Fantasy Wargaming (1981)

Here’s an odd one: Fantasy Wargaming: The Highest Level of All, by Bruce Galloway, published in the UK in 1981 and in the US in 1982. It is exactly the sort of game you’d expect to get when a person who doesn’t very much like D&D sits down to do it better, to correct it, make it more accurate. Galloway was the sort of person who would break out in a sweat to learn that your fighter’s sword didn’t match the historical period of his armor. I am not making that up – he mentioned it in the book’s introduction.

You’d think Galloway was just taking the piss, but Fantasy Wargaming is over 200 pages of charts, over-designed rules and dense dumps of historically and physically accurate data. He was serious about making a game that not only appears to be entirely unfun, but also completely unplayable. He has a palpable disdain for all the fantastic elements that he describes, including the ones he had in his own game! It’s a mess.

But it is also kind of cool? A guy who was passionate about tabletop gaming put this together and, despite it not being very good at all, got it published internationally in a high quality hard cover. This book is Galloway’s eccentricity made solid, a catalog of the minutiae of realism he obsessed over. The system is garbage, but the book is a monument to the weird and crazy creative impulses that gave birth to the early era of RPGs.

It is also interesting to speculate what would have happened to Fantasy Wargaming had Galloway not died soon after its publication in an automobile accident. After all, the original D&D white box is a mess and the idiosyncratic product of a fellow who had some odd notions about converting reality into math – look how that turned out.

The art is lovely though, cartoony but capable and sharing many of those hard to convey characteristics of British fantasy art. All done by a fellow named Lawrence Heath, who has few other credits that I can track down. That’s a shame. The cover, with its cartoonishly animated Baphomet, is one of my favorite pieces of art from the period. The interior illustrations display an unusual knack for experimentation in composition.

Oh, one more thing! There’s stats for God in here. And Moses, and dozens of other saints and religious figures. You know, just in case you were wondering.

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