Why the Song of the Susurrus?

Marcus Katz

I decided to call this blog the Song of the Susurrus in tribute to game designer Albie Fiore (1946 – 2009). I first noticed his work in White Dwarf magazine Issue 9 (Oct/Nov 1978) when I was 13 and just starting with D&D. In that issue is an adventure for first-level characters called The Lichway, and to me it is just the most perfect adventure module ever designed; it is beautifully presented in just three-and-a-half pages, has a fantastic reason for being – and a potential twist that can turn the whole adventure upside-down for the players.

It also has another adventuring party – played as NPCs (Non-Player Characters) by the DM (Dungeon Master), which was the first time I had ever come across that idea. And, to top it all, a unique monster which may or may not be the boss monster – the Susurrus.

It is perhaps no surprise in retrospect this mini-adventure should be one of the finest of the old school rules era; Albie was not only a games designer, a crossword puzzle creator for the Guardian, and an author of storylines for children’s series such as Scooby Doo, he was also an architect. And he had also spent time as a chef on private yachts and collected antiques specialising in slot machines.

As the series Red Dwarf would have it said of him as Ace Rimmer, “What a Guy”!

Whilst I did not DM the adventure until I was 16, preferring my own hand-crafted adventures and the run-through of the classic series of G-series from 1978 onwards, The Lichway has one of the fondest and most visceral memories for me. I can almost literally remember being stood in the Crypt of Life (Location 8) and seeing the bridge of bones and the two bone-made lich-gates hanging off their hinges and inviting the party to explore further – if they dare. Whilst I was a DM, the players were so immersed in that adventure it became a living event for all of us. I recall – quite viscerally, even forty years later, the dronesong of the Susurrus and describing it haunting the halls of the complex as the players bravely pressed on into the temple.

I recall too that I ran the adventure for a new set of characters for my playing group, consisting of my brother and a few friends, as we’d binged the Giant series, delved through the Drow series and maxed out a little during Expedition to the Barrier Peaks by 1980 or so. We were playing almost non-stop for several years and having a blast. So, when we ran Lichway, we were all still quite young (15-16) but comparably accomplished as players of the game. That gave us the best of all worlds, I think, looking back, and possibly another reason why Lichway sits so fondly in my memory.

When it came to naming a personal blog, then, weaving thoughts about role-playing, history, game design and my personal playing history and collection, I wanted something that would make me nostalgic the moment I thought about it – and even now, even now, I can still hear that haunting noise of the long past, a past that is not yet truly asleep nor entirely dead; the song of the Susurrus.

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