out in the jungle deployed out only to be betrayed by the mole and ambushed. So the team was left without their military back up and soon was under attack from bipedal evolved dinosaurs commanding cybernetic velociraptors.

This was another game idea we never played after the initial session. Some of the players were not excited about the execution other simply were uninterested. I had planned for them to meet the evolved dinosaur men who would be the antagonists during the first few session, they would learn that they were trapped in the island, about the secret masters and find the first clues that would take them to other regions in the island. In a way it would have been a multi genre game, like TORG or RIFTS, except the rationale behind WHY all this disparate genres would be meshed together would have been different

Final thoughts

I still have hopes of running this game. I think as a campaign it has a lot of possibilities. I think the system I chose back then was a bad fit. Something more conductive to storytelling, perhaps Fudge or FATE, or even Savage Worlds which I think my players might prefer over those other two. So this is a crazy campaign I hope to tackle some day, maybe at the old role –player’s home.

Like I said before this may sound a lot like the LOST TV show but it all happened long before the show was aired. I’m not claiming I created LOST before there was LOST, like many things we create we are burrowing ideas and tropes from those that created before us. A lost land, filled with wonder from which you cannot escape has been the subject of many stories before and will likely be again.

There are many other sources of inspiration to this campaign idea, some more obvious than others besides my childhood games. The Riverworld series by Philip José Farmer and the Dungeon series of books, my love of Jules Verne, and some other stories like those of Burroughs, all jumbled in with my childhood games. But ultimately the idea for the campaign is for a group of people trapped in another place, doing their best to escape and return to their normal lives. I hope I can play it someday…


PS – I do not have ANY pictures of the toys I talked about above, all the images were scoured form across the internet, I hold no rights or ownership over any of them and use them to merely illustrate the posts, and hopefully mildly amuse you with the captions.