Browsing old Flagship PBM magazine issues
by, 23rd April 2012 at 10:20 PM (993 Views)
Back in the 1980s, as a teenager, none of my friends were interested in roleplaying games, and there weren't any local clubs. So I couldn't try face-to-face gaming, and instead found substitutes. Fighting Fantasy and other gamebooks were a lot of fun. And another thing that kept me going was play by mail (PBM) gaming.
This was in a time long before the Internet became widely accessible. Play by mail gaming back then literally meant playing through the post, writing turns for my character, posting them, and receiving the results back, and then repeat. Some of the games involved more abstract codes for turns, so you would almost be doing something approaching computer programming as you put your turns in, and then the results might be pages of statistics, for example economic figures for running a kingdom or a city or a trading caravan. Other games were much more freeform roleplaying, where you as the player would describe what your character was going to do, and the GM/person running the PBM would receive that, in the post, figure out what happened next, and send you a few sides of paper outlining that.
At the forefront of PBM gaming at this time, especially in the UK, was Flagship magazine. This was founded in 1983 and ran until the last couple of years, only finishing - for now anyway - when the editor sadly had a severe stroke. Back in the 1980s and 1990s Flagship was almost the only way (barring occasional articles in some other magazines like GM) that interested players could find out about postal games they could take part in, and it was full of adverts for new games, and reviews of them, and other articles. One of my favourite sections was the 'Rumours from the Front' section where players would send in short summaries of what was happening in their games - often a good glimpse into what gaming in those games might be like. More recently it generalised its content to cover other games, like RPGs and board games. Always a good read.
Over time play by mail gaming companies folded in greater numbers, and there were fewer games. But it continued as a hobby until recently. Many companies (including those still running, like KJC) made the transition to Internet gaming, allowing turns to be sent in by email or web form, and the results returned similarly. But there was still something magical about gaming by post, and receiving each new envelope full of untold potential.
For people who played play by mail back in the day, or anyone simply interested in how it worked, the available PDF back issues of Flagship are a good read. Only some of the issues are available there, but they include the very first issues from 1983, as well as some of the last from 2010.