The OTHER Fantasy Wargaming — not an Obscure FRPG Appreciation Day post

This was going to be saved for the May 30th “Obscure FRPG Appreciation Day” suggested at the blog Mesmerized by sirens.  But the cutoff for that blog circus is games from 1989 or earlier, and this is bit too new.

A good while back I wrote a series of posts on Bruce Galloway’s Fantasy Wargaming.  (A compilation is in my “Pages” area but lacking the comments that you have to search the blog posts for!)  That was published in 1981 by Patrick Stephens Limited (PSL), a publisher that also published a number of wargaming books by Bruce Quarrie (one of the contributors to the first FW and an editor at PSL before the firm was bought by Rupert Murdoch and dissolved).

In 1990 they published a new book with the title Fantasy Wargaming; this time by Martin Hackett.  The credits indicate he mainly thanks his parents for helping with photography and typing, and his gaming buddies for playtesting etc.  I’m not familiar with anything else he’s written apart from the revision/sequel, Fantasy Gaming, which came out in 2007.

But Fantasy Wargaming is an awesome mess.  There are copious illustrations, both line drawings (sketches of figures — a real joy to identify) and photographs of figures and set-ups.  There is also a set of maps.  There is a plain “outline” map, a copy of it overlaid with hexes (“players map”) and a second hex map with a simple key indicated the dominant terrain of a hex (for setting up battles, etc.).  Very cool.

The photos of figures show a nice overview of the state of the art of fantasy miniatures.  I think the golden age of fantasy miniatures ended in the early 1990’s, when the lead scare, changes in the RPG and gaming industry, etc. changed the field immensely.  A lot of companies went under or floundered about.   Styles and fashions changed.  New sculptors entered the field.  Execution and mold-making evolved enough to attain a new look, and the use of more tin and even zinc alloys increased the strength of the castings, making more delicate poses and features possible.  The stuff that followed was not necessarily bad, but it was different and more standardized and more conscious of belonging to ‘product line’ with a uniform look.

But Fantasy Wargaming shows a great survey of everything from the golden age:  early Minifigs (who have character but must be admitted to be very crude in same cases) to Citadel slotta-based minis, as well as scratch-builds and a few conversions, and even plastic toys suitable for use in wargames.  There is a lot of terrain pictured.  And even period RPG books.  It’s quite a visual feast.  The only thing I complain about is the poor quality of the black and white photos, and small size of all images.  I wish this were a folio rather than an octavo.  The later book has better photography and better reproductions in the book, but far fewer and not many are old figures.  It really documents the changes in the state of fantasy minis — not something the author necessarily intended, but fascinating.  You can see some more details about the book (and images) here.  The reviewer there is not as enthusiastic as I am!

As to the game, the rules are spread across a number of chapters that also provide some background information on the hobby.  It suffers the same problems of presentation that the first FW had, although the two books are hard to compare really.  In all honesty I have not tried the rules out.  Hackett says that the later book presents an improved version of the game and I’d be inclined to try that first. But FW has some interesting ideas for inspiration.

There is d100 table of ‘campaign events’ for a fantasy wargame campaign.  Things like:

  • 5 trolls from the nearest hill attack each hex until killed.
  • Horses struck by mystery illness. No movement for this move.
  • New mine discovered, produces 50 credits for three years.

Sure they are kind of generic but there are 100 of them.  Likewise there are brief guidelines and tables for creating regions, filling a hex map with terrain types, settlements, and monsters, and generating the rulers of areas.  There are simple army lists for various cultures and monstrous races.  There is also a gazetteer for a fantasy land, with random encounter tables and so forth for hex-crawling with an army.  That sounds like a hoot. He has a bestiary of traditional and original monsters, but their descriptions, game stats, and other factors like move rates are dispersed through the book.  Some of the new creatures are interesting, for example the “Lubin” (a wolf-goblin were-creature); but all are very loosely defined.  There are 100 magic items (some apparently cursed) that are mostly original (e.g. the Staff of the earth that lets you talk to plants, a magical talking wolf, and similar) and many are clearly designed to be of use in a wargame rather than RPG campaign (for example a magic mirror that reveals enemies in neighboring hexes).  There are some simple economics guidelines with costs for supplies, construction, and recruitment in “credits”.     

The RPG part of FW looks very simple and appealing.  There are five primary abilities (Power, Fitness, Agility, Luck, and Learning) and three secondary abilities (F.A., M.A., and Stealth).  There are three “Fighting Ability” categories: Piercing, Staff, and Missile.  Then there are six skills: Craft, Fauna, Flora, Languages, Literacy, and Perception.  The sample character is an elf and has a list of ten spells (there are many later in the rules) and two languages (elven not included; presumably you don’t need to list your PC’s native tongue).  The primary abilities and skills look like they are 1-100; the others are mostly single digits, and all under 20.  But the actual rules are not given; we are left to infer the game from the character sheet.  (The “sequel” does indeed provide the missing rules, and we learn that “F.A.” is fighting ability and M.A. is “magic ability,” as well as being treated to details on the races, classes, and even level, er, rank titles.  I love that the various different races have different titles for the same rank in a class.)

There is a concise review of Fantasy Gaming over here for the interested.  It made me rather interested in trying the RPG rules out.

As an RPG, you really need the second book to flesh out the game, and the wargaming rules are much more coherently presented in the second book as well.  I suppose the first volume is obsolete as a game manual, but it is certainly the more interesting of the two to skim for ideas and pictures of old miniatures.

The first book reminds me of a number of old RPG books — Arneson’s First fantasy campaign (because it is disorganized but filled with wonderful little ideas here and there); Bruce Galloway’s Fantasy Wargaming (because it attempts to survey the hobby and then offers disorganized rules); Dicing with dragons and Holme’s Fantasy Roleplaying Games (because of the glimpses of one man’s journey in the hobby, and the discussion of moral and educational aspects of gaming).  Like all of these, it is clearly a labor of love. And like the first two, despite it’s obscurity it has some detractors.  Still, as an artifact of a bygone era in gaming, and a reminder of what might have been had the industry not consolidated so much in the 1990’s, it is a joy to read.  For a miniatures lover like me, it is worth owning just for the pictures; for a role-player, it is possibly less useful now unless you plan to run a ‘domain management and war’ endgame.  It also makes me think of the original Warhammer rules — the first edition battle rules that were also a simple RPG.  But what I know of WFB 1st edition is mostly just gleaned from the Citadel Compedium and a few White Dwarf ads; I’ve never seen the original.  I discovered Warhammer when the second edition came out, and although it provided a bit for skirmishes the RPG side was gone.

Copies of both of Hackett’s books turn up fairly regularly in the used book market, and both are for sale on Amazon through ‘Amazon partners,’ so you can find them pretty cheaply if your curiosity is piqued!

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Published in: on May 6, 2013 at 10:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The weirdest thing about the original book was the fully statted out Christian celestial hierarchy, so that in the words of Ghostface Killah you could literally “slapbox with Jesus, lick shots at Joseph.” Did they drop that for the 90’s edition? I imagine they must have what with the satanic panic of the 80’s.

    • No, Hackett’s books have nothing to do with Galloway’s book — no stats for the saints and holy family, no ‘historical’ setting, etc. Hackett only spends about a paragraph saying that if you want to introduce gods and demons to your games, you can find a lot of informationon various mythologies on your own. 😦

  2. Wow, loved the reminiscence about Martin Hackett’s book which I have sitting on my shelf of more or less classic wargaming works. I did also used to have a copy of the first edition of Warhammer together with its first expansion Forces of Fantasy and you are right that Hackett’s book is similar in the sense that it combines both wargaming and FRPG into a more or less generic fantasy setting. I have never managed to use the rules for real as they look a bit “clunky” (I would probably go for HOTT these days simply for speed) but it’s strangely reassuring having it on the shelf.


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