Fantasy Wargaming…a brief history

What have I learned, then? After a pretty good chunk of research and based on recollections of two people involved in the project (who however admit not remembering everything and who in any case were not hardcore gamers), I’ve come up with this timeline:

by 1977 (probably earlier): A group of Cambridge University students and wargamers begin playing D&D and/or Tunnels & Trolls; Bruce Galloway collects a large circle of gaming friends.

early 1979: Bruce Galloway, a history grad student at Cambridge, and another Cambridge student (Kevin Prior) run Leigh Cliffs, a medieval adventure set in a somewhat gonzo village with outlandish characters using the rules that would eventually form Fantasy Wargaming. Influences include a desire for more serious and historically-based fantasy roleplaying, wargaming, a lot of research at the Cambridge University library and ideas from various sources including Larry Niven’s Magic goes away series.

1979-1980: Bruce plans and run a very complex 1930s espionage and murder mystery game, again assisted by Kevin Prior, and concurrently works on Fantasy Wargaming with Bruce Quarrie (historian and wargaming author), Nick Lowe (another Cambridge student), Mike Hodson-Smith (the author of reviews in White Dwarf and other magazines, and who went on to become a teacher), and Paul Sturman (another gamer). Each is assigned a topic in the book and they write an introductory essay and a section of rules covering the material. Galloway edited and revised the whole to some extent. This partly explains the disjointedness of the rules. Additional playtesting is done but not as part of an ongoing campaign.

October 1980-1981: Fantasy Wargaming is published by Patrick Stephens Ltd., a publisher of books on many topics but including a large number of war gaming & history books, several by Bruce Quarrie. Quarrie was probably the mediator between the publishers and Galloway. PSL (or Quarrie?) assigns Lawrence H. Heath to do the cover and chapter frontispieces. (Heath also does some amazing illustrations for a series of ads in White Dwarf. I can’t find anything else by or about Heath). Margaret Welbank does many interior illustrations, mostly in a medieval style. Some look a bit like Edward Gorey’s work, if he’d been drawing heraldric animals. (Margaret would later draw a graphic story for Interzone and move on to illustrate more mainstream topics, and do some cartoons, etc., and married Nick Lowe.)

1981/2: Bruce Galloway mostly abandons gaming to pursue writing on other matters (hiking in East Anglia, political campaigning, history, etc.)

1982: Day & Stein pick up Fantasy Wargaming for US publication. Both a quarto (letter-sized) edition for chain book stores and an octavo (hardcover novel sized) book club edition is offered through Science Fiction book clubs. The other FW authors graduate, move on, or otherwise pursue their own interests.

1982-1984: Day & Stein go through at least four printings of the large sized edition.

1984: Bruce Galloway dies.

1985: Day & Stein goes out of business, FW goes out of print (at least in the US, maybe in the UK too?). Thousands of copies still exist, though, and are still readily available through most large bookstores for most of the 1980s and then through used/remaindered book dealers.

1992: Mike Hodson-Smith, who had been working as a secondary school teacher, dies.

2004: Bruce Quarrie dies.

The play-testing appears to have been sporadic, occurring mainly during the Leigh Cliffs adventure (before the rules reached their final form) and then piecemeal as sections were written.

I am disappointed that I have been unable to find any of the other authors, and the two Bruces are both dead, & I doubt much more will come to light regarding the rules specifically.

FW was not reviewed in White Dwarf or The Dragon, as far as I can tell. (FW is cited in Dragon #65, however, on p. 59, in an article on legal systems in fantasy worlds by Ed Greenwood.)  Other smaller magazines reviewed it and generally did not rate it well. For the interested, there is a review of the game at Board Game Geek (very negative and uniformed, IMO) and a summary of reviews at RPG.net (the rating here is very low too, and I think the problem is that the raters are people unfamiliar with the early days of RPGs and wargaming, as the comments again seem pretty uninformed) but RPG.net does have citations of reviews written in period magazines: Different Worlds #18 (1982), Space Gamer v. 1, no. 56 (1982), and Adventurer #2 (1986).   If anyone has access to those magazines I’d love to see a copy of the reviews there!

<Update — I have found a copy of Adventurer #2 and will eventually examine & discuss the review.>

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Published in: on September 11, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you very much for pursuing this series of posts. I enjoyed it greatly. FW really did (and does) have a place in my heart as a truly old school game, with its brilliance and foibles both.

  2. Let me know if you are still looking for the Space Gamer review and I’ll send you a pdf.

  3. […] also learned that Bruce Galloway, primary author of the brilliantly demented game Fantasy Wargaming was inspired by this novel when he developed the magic system for that game. He adopted Niven’s use of the Polynesian […]

  4. I keep my copy available to me at all time. And though I only ran the system twice, during summer breaks, there is something about it that keeps a hold on me. Great work on this FW article. Thanks

    • Thanks!
      It was the first system I ever DM’ed (terribly) and I got to play it a few times with my brother DMing, but usually as one-shot adventures. Ifilled a notebook with “research” for it over a year or so in 8th or 9th grade, and spent I don’t know how long typing up character sheets and ‘quick reference’ sheets on a Commodore 64.
      Good times.
      There is just something about the enthusiasm the authors had, and the mad ambition to simulate the medieval world…


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