Bruce Galloway’s Fantasy Wargaming

I’ve written quite a bit here about Fantasy Wargaming, a book that was written by a circle of gamers in and around Cambridge University under the enthusiastic editorship of Bruce Galloway. For a long time this page gathered the major threads I covered — a cover-to-cover synopsis of the book, a search for the history and authors of the book, and my own materials and reminiscences related to the game. The original posts and full comments will remain in the archives of the blog.

BUT — a lot that was on this page is outdated. It is no longer practical to keep this updated, and honestly I stopped trying years ago. In fact, I think it best to take this overlong essay down, lest it spread any misinformation via errors and omissions.

AND — the good news is that the whole story has been thoroughly reviewed and updated with more complete information, input from some other FW fanatics, and huge pile of research I did during COVID sheltering-in-place. The result is a book, which I hope will be forthcoming soon. It covers everything that was here on the blog, with corrections and additional information. It adds a long discussion on the influence of FW in gaming, both with respect to its mechanics and the idea of introducing an historical basis to game settings. It adds quite a bit of new information about the authors and first hand accounts from playtesters. It also has what I think is a complete a bibliography of reviews and mentions in mainstream and gaming publications, including quite a few very obscure zines. (There may well be some zines and such I missed, given the vastness of zine culture and the lack of access to such ephemera through libraries, databases, and archives. But as a librarian I did my damnedest!)

In the years since doing the initial research here, I ended up writing a gaming supplement in much the same spirit. I found out about a citation of this page in a book published by Routledge, which made me realize this research was of some lasting significance.

And soon, my book. In the meantime I think it best to pull the essay that was below. The old posts are gathered pretty well by following my tag “Fantasy Wargaming” on the blog. If you want to just dive into the FW book, my cover-to-cover read is in the tag “Cover-to-cover.” Note that in both cases WordPress gives everything in reverse chronological order, so you’ll need to click back to the oldest posts first.

I know this is one of the more heavily visited pages on my blog, and apologize for any inconvenience — especially to anyone following an old link from somewhere else on the internet or a citation in a book. But I don’t want to doom the book by having what amounts to an early draft here.

Watch this space, and my main blog, for news on the book! I can say it’s looking like something on the order of 200+ pages, with a lot of illustrations — some embarrassing stuff from my childhood, some amazing work by FW’s illustrator Lawrence Heath, and even some original art done just for the book. And some appendices which I can’t talk about yet. I’m really excited about it, to be honest.

Published on October 30, 2010 at 7:40 am  Comments (31)  

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  1. Hello there! And thank you for this amazing write-up of this obscurity. I remember, 10,000 years ago when I was 14 or so, that my DM at the time had a copy of this and was infatuated with it. But, we never played it at the time.

    Having read in-depth your post about this game, and spent the last couple of days reading what little is available online about it, it seems to me that this game absolutely screams to port in a low fantasy/barbarian style gameworld such as REH’s “Hyborian age” which is in fact a setting I am deeply interested in. If you are familiar with such settings, I would wonder what your thoughts are on this matter, having delved deeply into this game?

    • I think it would pretty good for low-magic, swords & sorcery type gaming … just don’t let the players begin with any magic, and use the Norse religion system, with demons/outer darkness/Old Ones standing in for the Lower Powers. You could twaek the spell casting system a bit to require all mana spent to be gained right before casting ,which would make spell casting basically require long rituals and/or sacrifices to pay for the mana costs.
      Every time I come to the brink of running it, though, I back down.

  2. Thank you very much for this bit of gaming history and exceedingly well-written synopsis and commentary on the game, itself. I have owned and lent copies of FW since the early 80s and always considered it to be one of the masterpieces of role-playing. My circle of gaming friends garnered many entertaining hours over several years playing campaigns using FW. I wish that there were a digital version, as the books are old and have seen much use.

    FYI, there was a rather glaring and important printing error in the larger edition. I forget which, as I no longer have a copy of the larger edition, but one section was actually a reprint of another, earlier section of the rules, so anyone possessing the larger edition would have to fudge a bit.

    • Thanks, Ron!
      The larger edition was missing a page from the combat rules (I think it was the last page of the weapons table!) I don’t remember there being a whole section repeated but there was more than one printing by PSL.

  3. Thanks a lot for clearing up a lot my own questions about Fantasy Wargaming. I bought it more than 10 years ago at used book store, when I was looking for an alternate system to play instead of D&D 3e. For years it confounded me, especially the rules on character creation.
    But it’s no longer as big of a head scratcher after reading your comphrensive review.

    I did my own little review of it here.

    • Glad it helped! I’ll be checking out your blog…

  4. Well this was unexpected. I knew Mike Hodson-Smith back in the Eighties when we set up a wargames club in King’s Lynn. I say we set up, it was really him and a few others who set up the club and I was one of the first members. Mike was a (history?) teacher in a local secondary school (not one that I went to) and was always known for his creative and lively approach to FRPG, in particular AD&D. I had no idea he had contributed to this seemingly seminal work, which I heard about but had never come across. I find it surprising to say the least to come across details about someone I knew 25 or more years ago in darkest Norfolk in a blog penned in the USA. Isn’t the Internet a wonderful thing?

    • Wow, small world. I’d love to hear anything else you remember about him. I understand he passed away rather young. 😦 Based on my other informants, it seems likely he was responsible for a fair amount of the rules in FW — Bruce Galloway was an idea guy and certainly was the ringleader but it sounds like Mike was more knowledgable about gaming.

      • There’s not too much I can add as our paths had split many years ago when I went to university. Mike was disabled I suspect as a result of childhood polio (it’s funny how you never ask these things at the time) but while it may have slowed him down he never seemed to let it stop him. He would have been in his late thirties or early forties when I first met him in about 1983.

        He was an out going character who I remember mainly as a player in some of the long running AD&D campaigns the club ran. While he seemed to prefer RPG he would play anything going. As I mentioned before he was a founder member of the St Anne’s Garrison gaming club in King’s Lynn, long since gone, but which for a time flew the flag for FRPG and SFRPG in the town.

        Sorry there is not a lot more I can add but thank you for the unexpected trip down memory lane. And thanks for following my blog which has a way to go before it can compare with yours!

  5. […] Hmmm…most old-school? Is this a question of actual vintage, or of playstyle? In terms of their actual vintage, I still have my Moldvay Red Box D&D Basic Set book (though not the box, and only 1 of the dice), which was the first RPG thing I ever bought. I have since acquired a number of Dragon magazines that predate that by several years, and are probably my oldest RPG anything. Though in terms of really epitomizing what I think of as “Old School” RPing, it’s probably a multi-way tie between Grimtooth’s Traps (the original), with it’s adversarial-GM attitude and completely ridiculous traps; DragonRaid, the Christian proselytizing tool that takes the worst adversarial & railroading aspects of early RPGs, and weds them to more railroading and a dubious and self-contradictory approach to witnessing and morality; Spellbounds, which reads like someone’s home rules, vintage 1980; Actor’s Book of Characters, a supplement for World Action and Adventure, which the author managed to justify as earning a dozen college credits and being his thesis; and Fantasy Wargaming: the Highest Level of All which is this interesting mishmash of semi-authentic realistic setting elements focusing on things like the nameday of your character, and bog-standard fantasy rules for the era, all with a tone of revelation. […]

  6. Thanks for this wonderful summary of Fantasy Wargaming! I still have the book myself, and often refer to it for inspiration — I love the ideas behind the magic system, although the mechanics are fairly horrid, in my opinion.

    As regards self-conjuration, however, this is an idea in real-world occult systems, and has roots in the medieval period. To be specific, the Golden Dawn interpreted the “conjuration of the Holy Guardian Angel”, found in “The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage” as ‘actually’ involving the magician summoning their own ‘true self’. The Abramelin rituals culminate in the magician uniting with the ‘guardian angel’ — and so, in the Golden Dawn interpretation, uniting with their own ‘true self’ or etheric double.

    The Book itself is believed to have been written in the mid-1400s, but some sections appear in earlier manuscripts dating to the 1300s, so it does fit within the medieval period that FW restricted itself to, even if the interpretation given to the ritual is from a later period.

  7. Did you ever get a copy of the Space Gamer review. I have a PDF of it and I can send you the single page from the file. Not favorable BTW. Here a few lines: “…this game is abysmal.” “I’ve never seen a worse game. It’s too bad that many people’s first experience with FRP may be through buying FANTASY WARGAMING through the Science Fiction Book Club.” Ouch.

    • Hmm, this kind of fell off my radar with other things going on — it’s possible I have a file somewhere but if you could send me a copy the timing is pretty good — I’m thinking about compiling all my FW materials and commentary into a more permanent (print?) form and it would be good to recap all the contemporary reviews…

  8. Thank you for this. Fantasy Wargaming has always held a special place in my heart.and always will.


  9. Just re-read this. Damn this is some great stuff. Thanks, Mike, for a beautiful review and summation of what I think is a great book.

    • Thank you!

  10. Wow. I still have this book. Actually tried to play it. Didn’t work out well – rules were inspired compared to D&D but… well I was 14.

  11. I’ve read this post about five times over the past couple years, today most recently. I was prompted to dig out my old digest copy of FW a few weeks ago, bought the full sized version last week, and read it cover-to-cover twice since then. This game is extremely compelling now, but was ludicrous when I was younger; I always thought it was just a history book and not an rpg at all. However, I’m starting to see the merits of trudging through the text. Mostly, you get a sense of how to run a real medieval game that strikes fairly close to historical reality. While, as you stated, that’s not for everyone, nor fun all the time, there’s definitely a place for this style. FW seems like it has the outline of a good game within, so my goal now is to shape that into something playable at the table.

    So again, thanks for writing this x1000.

    • Glad you enjoyed it!

  12. […] For more on Fantasy Wargaming and Leigh Cliffs, Mike Monaco has unearthed some fascinating details on his site. […]

  13. […] For more on Fantasy Wargaming and Leigh Cliffs, Mike Monaco has unearthed some fascinating details on his site. […]

  14. My dad was Paul Sturman and I’ve been trying to find out about the play book he contributed too back in the day and I stumbled upon your article. It has made my day. My mum was sharing memories of how the royalties helped them out over the years when they were just starting out in their married life. I would love to find a copy 💓.

  15. How did Mr. Galloway pass away? What was his activism? I don’t mean to dwell on anything morbid or controversial; it’s just that the primary effect of reading about this is to make me curious about its main creator [rather than to make me want to play it].

    • He died in an accident. He campaign for progressive political causes, both recruiting & helping specific candidates and for equal rights for homosexuals etc.

      • There’s more on this in my forthcoming book. 😉

  16. Really enjoyed the detailed review. Brought back fond memories of playing under these rules, or an ever so slightly modified version, for almost a decade starting in the early 80s.

    We oddly chose a time period outside that covered by the book, Roman Britain AD 304, but otherwise we kept close to the rules and the spirit of the text. We used the mass combat a lot allowing fights to be waged on every level from personal call outs to small scale military expeditions.

    We did find that playing at historical realism tended to limit the games along many dimensions. One obvious example is that almost anything adventurous a player might want to do that is probably also a violation of some rule or law in AD 304 and probably in other ages as well. As a result groups of players needed to be functionaries of the state or have powerful patrons to avoid being branded as outlaws.

    By comparison in the fantasy realms envisioned by AD&D, for example, almost anything was possible with little need to worry that someone might question your being armed in a public market, where you acquired that very fine riding horse or how you came to be traveling at night after curfew. Hard to avoid these sort of details in a game that purports that seeks historical realism and once you acknowledge these issues consequences and limitations follow. Some of that was fun but it is definitely a niche market.

    • Sounds like fun!
      The closest thing to D&D in an historical medieval setting would probably be playing pilgrims/relic thieves. You’d get to travel without drawing too much scrutiny, go into dungeons (catacombs) looking for treasure (relics of saints), and it makes perfect sense for a party to consist of a mix of types — clerical types on a mission, fighters as guards, rogues as guides/troubleshooters for getting into and out of tombs etc., and as some pilgrimages were penitential, no one will be surprised that the party includes some scumbags. I still have vague plans to run such a campaign…

  17. Stealing the relics of saints are we? Sounds like a great idea for a medieval adventure with touches of realism and room for adventure. Lots of small temples in the period of Roman l late antiquity. Pilfering from them was minor sub theme in our games but drew a lot of public an private ire. British Romans also liked to drop semi-precious objects like coins and small figurines into sacred wells and we actually had characters trying to dredge them up. Why not? Especially for a not very superstitious 20th century person or an early convert to Christianity. Not much of an adventure though. Great blog. Be well.

    • Yeah, I sketched out some ideas in Burgs & Bailiffs: Trinity (shameless plug: on DriveThruRPG). The initial inspiration was remembering a book I’d read for a class in grad school, “Furta sacra,” which was about relic-theft in medieval literature. See, it’s not really a theft if the saint _wants_ to be moved somewhere else, and told you so in a dream or vision. If they didn’t want to be relocated, they’d blast you from heaven. Also, a good Christian can still rob Pagan shrines and graves. Or have to defend a saint’s bones from attempted theft. And so on.

      • I will check them out when I get a chance. I see this involves permission via dreams and visions. All very proper after all. Seems like one of the Cadfael Chronicles mysteries had a similar theme. A Morbid Taste for Bones.

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