New Acquisition: Designers & Dragons

New Acquisition: Designers & Dragons

Dungeons & Dragons has become very familiar across the decades since it first appeared in 1974.  However, it’s not the only roleplaying game by a long chalk and in the last half century there have been a multitude of D&D clones as well a vast variety of other games and genres.  From science fiction (such as Traveller) to gothic horror (e.g. Call of Cthulhu); from superheroes to secret agents, there’s almost certainly something to suit any interest.

Keeping track of all that history has been made somewhat easier by a recent University of Portsmouth Library acquisition, Designers & Dragons by Shannon Appelcline and published by Evil Hat Productions.  This four-volume set follows the history of games and publishers is an immensely readable and engaging.  The author has clearly worked hard at seeking out the detail which makes this useful and the human interest which makes it accessible.  Appelcline takes a decade per volume and publishing company by publishing company builds up a picture of what was taking place in the industry and why.  Sidebars on various topics fill in any gaps which might occur by this approach and each chapter ends with a guide on what to read next and has links to ‘other eras’ to further connect events and designers.

Each chapter takes a chronological view and is liberally sprinkled with book covers which entice the reader in.  Older readers will be reminded of lots of past history that they’ve either played or perhaps collected and still have on their shelves.  Whether you’re reading this for nostalgia or to gain an insight into where the roleplaying industry has come from, there’s lots here to make each volume well worth perusing.  Each volume finishes with a list of ten things you didn’t know about the RPG industry in that decade as well as a bibliography for further reading.  Finally, excellent indexes in each volume make it easy to find names, games, publishers and themes.

Longer established games will of course get lots of coverage.  The aforementioned Traveller is a good example of this.  First published in 1977, it has its own near 50-year history. Appelcline covers this in chapters in each of the four volumes:

  • Volume 1: GDW 1973-1996 and Judges Guild 1976-1983 & 1999-present, as well as other mentions in chapters such as Games Workshop or Gamescience;
  • Volume 2: Steve Jackson Games 1980-present, FASA 1980-2001, Gamelords 1980-1984 and Digest Group Publications 1985-1993;
  • Volume 3: Imperium Games 1996-1998;
  • Vol 4: Mongoose Publishing 2001-present. 

This detail perhaps gives an idea of how comprehensive the history is; reading the books reveals how much trouble the author has gone to interview those involved, dig out sales figures and carefully consider the implications of what certain decisions meant for the industry.

Each paperback volume has an attractive cover image and its own colour (brown/plum, green, purple and blue).  They are around 400 pages each.  The review author’s own set of these books came with attractive bookmarks in each colour and depicting part of the cover image.  You can find the Library copy of the four-volume set at classmark 793.9309/APP on the first floor in Area 1B.  There is no electronic edition available unfortunately but it’s an interesting section of the Library shelves which might well repay a visit.  There are even some RPG rulebooks and adventures available to borrow if you want to get going with your own games.

If you have even a passing interest in roleplaying games or the history of this recreation, then Designers & Dragons is worth checking out.  Here’s looking forward to an update to bring the last decade into the history.

~ Timothy Collinson, Faculty Librarian (Technology)

Assistant Librarian (Promotions) at the University Library. An enthusiastic advocate of libraries, diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice for all, inside and outside the workplace.

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