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posted by Asimo Original SA post

Blast from the Past - TSR Catalog, 1979

Hey, it's been a while since I posted anything. I actually have a few thoughts to do reviews for old games that haven't come up yet, but today we're doing something simple and one-shot. Something very familiar... in fact, the oldest RPG item in my collection.

Okay, no, not the Basic Set itself. To be perfectly honest, the copy I have isn't very exciting... it's the third printing of the box set from 1979, and by then there had been plenty of the prior editions, AD&D had been released, and basically it isn't all that rare at all. It's probably about worth the four dollars or so I paid at a second hand bookstore in the 90's, and itself of limited historical curiosity; you're better off looking at reviews for the original release. Although I don't think anyone's covered Keep on the Borderlands yet, have they?

Whoever owned it before did send in the postcard for the crappy dice though. So brittle and sharp.

But what is of interest is something else that came in the box - advertising! See, there's been scans and PDFs and all that of a lot of ancient games, boxes, and accessories... but I don't think I've ever seen catalogs and similar pamphlets really put up online. I want to change this - there's no reason for history of the industry to be lost just because it isn't part of the game. Catalogs like this are doubly important since back in the pre-internet era gamers were limited to whatever was available at their local hobby shop or bookstore, so something like this was important for showing the breadth of the company's product, and to help encourage sales by making people ask for their games.

First off, a gallery link:
And a gallery of the higher-quality scans... the ones I'm linking here are still legible, but I imagine anyone who wants an actual archive would want these instead. Be sure to view full resolution:

And with that said... let's go to the scans themselves!

All ready and waiting to be painted on to the side of the van. In case the signature isn't legible the art was done by David C. Sutherland III , one of the old classic TSR artists, famously responsible for the cover of the original AD&D DMG.

Here we see a reminder that TSR didn't actually start by making tabletop RPGs. It had a history as a wargaming company, and even as late as 1979 there was still a focus on wargames and board games. You can also see the four big "classic" RPGs... Top Secret was just released and Gamma World wasn't much older, but right now the only one anyone actually really remembers or plays is D&D itself.

Reminds me, someone definitely needs to review Boot Hill. Not me though, I don't own a copy.

The then-new AD&D was of course a main focus here, taking the center spread of the catalog. Of particular and amusing note are the OUTDOOR & DUNGEON GEOMORPHS and the fact Greyhawk is the only official published D&D setting in existence. Also note the high focus on adventures and modules, easily outnumbering the corebooks and setting material.

Here's the board games that were being published by TSR. Lots of them, and again important enough to take up multiple pages. Most of these were actually owned by their creators and just published by TSR and while a lot have been out of print for decades, a few like Snit's Revenge and The Awful Green Things from Outer Space were later picked up by SJG. Fight in the Skies , later renamed and maybe better known as Dawn Patrol , has the honor of being the only game played at every GenCon to date.

The back cover, showing the decline of wargaming as a major TSR focus... although even here things like Chainmail, Valley Forge, and Cordite and Steel were still being sold and published. Books of character sheets are another thing that stopped years ago, but back in the 70's photocopiers were a bit harder to get a hand of, so it wasn't quite as silly a product as it sounded if you didn't feel like using graph paper. You can see the note at the bottom mentioning (well, begging) players to ask retailers to carry their products too.

And... well, that's the whole thing! Hey, I said this would be an easy post. Still, I'm curious if anyone has knowledge of (or better yet, actual copies of) some of the games shown here, many of which predate my own experience in the hobby. More importantly, I encourage folks who have similar sorts of fliers, posters, advertising, and all that from the 70's and 80's and even the 90's to scan them and put them up. Archival is important, and every bit of art and information posted helps to flesh out the history of the hobby.