A wargaming ‘Who Do You Think a You Are?’

I was in the process of booking tickets for this year’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ Show at Olympia for my wife and I when my mind turned to the genealogy of wargame rules.

Looking at the rules that I have written over the years I can trace distinct lines of development (or their genealogy). For example my ¡ARRIBA ESPANA! rules combined ideas from Paul Koch’s ON TO RICHMOND American Civil War rules and John Sandar’s SANDSKRIEG World War II rules, and my PORTABLE WARGAME rules owe a great deal to Joseph Morschauser’s FRONTIER rules. Likewise Richard Brooks and Ian Drury have written rules that directly – and indirectly – inspired my REDCOATS AND NATIVES and RED FLAGS & IRON CROSSES rules, and Chris Kemp’s NQM (NOT QUITE MECHANISED) rules were a progenitor of Tim Gow’s MEGABLITZ rules. I don’t think that this sort of thing is unique, and a quick perusal of the many sets of wargame rules that are online indicates that it is not.

Is this process simply the development of someone else’s ideas or just plain plagiarism? To put it another way, are rules that are developed by one wargamer from the work of another wargamer a legitimate offspring of the original or is it – to use the Victorian meaning of the word – ‘spurious’?

I know that there are some people who would argue that it is plagiarism … but how many wargamers have not given in to the temptation to ‘play around’ with published rules that they may have bought or downloaded for free? Is publishing modifications of existing wargame rules copying or flattery? After all, Charles Caleb Colton wrote in 1820 that ‘Imitation is the sincerest of flattery‘, and he was only simplifying a phrase used in Jeremy Collier’s and André Dacier’s 1708 biography of Marcus Aurelius. They wrote that ‘You should consider that Imitation is the most acceptable part of Worship, and that the Gods had much rather Mankind should Resemble, than Flatter them.’ My personal thinking is that if you develop a set of wargame rules that borrow ideas/concepts and/or mechanisms from someone else’s rules then that should be fully acknowledged. By doing that, the ‘borrowing’ goes some way to being legitimised and acceptable.

The growth of the Internet (and blogging in particular) has led to a faster exchange of ideas, concepts, and draft wargame rules between wargamers … and I see this as a very positive development for the hobby that I hope will continue. I know that there are others who disagree with this, and who regard anything that looks even vaguely like plagiarism as an infringement of their intellectual property rights. To them I pose a simple question. Would the world they live in be as accessible if Sir Tim Berners-Lee had taken that attitude?


18 Comments on “A wargaming ‘Who Do You Think a You Are?’”

  1. I freely plagiarise and adapt, as you well know 🙂 And the 'net has made it easier than ever – I regularly trawl for free or cheap rules I can nick ideas or whole systems from.

    But If I put anything back out there I do my best to at least credit the source. So other people can steal from them, and maybe come up with something better than I managed 🙂

    I like to look at is as game-design by committee …

  2. arthur1815 says:

    I would always acknowledge a source such as your PW rules, where there is a clear derivation.

    On the other hand, concepts such as moving as many squares/hexes as a die roll, 'roll 6 to hit' or 'roll less than your morale' have been around so long it would be difficult, if not impossible, to trace their originator. Who did invent the d6, anyway?

    I think Kaptain Kobold has the right idea.


  3. If I change a few things in a published set then I refer to them as a modification of the original. This rarely lasts long though as I tend to revert to my own rules.

    I like to acknowledge sources for inspiration for my own rules. It isn't always easy though, certainly on a rule by rule basis since I usually (can't think of any exceptions) borrow what I imagine the underlying ideas to be, not the precise rules. More than that, it is not unusual to find an interesting rule idea in X only to later find a germ of virtually the same idea in another set from 10 or 20 years earlier. I think the last time I tried to list specific sources of inspiration for a set, I gave up as the list started to approach a dozen names.

    What's really interesting is when ideas are received indirectly. Having never actually having played The Sword and the Flame I was surprised to find that I was using 2 mechanisms that were almost certainly inspired by the rules, probably via magazine articles dealing with the original set and adaptations of it. Fortunately Larry Brom is a real gentleman and one of the pioneers from back in the day when it was about community and the exchange of ideas not commercialism. No doubt there are benefits to both sides of that coin though.

  4. Prufrock says:

    It can be a tricky one if money gets involved…

    Good manners would suggest that acknowledging sources is the polite thing to do, but sometimes you can just forget where an idea came from or can think that your idea is original when it really isn't.

    I think the golden rule is to treat others' work as you'd have them treat yours. Wargamers seem to be pretty good at doing that, which is nice to see.

  5. Kaptain Kobold,

    I think that you are doing exactly what the rest of us are doing, and as long as you give credit where it is due, no one can complain.

    Thirty plus years ago Wargame Developments was set up to allow the free exchange of ideas and concepts, and I think that the Internet has enabled that process to be faster and more wide-spread than it was back then.

    Keep up the good work!

    All the best,


  6. Arthur1815,

    I know that you are always punctilious when it comes to acknowledging where you got ideas and concepts from, and I wish some other writers and designers would take your lead in this matter.

    I totally agree with you that Kaptain Kobold has the right idea about this.

    All the best,


  7. Ross Mac,

    I suspect that there are very few 'new' concepts and mechanisms used by wargame designers, even if some of them try to claim that they have come up with something original. I tried to draw a 'family tree' for my ITCHY AND SCRATCHY rules but had to give up as it looked like a mad electrician's wiring diagram!

    We constantly assimilate ideas from what we see and read, and often never realise where the germ of a concept came from. I know that I have done exactly what you have described … and not always realised that I have done so.

    All the best,


  8. Prufrock,

    I have only had one set of rules published for money … and they were 'copied' by someone who changed one or two small sections, changed them from metric to Imperial, and then sold as their own.

    I was not best pleased, but in the end I had to accept that there was not a lot that I could do about it.

    I think that we are all agreed that plagiarism is wrong … but that there is nothing wrong with developing other people's ideas and concepts as long as we acknowledge that we have done so.

    All the best,


  9. Prufrock says:

    That's exactly the kind of scenario I meant, Bob. I'm very sorry to hear that it happened to you.

  10. arthur1815 says:


    Another thought, though I cannot quote the source!

    'To copy from one author is plagiarism; to copy from three or more is research.'

    When I did my teaching practice in a junior school, my supervisor commented on the fact that the last lesson on the timetable for Friday afternoon was called 'Project', saying @I hope that doesn't mean copying out of books; that isn't education.'

    I couldn't restrain myself from replying, @Madam, I've spent the last three years at Oxford copying out of books and have a good honours degree as a result!'


  11. Prufrock,

    I thought that these were the sort of circumstances you were thinking about.

    I know that other things that I have written have been plagiarised, and on one occasion actually managed to confront someone who had passed off something that I had written as his own.

    I have never seen a fat wargamer move so fast in my life! (I think that he thought that I was going to hit him, but I was content just to embarrass him in front of his friends.)

    All the best,


  12. Arthur1815,

    Shame on you! You should have copied from five books at least … and then it would have been original thought and not just research!

    All the best,


  13. Jim Duncan says:

    This reminds me of my favourite Morecambe and Wise sketch … “I played all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order”. You'll know which one I mean.

    There is nothing 'new' in wargames, we just use some of the 'notes' and not necessarily in the right order.

  14. Jim Duncan,

    It was a great comedy sketch … and a very apposite comment!

    All the best,


  15. I can't recall who said this, it might have been Pablo Picasso: 'Good artists copy; great artists steal.' I think more note should be taken of that opinion.

    I have often stated that my own H-and-M rule sets owe a lot to Charles Grant, Young and Lawford, the TSS game system and Wizards Quest. Very good, but I don't use what I gleaned from these sources in the same way, and all of them are tweaked anyhow. The thing is, to what extent ought I acknowledge whence an idea came, and – the corollary – what claim can those original authors make against my rule sets.

    Bear in mind, there is one rule set designer whose influence and work on my rule sets I have not acknowledged: myself.

    My own attitude is that everyone can use or adapt or copy my war games ideas freely and in any manner they like. If they choose to acknowledge this, I thank them, but it won't bother me if they don't.

    We all have different talents. Originality isn't really my long suit. But I do find myself often running with other peoples' ideas and taking them into unexpected and arcane places.

    My 'Jono's World' Artillery grid (which I realise I was supposed to do a posting on) is probably only vaguely recognisable as a hybrid descendant of George Gush's 19th Century Rules grid (from his Guide to Wargaming) and that used in Panzer Marsch. Do I really need to acknowledge those sources for the use of a grid at all? Really?

    The use of the pip constellations on ordinary D6s to represent troop types (Foot, Horse and Guns) came from thinking how ordinary D6s might be used to perform the same function as pictographic dice.

    I'll let it go at that – I can see another blog posting coming on!

  16. I do agree that if you take whole tracts of someone else's rule sets (staying with war gaming) and insert them into your own, wording and all, then I regard that as lazy and dishonest. I'm not even sure it is legit even if acknowledged.

    But If I choose in my rule set to base my 25mm figures upon the 'WRG standard' (15mm frontage for foot, 20mm for horse, etc) does that need to be acknowledged? These just happen to be very convenient sizes for that scale, and you have to have bases of some finite dimensions. I wouldn't trouble to mention WRG in that context, and I don't believe that convention began with WRG anyway.

    I do recall nearly 30 years ago buying a WW2 rule set for 1:300 scale. It looked like a complex set, and had some interesting gunnery tables.

    About 5 years later, I bought the (then) recently published WRG set. One thing that struck me: the gunnery tables, identical (there may have been trivial changes in detail) to the rule set I bought earlier.

    Clearly one had been copied from the other. Piecing together some of the history of the rules development, I figured it was not the WRG who had done the copying.

    I think this was a clear case of plagiarism, but it would have been very difficult to make a case. I believe the copyists, having seen the rule set in its play testing stages (a good deal of it took place in Christchurch), liked what they saw, and, as they were about to move to Wellington, wanted to take a copy with them. You can kind of understand this. More than likely when the WRG set was published, they dropped the 'pirate version' in favour of the 'legit version.' I'd like to think so anyway.

  17. Archduke Piccolo (Ion),

    It’s a good quote … but I would always caution against stealing!

    To my mind there is a line between plagiarism and the acceptable ‘borrowing’ of ideas, concepts, and mechanisms, and I think that the line is drawn by our public acceptance and recognition of what we have done. By stating that ‘my own H-and-M rule sets owe a lot to Charles Grant, Young and Lawford, the TSS game system and Wizards Quest’, you have done exactly that. If you have not copied entire ‘chunks’ from their work verbatim, your ‘borrowing’ – especially as you have not used what you have ‘borrowed’ in they way that it was originally used – it would seem to me that the originators of what you have ‘borrowed’ have no comeback against you.

    Whilst I agree with your statement that ‘ everyone can use or adapt or copy my war games ideas freely and in any manner they like’, I think that it is only politeness on their part to acknowledge that fact that they have done so.

    I think that what you have written in your comment is broadly in agreement with all the other comments that have been made, and I suspect we may all have ‘borrowed’ from each other quite a lot over the past few years!

    All the best,


  18. Archduke Piccolo (Ion),

    Plagiarism – even if it is acknowledged – is still inexcusable … but using a commonly accepted ‘industry standard’ for something like base sizes is just good sense, and certainly does not need to be mentioned.

    The case that you describe is interesting in that it does throw up one of the problems of giving draft rules to play-testers. By handing over the draft to someone you are doing so in the expectation that they will not use it for their own ends. In this case the person concerned seems to have broken the ‘trust’ that should have existed between originator and play-tester … but one can understand why this might have happened.

    Like you, I would have liked to think that the ‘borrower’ bought and used the legitimate version of the rules once they were published.

    All the best,


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