Fantasy Wargaming news…it’s kind of a big deal

It’s hard to believe that it was over a decade ago that I decided to revisit Fantasy Wargaming. It all began with a search of a bibliographic database (WorldCat) to see if the authors had written anything else: Bruce Quarrie was a familiar name from his books on historical wargaming, but the rest of the authors were more mysterious. The name “Bruce Galloway” turned up on an intriguing array of titles: some histories, some political tracts, even some guidebooks for hikers. I decided to find out if any of the authors were the same as the FW author, and the journey began.

Since then I’ve learned a lot more about the authors and the larger circle of people who were involved with developing the book in various ways, most of whom were very generous with their time and memories, helping me put together a picture of how the book was written. The blog posts became quite numerous as new bits emerged, and I gave the rules a cover-to-cover read. I concatenated the posts into one page, which has seen a regular flow of visits and even been cited in an academic paper on gaming. Someone even asked if I could edit the posts into a short book, and during the COVID shutdown I took up the task in earnest.

I soon discovered that there was more interest in FW than I realized, with many blogs, YouTube channels, and podcasts posting their own revisits and reviews. I also began to find more reviews from the period when it was published, and several other people passed along their finds. The one coauthor of the book who is still with us even found a cache of documents that adds a lot more more information and fills in gaps I thought unrecoverable — letters to and from the main author, notes for a sequel, and more.  The new information I’ve gathered since posting the page has revealed a lot of new information and confirmed or refuted many of the guesses and conjectures I made.

And now the book is here, with a lot of updates, corrections, and additions to what I originally wrote. It might be a book no one reads about a game no one played, but I can honestly and with pride say it will be a contribution to gaming history, covering what I still believe to be a fascinating and singular work in roleplaying game history.

Preparing the book has been a trip. Initially, I was pretty sure that a small academic press would be publishing it, but that press became a casualty of COVID. Nevertheless Heather Ford from that the press went ahead and did an amazing and flattering job of making my manuscript into a gorgeous illustrated book — providing many original illustrations no less. And we found a new home for the book at Carnegie-Mellon University’s ETC Press, a publisher of academic and trade books on entertainment technologies.

The price for the full color hardcover will be commensurate with the markup you see on academic books, partly due to the costs of distribution but also due to the higher quality paper needed for the images to come out clearly. ETC Press is an open access publisher, though, so you can also download the full PDF for free. I’m also looking at options for making another edition that will be more accessible for those using assistive technologies, or for those preferring a traditional e-book. Watch this space.

You’ve read my blog, so why should you buy or at least read the the book?

  • I added a full and as-comprehensive-as-possible literature review with all the reviews, notices and discussions of FW I could find, annotated.
  • I was given access to Bruce Galloway’s personal file of clippings and manuscripts, which answer some questions about the rules and outline the sequel to FW which would have covered the ancient/classical world. Some of that material is reproduced in appendices.
  • Heather Ford’s cool art and graphic design made this into a gorgeous artifact for your RPG research collection. I mean it really looks amazing and could be a coffee table book.
  • Lawrence Heath, who illustrated FW, has allowed me to include some of his artwork from the period, and it’s pretty dang awesome too.

Click here to download the *free* PDF of the book (or buy a hard copy) from ETC Press!

Click here to buy the full color, hardcover book from!

Click here to buy the full cover, hardcover book from 

coming soonish(?): an ebook edition for purchase


Published in: on February 15, 2023 at 12:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The buyer’s guide to Fantasy Wargaming

I’ve posted a lot about my love for Fantasy Wargaming, the (in)famous book that dared to challenge D&D and made it into mall bookstores and the Science Fiction Book Club. The fact that it had such wide distribution means that copies are still pretty plentiful on the used book market, but I’ve noticed that the listings can be rather confusing.

There were three editions of Fantasy Wargaming, each with some interesting features. They vary physically and in content. I’ve included photos of my copies, which you can, as always, click to embiggen.

The UK edition, published by Patrick Stephens Ltd., in 1981, is identifiable by the fact that it has a unique ISBN (international standard book number) — 0850594650. Physically distinctive are the extent (222 pages, 25 cm tall) and the comparatively dark printing of both text and illustrations. The dust jacket also has the most vivid color of any edition.

Cover of the Patrick Stephens (UK) edition

The UK edition

Two editions were produced in the USA by Stein & Day. The US “trade edition” or “first US edition” (I use scare quotes as it is not a named edition) is a bit larger, such that it is about the same size an AD&D book. It also had an ISBN (0812828623) for ease of distribution. The extra height and width meant they could spread the content over slightly fewer pages — xii, 208 pages, 28 cm. The cover boards are printed with the jacket design, and it has the well-known tag “The highest level of all” included on the cover. The US publisher also took the trouble to index it, and introduce a few errors. The text erroneously states that the animal table at the end of the bestiary follows on the overleaf. More importantly the first printing (1982) lacks the second page of the weapons table and instead repeats the armor table; second printing (1984?) corrects this though. Otherwise the content is mostly the same. The publisher did change British spellings to those customary in the US, and made some revisions to the explanation of money conversions which I understand introduces some inconsistency because the editor didn’t understand the references to modern British coinage. From what I can tell, at some point Henry Holt & Co. must have been involved in the distribution, as used booksellers often list them as the publisher.

Cover of the first US (trade) edition

The US trade edition as seen in Waldenbooks, B Dalton, etc.

The “book club edition” also appeared in 1982. It has no ISBN, which is usual for book club editions. It is closer to the size of typical novel, at 300 pages and just 22 cm tall. Like the UK edition it has a dust jacket, and like the trade edition it has an index. There are several internal typos, such as sentences repeated or lines reversed here and there, but as far as I can tell all printings are complete in terms of the tables. The print is noticeably fainter than that of the other editions, and the paper is rather thin. The dust jacket has the title in a box that takes up comparatively more “real estate” on the cover and Baphomet’s horns are covered by it (intentionally, perhaps, to downplay the image’s satanism in a time of Satanic panic?). Many popular magazines carried Sci Fi Book Club ads, and a thumbnail of the cover featured prominently for a while in the two-page spreads next to familiar fantasy, horror, and science fiction novels.

Cover of the Sci Fi Book club edition

The Science Fiction Book Club edition

When FW is offered for sale, the sellers may not be especially careful about which edition is on offer, at least between the US editions. It will be worth your while to ask for the page count or a photo as the speediest identifier. Otherwise note whether a dust jacket is mentioned, which points to the UK or book club edition, and the presence of “Highest level of all” either as part of the title or in the description will tell you it’s a US edition. Note also that booksellers may use the 13-digit ISBN, which technically would not appear on any printing as 13 digits were only adopted in the 21st century. But the US ISBN-13 is 9780812828627 and the UK ISBN-13 is 9780850594652. Most frustratingly, the ISBN may be on listings for the book club edition, perhaps because the seller can’t find an ISBN on it but sees the trade ISBN in some other source. (Here’s where I could write more about the dismal practices of used booksellers but that’s depressing.)

Prices vary widely. Right now the US editions can be had for under $10 but you can pay much more if you want. The UK edition is scarcer, at least in the US, but can be had for under $30 at the time of this writing. [These prices are based on a quick search at Bookfinder, an aggregator of Amazon, eBay, and various larger used book dealers. Depending on how saturated the market is, these prices can easily double or triple, at least temporarily.]

In my opinion the trade edition is nice to have as it uses larger print and some tables are more readable, but the UK edition has the most careful layout of the three.

Published in: on October 25, 2022 at 6:00 pm  Comments (3)  

Fantasy Wargaming : the audiobook

This is some very old news, but I’ve just noticed a DAISY version of the venerable early roleplaying game Fantasy Wargaming available for borrowing from the Internet Archive! DAISY, for those unfamiliar with it, is a “talking book” format developed for people with disabilities that prevent them from using printed books, such as blindness, dyslexia, and so forth. So really a DAISY book is much more than an audiobook (which would be a recording reading of a book). The DAISY format allows much more sophisticated manipulation of the text, both as audio (changing reading speeds, using searches or indexes, and so forth) as well as including image files for low-vision users needing larger displays. you will need to create an account to “borrow” it from the Internet Archive. I have not actually tested the DAISY file, and it is certainly easier for someone who can read a standard format book to obtain a copy (going for as little $5 on Amazon last I checked). But it’s pretty cool that someone took the time to make this book accessible to folks with disabilities.

Published in: on January 16, 2019 at 3:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Venomous sheep (updated)

In the first battle three hundred of the men of Lochlann were killed, but in the next battle Eolgarg Mor did not fight fair, for he let some venomous sheep out of a tent, and these attacked the men of Ulster and killed nine hundred of them.
So vast was the slaughter made by these sheep and so great the terror they caused, that no one could stand before them, but by great good luck there was a wood at hand, and the men of Ulster, warriors and princes and charioteers, were forced to climb up the trees, and they roosted among the branches like great birds, while the venomous sheep ranged below bleating terribly and tearing up the ground.
Fiachna Finn was also sitting in a tree, very high up, and he was disconsolate.
“We are disgraced!” said he.
“It is very lucky,” said the man in the branch below, “that a sheep cannot climb a tree.”
“We are disgraced for ever,” said the King of Ulster.
“If those sheep learn how to climb, we are undone surely,” said the man below.
“I will go down and fight the sheep,” said Fiachna. But the others would not let the king go.
“It is not right,” they said, “that you should fight sheep.”
“Some one must fight them,” said Fiachna Finn, “but no more of my men shall die until I fight myself; for if I am fated to die, I will die and I cannot escape it, and if it is the sheep’s fate to die, then die they will; for there is no man can avoid destiny, and there is no sheep can dodge it either.”
“Praise be to god!” said the warrior that was higher up.
“Amen.” said the man who was higher than he, and the rest of the warriors wished good luck to the king.
He started then to climb down the tree with a heavy heart, but while he hung from the last branch and was about to let go, he noticed a tall warrior walking towards him. The king pulled himself up on the branch again and sat dangle-legged on it to see what the warrior would do.
The stranger was a very tall man, dressed in a green cloak with a silver brooch at the shoulder. He had a golden band about his hair and golden sandals on his feet, and he was laughing heartily at the plight of the men of Ireland.
–from Mongan’s frenzy, an Irish legend
full text here:
If that’s not awesome, dunno what is.  And yet everyone makes fun of the “venomous sheep” entry in the bestiary of Fantasy Wargaming by Bruce Galloway.
In my Telengard game, the players rescued a halfling town besieged by ghouls and what they thought might be venomous sheep (but were just variant spidergoats).
While the venomous sheep in “Morgan’s frenzy” sound a bit like the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, I think they should actually be bit more subtle.  Not a secret weapon to unleash on the battlefield, but creeping menace that might destroy a village or two before anyone realizes what is happening.
So while my spidergoats were venomous in the sense that they bite you (causing a deep sleep that lets them consume you without waking up), venomous sheep would actually be toxic rather than venomous — they don’t have a venomous bite, but actually release a sleep-inducing gas.  Unlike most monsters they don’t eat their victims either.  They just trample the unconscious bodies of their victims as the herd grazes around them.  Although sheep are not all that big, they have a very small footprint and the pressure their feet exert is rather huge.  My brother, a civil engineer, once mentioned that in olden times, you’d herd a flock of sheep back and forth across an area where you wanted the soil compressed (say, to build a road) and those funny-looking knobby steamroller things you see on construction sites are called sheep’s foot rollers, and used to compress the soil.
So anyone coming within a certain range, or downwind of venomous sheep will need to make a saving throw or pass out.  The murderous flock will then very slowly trample the victim to death, perhaps dealing d6 or d8 damage per turn, representing multiple stomps as sheep pass over and walk on them.  (I wouldn’t make the exact range known until a character comes close, and I’d absolutely have them prefer windy pastures with variable wind direction.)
Published in: on June 30, 2013 at 8:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The magic goes away and The magic may return

The magic goes away, by Larry Niven, was a short, fun read.  I’d read Ringworld a year or two ago and liked Niven’s style, which is one selling point.  I also learned that Bruce Galloway, primary author of the brilliantly demented game Fantasy Wargaming was inspired by this novel when he developed the magic system for that game. He adopted Niven’s use of the Polynesian term ‘mana,’ and the basic idea that mana is a limited resource, but not the central conceit of the novel — that the world’s mana is being depleted by vain and selfish wizards.

So, yes, The magic goes away is sort of a satire or allegory of the 1970s energy crisis, as well as a loving parody of sword & sorcery novels, but it does have some fairly serious undercurrents.  The story is a running commentary on man’s shortsightedness, and there is also a straight-faced critique of religion.  But most importantly, it is entertaining, and presents a plausible ancient world, not quite our own but not so alien either.  Niven basically assumes all the old myths and legends are true, it is just that the loss of mana has caused magical creatures to die off, lose their fantastic qualities, or simply disappear (“go mythical”).  The main characters are a trio of wizards and a remorseful swordsman, and while they aren’t terribly deep, neither are they cardboard cutouts.

There is an afterword, of sorts, written by Sandra Miesel, that traces some of Niven’s influences and attempts to categorize fantasy novels into several broad categories: high fantasy (Eddison, Tolkien, Morris, & Le Guin); eldritch horror (HPL, CAS, Derleth); sword and sorcery (Howard); and logical fantasy. Niven and de Camp & Pratt are considered the exemplars of logical fantasy or “rivets and sorcery”.  Miesel describes this genre as taking a playful attitude toward the fantastic, treating marvels matter-of-factly and says such writers generally treat their fantasies as intellectual games. (Avram Davidson’s The mirror and the phoenix must fall in this category too, as would Lester Del Rey’s The sky is falling.)  So as an attempt to categorize fantasy using a new label, this is an interesting essay.

I should also mention the illustrations.  This novella is stretched to short novel size by the addition of some really cool pen and ink drawings by Esteban Maroto that do a great job bringing the characters and events to life.  I understand a graphic novel was also made of this story and that makes perfect sense.  Maroto has become a fairly well-known comics artist.

Some of the art is realistic…

Some of it is psychedelic…

Some of it is pretty badass

The only fuck up in the package is the Boris Vallejo cover.  I kind of have an axe to grind with Boris anyway because long ago, as teenager, I asked for a Frank Frazetta art book one birthday, only I couldn’t remember his exact name … I said “Boris Frazetta,” confounding the two… I ended up with a Boris Vallejo art book, which was OK but you quickly notice that Boris uses the same models over and over again, and makes no effort to conceal that he is the hero of almost every painting, and he also tends to use the same women in every damn painting.  It’s a little thing that doesn’t bother you when you see his works in isolation, but put them all into a book and ugh. Also, now that I have read a number of the books he painted covers for, I notice that he must have been barely familiar with the books themselves; whether he holds them in contempt or just isn’t a reader, he can’t be bothered to get any details remotely right.

Take this cover, which presumably is depicting two of the characters — Orolandes, a Greek mercenary, and Mirandee, a sorceress.  Orolandes carries exactly two weapons over the course of the story — a broken Greek sword and another straight sword — he chooses the straight sword over a similar curved one because it will fit in his old scabbard. Not a scimitar. And what’s with the slacks and Viking boots? Mirandee’s most distinctive attribute, remarked on repeatedly in the book, is her hair, which varies from pure white to black with a prominent white streak (it gets whiter in low-mana areas). It’s a neat painting, but it has basically nothing to do with the story it was commissioned for, apart from having a man with a sword and hot chick.  You could use that to illustrate, I don’t know, 50 million other fantasy novels.

Anyway, there is a ‘sequel’ of sorts; The magic may return, which includes an earlier story by Niven, and several other stories, by a variety of S&S writers, all also set in the same world.  Niven’s  story “Not long before the end” is pretty good.  It is a prequel to The magic goes away, and features one of the characters from that book.  Fred Saberhagen’s “Earthshade” is just OK. It kind of reinforces the themes from the first book but seems unnecessary.  “Manaspill” by Dean Ing (who I’m not familiar with) was pretty good, and a nice example of Bronze Age fantasy.  “…But fear itself” by Steven Barnes (a frequent collaborator with Niven) was very good.  It moves the setting to a folkloric Africa.  Apparently he’s recently written a couple of books in a series called “Ibandi,” which I am guessing expands on this story, as it features the same tribe called the Ibandi.  The last story, “Strength,” by Poul Anderson and Mildred Downey Broxon (I’m not familiar with Broxon either), was my favorite.  It depicts a town that relied on magic for almost everything and a man who practically has to force them learn to survive.

The second book is also illustrated by a very different artist I’m on the fence about, Alicia Austin.  A lot of her characters look like clones, especially in the first couple of stories, but the style is very clean, and sort of reminiscent of early 20th century fairy-tale illustrations — dream-like and gentle, even when they depict violent scenes.  Click her name above to see some of her art — I couldn’t find any samples of her work from this book.  It’s funny that you don’t see a lot of books illustrated like this — now that graphic novels are so popular, I would think there would be more interest in illustrated adult fiction.

Published in: on May 4, 2012 at 4:00 pm  Comments (5)  
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Bogeys — finish my table

One of the really odd but somehow cool things Fantasy Wargaming had in the character generation process was ‘bogeys’ — a chart of characteristics that helped individualize characters with personality traits, advantages, and quirks.  The table was constructed so that when you roll a percentile, a 01-32 was nothing, and all the remaining odd numbers were bad traits/stigmas/disadvantages, and all the even numbers were beneficial/advantageous traits.

The problem with the original bogey table in my opinion was that there were an inordinate number of sexual traits — you might roll bisexual, homosexual, fetishes, etc.  I guess I’d just rather leave sex out of the game, or at least not encourage a player to make their character’s sexual preferences a defining trait for roleplaying.  So I mostly took them out.  There are also bogeys like heretic/atheist/Jewish/Muslim … which I can understand being a major thing in a medieval game but for fantasy, I’d rather avoid that kind of stuff too.

So my bogey table made a lot of changes, and I took GURPS’ advantages and disadvantages for more inspiration, and came up with this chart.

I think in hindsight, there are way too many “choice” results, and I should either use two d30 tables, or revert 1-32 to “Nothing”s.  Or add 30 more results.  That seems like the kind of thing that would make a good crowdsource/Gygaxian democracy project.  So hey — if you can think of some more traits that would fall in line with these, drop ’em in the comments. Generally speaking, if there is any kind of mechanical effect, they should be a plus or minus one to certain rolls, nothing too major. I just copied the table from my document, which used two columns, so all the odd are first and then the evens.  I’ll fix it in the final version if I can get some more entries.  you’ll notice hald-elf and half-orc are bogeys, as I am using race-as-class and assume that half-humans just use human classes.

01-32: even, player’s choice; odd, DM’s choice

33. Ugliness, -1 Cha

35. One eye/one hand/no nose etc.

37. Poor sight. Can’t read or -1 to hit with missiles

39. Hard of hearing

41. Stammer

43. Limp, base move 25′ (15′ if dwarf)

45. Asthma/Allergy, -1 Con

47. Belligerent

49. Gullible, -1 Int

51. Insomnia

53. Hypochondria

55. Alcoholism/Addiction

57. Gluttony

59. Compulsive gambler, can’t refuse a bet

61. Spendthrift

63. Miserly

65. Depression

67. Paranoia

69. Distrustful

71. Kleptomania

73. Absent-minded, -1 Wis

75. Phobia (pick one)

77. Half-orc, -1 Cha

79. Hunchback, -1 Str

81. Superstition (pick one)

83. Sense of duty

85. Vow

87. Overconfidence

89. Fanatic

91. Cowardice

93. Overweight

95. Color blind

97. Albinism

99. Dwarfism/Giantism


34. Beautiful. +1 Cha

36. Presence of mind, +1 save vs. fear

38. Critical thinker, +1 Int

40. Gift of sleep, can sleep anywhere, +1 Con

42. Iron stomach, +1 save vs. poison

44. High pain threshold, +1 hp/HD

46. High alcohol tolerance

48. Keen eyesight, +1 to hit with missiles

50. Keen hearing

52. Keen smell

54. Animal empathy

56. Green thumb

58. Born swimmer (x 1.5 rate)

60. Born climber (x 1.5 rate)

62. Sense of location

64. Empathy

66. Good luck (reroll any die once/session)

68. Gift of tongues, +2 starting languages

70. Half-elf, +1 Cha

72. Hot blooded, -1/die damage from cold

74. Ambidextrous

76. Common sense (one Mulligan/session)

78. Artistic talent (choose 2 arts)

80. Double-jointed

82. Tremendous lung capacity

84. Honest face (people believe you)

86. Mechanical genius

88. Graceful, +1 Dex

90. Strong willed, +1 to Will saves

92. Alert, +1 Wis

94. Barrel chested, +1 Str

96. Lightning reflexes, +1 to Reflexes saves

98. Inconspicuous, +2 to stealth checks

00. Visions (1 in 6 chance of prophetic dreams)



Published in: on January 13, 2012 at 9:00 am  Comments (5)  
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Telengard 2.0

Last night we played a FATE-based game (A Fistful of FATE, I believe it was called; I missed part of the beginning as I had some parenting to do).  It was pretty good, once we got accustomed to it.  The pre-generated characters were interesting, but I chose very poorly: an assassin whose attack was really only usable on living foes (all the foes were undead) and who had next to nothing for equipment (a short sword, bracers, & a backpack with pen, paper, and chalk).  So, there were several situations where I really didn’t have a lot to contribute to the adventure.  I think we all had fun though. 

Right before that, I had the group ‘roll up’ their PCs for Telengard 2.0, which will run on a simplified C&C, basically eliminating “primes” and changing the saving throws to the three ones in 3e, which will be based not on attributes but level.   Also demihumans are classes.  So really a B/X-C&C hybrid.  They chose a Bard, Ranger, Cleric, Rogue, Fighter, and I think a Dwarf (Tom was going back and forth on that or a Wizard).   I had them use the “Iron Heroes” stat arrays rather than rolling, and max HP at level one, since there are some crybabies players who like to start out more heroic.  Then they got to roll on the Bogey chart, lifted from Fantasy Wargaming but minus a lot of the sexual fetishes and with a number of GURPS advantages and disadvantages added. I’ll post that later. Some “Bogeys” had mechanical effects, and some are just for role-playing.  I think I put in too many “DM’s choice” and “Player’s choice” results…either should have had them pick, or made no choices. Oh well.   I gave a three sentence or so explanation of the setting (I was kind of scattered) but said I’d send out some more background by email.

Since I wrote up this long-ass email anyway, I might as well put it on the blog too for reference.  I sent this to the players to give them some frame reference of what the ‘known adventure areas’ are in the setting.  There are some in-jokes, mainly garbling the old PC’s names, because it’s funny, and to maybe add an unwritten goal of achieving lasting fame…the last group just kept having their just glory denied them.

email follows … I edited out some types etc.

Most of you played in the first  Telengard campaign, but Chad and Aaron did not, so for their benefit here’s a very brief outline, before moving on to the situation as the new campaign begins (everyone else can skip the next paragraph if you want):

 There was a small, bustling city called Skara Brae at the foot of a mountain range, the nearest and tallest mountain being called Mt. Telengard. Mt. Telengard was the site of numerous ancient mining operations. The culture is similar to the Vikings, but with later medieval technology and a medieval-style church — The Norse Catholic Church (Imagine Odin = the Father, Thor = the Son, & Yggdrasil the World Tree = the Holy Spirit, with the other Norse gods as saints, and giants, trolls, etc. as devils). Several hundred years ago, humans arrived and established Skara Brae, and about that time the dwarves disappeared, possibly due to some sort of conflict between the humans and dwarves. Some time later the mining operations were reopened, and at the time the last campaign began, a mine intersected with a some ancient underground passages — in fact an underworld filled with monsters and magic, a dungeon which was also called Telengard. A band of adventurers (the party) explored part of Telengard, and some of the other old mines and tombs dug into Mt. Telengard. They explored two and a half levels of Telengard, two other mine complexes on the mountain (the Ancient Copper Mine and the Haunted Mine), part of the Ancient Crypts, and also a cavern lair that erupted from the face of Mt. Telengard overnight. There was also a vast open pit mine on the side of the mountain, and the party explored part of that. They had a few adventures in the city and surrounding countryside as well, slaying ogres that preyed on a halfling village, clearing a tavern’s basement of a rat-cult, exploring a sunken pond, looting the Alabaster Tower that appears only during certain phases of the moon, entering and destroying a vast demon (no, really), excavating some dwarven ruins beneath the city, and finally getting involved in defending the city from an invasion of pirates and humanoids. The last adventure involved saving a gnomish community from a family of fire giants. Along the way a number of PCs and hirelings died, some being raised, and one being reincarnated as a hobgoblin, who became an NPC. I ran out of steam and put the game campaign “on hiatus” with a lot of loose threads.

So, picking up the campaign, I decided to move forward about 500 years. Skara Brae has fallen to invaders (the Vulking Empire* to the west), but these invaders eventually left when the Vulking Empire collapsed. All that remains of the Vulkings is their religion: the region has adopted the Lords of Light as their gods. The Lords of Light are a pantheon of a dozen or score of deities, each of whom assumes various names, so that Thor and Baldur from the Norse Church are accepted as Lords of Light, smoothing over the transition. Skara Brae has fallen into ruin and was mostly abandoned, as a Vulking city was built on the site of the old Porttown to the south. Puddington, the halfling village, survived the years of chaos by fortifying their village and establishing a disciplined militia under the reforms of “Quincy”. Gnomestead, the gnomish village, has dwindled to a few huts in the woods. The old heroes of Skara Brae are all but forgotten. They are said to have disappeared on a flying ship, pursuing a vampire called Swindle or Swingo. All that remains of their legacy are some statues in Skara Brae’s ruined plaza. The locals still hope that “The battle leader Stonefoot, and his companions Maxim, Little Cam, Orroz, Quincy, Charmin, and their captain, Mr. Growley” will return some day in Skara Barae’s hour of need.

A number of towers have appeared on the landscape — some overnight — dark and ominous but silent and impenetrable. The legendary Alabaster Tower, absent for hundred of years, has reappeared on the shore, stained green and draped with seaweed. Skara Brae has a few diehard holdouts living in it, but much of the old city has been overrun with goblins, morlocks, serpentfolk, and other undesirables, and is walled off. The once proud Adventurer’s Guild was bought out long ago by the Hireling’s Guild, which in turn was dissolved when the dungeon-looting industry fell into recession. The old dungeons of Telengard have not been entered for many years, and most people believe they are empty, trap-laden tombs.

As if the appearance of the towers were not portentous enough, lately a series of comets or shooting stars were observed over Mt. Telengard, and the sages say this can mean nothing good. But lo! A band of promising young scalawags has gathered at the Goodly Mead Inn, and perhaps they will turn the tides of chaos and ruin?

[then I closed with an oft-cited passage from Perdido Street Station:]

“There were three of them. They were immediately and absolutely recognizable as adventurers; rogues who wandered the Ragamoll and the Cymek and Fellid and probably the whole of Bas-Lag. They were hardy and dangerous, lawless, stripped of allegiance or morality, living off their wits, stealing and killing, hiring themselves out to whoever and whatever came. They were inspired by dubious virtues. A few performed useful services: research, cartography, and the like. Most were nothing but tomb raiders. They were scum who died violent deaths, hanging on to a certain cachet among the impressionable through their undeniable bravery and their occasionally impressive exploits.”–China Mieville, Perdido Street Station




*The Vulkings were on the map in the last campaign, but never came into play.  Completely ripped off from The well of the unicorn.

Published in: on January 12, 2012 at 2:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Microlite-FW musings

I’ve pretty much given up on the idea of cobbling together a better organized version of FW. I love the book, and have found the investigation really fascinating (not least because the two gentlemen involved in the game’s creation who I have been able contact have relayed such interesting, funny, and human stories). But the fact is that the game is much more complex than I really would want to run, and more importantly I am not altogether enthusiastic about running a more “logical” game. I want to run a dungeon crawl, more in the tradition of D&D (a tradition that FW mostly rejects).

Still, there are some really great ideas in FW, and they seem worth porting to a house-ruled D&D type game. My brother has been pushing Microlite20 a bit and although I was initially turned off by it, I suddenly see some interesting possibilities. Microlite’s great strength is that it has shed many of the worst aspects of 3/3.5 edition D&D and is fairly malleable. So how about adapting Microlite20 to incorporate some of the better elements of FW?

The standard Microlite spell-casting system, where your Hit Points serve as spell points, would work out to be reasonably close to the mana system, but you could just as well create a “Mana” pool instead. I could also eliminate divine spells and just cook up Appeal/divine intervention rules, which could be a roll of, say, (Religious Level + CHA) vs some target number based on the level of the spell effectively being cast.  Maybe add Piety points as well which are burned up in appeals and turning.

Microlite seems to encourage players to advocate for when they think an attribute should be added to their skill checks (I may be reading that into it; maybe the intent is for GMs to always decide). I would similarly require players to advocate for the bonuses they believe thy are entitled to on spell casting and appeal rolls (which would inject the FW flavor of correspondences and areas of favor but keep it simple).

For skills, the basic five skills of Microlite20 (+ Expert) are Physical, Knowledge, Communication, Survival, and Subterfuge. These would be based on the character’s background (Social Class score and social background –urban, rural, warrior, or clergy). I’d envision these setting the limits on which skills the character can spend an initial 3 or so points improving. Clergy could start with the option to improve Knowledge and Communication; warriors with Physical; rural dwellers might get to add to Survival; lower Social Classes that qualify to be Thieves in FW get Subterfuge, etc.).

Which reminds me — the three attributes in stanard Microlite seem too limited. I’d probably throw them all back in, and adjust the system so Endurance sets base HP, Faith is used for magic and religious rolls, and so on. Also, adding the “vice” stats would give a basis for rolling versus temptation, which is an important part of FW‘s flavor. An unguarded purse may be a DC 10 or 12 temptation (roll under with d20 + Greed adjustment + Bravery adjustment?). Maybe berserking is a DC 15 Anger roll (d20 + Bravery bonus – Intelligence bonus?). I suppose I’d have to work out a way to make all rolls over or under though, which should be easy enough.

I’d probably keep the Zodiac and gender modifiers, but give female PCs a bonus of 2 levels or so. Likewise if I allowed non-humans, all humans would have to get spotted a couple of extra levels to counterbalance the fairies’ 2 magic levels from self-conjuration.

This all seems workable.
Of course if I’m dropping the SRD spells, classes, races, and abilities, maybe I don’t need to stick in the OGL either? I guess it could stay in just to be safe.

Published in: on September 20, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (3)  
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Fantasy Wargaming…a brief history

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

1974-1977: 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), and Paul Sturman (another gamer). Each is assigned a topic in the book and they write an introductory essay and a section of rules covering the material. Galloway edited and revised the whole to some extent. This partly explains the disjointedness of the rules. Additional playtesting is done but not as part of an ongoing campaign.

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

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

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

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

1984: Bruce Galloway dies.

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

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

2004: Bruce Quarrie dies.

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

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

FW was not reviewed in White Dwarf or The Dragon, as far as I can tell. (FW is cited in Dragon #65, however, on p. 59, in an article on legal systems in fantasy worlds by Ed Greenwood.)  Other smaller magazines reviewed it and generally did not rate it well. For the interested, there is a review of the game at Board Game Geek (very negative and uniformed, IMO) and a summary of reviews at (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 have found a copy of Adventurer #2 and will eventually examine & discuss the review.>

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

Still more on Leigh Cliffs, FW, and such

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nick has one hopeful bit of news, though:

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

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

**Yeah, pun intended.  Sorry.

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