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The most obscure roleplaying game I own: Faerie Wood

May 1, 2012

For my sins, which must have been many and grievous, I spent the winter of 1993/4 living in Portsmouth. To stave off utter despair, I listened to a lot of Eat Static, Senser, and the Stereo MC’s. (Those were the days! And they say the OSR isn’t about nostalgia…) Another tiny spark of radiance in that otherwise dark place was provided by the university’s roleplaying games society. I turned up to the first meeting of the academic year and was initially somewhat put off by all the distressingly youthful faces (they were almost all teenage undergraduates and I was a “mature” student of 25 – positively ancient by comparison) and by the fact that they all seemed to be involved in 14-player campaigns set in the Forgotten Realms. I have nothing against AD&D 2E, but I really wanted to run a campaign of my own devising and no one there seemed interested in that, even though one or two people admired my setting map and wanted to know how it was produced. “Um, I drew it. With a pen. On paper.” Shocked stares.

There was another fellow there of about my age and, like myself, long of hair and whiskery of face. He looked as lost as I. We ended up drinking beer and chatting while everyone else got on with their massive shoutathons. (N.B. I’m sure they were having an excellent time. Good for them. I generally dislike having more than three or four players at my table, so it looked and sounded like Hell to me.) Anyway, this gentleman’s name was Garry Robson and in 1991/2 he had written and produced his own RPG, which is what all this autobiographical guff has been leading up to. Welcome to Faerie Wood.

Faerie Wood is a 52-page A4 book with green card covers. All the artwork is by the author. (Garry was studying Illustration when I met him.) Mechanically, the game borrows elements of D&D (d20 “to hit” rolls and saving throws) and BRP (magic points, an attribute contest table) and adds numerous quirks of its own (d12 rolls for initiative, a linear alignment system that runs Good > Neutral > Chaotic > Evil). It describes itself as a “perfect introduction for new role-players” and, for veterans, as “a welcome alternative to the mainstream of heroic combat/fantasy games”. Certainly it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Garry lists his inspirations on the first page, and a curious assemblage they are: Gary Gygax, Nancy Arrowsmith, Piers Anthony, Jonathan Carroll, the Brothers Grimm, and Jethro Tull (the band, not the inventor of the seed drill). It’s a far cry from Appendix N.

The game has two unique selling points. The first is its setting, the eponymous Faerie Wood. It gets three pages of textual description and a rough, cartoony map. Here are some samples of its flavour:

Faerie Wood is a vast area of woodland situated in a human province, be it Celtic Britain, a modern day forest or another period. The Wood and many of its inhabitants are magical and enchanted. This magic comes from the ley lines which criss-cross everywhere beneath Faerie Wood. Some parts of The Wood are more magical than others, and much is invisible to humans.

You may think faeries are little things that are mostly harmless and rather weak and feeble. You would be wrong on all counts. Indeed they are little but they simply ooze magic and enchantment.

This magic which the faeries have bestows all sorts of powers. Most strangely they do not need to eat! In fact such habits are looked on with disgust. After all if, like humans, you eat, then you must… well… go to the lavvy. Such a thing is unspeakably repugnant. However faeries do partake in the occasional glass of nectar (a term used to describe any alcoholic drink such as wine or cider) and tea and biscuits are quite acceptable too.

There are two great occasions in Faerie Wood each year: Midsummer night and Midwinter night. On the summer night the non-evil faeries celebrate all night. Their magical powers are at their highest and they are full of energy. This means that spells are more effective, less magic points are needed to cast spells, and their luck is increased by +4. Not surprisingly evil fairies stay at home. On Midwinter’s night, the evil faeries are at their most prominent. They do not celebrate with parties. Instead they have chases and hunts through The Wood all night, capturing and killing faeries where they can.

Time is very strange in Faerie Wood, if not chaotic. Time flows much faster outside The Wood than it does inside. It’s because of this that humans (ignorant as ever) believe faeries live for hundreds of years. In fact they live no longer than some humans. Faeries will live up to about 70 or 80 years. Those who are particularly well versed in the ways of magic may squeeze one or two more decades in before they finally pop off.

The second selling point is the game’s player character options. There are no classes, as such, and no levels. Instead, a player can choose to play one of eleven faerie races: Sprite, Pixie, Elf, Satyr, Grig, Gnome, Dragon (hatchling), Nymph, Centaur, Leprechaun, or (young) Treant. Each has its own range for attributes, BRP-style. Sprites, for example, roll 1d6+1 for Strength, while Centaurs get 2d6+6. Each race also has one or more special abilities. Sprites get a starting spell, and they can transform into a will o’ the wisp (making them immune to attacks with mundane weapons). Nymphs get two spells and they can charm male faeries and humans. Dragon hatchlings get claw and bite attacks, improved natural DEF (the equivalent of AC), and the all-important ability to cause fear in goblins. And so on.

In a stroke of genius, each race also has an evil counterpart. Pixie/Goblin. Elf/Dark Elf. Gnome/Dwarf (yes, in Faerie Wood dwarves are evil, greedy, slave-taking bastards). Dragon/Evil Dragon. Satyr/Korred. Nymph/Hag. Furthermore, if a character performs a wicked act, then his or her alignment shifts along the scale towards Evil. Unless remedial action is taken, the character will eventually undergo a terrible physical and psychological metamorphosis and turn into its evil counterpart. What happens then?

A changed faerie loses all ties with his/her former race and hates past friends and companions. A game master may decide to have the character taken out of the game never to be seen again, or it may be run as a non-player character who turns up from time to time to harass his former friends. Alternatively the player may keep the changed character and play solo games, or even group games where the players are all evil faeries.

Wonderful stuff. In future posts I’ll talk more about the game and some of the adventure “modules” I have. I haven’t played Faerie Wood in almost twenty years, and I lost touch with Garry a long time ago. There was supposed to be a Game Master’s Book in the pipeline (the book I have is really the “Player’s Handbook” for the game) but I have no idea if that ever materialised. It’s a long shot, no doubt, but if anyone reading this knows Garry Robson (or Richard Farr, who did editing and layout) or has any knowledge or experience of the game itself, I’d be very pleased to hear from you.

Edit: Hats off to David Down Under, who pointed me in the right direction (see comments below) and put me back in touch with the creators of Faerie Wood. Good onya, mate! More posts on the way.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 1, 2012 2:00 am

    What a fascinating treasure Alan. I look forward to further glimpses of it. With the help of Google I found this fella who sounds like your guy (went to uni in Portsmouth, now an artist in Brighton):

    If so, it would be wonderful if you could convince him to republish his game, which of course is a much easier thing to do these days.

    • May 1, 2012 2:40 am

      Cheers, David! Nice work. It might well be the same chap. I’ve sent a message and will see what kind of response I get (if any). Heh. Maybe we can look forward to a de luxe hardback edition for the game’s 20th anniversary…

      • May 1, 2012 2:56 am

        Excellent. Yes, Garry might be surprised at the level of interest in old and obscure RPGs. Even just for his artwork alone I’d like to see that hardback sitting on my gaming shelf, but the game itself sounds great fun and I could easily see me using bits of it in my D&D (LL) games.

  2. May 1, 2012 3:08 am

    My copy, incidentally, is signed and numbered: 66. I wonder how many were sold and where they all are now.

    • May 1, 2012 3:12 am

      Unfortunately the name of the game makes it hard to research on Google. Blimey, do you know how many RPGs have a “faerie wood”? Thoosunds as the Scots would say.

      • May 1, 2012 3:26 am

        I know! Google has the effect of making names like Talislanta and Synnibarr (or Lejendary Adventure for that matter) seem like sensible choices.

  3. Richard Farr permalink
    May 8, 2012 1:15 pm

    Thank you for the very kind things you said about Faerie Wood! Garry alerted me to this article (yes, David found the right bloke). We should have a chat some time. Or a game…

    There were 200 copies in the print run. Numbers one and two are hardbound with leather corners (Garry and I each have one), and I believe there were half a dozen other hardbacks. The next thirty or so had pale green covers, done as a ‘rush job’ in order to get them ready in time for a convention down in Exeter. After that, the dark green ones like yours.

    Which game supplements do you have? Bowls and The Starwood Tree? Goblins? Bagpipe Blues and Airy Faeries? I’m sure you got The Garden Snatchers. Did you play our exhibition games, Much Ado About Muffin, and A Midsummer Night’s Drink?

    Good to find Faerie Wood getting a mention on the Web after all these years. Thanks.

    • May 8, 2012 2:13 pm

      Hey, thanks for stopping by and commenting! Thanks especially for the further info regarding the print run of FW. Yes, I have all the “modules” you mention (and am preparing a blog post about them), though not the exhibition games. I’ve just been chortling at the titles you quote, because they’re so redolent of the game’s atmosphere – FW done wrong could have fallen into the trap of tweeness, but it avoids that by the inclusion of liberal helpings of good-humoured blokish daftness.

      It’s been great catching up with Garry. I’ve got your email address now, so I’ll be in touch soon.


  4. sagaofscrondar permalink
    June 25, 2012 12:38 am

    I just stumbled across this blog post and it sounds like a fantastic game!

  5. Brette permalink
    January 21, 2013 2:46 am

    Is there any way to get a copy of the game? I collect all sorts of old rpg games.. sounds like my cup of tea;)


    • January 21, 2013 7:17 pm

      An excellent question! If you have no objection, I’ll forward your email address (which I can see on my WordPress control panel thingy here) to Garry and see if anything can be done.

      • Brette permalink
        January 21, 2013 10:09 pm

        PLease do:)


  6. David Dowling permalink
    March 28, 2013 11:32 pm

    I loved to see this summary of a game I hold very dear to my heart even after all these years. It is especially nice to see Richard Farr’s comments as he was one of the original playtesters and has a foreword in the rulebook on Garry Robson the author.

    When the original playtesting group broke up due to University attendance, Garry recruited a new motley crew from SELWG (South East London Wargame Group) made up from the rpg rebels to start a new game with his system. I was fortunate enough to be one of those and I still have my autographed hardcopy (No.1 of 6) dedicated to my Centaur. Garry later told me I was his first centaur player and he was pleased how it turned out (you can’t get better praise than that!).

    Sadly I cannot find any of my adventures though they may turn up in a dusty file somewhere one day, but if anyone out there has any copies they could scan and e-mail I would be most grateful.

    Garry never did publish the DM guide though as his University years came along and he never returned to the halls of SELWG or the realms of Fairie Wood!

  7. stephen permalink
    December 17, 2013 11:59 am

    I met Garry at college when he was doing art course and still have my copy of faerie wood of the first run ( number 2 of 6) and signed as well as the free game ( the garden snatches that came with it.) . He was a great guy and fantastic ideas I wished he had produced more books.

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