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:
Baby dragons (3′ long)
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.
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.