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Blood Pit History As Told By Dux Mortalitaas

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Blood Pit History As Told By Dux Mortalitaas

Post  Dux Mortalitas on Fri Sep 23, 2016 11:38 pm

Hi guys and gals, I just found an old piece that I wrote on BP some 10+ years ago in an email folder. It has been lost from the boards since the old Pitt died off. Enjoy!

Just got a download of the new Ubuntu Linux 8.10 Alpha 6 and have been messing around with it for the better part of my only day off from work for the next three weeks. It's way cool! What kinda goob would spend his only day off for nearly a month messing around with some Alpha build of Linux? And how did such goobdumb come to be born?  The blame goes squarely on one person and his evil attempts to corrupt the pure, innocent mind of a young child through insidious and surreptitious means.

It all started back when I was about 8 years old. Jim Townsend and his brother Bob had moved down to Southern California to live with his mother during the summer of 1981ish. His mother called up my mom and invited our family up to their house for lunch and a swim in their pool. Jim was about four and a half years my senior and at roughly 12 years old he was already over 6 feet tall and probably damn near 200 lbs. He was a curious combination of professional wrestler and Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock from Star Trek for those of you too young to have seen it) in my eyes. We had a great time in the pool playing Marco Polo and eating BBQ hamburgers and hot dogs.

Jim lived at the top of a hill overlooking our neighborhood in an old adobe house, which prior to his mother moving there, we neighborhood kids had always thought was haunted. As it turns out it wasn't haunted at all; the ghostly image that we saw on rare occasions through dusty windows was Jim's near 80 year old grandmother, who never came out of the house. It was a rite of passage in pre-Jim days to go up there and stand in front of a window for five minutes attempting to get a glimpse of the undead (scariest damn five minutes I could imagine when I was a kid).

All of that changed after that summer as Jim moved down to So-Cal for good. On occasion we neighborhood kids would gather up at his house for a weekend of Risk or D&D, which Jim ran with sadistic joy. He was a very creative DM and I always enjoyed his story telling abilities. Jim was the only kid in our neighborhood, and, for that matter, probably the only kid in our town to have his own personal computer, a Tandy TSR "TRASH" 80, which he would program code into in order to make it do odd and, in my eyes, infinitely interesting things on-screen.

About the time I was 12 or so, inspired by Jim's "TRASH", I got my first computer – a Commodore 64 and some games for it like Racing Destruction Set and, Bard's Tale, some cool flight simulators and war games. Jim became a regular down at my house after that because while the Tandy he had was fine for his programming delights, it really lacked in the gaming department. Jim and I would spend hours and hours bending joysticks beyond their capacity, playing pool and ping-pong in my basement while planning out how we were going to conquer the world when we got older. I eventually became somewhat interested in programming after Jim introduced me to Play By Mail games.

Jim had been writing articles reviewing various PBM games for a magazine called Paper Mayhem. Jim was always trying to get me into playing some of these games, but at my age, coming up with the money to play was pretty tough. But at about the time I got my commodore, I started to do consistent work on our family ranch and that earned me some money. I had enough to pay for a team in Duelmasters ($10 per turn), a gladiatorial combat PBM game and go out bowling with Jim a few times a week. Jim had already graduated high school at the age of 16 and was working at Burger King, if I recall, in order to scrape together enough money to start up his own PBM company. He didn't want to waste money on a car, so his mom would drive him to work at night where he was the closer. He worked the late night shift and would get back in the morning, then sleep until after noon.

On days when Jim didn't work, his step-father, Dick would drive us to the bowling alley for a few hours of fun. Jim was getting pretty good at bowling and decided to enter a tournament held at our local bowling alley. The championship prize was several thousand dollars as I remember it. On the morning of the event, I got a call from an excited Jim. He wanted me to come to the tourney with him so I could watch him win it. He was dead certain he would take the prize, which to my mind was odd considering his average (165 or so maybe) wasn't all that high compared to his competition. With the prize he would be able to start up his company, Pfodd, which would pave the way for bringing Blood Pit to the masses.

Pfodd, odd name, I know, but if you know Jim, it makes sense. Anyway, I asked him why he was so certain of himself in this tourney, and he told me the story of what happened to him just a few minutes before he called me. He woke up and got dressed, went into the toilet, did his deed, came out to put on his shoes, only to find that he had put on two entirely different color socks. As soon as he saw the odd combo of socks he got a strong feeling that he would win the tournament. He decided to not to change his socks as they portended his imminent victory. It was an intriguing story to be sure, and I wanted to attend the tourney, but I had an unfinished game of Risk to attend to with some of the neighborhood kids.

Sometime late that Saturday afternoon, while playing Risk, I got a call from Jim, “Rich, you missed it; I won! 2 grand, BABY! Pfodd is coming!” By some stroke of the Almighty Sock, Jim managed to average some 196 during the entirety of the tourney and take out the competition. He had never played that well before or since. As a result, Jim got his business license and Pfodd became a reality. Jim's first game was an open-ended space saga called Xenophobe. He charged $5 per ship with an account maximum of 3 ships. I really couldn't afford to run three ships every two weeks, but Jim being the ever trustworthy, honest and decent friend he was decided to let me work for Pfodd stuffing/licking envelopes and stamps as well as occasionally entering turn orders into the computer, which I was infinitely under-qualified to do. After messing up more than my fair share of orders, I was downgraded to mere stamp-licker/envelope-stuffer extraordinaire. But since this allowed me to keep playing Xenophobe, which I have to say was an awesome game, I didn't mind the numb, swollen, pasty tongue. I did eventually start to use water on the stamps, but Jim was kind enough to let me break in my tongue first before introducing me to the water method.

Somewhere along the line Jim and I started making bets on our bowling games and on individual throws. Jim being a more experienced gambler and a far better bowler really had the advantage over the mere 15 years of life that I had behind me at the time. Over a period of several months I managed to get myself some $300 in debt to him due to stupid double-or-nothings. I ended up working that debt off on weekends doing Jim's bidding at his company. I suppose I can't complain though – I enjoyed almost every minute of it...almost.

After working with Jim and watching him code Xenophobe, fix bugs, etc, I became somewhat interested in programming. I would mess around with my commodore 64 trying to make some sort of code for a game like Duelmasters, which I never got to work – not even close. I told Jim what I was trying to do and he got a sly smile and said he thought he could make something similar to Duelmasters in a day or so. I didn't believe him, so we went up to his house for the afternoon so he could give it a whirl. Sure enough after the span of 4 or 5 hours he had a working, bare-bones fight engine that did essentially what duelmasters did. I was blown away at how simple the Duelmasters fight engine really was to duplicate and felt rather disillusioned by the game. Anyway, sometime over the next year or two, a couple of things happened. Pfodd become Emprise Game Systems, which brought in a new game called Warp Force Empires, which was another space game, which I enjoyed but never to the extent that I did Xenophobe. Unfortunately, Xenophobe was on the wane and eventually went under just when I was about to take over the universe.

Fortunately, Jim got wind of a program called Blood Pit which was coded by Randy Baker. He got into contact with Randy by phone and arranged for Randy to sell him the game. I remember Jim calling me up and telling me that he just got the code and was looking it over and that it was a mess. If I recall, at first, he thought he was hoodwinked. Anyway, despite the way the code looked (incredibly disorganized and hard to read), it ran really well. Jim had big plans for BP and he was dead certain it would put Duelmasters out of business. BP was by far the more sophisticated game with many more options and better game balance. One of the things that Jim liked about BP when Randy had it was that it had team fights -- just 2 vs 2, not just one guy against another. Moved by this Jim recoded it into QuickBasic 4.0 and changed it to 5 v 5 as the upper limit. He even experimented with 10 v 10 (two full teams on each side)!

Jim wanted to clean up the code, add some more color to the output and set it up so he could run it at conventions in order to get a customer base. He buried himself in his room for a couple of weeks and reprogrammed the game into QuickBasic which allowed him to do much more than the GWbasic which Randy Baker had programmed the game in.

Due to school, I wasn't allowed to attend any of the first conventions and the way that Jim described them was enough to traumatize me for years, having missed out on that much fun. Shortly after those conventions, Jim got a letter from the owner of Duelmasters (Forgot his name) threatening to lawsuit for copyright infringement. The letter stated in essence that BP was a copy of Duelmasters and that if Jim didn't cease and desist running the game and immediately send all the code to RSI, he would sue the shirt off Jim's back. It provided us with a lot of laughs. If I recall, Jim wrote him back saying simply, “Go ahead and sue me.” Nothing came of the threat of course because BP was totally original. Who in their right mind would want to bother copying Duelmasters anyway, when you could write something better in a day or two if you wanted.

Shortly after his LA Conventions, Jim moved up to live with Randy Baker, so they could get a play-test arena going and flush out the game. They added a whole lot of text to the game to brush up the fight read, balanced out the styles, etc. Randy Baker started up a system of Magic and brought a some new races in the play-test arena, while the basic arenas remained similar to the BP that we play today. Quote from Jim, "The magic system started in the play-test arena around the time we moved the operation from Garibaldi, Oregon to Vancouver, Washington."

They brought on Lennart Bjorksten, who bought a portion of the company in order to get some money to do a massive convention tour using the basic game on the road. I remember one time they all came down to SoCal for what reason I can't recall, but in the process they visited Jim's mother and spent a day at my house. We played a lot of ping-pong and enjoyed talking about a variety of topics like BP, government, debate, etc. They were all highly intelligent well-spoken people with nearly polar ideas on most any topic other than BP. Me, I was still too young (about 15 probably) to appreciate a lot of what they were talking about, but I sure did enjoy the BP part of it. A few years later, Jim brought on a guy named Tim Mote (there was another guy, named Douglas Dee, but he didn't last), to help him on the convention tour.

I remember meeting Tim when he came down to San Diego to meet Jim for the first time. Jim had only ever spoken with Tim on the phone so this was going to be the longest blind date in history. Tim loved BP and was more fanatical about it than probably anyone I have ever met before or since. Anyway, they went on the road for several months if I recall after which Tim continued working for Jim up in Oregon entering BP turns and doing play-testing. The thing about Tim Mote was that he couldn't type to save his life, and this led to some curious warrior names. One of my warriors, which I submitted as Tim the Enchanter from the Monty Python movie Search for the Holy Grail mysterious became Tim the Enchantoz. I was pretty steamed and called Jim about it, but Jim refused to change the name because it was a play-test warrior. He sure did get a good laugh out of it though. Tim The Enchantoz was cursed in more ways than one. I decided to make him a Priest of Chaos and trained him up in the magic skill NECROSIS, which produced the most devastating lines of damage you have ever seen or heard of - body parts were rotting off! The only problem was that I could hit an opponent 20 times for seemingly ungodly amounts of damage and the guy would still be hacking me to pieces. The lines just didn't match the actual damage. That bug never got fixed, unfortunately. Tim The Enchantoz went some 3-30-0 before dying. Ah...Tim Mote... He sure was a nice guy though. Quote from Jim: "Other interesting T. Mote inventions included the infamous Bursting Hermes, instead of Bursting Herpes."

Sometime during the convention tour, I got a chance to attend several LA conventions. I helped advertise the game, organize the crowds and other odd stuff to keep the game running smoothly. I stayed up 3 days and 3 nights straight playing BP as I didn't want to miss a moment of it. At the same time I also played Duelmasters which was located on other side of the main convention room. At that convention I was the tourney champion of both games at the same time. The funny thing is that I started up my DM character based on the advice of some advanced player that I met there. He saw my stats and told me that if I gave it X weapon and ran it X way I would have a nearly unbeatable warrior. I did as he said and submitted my turn marked run indefinitely so that the warrior would run until killed.

I checked my my DM turns a few times, but Duelmasters was only being run every 3 or 4 hours, where as BP was going every hour on the hour. We had massive crowds in the BP corner constantly where as DM was virtually deserted. I completely forgot about DM during the course of that convention.

In BP, I had made a martial artist named Rich, who had some 70 odd fights by the time Final Group Fight happened. The Final Fight of BP was always to the death. It took the top ten ranked fighters, Rich was ranked #1 despite his mere 50% record and his lackluster singles performance going stiletto MA. He was a genius, and back in those days trains greatly affected ranking, so a warrior that trained skills well would skyrocket in rank even if losing. Winning warriors who killed and trained well would often go up in the ranks so fast that death was inevitable due to being so far out-experienced by warriors with 50% records but with far more skill. HERO, THE MASTER, JAMIK, THE OVERLORD and THE WARLORD were some of the other known managers present at the convention. I can't recall if any of them had warriors make it to that final fight, but those guys sure were fun to hang out with between fights.

The Final Fight was incredible! It seemed to go on forever and Jim read it out in a painfully slow, yet dynamic fashion. He had a way of getting the crowd involved by having us say "tries to give up" lines when he pointed to us. For example, he would point and we would all shout out in unison, "Bob, Stu and Paul try to give up!". That really made for a ton of fun. In the end, Rich won the fight by the skin of his teeth and earned me a red BP t-shirt with Rich Tourney Champion written on the back. I sure wish I still had that shirt but it disappeared at some point when I was moving house.

Oh, I almost forgot about DuelMasters. As I said, I also won that DM tourney, but I only found out about it because Duelmasters had been calling out the victors name trying to get the attention of whoever managed that warrior for hours. Eventually the guy who taught me how to make my champion found me and told me about it. I went over and saw Stie's name on their wall as the listed champion, but I never even bothered to pick up the prize, which was X turns of free play. I couldn't be bothered filling out another turn for a game that was so shallow.

Back to more important topics – BP. The second tourney I attended was also attended by the majority of the managers listed above, but by this time Duelmaster' owner was getting pretty steamed at the fact that BP was drawing 30:1 attention over DM. Unfortunately, at some point during this convention two teenagers were playing with fire in the stairways and got caught. Duelmasters talked with the managers of the hotel and convinced them that BP was at fault because they were  “BP players” who set the fire. This effectively got BP banned from ever coming back to that hotel again even though BP obviously had nothing to do with two kids setting fires. Surely they played other games as well during that convention. But for some odd reason logic escaped the hotel masters and BP was never to show it's face there again. A modern day a witch hunt is all it really was. That was the last BP tourney I ever attended in person.

About a year later, Jim had an in-house tourney where players were invited to come up to Washington or Oregon (can't recall which now) to join the tourney in person or to just submit by mail. Ray “HERO” Miller called me up to see if I wanted to join him and some of the other El Segundo members such as The Master and Jamik on a road trip up to the BP Mecca. I was really excited about the idea but ultimately decided not to go due to not wanting to be stuck in the car with a certain person named, P. Sundling for 20 hours on end. Turns out it was a smart decision on my part as I got a call from Ray later telling me of the horrors of that road trip.

I ultimately joined this convention by mail. I sent in a warrior named Misery, who was a Battle Axe Orc with a starting 3 dex. Starting stats were something like 20-3-20-6-14-8. I remember calling Jim on the morning of the tourney and telling him that I had a feeling that Misery would win it. Misery entered the tourney with something like 5 fights (perfect record). Jim laughed heartily and told me that the odds of Misery winning were some odd thousands to one. Then he offered to bet me $100 of game credit for my $50 of hard cash. I took him up on the deal knowing logically that the odds were stacked astronomically against me. Sometimes I get a feeling and when I do, I go with it – the strong ones are usually right. Well, Misery won me another t-shirt, $100 dollars of game credit and a little payback for the three hundred dollars of bowling evil that Jim wrought upon me as a youngster.

A few years later BP became playable via BBS and the by-mail system ended. Turns were being run twice a day every day. Unfortunately there wasn't enough advertising to keep new players coming in and as a result of the constant turn runs there was a lot of burn out in the player base. Sometimes too much of a good thing is really just that – too much. Once a week is probably a far better speed for a game like this in retrospect, but, of course, that is a thing you only learn from experience.

Around this time White Wolf Inc, the role-playing and publishing company that created Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Wraithe, etc decided to acquire BP. They offered Jim a position in their company running BP and taking care of their computers, so Jim moved to Stone Mountain, Georgia and began running BP turns for White Wolf. They created a new BP manual with some nice artwork and made those available at various gaming stores and as inserts in some White Wolf products.

A year or so later, Jim invited me out for New Years to visit White Wolf. The airlines had a holiday fare that allowed you to make a round trip for 100 dollars so long as you only flew on holidays when seats are usually empty. That sounded like a nice deal to me, so I flew out and took a tour of the company and hung out with some of the crew. I had been doing martial arts for a number of years, so Steve Wieck took interest in what I was doing as he too was an avid martial artist. We sparred a bit and enjoyed talking on that topic. Steve and I got along really well.

A year or so later, about 1994, when I was between jobs, I got a call from Steve. He had heard from Jim that I might make a nice fit for an opening in White Wolf's warehouse. I had nothing better to do at the time and decided on a whim to bite - they needed me out there in a week. I packed up my stuff and joined White Wolf. It was convenient that Jim was looking for a room mate, so I took a room at his place. I got to play BP on a laptop at our place as much as I wanted, which was nice. The turns were still being run every day at White Wolf, but only once a day at that point. BP was not being advertised and so it wasn't making WW much money as I remember it. Although I enjoyed working for White Wolf immensely, enjoyed a position change/promotion and got along well with everyone there, I had other dreams I wanted to pursue, so I left White Wolf after a year and went back to California to resume my martial arts training and finish up college.

Not too long after that White Wolf sold Blood Pit and Jim left the company too. In search of a job in programming, he moved back to San Diego, and I got him a job at an interactive entertainment company that I was working for. Jim worked in their software department of course and I did Tech Support. BP was being run in Australia and Europe simultaneously by two different outfits. I played off and on but those games were quickly falling to pieces as the owners were messing with the code unwittingly screwing up game balance. It was during these dark years that halflings with Ball & Chains ruled the roost with Engage & Withdraw. There were very few styles that worked at all at this time and the game lost interest to me.

The game changed hands again, and I hoped under new ownership it might be fun to play again, so I gave it another whirl. By this time an alliance The Bloodlords consisting of two managers, Beav and Death were dominating the game, as they were the first to find the ultimate bug that allowed them to become nearly unbeatable (the halfling, B&C thing I mentioned above). Other races worked as well as did other weapons, the real power was in E&W, but the Halfling B&C became the poster-boy for that bug.

It was during this time that a lot of players quit and never returned. A few stuck it out like, Warlord, Overlord, Gern Nads, Palor, Izzboticus, Nemesis, Bandit, Davron, myself, etc. Fortunately, Keeper eventually came in and saved the day buying BP and essentially returning it to the game that it formerly was when Jim ran it (not exactly, but close enough).

With the return of game balance many of the managers that relied on bugs such as those mentioned above became relics of the past. Beav and Death began hemorrhaging warriors left and right and eventually quit never to return again. We lost quite a few likable managers at that time as well unfortunately. Keeper put account limits in place (5 teams per manager).

Since that time, Keeper has created an improved ranking system, reintroduced tournaments, rebalanced the game, made a new client and updated it several times, brought in 3 new weapons. Of course there is no way to know for sure what the future has in store for BP, but I do know that it helped me in more ways that one. You see as a result of a learning disorder and lack of insight from my teachers at school, I was functionally illiterate. I probably would have never learned to read, and, thus never have been able to graduate college in order to come to Japan and follow my dreams were it not for BP and Jim Townsend. Now I am a school teacher working my butt off with only one day of rest for the next three weeks, a day that I am using to mess around with Linux and write this history. Gee thanks, Jim!

It's really unfortunate that young people don't play text based games like this anymore; games like this could help turn around illiteracy rates in our youth. They need all the help they can get even if it's just some simple game like Blood Pit. I know I owe a lot gratitude to this game, the players that have stuck with it and it's creator (Randy Baker) and keepers (Jim Townsend and our current Keeper). Long live BP and its keepers!

P.S. This new Ubuntu Linux is gonna be KILLER!


Last edited by Dux Mortalitas on Thu Sep 29, 2016 12:22 pm; edited 9 times in total

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Re: Blood Pit History As Told By Dux Mortalitaas

Post  Vic Vegas on Sat Sep 24, 2016 12:14 am

Oh wow! I'm so glad you found this gem hidden away in email archives.
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Re: Blood Pit History As Told By Dux Mortalitaas

Post  Lelu Dallas on Sat Sep 24, 2016 3:51 am

DUX you are a legend. Mostly vicariously to me now that I play as VIC's pupil. But I also played in the early 90's by mail and was in arena's with you then apparently.

I have a few questions.

How old were you when you first played?

Where should/could I start looking for the old code version that allegedly exists, if that is something I would be willing to rebuild the game from?
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Re: Blood Pit History As Told By Dux Mortalitaas

Post  Cam_ on Sat Sep 24, 2016 5:37 am

Thanks for posting Dux, that has brightened up a very dull day at work. Interesting the way that bad keepers can mess up the format that we love.

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Re: Blood Pit History As Told By Dux Mortalitaas

Post  Dux Mortalitas on Tue Sep 27, 2016 2:32 am

Lelu Dallas - I suppose I was about 15 or 16 years old when BP was taken over by Jim Townsend.
As far as where you could get the code, I haven't a clue now. I wish I could tell you otherwise.
Glad you enjoyed the post.

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Re: Blood Pit History As Told By Dux Mortalitaas

Post  Modofo on Sun Oct 02, 2016 4:44 pm

Dux, thanks for posting! I knew that single-digit manager number meant you had to know a lot about the early days.

It was great to hear about the history of BP, and it brought back some fond memories of the days of pbm.  I played my first around 1982-83 (Feudal Lords from Flying Buffalo). I saw it advertised in a magazine for the Color Computer.  I played probably 20 different ones over the years, but didn't start playing Duelmasters until the early 90's.  I wish I had found BP back then.
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