Coventry

A mid-60s LARP predating D&D which ended badly.

It had its beginnings around 1952, when The Mariposan Empire was invented by by some non-fan around Pasadena, CA. The Mariposan Empire was one of the first role-playing games; in it parts of Pasadena became kingdoms of a Mariposan Empire, mythical histories were developed, and these led to the conspiracies and other intrigues that were features of the game, as players tried to conquer each other's territory. In the early 1950s, fandom had not yet discovered the game with the exception of Paul Stanbery, who was friends with some of the players.

It was inevitable, though, that other LA fans would eventually become involved. One of the first was Rich Brown, who was a friend of Stanbery (he was actually introduced to it before he discovered fandom.) By the late 1950s, interest in the game by its originators was waning, so Stanbery, with the help of Brown, came up with the idea of remaking the game by injecting some SF into it: the result was Coventry.

Coventry can best be described as a role-playing universe, with many elements of science fiction and fantasy. Influences were drawn from the fiction of James Blish, James Gunn, Fred Pohl, Cyril Kornbluth, and Robert Heinlein, and the 1950s movie Forbidden Planet. The location of the game was a self-contained hollowed-out asteroid habitat, constructed by aliens, which had become the refuge of human survivors of World War Three.

Players in Coventry converted their true-life identities into fictional role-playing personae. Rich Brown provided a concise explanation of what Coventry actually was: "Coventry wasn't actually 'played'; it was written. Basically, people wrote stories about their characters in the setting of Coventry. The ideas would be talked-out for pre-approval, just to be sure they didn't conflict with what had gone on before." Joining the game required taking various oaths, including the Glark and Brood Oaths. Advancement through 5 levels of connectedness required Service Credits, which involved writing or other work.

Coventry soon spread to fandom, and involved some fairly well-known fans. Bruce Pelz, who was still residing in Florida at that time, had published an issue of his fanzine ProFANity that had asked his readers to select a fantasy world they would like to live in if they had the choice. Brown in response took the opportunity to mention Coventry. Another person who was on his mailing list was Ted Johnstone, who happened to live not far from Stanbery and he soon was a convert to the new game. Johnstone's enthusiasm and energy made it known throughout fandom in Southern California. Eventually, Coventry-inspired fanzines started appearing in LA fandom with contributions from local fans and from fans as far distant as Ruth Berman in Minnesota. Other players include the Trimbles and Mitch Evans.

Primary Coventranian fanzines included Gimble, published by Ted Johnstone (known in the game as Tedron) and The Coventranian Gazette, published by Bruce Pelz (now in LA). The latter lists the officers of Coventry as:

President: Paul Stanbery (also apparently referred to as Paulus Rex)
Chief of Government: Rich Brown
Executive Secretary: Don Simpson
Foreign Minister: Bruce Pelz (also apparently referred to as Bruziver of Heorot)
Chief Supervisor: Craig Knapp
Head Librarian: Ted Johnstone (also apparently referred to as Tedron of Methylonia)
Chairman of the Amaranth Society: Michael Tarpin (also referred to as Mikhail II)

Pelz appears to have coined the acronym CIAWOT, which probably translates as "Coventry Is A Waste Of Time."

Coventry not only had kingdoms, it had its own calendar, and the fanzines are dated under this calendar. The months of the year were (per Coventranian Gazette #2, page 8):
I. Frery (Afteryule)
II. Solmath
III. Gwaeron
IV. Astron
V. Lothron
VI. The Summerdays (Forelithe)
VII. Cerveth (Afterlithe)
VIII. Mede
IX. Wedmath
X. Harvestmath
XI. Wintring
XII. Yulemath (Foreyule)

The game's intrigues and conspiracies eventually manifested themselves as unpleasantness with other fans. For example, members of LASFS who weren't involved with the game started to object to injection of Coventry into club meetings and discussion of Coventriana rather than LASFS business. An even bigger mess resulted after fans who were in the game started to become angry with Johnstone, who was acting as Coventry's gamemaster. He had introduced a character known as 'The Guardian', whose job it was to disrupt the game in witty ways to remind players, some of whom seemed to be a bit too immersed in the game, that it was only a game. This caused a nasty backlash. Some of the players saw The Guardian's activity as sabotage, and there were threats of lawsuits , and even a report of a firebomb on a player's front lawn.

The Guardian's identity was kept secret from the players (it was actually local fan Dean Dickensheet), but to divert attention to a location suitably far from Los Angeles, Johnstone dropped some hints that The Guardian was actually a neofan from Baltimore, Jack Chalker, who immediately started receiving threats via mail.

Coventry ended badly and left sufficient ill-feelings that little has been written about it since. Some material appeared in APA-L in 1970 — Johnstone and Pelz talk back and forth about what happened. Nyet Vremya (Pelz's L-zine) #229, in APA-L 252, talks about the ban on discussing Coventry coming from social ways in which people got hurt.