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Designers and Dragons

This review was originally posted to rpg-resource.org.uk in 2011, and appeared in the March/April 2018 issue.

Designers and Dragons. Shannon Applecline.
Original Publication: 2011
Current Availability: Out of Print (see note)

This is a monumental work, a comprehensive and scholarly history of the role-playing industry from its inception in the early 1970s to the present day. The focus is interesting, concentrating on the individuals and companies that have made role-playing what it is today rather than looking at the games themselves.

Whilst detailed, the writing flows well, making it eminently readable and often entertaining, a fascinating survey of the companies and people who have shaped role-playing and are responsible for most of the books on my shelves (or, these days, lurking on the RPG hard drive)—and who have provided me with years of entertainment and passion. If your interest in role-playing goes anywhere beyond the next dungeon delve, if you like to know the background and history of the games you enjoy, you should find something here catches your attention… and once caught, be warned, it may be a while before you can tear yourself away!

The chosen approach gives an overview worthy of the most epic campaign showing how the waxing and waning of public interest in role-playing has affected and been affected by developments within the industry as a whole. Depending on your particular interests, you can follow a particular company’s or designer’s fortunes, explore the state of play of the industry at a time of your choice—an interesting place to start, perhaps, is what it was like when you first took die in hand—or see which developments or innovations in role-playing or even the world around it had the most significant effects.

There is even material here that could attract the sociologist or social historian, or the budding game designer who seeks to understand the heritage of his craft as well as learning the nuts and bolts of game design. Should anyone offer a course in role-playing games, this is likely to feature on the reading list! And if that isn’t enough, it does not presume any prior knowledge of the role-playing industry, introducing and explaining even the people who—to grey-haired ladies like me who grew up with role-playing and have been involved in it all their adult life—are notable industry personalities or even friends. None of the insider deigning to enlighten you here, but a clear exposition of the industry and those who shaped it.

For the scholar, there are quotes and references a-plenty—but entertaining and informative enough that the more general reader is not put off. If you delve far enough you can find out the context in which your favourite games or, often, individual books were published—fascinating insights that will ensure I return again and again as I develop my RPG Resource website.

Authoritative, entertaining, a fine and detailed survey of the development of this fine hobby from its earliest days to the present, filled with personalities and drama… this is a triumph of a work worthy of the highest praise.

Editor’s note: This was originally published as the single volume reviewed here. It was expanded into a crowdfunded four-volume set in 2014 under the same title, currently available in softcover.