As someone who entered the hobby as part of its second generation, I find myself deeply fascinated by that first generation of gamers, my elders in the hobby. I knew and interacted with some of these people as a kid, meeting them in hobby stores or through one of my friends' fathers, who were wargamers. It was from them that I first learned of the legendary APA, Alarums and Excursions, in whose pages appeared many of the writers and ideas that would eventually infuence the hobby profoundly.
A&E is one of the few unbroken connections between the present day and the dawn of the hobby, in part due to its indefatigable publisher, Lee Gold, whose labors have ensured its regular monthly release, with only two exceptions in the entirety of its 34-year existence. Lee graciously consented to answer a few questions about her involvement in the hobby and in A&E, which I reproduce here with my thanks.
1. How did you first become involved in the roleplaying games hobby?
Our friends, Owen & Hilda Hannifen, came down from San Francisco to visit us, with a copy of the Original D&D rules. My husband and I were fascinated, and they lent us a photocopy of the rules, on seeing us write a check to TSR to order our own copy, so we wouldn't have to wait till the rules arrived (in a brown box) from TSR.
2. Alarums and Excursions began in 1975 and now has published over 400 issues. Can you provide some background on A&E's origins?
Alarums and Excursions #403 was the April, 2009 issue. #404 will be the May, 2009 issue. Deadline is typically the 21st of the month, at 5 PM Los Angeles time (so in the summer it's Daylight Savings Time). See here for further details.
Back in 1974 or 1975, a number of us were discussing D&D and other RPGs in APA-L, the weekly APA collated each Thursday night at the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, a science fiction fan club. Bruce Pelz, a LASFSian and APA-Ler, who wasn't a roleplayer, was bored by all this and asked us to start our own APA.
It seemed like a good idea so I did, offering to print contributors' zines for them.
We started with gamers I knew: some in Los Angeles, some like the Hannifens in the San Francisco area, some like former-LA dweller Mark Swanson in the Boston area. And we spread by word of mouth.
In August of 1975, my husband and I went off to Japan for four months when his employer transferred him there, and we returned in mid-December to find that Jack Harness (who I'd asked to edit A&E while I was gone) had only brought out three issues in those four months. On the other hand, he'd gotten more subscribers, a good thing.
I set a firm deadline for January 1976, and got A&E reliably running again. Since then the only time we've missed a month was in 2006 when I knew I had major surgery scheduled, and announced well in advance that we'd be skipping the July 21st deadline.
3. Are there any articles from A&E that have stuck with you after all these years as being ground-breaking or significant? That is, are there any articles you consider classics?
A&E is a collection of zines (each zine being a short amateur magazine, aka "fanzines" or "zine"), not "articles." A zine may include essays, comments on previous issues, poems or songs, a writeup of a gameplaying session, artwork, and just about anything imaginable. I remember zines from Dave Hargrave giving tidbits of the Arduin Grimoires, Steve Perrin's "Perrin Conventions" (which were the start of the system that later grew into Runequest), Ed Simbalist's and Wilf Backhaus's discussion of C&S, John T. Sapienza, Jr.'s discussion of various game systems, and other professional and semi-professional writers. I remember Mark Swanson's "character traits," a way of individuating characters with minor bonuses and minuses. I remember Wes Ives' essay on how to integrate player characters into a major wargamed battle (which later got republished in the C&S Sourcebooks). I remember a number of people (including myself) getting tapped to write games professionally because RPG publishers read their A&Ezines. I remember writing "You Bash the Balrog" (to the tune of "Waltzing Matilda." There have been a lot of wonderful contributions in A&E over the years.
4. In the early days of the hobby, APAs like A&E played a role very similar to that played by the Internet today. Has the rise of online sites, forums, and blogs had any effect, positive or negative, on A&E in recent years?
Probably these sites (and also mailing lists and newsgroups) have affected A&E, but I'm not sure what all the effects are. Probably some effects are positive and some are negative.
I think because A&E only comes out once a month, people take a bit more care writing their zines than they do for an online site, which will let them easily write in to correct or amplify their original statements only a few hours or a day or a week later, instead of having to wait another month.
I think the greatest negative effects on A&E in modern times are the soaring cost of paper and of postage. I introduced the emailed electronic subscription some years back, when the postal service discontinued the Printed Matter rate to the non-US, and have since made it also available to those living in the US. About a third of the subscribers now take A&E electronically, rather than on printed paper. The emailed issue is only $2 total -- or free to anyone who contributed to that issue or the previous issue, but contributors pay $1.75/page contributed.
5. It's sometimes been said that the roleplaying scene on the West Coast was much different than that in the Midwest, where the hobby began. Do you think this is true and, if so, what would you say were the key differences between the scenes?
I've played in LA, San Francisco and Boston, but never in the Midwest, so I can't compare Midwest Style to the styles I know. I do know that A&Eers weren't content with the D&D rules as written. Most of them dropped Vancian magic (use a spell once and lose it) for a spell point system which would let you throw the same spell again and again.
Players typically had one or two PCs each, but never drone followers, so though there might be a formal "party leader" (sometimes a lieutenant in charge of strategy, plus a sergeant in charge of tactics), there wasn't one "party caller" as shown in Original D&D's sample adventure.
We delighted in the flexibility of Original D&D: making up not just our own worlds but our own creatures and character classes, our own weapons and armor and spells. Bards showed up in an early issue of A&E, for instance. So did hoop snakes and larls and many other creatures from myth, legend, science fiction and fantasy.
A&E still is a community with a lot of new ideas -- and discussion of previous months' new ideas. There are currently contributors from across the US, plus England and Ireland. In the past, we've also had contributors from Canada (one of whom still contributes but moved to Maryland), Australia, Scandinavia, Italy and France.
6. Do you still roleplay? If so, what games do you currently enjoy?
I run a roleplaying game once a month, juggling a number of different campaigns. My gaming style is fairly freeform, but sometimes I resort to using my Lands of Adventure rules. I write up the month's adventures in A&E. My husband Barry is one of the players. The players include old friends, plus one old friend's teenaged daughter is also a member of the player group.