Author Archives: Richard Farr

About Richard Farr

Senior Lecturer at a UK university, with interests in supply chain management, logistics simulation and the sustainable supply chain, plus aerospace and mechatronic products, and concurrent enterprising.

If you go down to the woods tonight…

If you like reading old blog entries, you might recall that I described our sales trip to Exeter to promote Faerie Wood, when I ran into an old git who claimed that our faerie-themed roleplaying game was immoral because it involved magic, and would lure people into devil worship.

Just keep that in mind while I tell you about another game project that Garry and I worked upon.

The Call of Cthulhu.
In the woods.
At night.
Gulp.

This wasn’t a live roleplay: nobody would be required to wield foam weapons or throw tennis balls as “spells”. None of that frantic activity… we were simply going to use the existing landscape of Petts Wood at a scale of 1:1. Dice would be “rolled” courtesy of a box with a clear plastic lid, to be shaken up and then inspected. Garry would be the Game Master/narrator, and I would keep track of the stats on the various character sheets. Garry had also procured a sound effects tape and portable speakers, to add atmosphere.

There were to be no counters or figures; each player would represent their location simply by being there, while the two of us would stand in for whatever NPCs might be encountered.

The players would be given one paraffin lantern and one torch between them, and they would find ‘clues’ or suffer mishaps as the adventure led them along the forest paths. They would be asked to wear drab clothing, preferably resembling the inter-war period, but above all: wellington boots!

I knew the woods well, and took Garry to see various locations that I thought were exciting, proposing some ideas and listening to others. We planned a series of encounters, and clues… Garry said he had a book on demonology that looked suitably horrific, and would make a good piece of ‘evidence’ to plant in a half-ruined shed. If I remember rightly, we were thinking in terms of a cult that had kidnapped the sister of one of the players, and were intending to sacrifice her as part of a summoning ritual.

Scary stuff.

Mark wanted no part of it. If you’ve ever seen ‘Mr. T’ refusing to board an aeroplane, that’s pretty much the level of approval we got from him.

No way, sucka.

And of course, Mark was right. It’s one thing to explore the woods by day, and imagine what they’ll be like by night… quite another to actually experience them.

The grand finale that I had in mind for our Cthulhu game involved the players discovering that the cultists have taken their drugged victim into a partially flooded tunnel, and set up a mass of candles and so on, preparatory to killing her. Surprisingly, the otherwise wholesome Petts Wood provides the perfect venue for such a thing, in the form of a broad, shallow stream that runs through a brick-built culvert, right underneath a major railway line.

Hence the requirement that all players who took part in the game brought wellies: not merely to cope with any mud, but so that they could participate in the final chase, right into the belly of the Beast.

Call a “time freeze” where players must stay still and close their eyes, while we go on ahead to set up the scene, perhaps lighting the candles and playing the spooky soundtrack, then tell the players that the person they’ve gone to rescue has almost bled out and a demon is taking shape inside the tunnel. Take up positions as crazed cultists determined not to allow their ceremony to be interrupted… and hope for an express train to thunder by overhead at the right moment to shake everything up. Enjoy the bowel-loosening terror of the moment together: not so much “hatchling dragon” as Hatching Dagon.

Right?

Well, we never did it. As games go, this was to be one of our unfinished symphonies. A general reluctance among players was one reason; another was our own experience in those woods. We stayed too long at the tunnel, and it was completely dark by the time we began to retrace our steps. The tiny flashlight I had brought along did very little to light our way. It showed trees and roots and the like, but did nothing to give any sense of direction. I had reasoned that an electric torch from the 1920s shouldn’t be all that great, and I didn’t want the players equipped with a powerful searchlight. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but we could have wandered in circles until the moon came up, if it hadn’t been for an obliging owl that kept hooting, providing a point of reference.

Eventually we found our way back to civilisation, and I’m not sure that either of us entirely regret that we didn’t try it again, with the scary soundtrack. Thus, the good folk of Chiselhurst were saved from the demon, who cancelled his “one night only” appearance, and we turned our attention to more wholesome forms of role-playing. Within a year or two, Faerie Wood was born.

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The Faerie Wood Manifesto

In a recent article I reproduced Garry’s first article about Faerie Wood, as published in 1991.

One thing that we need to remember, when we look back upon the days when Faerie Wood was taking shape is that it didn’t exist in isolation. Faerie Wood was a reaction to something. Perhaps a lot of our claims about the game were highly partisan, although not in the sense of crudely marketing our own game – remember, at the time of Garry’s first article we wouldn’t have anything to sell for something like two years – yet already in that first magazine article, Garry is setting out his stall; marking his territory. What we had there was a Faerie Wood manifesto.

And why might we have felt that the gamer community was going to need a manifesto, at that point in the early 1990s? Basically, because gaming had gone in a bad direction; wargaming and roleplaying alike. Let me use a couple of examples.

In the world of wargaming, Warhammer had been a lovely little game in its 2nd edition. It came in one bookshelf-sized box; and there was a supplementary book (just one) providing stats and army lists for every race. Included in the basic set were rules to allow players to create custom stats for any other creatures you might wish to model, and (how’s this for an example of how nice Games Workshop once were, before the greed took hold?) it even included card figures to cut out, suggesting that you glue them onto coins or washers to form the armies, if you didn’t have enough figures. Then the third edition appeared; an expensive, glossy hardback book stuffed with adverts for Games Workshop stuff… and some unpopular rules that basically existed to flog gear. Give an expensive model powerful stats and make it ‘cheap’ in terms of the points it costs in an army list… and rake in the cash. A lot of present-day online computer games are criticised for a ‘pay-to-win’ business model where the keen player must pay to acquire extra items or abilities, but Games Workshop has been doing pay-to-win for a quarter of a century.

In roleplaying, the system we cut our teeth on was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. In a sense, it’s still the definitive roleplaying game. Unfortunately, when we were in our late teens there was a reinvention in the form of the ‘2nd Edition’, published in 1989. It was simultaneously more complex in terms of game mechanics, and more simplistic in moral terms. There was an emphasis on always playing the hero (e.g. no more half-orc PCs, and all mentions of demonology expunged) but worst of all, a profusion of books. Like Games Workshop, TSR were following a good marketing strategy: find a new, younger audience and produce a wide range of products, so there’s plenty for people to keep on buying. Under the old system, only a Dungeon Master would own multiple books; as a mere player you simply had to get yourself a Player’s Handbook and you were done. With the 2nd Edition came multiple books detailing complex skills and abilities that only a teen nerd or a ‘rules lawyer’ could love.

What had been a game requiring improvised characterisation and storytelling became one of increased game mechanics. Our lot opted out, and stayed with the previous edition, expanded via certain house rules. (Maybe I should write about ‘The Tides of War in Oerth’ sometime: a swan-song that was our last sustained effort at classic fantasy roleplaying…)

The games we knew were changing; going after the big bucks. Perhaps the player community was changing as well. It seemed that many people from the first generation of roleplayers, the ‘Old Guard’ from the late 1970s, had moved on to new things. Garry’s the best Dungeon Master I’ve ever experienced, but he’d tell you he learned his craft from somebody older. Trouble is, by the late 1980s our forbears seemed to have moved on to new things… or maybe they simply didn’t want a whole lot to do with a bunch of teen dweebs who mostly thought that slogging through one of TSR’s adventure modules was the epitomy of fantasy roleplaying. (We’ve all been in a truly bad roleplaying game at some point in our lives, right? I’ll write about that another time…)

Unfortunately, a bad roleplayer probably thinks he’s good at roleplaying, because he has levelled up his character and amassed an impressive stock of magic items. Equally, a bad game master probably thinks he’s a good game master because he’s giving bad players what they want: fights in which to get experience points and win magical items. At its worst, AD&D offers a system that rewards all the wrong behaviour. Imagine the first time your character sees an animated corpse lurching towards him… the guy who flees screaming gets no experience points, while the bad player who fails to think about what his character actually ought to feel in this situation gets an easy kill (he’s read the rulebooks and knows the stats for the undead…)

Something had to change, and the big-name publishers were no help at all. They wanted the players buying and using more and more official rules, and weren’t really in a position to encourage people towards make-believe. Furthermore, they had a strong commercial interest in giving the majority of their customers what they wanted… and if that meant lengthy, combat-centred campaigns that allowed players to become powerful lords of battle, so be it.

Image

As I’m sure you know, many people call the kind of player who doesn’t really ‘get’ roleplaying and focuses only on their stats and die rolls a “munchkin”. It was originally a term originally used to describe younger gamers, although later it would be applied to the immature “amass power and kill everything in sight” sort of players, regardless of age.

But here’s a funny thing… faeries are the most muchkinesque creatures ever. They’re short; many of them have squeaky little voices, and they exhibit childlike innocence. Some of them live in hollow trees, for goodness sakes! But where are the munchkin players? They’re off playing a 17th level multiclassed demi-human, dripping with magic weapons and armour, and leading a sizable army of henchmen… because that’s what munchkins do.

Maybe that’s the way it ought to be: roleplaying gives you a chance to play something you’re not, so we shouldn’t act too surprised if younger players want to become all-powerful warlords, dripping with treasure. Faerie wood simply didn’t appeal to munchkins, and they stayed away. (For which, thank you.)

In creating a game that was the antithesis of the power-based gaming we saw in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Garry had found a route out of the ‘rat race’. If you’ve never played Faerie Wood, you might expect it to be some kind of AD&D/Runequest hybrid with different races and new ‘monsters’ resulting from the change of scale. This is incorrect. It’s very difficult to be a conventional sword-swinging hero if you’ve ended up with your nose turning into a twig with an apple bomb growing on it, or if you’re being chased by a giant set of bagpipes on chicken legs. It’s a game that demands not to be taken seriously – beginning with the fact that most folk don’t recognise the existence of currency, and none need to eat or drink in order to survive.

Most of all, Faerie Wood simply presents an appeal that players should be good sports, of the old-fashioned kind. There is nothing in the game rules that prevents a suitably burly character from going around the place in a full suit of armour if he really wanted to… except for ridicule. (I can imagine an endless succession of meetings in which other faeries ask, “Is there is a fancy dress competition today, or something?”) The simple fact is, though, you wouldn’t need it: just bring a good sense of humour, and quick wits.

That’s the promise of Faerie Wood, as our manifesto explains: a chicken in every pot… and a knee in every groin.

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Faerie gold

OK, it took me more than a year to get around to providing this, but here’s the first ever public mention of Faerie Wood, reproduced from an article in ‘Ug!’ Magazine, courtesy of the Southeast London Wargames Group (SELWG) where we used to spend our Friday nights, ankle-deep in orc guts and funny-shaped dice.

The task of typing the whole thing in was one that I didn’t fancy at all… so I didn’t get round to it, but then I happened upon a lovely little iPhone app called Pixter that performs optical character recognition upon anything you point the iPhone’s camera at. The result was entirely satisfactory, and needed very little fixing up…

Fairy Wood: A Field Guide to the Little People

How many of you have ever wanted to be fairy? Not many I bet. But just pause to think of what it would be like to be a 2′ Pixie on your own in a huge unending forest in which are Evil Fairies, Dragons and: “The most fabulous object in the world.”

This is a game I’m running with 3 Players outside SELWG. Its based on the D&D rules (as everyone is at least familiar with them) but instead of being in a party, each player travels in Fairy Wood by himself, a kind of solo adventure played with the DM. The player writes out a set of things he wants to do in each week ie: movement and actions. Then during a “normal” game session the DM (Me) takes the player through a series of encounters which can range from a simple meeting with an Elf in his cottage by the stream, or exploring a vast network of dark, eerie caves. As the DM I have a large map of the wood, which is divided into lots of smaller sections, in each are people to meet and many encounters.

As the player travels through the wood he learns of Myths and hears tales of old mysterious places, meets other people and while looking after himself, builds up his own picture of Fairy Wood. The idea first began as an experiment to see how players cope with problems when there by themselves, and see how far they assume the part of the character they are roleplaying.

I’ve always found that in groups many players held back, not really wanting to feel silly, and so not really playing there character as well as they might. The “Solo game” situation with Fairy Wood also lets me, as the DM roleplay more than I could by just rolling the dice for the monster’s attacks. But of course, being by yourself in a potentially hostile place makes you vulnerable and I have included non-player characters who can join the player. So it is quite possible for someone to acquire a “party” of 2 to 3, during there travels. To compensate for the vulnerability of a lone character I have adjusted the rules of D&D. All skills and abilities such as “To hit” and “Saving Throws” now have an experience value. Eliminating levels and allowing the player to spend experience points earned during an adventure on increasing his skills and to buy spells and increase his hit points. (To keep the game balanced there are limitations on increasing all things.) At first I wasn’t sure how it would accepted. But the players I asked quite liked the idea. Some of the races available are:

Pixies

Sprites

Baby dragons (3′ long)

Leprechauns

2′ Centaurs

and many others.

There are no classes such as fighter or wizard. Each race has their own skills and everyone can use spells. Alignment is decided by race, ranging from Good through Neutral to Chaotic, but NOT evil. Although a character can’t start with an evil alignment it can change during the course of the game. Each player has his good and evil acts recorded as coloured squares on a grid. If black (Evil) vastly dominates the grid or “Fairie Sparkle” as I call it, then the character undergoes a physical change and may eventually turn into it’s evil counterpart. Sprites turn into Willo-Wisps, Pixies become Goblins and Nymphs become Hags. This change can mean losing certain abilities or spells, but sometimes others are gained.

The game is a strange concept, although probably not an altogether new one, but it’s certainly a change from the usual swashbuckling, swordflashing, Dragon Slaying adventure.

Garry Robson

That’s the magazine piece, in its original form, complete with spelling mistakes. (Garry and I had worked together on a few things, but I had yet to become his regular in-house editor/grammar Nazi.) I remember this article, which came to me in the post, as part of the 7th edition of ‘Ug!’, edited by Mark. Much of the magazine was given over to a ‘horror special’ featuring some interesting pieces such as a guide to outfitting your party for adventures in Call of Cthulhu… but for me it’s the Faerie Wood article that stands out. Where the Cthulhu article is a guide to increasing your chances in combat against manifestations of the hideous Great Old Ones, the Faerie Wood article is a complete change of pace. It’s not about winning but about playing your character. It’s not a campaign report as such; more of a teaser, expressing an opinion that Garry had been harbouring for some time… that we’d grown beyond conventional heroic swords and sorcery games.

Garry and I shared all sorts of ideas back then, and I had been aware that the game was taking place; not at the club itself but in the series of one-to-one games that Garry describes. If I had still been living in London, no doubt I would have been involved as one of the early players: instead I was busy with my studies, and my involvement in the game was purely vicarious. The single-player nature of the first campaign is an interesting genesis, because nowadays I can’t imagine Faerie Wood being anything other than a highly social game. It also represents a massive effort for Garry, although he didn’t let his players down, and saw the campaign through to the end.

(If we’re nice, perhaps Garry will tell us more about those early adventures, and remind us which of the three players it was who succeeded, and claimed the Most Fabulous Object in the World. And what it was, as that eludes me.)

Garry had previously run a large Warhammer (fantasy battle) campaign in which each player had a small army, and would declare what parts of the map they were going to explore. If they found something or encountered a rival the player(s) would be summoned for a game to play out the skirmish that resulted, ideally winning treasure to obtain more troops and equipment. If you think about it, Garry wasn’t merely a referee, nor writer of scenarios, but developer and facilitator, and player of the NPC forces as well. If you think that sounds like a heck of a lot of work, you’d be right. There were seven players in the Warhammer campaign, each having an adventure every two weeks or so.

In a sense, early Faerie Wood uses a similar model: Garry draws up the map in advance, and puts on a personalised mini-game based on the player’s choices. He sets out his reasons for this within the article; a more intimate relationship between player and game master, in which each is able to engage in more roleplay than is otherwise possible.

In those early games, Tony Brotherton played a mini-centaur, Mark Cook was a leprechaun, and Alistair Austin was a baby dragon. None of them knew anything about the geography of the Wood, but had to pick their way by asking for directions, following clues or hitching a ride. It says something for the game’s flexibility and balance that a single adventurer can survive the rigors of these adventures whether they choose to be a thieving leprechaun, reliant on magic, or a relative bruiser such as the centaur or baby dragon.

Some things changed after this 1991 article, and not least the name of the game, which changed from ‘Fairy’ to the more rustic ‘Faerie’ – although perhaps that was already in a state of flux, as can be seen in Garry’s spelling of “Fairie Sparkle” in the article. (What’s in a name, anyway? It’s far better than one of my own working titles of the era, ‘Warlocks and Wheellocks.’)

Although it mostly existed as handwritten notes at this stage, the essence of the Faerie Wood game is clearly in place. In fact, although pixies are now half the height they’re stated to be in the article, the game mechanics wouldn’t change in any significant regard after this. Evil counterparts, the linear alignment scale, lack of classes or levels and a points-based buying of skills and abilities: it’s all here in the 1991 version of the game. (The ‘Ug!’ article also included some illustrations of the kind that would later grace our published material.) Basically, I believe it was offering something new in the world of fantasy roleplaying, and Garry was being far too modest.

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Good out of bad

Unless you have been hiding behind a particularly substantial sofa, you’ll know that the BBC recently put out ‘The Day of the Doctor’, 799th episode of the franchise and a celebration of fifty years of those naughty Daleks and whatnot… complete with a reunion of former Doctors.

Strangely enough, we of the Faerie Wood community just experienced a similar convergence. The complex and far-flung orbits of our grown-up lives achieved a brief perihelion, and just like Doctor Who, it was kind of awesome. I believe it may have been almost twenty years since we were all gathered in one place. (Mostly my fault; the others gather more often.)

The occasion that caused us to reassemble was a sad one, as we were there to mark the passing of Garry’s dad: the bloke I remember principally as gatekeeper and tea-provider. He’d welcome us inside when we went round, and no matter what strange games we were developing or playtesting, he always took an interest, and always encouraged. Some parents would probably have been unimpressed with guys in their early 20’s constructing and painting scenery for games involving faeries… Roy was different, and without his patience and encouragement during those lean times while Garry worked to build up his art portfolio, I can’t be certain that we’d have Faerie Wood in completed form today.

Seeing Alistair and Mark for what might have been the first time this century could have been awkward, but it wasn’t. Not in the least: if we overlook a little bit of hair loss and some greyness, it was as if we’d been apart for just a week or two. I think that shows just how compatible we must be.

This wasn’t just a gathering of four role-playing enthusiasts; I found myself with the only three people on the planet who had been Game Master for Faerie Wood games I’d played in. (Sue wrote a game – I found the notes for it a few months back – but I don’t believe she ever ran it. Other people have run games of course… but not games that I witnessed. So gathered at that wake, yesterday, was the nucleus of the game that once defined me, far more than my job, or my studies.

Nowadays Alistair runs a chain of used Zeppelin dealerships throughout south London, and you probably already know that Mark was instrumental in setting up the Pus Marketing Council. It was good to see that the gang was still on form; Alistair making puns so bad that they should come with hazmat labels, and Mark positing the sandwich monkey – a creature who should always blink into existence at your elbow, with exactly the sandwich you fancy. (We considered whether one would be able to request a Lost Car Keys Sandwich, and have yet to decide if this is not so much a sandwich as an underhanded form of more general wishing, more properly handled by a genie than a sandwich monkey. Demarkation is everything in the supernatural world.)

Garry’s eulogy for his dad was perfect (you can tell why he’s got his own radio show…) and expressed some wonderful memories. I don’t know if laughter is the best medicine, but what could have been a terribly unhappy time turned out to be a bittersweet day that I will remember fondly. It was the day when I learned just how cool Garry’s dad (the drummer, and Star Trek fan) really was… and when I learned that real friendships don’t need the constant information drizzle of Facebook, and don’t need to be wound up regularly like a clock in the hallway: they just are.

Even so, I’m not going to leave it so long, next time.

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A promise of faerie gold… at the end of the rainbow

A while back, in this article I described how a late issue of ‘Ug!’ magazine included an article by Garry, in which he described a new kind of roleplaying game that he was experimenting with.

He called it Fairy Wood. (And yes; in those days, he had yet to adopt the olde worlde spelling, it seems.)

Well (channelling Professor Hubert Farnsworth…) “Good news everyone!” I had a quick root through the pile of old gamer ’zines that are gathering dust at home, and I struck faerie gold. I propose to reproduce that article here, little piece of faerie history that it is. Although it’s a short piece, it speaks volumes about Garry’s thought process at the time, in terms of his move away from the epic tales of derring-do (and herring poo) that TSR were still churning out, to a simpler and more intimate style of play.

I think you’ll like it.

But.

I’m shipping out to Malawi tomorrow, complete with mosquito net, bug repellent and tablets to ward off malaria. The faerie folk will probably have to wait a couple of weeks until I return, therefore… although I’ve promised myself that I’ll make time to have a look at some game materials on the flight home.

Please watch this space – but not too creepily closely – and we’ll be back with more faerie silliness before you know it.

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Tricky Questions from Faerie Wood

Number one in, perhaps, a very long series…

Treelings as Herbalists

All treelings are herbalists to some degree, but how does a treeling go about harvesting herbs, given that she:

(a) is a form of plant herself,
(b) has an innate ability to talk to plants, and can therefore presumably hear their little screams as she plucks ’em from the soil, and
(c)  is supposedly of a neural alignment, not inclined towards killing sprees centred upon her vegetable brethren?

That question puzzled me quite a lot, back when I was playing Twiggle the treeling. For a start, there’s the percentile skill roll that’s made to see if she’s on the ball at that particular moment; able to spot any herbs that may be in the area. My fellow players always used to laugh at me, disappearing off to search the vicinity for herbs each time we made camp. Or “taking a trip to the herb garden,” as Mark called it.

You can imagine Twiggle calling out to the plants around her:

“’Scuse me! Are any of you lot precious ’erbs, by any chance?”

(Like virtually all of my female characters, Twiggle had a matronly manner and a Cornish accent. Lawks.)

Of course, all the plants reply that they are ordinary plants, since they don’t want to get ‘harvested’.

“Are you sure, moi dears? What about you? Yes you, with the berries…”

Fortunately, Murphy’s law prevailed and when the Game Master made his dice roll I never seemed to find any of the more exotic spell herbs; just a lot of mild digestive poisons. I decided that since poison is a nasty thing, the plants in question must also be nasty, and unpopular. Taking plants such as these out of the ground could be considered akin to weeding, perhaps. But that still leaves you in the unusual position of being a basically kindly faerie… with a satchel full of poison.

In fact, it leaves you in the unusual position of being a tree that wears a satchel. Folk kept coming up to me to see why somebody might have left a bag in a tree, and if there was anything good inside it…

+++

The more useful herbs, though… they give rise to the question of eco-faeries. Happening upon a spell herb, should the player take every bit of it, in order to make as many potions as possible? Should they take just what they need and leave the rest growing, for other faeries to find later? Might they attempt to take a viable specimen with them, for replanting in their own garden? Or does this tactic circumvent the herbalism skill, since the player would ultimately not need to roll against their skill, but simply go and potter by the potting shed?

With the exception of the ‘satchel in a tree’ problem – which has no answer unless perhaps you allow treelings to grow pockets – here’s a proposed solution to these herb-related questions:

What the herbalist takes isn’t the whole plant. Each of the notable herbs has a magical part, and that’s the only bit that is of use. Pulling up the whole plant doesn’t get you any additional magic ingredients: it just wastes the plant. The material that the herbalist is after is some loose bark, some berries, some newly-grown shoots, some pollen, some buds… or whatever. (Although some key ingredients will invariably be roots, and those are pretty much essential to the continued existence of a plant.)

Treant

Next, on the social side, plants don’t feel pain the way we do. Perhaps they don’t mind giving up a bit of fruit (it’s how their seeds are dispersed, after all) and getting a bit of a tidy-up at the hands of a skilled herbalist could be quite pleasant – and every bit as necessary as trimming your toenails.

The notion that the herbalist might be after buds, or old bark, or pollen… that’s awkward, though, since it introduces a time dimension. Buds appear in spring. Pollen is available in summer; seed pods and fallen leaves in the autumn. Do we need four herb tables; one for each season? Perhaps. I’m quite intrigued by this idea… but I don’t like introducing additional complexity, in general. (Nor will Garry necessarily let me.) We have also to address the question of Crimson Wood, where plants are supposed to be more inherently magical. Does this involve some kind of bonus, or multiplier to the die roll?

Let’s ask Garry.

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Almost done

As you may have noticed, these recollections come in no particular order. Garry recently said he doesn’t think it matters, and I’d hate to have to leave something out because it couldn’t be squeezed into a temporal straightjacket… so let’s not worry about it.

Today’s episode comes from early ’93, with the book awaiting the last few bits and pieces.

‘The Book’ (in those days there was only one) was almost complete, but it’s surprising just how long it takes to attend to all the last, fiddly little bits. Garry came to stay, and we thrashed out the last few details. There were no page numbers, for example. The table of herbs that might be found growing in the Wood still existed only as a handwritten list; we hadn’t finalised the character sheet; the diagram showing how spells had to be learned in a ‘pyramid’ didn’t exist… all small jobs, but any one of them could have delayed things.

I still have a folder right here on this computer, having been transferred through some five intermediate machines, called “FWPB extras”. The main “Faerie Wood” folder contains all kinds of goodies that we might delve into in subsequent articles… but the content of the Player’s Book extras folder hasn’t been touched since the eve of ‘The Book’ going to the printers: Sunday, February 28th 1993. One of the files there is called “price tag”, so it would appear that this was the night when we took that decision, too… somewhat after midnight. The document with the price tag would then have been printed out, cut out and glued into place on the back cover image.

We worked hard on Faerie Wood.

One of the last things to do was to write some blurb for the space on back cover, and that wasn’t easy. “Faerie Wood is a magical kingdom where…” Er, no. It’s not a kingdom. There’s no king. How do you write a few paragraphs to sum up a project that you’ve devoted months of your life to, in words that somebody else could understand, and in such a way as to persuade them to part with their cash?

Well, turn to the back cover of your Faerie Wood book, and see what you think of my efforts.

For all these small jobs, my Mac was used. Bought in the autumn of 1992, an Apple Macintosh Classic II was not a bad little machine, for its time… unless for some reason you find a 9” screen with a resolution of just 512 x 342 black and white pixels inconvenient.

If the screen was pokey, at least the computer was small enough that you could put it in a bag and lug it around, if you were feeling strong. It was on this machine that the later supplements to Faerie Wood would be edited, and where the original files still reside: the plastic of the machine has now gone the colour of earwax, but it works just fine – despite being in a car crash in 1995.

Something like £1200 (which is to say, most of what I earned by working through the summer) had got me my entry-level Mac and ‘Stylewriter’ inkjet printer. Hardly the setup I had been using at my employer’s, but close enough to allow me to continue to work on Faerie Wood. One of the hardest things was getting my own copy of Quark Xpress. They didn’t do student discounts and the full list price was way out of my league, but salvation came via a computer auction, in the end.

Macintosh Classic II

One last read-through, one last check that everything was glued firmly in place – memories of too many Steve Jackson Games rulebooks that referred repeatedly to “page XX” where (they said) their glued-on references had fallen off before printing – and we were ready to go.

With all our photocopied productions (such as ‘Ug!’ magazine, and the various supplements we produced later) a key problem was the edge shadows that you get when you produce composite images by physically layering multiple different pieces together. Here, though, our printer assured us that when he mastered the printing plates, he could mask out any such unwanted lines, and he did a good job. That was nice, because it saved us an additional photocopying-and-masking stage that could have made our artwork a little bit blobby.

We were done. There was nothing to do except wait… and maybe reach for the dice…

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