The Start of Ethil the Frog

by John Piggott

I expect a significant number of you may be asking yourselves who this upstart is, who publishes such a creation as Ethil and who pontificates about such things as the BDC. I don’t guarantee that this little piece will in any way answer your queries, but it may serve to tell of one person’s introduction to postal Diplomacy.

I spent most of my teens at a boarding school, which I found to be a fairly unsatisfactory environment. During my final year I wandered by accident into science-fiction fandom, and through this was introduced to postal Diplomacy. I entered during the first boom of British Dippy. War Bulletin, edited by Dave Berg, had just started and was gathering players like mad. I was assigned Italy in WB ‘B’ game, and did fairly badly at the start. This was, in fact, the first Diplomacy game I had ever played – I didn’t play it FtF till I arrived at Cambridge last September – but during the first period of play I had an alliance with and much useful advice from Austria. By the time he double-crossed me the other players (including him) had started dropping out left, right and centre. Germany had inexplicably fallen in love with my letters, and assigned me control of her country, and thus at the end I was able to snap up supply centres more quickly than Turkey. The game ended in 1907 with a victory for Germany/Italy.

By this time control of WB had passed into Hartley Patterson’s hands, Dave Berg having become disillusioned about the time of the great Postal Strike, and for a period it was almost static in size and number of players. For a time it seemed that Albion was the only hope for British Diplomacy; then over two years old, it showed no sign (and to this day, it doesn’t) of faltering. But then Will Haven asked Hartley to run an Abstraction game. He refused, intimating that it was Don Tumbull’s province. Well, Don didn’t appear likely to start a second Abstraction game, so the only alternative was to start another zine. I wrote to Will saying this. From such small beginnings do Ethils grow.

Now it came to pass that, when I wrote to Will suggesting we start a Dippy zine expressly for the purpose of running the Abstraction variant, Will waxed exceeding enthusiastic, and came up with several ingenious suggestions. “What shall we call it?” said Will, giving a long list of possible names… Report, Mordor Morning HeraldEthil the FrogThe Diplomatic Backstabber, etc. I pounced on Ethil the Frog, and with the title chosen things began to take a more concrete appearance. Plans were laid to run fliers in Albion, and sometime about the middle of November I devised a wording for the first advertising flier for Ethil the Frog. Needless to say, the flier did not eventually appear, but about the end of the month letters were sent to certain selected people telling them of the new venture. We would, it was decided, run both regular and Abstraction games, and take turns to be the GM. (The intricate arrangements of this sort of policy still have not been investigated). Gradually, people began to express interest.

During the Christmas holidays, communications between Will and myself slackened off a little. But requests still trickled in with monotonous regularity. Finally, by the middle of January this year, enough people had signed up for “interest” and it looked as though a game might be filled.

In the absence of any communication from Haven, I decided to start on my own. Ethil started to kick at about four in the morning on Saturday, 15 January, 1972. I had been playing Diplomacy face-to-face into the small hours that night, and thanks to the coffee which I’d imbibed I couldn’t sleep, so rather than stay tossing and turning in bed, I got up and wrote letters to everyone who’d expressed interest, giving details of subscription rates, frequency, and general policy. The next week saw the start of the influx of sticky dimes and postal orders. It still hasn’ t stopped.

The first game took sixteen days to fill. On 31st January, I was ready. A new era was about to be ushered in as I typed out the first issue and had it xeroxed. Yet even then there were clouds on the horizon. That very morning I received the first issue of a new Diplomacy fanzine, XL.

Colin Hemming had beaten me by one day.

Reprinted from culled from Ethil the Frog Nos. 12 and 16 – Aug/Oct 1972