Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Search for the Emperor's Treasure

Desert Scribe's wrap-up today of our Search for the Emperor's Treasure game session reminds me that I have been remiss on my own post.

Back in the hoary day, I was a complete sucker for any game Tom Wham signed his name to. I played the crap out of every single game of his I could get a hand on. Admittedly some of those game were profoundly silly--and dare I say crudely simple--such as Snit Smashing or that one whose name eludes me where you play gods literally dropping sentient critters onto a planet to see if they go splat or stay alive to sing your praises.

But others were all around great games—rollicking beer-and-pretzels game fun, always touched by the whimsy of Wham's illustrations and quirky design. For me Search for the Emperor's Treasure, tucked into the center spread of Dragon magazine issue 51, was the best of 'em, a slam dunk.

Basically it was either OD&D or B/X-flavored D&D (depends who you ask) on a board. Each player takes the role (and in a great Whamsian touch the most experienced player picks first) of a fighter, cleric, magic-user or elf, complete with goofy backstory.

Each player is ostensibly questing wilderness and dungeon crawl style to find the treasures of the Emperor scattered and hidden around the handsome Darlene-drawn map by Evil Sorcerers (tm), but in suitably D&D grubbing form that's only a fig leaf for the real object of the game: Treasure full stop. The player who ends with the most swag wins.

There are options for making the game cooperative and party based or even more competitive with player vs. player killing. The former ruins the point, the latter--while Wham explicitly warns against using--actually adds some game balance by helping curb players from exploiting the game's biggest design flaw, the tendency to just march over to one of the sites that give higher odds for treasure finds and just camping there turn after turn.

(I would also recommend mucking around with some kind of house rule that limits either the amount of turns or total treasure that can be mined out of a particular site).

Making Your Own Copy
Thumbing through a super cheap Ebay win of that issue—affordable because hair-tearingly it was missing the game section—made me hungry to play it again.

Fortunately, I found that putting together my own copy was surprisingly easy. Here's how I did it.

I started from a PDF copy of that issue of the Dragon (drop me an email if you want to know how to get a copy, legal of course) and then explored some print-on-demand options. Office Despot has a service (Kinko's offers a similar process)  in which you can upload a PDF or other file here and they will print to specs at your local store.

After you upload the files, only select the three full-color pages for the maps and counters. Blow these up to 11 x 17 inches (this will make a larger play surface, though you will lose some resolution) and choose full-color copies.

Now I didn't do this but in retrospect would have made the game much more attractive, select a durable card stock paper to print on. Send it off to your local store and definitely, definitely make sure to call that location to make sure they don't muck it up—I assure the copy-monkeys will do so 6 out of 10 times if you don't. Typical turn around time is a few hours.

When you get the copy, cut out the margin on the maps first aligning them to fit over the overlapping half inch of duplicated images, tape them together. Cut the counters, play cards, and other bits sorting them by type. Throw the encounters, arms, and treasure counters into separate coffee mugs, dixie cups, or whatever you have handy for drawing of chits.

Et voila, you are ready to play.
They look surprisingly sedate for people in the process of
repeatedly siccing a dragon on my poor Elf. 
Expanding the Game
If you want to expand the game with a few more options, mosey over to Wham's site and find a reproduction of the play cards for the dwarf and “hairfoot” characters added in the Best of Dragon Games version. Boardgame geek has a few rules variants and other freebies worth downloading here.

If you prefer the alternative map in that second edition--a non-Darlene hex map that could be cut up and moved around a la Settlers of Catan--an enterprising sort could use the jpg image here and print up a copy. (While it looks fun, I couldn't forgo the aesthetic and nostalgic appeal of the original.)


  1. I've got a copy of the Best of Dragon Magazine games sitting in my cupboard, minus the rules (somehow). I've never played any of them - who knows why I bought it. It must have been in some kind of sale, and I realised that I could spread my cash further by buying three things I didn't really want, rather than the one thing I did want. A shopping habit that I struggle to unlearn.

    I've tried selling it on eBay for 99p - never even got a watcher.

    Nevertheless, that does look like fun. I might have to dig it out and see how Search for the Emperor's Treasure plays, so long as I can get hold of the rules.

  2. The Best of version strips out a good chunk of flavor: the modular hex map over Darlene's and sadly the full color encounter chits. Still it adds in some improvements and expansions as I mention and the die cut counters and more durable cards are nice.

    You can play it solo (I did quite a bit bitd) with you either playing schizoid style the various players or cooperatively. But it really works as a casual light game, and is simple enough to be a good introduction to non-D&D players.

    I should have mentioned that I really love the mechanics in the game--almost enough to use them in an RPG homebrew sometime--very simple and elegant use of dice pools and the like.

  3. Nice DIY walkthrough, looks like a really fun game.

  4. Snit's Revenge. Oh my, we have played that to death. There was an equally daft sequel as well and I know we have it. Somewhere.

  5. Do you know if the rules from Dragon are enough, as is, to play a game with the 'Best of...' components?

  6. A while back I did an adaptation of SFTET for the program Cyberboard, which allows playing board and wargames on the computer (using virtual playing pieces and maps).

    I can't recall now if I finished the project, but if anyone's wanting to check it out let me know at tog23 AT sc dot rr dot com. I'm pretty sure it's complete, and uses pieces and the map from the original Dragon edition.

  7. Random, but does that guy on the left have a TAMU Philosophy t-shirt on? I'm asking because I got my MA in Philosophy from A&M in 1999.

  8. Professor Pope, that guy is in fact wearing a Texas A&M University Philosophy t-shirt. Master of Arts 2004. That is also probably the most unflattering picture of me possible.

  9. @Brad -- Flattering or no, that's cool. John McDermott was my thesis director and a big intellectual influence. I never got a T-shirt, though. :(