In 1984 there were two dominate kinds of role-playing games. The first was the experience and level kind where you got stronger through hit points, spells and a few abilities like extra attacks. The second was the newer kind with skills that grew. You either checked off a skill and rolled to see if it went up at the end of the adventure, or you got opportunities to increase them. I liked both kinds. I liked the attaining of new levels and I liked the fine tuning that skills allowed to develop your character. So why choose between the two? In that spirit Imagine Role Playing was born. It began on a Smith Corona typewriter the exact model pictured here. That first draft was a little rough, but we jumped in. We played it and made it better. We came up with the bullseye hit chart that you placed on your target and it was immediately intuitive for both players and GMs. It has been with us ever since. We decided that more attributes were needed to have a stronger sense of your role-playing persona. We experimented with removing alignment and found ultimately that it fulfilled a kind of contract between the player and the other players and the GM. It said, ‘this is my character’s world view’ and ‘this is how you can expect me generally to react to things.’ Alignments stayed. We added more detail, nuance, as time went on and soon it outgrew the margins of the typewritten version.
And we played and played and played. Imagine has been in constant play, at least once a week on average, since 1985. This allowed us to grow the game and add more and more. I ditched the typewriter for a copy of Wordstar and CTRL-KBed my way to a new player manuscript. We reduced the format to a half page booklet, 4-1/2” x 5’5” folded and stapled them together manually. Then we added a large spell book and a master’s book. The earliest fully playable edition of Imagine Role Playing was born. I sent it off to the copyright office and we were making books. We went to DundraCon in Oakland, California and began expanding our play to other groups, meeting new people, and giving away our books just for the love of it. I remember one amazing night well after midnight that there were multiple play sessions of Imagine going in one of the open gaming areas at DundraCon, and I knew then that we had something that worked for those looking for something a little deeper. We took all the feedback we were getting and in 1987 we made the new white-cover player’s guide with additional classes, races, and other refinements.
I took Imagine with me when I moved to Georgia in 1992. By 1997 I decided that it was time for a new edition. I wanted a serious team to work with me to bring Imagine to the next level. I had some money saved up and gathered together a group of gamers and pitched them the idea of a company. Imagine Role Playing the company was born. We worked very hard to produce our first products. We brought in artists from the Atlanta area to collaborate with and decided that they were an integral part of our vision of bringing Imagine to life. Every product we produce does them the honor they deserve by having an Artists page to promote their talent. Without their vision Imagine would be dry reading indeed. With them it leaps off the page and sets the feel of the experience available to our players. We knew we wanted to set a high bar and yet we had a lot to learn. I worked with the team and we produced the limited Player’s Guide in 1997 and the limited Master’s Manual not long after. We began going to DragonCon in Atlanta and promoting the newest edition.
The game sold out in the first two conventions. We created a sample adventure, The Barrow MacMaern, to introduce Imagine and it provided a brief look of what Imagine play could be like. We were soon out of our limited-edition books and working on what we planned as the final Player’s Guide and Master’s Manual with more products to follow. We refined the layout and look of our limited editions and expanded them greatly. We planned for future expansions, deciding that our expansions needed to have things for both the players and game masters out there. Each needed to be a complete expansion of play for all. This development was costly.
We were paying employees full time to work on Imagine while many of us continued our day jobs. Still we managed to release the “final” versions of both of our existing books, a limited release game master screen that cost nearly as much as a book itself to print and the Barrow MacMaern. Our scenario cost us more to print than we could make on them. Sadly, we were 10 years shy of the print on demand revolution that was coming. As a business, Imagine was a hobby. The love of something does not make it profitable, and we decided that Imagine couldn’t continue as a business. We let our employees go and shuttered Imagine as a business. Still we were about 70% done with our first expansion.
Imagine was not something I could quit doing. If it was going to be a hobby then it was going to be the best kind of one. I had been playing Imagine with the Brian and Martha and we worked together to finish the layout and printing of the first Bestiary: Aspects of the Wild. Brian had an amazing ability to set aside the clutter that was the current state of the project and layout the remainder of the book and prep it for printing. On top of this he made a clearer, easier to use website for Imagine. Aspects was released. Martha developed a tournament for it to introduce at that year’s DragonCon. We had a booth that year and Aspects was well-received by Imagine players old and new. Imagine now had its first environment; the wild, with new classes, races and many creatures both natural and magical. Aspects fulfilled its core purpose as an expansion for players and game masters alike.
The new team of hobbyists were doing it for the love of the game. Knowing that we needed the undead as our next focus, we collaborated over the next couple of years and produced Epitaph of the Fallen. Now there were undead creatures, still more races and classes and much new lore surrounding life and death and the undead. Once again, we ran a booth and promotion and filled out our gaming slots with players. Epitaph of the Fallen was all we had hoped for and more. Then life intervened. There were marriages and children. It was an exciting time in our lives but Imagine had to take a back seat for a good while as we focused on those new faces in our lives. For the first time many of us had to take a break from weekly gaming. Still word came in that Imagine was being played and people had questions. We kept up the website and growing errata. Though we had less opportunity to collaborate on what was next, we knew it was going to be about exotic locations and we had many creatures and lore completed for when things would inevitably slow down.
When the children were a little older, we picked our project back up again. We formalized Imagine Role Playing as a not-for-profit organization; what is now Imagine Role Playing, org. We had never taken profit from it since we had converted from a business and set that possibility aside. The small amounts that come in from books go right back into paying for the website and reprinting the books when they run out. This is how we continue today. The art budgets for each new book is simply donated by me. Brian donates his time to layout the print manuscript and Martha and/or Christine donate theirs to edit them. Martha has time and again filled it missing artwork and more, helping make Imagine what it is. I was proud to share the author title on this book with them both as we all wrote so much of it together. And so, as we have time and again, we came together and finished Legends of the Unknown. Imagine was back with a new book and plans for more. We made a new Game Master’s screen and I hand assemble each of those myself. I do this with a smile, knowing that somewhere out there, sitting behind these screens are the Game Masters who make Imagine games possible.
A more in-depth, expanded scenario that could play over several sessions was put together from the maps, notes, and works of the first modern Imagine adventure ever played. Three from Reston is no railroad but an open-ended scenario, allowing the players the opportunity of many paths of adventure. All the extras, characters, treasures, and details that a GM would need to play this adventure was offered up in both physical form and PDF. This was a labor of love and a “thank you” to those that helped test Imagine with me in this new form. Thank you.
But we still have so much to do. Right now, Mysteries of the Planes has a completed design manuscript. Martha edits it when she can and our artists (half a dozen) are busy producing the over 160 illustrations, we will need to bring it to fruition. Brian is standing by to do final layout when the illustrations are all in. I have not been idle in this time. I have taken the years of collected errata and combined it into a new printing of the Player’s Guide that adds all these rule clarifications. When you download the Player’s Guide PDF from the website this is the version you get. If you go to our Discord you can download the errata and see many of the extensive changes going into this new printing. Please think of it not as a new version of Imagine but as clarification. Soon these new Player’s Guides will be in physical print as well because of the on-demand revolution that has taken place in the printing industry. Speaking of revolutions. Brian has created collaborative tools where we share and review all our works in real time. Also, with Discord you can now reach us quickly, often in real time.
Exciting times are ahead. Here is just a sample of what is coming.
The new printing of the Player’s Guide is just around the corner, and the new PDF is already available.
Mysteries of the Planes: our newest expansion focused on the lower planes like the elemental planes, the veil of dreams, phase, shadow, fae, rockholm, ethereal, astral, and so much more. It is already clearly going to be our biggest expansion yet. Here is the suggested Grand Map of the Planes to whet your appetite for what is to come in this and the next Bestiary as well.
In the wings beyond Mysteries is Conquest of the Eternal where the Deities, devils, angles, demons, archons, devas, eternal spirits, and servants of the outer planes will be revealed. You will have the opportunity to play incarnates in the form of celestials (reborn angels), infernals (reborn devils), devas (reborn spirits), and more. You can even play the offspring of the gods in the form of Demi Gods, or extend your play beyond death and begin as one of the returned, searching for the great final answers after death itself.
Also in the offing is the working title: Masters and Minions. All the evil races from our many books are brought together in this resource with ready to play Game Master Extras (GME) minions and full Game Master Characters (GMC) masters with equipment, statistics, body charts, and more. Planned are random charts and sample lairs. This book is for the weary GM who needs help in running Imagine on the fly or when creating their own works. This will be at GM-focused full resource book.
We are considering the working title Helpers and Heroes which will provide sample good folk from the races of the books in the form of good extras and good full characters that the Game Master can use to flesh out their adventures and fill even more needed material.
And so it goes. There is much to do and never enough time, but it is a labor of love that has been a lifetime of work that I am thankful to have. If there is something you are longing for or need you can reach us on Discord. You, our players, and your feedback matters to us. Thank you for playing our little game.