MARS: The Early Years

Post by Elaine Walker

There have been a number of SF based clubs in Western Australia over the years. Most of the Universities in Western Australia have, or have at some point had one. UWA has UniSFA, Curtin had the Curtin Imagination Association (CIA) and at Murdoch University the most well known one was the Murdoch Alternative Reality Society (MARS). There may have also been one at Edith Cowan which I am informed may have been Sector 23 but confirmation or correction of this is welcomed. While, as is the nature of student clubs, only UniSFA still remains as an active club, it was at Murdoch that I did my study, and thus it was a Martian that I became. The club had been going a couple of years in one form or another by the time that I reached University in 1990 and thus it was only through an article in the MARS/SAGA Annual of 1993 (SAGA = Southern Area Gaming Association) that I had any knowledge of the earlier years.

The prototype of the club started back in February 1988 when AJ (Lev) Anderson (Now Lafayette) decided to start a role playing club at Murdoch University. He managed on the clubs and societies day to sign up a total of 8 people into joining the Murdoch University Gamer’s Club, 2 of whom were women, which was fairly unusual for a role playing club, but a sign of things to come. Another 3 were signed up by the end of March which was enough to have it recognised by the Guild. Roleplaying campaigns were started (Rolemaster) and a tournament, and the first appearance of the Phantasmagoria fanzine, and the first games purchased for the library.

The tournament in that year garnered public recognition for the club was advertised as a combo ” Advanced D&D/Runequest/Middle-Earth Roleplaying” tournament and included a survey about game preference on the back of the advertising, which got 80 people turning up and 120 filling in the form. At the end of that year there were 27 members, a library of 50 items and more campaigns running.

In the next year the membership increased to 40 people and the club was renamed to MARS to acknowledge that it wasn’t just a gaming club any more, links were made with the Gamer’s Guild, and tournaments run. There was also an abortive attempt to start a national role playing/science fiction magazine that alas was not able to attract enough funding, this being the days before online distribution. Various roleplaying campaigns were running including Rolemaster, Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, Call of Cthulu, Paranoia, Judge Dredd, Harnmaster and Champions. By the end of 1989 they had a membership of 54 and an executive of 5. (A very modest number considering some of the positions to occur in future years).

The next year started well with MARS members attending Swancon XV for the first time, and Murray Wood organised an impromptu panel on gaming which apparently was the second largest at the convention and went on for three hours. Thus establishing gaming as a common panel topic for future Swancons. But there were not so many events on campus and the membership shrank a little.

In 1991 MARS attended Swancon which had a cyberpunk theme, and then the club had a not entirely successful D&D tournament. Things picked up in the second half of the year and there were a few “pitbashes” and a proposal to do a Phantasmagoria Annual. Gaming consisted pretty much of Champions campaigns. (I still remember seeing Captain Carrot’s character sheet – nothing to do with the Pratchett character – with its ‘cute’ attack).

1992 had a load of MARS members attending Swancon (including myself! My first convention!) which was then followed by a ‘Month of MARS’ (MARScon1) which was a month of doing things such as holding panels, playing games, showing videos and playing SF radio serials, painting the ref wall and a ‘Gothic Horror’ Friday the 13th Party. With a fresh executive and enthusiasm there were weekly stalls, group movie outings, including 2 outings to the Rocky Horror Picture show. There was more live role play, some laser games, as well as the more standard role playing games including the 78 hour game of Rolemaster (please let us know if this record has been beaten) in the middle of winter (I didn’t play but did drop in and remember distinctly one of the players attempting to outstare a plush dragon called ‘Figment’).

At the end of 1992 there was another AGM where Adam Coleman who had been elected President earlier in this year was re-elected unopposed and MARS was fused with SAGA (Southern Area Gaming Association). There was even an end of year dinner.

By this point in time there were nearly 180 members and the club was the most active club at Murdoch, and the largest SF club in the state.

This information was summarised from an article by Anthony Jon Lev Anderson, the founder of MARS in the MARS/SAGA Phantasmagoria in 1993.

 

About australian sf-history

ASFDAP was set up in 2011 after the rediscovery by the wider SF community of an impressive hoard of Australian SF community related ephemera, fanzines and other materials in the Murdoch University basement.

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6 Responses to MARS: The Early Years

  1. Shayne O says:

    And then one day Magic the gathering swept the earth and it all turned to hell…..

    I don’t even know if Mars survived WoW. (I suppose it must have. Word has it, the club still exists)

    • Hi Shayne

      I can’t speak for the current existence, although I do know that the Martian’s had a stall selling books at an O’Day in recent years (I want to say 2009, but I’m not sure whether this is the one that I went to). Our resident Murdoch people are currently away, but hopefully one of them will be able to tell you more about the state of the club at some point.

      regards,
      Anna

    • One of the Murdoch people here.

      If the club still exists then I’m not aware of it. A few years back there were insufficient people turned up for various tries at an AGM to actually have enough people. MAD (Murdoch Anime Directive) as far as I am aware still exists, but due to the loss of the club room, the lack of people to take up the positions and apathy I believe the club as an official entity no longer exists to my knowledge. I do not believe WoW was a factor in its demise. If someone knows better please let us know. The only remaining trace that I know of is the phantasmagoria email list which may still exist.

      Elaine

  2. Matthew says:

    Hi,

    Whilst I was never a member of MARS, I did have a great time as a member of SAGA in its many guises and locales. It was a great club and while we did occasionally struggle for members and places to meet, I have fond memories of many games there. I remember esp when we were based out of Murdoch Uni we got the occasional MARS member turn up. Its sad though to hear that MARS is no more.

  3. Justin Sauvage says:

    Always fun to reopen an ancient thread! I came across this after a bit of reminiscing on google.
    I joined MARS in 1994, and while never much of a gamer myself I very much enjoyed the company of fellow MARS members and enjoyed the crazy talk and Sci Fi discussions. By 1994 the founding members (Lev et al) had pretty much moved on, but were still around in the background and even way back then pretty much had legend status.

    Watching Red Dwarf day after day in the old Refectory, the crazy games of Risk and Asshole are among many MARS activities that resulted in many a lecture being skipped….

    As Shayne mentioned in the comment above (in 2012!) the introduction of MAGIC the gathering very much changed the nature of the club, and the club became far less dynamic and interesting and by 1999 when I graduated it was a shadow of its former self, and although the club seems to have survived until at least 2008, I get the impression it was never as strong as it was in the early to mid 90’s.

    On a side note, I see some comments about the loss of club room being the death knell of the club. Back in the early 90s it never really had a club room, and that was perhaps one of the things that made it so strong as we were loud and proud so to speak in the middle of the Uni Refectory and I am sure that brought many a new member along (and frightened away many of those conservative types seeking a quite lunch!)

    Justin (AKA Static).

    • Hi Justin

      Thanks for adding to the discussion! Interesting how people from different time points see the value of the club-room. I was never an on-campus member, so have no memories of either gaming in the ref or going to the club room, but I guess from my memories of Curtin and UWA, the club room was certainly a great place to hang out.

      Anna.

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