Tony A. Bath
It is with deep regret that we announce the passing of one of the old guard of the hobby. Tony Bath is not at all well known, if at all, among the younger generation of players who came into wargaming after the early 1970's; but he is the father, maybe better, the grandfather, of both ancients/medieval and fantasy gaming. He had a tremendous impact on the early history of the hobby. He qualifies as an old guard because he was one of the original subscribers to Jack Scruby's first gaming magazine, The War Game Digest. There are but three remaining Old Guard now that Tony has left us: Charlie Sweet, Larry Brom, and Ted Haskill. While it has been my pleasure to be friends with all three, I never met Tony Bath. So my comments are based on my reading about him.
He grew up like many boys of his time playing with toy soldiers which in those early years consisted, as he said in a 1957 article in The War Games Digest (TWGD), " drawing up the opposing armies and knocking them down with artillery and pop-guns. In 1939, he gave up the pop-guns for real ones and went to serve crown and country. Back in civilian life in 1946 he began a lifetime study of military history. This, combined with his seeing a collection of figures in conjunction with the movie Ivanhoe, set him back on the collecting track. He took to obtaining every figure he could, into an "extremely patchy collection covering many periods and types," but no more shooting at them, instead he "began developing his own rules for warfare."
Not until 1955 did he find others with a similar interest, in the British Model Soldier Society. From these folks he learned repainting, conversion and casting. He decided to limit himself to just he medieval era and wrote special rules for this. These were published in the June-July and August-September, 1956 issues of the BMSS Bulletin. He added additional material for this era in an article in the December, 1957 TWGD. He wrote further that his biggest problem was that "there are no other war game fighters in Southampton (and thus he must) operate both armies.
That deficiency was soon remedied. Tony wrote in the next issue of TWGD that he had found another person in the town who was interested in gaming. He would visit that person one night during the week for musket era games and in the opposite week they would game ancients at his house. He does not mention a name then, but it was the first mention, even though indirectly, of Don Featherstone in conjunction with war gaming. Yes, it was Tony Bath who brought Don into the life.
Phil Barker, also introduced to ancients by Tony, writes in the little purple book, Ancient Wargaming( Patrick Stephens, 1975), "It cannot be said that Little Wars popularized wargaming as a hobby, but over the English speaking world, here and there, enthusiasts found inspiration in it and continued where Wells left off. The crucial event was when one of these, Tony Bath, a Southampton accountant, introduced a physiotherapist named Don Featherstone to the hobby. Don was inspired to write his best-selling War Games in 1962, and we were off!" That book had a chapter devoted to Tony's ancient rules.
Phil, all must agree, is the father of "modern" ancient wargames. Twice over in fact. He was originally interested in Tank Warfare and came to London to demonstrate his game at a Convention Don F. had organized in the early 60's. There he met Tony and "fell in love with some beautifully-painted Saracen cavalry" so Tony gave him some of his figures and Phil "was then the proud possessor of an ancient army." Thanks to Tony's published rules and demonstrations, ancient wargaming had reached, as Phil says, "much the same form it has today" (1975) and yet today (2000) too. The game was played on a table top with model terrain and soldiers -- realistically painted and organized into units. The rules laid down movement distances for different types of troops over different terrain. There were missile ranges and effects on various targets, and likewise melee effects. Dice were used for a chance factor, including morale that was effected by units' losses, seeing events nearby, and enemy actions. Tony had built on the general basic principles of Wells to produce a game that took into consideration the nature of ancient/medieval warfare (without the shooting cannons!). What was missing then but added by Tony in a 1965 article in the Slingshot was a points scheme for creating balanced armies.
Tony during this time was also busy furthering the hobby in general too. He wrote many articles for TWGD but not just on ancients but many topics; and his wife, Mary, wrote some too. These are the first I have seen by a woman. When Jack Scruby was unable to continue with The War Games Digest in 1960, Tony got his new opponent Don F. to join him in putting out a twice-yearly UK edition. This continued for two years until Don and Jack had a philosophical difference on magazine content. Don went on to start up his own Wargamer's Newsletter (the inaugural issue had an article by Tony) and Jack continued TWGD (still with articles by Tony) and then with Table Top Talk. Tony also appeared on UK television in the early 1960's showing off his hobby to millions. This is the first such TV show I know of on the hobby.
Tony wrote a booklets for Ancient, Medieval and Seven Years War era rules that were published by Don along with rules for other eras. He also felt the need to further organize this wing of the hobby so in 1965 started the first special society -- The Society of Ancients and became editor of its journal --The Slingshot. He notes in his first editorial that 90% of the readers "have adapted rules from my original ones in War Games or use my up-to-date rules. This would appear to indicate that we have the basis for a relatively standard rules in any competition." And prophetic were those words. Building on these rules, Phil Barker and others created the internationally known WRG Ancient rules and more recently the DB series which have become, indeed, the "relatively standard rules" Tony considered.
I mentioned earlier that he was the founder of the "fantasy" side of wargaming. In the mid-1950's he came up with the idea of basing games around a imaginary world, in this case based on the writings of Robert Howard. Howard was the author of the Conan series and creator of a pre-ice age world. Tony used the name Hyborian Age for his fantasy period. Prior to his article on Hyborian Age games, TWGD had only articles on actual historical eras. Tony did not add supernatural powers or unknown creatures to his games. He used historical types from ancient and medieval eras in a fantasy setting. He also created a campaign among the various counties in his world. His campaign rules were later published in Setting Up a Wargames Campaign (WRG, 1973, 1987). These rules pretty much serve as the basis of all wargaming campaigns.
Tony continued to be active in affairs of the Society of Ancients, contributing many articles to it, and to Wargames Newsletter. As he built up the hobby, and the ancients side in particular, others came to take leadership roles so Tony could devote himself more to playing. The man, who in 1957 had lamented that he had no opponents, in less than a decade had found and organized hundreds.
Phil Barker is writing an obituary on Tony for The Slingshot that will tell the more personal side and bring us all to the present. I have tried to point out how Tony was one of those unknowns in every field of endeavor who brings ideas and people together to create something out of almost nothing. He helped Jack Scruby at a time when he might have dropped out of the hobby, he discovered Don Featherstone, he converted Phil Barker to ancients, he organized the ancients/medieval gamers into an organization viable to the present, he opened up the vista of fantasy gaming, he laid down the basics of wargame campaigns, and he created the basis of perhaps all ancients/medieval rules extant today. He seems to me to be someone who truly made the hobby what it is today.