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.
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.)
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.