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Like many nerds of my generation, I played some Dungeons & Dragons during my junior high school years.
Sometimes it was an ancient DOS computer version, and sometimes I would head over to my buddy’s house to play with some other guys. I generally played a wizard named Fishlips, and sometimes the games would get tense. One session ended in a brawl in the front yard, where the guy who played the Cleric received the worst wedgie I have ever seen. I think the group fizzled out after that.
Sadly, I lived in the same town as Peter Rice, a member of Dungeons & Dragons royalty, and did not take the opportunity to play with him at his store in downtown Bath. The Toy Soldier was a fantastic store full of gaming sets, lead figurines (painted and unpainted), and game modules.
These were all too rich for my blood, as was the $2 fee to join one of Peter’s evening game sessions. But I loved to go inside and look at the bins of colorful dice on the counter: twenty-sided die, three-sided die, and many other types, some of clear plastic that made them look like gemstones. At some point I scraped up enough money to buy a basic set. I also bought a thick game module written by someone named Peter Rice. (It took me years to make the connection.)
A bit of research shows that wargaming with figurines goes back to the 1800s, when military commanders would use them to practice battles. The book “Little Wars” by H.G. Wells brought wargaming to the public. In the 1960s, a man named Don Lowry (who passed on the chance to publish the original Dungeons & Dragons game, according to Wikipedia) operated a mail order wargaming business. According to the Chris Parker Games website, this mail order business was purchased by Peter Rice and moved to Bath in the 1970s, where it became the Toy Soldier.
Not content to simply play games and paint lead figurines, Rice started writing his own Dungeons & Dragons modules, like the one I owned. A module is an adventure in book form, with maps, room descriptions, monsters, and all the information you need to play with your friends. He also came up with his own games, such as “Follow Me!,” a World War II combat simulation.
In the early 1990s Rice published four science fiction books for a gaming company called FASA. These were “Damned If We Do,” “Frost Death,” and “Monsoon,” all Renegade Legion novels, and “Far Country,” a Battletech novel. These were published in a four-year span, and then his novel writing career seems to have ended.
After introducing hundreds of youngsters to the joys of tabletop gaming, Rice eventually closed the Toy Soldier, although a franchised store in Massachusetts still seems to exist. Afterward he devoted himself to professional miniature painting.
If you would like some professionally painted miniatures by one of the legends of the gaming world, visit Rice’s website at www.changeofcommand.com. And for the true enthusiast, don’t miss the Huzzah! Conference of the Maine Historical Wargamers Association, May 17-19 in Portland.
Zac McDorr is the founder of the Bath Maine History Center on Facebook.You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A game piece from Change of Command, a miniatures painting service owned by Peter Rice, formerly owner of Toy Soldier in Bath.