In December 2012 I received a query from some of the folks at DTPRG about whether I’d be interested in writing product histories for a long series of classic D&D products to be released through DTRPG at a subsite called (later subsumed into At the time I still had a little bit of work to go to finish up my drafts of the second edition of Designers & Dragons, to be released through Evil Hat, but it seemed like too good of it opportunity to pass up, so I cautiously entered into negotations.

DTRPG paid me a fair rate for the histories. Nothing to break the bank, but enough to make it worthwhile when combined with two other elements. First (and I hate to use this word) I knew it’d give me exposure as an RPG historian, and over the years I probably have gotten as many emails about the D&D products histories as I have for Designers & Dragons itself. Second I insisted that I maintain rights to the histories.

The latter point turned out to be the biggest stickler in the contract negotiations. The DTRPG folks were 100% reasonable, but they had valid concerns about being able to continue running the histories themselves (which I was totally OK with) and whether people might think they’d copied them in some far future where they also appeared in a book (which we covered with a credit for them in any future books). I suspect it was actually more negotiation than they wanted when they were also trying to desperately get a first batch of PDFs online, but they were great, and we finally came to an agreement.

And I started writing. At first Kevin Kulp was also writing histories for DTRPG, me for the earliest D&D products, him for the later ones. After a while (A year? Two? I’m not sure) he faded away, but I kept writing. It was actually a considerable amount of work. Even after the initial big batch I was researching and writing histories about 2-4 books every single week, in and out. But I had an incentive: I had the rights to everything I wrote.

(If there’s a lesson in there about incentivizing workers by giving them a stake in the work, you should definitely take it; I would have ended my work, much as Kevin did, years earlier if not for that fact.)

So I continued on through 2017, and by then DTRPG had published somewhere over 90% of the possible products from the previous 43(!) years of D&D and their regular schedule fell off. They did publish bits and pieces afterward, and I would have loved to write histories for them, but without the weekly schedule of new content, we fell out of touch.

At some point I looked at what I’d written over the previous five years and it came out to almost a million words of D&D product histories, but I figured there was probably a lot of repetition as I talked about common elements of various books.

I was busy with plenty of other things, particularly an upcoming move to Hawaii as we entered 2019, but I did play around with a table of contents for putting those histories into print. After all, I’d retained the rights, and by now I was even getting queries as to whether they might even be collected into a book. I eventually laid out a table of contents outlining how to collect product histories on every D&D book from Chainmail to fourth edition into a series of four volumes. Apparently I thought a LOT of material was going to be repetitious, because four books were likely to have space for no more than half-million words, not a million. And I hadn’t yet counted all the histories I *didn’t* write for D&D 2e, 3e, and 4e, in the earlier days of the project.

In 2020, after our move, I reallocated my work schedule to allow for halftime work on more creative pursuits. My main goal was to write new Designers & Dragons histories, but pretty early on I also started playing with my D&D product histories, arranging them into chapters in actual books.

Well, pretty soon I figured out that four books were likely to cover a lot smaller scope of time than the entire run of D&D. But I also discovered that there were definitely possibilities in gathering content into full volumes. Some of the histories needed to be expanded, particularly the ones I’d written in the initial frantic leadup to the debut DnDClassics release. Everything needed to be regularized into a standard format. New interviews needed to be scoured for new tidbits. And there were missing histories that I needed to write (mostly focused on products DnDClassics hadn’t gotten to in this early era).

But I completed a full second draft of a first volume in late 2020. Then additional volumes in 2021 and 2022. By that point I’d laid out a definite organization that would collect all of the product histories for OD&D, AD&D 1e, BD&D, and the later Mystara line into a set of four volumes. It covers 1974-1988 on the OD&D/AD&D side (that’s the first two volumes) and 1977-1996 on the BD&D side (that’s the second two volumes).

And as of today, I have the fourth and final volume of that set done in a second-draft form (or fourth-draft if you count the original product histories for DnDClassics).

That’s a pretty major milestone for me and for my roleplaying histories.

We’re not quite at the finish line yet. I have a number of comments I need to incorporate, plus I just sent out the last two books for more comments today. I also want to work my way through all the volumes for a third draft to make them as consistent as they can be.

And I’m also reading through some fanzines (Oerth Journal, Threshold) both to pick up any tidbits I might have missed in other places, and to offer more cross-referencing.

But my first four volumes of the TSR Codex (or Designers & Dragons Origins, or whatever we decide to call it, which will depend in part on the publisher, which is under negotiation right now) are FEATURE COMPLETE.

All the chapters are there, all the words are there. I just need to finalize them one more time.

I’m hoping these will be books #2-5 of mine that are out next year. As for book #1, well more on that in a few days, but I’m about a work day from actually sending that one off to the publisher.

2 thoughts on “Author’s Notes: Designers & Dragons Origins”
  1. I’m so glad you (and Kevin) took that job. I love reading the product histories and I know they help inform many many visitors to the DTRPG site (in addition to those who find your books).

    I know how much work it is, because in 2014 I was contacted to see if I would help with the product histories. This may have been when Kevin had less time… I’m not sure. I believe Greg Bilsland at WotC recommended me, great person that he is. I considered it, because I love RPG history, but the workload to me was way above the pay and I ultimately turned down the opportunity. Knowing myself, I would have spent many many hours on a single product history.

    1. When I was doing them in the long term I’m pretty sure I spent hours on each. I’d usually research Friday night, write Saturday afternoon at a park, and edit and post Sunday.

      But, as I said, owning the work made it worth my while.

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