An Interview with Larry Peery

by Mark Nelson

This interview originally appeared in Maniac's Paradise 52 (June 1993) to 54 (August 1993).

At World DipCon I I interviewed Larry Peery. The vast majority of British hobbyists will know little or nothing about Larry, although he has been a major force in the American hobby, off and on, for almost twenty-five years. At the time of this interview he was the editor of Diplomacy World.

Larry has something of a reputation for schemes and plotting projects. The list of hobby projects which he has started or contributed to is lengthy, only the list of projects and ideas which were never started is longer.

Larry is one of the few people who has played a major role in shaping the American hobby. He is also one of the few surviving hobby members from the early days of postal Diplomacy.

But we come not to bury Larry, but to interview him, and here is the interview...

Q:  How did you start playing Diplomacy, both FTF and postally?
In 1966 the hobby was just barely getting started. Boardman had started Graustark in 1963 and some people got involved, mostly from science-fiction fandom and that kind of thing.

I started college in 1965 and by accident ended in a graduate class. Rod Walker was also in that class; he was an Air Force Lieutenant who had come back to San Diego State for his Master's. We went to a United Nations meeting together with some other people from class and that's how we met.

One day he said, in class, "You know, there's a game you might be interested in; it looks like something you might have a knack for." He brought it to class, pulled it out of his briefcase, and showed it to me. I said that it looked interesting; it was the original GRI version of Diplomacy.

A couple of weeks later he invited me over to a game that was being organized at someone's house. I was very intimidated because I was just a college freshman and a very junior ROTC cadet and Rod was an Air Force Lieutenant offering to show me this game. I went over and there were people like Hal Naus, who was one of the original people in the hobby, Von Metzke, who was just getting going, and all these people that are legends now. They were all very active and we used to get together to play every couple of weeks. I played for two years before I won a FTF game. But when I won I knew I was good because I had beaten the best that there was, and they didn't let you win; you had to win it. Almost all of those people, at that time, were running a postal magazine. So besides the FTF games we also had postal play. Rod had Erehwon, Conrad had Costaguana, I started Xenogogic and we were all involved in what everybody was doing. It was a very tightly-knit group.

Q:  How did you come to start publishing: was it just because all your friends in San Diego were pubbing?
It was assumed then that if you played then you would publish and if you published you would design variants. Rod was running, maybe, fifteen games in his magazine. I started, in a two-year period, about twenty- seven games. My first two filled within a week and then I started a whole bunch of variants that I had designed. These were simple things, done on little ditto sheets. Sometimes the maps were so bad that the lines didn't meet, the provinces were mis-spelt and they looked very amateurish, although many of the designs were very good as they'd been refined over the years.

Then people started taking on other projects and doing other things, but people were very versatile. It wasn't that you just did this or just did that, you did everything and everybody did everything. And we all helped each other, that was the other nice thing. If I had a question about something I'd call Rod or if I had a question about rules I knew who to call. In those days the rule-book hadn't been revised, so we spent 90% of our time arguing about the rules.

When I started my magazine the title went back to my writing in High School, which is very significant to me (maybe not to anyone else, but it is to me). My first issue was one page, one side of one sheet that you could barely read. Within a year I was putting out 60 page issues.

Q:  San Diego seems to have been something of a center for Diplomacy fanac in the early days. Rod, Conrad, Hal Naus, Bob Cline, yourself...
There were many people there in the early days and they were all active. You know I was the baby of the group, as far as age goes.

Hal Naus is in his 50's, hell he should be retiring pretty soon. I was the youngest of the group and in many ways I was the most, the most...ambitious isn't the word. I don't know what is. Rod always seemed to get a project going and then go do something else. This is one of the things that drives me crazy, he is very good at what he does, when he does something, but the problem is that he will start something only for something else to come along and distract him and he'll go off on a tangent --- leaving his project hanging. I don't like to do that, I like to tidy things up and either get them done, get them over with, or say that's not going to work, let's do something else.

All those people were very actively involved but it wasn't like...I don't know what word to use. For instance, sometimes we'd go months, or even years, and not see each other. The last time Rod, Conrad and I were together, which was probably the first time in ten years, was when Fred Davis came out for a visit in 1988 and I got them all over to my place. Rod and I talk fairly frequently, but these days Conrad and I hardly ever talk; it's one of those things. We're all good friends, we've known each other for twenty years or more. We've never had any arguments, serious squabbles, personality conflicts or anything; which is unusual in Diplomacy groups.

Q:  What was the role of science-fiction fans in the early days?
There were people involved in the early days of the hobby, like Rod, Dan Anderson, and Jerry Pournelle, who now is a very well-known science-fiction writer, who were SF fans and also played postal Diplomacy. Many of these people were involved in the early cons; it was a question of Diplomacy being played at a science-fiction convention. I went to one and we played Diplomacy in my room, which was the biggest in the hotel, because there was no room available in the main part of the hall to play.

I was never involved with SF fandom. I was one of the few people at that time who wasn't a science- fiction person. I read it, but I wasn't a fanatic.

Q:  Rod Walker once wrote an article in which it appeared that you always had some Peerist Plot cooking, a different project each week...
Gee, I didn't know that I had that kind of reputation! We had a big fight in the States a few years ago, it was a semantics argument. There were the organizationalists, those were the people who wanted to organize the hobby, and then there were the anarchists who, I guess, just wanted to let things go the way that they went.

Many people thought that I was trying to organize the hobby, but I told them that I didn't want an organization but that I did want to be organized. I said, for instance, that it's absolutely stupid that a novice has to write to nine different people just to find out how to get into the hobby or that a GM who needs help doesn't know where to go or someone who has a problem doesn't have anyone to go to. There was a lack of co-ordination. I probably spent forty percent of my energy shuffling papers from people who shouldn't have had to write me but didn't know who to write to, so they wrote to me.

I have done many projects over the years. Some of them have been very successful and some of them not so successful. I hosted the first DipCon held outside the original site. That was in 1971, and DipCon has gone on from there for over twenty years. I was involved in founding the first popular Diplomacy organization, which ran for quite a few years, the Hobby Awards, and a lot of other things. Some of my ideas... some people flat out don't like them. Maybe it's a bad idea or maybe they just don't like it because it was my idea. Sometimes I'll throw out an idea just to see if anyone will pick up the ball and run with it and that happens. Sometimes people say "Gee, that's a good idea and I'll do it." Other times nobody volunteers to do it and it doesn't get done.

Diplomacy World fell into my lap, in a sense, but I took it. It took me less than an hour, six phone calls, for me to take control. I talked to Rod, I talked to Kathy, I talked to Walt Buchanan and I think I even talked to Calhamer. I said that it was in trouble, that somebody had to do something with it and that I was going to do it. Everybody said "Go for it". And that's usually the way I do things. It sometimes sounds like I am trying to force people to do things, but I don't normally do that because that's not my style. The first time Ken Peel met me he made the comment, based on what he had read and seen: "I thought you were a little tyrant, but actually you're not and you do listen to people. Then you make up your mind and act." That's basically what it is.

Q:  I remember reading Mark Berch describing a project where you analyzed the political structure of the American Hobby, defining key people and the different hobby strata.
Did I do that? I don't even remember! That's a problem you run into after a while, you've done so many things that sometimes you forget what you've done and what you haven't done. Mark has a fantastic memory, or at least has when it suits his purposes...[LAUGHS]

Q:  You've just published the fiftieth issue of Diplomacy World, How far ahead do you plan, an issue at a time?
Definitely not an issue at a time. When I took it over, three years ago this Fall, it was in financial chaos. The staff didn't know what they were doing, there was no material for the next issue and there hadn't been an issue out on time for three years. It was a shambles. But I believed in the basic concept and the idea, and obviously many other people did as over two hundred people sent over four thousand dollars to help relaunch DW. People I didn't even know sent me checks for over one hundred dollars, and not just one person; many people.

People volunteered to be on the staff, wrote articles and did all kinds of things to get it back on its feet. And the fact is that since then, every issue has been out on time. The quality hasn't been perfect, I myself would give the zine 80% or 85%. It hasn't done everything I'd have liked it to have done but, of course, you have constraints. You are dealing with a staff of volunteers who don't get paid. There are financial constraints, there have been things that I'd have liked to have done but couldn't simply because there was no money to do them. The fact of the matter is that we've published in three years something over two hundred articles on the game, the hobby, and whatever.

The next three issues range from almost finished (51) to in the far-advanced planning stage (53). Some of the publishing things we're thinking about doing have never been done. That's part of the anniversary thing, the 50th issue was nice but I suddenly realized that I wouldn't be able to make it any bigger because I wouldn't be able to get it into the envelopes. So instead of trying to do one really big issue, that no-one will read, I'm spreading it over a year. Some of the articles, the subjects and the projects are, I think, really exciting --- some of the other magazines like The General and S&T are excited.

For what it is, Diplomacy World has as good a reputation as anything you like. I exchange publications, not trades as such as I don't trade DW, with The Naval Institute Proceedings which is a US publication with a circulation of 100,000 and which is over 100 years old. We co-operate, swapping information and articles. They reviewed Diplomacy in their magazine, the first time they had ever reviewed any game, and they donated a prize for one of the DW contests. The bottom line for any magazine is the subscription renewal rate. It runs in excess of 80% for DW and any magazine publisher will tell you that's good. It's not perfect, it never will be, but it's a lot better then what it was and I think it will get better.

Q:  How do you plan each issue, do you plan it around certain themes, or do you have a look to see what's around?
I started the theme idea, which is something that had never really been done before, because it seemed to fit. Some of the themes were done by subject: we did an international issue where the idea was to show the diversity of the hobby , and we ran articles from eleven different countries. Sometimes you do a theme on a tactical subject; if you get three or four good articles on a certain subject you put them together because I believe every subject can be looked at in more than one way. Even esoteric things like Russian-Austrian-Turkish alliances. How many ways can you look at those? Lots. So themes are sometimes nice, and sometimes you don't need them.

Mark Berch doesn't like theme issues and I listen to Mark. I always listen to Mark, although I don't usually do what he says. He thinks you should always have a little bit of everything for everybody and, yeah, that's true to a point. But it doesn't always have to be in every issue. I mean, maybe we do a big article on computer Diplomacy this issue and then next time we don't do anything.

What I do is to look at it in the early segments and that's a luxury I have that no publisher ever had before with DW. I sit and look and plan ahead for a year.

The next issue is almost done. The one after that is almost seventy-five percent done and going into next year I already know what I want to do, at least in general.

Q:  Can you provide some background on Walt Buchanan and how DW got started? I read some adverse comment by, amongst others, Bert Labelle about the transition from Hoosier Archives to DW with regard to funding from IDA.
It's just like today. When anyone has any idea, somebody squawks and complains. You see that with Danny Collman and his hobby-service zine, where everybody is saying that we don't need this. You have to know what Walt Buchanan's status was in the hobby at that time. He had the archives and he was a perfectionist.

Here's a man who was a successful lawyer and a naval pilot. I believe that he's still in the Naval Reserves as a Lieutenant-Commander flying anti-submarine patrol planes. He got bored with being a lawyer and went back to school. I believe his degree was in Electrical Engineering, and he then became a Professor of Electrical Engineering. He was a nice guy, but he had very definite ideas and principles. People held him in awe because of his reputation as a player. My God, he won his first six postal games! The guy was a genius as a player. He published Hoosier Archives through 200, 250 issues (I forget how many), ran superb games, was a fine GM, wrote articles, and all of a sudden came up with this idea. I think everybody realized that this was the idea at the time and it took off with a bang and went. So, no, I wouldn't say that it was controversial.

Q:  In Pellucidar, LaBelle complained about IDA funding of DW. His argument was that DW was a private zine and shouldn't be funded with public money without a vote by the IDA membership. Was that a minority view?
I can't really say because I think that was about the time I was getting out of the hobby; my interests were changing. I was the founding President of the IDA, but I said when I took it that I would only stand until a constitution was approved. I took the job. No one else wanted it, or at least no one was willing to run against me. When it became time to elect a President everyone thought I was going to run. I didn't, and that caused quite a stir [LAUGHS]. Eventually Edi Birsan became President and the organization did very well for quite a few years, but gradually started... I guess Sacks got involved, but by then I was so out of it that I didn't follow it at the time.

Towards the end of the IDA there were some people elected into office who, in hindsight, shouldn't have been because they couldn't do the job or whatever. You got to the point where people wanted the title but didn't want to do the work, which is not an uncommon thing in any organization.

When it happened, a couple of people wrote me (because I was one of the founders) and asked if I wanted to step in and try to save it; I declined. I said that if it's going to die a death, then it's going to die a death. There was not enough interest to try and save it. So it went; it had served it's purpose. That doesn't mean I've given up the idea of an organization. I still believe in that, and I think if we had one, the hobby would be better off. But I am not going to go out and try to set up another hobby organization.

I don't think that there was any great controversy about funding DW. DW sold adds and it got a subsidy from Avalon Hill, but that was just a part of the way Walt handled it. He had his way of doing it, I have my way and other people have their ways. "Not that I know of" would be my answer to the controversy question. They may have complained, but that's not a controversy to me.

Q:  Whenever Americans form an organization, it seems to contain either the word "international" (as in the IDA) or "world" (World Variant Commission), yet these are almost always strictly an internal affair. Do Americans consider their hobby to be the one that everyone must aspire to?
No. Mostly, almost from the beginning, there has always been this dual hope and expectation that somebody there would be a truly international hobby. For instance, we know that there is a hobby in Argentina, we know there is a hobby in Australia, we knew there was a hobby in South Africa, we knew there was a hobby in the UK...we knew about all these disparate hobbies.

Whenever we said anything, or set up anything, we always tried to set up a provision to include these other areas. You'll notice, if you look at it very carefully, that it was always on a co-equal basis. The idea wasn't that we were going to do run the show and tell you what to do. The situation was always that we were going to do this and you will, whenever you want, become a partner.

This is one reason why I get so upset with the Canadians with all their mutterings and complaining that we are picking on them and discriminating against them; that's a load of malarkey. Ninety percent of the Canadians' problems in the hobby, the world-wide hobby, are caused by Canadians.

So, if you see international then it's a hope, just like you talk about the International Olympic Committee when you've got two or three of the biggest countries in the world boycotting the events; that's not very international, is it? On the other hand, the ideal is still there.

Q:  How did the Calhamer Awards start?
I had started the Johnny Awards in 1972 and they were presented at that year's DipCon. I picked the word Johnny because of the reference to the soldier and, more importantly, as a reference to all the people in the early days of the hobby who were named John; there were many. I just thought about the Tonys and the Oscars; it was catchy. Someone, it might have been Walter Buchanan, said that they weren't dignified enough and suggested renaming them the Calhamer Awards, and I agreed with that, but I had nothing more to do with them after that. Eventually they died out and I can't say anything more about that.

Q:  I have the impression that any new organization would instantly be split by the factionalization of the American Hobby. How could it work without one of the groups complaining that another was dominating the hobby?
Two things. Firstly, Diplomacy is a political game, and that makes the hobby a political game. Secondly, and this is something I preach about constantly (but nobody else seems to), Diplomacy, the hobby, is a microcosm of our entire society. There are approximately 240 million people in the United States. There's probably 2400 Diplomacy players. That's about one in ten thousand, and if you ignore the fact that there are less women and no blacks, that kind of thing, it's an interesting cross-section of the American culture: politically, geographically, economically, socially, almost anything you name.

So, of course you are going to have factionalism. That was the whole basis on which our Government system was based. The idea was to have those factions and control them, that's what the founding fathers thought about. So that's not bad, the problem is when they get so involved in their feuding that nothing gets accomplished. Then you've got a big problem and someone has to stand in and say "no more".

I did that, a couple of years ago, during the height of the Feud and it worked. We managed, finally, to put a stop to it. We didn't solve anything, we just told people to, basically, shut up, and they did for a while. Now what's happening is, instead of calling it feuding, they're calling it factionalism, but it's still basically the same thing, except now you don't have quite so much of the personal vitriol.

Q:  One difference between the American and British Hobbies is that we don't have your mega-feuds. Possibly this is a combination of relatively cheap telephone calls, and the compactness of the British Isles. In the States, it's harder for people to meet FTF and harder to communicate, so it's harder to iron out differences.
Well, it works both ways. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder", but the other side of the coin is "out of sight, out of mind." For instance, take Southern California. Throughout the feud, a lot of people at PeeriCons would come up and ask me "what do you think about Byrne?" or "what do you think about Berch?" and I would say "We're not going to talk about that, we're here to talk about Diplomacy". So, here was a whole regional group of players who didn't know anything about what was going on in the hobby or the Feud, and were kept isolated from it. Most of them never got involved in that --- which was a good thing, I think.

But in New York, people feud with people who live across the street, or across the river. So you can't say that it's because of this or because of that. It's the American way to express yourself. If you don't like someone, you let them know it.

In England, at least this was my impression until I got here [LAUGHS], people are too polite and too well- mannered to do things like that. You just don't; you keep a stiff upper-lip and carry on. You don't insult people and publish things. But I think you have your own way of expressing things.

Q:  My view is that if you have something to say you should get it out in the open and discuss it. Some hobby members will, if they have something to say about you, write somebody else and mail that to different people. I believe that although it may be controversial, and you may be in a minority, you should get things out into the open.
The other thing I've noticed (and I agree with what you've said) is that I get a tremendous amount of mail marked "Do Not Print", "Not for Quote", etc., etc.

I know for a fact that the person who has written me this feud communication has written exactly the same thing to six other people, telling them all "Do Not Quote". To me, that is a bunch of bullshit; that's the only word for it.

If you say something, or print something, you say it to be heard. The thing that I don't like is when somebody says something, for instance I come out in favor of this idea or that idea...I used to make suggestions for things realizing full well that the idea wasn't going to fly simply because it wasn't going to work, but at least it would get people talking about the idea or the problem or whatever it was...and people come at me, for instance, and say "well, you said ten years ago such and such", as if I don't have the right to change my opinion in ten years or hopefully have learned something. I have made mistakes, everybody has, but I hope the hobby is part of a growing experience, a learning experience. I am a great believer in the fact that Diplomacy has a use in real life. It's fun to play these games, but I really believe that it serves a purpose. A useful purpose, I hope.

Q:  Moving away from Diplomacy for a moment, as you mentioned New York. Whenever Fred C. Davis Jr. writes me, there is always a disparaging comment about New York...
I'm sure there is an equivalent in England, although I don't know what it would be. I don't suppose it would be London; maybe Liverpool or Northumberia or something like that.

Frenchmen look down on Parisians, Parisians look down on Frenchmen, and there is no such thing as an Italian: you're a Roman or a Florentian or a Venician but not an Italian. I mean, what's an Italian? New Yorkers have a local sense of loyalty in great abundance. They're loyal to the Mets, they're loyal to their football team (whichever it is), they're loyal to their politicians and they're against anybody else that they don't like. There are still New Yorkers who are loyal to the Dodgers, even though the Dodgers have been in Los Angeles for twenty- five years --- it's the Brooklyn Dodgers, even if they're not in Brooklyn.

It's the same in Diplomacy. New Yorkers can be loud, noisy, brash, arrogant and rude but also generous, warm, hard-working and a lot of good things. But sometimes they can get on your nerves. But then so can people from Baltimore! Or from Toronto or California. We all have our good and bad side, and the same people can be good or bad at different times about different things.

Kathy Byrne is an absolute person, but sometimes she can irritate the hell out of people. Mark Berch, on paper, can be very offensive. Yet personally he is a very nice likeable person. I've never met Robert Sacks, but I hear all these horror stories. The amazing thing about that is that they come across both in- person and in print, but I think everybody picks on poor Bobby Sacks so that's not fair.

Q:  Anyone that trades with Fred hears about Sacks on a regular basis, particularly in private letters. [LAUGHTER] How did Sacks manage to generate such hostility?
I don't know. I've never met him but he send me reams, and reams, and reams of letters, pronouncements, documents, and all this stuff. I have a little stack of it on the corner of my desk over the trash can and whenever it gets too high, it just falls into the trash can. I've never really had any problems with Sacks. I'm sure I will someday, but I don't take him seriously. If he does something good, if he actually does something good (not if he says he's going to do something), then I pat him on the head like I would any five-year-old kid. If he does anything bad I rap him on the knuckles. That's the way I deal with him. As far as his grandiose schemes to organize the hobby, well if it keeps him occupied I guess it keeps him occupied.

Q:  Fred was telling me about the MNC/MNC under the Covenant feud yesterday. [LAUGHTER] Can you explain what it's really all about?
The problem is that nobody really understands what it's really all about! Sacks apparently thinks that he has the power, or the authority, to govern who does what and who should hold which positions and which titles. All positions in the hobby, such as the BNC, come under the covenant which is binding, but basically what it means is that Robert Sacks has the power to say who is going to have which job. And if you don't agree to that, he won't recognize what you're doing as "legitimate" and he'll appoint somebody else to do the same job. Of course, if you persist in doing the job he'll say "you're outside the covenant, but you're doing the job"... but he won't give you any money. The money he has to give is supposedly the money that comes from one of the conventions, or something, that they have.

All this money, which really doesn't amount to anything, goes to people that are doing jobs that Robert Sacks approves of and who acknowledge the fact that Robert Sacks has the power to appoint them, or approve them, and their successors. That sounds kinda bizarre, but the whole thing is kinda bizarre. I may not even be describing it correctly, I don't know. I've never really felt inclined to spend the time to figure out what the hell he is talking about.

Q:  We had a variant meeting today where we discussed variant copyright. My, minority, view is that if the designer is still in the hobby then you should send them a copy of your zine if you reprint one of their variants. What's your position on variant copyright, especially with regard to variants in DW?
The nice thing about having a staff is that it's somebody else's problem! I have a variant editor, for a long time it was Fred Davis and somebody else has it now. Sometimes he does original variants, sometimes he does old ones. DW has published about 80 or so over the last 50 issues; there used to be a lot more attention to variants in DW then there is now.

I have designed variants, including some that still pop up here and there occasionally. I agree that a designer should be asked if their variant can be used before publication and if a variant is reprinted than the designer should be sent a copy of the zine. Remember you are dealing with people like Lew Pulsipher (who designed Britannia) and others who had games published in DW and some of the games were later published in commercial publications.

Q:  Lew Pulsipher produced a book of variants which was distributed commercially. One of the variants in it was very similar to Adrian Baird's and Steve Doubleday's "Intimate Diplomacy". It's almost inconceivable that Pulsipher designed his variant unawares of the British design, but he didn't credit the UK designers. Secondly, at some time Steve Doubleday distributed a variant from this booklet with his zine, Gallimaufry, sending Pulsipher a copy of the zine. Steve subsequently received a letter from Lew which stated that, unless the zine with the reprint was withdrawn from circulation, Lew would contact his London lawyers.
As far as the first part I do, in the case of variants, believe that it's possible to come up with similar designs, exceedingly similar designs, although I'd have to see both of them to make a judgment on that. I know for a fact that that kind of thing has happened.

The President of Avalon Hill threatened somebody in the hobby who was doing a tremendous amount of work to promote computer Diplomacy with legal action if he didn't stop running computer Diplomacy games over CompuServe. The guy was so disgusted, not because of the legal threat, but because the PResident was such a jackass, that he literally dropped out of the hobby, and that didn't help Avalon Hill's computer Diplomacy game at all. Other people, at times, have threatened legal action for one reason or another. Personally I think that's kinda dumb, but there have been times, believe me, when, if I thought it was a viable route, I would have gone for it. But you have to know what you're doing.

Q:  How do you see World DipCon's future?
Simon Billenness is the only one with all the answers on this. It's a good idea. I don't want to go off into the deep end because I'm afraid that if we do, it will fail; if it doesn't fail then it won't be as successful as we project it's going to be, in which case we'll be so disappointed and that leads to decline.

I think the lower we keep our expectations the more chance we have of success. It's going to be hard, very hard, for any group in the United States to equal what's been done here. Obviously it will be even harder for the Australians, although I suspect that an Australian WDC, whenever it is held, if it is held, will be about as successful as this one, if a little smaller. They have a lot of things going for them down there.

I think the States is going to be the toughest one because anyone that tries to run it will immediately run into the problem of factionalism. If you associate it with any event other than DipCon you are going to have a rivalry with other events. If you have it as an independent event, that's going to be a new can of worms. So where's it going to be, when it's going to be; that's all got to be thrashed out. I think the best way to do that is probably by trial and error.

What I'm hoping is that Richard Walkerdine, somebody from Australia, maybe myself and one of the kids from the Continent can have an informal committee to keep watch on the concept and the idea and exercise at least some control over the name and the title to prevent, God forbid, two World DipCon's in the same year or country. As far as I'm concerned, it's Richard's concept and idea. It was his creation, so anybody that's going to use it has to clear it with him. And I think that he understands that, and hopefully anyone thinking of running it will understand that. It's not going to be a big huge thing. You got ten people from abroad?

Q:  I thought it was eight from Europe...
Add the Americans and what not. That's not a bad beginning, but let's face it: you could have had more. I was amazed; apparently the Frenchmen are still fighting War whatever-it-was. I can't believe that no one from the French Hobby came over here. To me that's parochial. But on the other hand, I suppose the same thing will happen in the States. We'll just have to see.

Q:  The very first SF WorldCons were National events with only a few people turning up for them (none from abroad). In that respect, we've done quite well to get into double figures. It's always going to be a problem.
Sure. You're not going to get five hundred, or a thousand, people coming from abroad. The people that come will be the people that already have a reason and en excuse to come. My trip ran five weeks.

Out of thirty-five days, four of them were spent in Texas and four were spent here. That's eight from thirty-five. Those were the justifications, the excuses for making the trip, and the rest of it is the fun part, hopefully.

I think if you put on a good event, the overseas attendees are a little extra gloss, and if you use it wisely it can promote your local hobby, as I know darn well. People in San Diego are very excited about the fact that they are going to have DipCon, the National Championship, in 1989 --- it hasn't been in San Diego since 1971. I will be, I think, the first or second person to ever repeat hosting a DipCon. In Chicago there was a group that hosted several consecutively, but I don't think anybody has ever done something like this.

If we had World DipCon in San Diego you'd probably get some Europeans. Not many, but you'd get a few, and you'd probably get a couple of Australians. But it's the attitude, of course, of the Easterners that "you can't have it on the west coast, that's forty million miles away". Anything west of the Mississippi, for an east coast person, is inconceivable. You don't find that in California looking the other way. Much of it has to do with the way the times are, and travel. When you fly from the west coast to the east coast you can do it, get there, and have some time. You go the other way and it pretty much ends the day.

Q:  How did you evaluate this year's ManorCon, in comparison to previous events?
It's a lot bigger this year. Previously it's been Friday to Sunday afternoon. We've had about 300 people in attendance, including a number of older hobby members who've got out of their coffins and made it up this year. It's been a good opportunity to meet people.

Q:  How would you rate it as the first World DipCon?
As you said it's disappointing that we didn't get more Americans and it's a sad reflection on the European Hobby that this is the first time we've had European attendees, especially if you consider the distances involved. It's been fun to meet living legends of Diplomacy, such as Fred and yourself, in the flesh [LAUGHS].

Q:  Do you think adding the extra day was worthwhile?
I think it was essential. I don't think many games have been played today, but it's a psychological barrier. Although people have gone home, I think a longer convention will attract more people. I feel that there is a large barrier for people attending their first convention. I think we could have done more to help out on that, something we should think about for future cons.

I got a kick of it, a personal aside, when you guys first started discussing the concept and kept switching the name of the thing. I thought, what if you started calling it Diplomacy World Con?! I told somebody that and they immediately changed it.

Q:  It was originally going to be either WorldCon or World DipCon and Robert Sacks wrote a letter [LAUGHTER] saying that we couldn't use WorldCon because it was a registered trademark of the SF WorldCon. So Robert persuaded us to go for the World DipCon title [EVEN MORE LAUGHTER].
Oh God. This is an example of why things like this are good. I've learned some things about the British hobby coming over here.

Q:  What have you learned?
I was afraid you were going to ask me that! I have picked up a large number of magazines, some of which I have seen before, and I worry about how I am going to remember which face goes with which title. I wish that if you were a publisher your name tag included your magazine title. The other thing which would be nice would be if they had taken pictures of at least some of these people. The only people I'm going to be able to remember are those, like you, that I have talked to extensively or people that I have played with.

I was amazed to discover last night, at dinner, that the number two player in the British Hobby, who I played against, is a cop. I intend to get a picture of him in his uniform and use it in DW [LAUGHS]. Here's the perfect example of the English Hobby, of all things. We have a couple of cops in the American Hobby, one is a Sheriff in fact.

Number two is a cop, number one is a PhD student. On the other hand, a couple of your guys are footpads in SoHo, or something like that. In spite of all the differences, and frankly I don't see that there are all that many.

Q:  Although there has been a recent resurgence in internationalism, there are only four or five Brits who take an active role in the North American hobby. Is there any way of improving international contacts?
Sure there is. It takes time, and it takes money. Contrary to what you might think, I believe (based on my experience over the last three years) computers, with all their capabilities for mass-producing letters and all that stuff, haven't done a thing to improve either contact or communication within the hobby because people are just receiving rehashes of letters, and they sense that. It doesn't have the same impact as a hand-written postcard, a hand-written letter, or a typed personal letter.

I get well over a thousand pieces of individual mail a year dealing with Diplomacy, some days I get as many as twenty. Much of that is hand-written scribbled notes from kids, who are probably twelve or thirteen years old, asking about the game. What do you tell them, "Call me when you grow up?" "Call me when you've learned how to write?" "Do you know where Bulgaria is?"

Q:  What do you do with these kids?
Some of the letters are pathetic. I get letters, I look at the return address, and I can tell the person who wrote the letter is a convict in a prison, or a GI in duty in Germany. I think they look at it --- and this is something I think we forget --- as some kind of pen-pal club. Instead, what do they get? A gossip society.

When you're dealing with international communications you're dealing with one bottom line which is that it now costs ninety cents to send a letter airmail, and by letter I mean something more than one flimsy tissue note page. If you send a two page letter in an envelope to the UK from the United States you're talking ninety cents.

Twenty-five percent of Diplomacy World's mailing costs cover overseas postage. It costs me four times as much to send an issue overseas as it does to send one in the United States. I'd love to trade with ten, fifteen, English magazines but I can't afford it. I can't justify it in the budget. I'd have to increase circulation prices. I get a tremendous amount of mail from overseas, some of it from really strange countries, about the game. I get letters from South America and all kinds of crazy places.

What do you tell a guy in Nigeria or Guatemala about Diplomacy? Where does he go? What I try to do, what I've been doing with the Australians, is to have someone local reprint Diplomacy World. I was going to try and get someone in France to do this for the French hobby, and I'd like to find someone in England. If not the whole magazine, then at least the heart of it, but I haven't found the right person yet.

It's a small job, it's not like publishing Time magazine, but every (I figured it out the other day) DW subscriber costs me an hour of my time each issue. So, if the circulation is two hundred, you're talking two hundred hours in a three month period. What happens if the circulation goes to five hundred? You're talking about five-hundred hours, that's two thousand hours a year --- that's a full time job or which I'm not getting paid. I don't get any financial remuneration for running DW. I do put extra effort into overseas contacts, and I always have; I put those at the very highest priority because I think that they're important. That's the name of the game, let's face it.

Q:  If someone is interested in seeing American zines, which would you recommend?
The Zine Bank is a good introduction as is The Zine Register. Diplomacy World reviews things, tells you where to look, and what's going on. As far as individual magazines, it depends on what you want. If you want letters, gossip and chat there's one set of zines. If you want good games, good commentary and press then there's another set of magazines. Frankly, there are not many magazines now that I'd recommend.

Q:  Say someone was interested in game mechanics, rather than chat?
Diplomacy World, Diplomacy Digest... [SILENCE]

Q:  Is that it? Just two zines?
It's that bad. Sure, there are others that occasionally have an article on Diplomacy. When it came time to do the Rod Walker Award this year, it was scratch. Just the Avalon Hill Diplomacy issue of the General; that's something people should get.

Q:  What about someone who is more interested in the chat-type zine?
There are some. Melinda Ann Holley publishes Rebel, which is ninety-percent games, as far as her contribution, but she has a subzine, "High Inertia", which is chatty and I find it very cute. I am always frustrated because I never get around to answering the questions. There are entertaining things to read out there. I don't read every magazine that's published. In fact, I haven't seen half the magazines on this year's Poll list. I get about forty magazines which, according to Linsey (I think), is the second highest in the hobby. I was amazed to discover that the average American player only gets about three magazines.

Q:  I don't think that's too amazing. I recently did a survey, and about fifty-two percent of players in the UK hobby are in one Dip game, and eighty-five play in either one or two. If they're not interested in anything above playing Diplomacy, it's not surprising that they only see two or three zines.
The other thing is that there are people, I can think of some classic examples, who no longer play postally but still read magazines. I don't have time anymore to play postally or to run games. I don't play much FTF, unless I go to a convention, in which case I'll play five, six, or seven games in a weekend and people will tell me I'm crazy. "You want to play Diplomacy? You should be sick of it!" But that's what I go for, I'll play other games but that's not what I want to do.

There are people, on the other hand, who don't want anything to do with FTF Diplomacy, just postal Diplomacy. One of the things I try to do with DW is to serve the postal hobby, the FTF hobby, the convention tournament hobby and the computer hobby. These are all legitimate branches of the hobby and there are many people in one or two of them, but there are not many in all of them. I don't know anything about computer Diplomacy, but we now have about twenty-five games running in the States, and that's a big percentage.

Q:  We'll end this interview by asking your views on prominent American hobby members. For instance, people may be asking "Why should Mark ask Larry for some words on Rod Walker?"
[LAUGHS] It's incomprehensible to me how someone could be active in the hobby and not know who Rod is. Somebody said, it might have been Mark Berch, that if it had not been Rod there would be no hobby and that's probably pretty much true. He's done pretty much everything in the hobby that there is to do.

He introduced me, and many others, to the hobby. I played my earliest postal games in his magazine, and of all the magazines that I have seen, his is still my favorite. Even when he was in the Air Force stationed in Turkey, by the Russian border, he still published. How he did it I don't know. He had access to a ditto machine and had it flown out, and mailed the zine through the Air Force mail system, or the APO, whatever it was. In those days, a first class magazine cost six cents and you could send three ounces for twelve cents. You'd be amazed how many ditto pages you could get into a three-ounce package.

He designed some of the best variants I've ever seen, although he's probably the worst GM I've ever known and a terrible player [LAUGHS]. He wrote "The Gamer's Guide" for Avalon Hill. He's a very intelligent man, and of all the people in the hobby, he is the one I have the most respect for, as well as affection for. That doesn't mean he's perfect. I occasionally have to kick him in the butt and he does that to me. That's one reason we're friends; we can do that. I listen to him and I respect his opinion.

Q:  Conrad Von Metzke?
Conrad's well known because of his name and because he is six foot seven! He's also a darn good writer, one of the best the hobby has ever had. He doesn't have the commitment, he never has had, that Rod or I have. In many ways he's a dilettante, but he's like a ballet dancer or an opera signer in that when he's good he's very, very good but when he bombs, he bombs. This is why you see Costaguana going all of a sudden from the top of Polls through burn-out and self-destruction. That's Conrad, the same way he plays his Diplomacy games.

He's also not a very good GM. He's an amazing person in his own right. His knowledge is just amazing, especially his musical knowledge. Great enthusiasm and another very nice person.

Q:  Mark Berch?
He sent me a copy of the first issue of Diplomacy Digest when it came out in 1977 and it sat, unopened, in a box of my stuff for years. I finally happened to come across it one day when I was emptying out boxes and I had never replied because it was just at the point when I was getting out of the hobby and going in other directions.

I first met Mark at DipCon two years ago, although we've communicated for many years. We passed each other in the hall and he said "I'll have to talk to you later". About five hours later we again passed each other in the hall. We sat down on a table and he lectured me for about ten minutes before saying that he had to go. So he took off. That's a typical introduction to Mark Berch. He's very bright and he's been a tremendous help to DW. He's also a pain in the ass. He's the worst writer, speller, and typist in the hobby. He admits it and knows it. His writing style would drive you nuts and probably an editor to suicide, but he has good ideas sometimes.

Q:  Fred C. Davis?
Oh God, I've got a cold...I don't know. Anybody that says Baltimore deserves to be shot. Fred was probably born the way he is now, I'm convinced of that. And then I think to myself that anyone who spent their entire career shuffling papers for the Social Security Administration can't be all bad.

It's true that he's a bigot and a racist, he knows it and he admits it. You've heard the expression "A Strange Duck"? Well, that covers Fred.

He has, in spite of all these things, probably written more of the best articles that have appeared in DW then anybody else has. Bushwacker has been a very fine magazine for many, many years. Fred reminded me, I'd forgotten, that at DipCon IV or V in Chicago, which was the first big one we had, I presented the Johnny Awards (which later became the Calhamer Awards) and I gave Fred, he had just started publishing Bushwacker, the award he won for best new variant publication. I think he still has that hanging on a wall somewhere. So in that sense he has more than paid his dues to the hobby and I think that he is entitled to his little quirks, after all we all have them don't we?

Q:  Dick and Julie Martin?
It's fascinating. They publish two magazines, Retaliation, which I saw occasionally because I got it in trade, and House of Lords, which I don't know if you've ever seen?

Q:  Yes, I trade with it. It seems to me that Julie puts comments in it just to stir things up and provoke a response. Yet in the next issue you get the impression that she meant her previous comments seriously. Sometimes I don't know how to take the zine.
I guess we're dealing with the feminine mentality or mystique. Remember the hobby is still, Kathy Byrne is not the exception but proof of the rule, a man's hobby. I read their magazine for years and I found it very stimulating. And I think that's what you're trying to do, stimulate. When I finally got a chance to meet them I was totally surprised because they're very nice people. I get along with almost everybody, you might not necessarily think so sometimes if you read things in the press. I think anybody in the hobby thinks they can, or does anyway, write me and say what they think, including the Martins. They know that. I will read what they have to say, I will make up my own mind and that's usually the end of that.

Q:  Melinda Ann Holley?
I'm in awe, I think anybody would be. You only have to look at the stats, one of the things she does is to publish the BNC's publication Everything. She's playing in almost every game that starts and if she's not playing in it then she's running it. It's amazing. God forbid that she should ever fall out of the hobby or drop dead because it would leave things in a shambles. I've never talked to her but her notes and letters are very interesting.

Q:  To finish with, Bruce Linsey; the most controversial man in the American Hobby. How does he do it?

[Note added 31st December 2002:  At this point in the interview I asked Larry about Bruce Linsey. Bruce recently emailed me to ask that I remove some parts of Larry's reply that he felt were inaccurate and unhelpful. As I've not had time to consider Bruce's request I've decided to remove this section of the interview pending my final decision.  Mark Nelson]

Q:  You've been in the hobby for twenty-two years. What are you going to be doing on December 31st, 1999? Are you still going to be DW editor?

I would like to thank Larry for taking part in this interview. I hope he thinks it was a worthwhile endeavor, and doesn't think it's been too long in production.

I would also like to thank Doug Kent who retyped my transcription of this interview.

Mark Nelson


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