As you hopefully know by now, Designers & Dragons is going to be rereleased as a revised and expanded 4-book series by Evil Hat Productions, starting in 2013. For the last four or five months, most of my free time has been going to work on the new edition of the book.

As a result, I’m bringing this (second) incarnation of my roleplaying history column to an end, with a new column planned for some time in mid-2013, when I’ve finished with all the new books.

Before I go, however, I’ve got three final articles planned. This month I’m going to offer up a preview of the new ’70s and ’80s books, then in December I’m going to do the same for the ’90s and the ’00s. Finally on January 1, I’m going to publish my annual look at the year in the gaming.—SA, 11/5/12

This article was originally published as Designers & Dragons: The Column #21 & #22 on RPGnet. Its publication followed the publication of the original Designers & Dragons (2011) and preceded the publication of the four-volume Designers & Dragons (2014).

The original edition of Designers & Dragons let me tour the entire history of the RPG industry from Tactics and Chainmail to Sorcerer and Pathfinder. To fit in all that info, Mongoose opted to publish an impressive single-volume monolith.

However the result wasn’t as approachable as I might have liked. Fortunately Evil Hat and I came up with a way to both include my vast collection of history and make it easier to jump in: a collection of four different Designers & Dragons books, one for each decade from the ’70s to the ’00s. I’m confident the histories will be far easier for readers to take in — and readers will be able to start with whatever decade they want, buying into the rest of the series (or not!) as suits their particular bent.

The new Evil Hat edition of Designers & Dragons has also given me the opportunity to both revise and expand my roleplaying histories, which should be another nice benefit. Right now my guess is that each new book will be 100k-140k words, which means that I’m shooting right down the middle as I work on my manuscripts, for 120k words per book. If we land somewhere near there, the new series will be a total of 480,000 words — or about 33% longer than its predecessor.

So where is all that new material going? For the most part it’s headed toward the ’70s and the ’00s, which will see the largest revisions and expansions of the overall history. The ’80s and the ’90s meanwhile will get some more minor polish (and updating, plus at least one new company for each book)

Following you’ll find my current outlines for the first two books, the ’70s and ’80s, which I’m scheduled to finish up on January 7th. These contents are, of course, tentative — but two months out they’re probably at least 90% correct.

The 1970s

  1. The Story Begins (1958-1974)
    1. 1974: TSR
  2. The Floodgates Open (1975-1976)
    1. 1975: Flying Buffalo
    2. 1975: Games Workshop
    3. 1975: GDW
    4. 1976: Judges Guild
  3. The First Wargaming Wave (1976-1977)
    1. 1976: Metagaming Concepts
    2. 1976: FGU
    3. 1977: Chaosium
    4. 1977: Heritage Models
  4. The Rising of Roleplaying
    1. 1979: Grimoire Games
    2. 1979: Midkemia Press
  5. Appendices
    1. Appendix 1: Timeline of the ’70s
    2. Appendix 2: 10 Things You May Not Know About Roleplaying in the ’70s
    3. Appendix 3: Bibliography & Thanks

First, I should comment on a few general organizational principals for the book.

Just as with the original book, this new edition of Designers & Dragons focuses on the individual companies that make up the industry. Though this book focuses on the ’70s, it does so by talking about the companies that began RPG publication in the ’70s. Many of their stories continue on into ’80s or further, and it’s all here; the intent is to offer a snapshot of the newcomers that defined the industry in each era.

You’ll also note that new organization has given me the opportunity to more carefully define the major trends within each era — here by splitting the companies in the ’70s into four major categories. I think it adds some nice new texture to the story of the industry that you couldn’t see in the coarser organization of the first edition.

But let’s get specifically to the ’70s …

Building upon the original edition of the book, I’ve added complete histories of four new publishers: Gamescience, Heritage Models, Grimoire Games, and Midkemia Press. Of those, Gamescience was the one I really wanted to include in the original book but didn’t due to the very small amount of information available in the public record. (I’ve since been able to talk to Lou Zocchi directly and used that to stitch together the public info that does appear into a better narrative.) The others are all notable and interesting companies in other ways.

You’ll note a gap at 1978. It’s one of just a couple of years not represented by a roleplaying company (though there’s actually a mini-history for Phoenix Games, who started publishing in that year). I really wanted to include someone for pure reason of elegance, but I couldn’t find anyone that really enthused me. I considered Imperium Publishing for a bit, to better tell the story of Tékumel, and then I came to the realization that they hadn’t publishing any actual roleplaying material. (The Tékumel story instead went into Gamescience.) Time allowing, I still might choose one of the tiny companies from ’78 for a 1000 word history.

The new edition of the ’70s material will also see largish expansions for TSR, Judges Guild, and Metagaming. For TSR I’m going to be going through lots of Dragon material to get more details and I’ve also used the new Playing at the World to get some great insights into the origins of the company. For Judges Guild I picked up a collection of 20 or 30 magazines that’ll help me add details, and when I’m done with that I’ve got a modern history of the company written by Bill Owens. (Bill Owens’ history is very recent, which means that I treat it with some suspicion, but still will probably use it for details missing from earlier writeups.) For Metagaming I got copies of the first eight issues of The Space Gamer (their first magazine) and all eight issues of Interplay (their last magazine).

Of those, I’ve finished the Metagaming writing to date and I’m very pleased with the picture it gives of the science-fiction board game industry that was exploding at the same time Dungeons & Dragons did. I’m also happy for some new insights about the company’s death.

So that’s the ’70s. If there’s anything notable that you think I’m missing, let me know.

The 1980s

I’ve done less work on the ’80s to date, so this table of contents is even more tentative than the ’70s one. (I’ve in fact changed it since I originally drafted this article, adding in the update for Different World Publications that now closes off the volume.)

  1. The Second Wargaming Wave (1980)
    1. 1980: SPI
    2. 1980: Task Force Games
    3. 1980: Steve Jackson Games
  2. Second-Tier Licensees (1980)
    1. 1980: FASA
    2. 1980: Gamelords
  3. More Roleplaying Originals (1980-1982)
    1. 1980: ICE
    2. 1981: Hero Games
    3. 1981: Palladium Books
    4. 1982: Bard Games
    5. 1982: Leading Edge Games
  4. The Third Wargaming Wave (1982-1984)
    1. 1982: Yaquinto Publications
    2. 1982: Mayfair Games
    3. 1983: Avalon Hill
    4. 1983: Columbia Games
    5. 1984: West End Games
  5. Rise of the Small Press (1984-1987)
    1. 1984: SkyRealms Publishing
    2. 1984: Pacesetter
    3. 1985: DGP
    4. 1986: R. Talsorian
    5. 1987: Lion Rampant
  6. Return of the Old Guard (1987)
    1. 1987: New Infinities
    2. 1987: Creations Unlimited
    3. 1987: Different Worlds Publications
  7. Appendices
    1. Appendix 1: Timeline of the ’80s
    2. Appendix 2: 10 Things You May Not Know About Roleplaying in the ’80s
    3. Appendix 3: Bibliography & Thanks

For the ’70s I’d gathered together a lot of new source material, hence the reason for its expansion. That wasn’t true for the ’80s, probably because that was the decade when I began my active gaming. I already knew a lot about the era, and much of that was already in the first edition of Designers & Dragons.

As a result, there’s currently only one new history scheduled for this book, Leading Edge Games. It’s actually not a lock because I haven’t been happy with the material I’ve been able to dig up about the company to date. Still, I hope I’ll be able to include it. I also hope to include a mini-history of TimeLine Ltd., because they share a lot of characteristics in common with Leading Edge (military RPGs with super complex systems, which were notable trends in the ’80s). I’ve also got Different Worlds Publications expanded from a mini-history of about 800 words in the original book to a full article of 2000 words in this edition, because it helps to build up the trend of designers moving on to second companies around 1987.

For the ’80s there are two years not represented by new publishers: 1988 and 1989 (and I don’t yet know if I have mini-histories for those years, as I haven’t written my section dividers for the era yet). I’d once again like to fill in those years, and will think more about them when I get more solidly into the work on the ’80s.

Readers of the original Designers & Dragons may have noticed one game company gone missing: White Wolf. Previously I’d dated that company based on the publication of White Wolf #1, which put it in the ’80s, but that was really the product of a precursor company. The modern White Wolf Game Studio actually got its start in 1990 after White Wolf Magazine and Lion Rampant combined, so you’ll instead find it (very appropriately) leading off the ’90s volume.

The 1990s

I’ll state even more strongly here that this table of contents (and the one for the ’00s) is very tentative. I probably won’t start work on the ’90s proper until early January, when I turn the ’70s and ’80s books in to Evil Hat. I’ve done my best to know what’s going to be in the last two books so that I can connect them up correctly with the first two books, but things might of course change …

  1. The Storytelling Small Press (1990-1992)
    1. 1990: White Wolf
    2. 1990: Atlas Games
    3. 1990: Pagan Publishing
    4. 1990: AEG
    5. 1991: Phage Press
    6. 1992: Dream Pod 9
  2. The Other Half of the Story (1992)
    1. 1992: Wizards of the Coast
  3. A New Generation (1993-1996)
    1. 1993: Metropolis
    2. 1994: Hogshead Publishing
    3. 1994: Last Unicorn Games
    4. 1994: Kenzer & Company
    5. 1995: Grey Ghost Games
    6. 1996: Imperium Games
  4. Prelude to d20 (1996-1999)
    1. 1996: Holistic Design
    2. 1996: Pinnacle Entertainment Group
    3. 1997: Fantasy Flight Games
    4. 1997: Guardians of Order
    5. 1997: Eden Studios
    6. 1998: Green Knight Publishing
    7. 1998: Margaret Weis Publishing
  5. Appendices
    1. Appendix 1: Timeline of the ’90s
    2. Appendix 2: 10 Things You May Not Know About Roleplaying in the ’90s
    3. Appendix 3: Bibliography & Thanks

The ’90s may end up being the book that’s the least changed from its previous iteration. It was already well-defined with 18 publishers and it’s already a dense book at 111,000 words. Just updating all of those publishers(and adding in the new appendices) is likely going to bring me right up to my target of 120,000.

With that said, there are two additions.

One is the White Wolf article. As I explained last month, I decided to push the start date for White Wolf up to the date of the merger of White Wolf Magazine and Lion Rampant as White Wolf Game Studio. That allows them to head the ’90s book, and that was truly the decade that they ruled. (White Wolf is already in my 111,000 word count — which is fortunate as they’re the second longest article in the ’90s, after Wizards of the Coast.)

The other new article currently planned is Metropolis Ltd., which came about thanks to suggestions from The Designers & Dragons FB Page. I liked it because it fills in a chronological gap (1993) and it highlights the beginning of the trend of translating European RPGs, which wandered through the ’90s.

If anyone has more suggestions for a 1999 game company, I’m happy to hear them. The problem is, of course, that the closer you got to 2000, the more likely a new game company was going to be crushed in the face of the d20 boom, and 1999 is pretty darned close.

The 2000s

  1. The D20 Spark (2000)
    1. 2000: Necromancer Games
    2. 2000: Green Ronin Publishing
    3. 2000: Troll Lord Games
  2. Indie Ideas (2000)
    1. 2000: Issaries
    2. 2000: Pelgrane
  3. The D20 Explosion (2001)
    1. 2001: Goodman Games
    2. 2001: Privateer Press
    3. 2001: Mongoose Publishing
  4. Indie Apprenticeship (2001-2002)
    1. 2001: Adept Press
    2. 2001: Memonto Mori Theatricks
    3. 2001: Lumpley Games
    4. 2002: Luke Crane
  5. The Third Half of the Story (2002)
    1. 2002: Paizo Publishing
  6. Indie Revolution (2003-2006)
    1. 2004: [1996]: Galileo Games
    2. 2004: Atomic Sock Monkey
    3. 2004: Wicked Dead Brewing Company / John Wick Presents
    4. 2006: Bully Pulpit Games
    5. 2006: Evil Hat Productions
  7. The Newest Generation (2006-2009)
    1. 2006: Open Design
    2. 2006: Cubicle 7 Entertainment
  8. Legacy Publishers (An ’00s Trend)
    1. 2001: Fan Pro LLC
    2. 2003: Arc Dream Publishing
    3. 2005: RedBrick
    4. 2007: Catalyst Game Labs
  9. Appendices
    1. Appendix 1: Timeline of the ’90s
    2. Appendix 2: 10 Things You May Not Know About Roleplaying in the ’90s
    3. Appendix 3: Bibliography & Thanks

The ’00s is going to be the opposite of the ’90s book as it’s going to have the most updates. Right now I only have 65,500 words written for this 120,000 word book. I’ve also got no less than 11(!) new articles planned: 7 of the articles in the “Indie Revolution” section; Open Design (which will come from my web article here); and 3 of the articles for the “Legacy Publishers” section. Whew! I’m planning to start work on this all pretty early in the year so that I don’t have three easy months of working on the ’90s followed by three insane months of working on the ’00s.

As should be obvious from the listing, there’s going to be a lot of new focus on indies. I think it’s very appropriate because I feel like two strong trends interweaved through the decade: the boom (and bust) of d20 companies; and the emergence of indie companies. I would have liked to have more on indies in the previous edition but my own inexperience with the category kept me from doing so. Fortunately I learned a lot while writing up Adept Press (one of the last two articles that I prepared for the original book), and I’m now going to have Evil Hat to help me with the details if I need it.

The latest addition to this book’s outline went in just a few weeks ago. That’s RedBrick, who appears in the Legacy Publisher section. Until a few months ago I’d always thought of them as an interesting publisher that could do a lot of what Catalyst has done — bringing back classic game systems — but they hadn’t really fulfilled that potential. Instead they’ve been holding on to properties like Blue Planet and Fading Suns without doing a lot for them. Then they reinvented themselves as FASA Games. It was when one of the online RPG sellers announced that they had some of “FASA”‘s first books in that I decided to add them to my table of contents, because it suggested that “FASA” might have more luck than RedBrick did with their impressive set of properties.

This raised a whole separate question of what to do with companies like the new FASA and the new TSR, since I’ve traditionally kept all of a company name under one article, even when they changed hands, as Hero, ICE, and West End did. In this case, the new FASA (and TSR) were just a step too far removed. They didn’t share most of the properties with the originators of their names and they didn’t share most of the owners, so they got separated out. If the new FASA Games were to end up with the properties now held by Catalyst, I might change my tune …

I should also note that this is the first table of contents that doesn’t follow a straight chronological ordering. The final section, “Legacy Publishers”, covers an orthogonal set of companies that didn’t fit in with the larger trends of d20 or indie publishing. I decided that setting them apart worked out better than trying to shoehorn them into individual sections, and I think I’m going to do something similar with the “Old Guard” section from the ’80s book.

Even moreso than anything else, this table of contents is very likely to change, as it’s got so much new material and I haven’t even started my research on most of the companies. In fact, it changed while I was working on this article and decided that I liked some things in a different order. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or more of those indie companies don’t make it into my final list or if one or more get added.

And if there’s anything you think I should add, particularly any companies from 2007, 2008, or 2009 that you think are already having a big impact, let me know!

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