Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: A Year in Review

2014 is behind us. From all of us here at Playing at the World (well, that's actually just me), I wanted to thank everyone who follows the work here. Since the subject matter is a bit niche, and Playing at the World doesn't boast a great many social media followers, I'm really grateful to the folks with a wider audience who take the time to draw attention to my research.

For anyone who didn't obessively follow Playing at the World in 2014, here's a retrospective year in the life of a gaming historian.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Quagmire: The Making of a 1980s Dungeons & Dragons Module

As my final contribution to role-playing game posterity for 2014, I wrote a new piece on TSR's internal process of making modules that traces the evolution of one Expert-series product from its conception in 1982 to publication  in 1984. It turns out the development process could be a bit of a quagmire - maybe even nine hells worth of development.

Read it here on Medium.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A New Dungeons & Dragons Timeline

Following on the official release of the Dungeon Master's Guide, and thus the completion of the core 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks, Wizards of the Coast has put up a new timeline of the history of Dungeons & Dragons on their web site. It replaces an older one dating to shortly after the turn of the millennium, which had been cited by numerous Wikipedia articles--but which unfortunately contained a few inaccuracies. I worked with Wizards to clean these up and provide a sturdier historical account of the game for today's readers.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sheets Before Characters

When Dungeons & Dragons popularized the simulation of characters in games, it entailed that players fill out quite a bit of paperwork. Characters require a record of their names and ability scores as well as their dynamic attributes like equipment lists and hit points. As a way of preserving the state of the game for each player, the character sheet thus became an essential accessory in role-playing games. But before characters, there were similar record sheets used in some types of earlier simulations, and their continuity with the later Dungeons & Dragons accessories is immediately apparent upon inspection. Above is a sheet that shipped with Gygax and Arneson's first collaboration, the naval wargame Don't Give Up the Ship (1972).

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The First Female Gamers

Over on Medium, I posted a new and lengthy piece about the first female gamers, and how Dungeons & Dragons managed to win the interest of women where prior wargames had not. The process of making the hobby more inclusive was not an entirely smooth one, as the illustration above might suggest. You can read the essay here:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

1974 Dungeon Variant, Now for Download

One of the many pleasures of writing about the history of games is receiving unexpected correspondence from the people whose work I study, sometimes people who are very surprised to learn that a pastime they briefly enjoyed decades ago has brought them to the attention of posterity. Such was the case with Craig VanGrasstek, whose 1974 Rules to the Game of Dungeon I covered on this blog (and in Playing at the World) as the earliest known Dungeons & Dragons variant. Craig wrote to me having long lost any copy of the Rules and understandably curious about my interest. This is easily explained: the Rules provide one of our earliest windows into fantasy role-playing as practiced by some of its first fans, a tradition that has survived as "Minneapolis Dungeon."

In the course of my exchange with Craig, he volunteered to make his work available to the readers of today. We therefore present this week the complete text of the Rules to the Game of Dungeon [download PDF] as Craig VanGrasstek originally wrote it up in the summer of 1974. I provide a bit of commentary and context in an Afterword and in endnotes. After the jump, we review three of Craig's play records from 1974, which give further insight into how this important early community went about dungeoneering. Give it a try the next time you want an "old school" experience, and see how it plays!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Gen Con 1968 and Today

With Gen Con in Indianapolis this week, today we're exploring what is almost certainly the first press coverage of the convention, just following its debut in 1968. This comes from a regional paper, the Beloit Daily News, and it ran two days after the first Lake Geneva Wargames Convention - no one called it Gen Con yet. We can read within that Gary Gygax hosted the convention, and other familiar names from the International Federation of Wargaming feature into the story as well, among the "over 90" gamers who attended.

Expect attendance to run a bit higher than that this weekend, but you still might stumble over me wandering the halls: and on Saturday afternoon at 2:00, I will be appearing on the D&D Documentary panel at the Westin (the room is Capitol I,