Honoring the Loomis Legacy

Rick Loomis, owner of Flying Buffalo Games and publisher of the Tunnels and Trolls RPG and Nuclear War card game, passed away on August 24 after a long struggle with lymphatic cancer -- just seven hours before his birthday. Loomis' impact on the gaming industry is enormous, influencing tabletop gaming, card gaming, play-by-mail, and even solo gamebooks.


Playing games with another player at a distance have been in existence for as long as there was communication between two parties. But it wasn't until Flying Buffalo got started that play-by-mail games were moderated by computers, allowing considerably more complex games to be played out.

Founder Rick Loomis was frustrated playing games like Diplomacy, particularly with how it related to "fog of war" -- keeping players in the dark about each others' locations. So he made up a new one:
In high school, I invented a multi-player wargame with hidden movement that was a lot of fun, but had a couple of serious problems. (1) no one else wanted to do all the work of refereeing it (so I hardly ever got to play, since I had to be the referee) (2) it took a long time to play, as the players turned in their moves one at a time so the referee could calculate the results of all his moves and attacks, before sending the next player his turn and (3) if there were more countries in the game than I could find players for, what did we do with the extra countries?
While serving in the Army, Loomis came up with his answer to the first problem by removing the requirement for a referee. Scott Thorne at ICv2 picks up the thread:
Loomis was a major figure in the Game Industry dating back to 1970, when while serving at Fort Shafter in Hawaii, he first picked up a copy of Avalon Hill’s Gettysburg. Finding himself fascinated by the game, he soon developed his own game, Nuclear Destruction, one of the earliest, if not the earliest board games to feature hidden movement. Offering to moderate play-by-mail games of Nuclear Destruction with fellow soldiers, he soon had some 200 servicemen signed up to play. This led Loomis to ask his friend and fellow soldier Steve MacGregor to write a computer program to moderate play. When this proved successful, Loomis and MacGregor founded Flying Buffalo Inc. in 1972 to run play-by-mail games as a for-profit operation, making Loomis, as far as he knew, the first person to ever purchase a computer solely for gaming.
For the full story of how Loomis pioneered play-by-mail gaming, see "Flying Buffalo's Legacy - Part 1: Play by Mail".

Card Gaming

Nuclear Destruction led to Flying Buffalo acquiring a card game with a similar theme, as told by Loomis himself:
In order to have something to "sell" at game conventions like Origins, while trying to talk people into trying play by mail, I had invented a "boardgame version" of my Nuclear Destruction pbm game. (No longer available folks. Sorry.) It sold ok, but people kept asking me if this was that "card game" they had played in college that was so much fun. I had more than one person tell me that they had played this card game until the cards "wore out". I knew what game they were talking about, since I had played it in college too, and I figured that if people play it until it wears out, it has to be a winner. Unfortunately, the game was out of print, and no one knew where the inventer was. The only address on the rules of the game was "Douglas Malewicki, Los Angeles". I advertised in gaming magazines that I wanted him to get in touch, but he had only invented one game, and found out that you can't get distribution if you only have one game, so he had gone on to other adventures. Eventually a friend of mine (Russ Beland) found Doug's phone number in an LA area phone book. I knew I had the right guy when his answering machine answered with organ music and a dracula voice: "Mr Malewicki is not in, but if you will leave your name, phone number, and blood type, he will get back to you." This was the inventor of the hilarious Nuclear War Card game and ever since I bought the rights, it has been our most popular product.
In 1999 Pyramid Magazine named Nuclear War one of The Millennium's Best Card Games. The game was also inducted into the Origins Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame.

Tabletop Role-Playing Games

Flying Buffalo entered the tabletop role-playing game industry with Ken St. Andre's Tunnels & Trolls -- a more lighthearted take on Dungeons & Dragons that was similar enough to merit a cease-and-desist letter from then owner of D&D, TSR. This forced a change in how the industry approached D&D, launching the phrase "fantasy role-playing game."

Tunnels & Trolls is far from Flying Buffalo's only contribution, as described by Krypton Radio:
As the gaming industry grew, some companies began dominating the market, chiefly Dungeons and Dragons publisher, TSR. In 1978, Loomis helped form the Association of Game Manufacturers, which would later change its name to the Game Manufacturers Association, or GAMA. In his role as president of the non-profit -- a position he would hold numerous times over the years -- Loomis and TSR head Gary Gygax engaged in a very public spat over the future of the gaming industry. The matter was settled in time and GAMA continued to grow as an advocate to promote non-electronic social games such as Board/Tabletop, Miniatures, Role-Playing and Card games and eventually expanding to include Collectable/Tradeable Card Games and Live-Action Role-Playing games. Its membership is made up of game manufacturers, retailers, distributors, and suppliers along with a diverse selection of conventions, clubs, and independent professionals related to the games industry.
And of course, Flying Buffalo introduced the world to Grimtooth's Traps, as described by Goodman Games' recent Ultimate Collection Kickstarter:
Originally published by Flying Buffalo, Grimtooth’s Traps is one of the most popular RPG accessories ever produced, with more than 250,000 copies in print since 1981. There have been a total of seven Grimtooth’s books produced, and all of them are usable with any RPG.
For more details about how Tunnels & Trolls changed the industry, see "Flying Buffalo's Legacy - Part 2: Tunnels & Trolls".

Solo Gamebooks

Loomis also lays claim to the first solo RPG adventure, which predated choose your own adventures:
Buffalo Castle was the first solo adventure written for Tunnels & Trolls, and as far as we know, it was the first solo adventure written for any roleplaying game, and even came out before the "choose your own adventure" books. It was written by Rick Loomis in 1976 with art by Liz Danforth.
The claim that role-playing elements for a gamebook are distinctly British is disputed by (American company) Flying Buffalo's claim of Buffalo Castle, which was published in 1976 and predated The Warlock of Firetop Mountain by several years. For more details about which came first, see "Flying Buffalo's Legacy - Part 3: Solo Gamebooks".

Now What?

The debt the industry owes Loomis is massive. If you'd like to do give back, there's two ways you can help.

Even with his veteran’s benefits, Loomis' medical bills and funeral costs will likely run in the tens of thousands. To help cover all the costs, a GoFundMe campaign was launched:
Both his sisters (Nancy and Laura) have been trying to help Rick as best they can, but he has needed specialized medical care in a rehabilitation facility. Rick was recently sent back to the hospital and the bills have been overwhelming. They need some help taking care of the medical bills and catching up with other expenses that Rick usually took care, of but has been unable to, due to his illness.
Additionally, Allen Varney launched a Bundle of Holding to help:
A couple of years ago the Bundle of Holding group, who sell large bundles of PDFs to fans offered some of Flying Buffalo' Catalyst books for all role-playing games. They also set aside 10% of the sales for a charity cause. So they are reoffering the Catalyst books along with Our recently updated Mercenaries, Spies & Private eyes rpg and a couple of other new items.
As for the company he founded, Flying Buffalo plans to soldier on:
Rick’s sisters and the entire Buffalo team are committed to continuing to process and ship out your Kickstarter and other orders...Down the road there will also be new products for T&T, MSPE, Nuclear War, and Catalyst books like new Traps and Citybooks. They may not come as quickly as we’d like right now, as there is a lot to do in regards to taking care of Rick’s estate and Flying Buffalo. But rest assured, we are soldiering onward. That’s what Rick wanted us to do – and we plan to do just that.

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Ian Danton

I remember spending hours in the early 80's wading through the Player's Handbook and the DMG trying to understand just what I was meant to do. Then I picked up Tunnels and Trolls and within 20 minutes had played my first adventure. A different experience of course, but it helped me confirm that I was on the right track. Thank you for sharing Mike.


Arcadian Knight
I have had a long time fondness for Lost Worlds game books I wonder if there is any more plans for those. Rick and I had discussions about me doing an alternate souped up cover for the unicorn book. I have many good memories of Ricks contributions to the industry and my interactions with him.
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aramis erak

Somehow, in the early 00's, I wound up running a demo/tourney of lost worlds at my FLGS. Rick sent prizes. MANY prizes. Every person who entered wound up getting the option on something. And the FLGS sold a bunch more LW books.

And Rick told me to enjoy the leftovers.

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