Fred. Not many know that name; you’d have to be a real veteran reader of Computer Gaming World to be familiar with it. Yet Fred and I go back a long way, to the “golden age” of gaming.

When Russ Sipe (then publisher & owner of CGW) asked me to write for the mag, I was slated to do a hint column. It would appear each issue (they were bi-monthly back then), cover one game, and provide hints and nudges rather than outright answers.

The format was a cozy tavern situated in a mysterious limbo, where weary adventurers could kick back with a cold one, recover from their latest dungeon crawl, and pick up some sage advice before heading off to the pits once again.

To this day, I can’t recall which of us came up with “Scorpion’s Tale” as the name, but it was a great fit. Especially as the Tale came complete with “ye olde tavern sign”, depicting (what else?) a scorpion’s tail and stinger.

Now, every tavern worthy of the name has a bartender. In places where the clientele is likely to become rowdy – and adventurers are a feisty lot – a bouncer is also a good idea. So there was Fred. Fred, my bartender/bouncer at the Tale.

Fred is half Grue (you don’t want to know about the other half). He dispensed potables from the shadowy area behind the bar (innocents who requested “diet” anything were never seen again), kept an eye on things, and developed into a regular shtick. Most lead-in paragraphs to the Tale mentioned him, one way or another.

He reveled in winter, and grumbled at the approach of spring with its longer hours of daylight. Every year, he went to the annual Grues Convention, held in the Dark Room of Colossal Cave. They were always up to something, those Grues. One year, they campaigned for the repeal of Daylight Savings Time. Another year, they tried mightily to have lightbulbs banned. Fred was always in a good mood when he came back from one of those cons.

The holiday season was always festive at the Tale. We had our Christmas Tree Monster (imported directly from Beyond Zork) in the corner, swishing its tinsel, blinking its lights, and reminding everyone they’d better be merry…or else.

The crowning decoration was Fred’s shrunken-head garland. He enjoyed putting that up, and I always had a hard timing getting him to take it down again. Ever wonder about those game designers who just seem to disappear from sight? Don’t look too closely at that garland….

When the mag changed from publishing in the cover month (May out in May) to a month before (May out in April), confusion naturally resulted. “June issue? Is that the one with June on the cover, or the one that comes out in June?”. To this day, Fred is sure that somehow, somewhere, we lost a month. That didn’t improve his temperment. Especially as we never got it back. Heh.

But then there came that fateful day when Ziff-Davis bought the magazine. Different owners, different directions. Over time, the Tale faded into the background. My hint column became, well, just a hint column. No tavern, no sign, no Fred.

It’s still there, of course, The Scorpion’s Tale, in that mysterious limbo. Every so often, I stop by for a visit. Fred keeps the place in shape (he was always something of a neat freak; I could never figure out why) and the bar well-stocked. We yarn about old times and old adventures for awhile, then I head off again. One thing I’ve noticed is that the garland – he has it up all the time now – seems to be longer every visit. Well, Fred always liked to keep busy, and given the game scene these days, it looks like he’s busier than ever. Good ol’ Fred… miniscorp

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