New to Gaming? Catch Up on Your RPG History with Designers & Dragons!

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Are you new to role-playing games?

Given the explosive growth of the hobby in the past decade, it wouldn’t be surprising. Still trying to tell your Pathfinder from Paranoia? Can’t tell the difference between the OGL and the OSR? Well real-life Gandalf, Shannon Appelcline, and gaming publisher extraordinaire Fred Hicks are here to help!  Designers & Dragons is a comprehensive, four-volume history of the gaming industry from the time it was but a twinkle in the eyes of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson through 2009. The books, written by Appelcline, are comprehensive, engaging, and beautifully produced.

As a journalist in the geek field, my four volumes of Designers & Dragons have proven absolutely indispensable for putting our current nerd culture in context.

Savage Tales of the Role-Playing Industry

There are important bits of gaming history you have likely never heard. Shannon Appelcline said this was one of his prime motivations for creating Designers & Dragons. “Designers… are worthy of our recognition and (in some cases) remembrance. I think Dave Arneson offers a fine example: he was virtually unknown in the ’80s and ’90s, despite having co-created D&D!”

For another example, consider the canonization of Gary Gygax. Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, is now a revered figure among gamers. Magazines and game conventions are named after him. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin is building a statue of the man. He even appeared on an episode of Futurama before his death.

So it is likely that new gamers don’t know that after he lost control of TSR, the first company to publish D&D, in a boardroom battle, the company he helped found would hound him for over a decade, filing lawsuit after lawsuit against him as he tried to publish new role-playing games.

When Gygax founded a new gaming company called New Infinities, TSR filed an injunction and then a lawsuit when the company tried to publish a fantasy adventure by Frank Mentzer called The Convert. When New Infinities went bankrupt, Gygax moved on to GDW where he planned to publish a role-playing game entitled Dangerous Dimensions. A lawsuit from TSR followed quickly, claiming that Dangerous Dimensions (DD for short) was too close a title to Dungeons & Dragons (D&D for short). The name of the game was then changed to Dangerous Journeys to appease TSR. TSR decided to sue again anyways, arguing that the game was too close to the rules for 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Appelcline wrote of the episodes, “The Dangerous Journeys lawsuit was very damaging to GDW — perhaps fatally so.” GDW went out of business in 1995.

To think that St. Gary was hounded and worried by the lawyers of a company he helped found, which was kept financially solvent by a game he helped co-create, is a shocking story, practically a Greek tragedy, but one which it is important for 21st-century gamers and designers to remember.

And to keep such tales is the purpose of Designers & Dragons. He said, “The Dragons [of Designers & Dragons title] are those problems that [designers] faced, some looming dangers, [and] some self-inflicted wounds. By recording those, we can perhaps avoid them in the future.”

Evil Hat publisher and gaming’s own Hugo Gernsback, Fred Hicks ran a Kickstarter to produce the books, and grossed over $115,000. Six figures to produce a four-volume history of the role-playing game industry is an amazing feat. Fred said, “The whole campaign was a huge validation of all the hard work Shannon put into the project, and the books are among the best we’ve made.”

Check out all four volumes here!

What pieces of gaming history have you seen? Share with us below!

All images courtesy Evil Hat Productions.

Ben Riggs speaks five languages, and has lived in four countries on three continents, but still manages to lose his keys in the bathroom. A friend to man, animal, and werewolf alike, you can discover more of Ben’s thoughts on game, the universe, and everything on Twitter, or on the Plot Points Podcast, available on iTunes or Libsyn.

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