Still more on Leigh Cliffs, FW, and such

Happily, Kevin has allowed me to share some of his memories of Leigh Cliffs and Bruce Galloway, which I’m excerpting here:

When your first email came it was a bit of a shock, as it brought back memories of a time long gone and mostly forgotten. I’ll try and put my recollections in chronological order as much as possible. I knew Bruce […] at first via the Cambridge Uni. Science Fiction Society. Bruce was, I think, in the year above me, studying history, and I only knew him in my second undergraduate year 1974-5. Bruce then left to get a job – can’t remember where, but it might have been the civil service. When I started [grad school] in October 1976, he was there at the start of year photo, having started his PhD at the same time. It was at this stage we became friends, and I used to go up to the flats at Churchill college to see [Bruce & his wife] regularly. After about six months, Bruce decided he did not like the PhD and he applied for a job in the MoD (Ministry of Defence). This meant travelling to London every day, so they got a house on the south side of Cambridge. I was in a really depressing squalid flat and was desperate to move, so [they] kindly offered to take me in as their lodger. That was in August 1977. I was only there for about three or four weeks until I got a much nicer flat. At this time we were really close friends, and Bruce introduced me to some of his mates who played both wargames and D&D. It was probably around this time that the idea for a proper game came about, but I can’t remember for sure. After I moved into my flat we worked on the idea for – again I can’t remember for sure, but it must have been about 6-9 months. It evolved gradually.  (It was around this time that I was used by Bruce as a reference for him so that he could get his positive vetting in the MoD. I remember a chap in a long trenchcoat travelling all the way to my parents house near Southend on Sea and grilling me in our front room about Bruce while my mother ferried in cups of tea and plates of biscuits.  For anyone not familiar with British working class culture, the front room was only ever used for special occasions – Christmas, weddings, funerals or talking to members of the professional classes. Anyway, a week after I had convinced them that Bruce was a sound chap, he resigned, and went back to the PhD.) We now put a lot more time into the game. It was a joint effort by me and Bruce and reflected both of our weird imaginations. Bruce was totally responsible for the rules, which I had no interest in. Consequently, I can’t remember much about them, except they were only loosely those which finally made it into Fantasy wargaming. I do remember the starting point, which was a SF idea by – I think – Larry Niven – that there was only a certain amount of magic in the world and you could use it up.*  Religious energy could be topped up by praying or acts of devotion. Or something like that. The scenario for Leigh Cliffs developed gradually. The idea was that there was a mediaeval village with something very, very nasty going on in it which an intrepid band of explorers had to sort out. The name came about from two parts of Southend half way between where [his wife] came from and where I grew up. These were Leigh on Sea, and Westcliff. There were hundreds of characters in the game, some devised by Bruce and some by me. A lot of the ones which were my invention were basically eccentric Cockney wide boys in peasants costumes. Lacking any kind of editorial control, the cast of thousands just spiraled completely out of control. Both of us liked developing plot, and characters. I seem to remember that I was very good at doing hundreds of different voices and enjoyed hamming things up – still do, probably. There were also hundreds of very bad jokes in the thing – most of which the players never found. We introduced a whole street filled with dwarves, simply so that we could have a statue placed at one end which was of Snow White. No-one ever got it, despite our increasingly detailed descriptions of the statue, every time anyone walked past it. The game was only played once, probably about the start of 1979. The players included some experienced D&D folk from the Cambridge group, some wargamers who were also friends of Bruce and some friends of mine who had not played before. It was total chaos for a weekend and I remember ending up feeling very exhausted and losing my voice. Very soon the party fragmented into about five different groups which went and did their own thing. That made working with each group easier, but we had a great deal of trouble in keeping them in synch. This was the very first time that either of us had ever attempted something like this, and it was probably only the third or fourth game I had ever been in. Hubris? Us? I think the game had barely finished before Bruce had announced that he wanted to write a book on wargaming, and run another game. So we proceeded on two fronts. I say we, because the book was entirely Bruce’s baby. It was his vision and his first experience, I think, with publishing. I was roped in to the initial meetings, and I think I might have got a bit of the advance (if there was one – I really can’t remember). But when it took off it was obvious that I was superfluous to requirements and there is not one single idea in the book which I could ever have contributed. I have no idea if the rules, as they finally appeared, were ever tested. I couldn’t tell you when the book came out, except it was before I left Cambridge in October 1980. Bruce gave me a signed copy, which I found the other day – it had gone missing for many years, “loaned” to a young relative. While the book was being put together, Bruce and I worked on a second game. I had had my fill of swords and fighting, and I was more interested in the problem solving aspects of the game. I think Bruce may have felt the same. As a result, our second and final game was a country house murder. We created a number of characters based on book or film detectives and stuck them in a village with a dead body. I had completely forgotten this game until I read the comments by Nick. This is the game where he played a Chinese detective like Charlie Chan. We also had a Miss Marple look-alike, but I can’t remember the other characters. The game was set in the late 1930’s, and there were possibly German spies around. Or maybe not. I know Bruce saw some drawings I had of components for a vacuum system which were going into my PhD thesis and he wanted to use them as blueprints for a radar system. (His lack of knowledge of all things technical was astonishing). I can’t remember very much about this game at all, except getting exasperated with the lack of problem (murder) solving skills in the average Cambridge PhD student. I can’t even remember what we called it.

Bruce and his friends showed me a battlefield campaign once – I think the battle of Hastings – with miniature armies. I was appalled by the length of time it took to work out the results of any actions. I suggested to Bruce that the whole lot could be automated, and showed him our new lab computer. It was the first stand-alone one in the department and two of us had built it ourselves, from a kit. It had 4K of memory. Bruce was impressed, and we found that one of the computer mags was offering a cash prize for new imaginative uses for computing. We entered a suggestion that computerised wargames were possible and might even be popular. I think our idea was that the computers replaced the dice and damage charts, but you still kept the painted figures. (This was pretty cutting edge for 1979). We never even had an acknowledgement for our entry. I wonder how many others entered exactly the same thing?

… the rest Kevin’s email falls outside the purview of Swords & Dorkery!  But Nick was cc’ed in this exchange and he comments:

Kevin is of course completely right. Leigh Cliffs was the game that became FW, and I was misattaching the name to the equally bonkers but much less successful country-house one, which I now remember was called Malham Tarn. There were definitely Nazi saboteurs; there were some submarines in there somewhere, too, I’m pretty sure. And I was the real Charlie Chan, but traveling incognito under the identity of Xan Chao-Li, a Chinese author of hardboiled American detective novels about a Chandleresque gumshoe with the obviously fictional name of Earl D. Biggers… Bruce Quarrie was Bulldog Drummond, and Paul Sturman was an undercover FBI agent. But there was a lot more. I’m not sure I ever found out who most of the characters really were beneath the disguises beneath disguises. I was sorry to see it discarded after one abortive run; it had fantastic potential, but was far too clever and literary for any discernible market at the time.

Leigh Cliffs was great, though – I’d forgotten how deeply to blame Kevin was for that. I was remembering it as a later stage in the process, but Kevin’s narrative makes better sense (also, is much more likely to be true). It was, as Kevin says, the nearest complete thing to a full-on FW game; there was some ad hoc playtesting of the rules piecemeal subsequently, but I remember joshing the Bruces when it when to press that it could end up being the first game that nobody, even its designers, ever actually played.

Here is some more from Kevin, after I followed up with my hopes the Leigh Cliffs notes** might somehow survive:

As for the other items in your mail – the Leigh Cliffs stuff I had was really just scraps of paper, taking up space. It may have been chucked out years ago, possibly when we had the last bad roof leak. (My wife has an obsession with mould, or rather getting rid of it). I have not seen it for over ten years, possibly twenty. I really don’t think anyone else could have ever read it and understood a word. After six months, I know I didn’t.

Nick’s recollection of the other game seems to be better than mine! I really didn’t remember we called it Mallam Tarn. That was definitely one of Bruce’s, as I had never been to Yorkshire in those days.

I do remember reading some detective fiction to get the mood right, and borrowing a wind up gramophone and some 1930’s records for effect.

One other thing – I also remember that Bruce and I were having fun with the Illuminatus series of books. In particular, we found the whole mindset behind conspiracy theorists fascinating. One of the things historians have in common with scientists is an idea that any opinion or theory should be backed up by proof and logic and subject to Occam’s razor. (Bruce always had a down on archaeologists – his comment was “they can find an arrowhead and from that recreate an entire battle”) . Anyway, the idea that someone would force facts to fit a theory that was obviously crackpot was really fun for us.

So we invented a non-player detective to spice things up. He was a young enthusiastic aristocratic chap who was deeply into the works of Aleister Crowley, among others. I played him most of the time. He had an uncanny knack of being able to spot all of the clues the other characters had missed (well, with me playing him he would). Unfortunately, this was compounded with the ability to get the wrong end of the stick. Every clue was shoehorned into one of half a dozen or more theories involving aliens from mars, giant green lizards, the hollow earth, the faery realm, psychic powers and lots and lots of different conspiracy theories.

We rather hoped that the other players would realise that he was spotting all the clues at some stage, and then a bit later twig that he was getting them all wrong and was clearly mad. Or getting them nearly all wrong. We gave him one trait which was completely off the wall. As one of our nasty jokes, we gave him the only psychic talent in the whole story. Being a product of the British public school and Oxbridge system, he had the astonishing power to know exactly which public school and college any upper class person had gone to the instant he met them. Of course he never realised this was a true psychic talent… But it did mean that when one major suspect came through claiming to have a background which was different from his real one, this character spotted him correctly straight away. And of course was unable to do anything with the information because by this stage all the player detectives were ignoring him.

I’ve also just remembered we had two batty old ladies (me and Bruce) who were best friends and disagreed with each other the whole time (me and Bruce again). One of them always gave the correct version of events and the other one the wrong one.

This game was really far more to our taste for ham acting. The whole village was crawling with gibbering peasants, creepy vicars, sinister Nazis and loony old ladies who finished each other’s sentences. Any resemblance between that and most of rural England was purely in our twisted minds.

Nick has one hopeful bit of news, though:

I don’t know whether this’ll jog anything that hasn’t already been jogged hard enough to cause permanent damage, but one piece of documentation we must both have from Leigh Cliffs was Bruce’s subsequent writeup of the actual course of the game. My copy is definitely in this house somewhere, but then so unfortunately is everything else; I went looking for it again just now and found the desiccated remains of Lord Lucan in a box next to the Ark of the Covenant. But I’ll keep hunting.

*I’m thinking this must be Niven’s The magic goes away, The magic may come back, or one of the stories in the same “universe” — Roger Zelazny and Poul Anderson also contributed to the series later on.

**Yeah, pun intended.  Sorry.

Published in: on September 9, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Oh, I am so going to play that conspiracy nut detective if I can find the right game to get into.

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