Here’s a special treat for my blog audience: a sneak peek at my next book! But it’s not what you expect.
Two score and a year or so ago, I made a series of brazen entrepreneurial and academic gambles. In so doing, I released upon the earth what The Dragon magazine called the worst roleplaying game of all time – and the best such spoof. Others pegged my creation as the beloved game of munchkins everywhere, although I’d never seen one playing it. Indeed, I didn’t learn of this title for almost two decades… until other, more rational entrepreneurs gave us the worldwide web.
Now such thoughts probably make no sense to most people. But enthusiasts of multisided dice know about The Spawn of Fashan, which made its official debut 40 years ago this September.
That anniversary calls for a new edition of this loved/hated rulebook. I hope to release it this summer or fall, if and when everything comes together.
With this blog, I’m going to do something I’ve hinted at for more than a year. To help everyone appreciate this monumental event, let’s dive into the backstory on my wild, humor-laced RPG, which includes a fair bit about my wild, humor-laced self.
I grew up in a family of Christian readers who often visited our town library… for a while we even lived around the corner from the beautiful Carnegie library in Fairbury, NE, the town of my birth. Thus at a very young age I experienced the wonder of books. I thrilled at Bible stories, the works of Dr. Seuss, and tales my brother shared, such as The Lord of the Rings (which he read in grade school) and the Punt, Pass, and Kick Library. It didn’t take long before I entertained dreams of penning my own novels. Indeed, I wrote and illustrated my first “book” before I entered first grade.
Unlike many kiddy ambitions, this drive only grew as I advanced through school. Soon I started weaving the complete history of a fictional planet, plotting tales to span from its birth to its death. This evolved into my Fashan novels, all drawn from my love of fantasy, science fiction, and biblical themes. And they read like that, unfortunately, the prose proving oh so derivative from what I'd absorbed up to that time.
Picking a favorite epic within my grand galactic timeline, I had finished the first two volumes in a quadrilogy (each 700+ typewritten double-spaced pages… imagine how much Liquid Paper that required in those pre-computer days!) and plotted the last two by the time I entered the University of Oklahoma. That changed everything for me, for in my freshman year I made friends with a master of Dungeons and Dragons, which was then just four years old. I immediately saw how such a game system could help a writer overcome creative difficulties by anticipating life’s random turns, suggesting plot twists, and providing a simple method of generating unique characters, all within my book’s context and continuity. But I had many problems with how D&D worked back then, so I started creating my own game system around my Fashan landscapes and cultures. That became known as The Spawn of Fashan roleplaying game. I improved and expanded it day by day as a group of close friends pushed its technical boundaries over the next two years.
As my junior year (i.e., fall 1980) picked up steam, several of these playtesters wondered how they could get their own copies of my rules. I pondered that and four other events promising to dominate my graduation efforts:
• An industry term paper required to obtain my journalism degree.
• A separate paper necessary to complete my honors program studies.
• Efforts by Colorado SF fans to host Devention II, the 1981 World Science Fiction Convention.
• My July wedding!
Within my fearlessly optimistic, perfect-scenario planning, I figured I could write those papers from interviews with prominent authors obtained at Denver’s historic SF con, set for Sept. 3-7, 1981. But how would I pay for that trip? That’s where the game came in. I suggested to my gaming friends that if they pooled their disposable resources with mine, I would typeset the game rules, print 50 copies, give them each one, and sell the rest at the Denver convention with our leftover funds. If the sales went well, I promised to split the profits, and if not, these investors would get more copies.
My friends, bless them, agreed with enthusiasm.
I needed approval from my professors before I could pursue those paper plans, so as my fall 1980 semester advanced, I pitched my Devention proposal to my journalism advisor – an established novelist who oversaw many of my creative writing courses (our J-school had a then-rare professional writing program that focused on novels). He readily agreed to my plans, setting up a personal studies course in my fall ’81 semester. I then courted an English professor to create and lead a one-time spring ‘81 honors course where I would write my rulebook, which would double as my honors paper. This whole concept tickled him, so he went along.
That spring, when I wasn't writing and editing those rules, I obtained printing cost estimates, contacted the Denvention staff about trade show booths, secured one with a deposit, and ironed down a printing, sales, and travel budget with my friends. We each chipped in $50, which back then was a fair expenditure for most students. I trimmed my hospitality costs by reserving time at a Denver KOA campground instead of area hotels. My fiancé didn’t mind; having never camped in a tent, she saw it as an adventure.
Securing that booth provided two unexpected benefits:
• The opportunity to speak on a Denvention II gaming panel!
• An evening event in the convention schedule to demonstrate my game.
Most important of all, I made a friend in the convention bureaucracy who promised to connect me with any attending authors. I would use that to tackle my journalism paper. It's topic: the challenges fantasy writers faced working under Tolkien’s shadow (you see, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, J.R.R.’s works so dominated fan interests, fantasy publishers rarely backed anything that didn't echo The Lord of the Rings). The convention lineup looked quite promising, with two of my favorite authors already signed up: Stephen R. Donaldson, who penned The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, my favorite trilogy at that time, and C.L. Moore, one of the first women to achieve fame in the SF and fantasy genre.
This raised my next challenge: getting the game into print. As my junior year neared its end, I approached my hometown newspaper (the weekly Mustang Mirror) to secure a summer internship – and permission to use its equipment to typeset my rulebook. This brought my first stumbling block, for my journalism school turned down my internship application (it would only approve such posts with metro dailies or broadcasters). That soon became a moot point, for the Mirror’s owner gave me a summer job anyway, with one caveat: he could only provide part-time hours. So, to earn enough money for the coming school year, I supplemented my reporting with part- or full-time work (it varied week by week) at my local Mazzio’s Pizza. That Mustang restaurant had opened as Ken’s Pizza during my junior year in high school. I was one of its initial hires, serving behind the counter until I left for OU.
Juggling those press and pizza posts set me up for seemingly endless summer labors. Think of it: I rose each weekday to cover morning news, then spent my afternoons and/or evenings (not to mention weekends) producing cheesy pies. My midnight hours went to typing that rulebook into our newspaper’s word processor (the publisher trusted me with my own office key).
This brings us to a vital point in history, for everything that followed (at least for me) might have changed if that word processor (ancient by today’s standards) had included a spellchecker. But that's another story for another day… in this case, my next blog! See you then – same bat time, same bat channel!