I have a soft spot for Judges Guild (JG).
Not because they were great, or even good. In fact they were frequently shit-house.
But way back in the late 70’s early 80’s when I was a teenager, when already the taint of business needing to sustain itself was starting to show through in the impressive (or at least bigger and more colourful TSR) offerings, Judges Guild products were printed on newsprint illustrated (if at all) by artists that were obviously at the very start of their journey.
There was very little that was professional about JG products. They were amateurish, half-baked and full of lame jokes. They were childish and sometimes try-hard. There were gaps in logic and failures to account for elementary logic – how did the giant get in the tiny room and what does he eat and where does the crap go?
But then, so was I.
I look back on them now and feel a strange and powerful nostalgia: a feeling of loss somehow that I managed to live in rich fantasy worlds constructed in no more than 32 pages of dry description when today 360 pages of full colour leaves me snorting in contempt at their lack of detail.
Judges Guild represented sandbox before the term was invented.
I look now at the Traveller sector guide Crucis Margin, a ‘decanonised’ description of space that bordered the Third Imperium and the Two Thousand Worlds of the K’Kree (easily the cleverest alien species ever conceived), and scan a single page that contains the complete description for a dozen worlds and my imagination runs away. And all that is on this page is a list of numbers and an abstracted chart.
On the shelf I still proudly display a boxed copy of City State of the Invincible Overlord, an appalling rendition of urban planing if it ever existed. It’s more like a bureaucrat’s plan for a western theme park than it is a description of a medieval shit-hole. But I open it, and look at the map, and read the ‘rumours’ surprisingly often.
On file I have an awful lot of JG product. Electronic; sterile; clean. I miss the feel of newsprint – the feeling of newness, openness. I miss the feeling of a future in the making where all the detail has not been fleshed out, where the rails of story have not been laid out for me, where I am more than just a product consumer.