In 1990, the makers of Dungeons & Dragons had a new game ready to unleash upon the world.
The new RPG offered a new look at what the future would become, and this future was dominated by a hero called Buck Rogers.
The new game was called “Buck Rogers” to most people, but its official titled was “XXVc,” which was short for the 25th Century.
Today, Comics on the Brain would like to announce a new review project where we take a look at all the products produced by TSR that carry the Buck Rogers and XXVc. We’ll look at every sourcebook, every game variation and every publication TSR produced for the line. This, of course, will take a long time. Aside from the gaming books, there was also multiple novels and several video games. We might not be able to find all these things, but we’ll do our best to dig it up.
And just to be clear, we are fans of the game and the universe created for it. We aren’t here to be snarky. We’re here to spread the love. At the same time, we know a lot of gamers hate the game and the politics that lead to the creation. We hope to cover all of that too.
Dragon No. 157
To start out, we look at TSR’s first public snapshot of the game in Dragon magazine No. 157, which came out in 1990.
The cover features the stirring painting used on the game’s box art. It shows a valiant, blond hero hoisting an alien over his head, while his teammates blast at the hordes swarming over them. In the background, a huge rocketship thunders into a planetoid-filled sky.
Not a bad beginning, really. It’s one of our favorite covers to Dragon, simply because it is so different from the entire rest of the Dragon magazine collection. The publication rarely, if ever, utilized sci-fi art for its covers.
Despite the strong start, the inside articles are dull and generally featureless. While the Buck coverage spans from pages 9 to 18, only seven pages are actually dedicated to the new franchise, and only tw pages cover the actual RPG.
The article titled “Into the 25th Century” serves as a true introduction to the game, and offers tidbits about the in-game history as well as pointing out some of the many unique locales and civilizations that populated the solar system of Buck Rogers.
That’s one thing to point out about XXVc, the setting was the solar system game-players of the 1990s were familiar with — their own. From the sun-scorched surface of Mercury to the outer planets of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, players had a lot of ground to cover and a lot of sci-fi ideas to explore.
And this article offered those tantalizing bits, except for one problem. Other than two pieces of art from the game — the cover being one of them — the magazine failed give its readers much to look at.
Two other articles about Buck Rogers were also part of the introductory effort. In “Buck is Back,” readers get a glimpse at some of the future projects in the Buck Rogers initiative. The third, “Buck Rogers Flies Solo” tells readers how to play the “Battle for the 25th Century” board game on your own — as in “as a solo game.”
In all, Dragon’s effort to get the word out about the new franchise was on the dismal side. Aside from the product being an untested entity, one has to wonder if even then the anger over it was building among the TSR staff.
What anger, you ask? Well the story typically says that then-TSR boss Lorraine Williams forced the franchise upon TSR. The move shut down TSR’s other sci-fi game, the much-loved Star Frontiers. Further, Williams is also one of the beneficiaries of the Dille Family Trust — the official owner of the Buck Rogers property. The belief was that Williams then got paid twice for the XXVc — once as a TSR employee and again as part owner of the Buck Rogers property.
So was Buck Rogers already doomed from the start? Was this half-assed publicity campaign a sign of scorn from the TSR staff?
It’s hard to say, but it’s intriguing to talk about.
Check back later for more on TSR’s Buck Rogers franchise.
Buck Rogers XXVc is a Comics on the Brain blog series exploring the Buck Rogers publications by TSR in the 1990s.