Wednesday, December 2, 2009

1972 Gygax Article

Reader Jervis Johnson kindly sent along the following short article by Gary Gygax, published in the October 1972 (No. 127) issue of Wargamer's Newsletter. There's no copyright statement on the issue from which this is taken, but it's assumed to be copyrighted to Donald Featherstone, who began this venerable periodical in 1962.

Here's the text of the article, typos and misspellings included:

FANTASY BATTLES

By

GARY GYGAX

I offer the following details of our fantasy battles:

The rules used are those designed by Jeff Perran and I – CHAINMAIL, Guidon Games, P.O. Box 1123, Evansville, IN 47713, U.S.A., at $2 plus postage. The revised and expanded version should be available by the time this is read. The booklet contains brief information about the scales used for different figure-types, and the expanded edition has things like how fast goblins, orcs and dwarves can tunnel under the walls of a besieged stronghold.

Tolkien purists will not find these rules entirely satisfactory, I believe, for many of the fantastic creatures do not follow his “specifications”, mainly because I believe that other writers were as “authoritative” as he.

Because I have a large force of 40mm Elastolin figures, we use a base 40mm as man-size, but 30mm will do as well. Regular troops have only a few added touches of paint, but hero-types have such things as gilded or enamelled armour, jewels, and carefully painted devices on their shields.

Orcs and elves are 30mm – that is what it says in our book. However, because we have not got around to preparing them, Orcs are 40mm Turks and Elves are bowmen of the same scale.

Trolls and ogres are 54mm. I located some inexpensive plastic Indians in this scale, and a bit of conversion has produced sufficient numbers of black, grey, green and purple creatures of this ilk.

Metal mediaeval figures in 25mm scale can easily be painted up to make goblins and dwarves, while converted Airfix “Robin Hood” men serve as Hobbits.

Giants are made from the 70mm Elastolin figures. At the moment we have only a pale blue fellow with a head of bushy hair (snipped from one of my daughter’s dolls when they weren’t looking), who is brandishing a huge club. He was originally a Viking with a sword and shield, but the shield was stripped off, the sword removed and a puttied matchstick became the bludgeon.
The Balrog has caused considerable problems, and right now we are using a giant sloth from an assortment of plastic prehistoric animals, which (converted) makes a fearsome looking beast, albeit not quite as Tolkien described it.

Nazgul, like the Balrog, are also difficult. Presently we are employing unconverted 40mm Huns on black horses, but we would like to put wings on the steeds and cloak the figures riding them.

There are two dragons in our force of fantasy figures. One I made stegosaurus: First, the head was enlarged with auto body putty, a wire was inserted into the tail and puttied to make it longer – and barbed, the spikes of the tail were clipped off and added as horns to the head end, cardboard bat wings were puttied into place, and finally the entire affair was given many coats of paint, gilding and glitter (as sparkling gems on its belly). The other was made by Don Kaye using a brontosaurus, with two smaller heads added to the long neck, spikes along the back, wings, and so on.

A large stock of plastic wolves, bears, vultures, and the like are used for lycanthropes or whatever other fairly normal looking creatures are called for. Soft plastic “horrors” and insects from the dime store serve as elementals and giant insects.

Perhaps the best part of fantasy wargaming is being able to allow your imagination full rein. Whatever the players desire can be used or done in games. For example, for one match I built a chest of jewels as the object to be obtained to win. However, I did not mention to either team that I had added a pair of “basilisk eyes” (large pin heads dotted appropriately) which immediately turned the first ogre who opened it to stone. The possibilities are boundless.

The way the rules are selling here, it seems a good bat for some model figures firm to start producing a line of properly scaled fantasy figures!

Mr Botham’s observations about the possibilities of Airfix “Astronauts” as Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” (or other future warriors) has also crossed my mind as a fair possibility. In fact, if Mr Botham eventually puts his ideas into a set of rules I can state, as Rules Editor at Guidon Games, that I would like to see them with eventual publication in mind.
It's an intriguing article for a number of reasons, not least because of his comment about other authors being as "authoritative" as Tolkien when it comes to describing fantastical creatures. That ought to add more fuel for the fire of future discussions on that topic.

Thanks for sending this along, Jervis!

23 comments:

  1. It's interesting and somewhat strange to read an article about fantasy wargaming from before fantasy figures existed. It's almost baffling to me to imagine having to scratch-build a dragon miniature, simply because no such figure existed at the time!

    It's also a bit freaky to see Jervis Johnson mentioned, as it's a name I remember well from White Dwarf back in the day!

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  2. Very interesting article! It is very interesting to see the primacy of Tolkien, though, in filling out rosters for both sides of the good vs. evil divide.

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  3. > That ought to add more fuel for the fire of future discussions on that topic.

    Good try, but not biting. :)
    The rules can be used for simulating episodes from Tolkien (q.v. also Panzerfaust #64, etc.). Or they can be used for simulating other battles.
    Similarly you could have played a Tolkien-themed Diplomacy variant if you wished, as was popular at the time...

    > "Perhaps the best part of fantasy wargaming is being able to allow your imagination full rein. Whatever the players desire can be used or done in games."

    Yep; generic in concept, specific in application as desired by the players. Guideline stats for popular contexts provided for use if desired. Yes, you can even have "Eric of Melnibone" on the field of battle if you wish. :p
    To quote the Fantasy Supplement; "...rules which will allow the medieval miniatures wargamer to add a new facet to his hobby, and either refight the epic struggles related by J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, and other fantasy writers; or you can devise your own "world", and conduct fantastic campaugns and conflicts based on it".
    GUWGS 1971, if you wish...

    The article by default should be copyright to EGG unless something strange has happened to (c) legislation since the last time I looked.

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  4. The Balrog is a Nazgul? How did I miss that?

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  5. Thanks for providing the link to Donald Featherstone's Wikipedia bio. I have happy memories of wargaming with his books back in the early to mid 1970s and had assumed that he had died, but am delighted to learn that he is with us still, at the ripe old age of 91.

    This grognard raises a glass to you, Donald.

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  6. > Very interesting article! It is very interesting to see the primacy of Tolkien though, in filling out rosters for both sides of the good vs. evil divide.

    Kinda inevitable, I'd've thought. Would Narnia, for example, have had so wide a familiarity and appeal to the wargamer readership (whom you wish to purchase your rules)?

    aside: Good/law and Evil/Chaos being synonymous at that point but with Lycanthropes such as Beorn not being listed under Law and Elves (invisible or otherwise) technically Neutral and can be diced for to see if they remain Neutral or fight for Chaos. Elemental-conjuring Wizards may not be Neutral. Dragons breath fire but otherwise bear about equal relationship to McCaffrey's as Tolkien's. *jk*
    All Magic Weapons are Lawful "creatures", so I guess aspiring Ringwraiths (and Eric) will have to look elsewhere for a plus three bonus.

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  7. I would DEARLY love to see pictures of these minis, being something of a kitbasher myself.

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  8. Hmmm, Tolkien isn't that prominant, but Gary had to include Nazgul? Instensly iconic Tolkien monsters, that were created by Tolkien's magic rings. So...if you have Nazgul (in whatever setting) does the world have to have a Sauron? If not, then how did they come to be? Jeez, I need a drink.

    OK, OK, I'm a big fan of multiversal settings. But c'mon...

    I'm sure I had that plastic sloth as a kid. To think, just some glued on bat wings and some red paint and I'd have had me a Balrog figure. Insead, at the time, I had to make do with the shitty lion head Balrog from Bakshi's film.

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  9. The thing I'm continually perplexed by is whether the Chainmail Fantasy section was intended as 1:10 or 1:1 scale figures (or possibly what part thereof). I was thinking about this again over the weekend; you get conflicting information in Chainmail.

    Once again I don't see information here resolving that one way or another.

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  10. To me, I think the point was in this statement Gary made:

    "Perhaps the best part of fantasy wargaming is being able to allow your imagination full rein. Whatever the players desire can be used or done in games. xxx The possibilities are boundless."

    It captures the spirit behind the entire exercise - use what is available and what you have. The joy of creation is a reward in itself.

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  11. "The Balrog is a Nazgul? How did I miss that?"

    "Hmmm, Tolkien isn't that prominant, but Gary had to include Nazgul?"

    Hmmm... are we all reading the same article? :P I didn't see either of these statements being made in Gary's text.

    I find it fascinating seeing in this article the early trappings of what would become fantasy role-playing, living side-by-side with the "playing with toys" aspect of miniatures war gaming. Oh, and the "everything's fair game" nature of their games is exactly what I'd have expected. Thanks for posting this, James.

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  12. @Christopher, sorry! I was being a little cheeky at GG's expense. It was out of context, I admit :)

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  13. Ha! I laughed at the part about the "balrog's eyes." This is the same guy that would later design the Tomb of Horrors, right? Already starting your old tricks, Gary.

    ; )

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  14. Is anyone truly surprised? Obviously, he was a big fan of the books if he went out of his way designing mini's .But besides all that: I'm quite happy to learn about Donald Featherstone. The man really deserves some big time award like a Pulitzer or an Oscar for his work and contributions.

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  15. Was it actually White Dwarf/Games Workshop's Jervis Johnson who sent this along? I'd love to read an interview with him about non-GW subjects, especially early experiences of D&D in the UK.

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  16. Excellent article - thanks for sharing that.

    @ Daddy Grognard - Donald Featherstone's books are all being republished in revised editions AND there's a NEW book coming out of unpublished articles! Goggle: John Curry Events

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  17. Jervis Johnson of Bloodbowl fame (and much more), I second the request for an interview with him. I suspect he had a large part in a lot of my early gaming experiences!

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  18. Fascinating stuff.

    Jervis Johnson, if he is, as we assume, the gent from Games Workshop, is truly a class act by the way. Back when the Warhammer ancients rules were getting off the ground, he asked for help finding color text for the various armies in the first armies book. Isent a dozen orso suggestsions, NONE OF WHICH were used as far as I recall, and he still sent me a signed copy of the book when it was published, and also a "Thanks" in the acknowledgments, which I think was WAY beyond the call of duty.

    Motion to see him interviewed here seconded & carries!


    verification word: tronsist. df: To exist only in cyberspace

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  19. >man really deserves some big time award like a Pulitzer or an Oscar for his work and contributions<

    Shit, how about a Nobel Peace Prize? They give those away like candy these days.

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  20. It's also a bit freaky to see Jervis Johnson mentioned, as it's a name I remember well from White Dwarf back in the day!

    Seconded!

    I'd love to read an interview with him about non-GW subjects, especially early experiences of D&D in the UK.

    Seconded...again!

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  21. Very interesting to see that. Don Featherstone is someone I'd like to see interviewed as well as Jervis Johnson.

    So the EGG man used a converted slug as a Balrog - no mention of wings on it either. I think he's misread Tolkien to want all the Nazgul on winged horses. I was a bit struck by just how much conversion gamers did in those days as Military Modelling, Airfix Magazine and others had lots of historical minis conversions based on Airfix figures mainly.

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