Duke Seifried – Last Hurrah at Historicon 2010
Duke Seifried doesn’t live in Dixie, but it is easy to imagine him in the role of an archetypical Southern gentleman, sitting on his veranda, a mint julep on a wicker stand beside him, the twilight sweet with the scent of magnolia blossoms. Sitting cross-legged around him are the children of the neighborhood, along with some of their older siblings and parents, enrapt as "Uncle Duke" tells entertaining stories that often contain some moral about courtesy, honor, and other virtues.
Of course, since this is Duke Seifried we’re talking about, when fireflies begin to flicker in the growing darkness, he’d lead the whole crowd inside to a stunningly detailed diorama complete with hundreds of beautifully painted miniature soldiers. There, he’d hand out dice, assign commands and have the entire crew engaged in tabletop combat for hours before sending them on their way with softly spoken blessings and his thanks for their having stopped by.
Uncle Duke, as he has long been affectionately known, has been a fixture in the miniatures gaming hobby for longer than most of us have been rolling dice. He is legendary for the BIG games he’s staged with miniature figures over the years—imagine battlefield dioramas that cover the floor of a two-car garage—and for the many contributions he’s made to the hobby of miniatures gaming, a hobby he calls "The Grand Obsession." If someone ever creates a Mount Rushmore of miniatures gaming greats, his name will be on the short list of those whose faces might be carved on it.
This year at Historicon, to be held July 8 – 11 at the Valley Forge Convention Plaza in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, will be his last hurrah. The thousands of little soldiers he’s amassed will march on but under new commanders. At age 75, he is overseeing one last series of games before selling off the collection. It will mark the end of an era.
He credits author and miniatures-gaming legend Don Featherstone of England as his mentor in "The Grand Obsession."
"You get engaged in the draftswork, the design, the playing—and most of all, the camaraderie," he said in an interview with this writer in 2009. "It calls forth many skills and opportunities. It is so sweeping that it can occupy your time to excess, as it has done with me at times in my life. That’s why I call it The Grand Obsession."
In addition to his rules design and exceptional handcrafted scenery—everybody crafts streams from resin or other materials; his "water" has strands of grass waving in it—Duke has a long resume of contributions to the history of "adventure gaming," a term he says he created at a time when the term "wargaming" had developed negative connotations.
"I had one foot in fantasy, one in history; I was one of the guiding forces in fantasy gaming but I had also done the same for historical."
Two of the credits given to him in The Courier’s "A Timeline of the Historical Miniatures Gaming Hobby," are the release of Der Kreigspieler’s Napoleonic figures in 1971—the first bagged figures for retail distribution—and the founding of Custom Cast which created 25mm Fantastiques fantasy figures in 1974. He was an executive vice president of TSR, Inc., the company the Dungeons & Dragons game built. At Games Expo 2007, he provided 5,000 square feet of displays from his collection, attracting the attention of The History Channel (click link to see photos).
Apart from his life in lead—the material miniature soldiers used to be molded from—he graduated from Miami University at Oxford, Ohio, in 1957 with a degree in Speech/Radio-Television and later participated in an oral history of that school. He talks about his work as a director in children’s television in Ohio when TV was black and white. Later, he got into advertising and wrote jingles for Frigidaire. A talented guitarist, he was part of The Cool Jazz Trio with Connie Austin and Wayne Wiley in Madison, Wisconsin.
What this writer will always remember about him is his courtesy to others, a reflection perhaps of his Austrian heritage, which Duke speaks of proudly.
Call him a Renaissance Man who loves Napoleonics, a historian who games the Lord of the Rings. Call him a sculptor, a musical composer, a salesman, a writer, a storyteller, a game designer. Call him Uncle Duke. But if you are at Historicon 2010, don’t miss the chance to see his one-of-a-kind scenics and to shake his hand.
Gerald D. Swick is senior Web editor for ArmchairGeneral.com and other Websites of the Weider History Group and will be speaking on "How to Write Book and Game Reviews" at Historicon 2010. He is a former president of the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society MidSouth.