Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stevenson At Play

H.G. Wells published the first commercial wargame rules (Little Wars, 1913).  Not everyone knows that Robert Louis Stevenson designed/played a miniatures war game. Reference:  Stevenson At Play, from Scribner's Magazine, December 1898, describes it:

    This game of tin soldiers, an intricate "kriegspiel," involving rules innumerable, prolonged arithmetical calculations, constant measuring with foot-rules, and the throwing of dice, sprang from the humblest beginnings — a row of soldiers on either side and a deadly marble. From such a start it grew in size and complexity until it became mimic war indeed, modelled closely upon real conditions and actual warfare, requiring, on Mr. Stevensons' part, the use of text-books and long conversations with military invalids; on mine, all the pocket-money derived from my publishing ventures as well as a considerable part of my printing stock in trade.

The article, with Introduction by Lloyd Osbourne, details Stevenson's continued fascination with "childhood" things, with an expanding interest in tin soldiers.  It appears that what started as the usual side vs. side continued to expand as he grew older and soon took upon proportions that included reading text-books and talking with military personnel as well as keeping an extensive note book that not only contained rules and formulas (as in Strategos-N by David Wesley) but actual detailed accounts of many running battles he had played.  The article is heartily recommended for those tracking the history of war games, and in it will be found, once again, a slight creep of RPG that cannot be entirely divorced from such proceedings.

Addendum.  Though research may prevail, a question arises:  Was this Stevenson's work alone, or was he influenced by Kriegspiel, Aldershot or Totten's Strategos (which has similarities)?

The original Scribner's article ends with this clever poem:

    For certain soldiers lately dead
    Our reverent dirge shall here be said.
    Them, when their martial leader called,
    No dread preparative appalled;
    But leaden-hearted, leaden-heeled,
    I marked them steadfast in the field.
    Death grimly sided with the foe,
    And smote each leaden hero low.
    Proudly they perished, one by one:
    The dread Pea-cannon's work was done!
    O not for them the tears we shed,
    Consigned to their congenial lead;
    But while unmoved their sleep they take,
    We mourn for their dear Captain's sake,
    For their dear Captain, who shall smart
    Both in his pocket and his heart,
    Who saw his heroes shed their gore
    And lacked a shilling to buy more!


Timeshadows said...

Great poem.
--I'll have to read the article at length.

E.G.Palmer said...

Well, that's really interesting. I'd heard of H.G.Wells little wars, but I didn't know of Stevenson's game.

Ragnorakk said...

Neat - first I've heard of it. Stevenson's one of my favorites. I'm looking forward to Little Wars (on the way (in the mail) right now).

Rob Kuntz said...

It appears that Skirmisher Publications has printed a version of RLS's rules based upon that article. The intro is by Michael J. Varhola who also contributes to the game.


(I found the link at Steve Jackson Games)

It also includes a preview (zipped).

Very nice, I will have to read what they have done; and it is interesting that they refer to him as the "Grandfather of Modern Wargaming"!

Rob Kuntz said...

Here's a link about the upcoming Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movie, with the main role (ughh!) featuring Keanu Reeves. Jeesh, I agree withe the poster here, at least they could have gotten someone who doesn't use starch in their blood...


E.G.Palmer said...

Oh, for Pete's sake. Keanu Reeves? Didn't he do enough damage with The Day the Earth Stood Still?