Another entry in the Armchair Adventurer’s archive. GROGSQUAD member Nick Edwards was an active collector, contributor and correspondent to the British ‘Zine Scene back in the eighties. He contacted me about helping to fill gaps in his collection, specifically Runestone, a ‘zine he was involved in. He very kindly agreed to share some of his collection and his experiences to add to add to the expanding Armchair Adventurer Library.
I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons when I was in primary school, aged 9 or 10 in 1980 – by my older brother who played with a couple of friends in the pub over the road (the landlord’s son was the DM).
Playing in a pub was great as we were allowed the amazing treat of a free coke each. It’s also why the smell of stale beer that you get in old pubs always reminds me of childhood. Pretty soon I bought my own gear (the shop in Bristol was Forever People which made up the entirety of my Christmas list for a number of years) and in those first few years we ran D&D (then AD&D), Traveller, Bushido, Gamma World, Golden Heroes, Boot Hill, Aftermath and a few I can’t remember. Pretty soon I was keener on DMing than playing.
For AD&D, we played through Tomb of Horrors, the Giants series, the Slavers series, Queen of the Demonweb Pits and so on. Call of Cthulhu came along and captured my imagination, as did creating my own scenarios and even games. I remember running Order of the Silver Twilight from one of the early campaigns and the lack of combat was eye opening. This was a time when the hobby was reinventing itself regularly as games and gaming became more sophisticated – from the dungeon to the wilderness to the city to story-driven and looser adventures. Through senior school I continued playing with a couple of other friends although it had largely petered out by the time I was 15.
At the same time, I had started getting into the fanzine scene. I answered ads in the back of White Dwarf. Dragonlords was the early one that everyone has heard of but I remember Acoloyte, SEWERS, Beholder, News from Bree, among others. The early ones were largely about the mechanics of the games themselves and written by students but Dragonlords seemed to start a move towards more general.
Being at school, living in the countryside and not knowing anyone who had ever been university, I found this completely engrossing. Fanzines were a major thing when they came through the post. It was a glimpse of a different kind of life, more intellectual, more challenging and with better music (I liked heavy metal at the time and my musical taste today remains an odd combination of AC/DC, Black Sabbath, The Smiths, Joy Division and Talking Heads – basically everything I liked between the ages of 13 and 17 but mixed together.
I started writing letters to the zines and meeting some of the people at conventions like Games Day and the weekend one at Warwick. Presumably I was quite annoying – sorry guys. New fanzines came out with a fairly clear split between Dragonlords generation who had since graduated and those edited by schoolboys. The latter had a higher chance of being pretty lame but everyone was fairly understanding.
I started by co-editing a fanzine called Runestone by a guy called Bill Lucas – I can’t remember how it came about but a belated thanks to Bill (I was probably too self-absorbed to be grateful at the time).
Following that, I did my own thing called Manic Depressive (why I chose that name is beyond me – I wasn’t) which, I seem to remember, was a collection of mini-zines by other people (there was a term for it which I now forget). Then I did maybe half a dozen issues of Iron Orchid, which was all me and which I have fondest memories of – I was experimenting with design, politics, music and the gaming had largely disappeared (at this point the cool zines were largely devoid of actual gaming which was fine but there was a bit of a whiff of embarrassment about RPGs). And finally I co-edited (or perhaps I was more of a contributor) of some more occasional fanzines by Jez Keen, called Love in the Garden (his other zine was Next Stop Jupiter). He was more talented and older than me – so again I am grateful for the hand-up. The whole thing was a lot of fun but then the scene began to fracture – there were more cliques, more anger and feuds. Looking back some of it was just bullying. There wasn’t a lot of empathy or compromise – people with poor social skills are attracted to roleplaying after all (I count myself in this). People started to publicly drop out, closing zines in protest. I remember being sad about it at the time though I probably took my share of sides.
By the time I went to university (Warwick – chosen largely because some of the best fanzines were produced there a few years earlier). I was largely out of the scene and had certainly stopped being interested in the games. (to be continued)