Category Archives: Retrospective

Whatever Happened to Faerie Wood?

Sometime in the mid-1990s, we ground to a halt. I’m sure there were lots of reasons.

One of the frustrations that I remember from that time was that I felt that I needed Garry, but he didn’t really need me: he could write rules and supplements, and produce illustrations for them, while I could only write the games themselves. If the artwork wasn’t forthcoming, there could be no more books – and I wanted there to be more. Looking back, it seems terribly immature to have been keeping score, but in a sense I was. I wanted to be the author of more Faerie Wood material.

Of the supplements we’d produced, I was the author of just one and a half (the one being ‘Goblins!’, while the half is ‘Airy Faeries’ which appeared as half of a double booklet, along with Garry’s ‘Bagpipe Blues’). Garry had also created ‘Bowls!’ / ‘The Starwood Tree’ (another double booklet), and The Garden Snatchers.

Although the limitation was frustrating, it wasn’t the reason I had to give up on the books: that was down to the supply of artwork. I had edited and typeset Garry’s ‘The Ghost of Gwinbosch Castle’ but after the cover itself no further illustrations were forthcoming. I finalised the maps of the castle (engineering and architectural drawing I can do…) but I couldn’t produce ‘classic’ Faerie Wood illustrations, and without pictures there could be no new books. There were a lot of adventures that might have been published, but something had changed. Perhaps our living hundreds of miles apart had finally had an effect: significantly, I don’t recall what was going on in Garry’s life at that time. There may well have been good reasons to call a halt, but since I was no longer close at hand I couldn’t know them – and as we entered our mid-twenties it was quite natural that there were other things afoot.

Cover detail from The Ghost of Gwinbosch Castle

Previously unseen: the Ghost of Gwinbosch Castle

By 1995 I’d be a homeowner, I’d be engaged (disastrously, as it turned out) and I’d be working on a PhD. There were lots of reasons not to create Faerie Wood material. No doubt Garry could write a list of his own.

One reason for the supply of pictures running out I can guess at: new artistic media to be explored. I recall that at this time Garry had largely ceased to be interested in line drawings of the kind that we had relied on for Faerie Wood. If you look at the artwork for ‘Airy Faeries’ you can see that a new style is used: I was expecting more of the same, but Garry was branching out. New styles, and new interests.

Detail from the village map in Airy Faeries.

Detail from the village map in Airy Faeries.

Alistair was given a (in fact, the) print copy of the Game Master chapters (sans illustrations) and ran a game or two, but playing in those marked the end of my Faerie Wood experience. I continued to be very proud of what we had done, to the extent of showing the Players’ Book to prospective employers… but no more books would be completed, and we were almost at the end of the creative journey.

There remain about seven unpublished Faerie Wood supplements (being imprecise, because it depends upon your own standards in terms of quality and completeness) that reside on this computer, and its ancestors. Coming up in the next instalment, therefore: a sneak peak at some of the unfinished symphonies of Faerie Wood. 

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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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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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Scratchbuilds

Some of my earliest completely scratchbuilt figures were made in early 1994, using a technique of forming a wire ‘skeleton’ that’s anchored into a wooden base and stiffened by selective soldering, then clad with strategically placed blobs of the two-part epoxy putty, Milliput. Later, I learned that most figure sculptors use a different material called “green stuff”, which is far superior because it’s strong enough to survive the mould-making process, and because small pieces of it will stick together more reliably when it is made tacky by holding it near a heat source such as an electric lamp. (Want to have a go? The mysterious “green stuff” started out as a material found in plumbing supply shops in the USA, and was always in short supply over here. Help is now at hand as it’s available from Games Workshop… albeit with a price mark-up of about 500%.)

One of the non-player characters in Garry’s first Faerie Wood campaign was The Book of Wondrous and Amazing Magic, also known as ‘BB’. He was a book of spells, on legs… a friendly sort of fellow who only wanted to help, but who had next to no control over which spell he cast. This was my first attempt at a scratchbuilt figure.

The book

I was reasonably pleased with the result, so I decided to do a few more oddities on legs. My next efforts were a cheese, and a sack. (Of the two, the sack is more likely to be useful on a regular basis, since the 3rd level spell ‘Carry’ summons such a thing into being.)

Sack ans stairs

Cheese on legs

These are some of the beasties to which Lucya Szachnowski was referring in her review.

I also made a treeling, because ent figures tend to be far too large for use in Faerie Wood (unless perhaps you can find something from a 15mm wargame), and then I embarked upon the creation of a grig.

Treeling 2

Grig

The grig’s scale is a bit too large, the sword is a mere bit of wire and the face is awful. Since that time I’ve learned one of the sculptor’s tricks of the trade: mix up some Green Stuff, and press the face of a suitable commercial figure into it. Once hardened, this can be used as a die, used to stamp a pretty decent “starter face” onto a blob of material, which is then modified by nudging it gently to and fro, to give it an expression or racial characteristics. If that all sounds like too much work, consider making just the body, and grafting on the head from an existing fantasy figure. With the move to plastic figures it’s got very easy to customise things. Garry and I used to have to drill, saw and file lead figures, and the resulting dust probably explains a lot about the hallucinatory nature of some of our games of the period.

Much of the sculpting stuff I learned later, and I could probably do a better job nowadays, but as with all things Faerie Wood, the most important thing is to get on with it and have some fun.

Speaking of which… this.

Space dolphin

Not Faerie Wood, but a figure from my mid 1990’s sci-fi game, Terminus. Because there should be more cybernetically enhanced equal opportunities dolphinoids as player characters, quite frankly.

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Faerie Wood: Reviewed

Alan over at Lost in Time was kind enough to review Faerie Wood, earlier this year (and in fact kicked off this whole “the making of…” shemozzle in the process) but he wasn’t the first to review the game. For that, we need to set our time machine for 1993, and a participation game of ‘Magic on Legs’. One of the players that day was Lucya Szachnowski, who told us that she wrote for The Round Table Magazine, and wanted to do a review. (I note, courtesy of Google, that she later worked for the independent gamers’ magazine Flagship.)

Without further ado, because there will be plenty of time for some more ado later, here’s her review as it appeared in The Round Table. Click to enlarge:

Of course, we were delighted with this write-up, and it did us a lot of good, although if we examine it with hindsight we can see that Lucya had spotted our Achilles’ heel: that the book we had produced wasn’t a complete work in its own right, needing the Game Master’s Book if we were to help people to create their own adventures instead of playing through the supplements that we wrote. Sad but true: there is no Faerie Fiend Folio. (Fee fie foe fum…)

I know that anybody with an imagination could come up with their own faerie beasties and challenges, and quite a few people did so, back in the day. Garry and I have played in Faerie Wood games run by other people, and they were good games… but I’ll always feel guilty about the fact that ‘Faerie Wood: the Game Master’s Book’ never reached print. More on that later, perhaps.

It’s also interesting to note that even in 1993 and without prompting on our part, this review is already describing Faerie Wood as being somewhat retro. It hails from the time when enthusiastic amateurs wrote rules on their home computers and games didn’t cost more than a tenner… bingo: that was us. Most of all, we were enthusiastic about the game, and getting it out there into the world.

In all the review there’s just one thing that I might gripe about: those “tiny, detailed figures he had made especially for the scenario”… were made by me. Ah well: Garry has never been anything but generous in sharing the credit for Faerie Wood, so perhaps it’s only fair that I should share in return.

Pictures of those miniatures to follow in a subsequent article, perhaps, if I can find my macro lens.

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Road Trip!

The very first copies of Faerie Wood were sold at Baycon ’93, a board gaming convention held near Exeter. We were there by invitation, the convention’s organiser having read a review of our game.

The first books we got from the printer were the ‘pale green’ batch, with the wrong covers. (And when I say these were the very first copies, I have to clarify that we actually gave them higher numbers, reasoning that the valuable low-numbered ones shouldn’t be the flimsy ones.)  Still, paper covers or no, they would have to do. There were three of us on this mission; Sue, Garry and myself. We climbed into my first car (a 1984 Talbot Samba) and headed for the motorway. Quite a brave thing to do in that old car, but it didn’t let us down.

We were booked into a youth hostel that cost us the princely sum of £3 each per night. While not exactly comfortable, it fitted our requirement of not blowing the proceeds of book sales on accommodation. I think it added to the sense of adventure, too: rather like bedding down in the commons at an inn, as some of our fantasy characters might have done.

Baycon was a well-attended, bustling event, but virtually everybody who went was there for the board games. It was a get-together that allowed people to play anything they cared to bring, or borrow. Monopoly, Scrabble, Risk, Chess, Mousetrap… anything that two or more people wanted to try, they simply sat and played. The outcome of each game was recorded, and by some mysterious process, people earned points for taking part in (and for winning) a wide range of different games.

Very few of the attendees were interested in roleplaying games, or at least not when there were points to be won elsewhere, by playing quicker games with clear-cut winners and losers. Also, I had one old guy come up and harangue me with a monologue in which he opined (at some length) that roleplaying would lure young people into devil worship, because it involved casting spells.

Seriously.

I knew such people existed, but I’d never met one before, and in fact have never met another one since. Ah well; can’t win them all… and we had games to run.

Although most of the punters at Baycon were there for the board games, we had a loyal core of players that our host had drafted in from his regular roleplaying group. They were good players, too… and good customers. (Which is to say that after they played our games all day, they felt obliged to buy our books.)

There’s one problem with having a small core of repeat players, and that’s how quickly you use up your supply of gaming material. We’d been running Faerie Wood participation games for about a year by this point (although previously with nothing to sell) and we’d got into a comfortable routine with three short games used in rotation, namely ‘Bowls!’, ‘The Starwood Tree’ and ‘Magic on Legs’. At Baycon our group of players went through each of these games… and wanted more. While Garry ran the last of our prepared adventures, I frantically designed a new one, in which the centrepiece was a downhill dash in mining carts, to escape from a dwarf mine. It may not have been terribly original, but it was good fun. Much later, it was written up as ‘Raiders of the Frost Bark’… but we never published it. (And yes, the title should really have been some variant of ‘… and the Temple of Doom’… but it wasn’t. So there.)

The Starwood Tree, cover

With much frantic scribbling and occasional visits to the bar, a fine time was had by all. The episode is indicative of how it would always be with Faerie Wood: a labour of love. How many people would travel 200 miles (each way) and spend two days working hard to sell something like eight books at £6.95? We were never in it for the money.

Most of the attendees at Baycon were mystified by the strange group of people up at the far end of the hall, playing a seemingly interminable game with no cards, no box and no board, but we had the last laugh. In the run-up to the trip, we’d posted a press release to some of the local newspapers. “Leprechauns sighted in Exeter!”, it began. It was a good press release, briefly describing the game and introducing its young author.

“Why not come along, join the game’s creator, Garry Robson, and explore ‘Faerie Wood’? Your chance is on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th April at the BAYCON ’93 Gamers’ Convention at the Exeter Court Hotel, Kennford.”

Rob, our host, had been trying for years to get the press to show some interest in his convention, and I think he was more than a little envious when a reporter and photographer showed up… asking for us.

But then, you see, those of us who worked on Faerie Wood were capable of magic. In fact Faerie Wood, itself, was magic. Not the kind that manifests itself in fireballs or flying carpets, but the kind of magic that encourages young people with no budget and no connections to shoot for the moon… and if not quite score a bullseye, then at least achieve something they could be proud of.

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