Designers & Dragons came out of a simple question, “What ever happened to Imperium Games?”
That question dated back to the previous year, when I attended Gen Con Indy 2005. The convention helped me to rediscover some enthusiasm for gaming that I’d lost following my two years of work for Chaosium in 1996-1998. (Chaosium was great, a dream job, but doing your dream job 9-5 always has the danger of having a corrosive effect on a related hobby.) When I got back from the con I was jazzed to start in on a new project for RPGnet, which I was running at the time. Largely on my own time, in evenings and on weekends, I wrote software to organize an index of all roleplaying publications to that date, an attempt at a modern-day Heroic Worlds (1991).
I then began to fill in the content of the RPGnet Gaming Index from my own collection. That included the Traveller 4 publications from Imperium Games. But, I’m never finished that collection because of that job at Chaosium: ironically, I didn’t have money for RPGs while working there. Now, as I scoured the internet for references to books published after mid-1996, I discovered that Imperium Games had dropped out of business within a year of when I stopped buying their books. So I asked, “What happened?”
That led to me researching that question, and eventually researching Imperium’s whole history, and eventually writing up that history, because I thought it might be a nice article for RPGnet. But, the story had some problems. To be precise, there were some claims of financial malfeasance, and so I decided I couldn’t publish the article until I had more sources.
Nonetheless, the process of researching and writing had been a lot of fun, and so while I waited on the finalization of my Imperium Games article, I decided to write another, which was my history of Wizards of the Coast. I published it in a new RPGnet column called “A Brief History of Game”. The article got slash-dotted and I spent an evening barely keeping the RPGnet server alive. After that, I decided I had something here, that people were interested in the history of the roleplaying hobby, so I kept writing. My column thus became regular, running twice a month.
“A Brief History of Game” consists of the first dozen roleplaying histories I wrote, minus that problematic Imperium Games history, which I never published online. All of them reappeared in both the Mongoose edition of Designers & Dragons (2011) and the four-book Designers & Dragons series from Evil Hat (2014). The company histories in those volumes are better edited and more comprehensive, but if you’d like to see them in their original, raw form, look for them here, in “A Brief History of Game”.
By the time I got to the end of the “A Brief History of Game” column, I had a deal to publish my histories as a complete book, and I opted to stop publishing them online. But, I wanted to maintain the interest. As a result, the latter third of the column covers what I’d later called my “orthogonal” histories: other ways to look at the history of the roleplaying industry, apart from the company histories at the heart of Designers & Dragons. That includes genre histories and the first few of my yearly chronicles.
“A Brief History of Game” largely went on hiatus in mid 2007 when I really began working in earnest on a print book; it would be replaced after the Mongoose edition was published, in mid 2011, with “Designers & Dragons: The Column”, meant to be a supplement to the first-edition book.