The Spawn of Fashan: Some notes on a mostly-dead RPG and a new character sheet

In 1981, Kirby Lee Davis designed and self-published a small homebrew fantasy RPG – The Spawn of Fashan. It didn’t sell particularly well, and was soon out-of-print. The author left the RPG scene altogether. Normally, it would be completely forgotten, but the game has developed a strange afterlife.

For a long time, Spawn of Fashan was mostly remembered for a bad review it got in Dragon magazine, which suggested the game was so bad it had to be a parody. Over the years, it has slowly gained a reputation as a so-bad-it’s-good kind of game. Sort of the Ishtar or The Room of RPGs. Most of the criticism concerned the arcane rules, complex tables, and the poor editing of the game. A number of humorous reviews have been posted over years; the one on RPG.net being the most commonly linked.

I’m not going to join in on the mockery. It is true that the game is overly-complex and badly organized, and I’m not actually recommending the game. Honestly, I gave up trying to create a character. However, underneath the generally poor design and presentation, I think there are some generally interesting ideas. There’s a method of layering armor I think is unique, and the background classes are sort of a primitive life path system. There’s a lot of interesting bits and pieces that bring to mind ideas that were later developed in other RPGs. The game, ultimately, doesn’t work – but you can see with a little (actually a lot) more work and care, one could unearth the bones of a better game.

Also, I can’t help but have a lot of respect for anyone who published their own game in 1981, before cheap desktop publishing, DriveThruRPG, and Itch.io.

I recently picked up the recently released 40th anniversary edition (you can order it from the author’s website). The rules are exactly as originally written, though a much needed table-of-contents and index have been added. There’s also a introduction by the author, reviewing the history of the game and its reception. Davis seems to have no real hard feelings about all of the mockery, and seems to take it all in good humor. He readily admits the game’s faults, at one point admitting it would have been better if he’d had access to a word processor with a spelling checker and editing tools. He even reprints the notorious Dragon review.

There’s a crude character sheet provided in the book, but I wanted something a little nicer, so I’ve made my own fillable, 3-page, custom PDF character sheet. Other than the rule book reprints, this may be the first Spawn of Fashan material produced in 40 years. I’ve added it to my ever-growing, unwieldy list of character sheets.

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