History has always been one of my favorite subjects, and when it’s coupled with gaming my interest increases rapidly. So much so that sometimes it can even bypass my aversion to reading non-fiction books. A few months ago I picked up a copy of Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt, and it really helped me to understand the story of something that has had a tremendous impact on me. Now there is a new four volume series of books on the shelf that offer even more insights into the history of RPGs, the series is called Designers and Dragons written by Shannon Applecline, and the fact that his name sounds a bit like it belongs in a Dungeons and Dragons campaigns didn’t hurt. Now since this is a four book series, and I haven’t actually read any of the books as of yet, I just want to point out what the things that have me so excited about these books.
Designers and Dragons is divided into four volumes covering four major eras of the history of roleplaying games. Each volume covers approximately one decade and focuses on different themes, people, and events that helped RPGs to evolve. It’s also worth noting that this is apparently the second printing with an enormous amount of content added to the original work, so even if you’ve read the original piece there’s a wealth of additional goodies to be had now.
Volume one will play to the tastes of anyone who has an interest in Dungeons and Dragons or fantasy games, the cover depicts a red dragon its hoard of treasure while some pesky adventurers try and steal it. It covers 1970-1979 and there are profiles on some of the companies that were producing games during that era. TSR is just one of the companies mentioned here along with GDW, and Choasium. In all profiles for thirteen game companies got profiles in this installment. I’ll freely admit that I love hearing how these companies grew and imagining working there when they were spitting out games as fast as they could put pencil to paper. Other features are a behind the scenes look at games like Dungeons and Dragons and Traveler, and ten things you might not know about roleplaying in the ’70s. I don’t know about the rest of you folks but I need to know what those ten things are as soon as possible.
Volume two is sure to catch they eye of anyone whose into sci-fi RPGs like Shadowrun, as a gun totting cyborg and a wired up hacker battle it out with what I am going to call a technomancer. I don’t know what else to call a man who conjures up holographic dragon, force fields, and waves around a sword. He looks a bit like Gandalf’s younger brother who decided magic was too old fashioned, tossed his big floppy hat in the trash, and went to CMU. The ’80s seem like they were an interesting time for RPGs and many of them turned their attention away from fantasy games focusing instead on science fiction. This was the era that gave us GURPS, Champions, and Battletech. What more can I say? Sadly I don’t know how much Shadowrun will appear here as it wasn’t published until 1989, but I’m sure it will get some attention. Remember how thirteen game companies got profiles in the previous volume? Well volume two has twenty-three so if you ever wanted to learn more about the history of companies like Mayfair Games of Steve Jackson Games this is your chance.
Moving into the ’90s we start to hear some very familiar names cropping up, and it also happens to be what I think of as the dark age of gaming. Not because it was backwards and bleak, just because games seemed to take on a much darker and more serious tone during this time. Wizards of the Coast, White Wolf, World of Darkness, Dungeons and Dragons 3E, Vampire: The Masquerade, and Warhammer 40K Roleplay all play important roles in the third volume of the quartet.
Volume four features everything you ever wanted to know about gaming from 2000-2009, which gave rise to one of my favorite RPGS of all time Mutants and Masterminds. The fact that the cover depicts superheroes in an midair battle with an evil sorcerer as blimps carrying what I assume are his hoards of minions descend on the city didn’t do anything to dampen my interest in this volume. If you want to know more about companies like Paizo Publishing, Green Ronin, Mongoose Publishing, and Evil Hat this is a great chance to do so. I really want to read about Green Ronin, they emailed me once and it was the highlight of my…well I was very excited and I saved the email to say the least. Pathfinder, Fate, Mutants and Masterminds, and so many other fantastic games all helped make this era great. This is your opportunity to learn how they made it all happen.
In all each volume costs $20.00 a piece, amounting to an impressive $80.00 plus tax. However Evil Hat is doing a special offer, if you buy the paperbacks on their website you get the digital books as well. The books are also available in some stores so if you see one grab it before they’re gone. This series is a piece of gaming history that you are going to want to buy and have on your shelf for years to come.
Again I haven’t read any of these yet, but I promise as soon as I manage to I’ll give you all a more detailed review.