Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Relic from the Golden Age: Fantasy Wargaming, By Bruce Galloway

"This book was groundbreaking, revolutionary, and far ahead of the curve for anything else available commercially at the time." --Ralph Mazza, reviewer,

Wait... What?

I've read the retrospective over at Grognardia, and I've seen other reviews of this strange tome. Most don't like it all, a minority, from what I can tell, cheerfully support it.

Like so many others, it seems, I bought Fantasy Wargaming for cheap at a used bookstore. This was over ten years ago, I think, when I was looking for alternatives to the rules bloat of 3e/3.5e. This book certainly is a head-scratcher at first read.

I was going to a lot more research, but Mike Monaco over at Swords & Dorkery has all ready done a thorough job. You'll need to take some time to read it, because it is a long, but enlightening post.

In summary (for those who don't want to read the whole thing just yet):

Apparently, the authors were all gamers in and around Cambridge in the mid-to-late 1970s. Bruce Galloway himself was working on his PhD. The other authors each wrote a chapter in the book leading up the rules. Galloway wrote the chapters on the rules. This is probably why the text somewhat disjointed (and even conflicting at times) when you read it. However, when the book is taken into context, it really sheds light what authors were trying to do. You can find this quote by Mike Lowe, one of the authors, on the link above:

"I'm a a little vague on chronology, but I think Fantasy Wargaming... was the result of Bruce Galloway and his historically-minded gaming friends (none 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 n 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."

You know what? As a medievalist, I can get behind that. Players of these games should be exposed to both the history and the literature that inspired these games in the first place. I concede now that the intentions of Fantasy Wargaming were to do just that. Was it effective? Well, that's another story.

My main critique now is over the presentation of the material. The rules are unclear, hands down. Monaco does give the rules a fair shake, and he clears up a lot of my confusion. Apparently, you have to read the entire rules to understand the ins and outs of character creation. Galloway doesn't, say, introduce the wizard as its own "class" after your roll up stats, and then have a different section describing how spells work. No, its all lumped together. In a way, this makes sense (warriors go next to the combat rules, priests and clerics end up next to the rules on faith and miracles), but you have to read and study the whole rule system to get the big picture on character creation.

There's more to my criticisms against how the rules are presented (such as women characters getting some hefty minuses). But I will not, like so many others, tear apart a rule system created 30+ years ago, of which the author of the rules is dead, before I even started playing RPGs. What's the point? It's not like Fantasy Wargaming can suddenly change into something you'd desire. Just move on.

Still, In recent years, there's been a revival in taking another look at Fantasy Wargaming:

In writing this blog, I had to take another look, too, a deeper examination of the material. Fantasy Wargaming have some great ideas, especially on how magic works. It's just that the rules are confusing at first read, which will turn away may prospective players.

1 comment:

  1. A few months before you wrote this post, I had done a series on the game, myself, which was mainly a read-through of the game, but included elements of review and suggested changes. It's fairly long (eight posts, all told), but you may find it interesting.


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