5 things I learned working on Alarums & Excursions

A short introduction for international friends and newcomers

As you can probably see, most of this website is in French and deals with tabletop RPGs. Both play and design. We try to invite some guest designers to share 5 things they learned while working on one of their projects that might be helpful for other RPG designers and beginners alike. When these guests don’t speak French, we try to publish both the French translation and the original version of their article so it can be available to more people.

Our sixth international guest is Lee Gold who is a pioneer of our hobby. Not only is she the first female solo RPG with Land of the Rising Sun and Lands of Adventures, but she also ran Alarums & Excursions, the first periodical solely dedicated to RPGs, before even TSR’s Dragon. This publication is a milestone in RPG history, theory, design and welcomed the early texts of many designers who would later become well known in our hobby. It also favored RPG oriented discussions and was the ancestor of modern internet forums and bulletin boards.

Lee’s is now 73 years old and still runs games for her friends, a Vikings (she wrote the Rolemaster supplement about Vikings) themed campaign powered by her Lands of Adventures rules.
She’s sharing her experience about the writing and publishing of A & E.

For more information about Lee : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Gold
For more information about the others « 5 things » : Click here

0. Introduction

a&eI was born Lee Klingstein, during World War II, in Los Angeles, California.  I’ve got an MA in English Literature from UCLA.  When I came to the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society in 1967, it was with a group of friends I’d met at UCLA.  We’d already formed our own small SF club, which met every month, and we came to LASFS to sell copies of our fiction fanzine which I’d edited, The Third Foundation.  We’d started that month with issue #77 and continued over the years to #105.

That first night at LASFS I met Barry Gold whom I married a couple of years later and thus became Lee Gold.

Barry and I both contributed to APA-L, the amateur press association collated every Thursday at LASFS.  So did a lot of other LASFSians, some of them now living in San Francisco or the East Coast.

In mid-1974, Mark Swanson was the first person to mention having played D&D in APA-L.  In early 1975, Hilda & Owen Hannifen came down from San Francisco and visited Los Angeles, and Hilda ran her D&D dungeon for us, and Owen lent us a copy of the rules after seeing me write a check to TSR to buy my own copy.  Yes, that’s right, our first DM was a woman.  SF fandom has always been very egalitarian.  I don’t know if you’ve read Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.  His description of Lunar society, with few but valued women, was very much like SF fandom.

As more people in APA-L began chatting about D&D, a backlash began to develop.  LASFS notable Bruce Pelz urged me to start a « D&D APA » so APA-L could return to its accustomed topics of conversation, and until that happened he contributed less and less in his own APA-Lzine.

Given the name format of « Dungeons and Dragons » and « Tunnels and Trolls, » (sometimes nicknamed « Ugh and Argh » — and my own background as an English Literature major, who’d enjoyed reading Shakespeare, I picked « Alarums and Excursions » for my APA name, a Shakespearean stage direction which means « the sounds of combat — perhaps trumpets — and the movement of fighters. »

And another preliminary discursion — What Is an APA?

APA stands for Amateur Press Association.  An APA is headed by an editor or collator or some other officer who’s responsible for putting together the individual contributions (zines) and sending them out to the contributors and/or subscribers.  Some APAs elect this officer — who may therefore change from time to time.  Some APAs have an owner/editor.

An APA may have a closed list of members or may be open to all contributors or may also be available to anyone who wants to purchase a copy.

An APA usually consists of
1) a cover showing the issue number and perhaps the date, perhaps an illustration
2) probably a table of contents, showing a list of individual contributions (zines) and authors
3) probably the APA’s rules — what you have to do to get a copy
4) individuals contributions (zines:  short for « fanzines, » « fan magazine »)

An apazine usually consists of
1) a title
2) the author’s name or pseudonym and contact information (maybe a snailmail address, after the Internet was established maybe an email address, after the Web was established maybe a URL)
3) perhaps one or more short or long essays
4) perhaps artwork
5) perhaps one or more poems or songs
6) usually comments on the previous issue, each one probably titled with the name or zine title of the person being addressed  This section is the heart of the apazine.  The first thing a contributor usually does when he or she gets a new issue of an APA is to read it looking for comments on his or her previous zine. Remarks that elicit comments are « comment hooks. »

All right, now I can get down to listing five things I learned.

1. Thinking about price & membership structure

I wanted to design a magazine that wouldn’t lose money. As editor of The Third Foundation, I’d adhered to standard fannish protocol and given free copies to anyone who wrote a letter of comment or sent a fanzine in trade, and printing and mailing the fanzine had cost me more money than I’d gotten from selling copies.  I didn’t want that to happen with A&E.

I also wanted to design an APA that would grow.  Some APAs had a fixed membership.  FAPA only had 65 members; anyone beyond that went onto a « wait-list. »  I liked APA-L which let anyone join who wanted to.

But I didn’t want a members-only APA.  I wanted people to be able to subscribe as well as to contribute, with subscribers paying money that would subsidize the costs of contributors.

And I wanted contributing to be habit-forming, so I built the pricing structure so that contributors didn’t have to pay postage to get the APA.  This was particularly enticing, of course, for faraway people that I didn’t see in person.

I started out with the structure
+ Contributors pay $X/page and don’t pay for postage
+ People who contributed last issue pay postage only
+ Non-contributors pay $X and postage

Note that I wasn’t offering the standard fixed cost subscription of a year.  At any time, a subscriber could switch to contributing.  In fact, if a subscriber wrote a brief note of appreciation, I might run it as a short contribution, just to show how easy it was to contribute.

Note also that I had insulated myself against Postal Service increases.  If the cost of mailing went up, then my charge went up automatically, and nobody would blame me.

Nowadays, A&E’s structure is much the same, but I now also allow people to subscribe by email.

2. Learning that a substitute may not be trustworthy

At the start of August of 1975, my husband Barry was transferred for four months to an assignment as a computer programmer in Tokyo, Japan, and I went with him.  I took a typewriter and mimeograph stencils with me, so I could continue contributing to APA-L and A&E, but my mimeograph (weighing about forty pounds) stayed at home, where a friend was staying in our rental house and paying our rent.  And I’d entrusted A&E to another friend, Jack Harness.  I’d handed Jack the file box of A&E subscribers and the A&E treasury.

We got back to Los Angeles in early December, and I discovered that Jack Harness had gone to SF fannish gatherings and gotten new A&E subscribers, but he hadn’t made out file cards for them, just kept a manila envelope full of their letters, with the amounts they’d paid noted on the letters.  And in the four months of August, September, October, and November, Jack Harness had only brought out three issues of A&E. Jack’s cover for A&E #6 said « November-December. »  He plaintively wrote that he’d changed job and « thus can’t call in sick to get a day off any more to edit or run off A&E, and I also commute a half hour longer to work each day. »

I didn’t reproach him, because it was too late for that.  I just took back all the materials he gave me and thanked him for everything he’d done.  Then I started work printing A&E #7, January, 1976.  It had a deadline for material for #8, with the warning « Copy or stencils not received by then may not be included in #8. »

For both amateur and professional publications, a deadline is important for a publisher.  The editor shouldn’t wait for promised material that doesn’t show up and risk missing a printing date.  Purchasers lose heart if publications don’t show up when promised.

3. Dealing with notables

At first I sent a free copy of each issue of A&E to Gary Gygax at TSR.  He sent me a couple of letters of comment which I published for free.

I didn’t mind Gary Gygax’s editorial in The Dragon #16 (July, 1978) criticizing Amateur Press magazines.  Gygax wrote,  » « …[Amateur Press Associations] are generally beneath contempt, for they typify the lowest form of vanity press. There one finds pages and pages of banal chatter and inept writing from persons incapable of creating anything which is publishable elsewhere. Therefore, they pay money to tout their sophomoric ideas, criticise those who are able to write and design, and generally make themselves obnoxious…they are unprofessional, unethical and seemingly ignorant of the laws concerning libel…When I first got into this business, I felt that the APA-zines might be good for the hobby…Now I know the error of my thinking. They serve no useful purpose. »  ( http://rollonward.blogspot.com/2010/10/gary-gygax-and-house-rules.html )

After awhile TSR became upset by a comment in one A&Eer’s zine that he’d heard a rumor that TSR was not behaving nicely to game store owners who stocked other companies’ roleplaying games and threatened to sue him — and to sue me for printing the comment.  I arranged with a lawyer for the contributor to print a retraction saying he had no personal knowledge of such illegal TSR conduct and was willing to accept TSR’s assurance that it hadn’t occurred.

And after that I stopped sending TSR free copies of A&E.

The moral of all this seems to be « Don’t deal with people who don’t appreciate you, even if they are notables in your field. »

I was honored when that Gygax editorial brought me contributions from old fannish friend Steve Perrrin (who wrote Runequest) — and from the writers of Chivalry & Sorcery (Ed Simbalist and Wilf Backhaus).

4. Trading with gaming companies

I sent copies of A&E to independent gaming companies, in the hopes of getting trade copies of some of their games in exchange.  It turned out that this had another effect:  their editors read A&E and looked over the contributors, sometimes contacting them to ask a contributor if he or she would be willing to write something for the gaming company.

The A&Eers were pleasantly surprised every time this happened — and, of course, so was I.

5. Limiting discussion

In the early days of A&E, I had a lot of would-be contributors, some of whom wanted to do very long write-ups.  I noticed that postal rates dictated a huge price jump at 16 ounces, about 160 pages.  And my stapler didn’t want to staple more than number of pages anyway.

I decided it would be unfair for any one person’s contribution to be more than 10% of the issue, so I ruled that no person could contribute more than 16 pages.

Later on I added a few more limits.
+ No more than six pages of fiction (in order to keep the APA focused on roleplaying)
+ No more than two pages discussing politics
+ No libel or personal insults directed at other people (because both the writer and the publisher could be held legally responsible for publishing them).  Unfortunately I waited too long to institute this last rule, and some nasty insults ended up driving away a charming and intelligent (but thin-skinned) writer.  I wish I’d taken action earlier.

And finally, a few more words in conclusion….

As a fannish writer and editor, I never encountered any SF fans bothered by the fact that I was a woman.  The letter from TSR’s lawyers (see item #3) was addressed to « Mr. Lee Gold » and I didn’t bother to correct it.

But when I wrote my first professional game, Land of the Rising Sun, published by Fantasy Games Unlimited, publisher Scott Bizar, who had asked me to write the game and had sent me a contract for it, asked me if I’d like to publish it as co-written by me and my husband Barry.
+ « But Barry didn’t write any of it, » I told Scott Bizar in amazement.  « Barry proofread it, and he indexed it, and I gave him credit for it. »
+ « Most women like to say they co-wrote things with their husbands, » said Scott.
+ « I’m not ‘most women,’; I’m me.  Just have the title page say written by Lee Gold. »

Eventually I realized that Scott Bizar was concerned over the fact that I was female.  How strange.  It had never gotten in my way before.  I’d gone through high school as a double-major in Math and English Lit, but eventually decided on English Lit at UCLA, though I’d also taken Statistics and Symbolic Math.

After that, I didn’t have any more trouble with Scott Bizar — or with any other roleplaying game publishers.

You can find more about me at : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Gold

A couple of roleplaying articles I’ve written are on the Web:
+ « Self-Censorship »: https://www.rpg.net/oracle/essays/censor.html
+ « Golems & Gematria:  roleplaying Jewish characters »: http://www.conchord.org/xeno/golems.html

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