Monday, June 04, 2012

What I'm reading...

I ran out of steam in my effort to complete Edgar Rice Burroughs' "A Princess of Mars" trilogy about a third of the way through the last book, although I have every intention of getting back to it in due time. However, in the meantime, I am heavily immersed in something quite different. "Designers and Dragons" by Shannon Applecline is an exhaustive history of the tabletop roleplaying game industry documenting its humble beginnings in the basements and backrooms of wargamers like Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson and Jeff Perren, through the golden age of the 80s, the rocky periods of the 90s and ending with the most recent developments of the late 00s. I'm guessing most gamers will find this stuff pretty uninteresting, especially those who didn't live through most of the eras covered, but I can't stop reading. I remember ads in Dragon magazine for a lot of the games discussed in this book even if I never played most of them. What I also find fascinating are the histories of some of the game designers themselves. Many times I've thought to myself, "Wow, I didn't know he worked for 'them' that long ago!" The author also fleshes out the details surrounding some of the more well-known controversies in the history of the hobby. I especially enjoyed reading about the fight between Steve Jackson Games and the Secret Service.

Applecline goes into a fair bit of detail on the evolution of game design throughout the various histories of the different companies. The wargaming roots of the hobby are described in the chapter on TSR. The impact of "storyteller" games are, of course, detailed in the White Wolf chapter and the indie movement is given its due in the chapter on Ron Edwards and Adept Press. The OSR is not discussed much, if at all. I suspect there are two reasons for this. First of all, the OSR movement was really just getting started at the time this book was being written and its impact was minimal. Secondly, the main theme of the book has been about the evolution of game design. Some smaller companies had been purposefully left out because they were not particularly innovative and didn't feature any prominent game designers. The OSR has not, historically, been big on innovation either, at least as far as game design is concerned. I would agree though, it has been influential in establishing a new model for tabletop rpgs as community, rather than as industry. I'm certain that, were this book to be published today, a chapter on the OSR would surely have been included.


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