Saturday, October 22, 2022

 A while ago, Sam Bennett wrote to me about my Barroom Brawl convention scenario for D&D that appeared long ago in White Dwarf. He has compiled a lot of information about this kind of quite unusual form of D&D. The ensuing interview was originally published at It's formatted more attractively than it is below. If you go to Sam's blog you'll be able to find his discussion of this kind of adventure at

Friday, June 10, 2022

An Interview with Lew Pulsipher


In researching my post from yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking with Lew Pulsipher, a big name in the early days of White Dwarf and Dragon, as well as the creator of the original bar brawl scenario in White Dwarf issue 11. See here for my initial writings on the subject. With his permission, I've chosen to publish our discussion here.

Lunar Lands: As far as my research has led me to believe, it was you who wrote the first [bar brawl] - assuming, of course, that's the same Lew Pulsipher. I was excited to see that you still had an active presence online, and I felt like it might be of use to gaming historians like me. If it is you, and if you can recall the details, I would like to ask you a few questions on the subject, if you don't mind.

Lew Pulsipher: Yes, that was me, and as far as I know it was the first such for FRPG, though you'll notice from the article that I saw a non-FRPG version of a br brawl and went from there. I tried to turn it into a stand-alone game, but didn't get far enough to playtest it. Now how much I'm going to remember otherwise, 40+ years after, is doubtful. But ask away.

LL: It's nice to be able to hear from someone who was around in shaping the hobby in its early days. Yes, I did see in the article that you had adapted this from a Wild West scenario - which helps point, to me, that this truly is the earliest example of bar brawl scenarios being developed for fantasy RPGs. In that regard, having you as an asset is a valuable one to us historians. This is my first time hearing about you having worked on a standalone game, too! That's quite an interesting what-if. I don't suppose you remember anything about it?

LP: The game was called Troll Tavern. IIRC, Games Workshop asked me to adapt the brawl as a separate game, but they lost interest in it later. It was old-fashioned/clumsy from today’s perspective, I’d do a much better job if I tried it today. Big square grid board depicting a tavern. Like other boardgames, no GameMaster, which made it much more difficult to achieve.

I had to devise parts of a standalone RPG, in effect, to govern movement and combat in the game. Nowadays I have a very basic/minimalist RPG that I’ve tested a few times, that probably derives from all that. It may turn up in a book of reprints of my old articles, if I ever get around to finishing it (both game and book).

LL: As I've discussed, in my research I've found that these articles were published extensively in White Dwarf, and by contrast there doesn't seem to be nearly as many examples in the American gaming sphere at the time - which is why I was surprised to discover, in looking up more information on you, that you're from Detroit! What made you want to publish in White Dwarf, as opposed to The Dragon or another domestic publication? Were you living in Britain at the time, or was there greater cross-pollination across the Atlantic during the 70s?

LP: Born in Detroit but grew up in Ohio, and later in Battle Creek Michigan.

I was researching my doctoral dissertation (“Aircraft and the Royal Navy, 1908-1919”), lived in England three years, married someone I met there in a D&D game. Met Albie Fiore, wrote for Games magazine; and met the GW guys Steve and Ian. It was a natural to submit to White Dwarf.

At one point, GW had the D&D license, and I was writing a supplement for them (similar to the early D&D supplements in booklet form), but then they lost the license.

I did have many articles in Dragon, and other magazines, actually, perhaps tending to be later after I came back to the USA.

LL: Do you know how your article was received? I imagine it must have been quite popular if it spawned so many similar scenarios, and Graeme Davis cites it specifically in his retrospective on Rough Night at the Three Feathers. When subsequent bar brawl scenarios were published, did anyone reach out to you, or get your thoughts on their work? Or was this just something people did without asking any questions? Do you have any experience playing any of the other bar brawl scenarios?

LP: How was it received? Often, authors don’t know, especially when there are no online forums. Some people played some variation at conventions (that I wasn’t involved with), so that’s good. I don’t recall seeing the other versions you mention, certainly haven’t played them. No, no one reached out to me about them - not unusual. Even people who have published Britannia-like boardgames have not reached out to me, not a single one; most don’t even mention Brit in those games.

LL: When I was reading your article in White Dwarf, I was struck by how, despite using D&D rules, it seems much more reminiscent of a wargame, what with having multiple players controlling different sides and giving their orders to the DM independently on pieces of paper. The evolution of D&D from Chainmail is well-documented, but at this point in time, would you say that competitive player-vs-player scenarios like this were still fairly common? Or was this supposed to be more of a minigame built on a D&D chassis, going off of you working on your own game on the subject?

LP: My own game came later. The original D&Ders were from wargame fandom. Some people, including me, always used a square grid to govern movement in encounters. I’ve never been a “theater of the mind” guy, too loosey-goosey. And if you play it as a game, rather than as a storytelling mechanism, it naturally feels like a wargame at times.

I don’t keep track, but I cannot think of many player-vs.-player D&D or RPG scenarios, period. I think that I saw the Wild West scenario, thought it would be interesting to do similar for D&D, and did it, without thought of competitiveness. Not that it’s so much competitive as it is amusing.

LL: I feel like the separation between RPGs and wargames happened later in Britain than it did in the US - Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Fantasy Battle are at least theoretically compatible between each other, for instance, and the first edition of 40k had heavy RPG elements. I don't know if you would know or not, but would you say that there was any sort of regional divide going on? If so, why do you think that the wargaming aspects persisted so much longer in Britain?

LP: Britain has always seemed, to me, to be more interested in miniatures battles than the USA. If you say “wargame” to a Brit, often they’ll think miniatures battles. Say the same to an American, and they’ll think board game battles. The kind of books Don Featherstone wrote were rare in the USA. Perhaps because minis often involve more than two people, while board wargames involve just two, they prospered more in Britain where population density is much higher? Nah, I don’t buy that.

Perhaps because we had Avalon Hill in the USA from an early date, we became wargame oriented? It was a Baby Boomer hobby, here, and didn’t transfer to later generations. Keep in mind, Baby Boomers heard a LOT about World War II (I certainly did, though born six years after it ended).

A big thanks to Dr. Pulsipher for his help in my research on this genre! You can find his own blog here.

Friday, March 04, 2022

What were the real World Wars?

 Wars are sometimes name for odd reasons. What we call World War I was called the Great War before World War II occurred. Yet some people would tell you that the Seven Years War (1756 – 1763) was the first war that occurred over much of the world. But it didn’t have the intensity, the national armies (conscripts), of a world war. Perhaps the American Civil War or the Russo- Japanese war or the Franco-Prussian war had that intensity, but certainly the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic wars ending in 1815 had that intensity. Those were the wars of the universal draft and of national armies, and of enormous casualties.

So it would make sense to call the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars World War I, and what we call World War I to be World War II, and what we call World War II to be World War III.

On the other hand, in terms of participating nations and major fighting, World War I was almost entirely confined to Europe, so in that sense World War II was the first real world war.

Just a rumination . . .