Thursday, July 23, 2020

When Discussing Early RPGs and Wargames, Let's Not Forget the British Scene Part 2: Did Tony Bath Influence the Famous Appendix N?

B.M.S.S. 6,7, and 8 (1956) from Author's Private Collection

This is the second in a series of posts about the British Wargaming Scene's influence on D&D. The first entry in the series can be read here.

We've long known that Tony Bath's rules for medieval combat influenced the creation of Chainmail, and thus D&D. Tony Bath was one of the most influential members of the growing British wargaming hobby in the middle of the 20th century. But I think historians and fans often overlook how much he influenced not only the mechanics of play, but the genre of play as well.

Tony Bath's "War Game of the Middle Ages and Ancient Times" was first published in 1956 in the June/July and August/September issues of the British Model Soldier Society's The Bulletin. A critique by Charles Grant and rules "errata" were published in the October issue that same year. These ancient rules were significant in a couple of ways. They are among the early rules sets to innovate by using dice to determine combat outcomes and they are one of the earliest rules for medieval and ancient miniatures combat.

Bath also wrote an article in July 1966 issue (51) of Wargamer's Newsletter, an issue that had "1066" as its theme and which contained Phil Barker's influential medieval rules.  Wargamer's Newsletter was published by Donald Featherstone, who is arguably the most significant evangelist for the wargaming hobby, and had frequent contributions from Tony Bath, Charles Grant, and others. Featherstone discussed the importance of Bath in the hobby, and shared an abbreviated form of his rules, in his 1962 book War Games. Interestingly, Featherstone's discussion of Bath's rules in that book includes references to Bath's Hyborian campaign in which Bath used Robert E. Howard's fictional setting as the foundation for a wargaming campaign. This allowed players in Bath's gaming circle to mix and match armies from antiquity and the middle-ages in "what if" battles that wouldn't be possible in a more historically focused environment. The fact that Bath's rules were known to Gygax, and that Bath used a Howardian setting (though one without magic), might serve as sufficient evidence that Bath provided a kind of pre-Appendix N inspiration to incorporate fantasy into gaming that was picked up and expanded upon by Gygax. Such an assertion would be limited though due to the fact that Bath's campaign didn't use magic and that Howard was surging in popularity in the 60s.

There is, however, additional evidence of Bath's potential influence on Gygax's selections in Appendix N and in D&D in general. In fact, in many ways it might be argued that Bath provided a road map of influences that Gygax followed in selecting the appropriate fantasy milieu to incorporate into table top gaming. Where is this road map? In the pages of the Society of Ancient's house magazine Slingshot.

Tony Bath founded the Society of Ancients in 1965 with a small membership of around 20 members. The Society was created as a way for those interested in ancient battles to share their research, gaming rules, and insights with one another. Amazingly, the Society is still around today and readily makes available back issues of their in house newsletter. One of the things that really amazes me about the British gaming scene, at least the wargaming scene, is how keen they are to maintaining records of the history of the hobby and making available content to the "non-collector" audience. Between the John Curry's History of Wargaming Project and The Society of Ancients, one can access a lot of older material at very reasonable prices.

In issue #9 of Slingshot, published in January of 1967, Tony Bath wrote an article of particular interest to fans of Dungeons & Dragons. In an article entitled "Campaigning with the Aid of Fantasy Fiction" (Page 10), Bath provides a relatively detailed account of the fiction that can serve as inspiration for miniature wargaming campaigns. 

What was contained in Bath's article? In the article, he argues that players will find playing wargame campaigns in fantasy worlds of their own creation to be superior to strictly historical play and argues that one of the advantages of using fantasy fiction as a foundation is the fact that many fantasy worlds come with detailed maps which can be used to track campaign activities. Additionally, he provides a number of recommended literary works. Instead of publishing excerpts of the article, I'll provide a quick list of inspirational sources in the order Bath provided them in his article.

  • Robert E. Howard's Hyboria
  • Tolkien's "Lords of the Ring" (sic)
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars and Venus Books
  • Fritz Leiber's Nehwon stories
  • Robert E. Howard's Almuric.
  • L. Sprague de Camp's Tritonian Ring, Queen of Zamba, Hand of Zei.
  • Leigh Brackett's Mars stories.
Following the discussion of influential works, Bath discusses "kingdom structures" in a manner that both seems to advocate for proto-roleplay and predicts the later focus on domain creation/rule by name level characters in D&D as the leadership hierarchy in his discussion is similar to discussions in D&D publications.

What do we notice about the list of inspirations above? Other than Tolkein, whom Gygax claimed had minimal influence on the milieu of D&D, all of these authors feature heavily in early D&D writings and Appendix N.

I cannot, and do not, claim that Gygax based his readings on Bath's recommendations. There isn't evidence for that and many ideas come to people at the same time. What I am claiming is that it is possible that Bath's love of the same fiction as Gygax, the fact that Gygax's own gaming rules were influence by Bath, and that Gygax himself had articles published in Wargamer's Newsletter, might suggest that Bath's list might have inspired Gygax to create games based on the fiction he loved.


AnotherNobodyOnline said...

Can I impose on you to give me access to this article from Slingshot #9? Or point me to where you got it? I'm not seeing it as available on the Society of Ancients website nor at the History of Wargaming blog.

Christian Lindke said...

Society of Ancients sells a full run of Slingshot issues as pdfs in an archive bundle. It includes a very good index.

Sorry for the delay on this. The comment was in moderation.