Pirates, Flattery and Disappointment in Lilliput!!

I was flattered to get feedback from a reader after I posted the game RETURN TO LILLIPUT: Pirate Attack in THIS POST back in December of 2009.  As usual, I was happy to post this as a freebie, it’s fun to share an idea, but most times people hardly notice it– and when they do, they don’t appreciate it.  “Free” has a certain cache of being “not worth the time and effort of a commercial game”.  That’s fine; I have no pretensions that material I create is worthy of publication.  So I was quite pleased to be contacted by Duane Guilbeau from Lousiana with constructive criticism and questions about some missing pieces from my initial post to Calameo.  People love to download freebies but usually don’t give it this much thought afterward– I might be a rare exception.  Duane is another.

Many of the games I run at conventions start from free rule sets, like the first version of THE RULES WITH NO NAME, which I ran for years from a free (heavily tinkered with) set of rules by Bryan Ansell.  There have been others–wargaming with miniatures is by nature a tinkering and artisan’s hobby.   Almost everyone who plays with miniatures is a designer at heart, and we all share ideas to help make our projects fly.   The problem with designing a rule set and giving it away is they are so rarely edited by a capable editor.  The “Howard in a box” syndrome sets in.  This is a term we gave to the huge pulp adventure games put on by Howard Whitehouse at conventions– Howard has such a huge collection of period style miniatures, custom terrain, and his own inimical style of running these affairs at cons, that when he sold his pulp rules commercially, some of were commenting “I can’t run this unless Howard comes with the box”.   An overstatement to be sure, but it does indicate that some games earn their reputations because of the personality (and let’s face it, the performance level) of the GM running their own games.  My friend Otto Schmidt runs a game that is (from the material perspective) executed with paper dolls and a representation of fin de siecle Vienna (Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna).    It’s a hilarious game– involving Viennese elites trying to “hook up” in modern parlance– it has very little to do with classical miniatures and everything to do with performance.  When Otto was asked if he’d ever publish the rules, he said “Nope, Never.” “Why Not?” “Because you can’t box up Otto to go with it”.  In a very real sense, whey your run a game you design, your performance as a GM has much to do with the acceptance of the game.

“Battling Biguns – Return to Lilliput”

We players be pirates, what have run aground on the uncharted reefs of Lilliput Island. Having sore hangovers, we want only to build a raft to return to the sea. But what’s this: tiny, noisy people, making such a racket. Will they not let us cross the island and be off? Do they have any rum?
Rules: Return to Lilliput by Walter O’Hara
(Rules available on Line)
4-10 players who will expected to talk like pirates
4X8 Table

(from the Bayou Wars Preliminary Events List, Friday night listing 7-11 PM)

With all that said, it was a bit of a thrill to hear that Mr. Guilbeau had put together a very handsome rendition of the Return to Lilliput Game for presentation at BAYOU WARS in Lousiana; I was tickled pink to learn this.  Even MORE tickled pink to discover that Duane (who is very active on a yahoo group called “low cost wargaming”) had made a set with painted closepins as the pirates, and little craftee bits as the lilliputian villagers.

Closepin Pirates
Closepin Pirates.. about the right size... genius!
The Wider Look
Total Layout, showing the villager infantrymen in place
Duane's setup
The Setup.. map and all. Much better than the individual hex map thing I was using.

(all pictures provided by Duane and republished with his permission)

All this is of course the kind of thing that I love to see– people exchanging ideas, helping each other, contributing to a fun time.  Alas, the crushing part of it all is:

“I was a Bayou Wars last weekend and setup to play Return to Lilliput.  No players showed, huge bummer.”

Man… that’s disappointing, but I can understand it.  Trying something goofy requires a player to step out of his or her comfort zone.  It’s not much fun for the GM to set up what is, for them, a labor of love and then face a “rejection” of sorts.  It’s happened to me.  We just soldier on and try again with the next big idea.

Thanks for the Bayou Wars report, Duane.  I am tickled pink and hugely flattered that you used the Lilliput rules.


  1. Dear Walt

    I have put on many games like yours which had an obvious humorous and farcical element in them and it was staggering to see more staid wargamers in it attempting vainly to conform the game and make it a conventional wargame. This in spite of the obvious and again in spite of repeated GM warnings that it was not that type of game. Their bleak attempts to keep trying standard wargame mentalite’ to the game became an act of obvious desperation such that they became like the experiments with the monkeys raised on the soft mother and the wire-mother, and an object of pathos. Tears were never far from their eyes.

    I remember in one battle called “The Humor!!!… The Humor!!!” a group of ironclad ships from the 1880’s were working up the mighty Congoleum River when someone launched a torpedo at one ship. I as umpire took over the torpedo. This one player turned, thinking hte torpedo was going to go straight, but i rolled for variation in course and of course the torpedo followed him. Well hid did this for a turn or two and each time my roll ( done in secret on a secret chart) had the torpedo chase him like a puppy dog. The player became frantic and exasperated and demanded to know how he could get ouf of this.

    Another player offered to help. The next turn when it came to his move in the ship he didn’t bother with turn guages or rulers or anything, he simply took the ship and spun it around and around and went “Wo…Wo…Wo..Wo..” like Curly Joe in a Three Stooges skit and I ruled that the torpedo followed him, got confused and ran so tight it rammed its own propeller and blew up harllessly.

    “Piece of Cake” the one player said while the other player looked at both of us bewildered.”

    Gamers are always complaining they want something new and innovative, but when they get it, they don’t like it because it’s not the old, familiar, and known.


  2. As a post-script I recall to you that memorable occasion when as Anatoly the Armored Train ( The Sovietski Cousin of Thomas the Tank Engine) I loaded up the firebox with all the coal I could cram, and a case of dynamite besides and went full tilt at the precipice where Arthur had blown the bridge to cut me off, and vaulted the chasm and came down on Arthur’s conveyance with a herty “Ho-Ho-Ho- (said in the tone of a malevolent Santa-Claus) Lookoutski Belowski Flamingo Boy!”

    You rolled a lot of dice and consulted a lot of charts but there was never a doubt in my mind I was going to make it.


  3. Thanks for the post-mortem report 🙂 That part I don’t have the skill to do. Stuff happens, I’ll bring it again next year. Bayou Wars is a pretty good con, lots of games scheduled over three days (I wanted to be in at least two each time slot). When no one showed, I packed up and got into a horse racing game.

  4. Oh, that table in the background – Flames of War at Omaha beach, 8 feet long and looks awesome. Don’t remember his name, but I think the guy is from Michigan.

Comments are closed.