Some first-hand info from one of the coauthors!

Nick Lowe, one of the writers of Fantasy Wargaming, was gracious enough to respond to my inquiries regarding the writing of the book. What follows are some excerpts from his emails. Bruce Galloway obviously made quite an impression on him and he is clearly sorely missed. (Bruce died in an accident in 1984, at the altogether too young age of 32). Nick has been exceedingly generous with his time, replying to my questions quickly and in detail. The first excerpt is from his reply to my first email, where I asked him if he was “the” Nick Lowe in the book and whether Bruce Galloway wrote or edited some other books and periodicals I’d found references to. He mentions some details about the “Leigh Cliffs” scenario mentioned in the foreword to FW, which is interesting too. I’ve added some links and edited slightly, partly because my spell-checker keeps attacking the British spellings. I’ve also bolded one important statement that I think helps put the whole of FW in context.

Wow, that was a trip down the stairs to a very dank cellar where all the lights are blown… But yes, that was me when I was a starving postgrad, and yes, our Bruce was the same as the activist & writer. I was very much on the margins; I wasn’t (and never really became) a gamer at all, and can’t remember now (if I ever knew) why I was even recruited. But I can at least try to fill in some of the space around it all.

Bruce was a final-year undergraduate in History when I arrived in Cambridge in 1974, and was a key figure in the SF society, which was what my life revolved around pretty much from the start. He was recently married to Verity, whom he’d met himself through CUSFS (she was one of the few females ever to turned up to CUSFS pub meetings), and they had a small house on Victoria Road somewhere. We were pretty much the only humanities people there (apart from Bruce’s contemporary David Gress-Wright, a classicist and Jack Vance fan who went on to become a distinguished modern political historian and controversialist), so [we] became good mates. Bruce was a class act academically, and stayed on to do a PhD on the union of the crowns, which I think was abandoned as he was drawn more into campaigning and freelance writing.*

I’m a little vague on the chronology, but I think Fantasy Wargaming belonged to a phase immediately before he came out (not least to himself), and was the result of Bruce and his historically-minded gaming friends (none of whom I knew previously) feeling there was something to be done with a more ambitious and historically rooted approach to game-making than they were finding in the nascent mainstream, and Bruce had the idea of a volume that would be both a presentation of the tools and an actual playable game in its own right. I didn’t have much to do with the rules; I just joined in on the playtesting weekends, into which a lot of work was put, but none of it by me. (I also was part of the single bathetic test of the ill-fated Leigh Cliffs, a fantastically lovingly-plotted country-house mystery game populated by characters who included various fictional detectives in disguise – I played an undercover Charlie Chan, and found myself teaming up rather uncomfortably with a racially inflexible Bulldog Drummond – and whose neatly-planted secrets were bobbing nicely to the surface before somebody prematurely detonated the stash of dynamite intended for a later development and killed the entire cast.) I think our friend Kevin Prior, a CUSFS contemporary and good friend of us both, was also part of the games; I don’t remember whether that was true of the other thankees.

What I can’t really help much with, unfortunately, is the stuff you’re primarily interested in; I never had much overview of the rules system, and didn’t really contribute to that side of it. I do remember we worried a lot about playability; Bruce’s own scenarios were insanely overdesigned, and difficult to iterate, particularly with a relatively small pool of participants to call on. The big dress-rehearsal game went extremely well, but I never really knew whether we’d just been lucky. (Bruce and the others were fairly confident, perhaps simply because they understood the system better.)

Bruce left Cambridge soon afterwards to live in Suffolk and write full-time, and I didn’t see him again before his untimely death in an accident at his home which got some coverage in the local press. At the funeral, his father gave me his father gave me a folder of unpublished material labelled “Fantasy Wargaming”, as I was the only member of the group who’d been able to make it. It turned out to contain nothing but a draft of a chapter of his unfinished thesis, which he’d evidently used an old FW folder to stash. I still hang on to it, with a complex mixture of ill-defined emotions. He was a good friend, and I miss him.

* I think this book is based on his thesis, and he is listed on his hiking books as a Ph.D., so he must have finished the degree.–Mike

I asked more about the authorship and some other issues after the first email, and Nick gave me a trove of interesting information.

I’ve been trying to find my file from the project, which is definitely still around somewhere but seems to have been put beyond use at some point when it became a cold case. But on the actual writing, my recollection is that we were each assigned chapters to write (mine was the rather minor ch. 3), to which we also provided the associated basic material for the rules, which Bruce (and possibly Paul Sturman, who I think was the other principal architect of the game system itself) then pulled together. So I think for example pp. 189-204** is mostly me, but with some (I think here comparatively light) reworking by Bruce. One thing for which I take no responsibility at all was the chapter subtitle “Oh god, it’s a thesaurus” – a quote from Bored of the Rings which I thought was pretty woeful, but Bruce (perhaps not wrongly) felt was needed to make the whole package look a little less up-itself.

I wish I could remember who did what in the other chapters; I may have this somewhere. Bruce & I were the only academics, if I remember; Bruce Quarrie was in publishing and military gaming, Mike [Hodson-Smith] was possibly something in the civil service (though I may be confabulating this), and I completely forget what Paul did. But you’re absolutely right that I made very heavy use of the university library, and I’m pretty sure Bruce did too. There was also a distinguished Cambridge medievalist who’d just died and her personal library was being sold off, and I remember picking up some quite heavily-used items there. (I’d done a medieval option in my final year, and had some close friends in ASNC [Anglo-Saxon, Norse, & Celtic], which might have been why I got my collar felt in the first place.) I do agree we shouldn’t have bottled out of including a bibliography; there were worries about the whole thing looking too academic, but we should probably have embraced that rather than being timid about it.

One thing I can shed definitive light on is the enigmatic MW: this was Margaret Welbank,*** another CUSFS alumn who at the time was a research scientist at BT’s labs in Martlesham, but had a sideline in sf/fantasy art. (She did the first ever graphic story in Interzone, around issue 7 or 8, and by 1990 she was making enough from illustration to jack in the day job.) She wasn’t involved in the actual writing or gametesting, and I think she was just paid a meager flat sum; I could ask her, but she’s just gone out to Homebase while her bone-idle arse of a husband (= me) minds our daughters.

All the best, Nick.

**In the “full size” edition, this is the section on monsters and fabulous beast in the rules chapter.

***Her recent work is also featured here and here.  The second link is closer to the style of the FW illustrations.  She has kindly granted me permission to scan and post some of her FW illustrations, which I’ll do at some point in the future!

Published in: on August 6, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Excellent research! Good on you for getting and posting some history about FW. Thanks for posting these.

    Thanks to Nick for taking the time to respond.

  2. That was absolutely fantastic! Thank you Mike for putting this together and Nick for taking the time to share. Nick if you’re reading, a personal thanks for being a part of making FW happen. I’ve had a lot of mixed feelings about it over the years but overall it’s been much treasured.

  3. Thanks for writing this all up. I had Fantasy Wargaming way back in the 80’s, and was fascinated by it (but never played it). I lost my copy in a flooded basement recently, perhaps i’ll replace it.

    While reading this post, what should the old ipod play but ‘When I Write the Book’ by Nick Lowe… Strange coincidences are not to be ignored, and i thought i’d share.

  4. […] <Update: MW is Margaret Welbank.  See this post> […]

  5. I know that I’m coming along to this series late, but thank you very much for the research you’ve done here. I first played this game back in 1982 or’83, and have been fond of some of its eccentricities ever since. I’m sure that I’ll have more to say as I get through the series.

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