A series of four books by Shannon Appelcline Designers and dragons presents an incredibly detailed look at the history of tabletop role-playing games, including profiles of more than a hundred companies, including TSR, Wizards of the Coast and White Wolf.
“The scale of the project was obviously huge and the only way it could have come about at all was to work on one article, one company at a time,” Appelcline says in episode 369. Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “If I had ever looked up and said, ‘Hey, I have to throw out four books’ – which together were half a million words – I’d probably have gone the other way.”
For each article, Appelcline collected as much data as possible from magazines and websites, and then conducted its research alongside the people who actually worked for the companies in question.
“Sometimes they would send him back and say, ‘Hey, this is all great.’ Sounds exactly like what we did. I don’t know how you understood that, ” Appelcline said. “And sometimes they would say, ‘I can’t believe you made this so wrong. I’m very angry about this. I need to fix that for me. ‘And if anything else, the last feedback was more useful than the previous one, obviously. “
Along the way, he discovered that the history of board games is full of conflicts, betrayals and scandals, which he does Designers and dragons surprisingly vivid reading. “I had at least one person read it and say he was stunned – because of such a small industry with such small margins, where there just wasn’t a lot of money – that there was so much drama,” he says.
Chronicle of the rise and fall of so many different companies has also convinced him that he never wants to start his own role-playing outfit.
“I think after reading Designers and dragons, you would see how you would have to be really, really enthusiastic and optimistic – almost self-sacrificing – to want to create a role-playing company, ”he says. “I have a lot of respect for people who do that, because I know exactly how hard it is to do that.”
Listen to the complete interview with Shannon Appelcline in episode 369 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And take a look at some of the most important parts from the discussion below.
Shannon Appelcline on licensed games:
“Nowadays, there are very strict licenses that have a very limited time span and can be killed at any time. Or [your product] it can be greatly delayed because people have to review permits. So I feel like licensing has a few dangers that can pop up and grab you. One is that you have invested a lot of work in actually expanding and improving the property, which is for example West End Games worked back in the 80s with his Star Wars game. It’s kind of weird to think about it now, but after the original movie trilogy, Star Wars was basically dead, and the only people who actively developed it were the West End Games. They put a huge deal into it, and now they’re not there either Star Wars moved on. “
Shannon Appelcline on world construction:
“One of the secrets of the role-playing industry is that people buy a lot more books to read or put on their shelves than they will ever play. … It’s fun to see how these worlds you’ve read about are statistically defined, and many of these licensed games also do a wonderful job of developing the world and portraying it in details like you’d never actually see in a book. ICE’s Middle-earth Role-playing was one of the first really extensive licensed lines – it was primarily the 80s – and they just did an amazing job of releasing supplement after supplement – chunky supplements of 60 or 80 pages – that detailed individual lands in Middle-earth, at a level that you would never see even on a very extensive level Lord of the Rings books. “
Shannon Appelcline on fantasy heartbreakers:
“‘Fantasy Heartbreaker’ was a term that came into being Ron Edwards in an article he produced. Ron Edwards basically suggested that a lot of people invented their own versions Dungeons and dragons, not seeing how the rest of the industry works, and they repeated many ideas that the rest of the industry had already seen. When Edwards wrote the article, one of the things he said was that all these games were thrown in the dustbin of history, but there were really great things in them and great enthusiasm, even though they didn’t do it well – because they weren’t as original as the designers thought they were — there may still be little things in them that we can find. But the term in general began to mean only ‘those games that are copies D&D. ‘”
Shannon Appelcline about game designers:
“I think the average board game designer in the current market is someone who can’t no game design. They are the people who drive their ideas and creativity and just can’t help themselves. All these things break them and they want to make them available to other people. They love the systems they create, they love the stories that those systems can tell, they love the fans who are interested in their stories. … The role industry has always had very small margins. I don’t think many people understand how very, very little the average role-playing company – or the average designer – does for a lot of effort. Simply put them together and introduce people who really want to be there because they have great things to do. “