Bruce Galloway’s Fantasy Wargaming

I’ve written quite a bit 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. This page will gather the major threads I’ve 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. As these are edited together from blog posts, I will try to include some of the comments on the original posts, or incorporate the corrections and additions others have mentioned. The original posts and full comments will remain in the archives of the blog.

<Update — And who have thunk I’d end up writing a gaming supplement in much the same spirit?>

<Update — Is this article authoritative? It gets lots of traffic relatively speaking but I just found out about a citation in a book published by Routledge. Huzzah!>

<Update — I’ve found out quite a bit since these collected blog posts and no longer try to keep this up to date. But watch this blog, I hope to have some news about a more comprehensive treatment of FW to come soon!>

I. The history of the project

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 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!

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: 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) 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 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 looks a bit like Edward Gorey’s work, if he’d been drawing heraldic animals. (Margaret would later draw a graphic story for Interzone and move on to illustrate more mainstream topics, and do some cartoons, etc.) This first edition is said to be imperfect, lacking one page of the weapons tables, but I haven’t been able to confirm that.

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

1982:  Stein & Day 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 for Science Fiction book clubs are published. The other FW authors graduate, move on, or otherwise pursue their own interests.

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

1984: Bruce Galloway dies.

1989: Stein & Day 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 (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 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’ve found copies of these, as well as several other reviews and announcements here and there.>

II. Leigh Cliffs and Fantasy Wargaming

A little more information has surfaced…I’ll post the email with the firsthand info if I can get permission as there is a lot of interesting stuff but the bottom line is that Kevin Prior assisted Bruce Galloway in creating the Leigh Cliffs scenario which was played over a weekend with a large number of players and hundreds of NPCs (& lots of jokes, for example a neighborhood of dwarfs with a statue described as exactly like Disney’s Snow White).  Kevin & Bruce both enjoyed coming up with characters & plots.

Anyway Leigh Cliffs was a medieval village with dark secrets and Nick Lowe’s earlier message about a modern detective game was actually called something else (Malham Tarn).

Leigh Cliffs had some of the early ideas that would go into FW but it’s not clear if the rules were derived from D&D, T&T, or some wargame.  Bruce Quarrie evidently played in both Leigh Cliffs and Malham Tarn, for what that’s worth.

Kevin dates Leigh Cliffs and the work on FW as being completed by 1980, which I suspected. He doesn’t think the FW rules were play tested as written, which has long been conjectured by critics but I did not expect to be true.  The most intriguing thing Kevin has told me though is that Bruce Galloway gave him a box of notes for Leigh Cliffs and expected him to edit it into something publishable, some time after FW was finished and probably about the time Bruce left gaming for political activism.

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 University 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 Ph.D. 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 Ph.D. and he applied for a job in the 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 Ph.D.) 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. < Niven’s The magic goes awayMike> 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 medieval 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 Ph.D. 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 Ph.D. 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.


III. Cover to cover


The “Cover to cover” series of blog posts about OD&D over at Sham’s Grog & Blog* inspired James at Grognardia to start a Holmes cover to cover series, and so far it has been very interesting, as I haven’t seen the Holmes book in about 30 years, and never read it at all.

But what I have read cover to cover is Bruce Galloway’s Fantasy Wargaming. It was the first set of rules I ever DMed, and for a long time it was a game my brother & I wanted to play. The problem was always finding players, and also the terrible organization and complexity of the rules. But we pored over it, and made up character sheets (on a Commodore 64!), and rolled up many, many PCs. I even made a series of sketches and statted up monsters I’d read about in myth & folklore, but I imagine that sketchbook is lost forever.

Anyway since I found a nice book club edition of the rules, I thought I should take the opportunity to provide a similar cover-to-cover service! I intend to beginning reading FW on my breaks at work, and taking notes, which will be the basis for a series of posts here, giving an overview of the book and some analysis of the rules. Who knows, maybe I’ll even inflict it on my gaming group some time, or run it at a con!

You might ask, “Why?” Well, there are a number of reasons, some of which will come up as I read, but mainly I think this game deserves to be rehabilitated. Everyone snarks about how it is disorganized and unplayable and I think only the first part there is true. Others have claimed it is inherently bigoted or filled with anti-D&D rants and anti-Christian and more (no, really, see the Dragonsfoot threads!). I don’t think so but let’s read this through and see what we find.

*Save or die! has a related project of building a world based exclusively on published TSR D&D material (he calls it “The ultimate sandbox”), and introducing it to the milieu in the order published, which I still think is an awesome idea too, and his blog has attempted to do a sort of cover-to-cover reading of OD&D, the supplements, and the Strategic Review and The Dragon. I think he moved on to the Holmes “blue book” right before Grognardia did.

I’m going to start with what catalogers call the chief source of information for books, the title page.*

Although the cover precedes the title with “The highest level of all,” this isn’t on the title page, so the title proper, from a bibliographic point of view, is actually just Fantasy wargaming. The editor/compiler is given as Bruce Galloway.

I’m reading the American book club edition, which was published in1982 by Day & Stein, an independent book publisher that went bankrupt around 1987 or 1988, selling off all their back titles at that time. I’ve seen people mention the book being in various mainstream bookstores for pretty much the entire decade of the 1980s and I imagine that this explains why… decent distribution by a regular book publisher, and then all the remaining stock sold off in 1988 or so, making it available for bargain bins. The “book club edition” seems to have identical content to the larger format but they definitely redid the layout, so the page numbers do not really correspond very well. Given that this is book is indexed, and the text makes a lot references to other sections or charts by page number, that seems like a lot of extra work to make a “book club” (i.e. quick & cheap) edition… maybe this is part of why Stein & Day went under. Nowadays book club editions use the same layout and just print on cheap paper with cheap bindings.

Anyway the copyright is actually held by five people, according to the back of the title leaf: Bruce Galloway, Mike Hodson-Smith, Nick Lowe, Bruce Quarrie, and Paul Sturman.

Bruce Quarrie is immediately recognizable as a well-known writer on history and especially wargaming. I don’t recognize the others; presumably they are all part of the Napoleanic wargame club that designed the FW game.

Nick Lowe would be the first of two folks involved in FW that I managed to contact online.

The illustrations at the front of each chapter (which I think are quite good, especially by the standards of games of the time) are by Lawrence Heath. He also did the cover painting. No credit is given for the other illustrations, although Nick tells me Margaret Welbank did them.

Regarding the lead editor, I would eventually confirm that he got his Ph.D in history from Cambridge and wrote or edited a number of books, and later left academia to pursue political activism before his untimely death in 1984.

Anyway, I’m a little sad to find out he died so young, and the hatred and scorn that is heaped on him by internet trolls (e.g. this asshat) is particularly bothersome, since the “modern” reviews you’ll find online are so stultifying and ignorant. So, this series is hereby dedicated to the memory of an unsung pioneer in RPG history. (Why I consider this book to be important to RPGs in general will be more clear as we continue reading).

Another small difference between editions of this book is that the acknowledgments (“Gramercy!”) and foreword (“Revelation”) are in different orders. I’ll just cover both here.Revelation (or, “In which all is revealed”)

This is signed by all the copyright holders, further emphasizing that this was a group effort and the product of a real gaming club playing its own game. It is dated 1981, and since these things are typically the last part of a book to be written, often at the publisher’s request, I’m going to guess we should really date the whole game to at least a couple years before the publication date. The only particular games mentioned by name in the book are Dungeons and Dragons (not Advanced) and Tunnels & Trolls, so this may well place the writing in the mid-late 1970s, say 1977-1979. It also begins with the claim that fantasy wargaming began in America “a few years ago.” Considering D&D was published in 1974, we again should think 1970s, not 1980s, when reading this book. Before the days of computerized layouts and all that, books often took several years between submission and print.

Anyway there is then a short comparison/contrast between fantasy and historical wargaming (and they say that the big advantage of fantasy is that all that is required is imagination, as opposed to the research and painting of masses of armies for historical!), and it is evident that the term “role playing game” has not really caught on, at least among the authors. All RPGs, apparently, will be generically referred to as “fantasy wargaming” with lowercase letters; the game presented here is variously refered to as FW or Fantasy Wargaming with capitals. They add, “It is probably safe to say that if you enjoyed reading The Lord of the Rings, you will also enjoy fantasy wargaming.”

They also note that of the possible RPG worlds, the most popular kind is simply what we might nowadays call the “megadungeon.” Much of the remainder of the foreword deals with why the authors were dissatisfied with megadungeons (lack of logic and motive, mainly) and how they developed their own rules.

They say they actually started out with Tunnels & Trolls, which was indeed very popular in England (from what I’ve seen in White Dwarf), and they mention their own adventure “Leigh Cliffs” which they promise to publish next. Evidently it was as a scenario involving mysterious goings-on in a village and the PCs all had secret motivations… it sounds a bit like a Braunstein or even a How to how a murder type game, but there are no details and I do not think it was ever really published. It would be fascinating to see.

They outright reject the “law vs. chaos” worldview of Moorcock that informs D&D, and instead tout their “unified field theory” (they in fact use this terminology!) that eliminates the need for spell lists. (Modern reviewers frequently complain that such a list is lacking!)

They also mention their wargame rules for mass battles, which are included herein, and which accommodate small miniatures collections by allowing the man:figure scale to be variable. This, they claim, is a major innovation. It is interesting that with all the interest nowadays in finding a mass battle system to lay on top of an RPG campaign, this was so central to their ideas. Of course, being a group of wargamers to begin with, this is hardly surprising.


Thank-yous to: Adrian Palmer, Pete Tamlyn, Andy Strangeways, Gail Smith, Kevin “Igor” Piror, Ian & Lawrence Heath, Bob Whittaker, “Teddy”, Maggie, Margaret, Verity, and David Stein.

Lawrence Heath, as mentioned earlier, did the chapter frontspieces.

Ian Heath is another relatively famous grognard who wrote and illustrated many, many wargaming books, including several WRG “Armies & Enemies” books, a lot of Osprey books, and also an excellent series of army books for The Foundry, a miniatures company.  The wargaming roots are clearly deep, and here is another big name in the hobby who contributed.  Perhaps he did some of the unsigned illustrations, or helped with the army and weapons lists?

Pete Tamlyn wrote A green & pleasant land, a Call of Cthulhu sourcebook, and also contributed to or wrote several “Fighting fantasy” gamebooks.

Kevin Prior was another Cambridge student at that time.

Chapter I: City, Court, & Country (or, “God is groat”)

As you may have noticed with the foreword, most of the chapter titles also give whimsical alternative titles — a very common convention in 19th century & earlier literature. I can’t tell if the authors just find this funny or if we should think they just don’t take FW too seriously. Probably both. However, as I’ve been reading, I have seen a lot rather cutting remarks about traditional D&D which, judging by some posts over at Dragonsfoot, really irked some D&D fans.

I’m not an expert on the Middle Ages* but I think everything in this chapter looks reasonable.

The focus is clearly on Medieval England, and this chapter sketches the social and economic coditions of the dark ages, feudalism, and so on.

There are several explicit references to the rules, regarding how the social classes and occupations map onto the “classes” available to PCs. I should note at this point that many, if not all, reviews of FW have tended to regard the chapters preceding Chapter VII : The Playing Rules as fluff at worst, or general background information to scavenged for some other game at best. I think they ought to be understood as part and parcel of the rules, laying the groundwork that makes the rules themselves far less ambiguous. I think this is especially true of the next two chapters.

*Although I do play one on TV…or at least on web sites supporting programs on public TV or something — see the credits on the sidebar! Yay me! Actually I just fact-checked the text of the lessons and gave some additions. There was some interest in featuring my 1/72 armies from the Middle Ages in the accompanying videos but I think they had problems getting decent pictures, or decided to go in another direction, or something. Oh well.

Chapter II : Myth, Magic & Religion (or, “Mana maketh man”)

This chapter is, in my opinion, the most important of the whole book, because it explains the reasoning behind pretty much everything to follow, especially in the rules section. Also, I don’t think the rules make a lot of sense without the context these provide, so I’m giving this chapter a very slow reading and will break up the commentary over a few posts.

The author(s)* explains that because the supernatural (magic) is so central and distinctive to fantasy, it must be carefully considered, and the goal is to create a concept of magic that is both self-consistent and true to the “culture” of the game world (medieval northern European culture). To do this, he tackles three big questions:

  1. What is the supernatural?
  2. Where does the Power come from?
  3. How does the Power operate?

For #1, he accepts a definition** that magic is “using invisible and incomprehensible means to achieve visible and comprehensible effects.” You will notice (as the author notes too) that this actually makes magic indistinguishable from science, religion, and medicine in the medieval world view. No real distinction is made for the sake of the game either, except that medicine and science are largely left untouched, while religion and magic are treated in depth. I take it this is because magic and religion — the supernatural — have a distinct source of power (which is addressed in question 2), as opposed to science and medicine, which I imagine are “powered” by nature.

So for #2, the source of supernatural power is the “higher” and “Lower” powers: the gods, the astrological planets, nature, places, and so on which are considered to be sources of power by various people in various cultures. This power is referred to generically as “mana” although the Polynesian concept is merely an example and not the only form it takes. Clearly the author is thinking in anthropological terms. If “mana” is the stuff of magic power, and it comes from those things believed to be sources of mana, we have a sort of circular definition, except that there really is new information in the statement about belief. In fact, this is the “unified field theory” the FW author(s) take so much pride in (and it appears in all caps in the text):

Their power comes from your belief; the greatest source of mana is yourself.

This later restated with respect to religion as “It is the person’s worship of gods that gives them their power.” This section has some the very few citations to the works consulted in the research that went into the game, although they are rather indirect. But it appears that the authors drew partly on Godfrid Storms’ Anglo-Saxon magic (1948), Witchcraft in Europe, 1100-1700 a documentary history, edited by Alan C. Kors and Edward Peters (1972; a later edition covers 400-1700 CE), and Paracelsus (an occultist who wrote many works on medicine, astrology, botany, and general occultism).

The answer to question 3 is that mana is built up by ceremonies or rites. The gods accumulate mana from worship (which also explains why some gods are jealous of other gods, and even want their followers to evangelize for them…more worshipers means more mana!). But even mortals can accumulate mana through rites and ceremonies, and the distinction between “divine” and “arcane” magic, in so far as it exists at all, is that “clerics” build up & expend the mana of their gods, while “mages” build up and expend their own personal mana.***

So, that answers the “big three” questions, but a fourth piece of the puzzle for FW is the reality of the supernatural order and the abode of the “higher and lower powers.” This is called the Otherworld or Ethereal Plane in FW. It is the home of the gods, and all spirits, including the spirits of living beings (the spirits of humans, for example, roam the Ethereal Plane freely while alive and then join their god(s) in the their respective “halls” on death). Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory of Christianity are in the Ethereal Plane, as are the pagan Asgard, and the gloaming remains of the Celtic underworld, Olympus, etc. (these are fading because belief in them has mostly disappeared in the middle ages!). Likewise the Moslem paradise, and Hindu & Buddhist otherworlds, are all in the Ethereal Plane. The “geography” of the Ethereal Plane is indistinct and not really mappable, so there is no diagram as you’ll find in Gary Gygax’s illustrations of the outer planes. But like the fairytale world of the “Neverending Story” movies, these realms exist because and and as long as they are believed in.

The Ethereal Plane and Earthly plane can and do intersect at certain highly magical points, the most important of which being Faery, the realm of the fairies or elves.

Well, this is a lot to think about, huh? I’ve always liked this way of reconciling “divine” and “Arcane” magic, and I especially like the possibilities it raises for evil spirits, demons, and tricksters to set themselves up as gods in backwater regions, perhaps compelling or forcing locals to worship them. It also gives a neat mechanic for “sacred groves,” “haunted houses,” and other places to gain and maintain supernatural auras. I think a really terrifying and surreal game world could be made from all this! (But what could be more terrifying and surreal than the medieval imagination?

Mad Meg, again.

*Although the copyright statement and foreword point to this book being a group effort, I’m beginning to think that either Bruce actually wrote the whole thing from notes from the group’s work, or else the chapters were each written by a distinct member of the group and edited by him. After chapter II, we begin to see a lot of personal pronouns, reinforcing the idea that there was one author. I’m no philologist or anything so I won’t try to identify the different authors, I’ll just note this impression. I’ll use “he” to refer to the author(s) from here on out, rather than a plural pronoun.

**He uses quotes but does not cite his source. Again, if only this book had included a bibliography! It’s written by at least one Cambridge scholar, for christssake!  This sort of definition is pretty common in modern occultism, where authors try to gloss over the difference between science, religion, and magic too.  It brings to mind Aleister Crowley’s motto for one of his occult organizations (I forget which): “The goal of religion, the method of science.”  As if.

***Scare quotes here to indicate the terms “divine magic,” “arcane magic,” etc. are not actually used in FW.

Continuing Chapter II, the next section is on religion. First, we get brief outline of Church organization and Church-state relations. Then, there is some interesting discussion of heresy, and the first mention of “piety,” a concept just a central to religion as “mana” is to magic. The context is a mention that when the Church burns heretics, they are in effect making a sacrifice to God which produces mana for God and piety for His worshipers, but at the same time the heretic’s tribulations are just as real and earn the heretic piety points. So, reality of the Otherworld is even more clearly demonstrated to be dependent on human belief, an idea I really like. Apparently the the seeming contradictions between the orthodox and heretical views are to be understood in relative terms. This does seem to leave open the question as to whether the Arian or Pelagian God is the same as the ortodx Christian God (let alone whether any of these can be identified with the Moslems’ Allah or the Jews’ Jehovah!). Perhaps this ambiguity is entirely intentional, as the Otherworld is, after all, mysterious.

The section on Christianity leads by a natural and logical path to the Devil. The Devil’s place in medieval thought and the FW rules are described. For example, the Devil accumulates mana by condemning and torturing human souls. I really like the game mechanics used to explain the motivations of the Higher and Lower powers!

From here, we move on to witchcraft, a very difficult topic for historians and game designers both. Should they be treated as peasant magician types, or pagans, or actual Devil-worshipers? FW solves this problem by saying “Yes!” to all three. To quote the text, “FW treats witchcraft as a pagan cult infiltrated and perverted by the Devil into a foul parody and deadly enemy of Christianity.” We’ll see that witches are one of the several types of magic users playable in the game, while Devil-worshipers have extensive rules in the religion section of the rules. I have to admit this is a pretty elegant solution. Just as with the “unified field theory” of magic, this theory of witchcraft seems to be a pretty good way to handle an otherwise intractable problem of history.

The third major part of the religion section deals with paganism, although the author stresses these should be considered applicable to the Dark Ages only, and not the High Middle Ages. FW intentionally conflates Anglo-Saxon, German, and Norse mythology into a pastiche that covers all three pretty well, since they are after of common origins. This also works because these mythologies are much less well documented than say Greek mythology. To quote the text again: “Our vivid, coherent picture of the Norse region of the Ethereal Plane is an accident of literature more than a reflection of belief.” That is, there is not really an organized Norse “Church.”  Still, there are temples, priests, and sacraments.  The most important Norse sacraments are sacrifices, usually of animals but possibly humans, and there is even a brief mention of the infamous “blood eagle” as a sacrifice.  The text also notes that the Norse gods are not “jealous” and don’t seek converts, but they also are very fickle and may let down even a devoted servant.

Continuing chapter II, we are now on to “The challenge of magic.” The author intends both the challenge magic poses to religion, and the challenge it poses to rules writers!

I’ll begin with a quote from the text, this time one that hammers home, once again, just how badly the footnotes or bibliography to this book are missed! “Our systematic examination has produced more than 3000 separate uses of magic throughout the Dark and Middle Ages.” I’d kill a dozen kobolds for that list! (I assume he means their work came up with 3000 citations in historical and literary works referring to magic, and not one of the many other ways we might read that sentence).

Anyway this vast list of examples is what convinced the writers that a “spell list” would be pointless, and it makes more sense to try to work out a flexible system of on-the-fly spellcasting. This was the first such system I’d seen and I can’t really say I’ve seen any that are better as “simulations,”* although it could certainly be a lot simple for game purposes! The focus is on determining the preparations required for a given effect and the difficulty the effects pose. Keeping with the ideas from the beginning of the chapter, spell casting is broken into two distinct steps, establishing an ethereal link, and then the execution of the spell(s). (I vaguely recall that one link could be established and then two or three spells cast but it’s been a long time; we’ll see what the rules say!) Also, using history as a guide again, the author wants to distinguish types of magic, types of magic-users, and how the two relate.

He rejects the Chaos/Law/Neutrality idea he attributes to Moorcock (and which ultimately comes from Poul Anderson), saying it just doesn’t fit an historical outlook, although such an overlay has been tried, he says, in what I take to be an oblique reference to RuneQuest.

Next he considers the Black/White magic distinction and rejects that too, as it really arose in the 16th century. He will keep this distinction only with reference to piety calculations later.

So first we get a run down of the “classes” of magic-user in FW, and why they are defined more by social hierarchies than anything else. They are:

  • The peasant mage (Cunning man/Wise woman)
  • The aristocrat/noble (Sorcerer)
  • Between these, possibly upwardly mobile, and partly a charlatan (Wizard)
  • The Satanist (Witch)
  • and the Jewish outsider, who is dedicated to esoteric meditations to improve himself spiritually and in worldly power (Cabalist)

In the Dark Ages, the sorcerer type will be referred to as a Runic Sorcerer, and the later/High Middle Ages type will be referred to as a High Sorcerer. They are very similar but have slightly different specialties.

These casters will make use of both “Passive” and “Active” magic. Passive magic is your divination and other knowledge-seeking magics that don’t really change the world; Active magic alters the structure of the universe. Active magic falls under a number of types: basic sorcery (changing some part of the world with a spell, a very broad category); enchantment (creating magical items); and conjuration (summon/control Ethereal beings). Apart from these different effects, there are different preparations possible: incantations, meditation & study, fasting, shamanistic dance & frenzy, etc. These are just listed without much explanation and I think they all have the same mechanic and are more a matter of flavor (Cabalists meditate/study, while Sorcerers use incantations, etc.).

The types of magic and preparations of each type are laid in a few paragraphs, and I think I inferred most of this from the charts and calculations we see later in the rules but it is nice to refer to these. Lastly there si a discussion of astrology the “System of correspondences” which are also very big factors in magic.

At this point I am seriously considering how this might all be reorganized into a “Players handbook” — there is actually a ton of explanation in these early chapters and I can’t for the life of me understand why they spread out this information among so many different places as they did. Bruce certainly compiled things but as an editor, at least a GAME editor, he kind of dropped the ball.

*A simulation of how they thought it worked, I mean.

More chapter II! If you can’t tell, this is pretty much my favorite chapter of the book. But it’s also got a hall of a lot to digest. This should be the last post devoted to it though.

The next section is titled “Myth: the bard’s tale,” and it begins with a jab at “other games” that “copped out” and used pulp fiction to inspire its monsters. The wrongheadedness here makes me a little uncomfortable — after all, whether or not you want to use the gonzo approach of D&D and Tunnels & Trolls, you have to recognize the staggering importance of their innovations as the first RPGs. Of course these games were only a few years old when this was written so perhaps their significance was harder to see then. Anyway FW will use only “real” mythological creatures, but more on that in a later chapter.

The intent of FW is to recreate medieval epics, romances, & legends, and so this section attempts to explain the mythic spaces of the dark ages and high middle ages, in terms of the

  • landscape (geographic features)
  • magic (forms of enchantment common to the setting)
  • monsters
  • heroes
  • imagery (themes, images, & objects)
  • patterns of adventure (typical story lines etc.)

This makes the section very interesting from a world-building perspective, as these are the sorts of things that really important to a setting for gaming purposes.

The dark ages part covers the Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic worlds, each in a reasonable amount of depth but a DM should still do some more research, such as reading some of the literature of the periods. For the Anglo-Saxon period, Beowulf is the main reference; for the Norse, there are many, many sagas and romances; and for the Celtic era, there is also a relative wealth of Irish and Welsh sources. The authors admit that they had a lot of trouble fitting the bizarre and alien features of Celtic myth into their system, but they feel it is very doable and offer a lot of ideas. The “patterns of adventure” details for each period have some good ideas for plots and storylines you may want to explore.

The other period that FW attempts to simulate is the “High Middle Ages,” the period of about the 11th to 15th centuries. This section looks at the tropes of medieval romances, mentioning the three major bodies of literature surrounding Arthur, Alexander the Great*, and Charlemagne. Unfortunately, the authors cop out a bit here, deciding to ignore the Alexandrian romances (because they are set in the wrong time and place for FW) and the Carolingian romances (because Charlemagne and his paladins have too varied a literature to summarize!!!). Still, Arthurian lore is covered as three distinct settings, the historical, the Welsh, and the Chivalric legends.

Next Faery is covered in some more detail, emphasizing that it is a sort of no-man’s land in every sense. It is neither divine nor diabolic, not wholly of earth or ethereal plane, and most importantly not human. An important feature of Faery is the decline it undergoes across the whole period, including a diminution of fairies and elves themselves, from the Tolkien-sized Sidhe of Celtic lore to the puny fairies of the end of the High Middle Ages, to our “flower-sized” Victorian fairies. This is (very cleverly, IMO) to be understood in FW in terms of the “Unified field theory” — as belief in the realm of Faery wanes, so does its very existence. The smaller and smaller forms the residents take over time is explained in terms of the economy of mana — a small form costs less mana to maintain.

Lastly, Saints and miracles are discussed, because after all there is a quite a bit of fantasy in the hagiographies (saints’ biographies) of the middle ages. These too are explained in FW terms.

*Yeah, Alexander the Great. Although he was an ancient, a vast body of legends regarding his eastern adventures arose in the middle ages.

Chapter III: The book of physiologus (or, “Oh God! It’s a thesaurus!”)*

This chapter is meant to explain the origins of the fabulous beasts and monsters to found later on in the rules (heraldry and bestiaries, for the most part, plus the literary sources).

In one sentence, though, it will probably alienate most old-school D&D players and fans of weird literature: “It seems a pity, in view of the broad and splendid medieval tetralogical tradition, to throw it all over for feeble coinages in the Clark Ashton Smith vein, or to attach real names to shoddy travesties of the creatures they originally designated.”

Of course, D&D and T&T both utilize both weird coinages and traditional monsters. In fact, I’ve seen at least one solidly heraldric beasts in the 1e Monster Manual mocked as stupid puns on other web sites (Sea lions).

In fact the monsters are discussed very briefly and in general terms. More attention is paid to the undead, and to elves, dwarfs, and trolls. Vampyres, for example, do not turn into bats, and are not undead in FW, as those parts of the legend formed later than the periods covered.

Chapter IV: Mortal combat (or, “A poignard in your codpiece”)

The weapons of 600-1500 CE are discussed briefly, and I wonder who is the audience for this…apparently the author thinks it is possible that someone with no, or faulty, knowledge of these things may be reading. The items covered pretty much confirm that the setting is really England. One thing I’ve always loved about this chapter is a great weapon chart, really one of the best I’ve seen apart from being very incomplete. This is pretty much exactly how I imagine every weapon depicted. There is also a brief explanation of how “sword-breaker” parrying daggers work in FW, which is an odd place to stash the rules, so far before anything else. But this also reinforces my sense that these early chapters are neither filler nor merely background.

Armor is discussed next, and again we get a decent overview. After that, a section on the organization a medieval army, which I would generally agree with, although my sense is that the “en herse” formation used by English armies is still a disputed issue, while the writer choose one interpretation and presents it as the only one. I don’t know that I’d want them to get into the argument but for wargamers this is a little surprising.

Then, a section on castles and sieges and this is part is really very good too, if brief. The plans of three typical castles are given, and while the whole chapter is very Anglo-centric, it has a lot of good information for the newbie. The chapter concludes with a glossary of arms & armor terms, which seems thrown in for no good reason. Most of the terms specify parts of plate armor. I wonder if this isn’t just cribbed from an art museum pamphlet. I guess it doesn’t hurt, and may be useful for people doing further research, but I don’t think many of these terms come up anywhere else in the text.

*The alternative title is a quote from the parody Bored of the Rings.  The chapter was written by N. J. Lowe, who has been kind enough to answer some emails from me about FW.  He wasn’t thrilled with the “alternate title” given his chapter by Galloway, but confirms it was his intent to add some humor and appear less stodgy.  Prof. Lowe also tells me that the lamented lack of footnotes was intentional as the writers were afraid the whole thing was looking too academic.Chapter V: Moorcock and more (or, “Whatever takes your fancy”)

Well, that’s about the best chapter title so far. This chapter, which you might expect to be the “Appendix N” of FW, is impossible for me to explain. I mean, I can explain what it is (a nice survey of the author’s favorite science fiction and fantasy, as well as some cautions against certain works) but I can’t really explain what it is doing in this book. The text just suggests that GMs will find a lot of help with plot and story ideas by reading fantasy novels and here are my favorites. The chapter begins with some props to JRRT, but the author also notes that Middle Earth would be a terribly boring place to adventure, because everything is already discovered and documented … the world is just so complete. I can sort of see his point. Even so, he adds: “It is probably the closest thing … to a concept of another world which is really rooted in … the cultural past and the closest in terms of depth of treatment to the type of fantasy scenario which I hope this book will inspire you to create for yourself.” This chapter is the first and only one to use the personal pronoun extensively and is admittedly a personal and quirky catalog of fantasy novels. He lists a lot of authors, and some he admits really don’t have much to do with his project at all, but often they appear just on what he considers their entertainment value.

  • Alan Garner
  • Richard Kirk (Raven stories)
  • T.H. White Mary Stewart (Merlin stories)
  • H. Warner Munn
  • Fritz Lieber
  • Andre Norton (Witch world)
  • Anne McCaffery (Pern, & admittedly an odd choice)
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley (Darkover)
  • Arthur Landis (Camelot sci-fi)
  • Michael Moorcock
  • Clifford D. Simak (Goblin reservation)*
  • Dennis Wheatley
  • Lin Carter (Thongor)
  • Robert E. Howard (Conan)**
  • John Jakes (Brak the Barbarian)
  • John Norman (Gor series, which the author says are poor to start but get better)
  • Stephen Donaldson (Thomas Covenant)
  • he notes his dislike for Patricia McKillip (Riddlemaster series) and Tanith Lee (Storm lord & sequels) then returns to positive recommendations:
  • Ursula K. LeGuin (Earthsea)
  • L. Sprague DeCamp (Complete Enchanter)
  • Robert Heinlein (Number of the Beast)

Well, there are few I hadn’t heard of here, so I’ll be looking into them at some point, but sadly this is anything but an Appendix N.

*Simak’s Where the evil dwells, a fantasy set in the dark ages, would be a great starting point for an FW campaign, but was published after FW.

**Howard is recognized as much better than Carter & Jakes but the author still lumps the three together, which will doubtless enrage REH’s more strident fans.

Chapter VI: The Complete Enchanter (or, “What in Hell do I do now?”)

This chapter provides advice for new GMs, and it is not really specific to FW as far as I can tell.   A lot of it seems like “common sense,” and is probably not far off what you’d see in any game of the time.  Despite the earlier scorn heaped no megadungeons in the foreword, the advice here has a lot of ideas for making more realistic dungeons, which is something I think you’d see in The Dragon and other publications of the time.

So, some of the good ideas:

  • Construct your “wandering monster” tables by looking over the dungeon key and deciding which monsters are likely to leave their rooms.
  • Extensive suggestions about constructing traps that would be likely to continue working after being left in place for years or centuries, versus those that should malfunction after a shorter time.
  • Instructions for making your own  gridded battlemats (laminating posterboard onto which a grid was drawn, and using grease pencils or markers, basically)
  • Advice about using miniatures and explicitly mentioning that FW assumes their use in play.
  • A discussion of when to allow saving throws (pretty much whenever the players want).  I wonder if this is a reference to Tunnels & Trolls mechanics?
  • Some guidelines on assigning saving throw chances in FW (which does not appear in the rules chapter, further reinforcing that these chapters can’t be skipped).
  • Some entertaining anecdotes of the writer’s gaming group’s escapades.  I think this must have been their foray into T&T dungeon crawling.  It seems to consist of very standard D&D type stuff.

Well, that’s all I took notes on here.  Next time, I’ll move on to crunchier final chapter, which takes up more than half the book…the playing rules.

Chapter VII: The playing rules

No alternate title on this one. Hmm. Maybe we’re getting more serious!

This chapter will obviously take several posts, and I’d love to breaking these down by topic but with the first topic — character generation — I’m finding that the rules for this are actually spread out over the whole rules section. That is, you’re referred to tables that are stashed in the combat, magic, and religion rules, and also you’ll need to wait until the relevant section to find out what some of the attributes are really used for, and how to acquire mana and piety, and so on. I think in hindsight it makes sense to sort of force players to read through all the rules, but in some cases this sort of “economy,” where nothing is ever repeated, makes things difficult and they really should have included the generation of an example warrior, mage, and cleric. So at some point in the future I may try to compile a “Character generation” document that gives a player everything they need in digest format. Or more likely I’ll give up in frustration, as this is a seriously “simulationist” game, and probably too detailed for me. It might be worth trying to develop a stripped down version, though, as it looks like all the calculations have both a “fixed” component and a “situational” one; the fixed one being constant and based on the character and the situational ones being more variable and based on the opponent/obstacle/spell target. So maybe the whole thing could be mapped onto a simpler model, like a d20 variant or something. I think you’d really have to keep the abilities (which are not exactly like STR/DEX/CON/etc.) and other flavor elements, like the ideas about magic and the ethereal plane. I’ll think about that when I’m done this summary/commentary.

The other thing that occurs to me is that the various D&D cover-to-cover projects all have a huge advantage that everyone knows how the system works, for the most part, and the blog posts just pick out interesting points and variations. Not so here! I’ll try to explain what is going on in the rules without resorting to detailed lists of “factors” … this book is not exactly rare anyway. Next time: the attributes and basic character generation.

Character generation in FW is definitely “old school” — 3d6 in order for the attributes, with random rolls for additional features of your character. Regarding “class,” there are essentially three classes, but by default every character starts as zero level in all three. Depending on player preference and social class, a player may elect to start out as a warrior, clergy member, or magic user, or a combination, depending on social class and to some extent on choices.

The ability scores are (explanation in parentheses): Physique (strength), Agility (dexterity), Endurance (health and ability to absorb damage; there are no hit points), Charisma (personal charm), Greed, Selfishness, & Lust (lower means self-control over the vice, so higher is generally bad), Bravery (courage and anger, so higher is generally good but high bravery can lead to berserking), Intelligence (reasoning and ability to learn), Faith (understanding and awareness of the Ethereal Plane), Social Class (the most important of all in hierarchical societies like the dark and middle ages were). Leadership is derived from a formula where charisma and social class count a lot and bravery, physique, intelligence count some). After rolling these stats, you roll for star sign and optionally apply modifiers for that (there is no obvious balance among the modifiers, and some star signs affect social class!). Then roll 2d6-7 (“Aspecting”) and apply the result as bonus or penalty points (reverse these for greed, selfishness, and lust, and no ability can be raised more than 2 points, and abilities of 14+ can only have one pint added). The abilities will also go up as levels are gained, so crappy starting abilities don’t necessarily doom a character.

Next, you roll 1-3 times (d3) on the infamous “Bogey” table. About 1/3 of the rolls will be no result, which we re-rolled but the rules don’t say to do this. About 1/2 are good (the even numbers) and 1/2 bad. They generally apply a +1 or -1 to an ability, or have some other minor effect, ranging from quirks that may not matter much in a game (e.g. sexual perversion) to fairly significant powers (healing hands once per day) or disadvantages (heretic, persecuted & shunned by all right-minded Christians). Some readers have taken deep offense at these but really they just reflect the rather intolerant and “backward” cultures of the times. Likewise the penalties for playing a woman are severe: -3 to Physique, Endurance, & Social Class, -2 Bravery and Charisma, offset by -3 to Greed, Selfishness, and Lust. But again these reflect a society that sheltered women and taught them to be submissive. I think these make more sense for the upper classes, though, considering the terribly hard labor peasant women would do. I’ve seen a house rule that grants female characters two free levels to offset these and that is what I’d do too.

At this point you need to decide whether to belong to a rural dweller, townsfolk, landowning/warrior, or clergy background. Social class, if very low or very high, may limit the choices — a 3 or 4 social class may only be a rural-dweller, for example.

Next you consult various ability scores and your background and social class to determine whether you have any of six skills, and whether you just have the skill or do it “well.” These are : Riding, Swimming, Climbing, Tracking, Stealing, and Singing. Characters with the Stealing skill at “well” are professional thieves for purposes of the game but this is not a separate Thief class.

Warriors choose a warrior type from the army lists (“Warrior table”) later in the rules, which determines starting arms & armor, and mages choose to be a mage type based on their social class and background, though the table they need to consult is buried deep within the magic section.

Height and weight are determined by Physique and Endurance, respectively.

Social class determines starting wealth, and the equipment list is painstakingly researched from the middle ages, although it includes a bit of standard dungeon-delving stuff like 50′ ropes, torches, etc. despite the anti-dungeon comments earlier. Also, the list does not necessarily correspond to what is on the armor and weapons tables, although prices are given there too, so that is not too much of a problem.

And there you have your character. I’ll roll one up for for example.

Rolling in order, Physique: 4, Agility: 8, Endurance: 8, Intelligence: 14, Faith: 8, Charisma: 11, Social Class: 10, Bravery: 13, Greed: 8, Selfishness: 13, Lust: 13. Just my luck — I haven’t rolled well on 3d6 for at least ten years. That’s never going to make a warrior, and the vices look kind of high for a cleric, so I will aim for a magic user. I rolled Cancer for Star Sign, and got a -3 on the Aspecting (doh!), so the final scores (opting to raise Greed and Selfishness rather than reduce anything for aspecting) will be Physique: 4, Agility: 8, Endurance: 6, Intelligence: 17, Faith: 8, Charisma: 11, Social Class: 11, Bravery: 13, Greed: 10, Selfishness: 15, Lust: 13. Rolling for Bogeys, I got three rolls, but the first was a “no result.” The other two are Fear of Snakes or Spiders and Beauty (+1 Charisma). With a 12 Charisma, my Leadership calculates to 11, not too shabby. I’ll fear snakes instead of spiders, and say he’s Irish, and name him Brendan. Looking at the mage chart, an 11 Social class is not high enough for Sorcerer or Cabalist, so I’ll be a Wizard. If I raise my Social Class to 13 (and this can be done by paying a bunch of gold and gaining levels) I’ll qualify for Sorcerer later on. I’ll go with Townsfolk (rather than Rural Dweller, Clergy, or Landowning/Warrior) and say his father is a Guildmaster. Brendan isn’t joining a guild though, and I’ll say he’s a bastard, so his father is Social Class 11+3=14! At SC 11 I get 14 Gold Sovereigns, but won’t need much money, since I don’t need weapons. I’m literate (I had a 60% chance based on my SC, Int, and the fact I’m a mage) and also have a 30% chance of knowing any human language I come across. I guess you just roll when you encounter them, but you could just as well make a list and roll for each one ahead of time. Rolling for skills, I have (Int+SC=)38% chance to ride but miss that roll. I’ll say he lives near a river so he has (Agilityx5=)40% chance of swimming (missed again) and only an (Agility) 8% chance of climbing but make that roll and can Climb! I’m not noble or a rural dweller, so I can’t Track, and I’m too high a SC to be able to Steal, but everyone has at least a 33% chance to Sing (clergy get a better chance) and no, can’t sing either.

And that’s that! I start with no mana or piety, but as a wizard I can accumulate mana by chanting or ululating… except your maximum mana appears to be Magic Level x 16, and I’m zero level… That is either an oversight of the rules (there will also be division by zero problems for combat/adventuring experience, so maybe we assume all characters are 1/2 a level? Or just use 1 for the maximum mana and effective level for experience gains. Otherwise there is no way to get off first level as a mage, because that experience is only for casting spells and accumulating mana. One could gain adventuring XP for overcoming obstacles but mathematically no combat XP until first level either. I haven’t looked at he religion rules recently enough to recall if that is a problem. I totally forgot about this problem. I don’t remember how we handled it back in the day.

Anyway Brendan looks like he has a hard road ahead of him. His high intelligence will partly offset his low faith when it comes to magic but he’ll probably need all the help he can get; luckily he can get a lot of bonus to his magic calculations if he takes advantage of all the astrological influences he can. If possible he’d better try practicing some spells to “master” them too. But that all comes later in the rules. (In fact his best bet will be to practice divination and the interpretation of dreams, since his Intelligence is so high.)

If I were to run this game, I think I’d let players arrange their scores as they wish for the most and just require Greed, Selfishness, and Lust to be rolled in order. That would make it a lot easier to make a viable character, and also give players the option to make something like the character they want to play.

The rest of chapter seven covers all the remaining rules: combat and adventuring, magic and religion, and the monsters.

The first mechanic discussed is Luck rolls, which are used in pretty much every other mechanic.  A d6 is rolled and 1=-2, 2=-1, 3 or4 =0, 5=+1, 6=+2.  The plus or minus is added to whatever calculation of factors is being made and then the total of the factors is indexed against a table.  There are a number of tables, some with just two possible results (success or failure) but some with a range of results, usually failure, partial success, substantial success, and total success.  A few other tables are more specific, although I think the range of results is usually about 2-5 possible outcomes, so I think there may be a way to combine all the tables onto one master chart.  If you’re curious about the charts and want to see the factors listed in detail, the rule handouts here reproduce most of the tables.  What they don’t reproduce — the warrior table, the ethereal hosts, and the full table of physical correspondences for magic, the weapons and armor tables — are some of the best bits, though.

Anyway the Luck roll seems a little silly at first glance, since you are also rolling another time on the chart, but I suppose the shift from one column to another caused by a +/-2 could affect whether success or failures are possible.  It plays a big role in the mass combat rules where it is really the only roll made to resolve melees.

Next up is the leadership rules, which are incredibly detailed.  I don’t remember ever using these, but then we only ever had smallish parties.  The leadership score calculated in character generation is used to decide who is party leader, and deputy leader (second highest overall); since your highest level is added in, it is possible to distinguish the leaders of warriors,  mages and clerics too within a party, being the highest leadership score among each sort of character in the party.  So there will always be at least two leaders (party leader and deputy leader); if the party leader is a warrior, say, the mage and cleric with highest leadership will be the leaders of their respective classes in the party, and one or the other may be the deputy too.  If only one or two classes are represented in a party, there might only be the two leaders, but it is possible in principle for there to be four leader types, if the leader and deputy are the same class and the there two other classes in the party!

The leader seems to have the “caller” role from early editions of D&D, and there are rules for challenging the leader if your character disagrees with the orders.  These may be violent, and no other characters may interfere when the leader is “called out” because, the text says, the cultures covered all respect single combats.  The challenge may alternatively be settled in a magic duel, or clerical appeals, and lastly it is also suggested that the party may vote.  Each character’s Leadership is counted as his vote, so that the election of a new leader is weighted.  Also, if a character’s leadership increases above the leader’s, he must challenge the leader.  Those who lose these challenges suffer a loss of prestige (Leadership) for the rest of the adventure.

The game also gives serious XP bonuses to leaders (50% for party leader and 10% for each subleader position, which may be cumulative if the deputy is also leader of a class), so there are plenty of reasons to vie for leadership.  While this seems destructive of party unity and harmony, it does make some sense for simulating the hierarchical culture of the settings.

Next there are “temptation” rules, to bring the vices into play.  If a GM feels a character is not being played well, he may use these rules to compel the character to succumb to temptations.  I know this sort of GM interference in role-playing is frowned on in some circles but I think this would work ok.

Then there are “persuasion” rules, for when a character resist a reasonable and persuasive argument of another PC r NPC, and the GM feels it is out of character to do so.  It does make me wonder how the authors were playing if these rules seemed necessary, but in truth I guess we all know of players who are “difficult”…

The next rule regards “temporary handicaps” and this could be ported to any game.  Roll 2d6 daily and on a “12″ the character is sick, hung over, has a headache or diarrhea… whatever you decide.  This gives a -1 to all luck rolls in FW.  The text says that to really simulate the eras covered you could also make checks for disease transmission when characters are exposed to risks, but does not go into much detail.

Then, rules for fatigue are covered, and a list of actions that produce exhaustion, and the times required to recover are given.  These will actually matter some since certain activities that mages and clerics perform to accumulate mana and/or piety are exhausting, as is combat obviously.

Then rules for starvation, dehydration, and fasting are given.  Fasting is obviously a part of medieval life, and less obviously a source of mana!
Basically, starvation causes a loss of 1 point of each physical attribute per day, and dehydration takes 1/3 of one’s endurance points, so that three days without water will kill.  Fasting causes the starvation losses at 1/4 the rate.

Combat and adventuring rules

First we find that of the kinds of activities that a character may earn experience for, combat and adventuring are considered similar enough to be combined in one pool. The text rather sourly rejects “XP for gold,” a reminder that FW is solidly “simulationist”* in certain respects. Anyway combat nets experience by calculating the opponent’s Combat Level (CL) or Monster value x 100, and dividing this product by the character’s level. This presents some problems. First, a starting character has zero levels, and so we will be dividing by zero! I think the obvious solution is to just use the raw 100xCL figure and skip dividing, but hardcore rules lawyers will probably want to make sure this gets mentioned in the next Murphy’s Rules.** More problematic is that “Monster Value” is never mentioned again in the text, as far as I can tell. I’ll have to keep an eye out for that. I assume monsters with special powers count as higher CLs?

Adventuring XP comes from successfully making rolls to overcome obstacles of various kinds; take 100 minus your % chance of success and divide by two. No XP at all for failure. Since your level will increase your chances of success, this slowly diminishes unless you take bigger and bigger risks, trying more and more difficult tasks.

It takes 1000 XP to advance a level, so that’s a lot of adventuring or 10 CL1 opponents. I guess zero-level opponents aren’t worth anything either!

The actual rules for adventuring activities generally follow the pattern of a series of factors for relevant attributes, situations, and so on to yield a number from -5 to positive 10, and each number is indexed as a column on a table with percentiles listed to give chances and “degrees of success.” This is a fairly common mechanic in 1980s games but it was the first like it I saw outside of Rolemaster. Rolemaster may have come first, I don’t know. The specific activities listed with detailed factors are:

  • Identifying secret doors/compartments
  • Opening locks
  • Recognizing and escaping traps as they spring
  • Negotiating obstacles
  • Picking pockets

All use the same table, labeled “Secret door identification,” and success, partial success, or failure is possible in each category. So there really is a “System” hidden in all these lists of factors. I’ve seen it suggested that the lists of factors may in fact have originally been submitted as charts or at least columns and that the publishers, to save space, collapsed them into the paragraphs they are presented as now. That may be true. Certainly it seems like there should be a way to extrapolate a more concise “base” factor for these activities and a shorted list of situational ones. The mechanic usually involves the GM setting a “required” Physique and/or Agility to accomplish a task, and this could be re-imagined as a difficulty with a set factor. That’s how I’d approach rewriting this, anyway.

*I pretty much can’t stand reading about that “three-fold model” of games but I can see the utility of making the distinction between different emphases. If only the “indy/Forge” crowd wasn’t so dogmatic about “proper” games and gamers really belonging to only one type.

**I used to love that cartoon. It was in the Space Gamer magazine, I think, & it migrated to the Pyramid when that was being printed on paper, but is it still being drawn?

And so we move on to the combat rules. These were probably what “sold” my brother & I on this game back in the day — more “realistic” weapons & damage, hit locations, and so on.

In character generation you pick a warrior from the “Warrior Table” (covering the periods of the game, about the 6th to 15th centuries). In the high middle ages, culture doesn’t matter much, as armies were relatively similar all over norther Europe, but the Anglo-Saxon, Pictish, Welsh, Viking, and other dark ages lists are fairly varied. Based on the type of warrior you decide to be (assuming you are not a mage or cleric), you get the arms and armor appropriate to the warrior type, and all count as “favored” weapons for your character. I really like this “package deal” as it will make characters reasonably historical. You still get to choose one more weapon or armor piece, so there will be some variety.

The text notes that the “effectiveness” of weapons is partly tied to their speed, and daggers can stab repeatedly in the time it takes a two-handed axe to swing, but I don’t think fast weapons actually get extra attacks. I always assumed this was an explanation as to why weapon base damages are not that variable.

Before combat, a couple of rolls or checks are made, and each player writes down what he’ll be doing (attacking, moving, disengaging, parrying etc.). The sequence is

  1. Morale check
  2. Control (Berserking) check
  3. Players note actions for the next 10 second phase
  4. Missile attacks are made
  5. Prepared & instant spells are cast

Then, the combat phase begins:

  1. First strike (for combatant(s) with 2 foot or more reach advantage, or 4+ Agility advantage over opponent)
  2. Strike backs (for those attacked above)
  3. Simultaneous attacks (for all remaining combatants)

Then, the post-combat phase has:

  1. Morale checks (if necessary)
  2. Return to Combat phase

You’ll see from this outline that while missiles and spells go first, they only go at the start of the combat, unless the GM is going to allow any more distance attacks. I think you could play it either way — either the combat “flurry” goes on until all involved in melee combat are dead or victorious, or you could return to the pre-combat phase (which may be what was intended, as some Control tests are triggered by wound results).


The GM is instructed to make checks & hint at the results to players, and if they “consistently ignore” these hints, the GM may take over the PC for the phase. I know some players probably won’t like the idea of their character being out of their “control” in this way but I really like this approach. Why should PCs be invulnerable to fear and anger? It’s good to see Bravery come into play just like the vices did in the Temptation rules. The factors relevant to morale are Bravery, Combat Level, and a host of situational factors. These are rolled against another table with results ranging from “Obey orders” to “Flee”. It should be noted that the morale check is used to see if PCs follow the orders of the “Leader” of the party, as well as generally to see if they stand and fight or panic. We never actually used the morale rules as far I recall, but then we didn’t use leaders either.

Control test

Basically all Vikings and any other characters with a low intelligence and high bravery may go berserk in combat. This fits very well with Norse sagas, Celtic legends, and even Arthurian romances. A berserk character ignores the additional effects of exhaustion and wounds to specific to hit locations, which is very powerful, and does +3 damage (where a sword does a base of d4+3 and damage is subtracted from Endurance, a 3d6 score, that’s a big bonus!), but fights at -1 and may not disengage (one of the defensive maneuvers and the only way to leave combat). We did use these rules!


Striking is determined by taking the Combat Level (CL) and taking the weapon’s required Agility minus player’s Agility (“surplus agility”, divide positive sums by 2 but keep negatives whole) for the base factor, and then applying various factors for high or low Intelligence or Bravery, wounds taken, numerical superiority, and the results of the opponent’s efforts to parry, dodge or disengage (if any). This is then indexed against the striking table, which is the most complex in the the sense of having a wide variety of results possible, as each of “failure,” “partial success” etc. is further broken down into hit locations.

Lunging gives a 15% bonus on the roll, and is necessary for some of the most lethal results (throat and heart hits, which are rare unless your overall factor is very very high), but if you lunge you cannot defend on your next turn.

Damage is rolled based on the weapon (ranging from d4 for a quarterstaff to d4+8 for a battle axe) and the “surplus Physique” of the character (the staff requires 9 Physique to use, and the axe a 14, so a strong character, say a 16 physique, will do d4+3 with the staff and d4+9 with the axe). Most weapons are in the d4+3 range. The overall effect is that stronger characters are better off with heavier weapons, which of course makes sense, but a weaker warrior might still do OK with a very light weapon. Armor provides a damage reduction of 1-6. A helmet will do the same for the head and possibly face, at about 2-5 points, and a shield also provides its damage reduction on shield hits (a low striking roll will sometimes land on the shield or torso if unshielded), although the shield is more important for its use in parrying.

Different hit locations have different effects (double damage to the heart or throat; head hits may stun, and face hits blind; arm hits can cause weapons to be dropped, etc.).

Defensively, instead of striking one may make a shield parry, weapon parry, dodge, or disengage. These can all, at best, cause the opponent to miss, or at least negatively affect the striking factor. some weapons have better bonuses to parrying, as do shields. There is also a chart for checking for the breakage of weapons & shields when parrying, and it works out that bigger weapons are more likely to break smaller weapons. A battle axe will likely break almost any smaller weapon, whereas a dagger will almost never break any other weapon.

Armor and shields also may reduce the user’s effective Agility, so a heavily armored fighter is giving up a little offensive ability.

Large Scale Combat

The mass combat rules follow the small scale/individual combat rules, and the text recommends the mass combat rules for engagements involving 20 or more characters. The rules assume the use of miniatures (and the text states minis were used for the individual combat rules too but there is little or nothing necessitating their use there), and the basing follows WRG 6th edition basing conventions, although the rules themselves are considerably different. The “Warrior table” (and, effectively, army lists) also gives WRG 6 equivalents for troop types.

WRG (Wargames Research Group) publishes some of the most popular historical wargame rules (and added a fantasy supplement for their 4th edition rules, and later published the stricly fantasy Hordes of the Things rules, which I whole-heartedly endorse). The 6th edition of their game has been superseded by a 7th edition (which I found to be a little to complicated to teach myself) and then by the “DBx” family of rules (DBA, DBM, DBR, DBMM, Hordes of the Things, etc.). Although WRG 7th ed. and the DBx rules all use “stands” of several figures rather than individually-based figures, the WRG 6th ed. basing standard is compatible; 2-4 miniatures on their WRG6 bases form the correct frontage and depth to replicate a 60mm wide WRG7/DBx stand.
I’m glad to see FW uses the WRG standard as this is one issue I’m very dogmatic about. I refuse to rebase my miniatures for the sake of any game’s idiosyncratic rules. D&D 3rd edition used ridiculously small bases for giants, and then oversized ones for cavalry and horse-sized creatures. So anyway I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for any mass combat rules to accept, or at least be compatible with, WRG/DBx basing conventions. The vast majority of commercially available wargames rules now follow WRG basing, which is a good thing. End of rant.

The text refers readers to the PSL Guide to Wargaming (published by the UK publisher of FW and edited by FW contributor Bruce Quarrie) for information on wargames in general, and I’ll be trying to get my hands on a copy by interlibrary loan.  Then, to introduce the large scale combat rules, the reader is walked through a game pitting Normans against Anglo-Saoxns in a sort of mini-battle of Hastings. (The Anglo-Saxons even have an unusually high proportion of huscarls, as they did at Hastings!). It would have been nice to see more examples of play in the other rules sections. I’m guessing Bruce Quarrie, the most experienced rules-writer, wrote this section.

The rules themselves are fairly loose.  The combat factors are detailed in a long list, and the movement rules are very vague by the hair-splitting standards of modern wargames.  Serious wargamers will probably just fill in the blanks with their own favorite rules regarding movement and such.  Once troops are in contact, there are rolls for morale and luck but the actual combat results are basically predetermined by the sums of the factors, and luck plays very little role in the outcomes.  Some gamers will love this and others not so much.

There are fairly simple rules regarding character involvement in battles.  Chances for death & injury are determined by how the larger units fair.  Leaders help with morale but don’t have much if any effect on combat itself, unless they are the general.

As promised, they do provide some guidance on how to scale troops to figure ratios, and ground scale, according to the figures available and numbers of troops involved.  Ranges for missile weapons are given here in paces rather than yards (which is following WRG conventions) and these are not necessarily equal to the ranges given on the weapons chart, either because “effective” ranges differ from maximums, or else this is an oversight.

Most glaringly absent form these rules (in light of the game’s title) are any consideration of magic or monsters.  Skipping ahead to the religion rules you’ll find possible effects on morale brought about by Masses and the like, but nothing else that could really be called “fantasy” here.  So these are decent, fairly simple medieval wargaming rules and that is all.
I haven’t played any wargame like this, where luck has very little influence on the outcome of combat, and it has certain appeal. Morale has more luck involved so its not as if the battle is decided entirely by deployment. I’ll probably stick with Hordes of the things, but maybe I’ll try this out after Chainmail.

The next section of the rules cover “Active” magic (sorcery and altering the structure of the universe, as opposed to “Passive” magic like divination).

There are three basic steps to cover when casting a spell:

  1. Establishing an ethereal link to the target
  2. Target attempts to resist the link
  3. Casting the spell(s) or absolute command(s) through the link

Step (2) is only taken when the target is very sensitive to the Ethereal plane (Faith of 12+ or a Magic or Religious level of 2+). Each of these steps is referred to as a “Basis Magic Calculation,” and in shorthand as BMC(1), BMC(2), and BMC(3).

BMC(1): Establishing the link will allow the caster to cast up to three spells, or issue up to seven “Absolute Commands” (which are one word commands like the AD&D “Command” spell, but with much broader application) on the target, but they must all occur within 30 minutes, or before any other circumstance changes at the GM’s discretion. The link can cut across fairly vast distances, as it goes through the Otherworld of the Ethereal Plane, and distance is relative. One ambiguity is how one establishes a link for spells or commands that affect multiple targets. Because the spell system is so open to on-the-fly custom spells, a mage might well try to cast a spell that causes many targets to be hit (a fire ball, say). Also, the target may not really be specifiable beforehand, as with magical traps, illusions, and so on, so the GM will have to improvise, either setting a generic set of factors for unknown/multiple targets, or else making the link to a place rather than a person, or even dispensing with the link in such cases.

BMC(2): Sensitive creatures will “feel” the link (as an Ethereal “touch”) and may either use their own powers (magic) to resist, or ask for divine (or diabolic) help. Spell casters can attempt a counterspell (which falls under the Absolute Command rubric). Others can make an “Appeal” which is covered later in the Religion rules. If a link is successfully resisted, the caster and target (or his/her Higher/Lower Power) both expend some mana but the target is unaffected by the spell.

BMC(3): The command. All spells can be generically understood in the rubric of making some Command. As usual, various factors are added and the sum used to determine the column we roll on. Here it is explained that

  • there may be multiple targets (but as I mentioned this not reconciled with the BMC(1) procedure)
  • the mage can have other mages assist him, and may pledge extra mana to increase the chances of success

The Link established in BMC(1) also cost mana (1/2 the DD of the spell or command). This is somewhat problematic as several spells or commands could be cast with that link, so we always played that the DD of the first spell was what we used to determine the mana cost.

There are a bunch of additional rules here that add flavor to the spell casting rules. For example:

  • Mages can “master” specific spells by casting them three times in a row in a six hour period
  • the “true name” of a person or spirit aids in casting against them, just as in folkllore
  • spells (“commands”) can be inscribed and made permanent, either for the spell’s effects on creatures (amulets, etc.) or to make magic items or traps. Such traps spend the caster’s mana when triggered. This raises the question of what happens if an inscribed command is triggered when the mage’s mana is already depleted. I’d assume it just fails but certain rules later imply, indirectly, that Endurance points might be spent if mana is unavailable
  • the mana cost of the spell is the Degree of Difficulty (DD) plus any extra mana pledged plus 1/2 the Magic Level (ML) of unwilling targets
  • a two-page table of physical correspondences, with very detailed information (which metals, colors, body parts, animals, etc. etc. are influenced by which star sign), is given, and this system of correspondences is really very important to create the proper feel of medieval occultism.

The system of correspondences is like a crash-course in occultism, and if I ran this game I’d probably require the player to learn it well enough to point out any benefits he may get from positive influences (“I use my Libra wand, the red yew one with copper fittings, and that star sign influences dogs and peace, so I Command the dog to stop attacking at +2!”). Indeed the text describes this table as “The system of invisible levers by which the physical universe is run.” I love that description. These correspondences are used in BMC(1) (establishing the link), in creating magical items (both magic devices to aid spell casting and divination, and magic items in the D&D sense of magic swords etc.), and in divination. The 12 zodiac signs are “Ethereal influences” that affect everything, even the Higher & Lower powers, and the GM is encouraged to have them affect places in his world. Rules for this are provided in this section, including rules for letting characters detect these influences. So an entire location might be under the influence of say Pisces, enhancing water magic and diminishing fire magic.

There are rules for other “active” magical operations, besides spells and commands. First, as I just mentioned, is Creating Magical Devices. These help in creating links and casting specific sorts of spells, as well as other effects. The examples given include:

  • Wands, staves, etc. (used for establishing links)
  • Amulets (for protection, helping in BMC(2))
  • Single Spell Devices (tailored to aid casting a particular spell)
  • Magical swords, shields, keys, etc. (which add factors to nonmagical operations like combat, opening locks, etc.) This last sort can add no more than +1 to magical operations, being functional items. Magic wands and staves are assumed to be too small or light to use as walking sticks, or anything else useful apart from being magic aids. But funtional items can add up to +4 to their nonmagical purposes (to strike, damage, etc.)

No list of example items are given, because in principle anything is possible, but I think that is sort of a cop out. It would have been nice to see some examples. My own Norse magic items, which I presented here some time back, reflects this complete lack of guidance as to what a magical item might do. I hope I’d do better now!

Lastly some notes on magic items are given to explain that magic items remain linked to their creators. Thus stolen magic items may resist their thieves. Mages may however bind magic items they find or acquire with a command spell (“Obey!”). It is also noted that all magic items have actual spirits bound in them.  In fact, if the creator of an item weakens (1/2 Endurance or less due to wounds, starvation, etc.), the spirit may attempt to escape,  and the spirits always escape if the item is broken, so there is no simple reforging of broken magic swords!

Preparations for sorcery and the accumulation of mana

Although there’s already been some discussion of what you can do with mana, it is only now that we find out how to get the stuff. The five methods in FW are:

  1. incantation/ululation,
  2. shamanistic dancing/frenzy/etc.,
  3. deep meditation and study,
  4. fasting (including sexual abstinence), and
  5. sacrifices.

The first four all take some time and have limits on how long they can be performed, and each also provides bonuses to BMC(1) as preparation. They are also associated with specific types of mages. Witches use the frenzied dance, Cabalists use study and meditation, etc.

Sacrifices can be done by anyone, but they count as sins for Christians (we’ll see the sin rules later under religion!). An animal yields d6 mana (the later Norse religion rules specify definite amounts for various animal types) while human sacrifice yields d6+6! The mage must also consume some part of the sacrifice, such as the brain, heart, liver, etc.

Limits on mana: Most characters can have no more than 16 times their magic level (ML) in mana; Ethereal and Faery spirits can accumulate 32 x ML. Later on their are rules concerning the self-conjuration of spirits that can allow mortals to accumulate 32 x ML mana too.

If you’re like me, you were disappointed to see that the magical diagrams in the AD&D DMG were never really given much explanation. FW gives mechanics for the various types of “pentacles” one might draw, for use in defense against sorcery (BMC(2) bonuses) and against conjured beings.  The simplest pentacle (a mere circle) gives just a +1, while a triangle inscribed in the circle gives a +2 and a five or six pointed star inscribed in the circle gives a +3.  Short & sweet.

Another sort of active magic is calling Ethereal beings to the Earthly plane, normally to control, bind, and/or compel them. Any higher or lower power, the spirit of any living or dead being, and elementals can all be summoned; but living or dead things in their earthly form, beings whose body & spirit are united (Faeries and self-conjured mages), and zodiacal forces cannot be summoned.

The mechanics involve first establishing a link (BMC(1) again), then the issue of a command (BMC(3)). Normally a defense (pentacle) is prepared first. The text then mentions some reasons one might conjure a spirit, such as to have it cast a spell, give information, teach skills or spells to the caster, bind them as servants or into magic items (binding them into dead bodies creates undead servants!) and so on. There is also a cautionary tale from actual play about summoning a demon and asking it to create light, which it did by igniting the whole room & destroying the conjurer, as a warning that demons are unreliable. Summoning angels and demons are sins for Christians, as is self-conjuration, which is described next. The types of conjuration described are:

  • Self-conjuration. I’m not an occultist, but I am pretty well read, and this concept is probably the only one in FW that I can point to that does not have an obvious analog in real world beliefs. I think it follows very logically from everything else the system establishes about the Ethereal plane and spirits, but still it is a little jarring. Maybe I just need to do some research. Anyway, self-conjuration is the binding of one’s own spirit to one’s body. It is a serious sin, and very difficult, but it has many advantages: you no longer need to do BMC(1) — links are automatic because you are partly in the Ethereal plane; your spirit cannot be conjured by others (conjuring a person’s spirit can force it to reveal your secrets!); you can vanish for an hour at time into the Ethereal plane; you gain 2 magic levels; and you can accumulate twice as much mana (32 per level). Oh, and there is a chance the operation will cause the character to go temporarily or permanently insane.
  • Conjuring the spirits of living beings. Instead of summoning your own spirit, you might summon another person or creature’s spirit to gain information about the Earthly form, or to bind to yourself (this is how witches gain familiars — the animal’s spirit is bound to the witch).
  • Necromancy, including communing with the spirits of the dead or binding them to bodies as the undead.
  • Elementals. You can summon part of the elementals either for normal divinatory purposes or to use their powers in sorcery (for example summon a fire elemental to throw fireballs)
  • Possession. Demons can also use the same process to possess human bodies.

This illustrates just how awesome the magic system of FW really is. Demonic possession, familiars, necromancy, and more all fit into the theory of the Ethereal plane and commands.

The next section gives more detailed instructions for assigning the “Degree of Difficulty” (DD) for spells (and these will also apply to appeals for miracles in the religion rules).
The general types of spells covered are:

  • curing/disease&death;
  • illusion;
  • protection from magic;
  • absolute commands (which may be directed at living, Ethereal, or undead creatures);
  • elemental matters (instead of conjuring and commanding an elemental, a mage may just work sorcery using the four elements);
  • complex matter (using combinations of the four elements, such as metals and living matter);
  • transmutation (there are no specialist “alchemists” in FW but sorcerers do study alchemy).

There is also a list of 36 “miscellaneous spells,” some of which obviously fall into the above categories, but most of which are less clear-cut and in general all of them are similar to “D&D” spells (Evil eye, Lightning bolt, Weapon/armor enhancements, Stoppage of time, etc.)   These give some details of the effects they produce and the DD for each type of caster (Witches are better at Evil eye, while Cabalists are better at Stopping time, etc., according to the the adjustments for each caster type listed on the table given later in the rules).  In general, Cabalists are the strongest casters–most spells are relatively lower DD for them while the Cunning man/Wise woman is worse, although each has its strengths.
The factors determining DD are what you’d expect (area affected, duration, complexity, and so on, plus of course the astrological correspondences), and I think that in practice you’d also keep a record of the spells your character casts, so that in effect each mage will create their own spell list.

Passive magic
This is chiefly divination (gathering information), and for this type of magic, Intelligence is actually as important as Faith. The overall mana costs are lower too, so beginning mages will probably do more divination than sorcery. Two main kinds of divination are possible. The first kind relies on the system of correspondences more than personal power, and involves sophisticated techniques like astrology and tarot cards. Only High Sorcerers and Cabalists use this kind. This kind uses very little mana but takes a lot of time. The other kind concentrates the mage’s power into some focus to see into the Ethereal plane. The focus might be a crystal ball, a pool of ink, the entrails of an sacrificed creature, etc. Wizards, Witches, and Peasant mages use this kind. This kind of divination uses more mana but is also much faster. Standing in between these two is the Runic (dark ages) sorcerer, who uses divinatory “runic rods” as a focus, but these are also designed to take advantage of correspondences. These runic rods also help in active magic, unlike the other diniatory devices.
In fact, it is also possible to gather information in at least two more ways — dreams/visions and certain religious ceremonies, but those use different mechanics.

Divination uses a modified version of the BMC(1) calculations, where the difficulty/complexity of the question, and the Intelligence of the mage, factor in. This allows the question to be asked, but does not determine the answer. The nature of the question determines how it will be answered. The text encourages questions about future events to be interpreted as regular informational questions, when possible (One example presented is “Will so-and-so give me V.D.?” which should be interpreted as a “detect disease” type of question. No, really; that’s the example.) If the question can’t be re-interpreted, the GM is advised to roll, with 1-60 = yes, 61-100 = no! The GM is reminded the “stars” always have an out should this be wrong, since the future is never certain.
Other questions are answered according to their complexity as described on a chart (the two kinds of divination have different DDs and mana costs for different questions), and zodiacal controllers/diminshers affect this too.

In additon, characters with a Faith of 12+ may have prophetic dreams/visions, and characters with high Intelligence may interpret these dreams and visions. The chances of having a dream can be increased by taking preparations (using the normal methods of mana accumulation) and then spending mana. Interpretations may yield anything from a major secret of the adventure or an NPC to a wild lie, depending on how well the interpreter rolls. It is also mentioned that dreams cost 1-3 mana or 1-2 Endurance points, but there is no explanation as to how to choose. I suspect the Endurance cost is taken if there is not mana available, and one might extrapolate that other mana costs might be payable in Endurance in an emergency.

Next up: the mage “classes” in more detail. Yes, you’d think they’d be described in character creation but that’s how FW rolls. You need to read the whole book to play.

So, we finally see the table that explains the social classes* and backgrounds that may become various mage types, the methods each type uses to accumulate mana and make preparations for sorcery & divination, and the modes of divination they use, and their base bonuses/penalties to use various types of spells. I am too tired to replicate this info in detail but if you’ve been following up to now you know the types:

  • peasant mage aka Cunning Man/Wise Woman;
  • Wizard;
  • Witch;
  • High Sorcerer/Runic Sorcerer;
  • Cabalist.

Back in the day I missed the part about Runic sorcerers being Dark Ages only and High sorcerers being later eras. Oddly, Cabalists are required to be Jewish (not too surprising) or Muslim(!). I take it Muslim Cabalists are really practicing some Islamic esoterica but similar in all respects to Cabalists. Muslim and Jewish are both “bogeys” you might roll on the Bogey table; I think it’s reasonable to allow players to choose those backgrounds too though, if they want.

Anyway any mage may also become a Witch by joining a coven (and damning their souls). Peasant mages may become Wizards, and Wizards may become Sorcerers, if they can get to the required Social Class and Magic level (4th). “Multiclassed” Witches keep the better factors of their two classes, while other changes of class presumably just use the new factors, even if some are inferior.
The magic section concludes with a run down of magical XP. XP is gained by casting spells, magical preparations (=for accumulating mana), resisting spells and counter-magic (BMC(2)), divination, and detecting influences.

Doling out magical XP would require a lot of record keeping.  Like adventuring XP, it is mainly based on keeping track of chances of success and failure, and you get 100-%chance of success (or more simply, XP=chance of failure). XP is also gained by accumulating and spending mana, which again is going to need a lot of record keeping. This is probably on the order of Rolemaster, but still a little complex for my liking.  I’d probably come up with a much simpler method, like GM fiat.

*Earlier I posted that the Social Class was required of the character, but in fact it is the the character’s father’s SC that is required.

Well, believe it or not the combat rules were really what drew my brother & I into this game. Now I think the magic & religion rules are a lot more interesting. Twenty-two posts in and we are finally seeing the end. The religion rules are next, and then the monsters, and we’ll be done!!!

The first section of the religion rules covers Appeals, Intercessions, & Miracles. Clerical magic in FW is basically cast directly by the higher or lower powers. Anyone can make appeals for miracles, but clerics will have better success rates because God (& other powers) have a vested interest in making sure their Church is effective, so they continue to be worshiped and thus accumulate mana. The basic process is an appeal (request) is made, and if the power grants the appeal, either the power directly performs a miracle or it asks a higher-up to do so (intercession). You might appeal to a saint, for example, and the saint may or may not grant the appeal, and if he or she does, they may need to ask an archangel, or the Virgin Mary, or more likely God himself to perform a miracle. This very accurately models the fact that the Virgin Mary is typically prayed to intercede (she is a lot less busy than God, and compassionate, and as Jesus’ mother she has some pull!), as are saints generally in their areas of patronage.

Appeals are calculated by adding up a long list of factors, including the DD of the miracle asked for (as if it were a spell), the appellant’s Divine Grace/Devil’s Favor as appropriate, bonuses for giving proof of serious intent (offerings ranging from a mere thought days of fasting). Some notes:

  • The “Faith” attribute is actually more important for magic than religion. Recall that “Faith” is defined as awareness of the Ethereal world.
  • Successive appeals are a negative factor, as God-bothering apparently gets on His nerves.
  • Areas of control and interest are listed for each power, so you are better off asking St. Sebastian for protection from persecutors, but St. George is more helpful in dealing with Dragons, and so on. Astrology is an influence too (!).

The total of the factors will reach -5 to +25 (which is the biggest range yet) and the roll will result in a success or failure, with or without penalty. The “penalty” is always some piety loss, so it is possible to to have your appeal refused but at no penalty, or to succeed with a penalty (your god thinks less of you for asking but does it anyway) and so on.

On a success, whether or not there is a penalty, the power appealed to will do what was asked, casting a spell or counterspell, giving information, etc.  But if the power appealed to is not really capable of performing the favor asked, it will appeal higher up its hierarchy, possibly all the way up to God or the Devil.  This appeal (an Intercession) has a simpler mechanic, based mainly on the difference in rank of the powers in the hierarchy (an imp has less chance of successfully kicking a request upstream than does Beelzebub!).  There will be an automatic success, or a 25 or 50% chance, and that’s it.

Performing the actual miracle is uses the normal sorcery rules, although being Ethereal, powers obviously don’t need to establish a link, and go right ahead to BMC(2) and (3).  Additional factors and informational requests are given DDs on a chart, ranging all the way up to resurrections.  Lastly the rules for bonuses granted for holy sites, relics, and whatnot are given.  Even “fake” relics can give bonuses, because the power has been venerated through the item, which fits perfectly into the “Unified field theory” of the game.

The next section explains how to determine a character’s Divine Grace/Devil’s Favor.

The next section under religion covers the very important matter of Divine Grace (or for Devil-worshipers, Devil’s Favor).  Players generally do not know their exact status here, and an exact account of one’s state was one of the suggested questions listed under Appeals.  The DG/DF is determined by three things: Religious Level, Religious Rank, and Piety Band.  The first two a player will certainly know; the last is a secret tally known only to the GM, except under certain conditions.

Religious Level obviously is the experience level of the character in the Religious area, and starts at zero unless you creating higher level characters.  Religious rank is the rank of the character in some religious organization, whether it is the Church, a coven, or some religious order (monks, Templars, etc.).  I will only mention that given the awesome gloss of Witches earlier (a pagan cult subverted bythe Devil) I’d hoped for something similar to the Knights Templar but I suppose their official status changed too much for any one interpretation.  In my own campaign I’d make them subverted by Devil-worship and/or Islam around 1300 A.D.

Anyway Christian clerics belong to one of several main organizations or types of organizations: Secular Clergy (i.e., clergy “in the world” like your parish priest all the way up to the Pope); Monastic orders (traditional monks & nuns); Friars (itinerant clergy with no permanent congregations); or Religious Knights (Hospitaliers, Templars, etc.).  The Religious knights are a special case because they would also choose a “Warrior type” and so begin with armor and certain favored weapons.  Religious knights range from rank 1-5, but the other types range up to rank 10 (Pope).  Devil-worshipers belong to Covens which also range up to rank 10 (Anti-pope).  There are rules for promotion within religious hierarchies, and basically you may attempt to be promoted when gaining Religious Levels, but (as you might expect) Social Class plays a big role too.

The third component, Piety Band (PB) is mostly unknown to the player and tracked by the GM.  PB is determined by the total number of Piety points a character has accumulated, and can be a negative number or positive.  Points are lost for committing sins and gained by doing acts of piety or “virtues” that the power approves of.  Because God and the Devil are in direct opposition, Devil worshipers gain Devil’s Favor by having negative piety and Christians try to keep positive piety.  The point total converts to Piety Bands in a fairly straightforward manner, bot each “Band” is increasingly broad, so that 1-10 piety is PB 1, 11-20 is PB2, 30-50 is PB 3, 51-80 is PB 4 etc. (or something like that, my notes are sketchy and the book is not with me just now).  Anyway the higher a PB one attains, the more slow the progress gets, because sins and virtues have variable piety values depending on which PB the character is in.  If you are very, very negative, only the worst sins will matter.  Contrariwise a very high PB character loses more points for a sin than a lower PB character, as God expects more of saints!  Sins and virtues are rated class 1-7 and spelled in in detail for Christians and Devil-worshipers.

There are a few situations when a player will learn his character’s exact PB.  these are at the break points of PB2, PB0, and PB-2.  All clerics are expected to maintain PB2 to be in God’s good graces, and they will actually sin if they perform ceremonies and offices while below PB2 (although the ceremonies and sacraments remain effective, just as theologians held).  At PB0 and again at -2, a character may get visions of hellfire or other serious warnings that they are in danger of damnation.  At PB-2 a character’s spirit is damned to hell.  At PB-3, the Devil himself may come to claim the sinner’s soul.  He might kill the character and drag him to hell or more usually he’ll bind the character to him with spells (Absolute Commands) and force him into a contract.

Piety is also used to determine the fate of a character’s soul after death.  There are calculations to determine if the soul goes to hell, heaven, or how long it will spend in purgatory.   There are also rules for determining if a soul will be promoted to a saint or demon!  Later in the rules there are guidelines for the promotion of spirits to higher ranks within the Ethereal host, so with a little tweaking you could continue a party’s adventures even after a TPK.  I can imagine allowing the spirits to appear before followers, and entreating them to perform masses, ceremonies, or even sacrifices to grant some mana to the spirit!  Accumulate enough mana and you may be eligible for promotion.  There would probably be certain dangers of pride, sin, and even casting out of heaven for those too ambitious within the Heavenly host!

Piety is probably too “core” to FW to do without, although I’ve heard that some GMs don’t try to record the points lost and gained for every action and just assign a number by fiat.  I would consider having any clerics in the party keep accounts of the other characters’ sins and virtues, which could be a pretty fun metagame!  The power of priests to withhold sacraments would make them quite important in any conflict.

Next up, Delegated, routine, & ceremonial clerical powers, and becoming Inspired!

Religion section three deals with all the other benefits and powers that come with worshiping a higher or lower power that don’t require making appeals.*  These are called Delegates, Routine, & Ceremonial Clerical Powers.  They all work automatically for the most part, but a cleric who is not in good standing with his power will lose some piety for doing them, as mentioned earlier under piety.  The effects of these powers range from morale boosts to magic.  They also raise mana for the Power worshiped, although only 25% of the total raised actually transfers to the Power, and the rest being lost (in the Ethereal plane?).

There is an extensive list of Christian ceremonies and sacraments with their game effects: Mass, High Mass, Benedictions, Maledictions, Ordination, Investment, Confession, Final Absolution, Excommunication, Interdiction, Baptism, Marriage, Exorcism, and so on.  Most of these affect piety (granting piety for attending the ceremony or receiving the sacrament); most boost morale; most also grant XP to the cleric and possibly the attendees.  A few also transfer mana to God, give bonuses to rolls for the recipients, and so on.  There is note that exorcism ONLY works on demons, and not on Norse deities, elves, and so on.  I guess that means an exorcism won’t force a spirit out of a dead body, so “turning the undead” will require an Appeal.

The ceremonies of Devil worshipers are mostly reversals/parodies of the Christian ceremonies, using blood rather than holy water and possibly involving sacrifices. We are also reminded that Witches may be a sort of mage/cleric hybrid because most Satanic ceremonies are followed by dances and orgies that build up the participants’ personal mana rather than transfer it to the Devil as the ceremonies do.  There is also a brief description of the Satanic Feast, which is similar to the pagan feast described later but which involves a continuous droning hum or chant which sounds truly frightening.

So most of the ceremonies list a Ceremonial Morale Factor (CMF).  After the ceremony this factor (and some others) are used to generate a number which will be used to roll to determine if there is a morale bonus for participants.  In some cases there may even be a chance for “Inspiration,” which provides a bunch of bonuses and a few penalties to simulate religious fervor.  If you’ve ever read about masses being said before battle in the middle ages you’ll understand why the CMF is so important.

Inspiration grants an increase in piety (to the next higher band), +2 morale, increased stamina, +1 to Physique, Endurance, Bravery, Charisma, and Faith; -1 to Intelligence & Agility; a bonus to Control tests (the berserking roll; Christians are less likely to go berserk, Pagans more likely!); and +3 to Appeals.  This is really potent and lasts until PB drops below 2.  There is also a 5% chance each day for the effects to wear off, but that is absolute, not cumulative, so one might remain inspired for days or weeks at a time.

Inspiration has a small chance of coming after a ceremony, and may also come spontaneously when a pious character: faces an enemy from a different religion’s powers or servants; sees a successful appeal; is rescued by a deity’s intervention, including exorcism.  Those with a very high piety (PB5 or PB-5 for Devil worshipers) may also test for inspiration after any notable event or victory occurs, even if it is not the result of an Appeal.

Lastly, Inspiration may come from an Appeal, and may affect an individual or an entire community.  Such inspiration can come to those not otherwise eligible for inspiration due to low piety, wounds or exhaustion, etc.  I imagine whole congregations of Devil worshipers, or a bunch of Viking berserkers inspired by Odin, terrorizing an area!  These communal inspirations use the same 5% chance of wearing off.

Next time: Ethereal hosts and hierarchies.  Then, the Norse religion and monsters and we are done with the book!

*Although, in the stream of consciousness style that characterizes much of the the book, one last kind of appeal does turn up, but in fairness it is for an effect otherwise normally induced by the ceremonies discussed here.

Ethereal hosts and hierarchies

The Higher and Lower powers are organized into 9 “ranks” denoting their approximate power. At the top of the hierarchies are the Trinity and Satan (Rank 9); at the bottom mere servants (Cherubim and Imps/Hellhounds/Demon Warriors). Saints and demons generally rank in the 5-3 range, although certain archdevils fill out the upper ranks of the Lower powers (the corresponding rank 6-8 in for the Higher powers are angels, archangels, and the Vigin Mary). Rather interestingly, there are rules for promotion within the hierarchies, and also suggestions for how to “personalize” the lower ranks (as lesser saints, cherubim, imps, etc. all have very generic rather than individualized attributes). Coupled with the rules for become a saint or demon after death, I think you could cobble together a campaign where the players start as imps or cherubs, (or just the souls of a TPK’ed party) and have them struggle to rise among the ranks! This may work better in a pagan setting (Norse religion is covered later but has its own hierarchy with the souls of ancestors and heroes in the lowest ranks).

Anyway the Heavenly and Infernal hosts are then listed in detail on a pair of tables that have contributed to some of the game’s infamy. In fairness, these are primarily meant to chart the appropriate powers to Appeal to, and their resistances to appeals, and their ares of interest/favor/disfavor. The powers’ Magic Levels are given to help with calculating their spells’ effectiveness. However they do also have Combat Levels and other physical attributes given (excepting the Trinity who are off the chart in most respects!). Beelzebub would kick the Virgin Mary’s ass in combat, I’m afraid. But the chart is really awesome for detailing the many, many patrons saints of various minutia you’d otherwise need to research, and similar information for the demons is also very useful to those of us without a copy of the Grand Grimoire lying around.

Lastly religious XP is explained. XP is gained by making Appeals, performing or attending religious ceremonies, exercising other clerical powers, resisting temptation, and piety earned.

So the next section deals with the pagan Norse religion in lines that mostly parallel the previous section, although with some changes in the order of presentation. “Norse” religion stands in for all Germanic, Teutonic, and Scandinavian religious traditions, as they were fairly similar. It is too bad the Celtic religion does not get a similar treatment, but the Norse model makes it pretty clear how one might simulate other pantheons and religions, with a little research. (It would also be really fun to see similar sections on Islam, Judaism, and other major religions of the periods covered!)

First, the hierarchy of gods & goddesses is discussed, along with how intercessions work (things are complicated a bit because of blood and marriage ties between various deities), and how promotion within the hierarchy works.

Piety for pagans is always with respect to their own gods, not the Christian ethereal host, but pagans with negative piety attract the Devil’s attention, as he may claim the souls of anyone, of any religion. I did not like this idea much until I remembered a certain scene in Poul Anderson’s The broken sword where the Devil visits a Viking woman who is desperate for revenge, so I guess it would work.

The sins & virtues of Norse paganism are generally different from those of Christianity, with much more focus on heroism and hospitality than self-abasement and charity, as you might expect. The afterlife is handled differently too, as there is no Norse Purgatory and the circumstances of death matter more (in battle, at sea, etc.) so you may go to Valhalla, Niflhelm, etc. as appropriate. Heroes form the lower ranks of the Norse Ethereal host, so in principle you could have fallen heroes advance to become full-fledged gods in time, just as you could work out afterlife adventures for saints and sinners in Christianity.

The Norse ceremonies mostly involve sacrifices and feasts, and I as I noted earlier the mana values of specific animals are lists (ranging from 2 for fowl to 5 for cattle). There are also ceremonies for marriage, baptism (dedication to a specific god or goddess which also adds a component to the recipient’s name), funereal rites (barrow and ship burials), oaths (which are immensely important for the flavor of sagas!), and Seidhr (a sort of divinatory appeal combined with a ceremony). Inspiration may follow appeals, ceremonies, or oaths, and the Norse are more easily inspired spontaneously than are Christians.

Then a run-down of the Ethereal host is given in more detail, with a similar descriptive table to the one for Christianity and demonology.

Lastly, there is the section on monsters, magical beings, and general fauna.

The final section of the FW rules cover monsters, magical beings, and general fauna.  (This is the only section whose authorship I have been able to confirm — Nick Lowe –, although I have not been pursuing the other copyright holders so far, as Nick Lowe has provided so much information.)   About sixty types of creature are detailed, including several specific giants such as Giolla Dacker (and his horse!).  The monsters here have frequently been criticized as ridiculous*, silly**, even racist***.  But all derive from period literature, legends, and heraldry.

The monsters are described pretty briefly, with several general items in every “stat block.” Size ranges from tiny to bloody huge.  Speed is given qualitatively, in comparison to a human.  So “very fast” means “a lot faster than you can run.”  Society is a descriptive term for number appearing, from unique/solitary (1), to lairs/nests (1-6), to flocks/herds (10-50) and swarms (50-200).  Finally source gives the specific literature or tradition the beast appears in, to help the GM determine whether they are suitable for his milieu.  Monsters also get their physical attributes, and some mental attributes listed, as well as combat levels, armor, methods of attack, and magic levels.

No rules specify how much damage a horn or bite attack does, although I’d think one could fairly easily improvise these.  The effects of some poisons are given but you need to read between the lines to determine if there is any saving throw (the chapter on GMing seems to recommend allowing saves when asked).

Finally the book has a very good index, and the fact that pagination in the regular and book club editions are different, I’m again surprised to find that so much effort went into something most game books lack.

And with that, this cover to cover series is over.  I hope to return to FW in the future, of course, but I’m pretty exhausted by it and will concentrate on minis for a while!

In the meantime I just discovered as I write this (August 17) that a similar project has been carried out at a RPG forum, about two years ago! Doh!  I’m off to read that now.

*The Bonnacon, for example.  Which is pretty odd (a cow-like animal firing flaming excrement as a defense).

**Venomous sheep, for example.  But if you read the description, these are seriously creepy.  Their venom drains your strength, and they are said to feed on carrion.  They appear in flocks, so it is not hard to imagine a flock of 50 or so of the bastards slowly sweeping across a plain, into a village, paralyzing, trampling, and finally consuming the inhabitants.  A sheep’s foot in very small and they exert a fairly crushing pressure.

***Specifically the “Black Men” which are explicitly explained as a jet-black giant race, not Moors or Africans, as detractors imagine.

IV. Supplementary material

I finally went back and read through this Dragonsfoot thread, and whoa!  Towards the end there are some amazing links…

My posts are way behind my reading, but as you’ll see one of the things FW does is rely entirely on “historical” folkloric monsters.  Here is a cool online bestiary of such beasties.

David Trimboli, (“Stormcrow” on Dragonsfoot) has a site with a lot of the mechanics like character generation and adventuring rolls broken down for easier use.  He has other gaming things there too.

This brave soul is apparently running FW for reals, and has a ton of handouts and background info on FW for people who are going to play but haven’t waded through the book like I’m trying to do.

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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