Today we return to exploring the work of Tony Bath in his ground-breaking Hyborian campaign. As I noted before Bath's book, Setting Up A Wargames Campaign, is a fascinating glimpse into an era where innovative miniature wargamers' campaign play was growing into elaborate, sophisticated affairs—with strikingly deep explorations of some of the robust roleplaying elements we've come to think of as unique to D&D and its successors.
(Which, of course, is not to deny or belittle the uniqueness of what Gygax, Arneson, Kuntz and the other original D&D pioneers created—that powerful witches brew of elements rightfully grabbed hold of the imagination of millions of players in a way that miniature wargames even at their height never did on their own.)
Bath's Hyboria was never a fantasy role-playing game full stop. His Hyboria had no overt magic. There were no dwarves, elves, dragons, and all the rest. The nation's of Hyboria were stand-ins for real world equivalent armies of Celts, Romans,Medieval Europeans, Indians, Numidians, Aztecs, etc.
For all that, it's also hard not to notice that Bath was as into pulp fantasy as some of the D&D founders were. Sprague de Camp's Tritonian Ring and Krishna books; Edgar R. Burroughs Barsoom; Fritz Leiber's Newhon and Andre Norton's Witch World all get tips of the hats as possible locales for people to base their campaigns in the very first chapter. Telling little details pop in the book such as Vance's Dying Earth characters sneaking in the middle of a chart laying out all the many nobles of Hyrkania (Kandive the Golden) or in the section on why you should have nicknames for characters (Liane the Wayfarer and Kandive again).
Perhaps more importantly he brought to his campaign such an immersive fictionalized world-building style that it's hard to deny that his Hyboria had the living, breathing feel of the deeply-imagined fantasy world—and a player-character game-play style that would foster out-of-the-box roleplaying as a central feature. Passages throughout his book read less like the usual straight-laced, geared-down prose of most wargamer advice and more like the kind of breathless, no-holds-to-your imagination words of an excited fantasy gamemaster to another:
“Another advantage of this mythical continent is that, if your original creation was properly done, it will last you for not just one campaign but for as many as you like, and in the course of these the continent will develop a life of its own. Precedents will be created for future actions, traditions of both friendship and enmity arise, and all these will help you later in running the continent. Finally you will probably reach the stage when you wonder just how much control you have or whether you have created a Frankenstein's monster!”
Similarly other accounts by him (this from White Dwarf #4) run over with that flush of fantasy world-building excitement likely familiar to many readers:
“As it happens, I enjoy organizing things...so working out systems of military service, taxation, family lineage and such items came easily to me and in fact gave me many hours of enjoyment. I had the advantage to start with that Howard...had worked into his stories far more background detail than exists in the normal fantasy. He had provided an outline map, superimposed on one of the present day world--for Hyboria is not a different world but a theoretical age of our own world, thousands of years in the past--and while the geographical picture was rather vague, featuring few cities, there was a wealth of ethnological detail available. On this I proceeded to build.
One of the first things I did was to take Howard's map and blow it up to a reasonable size, 4' x 4'. 1 then proceeded to fill in a vast amount of geographical detail tracing in rivers and mountains, founding new cities, and dividing his countries up into smaller provinces. Later, when I founded a tax system, I went even further, coloring the whole map to represent grasslands, hill country, cultivated regions, forests and suchlike.”
Enough for today, in the next part of the series we will explore in greater detail his approach to world building, how the Hyborian game play I mentioned above paralleled later rpg play in its inventiveness; how the campaign distinguished player characters from non-player characters and other yummy bits.
In the good news department, the Society of Ancients (which Bath founded) has released , Tony Bath's Ancient Wargaming, a nifty omnibus edition that not only includes the campaign book but a copy of his ancient mini rules and an entire new section titled "Hyborian Legends". A nice deal that you can find here in the US and (much cheaper) in the UK here.