Saturday, September 14, 2013

Remembering Featherstone

Since Donald Featherstone passed away last week a good number of people have posted remembrances, and in case you missed them, here is a small few:

While for many Featherstone was primarily an influence on their early experience of wargaming, Featherstone loomed largest over my own gaming experience in the last five years or so. This, quite frankly, because I was disappointed in the contemporary wargaming discourse and I was wondering what may have been lost over the years in terms of culture and ideas. The OSR, which to this point, to my knowledge, has only been in reference to roleplaying provides a model for this. That in going back to the roots of the hobby we can see the other paths not taken or abandoned and explore them. But I haven't seen it applied to much to wargaming.

There are people exploring these ideas in the public sphere, in places like on the Vintage Wargaming blog, but in the forums I frequent mention of the old ways is usually in passing and in the past tense, of the kind that begin something like, "I recall back when I was a lad we would...." or simply, "ah, Featherstone, those were the days..." and then after a sentence or two that's the end of it.

Anyway, back a few years ago I was looking for some historical gaming material, and thought it strange again, that very similarly to how there was little talk of the old ways on forums, there was little available on the web or file sharing networks in terms of old material, this is stark contrast again to roleplaying, where for anyone interested you can find the whole history and all the primary sources readily to hand. Maybe it's just more obscure and I haven't stumbled into the right spheres, so don't take my word for it that's not there. But I wound up going to the library where, at my library anyway, Featherstone was the only source on the shelf. That's how I came to Featherstone.

That there was just a single volume on wargmaming at the main library of a major metropolitan city was sad in and of itself, but Featherstone's Complete Wargaming was everything I had hoped it to be, a real window into a world that I saw reflected pretty much nowhere in contemporary wargaming. On the one hand there is a frame of reference that can be communicated in a book on the topic of wargaming as opposed to a set of rules itself, which affords fewer opportunities of this sort, but on the other hand there is a way that he is always moving between a historical reference to a particular tactic or a particular even to how you would start to build a game around it. There's a thin membrane between history and mechanics and a fluid exchange between them, with mechanics rough and custom-fit to serve the particular purpose at hand.

Since that trip to the library I've bought my own copy of that book in particular and read it several times. It's been a huge relief to me, and I've put a number of Featherstone's ideas to practice in my own designs my friends and I are playtesting.

Before anyone gets ideas, I want to make it clear I don't claim to be an expert on old school historical wargaming or on Featherstone in particular. I've only just begin to get my feet wet. But I think there is an awful lot of room for us to not just honor and remember the old ways and the forefathers of wargaming, but to give them the same treatment that roleplayers have given the D&D phenomenon and guys like Gary Gygax. While, surely, many will miss Featherstone, he's still with us, in print even. Here's to the man and may his legacy live on in our games.