This week saw the first, limited release of Designers & Dragons, which I’ve been working on for the last six years. The book details the history of the RPG industry in a unique way, by looking at the individual stories of no less than 60 companies, from TSR to Catalyst Game Labs. It also provides shorter looks at smaller companie, at settings, and at magazines.
Though very comprehensive, it’s almost impossible for such a book to be complete, as there are hundreds of even smaller publishers, settings, and magazines which didn’t quite make the cut for publication. And that’s where this column comes in. Every month or two, I’m going to be supplementing Designers & Dragons with a new mini-history, magazine history, or discussion of a “setting of yore”. If you haven’t read the book, this column should give you a taste, and if you have, I hope you’ll find new things of interest.
Before I start offering up new histories, however, I’ve decided to dedicate this first column to telling you a bit about how Designers & Dragons came to be, what you can find in my RPGnet history column that predates this one, and exactly what is available in Designers & Dragons itself.
This article was originally published as Designers & Dragons: The Column #1 on RPGnet. Its publication followed the publication of the original Designers & Dragons (2011) and preceded the publication of the four-volume Designers & Dragons (2014).
A History of a History
The story of Designers & Dragons began at GenCon 38, held in Indianapolis in 2005—almost exactly six years ago. I attended the con on behalf of Skotos and RPGnet, so it was mostly a working vacation. There’s something about a gaming convention—about any large gathering of creative people—that really gets the mind whirring and GenCon 38 was no different. While talking with various people, I came up with the idea of programming a new database for roleplaying products, taking after the 1991 book, Heroic Worlds.
When I got home, that’s exactly what I did, the result being the RPGnet Gaming Index. As I locked down code, I also began entering books from my own library, so I had something to work with. Thus Anaxial’s Roster for HeroQuest was the first book in the index, soon followed by books for RuneQuest, The Dying Earth Roleplaying Game and others.
As 2005 turned into 2006 and I continued inputting data from my RPG collection, I eventually came to the T4 game line from Imperium Games. T4 was supposed to be the big revival of Traveller, following the death of GDW in 1996, but it fizzled out within two years. As I input those books, surprised by the quantity of them given the short timeframe, I asked myself, “Whatever happened to these guys?” And that’s the spark from which Designers & Dragons was born.
At first I just researched information on the company, but then I began writing it down. Sometime after that, I started researching the history of other publishers, and before I knew it I was writing a column on gaming history here at RPGnet. It started with Wizards of the Coast, a column that today is second most read column at RPGnet, with over 40,000 views. Ironically, the Imperium Games article was never published online because there were questions of potential fraud and theft that I needed to clear up before I could offer it to the public.
Early in 2007 I decided to move my histories (which were becoming an increasing load on my shoulders) over to a print book. It took another four years to take the scant eleven articles that I’d written for RPGnet, expand them (sometimes notably) and write another forty-nine(!). I finished my last draft and handed it off to my publisher, Mongoose, this March. Just more than four months later, Mongoose is previewing the first 50 copies of the book at GenCon 44.
A set of links to the original column was excluded from this reprint. see A Brief History of Game.
The History Book
Before I close out this month’s article, I want to highlight a bit of what’s in Designers & Dragons, as it’s all stuff that you won’t see in this column.
The book is divided into section which each cover eras of 5-10 years. Each section contains articles on the most notable companies that began publishing RPGs in that era. Smaller boxed mini-histories supplement the major articles in each section.
Founding Days (1958-1974) covers the start of the industry. It contains a single article on TSR.
The First Wave: Wargamers & Licensees (1975-1979) talks about amateurs and professionals alike who immediately jumped into the field. It highlights Chaosium, FGU, Flying Buffalo, Games Workship, GDW, Judges Guild, and Metagaming Concepts. Mini-histories discuss Eon Products, Little Soldier Games, Phoenix Games, and Wee Warriors.
The Second Wave: Holdouts & Newcomers (1980-1984) moves on to the final entrants to the field during its initial period of growth. It focuses on Avalon Hill, Bard Games, Columbia Games, FASA, Gamelords, Hero Games, ICE, Mayfair Games, Pacesetter, Palladium Books, SPI, Steve Jackson Games, Task Force Games, West End Games, and Yaquinto Publications. That’s supplemented by a single mini-history, on Adventure Games.
The Third Wave: Rise of the Small Press (1984-1992) discusses a new wave of creativity that emerged with the appearance of desktop publishing. It features AEG, Atlas Games, Creations Unlimited, DGP, Dream Pod 9, Lion Rampant, New Infinities Productions, Pagan Publishing, Phage Press, R. Talsorian, SkyRealms Publishing, and White Wolf. Two mini-histories talk about smaller small press: 54°40′ Orphyte and Different Worlds Publications.
The CCG Years (1992-2000) kicks off with the company that changed everything, Wizards of the Coast. It then moves through a number of other publishers that had the good(?) fortune to begin publication when collectible cards were turning the RPG market upside down. These include: Fantasty Flight Games, Green Knight Publishing, Grey Ghost Press, Guardians of Order, Hogshead Publishing, Holistic Design, Imperium Games (at last!), Issaries, Kenzer & Company, Last Unicorn Games, Margaret Weis Productions (then Sovereign Press), and Pinnacle Entertainment Group. Mini-histories began to proliferate here, with Daedalus Entertainment, Hekaforge Productions, Moon Design Publications, Nightfall Games, and Wizard’s Attic.
The D20 years (2000-2005)—an equally chaotic period—marked the end of Designers & Dragons when I first drafted the book in 2007. Though it mostly focuses on d20 publishers, it also touches upon the start of the indie RPG movement. Publishers include: Adept Press, Goodman Games, Green Ronin Publishing, Mongoose Publishing, Necromancer Games, Paizo Publishing, Pelgrane Press, Privateer Press, and Troll Lord Games. Even more numerous mini-histories shine a light on: Amarillo Design Bureau, Arc Dream Publishing, Decipher, EOS Press, Fiery Dragon Productions, Impressions Advertising & Marketing, Keléstia Productions, Morrigan Press, OtherWorld Creations, and Ronin Arts.
However by the time I started redrafting the book in early 2010, it was obvious to me that the industry was starting to emerge from the d20 boom and bust and thus entering a new era. That’s resulted in one more section …
The Indie Revolution? (2006-Present) presents the modern-day as a time when indie publishers might be rising up. However, it also suggests that it could be a time when old-school games remerge. It’s still too early to tell, even now. Three major articles cover: Catalyst Game Labs, Cubicle 7 Entertainment, and Evil Hat Productions. Finally, two mini-histories discuss Crafty Games and One Bad Egg.
And that’s the shape of Designers & Dragons. It forms the skeleton that I’ll be adding to in these new columns here at RPGnet.
Starting next month I’ll be writing new short articles that will expand the coverage of Designers & Dragons. Hopefully they’ll end up in a new edition of the book, some years down the road, but for now you can read them first here at RPGnet.
If there are any particular companies, settings, or magazines that you’d like to see covered here, drop me a line in the Forums, below.