Designers & Dragons, as published in its four-book edition by Evil Hat, was the product of about a decade’s work, beginning when I started cataloging roleplaying books in August 2005 and continuing through my writing about roleplaying companies for RPGnet, the first of which was published in August 2006. When Evil Hat released the Platinum Appendix that ended our Kickstarter commitments in the summer of 2015, exactly a decade has passed.
But, Designers & Dragons is far from done. There are most histories to be written, and I’ve been working on the next four (or five) book series in the public eye for five more years already.
The D&D Classic Opportunity
In December 2012, I received word from some of the folks at DTRPG about a secret project: they would be producing digital copies of classic D&D products on a new website, dndclassics.com. And, they were interested in having me write histories for the products.
I was very appreciative of the acknowledgement of my historical expertise, but I had two qualms.
The first qualm was Designers & Dragons, as I was still working hard to get everything ready for Evil Hat’s kickstarter for the second edition. But, I bit my tongue and decided that I’d have enough time to work on everything, if I liked it or not. I remember well the frantic hours spent during my “holiday week” at the end of 2012, then throughout the first several weeks of 2013, writing the histories for the first big DNDClassics release at the end of January. I like working out in parks, away from networked distractions, and so I spent many a cold hour that January working at the picnic tables up at a nearby park called Lake Temescal — sometimes at the still-damp picnic tables, as that’s our rainy season too.
The second qualm was rights. As I dove into the project I discovered both that it was going to take longer than the hour a book that we’d estimated and that I was turning up some intriguing historical material that really deserved to be collected. So I started thinking that I might want to preserve some rights for these histories for myself, so that I could publish them in a book of their own some day.
The folks at DTRPG were very responsive to my desires for rights, but it was still hard coming to agreement. That’s just the case sometimes, even when everyone has everyone’s best interests at heart, because everyone also has specific concerns that only they can see clearly. Eventually we came to an agreement, though, where I’d have the rights to publish my histories elsewhere a year after they appeared at DTRPG, as long as it wasn’t someone directly competitive with them.
I’ve sometimes said that an unbalanced contract can end up making both parties unhappy. That’s because the party with the less rights ends up unhappy and he eventually stops caring about the contract as much as the other party. On the other hand, a balanced contract can be the basis of a long and fulfilling partnership, and that was the case here. DTRPG was getting historic context for their products that, frankly, improved over time as I found my groove. They paid me a small fee to license the material that didn’t nearly compensate the amount of time I ended up putting in. But that was fine with me, because I was creating an ever-increasing store of material that I owned, that I could see becoming a book in the future.
When we started out, DTRPG had a second writer, and we split the material between us. He bowed out after a few years. I surely would have too, because of the ongoing time required … except for that good contract.
Five Years of Work
Fast forward five years. Move through the Kickstarter for Designers & Dragons, the release, and the work to create the Platinum Appendix. Over that time I also worked through a ton of histories for DTRPG. After that initial burst of histories, I was writing 2-3 a week. I split things with our other writer, and my area of writing was 0e, 1e, Basic D&D, and parts of 2e. After he left, I slowly moved up to 4-5 histories a week, which was a lot of research and writing. And now I was covering pretty much everything.
That continued until the start of September 2017, when DTRPG ran out of new material, at least for the moment (though I’m still hopeful to do more writing for them in the future). Able to rest after almost five years of constant work, I slowed way down in my work, but I still continued onward, now preparing materials for the eventual books, rather than the weekly DTRPG releases.
At the end of 2017, I’d published 782 histories and I’d prepared another 49 that hadn’t been used, for a total of 831. My initial guess was that there were about 1,000 product histories, to cover all the D&D products from TSR and Wizards. So I’m within striking distance, but I have a lot left too. Most of the gaps are in the 3e era and a few 2e product lines (Birthright especially), and that’s stuff written for DTRPG by our other writer.
From Articles to Books
Obviously, this is the new series of Designers & Dragons books. I intend them to include all of these ~1,000 D&D histories, organized by topic, and in rough chronological order given that constraint. The histories run 500-2,000 words each, and I have some concern that the total will be too long, as that could easily come to a million words total. Which is why I say it’ll be four or five book: I’ve got a table of contents for four, but my head has an alternative organization for five.
However, producing the new books isn’t just a question of filling in the gaps. I also need to heavily revise much of what I’ve done before. This falls into a few categories:
- My earliest histories were too brief. They need more research and then more content.
- Everything needs to be standardized.
- Trends needs to be clearly marked with their beginnings.
- Repetitive information on trends and facts need to be eliminated.
- Section dividers need to be written to hold everything together.
- Everything should be fact-checked by experts, including the peoples involved.
My current goal is to have all of the first draft material for the first three books done this year and the fourth book next year. I’d like to start putting together the actual books at the same time, but I’ll need to see if I’m actually able to produce content and the finished books at the same time. This likely means that a Kickstarter for the new books won’t occur until 2020. It might be 2021.
What About the ’10s?
I’m aware that this isn’t necessarily the next book that people were expecting. Some people have noted the quickly approaching end of the ’10s and asked if we’ll see Designers & Dragons: The ’10s.
The answer is “not soon” or maybe “it’s complicated”.
For one thing, 2020 would be too soon to write a ’10s book, because we won’t yet know what companies from 2018 and 2019 hit it big. The ’00s book was finalized in 2014, and the late ’00s were still a bit sparser than the early, and should have included the first OSR “companies”. So, call it 2024 or 2025 to write a ’10s book, at best. And that doesn’t address the question of what to do with older histories from the current four books that already need updating.
I have though about putting together an OSR “bridge” book which would have company histories for several of the notables in the OSR space and offer a bit of coverage for the ’00s and ’10s both. Maybe it could be a stretch goal for these D&D books? It’d be a nice complement. (My other possible complement is a book on TSR artists, called “Artists & Ankhegs”.)
But this is all a bit in the future. I have lots of D&D product histories to think about first. That’s the future of Designers & Dragons for 2018 and 2019, as well as the occasional article here.
This article was originally published as Advanced Designers & Dragons #16 on RPGnet. It followed the publication of the four-volume Designers & Dragons (2014) from Evil Hat, and was meant to complement those books.