Posted on June 18, 2012 by spikexan
Available at RPGNow.com
Let’s say you’re going to teach a course on the history of role-playing games. You have the diploma and teaching certification. You have the tweed jacket. You have everything, but a textbook. With Designers and Dragons, you have a hulking 442 page textbook that examines this specific gaming culture since its creation in 1974. You’re ready to teach.
I’ve been playing RPGs since 1987 put TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes: Advanced Set into my local Waldenbooks, which means, according to this book, that I missed a massive amount of gaming history. I’ve played lots of games, read lots more that were not worth playing, and read about tons more through reviews or blurbs. I know a bit about what is going on in the industry.
But not enough to write this book.
Let me start off with artwork/layout. This falls into the unsexy textbook, dissertation, book report genre when it comes to artwork and such. The layout is Spartan, but only because it should be. The images used within the book are classic cover images from various games, starting with what is credited as a 1974 Dungeons and Dragon’s cover.
This book is more than a series of release dates and creator names though. The author encapsulates history, well-researched quotes, brief game mechanic overviews, and more side information than you’d find in a Tim Powers novel. In short, the writing doesn’t just sound informative, it sounds intimate.
Not every gamer is going to appreciate this book. I doubt anyone in my gaming group would care enough. At the risk of straying too far from the “review” part of this article, I find myself bummed out by the fact this book might end up only on the bookshelves of really “into it” gamers. Maybe I need to teach a class at my local university and make this textbook required reading.
It wouldn’t be a bunny course either.
I think what the author of this book has done has perfect timing. He details several “waves” the industry has drifted through and the ramifications of each (the D20 boom and quick demise, for example). He even makes side notes on Adventure Games (Dungeon!), Collectable Card Games (Magic: the Gathering), and other related gaming options. They are not this book’s focus though and therefore get little attention beyond their establishment into the grand scheme of things.
Right now, one of the theme’s in this hobby seems to be an attempt to understand it better. There are books on the psychology of gamers, essays on games, and more on various markets right now (for example the selection of titles from McFarland Publishing at RPGNow). The recent indie-game book even has generated a change in how the game is played.
Gnomestew.com or the Forge site are terrific starting places for looks at gaming thought. If you want to pick up games to show how the industry has changed, pick up Margaret Weis Productions Serenity and Smallville. Both claim to use the same system, but you’ll see the evolution of the system that took less than a decade to occur.
There is quite a bit for readers within this book. There are heated egos that are both creative and destructive. There are stories of great games and games that should-have-been. A well-researched history into an industry chock-full of it. If you love the game, take a look at this book.
Review by Todd Cash
Tags | Reviews