A Survey of Melee and Wizard Editions

Metagaming published five editions of Melee and four editions of Wizard. For various reasons I collected, scanned, and compared them. Below is a description of the changes between editions, along with some commentary.

Update: Steve Jackson has secured the copyrights to the original TFT games: https://www.thefantasytrip.game


Melee First Edition

Melee first edition cover Melee first edition copyright The first edition is Copyright 1977 by Steve Jackson. The rules are 20 pages (including the cover) printed on regular paper with a card stock cover. There is no index or table of contents. The game was shipped in a plastic pouch with a separate 8.25” × 14” folded map and a single cardstock counter sheet. (Click on the title page to see a larger version.)

Melee Second Edition

Melee second edition cover Melee second edition copyright The second edition is Copyright 1977 by Steve Jackson. The rules are 24 pages (including the cover) printed on glossy magazine paper. The rules include a table of contents on page 4. The game was shipped in a plastic pouch with a separate 8.25” × 14” folded map and a single cardstock counter sheet. (Click on the title page to see a larger version.)

Steve Jackson said of the second edition in “Designer’s Notebook” of The Space Gamer #17 (p. 22):

“It isn’t the total rewrite that I would have liked to do (being a perfectionist, in case you hadn’t heard, is a pain), but it does incorporate several small improvements. A number of aggravating typos (a few of which changed meanings) have been corrected and a couple of omissions rectified. Also included is a shield-rush rule, developed from the one given in a TSG article a few issues back. There’s some good new art, too.”

Substantive changes were:

Minor corrections were:

(Complete changes in “diff -u” format can be found here.)


Melee Third Edition

Melee third edition cover Melee third edition copyright The third edition is Copyright 1979 by Steve Jackson. The rules are 24 pages (including the cover) printed on glossy magazine paper. The rules include a table of contents on page 4. The game was shipped in a plastic pouch with a separate 8.25” × 14” folded map and a single cardstock counter sheet. (Click on the title page to see a larger version.)

The third edition is apparently identical to the second edition. The only differences I can spot are the cover illustration and the title page. The text appears to be identical.

(Complete changes in “diff -u” format can be found here.)


Melee Fourth Edition

Melee fourth edition cover Melee fourth edition copyright The fourth edition is Copyright 1977 & 1979 by Steve Jackson, and Copyright 1980 by Metagaming. This version is edited by Guy McLimore, Jr. and Howard Thompson. The rules are 24 pages (with no cover) printed on plain paper. The rules include a table of contents on page 3, a creature table on page 19, a DX adjustments table on page 22, and a character sheet on page 24. The game was shipped in a cardboard box with a separate 8.25” × 14” folded map, a single cardstock counter sheet, and a six-sided die. (Click on the title page to see a larger version.)

The title page has a notice which reads:

Major rule changes in this fourth edition of MELEE have been indicated by gray shading. Minor corrections are unmarked.

Substantive changes were:

Minor corrections were:

It appears the fourth edition was published after Steve Jackson sold The Fantasy Trip rights to Howard Thompson. The packaging changed dramatically: the rules were printed without a cover, the game components were packed in a cardboard box instead of a plastic pouch, and a small six-sided die was included.

There are some puzzling aspects to this edition, the most curious being the reversion of some third edition edits:

while in other places third edition changes were retained:

and (somewhat confusingly) mixes parts of first and third editions:

In addition, there spots where text is clearly missing, possibly due to paste-up errors:

While some of the text looks to have been pulled directly from third edition Wizard:

And finally, this edition debuts the infamous “three hex charge” rule.

While this edition did an admirable job of cleaning up vague or confusing rules from previous editions, especially regarding movement and actions, it introduced a fair number of irksome inconsistencies. Unfortunately it is difficult to determine which parts were intentional changes, and which were inadvertent errors.

On a hunch I compared the first and fourth editions, and there appear to be fewer reversions. This is purely speculation on my part, but I think Metagaming started with the first edition rules when creating the fourth edition. If I had to guess, I would say the text largely came from 1/e, but the charts were pulled from 3/e.

It is also seems as if this edition and the third edition of Wizard were edited and released together. There are portions of new text that are identical, and some Wizard-specific DX adjustments are present in the table on p. 22.

(Complete changes in “diff -u” format can be found here. For comparison purposes, you can also see the changes between first and fourth here.)


Melee Fifth Edition

Melee fifth edition cover Melee fifth edition copyright The fifth edition is Copyright 1981 by Metagaming. This version is edited by Guy McLimore, Jr. and Howard Thompson. The rules are 24 pages (with no cover) printed on plain paper. The rules include a table of contents on page 3, a creature table on page 19, a DX adjustments table on page 22, and a character sheet on page 24. The game was shipped in a cardboard box with a separate 8.25” × 14” folded map, a single cardstock counter sheet, and a six-sided die. (Click on the title page to see a larger version.)

The fifth edition appears identical to the fourth edition. The only differences I can spot are the copyrights on the title page and the omission of the rule change notice. The text appears to be identical.

As an aside, the Internet text apparently came from an OCR scan of the fifth edition, with editing to correct some of the glaring problems noted above. However, they also introduced a number of typos, almost certainly due to OCR mistakes.

(Complete changes in “diff -u” format can be found here.)


Wizard First Edition

Wizard first edition cover Wizard first edition copyright The first edition is Copyright 1978 by Steve Jackson. The rules are 24 pages (including the cover) printed on glossy magazine paper, plus an eight page reference section. The rules include a table of contents on the title page. The game was shipped in a plastic pouch with a separate 12” × 14” folded map and two cardstock counter sheet, one blue and one red. (Click on the title page to see a larger version.)

Most of the Wizard rules are, of course, about magic. Those describing general combat fall somewhere between Melee third and fourth editions. For example, Dodging and Defending (p. 17) uses the 4D6 check but includes exceptional results not shown in Melee 3/e. Similarly Force Retreat (p. 18) when no vacant hex is available uses the 3D6 check to avoid falling down instead of disallowing the force retreat (Melee 3/e) or automatically falling down (Melee 1/e).

Other rules are taken from Melee first edition, such as the 1D6 roll for sheltering, and the omission of DX -3 adjustment for ST 3 or less.

Wizard introduces crawling (no doubt due to the Slippery Floor spell) and the general “saving roll”. Wizards may use a staff or a dagger normally, and any other weapon at -4 DX. Wizards may wear armor, but incur double the DX penalty. Non-wizard figures may attack with bare hands. Multi-hex creatures may “push” smaller creatures out of the way.


Wizard Second Edition

Wizard second edition cover Wizard second edition copyright The second edition is Copyright 1979 by Steve Jackson. The rules are 24 pages (including the cover) printed on glossy magazine paper, plus an eight page reference section. The rules include a table of contents on the title page. The game was shipped in a plastic pouch with a separate 12” × 14” folded map and two cardstock counter sheet, one blue and one red. (Click on the title page to see a larger version.)

Just as the second edition of Melee, this edition has relatively minor corrections. The few changes are more tweaks gradually shifting from a “tactical aid” to a full-fledged role-playing system.

Substantive changes were:

Minor corrections were:

(Complete changes in “diff -u” format can be found here.)


Wizard Third Edition

Wizard third edition cover Wizard third edition copyright The third edition is Copyright 1978 & 1979 by Steve Jackson, and Copyright 1980 by Metagaming. This version is edited by Howard Thompson. The rules are 24 pages (with no cover) printed on plain paper, plus an eight page reference section. The rules include a table of contents on the title page and a character sheet on page 23. The game was shipped in a cardboard box with a separate 12” × 14” folded map, a single cardstock counter sheet, and a six-sided die. (Click on the title page to see a larger version.)

The title page has a notice which reads:

Major rule changes in this third edition of WIZARD have been indicated by gray shading. Minor corrections are unmarked.

Substantive changes were:

Minor corrections were:

It appears the third edition was published after Steve Jackson sold The Fantasy Trip rights to Howard Thompson. The packaging changed dramatically: the rules were printed without a cover, the game components were packed in a cardboard box instead of a plastic pouch, and a small six-sided die was included.

The transition from Jackson to Thompson seemed smoother than in Melee, as there are many fewer curious omissions, apparent contradictions, and outright errors. The only paste-up mistake I can see is under VIII. Casting Spells (p. 11).

(Complete changes in “diff -u” format can be found here.)


Wizard Fourth Edition

Wizard fourth edition cover Wizard fourth edition copyright The fourth edition is Copyright 1981 by Metagaming. This version is edited by Howard Thompson. The rules are 24 pages (with no cover) printed on plain paper, plus an eight page reference section. The rules include a table of contents on the title page and a character sheet on page 23. The game was shipped in a cardboard box with a separate 12” × 14” folded map, a single cardstock counter sheet, and a six-sided die. (Click on the title page to see a larger version.)

The fourth edition appears identical to the third edition. The only differences I can spot are the copyrights on the title page and the omission of the rule change notice. The text appears to be identical.

(Complete changes in “diff -u” format can be found here.)


Afterword

This all began about 2012. My sons showed an interest in role-playing games, so I thought it would be fun to run them through a few old adventures. After some thought I decided the original Melee and Wizard rules would be a good starting point: character creation is simple, action and combat resolution is quick, and magic is straightforward. Unfortunately, I did not have ready access to my copies of the rules.

A little digging turned up Dark City Games’ excellent Legends of the Ancient World. However, those rules weren’t quite what I remembered, causing cognitive dissonance when I ran the first few adventures.

More digging yielded HTML transcriptions on he Internet, and eventually uncovered the fine folks at Brainiac. So now I had a high-quality electronic text! But again, things were not quite as I remembered them.

I could have mounted an expedition to the attic, but instead I did what any self-respecting grognard would do and checked eBay. I was surprised to see just how many editions Metagaming had published. Curiosity piqued, I patiently acquired them all so I could see how they changed.

But comparing the texts side-by-side was not all that easy. I tried starting from the Internet text and editing backwards, so to speak, but that was an exercise in frustration. Eventually I scanned all the rules then converted the images to text using PDF OCR X. After that was a tedious cleanup to remove junk text resulting from attempting to OCR the illustrations(!), followed by an even more tedious spellcheck to catch most of the OCR mis-reads. I then made a pass to clean up the presentation to match (more or less) the typeset text. Finally, I compared the text between each revision, and cleaned up a few more OCR-induced typos.

The result was nine text files; five for Melee and four for Wizard. Comparing them now was simplicity itself, and yielded the results you see above.

$mike cremer, March 2016