Thieves’ World (1981)

In 1981, Chaosium released a box set based on Thieves’ World. Let’s take a moment to appreciate how crazy this was. First off, Thieves’ World itself was kind of crazy. Anthologies, particularly fantasy ones, didn’t sell well in 1979 (or now, really). The genre itself, though growing in popularity, was still mostly fixated on high fantasy in the style of Tolkien – dark, urban fantasy of the sort in Thieves’ World was unusual. And yet, some of the biggest names in science fiction and fantasy climbed on board and the good ship Thieves’ World, in its first incarnation, stayed afloat for a decade and with a good reputation to boot.

Now comes the box set. Chaosium brought its usual attention to detail to Sanctuary, fleshing it out in the spirit of the stories, cramming the books full of maps. The encounter tables are nothing short of amazing – all fifteen pages of them. They’re designed to simulate the constant churn of events in a metropolitan area, even while players are trying to do other things. I’ve never encountered anything like them – for larger neighborhoods, they account for time of day and relative street size. Just flipping through them gives you a sense of how bustling Sanctuary would feel in a game.

And yet, that’s not even the real miracle of the box set. That’s revealed when you check out the stats for all your favorite Thieves’ World characters. What system is this for, anyway? Turns out: all of them. Somehow, Chaosium got the makers of eight major games to allow them to adapt Thieves’ World to their system so, in addition to RuneQuest, we have stats for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Adventures in Fantasy, Chivalry & Sorcery, Dragonquest, Dungeons & Dragons, Fantasy Trip, Traveller (!?) and Tunnels & Trolls . Not only that, in several cases, they got the original designers of the game to do the work!

If you tried to start a project like this five years later, let alone today, I wager you’d have been laughed out of town.

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