Monday, 28 September 2015

Attack of the Fungoid Trolls

Finally the ancient tome known as the Attack of the Fungoid Trolls is in my grasp.

Attack of the Fungoid Trolls | TTG | 1980

Published by Bob Conners Tabletop Games in 1981 Attack of the Fungoid Trolls was the only published scenario for their Reaper Fantasy Wargames Rules - written by Bryan Ansell and Richard Halliwell ,who also collaborated on Imperial Commander for Bryans Laserburn and with Rick Priestly went on to devise Warhammer.

Physically Attack of the Fungoid Trolls is a simple black and white A5 8 page saddle-stitched (or "stapled" to the illiterate heathens) volume with off-white cream card covers. If you're familiar with other TTG products of the same era, perhaps Reaper itself or Laserburn or one of their many fine historical wargaming rules it a follows a familiar template. The typesetting is monospaced font that looks like it has come straight off an IBM daisywheel printer, punctuated with neatly done Letraset headers, in this case Letraset Old English giving it a somewhat gothic feel, and by gothic I mean some obscure proto-doom synth-pop cassette only release by some random bunch of ex-hippies and post punks from Sheffield.

Unfortunately none of the artwork is credited beyond a few signatures. Most certainly looks like the work of  Tony "Shadow King" Yates who also did art duties on Reaper. None of the pictures seem particularly relevant to  anything in the text, yet it all manages to evoke the same grimy swords and sorcery atmosphere and create a wider world.

Attack of the Fungoid Trolls also comes with a folded A5 sheet of plant schematics, reminiscent of the kind Letraset put out for architectural rendering, and later found in Games Workshops Dungeon Floor Plans series, although printed on sturdy yellow stock for you to cut out and use.

These are trees... not Chaos Vortexes... or are they?

The text evokes much the same feeling as the early Citadel Specialty Set scenarios (The Quest for Chaos et. al.), but given a little more depth and detail. As Fungoid Trolls is co-authored by Bryan Ansell and Richard Halliwell that isn't a complete surprise, and there are elements I'd attribute to each. There are some obvious motifs taken from Dungeons & Dragons, the Hill, Stone, Frost and Fire Giants, regenerating Trolls and the Red Dragons for example. There is also the perennial Warhammer obsession with mutants and chaos and a kind of precursor to the Death World concept that arose in Rogue Trader and would resurface with Warhammer 8th Edition terrain. There are the randomly determined forces alongside the "use whatever figures you have" suggestion, and something vaguely psychedelic about the whole affair. All in all it is fantastic, and everything I hoped it would be, without being at all what I'd expected.

nobody expects the fungoid troll invasion!

But what of the scenario itself?  The forces of the Evil Necromancer Macarbres Dwight IV clashes against the Astothian army in the Mutant Woods. The Marcarbres raiding party boasts a fine display of Ogres, Giants, Trolls and Acolytes, whereas the Astothians are a rugged mixed human infantry and cavalry army centered on a group of adventurers. The woods themselves are full of deadly and trecherous vegetation, as likely to cause death and destruction as the machinations of the generals. As the actual armies compositions are really random / flexible, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what size game it is, but the force averages around 120 troops per side. The focus on adventurers kind of puts Attack of the Fungoid Troll into the strange hinterland between RPGs and Wargames... 3D Roleplay Hobby Games perhaps... The rulebook does TTG figures, both their fantasy Reaper line, which gets listed on the back cover, and their historicals are suggested, alongside the Citadel Fantasy Tribe Trolls.

Citadel Fantasy Tribes Troll painted by the talented Don Hans

So there you have it. Five long years it has taken me to get a copy of Attack of the Fungoid Trolls - almost as long as this blog has existed. Over the years I'd contacted various second-hand games sellers and collectors, jammed Attack of the Fungoid Trolls with a half dozen alternate spellings on my eBay saved searches. Sent random people emails, scoured boot-fairs and wargames shows alike. Nothing. Not a single sniff. Like some Thane Tostig lost in the dark woods, I thought the quest would never be quite complete.

But finally the fine folk at second hand and collectable RPG dealer Shop on the Borderlands managed to unearth the arcane tome some time in the middle of September 2015 and put it on their website for sale, somehow succeeding where all others had failed. And then a scant two days later the thing arrived in my mailbox, sturdy board backed envelope and ziplock-bagged. Chuffed, yes I am.

Anyway, rather than just leave it there, I thought I'd ask Mark in a round about way how he'd managed to get hold of Attack of the Fungoid Trolls when I had spectacularly failed too ...

Hi Mark, when did you start The Shop on the Borderlands?
I think we launched in May of last year. I'd been made redundant from a well-paid job and gone to work in my wife's business, which was much more fun but meant I didn't have the disposable cash to lavish on old roleplaying games. And I missed that. So starting a business trading in old roleplaying games was a way to get that thrill back. It helped that my wife's business was web development (among other things).

Where do you source your stock from? Do you spend the weekends obsessively hunting round car boot sales, charity shops, digging up fields around Nottingham and haunting house clearance auctions like the rest of us retrogamer addicts?
Car boot sales always start too early and I suspect that the chances of finding stuff every time is probably quite low. I have found a few items in charity shops (usually when actually looking for secondhand books). My best find in a charity shop was a pretty obscure Cthulhu supplement. Regrettably though, the people in the shop had been clever enough to realise that they had something quite valuable and had it on sale for £30. I did buy it and later sold it for £60. I've not hit the house clearances market yet - hopefully most roleplayers are still alive! I buy quite a bit on eBay sites (not just in the UK, but internationally) and from people on various social media groups and forums.

Since I'm still a gamer myself, the hardest part can be forcing myself to buy the product I know I'll get a decent margin on and not the product that I've always wanted to have a look at! Oh, and I do
get approached by people wanting to turn their collection into cash in one job lot. We do also sell brand new stock, and get that from Esdevium Games (like most RPG stores in the UK).

Ah yes, I used to drop into Esdiviums Aldershot shop back in the day - they used to run those full page 6pt text adverts in White Dwarf that listed just about every RPG thing ever published. I think the retail and distribution arms spilt a long time ago.  But back to hoarding old stuff, do you buy collections?
Yes. That's not to say we buy any collection - I'm running a business here!  For me to buy a collection, I have to be confident I can make a good profit on it in a reasonable time. Stock turnover in this kind of business is pretty slow, and I can't afford to tie up all of my working capital in slow-moving stock that I'll only be able to sell at a small margin. The bigger the margin I think I'll be able to make and the quicker I'll be able to sell something, the more interested I'm likely to be. I was trying to avoid buying anything at the moment (because we currently have rather more stock than cash or shelf space), but I actually bought a collection today because the seller offered me a very good deal!

Oh well, there goes my hope of flogging my old tat. What's your most valuable collectible in stock?
Probably the most valuable item I own isn't actually in stock, but just in my private collection. That's the second copy ever printed of the GDW boardgame 'Imperium' from 1977. Mint, unpunched, and verified as the second ever printed by Marc Miller. Imperium is of interest primarily because it was the first use of what would become the official setting for Traveller. After D&D, Traveller is probably the most collectable of all RPGs. I should know - I was a collector, and most of my collection became stock, but I drew the line at that copy of Imperium. (We do have another copy of Imperium for sale in the Shop though!

I think the most expensive item we currently have in stock is also for Traveller. It's The Travellers' Aid Society Alien Encyclopedia, a hardback compilation of the Classic Traveller Alien Modules, produced as a limited edition in Germany (ours is 86 of 200).

Second would be the very, very obscure (and not entirely licensed) Blake's 7 RPG. I think the most expensive items we've sold in our first year of existence were '101 Robots' for Traveller (£160), the TSR Silver Anniversary Collector's Edition Boxed Set (£150) and a Japanese language edition of Traveller (£130).

I've recently acquired a complete run of Blakes 7 on VHS (it's the retro-scifi format of choice!) and had no idea there was an unofficial B7 RPG.  So how did you get into RPGs?
Probably the same way a lot of people of my age did - a friend had just got the red box Mentzer edition Basic D&D and wanted some players. My first character was a fighter called 'Markon' and the first adventure we played was B2 The Keep on the Borderlands (which obviously inspired the name of the Shop). I either bought or was bought as a present MERP, Traveller and 1st edition AD&D not long after that. I ran and played in a few campaigns at university (Traveller and AD&D), became a collector at the point in my life when I had more money and less time, but now have a group who were all people I knew at university (including my wife) and we play a hardcore week-long campaign (playing about eight or more hours a day) once a year, always with me as the GM.

My current campaign is going to last for several of these weeks (so several years) and is set during the Second Age of Middle-earth, but using my own rules rather than MERP or any other published game.

Well, that probably marks us as a similar vintage, even if my own interests tend towards the period before I started gaming. Week-long none-stop RPG sessions using your own house-rules is pretty hardcore! Thanks for taking the time out to answer my questions and another thanks from me for tracking down Attack of the Fungoid Trolls and flogging it to me.

Attack of the Fungoid Trolls by Bryan Ansell and Richard Halliwell was available from TTG in Nottingham for 60p, in the 80s, send SAE for catalogue.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015


Welcome to Moorsgard, a small village on the Counts Road, bordering on Blackwood (to the North) and Ebonmoor (to the South).

Moorsgard | DIN A3 Board | Fineliners | by ZHU 2015
An curious little fantasy medieval village, containing a windmill, wizards tower, candle maker, tavern, herbalist and of course some goats and a pig. The kind of place one might catch some strange rumours in, or have to defend against some great tide of evil. Who knows the scheming, the romances, the jealousies, rivalries and firm friendships may form in a place such as this?

The drawing was a private commission and not destined for publication, so thought I'd share it with you good folks here. Hope you enjoy.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Fighting Fontasy: Stonehenge

Irregular series looking at Old School Fantasy typography...
TSR | Gygax | Classic Warfare 1975

Citadel Miniatures Logo 1979 by Albie Fiore

The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan | TSR | 1980
Warhammer Circa 1983

Dungeon Dwellers Heritage | c. 1981

The Lichway | Albie Fiore | White Dwarf 9 | 1978

Caves and Caverns | Judges Guild | 1982

Palladium RPG | 1983
Advanced Civ, |Avalon Hill | 1991

In the 80s, before commercial graphic design became something that happened on computers,  the only way to get fancy lettering without laboriously and hugely skillfully hand-drawing it was to use dry transfer or rub-down lettering, such as is/was produced by Letraset or Normatype. Some of these typefaces took on the job of defining of a genre. Whether this was due to various companies copying each other or all trying to communicate a similar set of ideas through their design, it's hard to say without actually interviewing everyone concerned (if you were responsible for any of the designs above and happen to be reading this, drop me a note, I'd love to hear what went into the work).

How to do Rub Down Lettering | Helvetica | Letraset

The case in point - a rubdown lettering called Stonehenge published by Formatt, now infamous across the universe as the logo of the most successful toy soldier company since those little green Army Men guys.  Notably, Stonehenge has some forms characteristic of a Roman 'rustic' lettering or capitalis rustica - the flourishes on the V, W and the extended L all point to that being the basis for the design, although these forms range from 1st - 8th Century. the A is particularly quirky letter - which is more of an uncial type. Picking exactly what historical samples served as a model for Stonehenge is more PHD level research than a simple blog-post, it seems to be an amalgamation of 8th C calligraphic forms. Yet the designer also appears to have rationalized the use of curved strokes from calligraphic writing to a more inscription, carving, based model, where straight lines tend to dominate see the M, etc.



Stonehenge also has serifs (the little 'ticks' at the end of letter strokes) which originate from Roman stone-carved letters and are a common feature of commonly used typefaces like Times New Roman and so on. So in its form Stonehenge seems to embody an alternate history, where stone-carved letters were based not on the civilized, orderly models of Roman inscriptions, but instead on the parochial, rustic, barbaric letter forms, which in the alternative history have become the dominate form, and subsequently used in monumental inscription.

But Stonehenge isn't a straight typographic revival of old historical forms given an alternative twist. The forms are distressed - given jagged edges, broken parts and rough edges - designed to make it look like had been printed off an ancient battered metal casting - the indentations are consistent with damage, rather than say rough edges of paper that something like the universally derided Papyrus uses. Putting too much and repeated weight on metal or wooden type (until the age of off-set litho, most typography was produced via relief printing) will cause the serifs and thin strokes to split off and crack, the edges also get dented from being knocked around - all of which naturally happens to physical type over time. This distress also plays into the physical hand-work of using rub-down type, parts of letters can be missed off, or broken by not applying an even pressure. The distressed edges of Stonehenge is playing to the advantages of the medium and turning the serendipity of the process into something that feeds back into the design.

So not only are the letterforms based on a pseudo-historical model, they have been made to look like they very material of them has been used and abused for a very long time, giving it an even stronger and more unusual 'antique' feel and that's possibly why it's a firm favorite of the 80s fantasy art-director.

It's also worth noting that many designers didn't use the rub-down transfers at all, but instead hand-drew the lettering, using the type-specimin as a model, adding yet another level of quirk, strangeness and charm.

To my knowledge, there have been two digital revivals of Stonehenge, both distributed for free.

 Moria Citadel  by Russ Herschler of Dragonfang - onlne gaming supplies retailer and archive of many an adventure sheet.  Russ was kind enough to point me in the right direction for the origin of his font (Stonehenge, Formatt). I used a slightly modified version Russ's font on the classic "OLDHAMMER: In Battle There is No Law" T-shirt and there is also Satans Minions by Mickey Rossi

P.S. If anyone out there in internet land has any rub-down sheets of Stonehenge, I'd be interested in acquiring some!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015


An army of reanimated deadites shamble across a barren landscape, wearily making their way towards an ancient citadel, belching forth fumes and rivers of mire into deep cracks of the scorched barren earth, leeched of all life. A dead planet. A distant rhythmical thumping of engines and stench of gasoline belie the edifices ancient industrial purpose. Why do the dead walk here? Are they come to tear down the machinery of some mad devourer of worlds with their skeletal hands, to break their bony fingers against grinding gears and carven stone - the last survivors beyond lifelessness left to challenge the evil overlords. Perhaps. It may be these skeletal warriors seek simple rest, hoping the infernal citadel-machine will grind their bones and sever their tortured binding of mind and body, to grant them an eternal oblivion, a final end to their toiling path and blasphemous unlife. Perhaps. It may be that some alien master awaits within to receive the corpse-warriors. Some justified and ancient being from before the dawn of Man, who summons the bodies of the slain to his insane factory to transform their decaying bodies, and with eldritch wizardry bind their world weary souls to ever stranger forms and send them out, into the blackness between the stars upon sentient voidcraft steered by alien minds, to follow some unutterable destiny. To seek again the victory of annihilation and wage their eternal war anew on some alien horizon. Perhaps. It may be the truth is stranger yet.

Rightly famed throughout the western spiral for his necromantic and thaumaturgical acts upon multifarious weird and fantastical toy soliders, the Oldhammerist known as JB Asslessman, Master of the Leadplague,  is now sporting a new blog banner, as drawn by the illuminator-minions of the  Zhu Art Corporation of Zelda XII.

Go forth and see what the Assless One hath wrought.