Midsummer Mischief was born under a tree on a sunny Sunday in July 1996. It was Convulsion, and we were buzzing from playing the all-day Runequest game. Freeforms were cool, freeforms were sexy. We would write one ourselves - we just weren’t sure which one.
We all knew what sort of freeform we wanted to write - one with heaps of character background, different goals, wacky abilities and envelopes. In other words, the kind of freeform we wanted to play. We had played some that were little more than board games or puzzles, or where “characters” consisted of two lines of text. We could do better than that. We hoped.
I am not quite sure how we arrived at a game based on PG Wodehouse’s Blandings stories, but its strange mix of terrifying aunts, foolish drones, fat pigs, impostors and the like seemed ideal. So we started reading the source material to get ideas - the plan being to get as many ideas for plots and characters as possible.
At The King’s Musketeers in February 1997 we ambushed Kevin Jacklin, freeform supremo. We knew by that point that a day of “small” freeforms was on the cards and we needed to start work in earnest. Kevin suggested that we each take a plot and work the characters around that, then work on another plot with more characters and so on.
We combined that piece of advice with as many ideas as we could pinch from other games, and started work. It began to come together.
In the summer of 1997 we got official advance warning of Furrytales: Short Stories. Proposals had to be in by December, with the finished thing by March 1998. This sounded like a long time but it wasn’t long at all - not if you included Christmas, work and Real Life. We had plenty of work ahead and not that much time to finish it.
By this point, I realised that I really couldn’t face reading another PG Wodehouse story. Ever. Thoroughly sick of it, I finished my plot and assumed the role of Project Dictator. Removing myself from having to read the stories also let me take a back seat and concentrate on whether the game would be fun to play. Being fun quickly became more important than staying true to Wodehouse.
Document control proved to be the biggest problem. The four of us were scattered across the country and had access to differing types of email and word processors. I set up a web page so that everyone had access to the latest documents. We found that rich text format (rtf) was the best file format to use between us as they preserved our formatting as it crossed a variety of word processors. It wasn’t perfect, but most of the time it worked.
As far as the game went, structure was something I was keen to provide. Having played in a couple of games that didn’t have a timetable or structure, I had found that they usually ended poorly. Our game needed a climax, something to work towards. Enter the fete - and the variety of strange competitions helped add plots to the game and (hopefully) would give it a rousing finish.
We missed the March deadline - by quite a bit. In fact, it wasn’t ready until a week before Short Stories. Heidi printed everything, I produced item and ability cards and with Paul we packet-stuffed. Even then things weren’t quite certain: “Is Huxley going to be fun to play?” Paul asked. We checked, we weren’t sure; we gave him some nice abilities.
Then came the moment of truth. Would it work or would it flop? We would soon find out…
Credit Where Credit is (Really) Due
- Nathan: “Welcome to Blandings”, the Fete, Connie, Huxley, Myra, Mustard and the original inspiration.
- Steve: Gossip, the scarab, the secretary, biffing, diamond gifts,Aline, Freddie, Ronnie, Aggie, lies, damn lies and statistics.
- Heidi: Romance, vegetarianism, the chatelaine, diamond thefts, Gally, Julia, Dora, Gloria, Pru, Parsloe, Maudie, Orlo, flavour text, and occasional indignant outrage.
- Paul: Drones, the fat pig competition, Gally's memoirs, Beach, Uncle Fred, Daphne, Vee, Popjoy, Tippy, Baxter, Penny, Emsworth, tea and sympathy.
- Thanks to John Grandidge for proofreading and making useful suggestions.
Article by Steve Hatherley.