Monday, June 13, 2011

In the Mail

A reader in Australia, Michael Anderson, very kindly sent me a couple of RPG-related books I'm unlikely ever to have seen.
The first, Fantasy Gaming, is of recent vintage -- 2007 -- and published in the UK. It's written by "renowned gaming expert" Martin Hackett and is, according to the acknowledgments, "the culmination of over thirty years of creativity and design, going back to my first complete system in 1973." If true, that's quite the claim, since it would make the game system presented in this book a contemporary of D&D. I haven't yet had a chance to do more than glance through Fantasy Gaming, but I'm rather looking forward to it, since it seems to be a complete RPG/wargame hybrid filled with quirky little sub-systems and other oddities.

The second, What is Dungeons & Dragons?, was "written by three Etonian schoolboys who are experts in the game" and was first published in 1982. There's even a picture of authors John Butterfield, Philip Parker, and David Honigmann, on the back cover.
I find this photo absolutely charming and a delightful reminder that, during the height of its popularity, playing D&D wasn't something to be hidden or ashamed of. These three young men could easily have been my friends and I, except that none of us had the wherewithal to produce an introduction to the hobby like these fellows did. I've already dived into What is Dungeons & Dragons? and it's a remarkably well-written and occasionally insightful book, not to mention a window on what the hobby was like during its Golden Age. I'll almost certainly be quoting from it and discussing its contents in the weeks to come.

Thanks so much, Michael!

18 comments:

  1. I have both these both these books and think they're great. They're both an interesting snapshot of the hobby when they were written. My copy of Fantasy Wargaming has a different cover, being the first edition and published in 1990. I had no idea it had been republished. I've often thought it would be great to pull the rules out of the book and make a pdf of it.

    What is Dungeons & Dragons, apart from being a great introduction to the game, has a nice little sample dungeon in it that I've long intended on running.

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  2. Ah, so Fantasy Wargaming is originally from 1990! I didn't realize that.

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  3. Back in the day, my local library had "What Is Dungeons & Dragons?" listed in the catalogue, but someone had stolen it.

    Eternal optimist I am, I used to check the shelf every time I visited the place, in the vain hope that they weren't actually a thief, just a forgetful borrower.

    Judging by that photo of the authors, I'm pretty sure I would've loved it.

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  4. I much prefer the cover to "What is Dungeons & Dragons" on your version. My copy, the American Warner Books edition, is plain white with green text.

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  5. Glad they finally arrived. Doubly glad you like them!

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  6. The Jonas Brothers play D&D?

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  7. "during the height of its popularity, playing D&D wasn't something to be hidden or ashamed of."

    When who was was playing it? Adults or children? The first time I played was 10 years old in 1980 and sure it was acceptable then because I was 10 years old. By the time I was 17 it was already "something to be hidden" for a 17 year old.

    So in 1982 it was fine for my friends and I to be playing D&D but we were only 12 or 13. Could a group of say 30 year old men have played it at the time and it be considered "perfectly acceptable"? No way, not that I remember. Interesting that your experience was different.

    I find D&D to be more acceptable today for adult players then at any other point in my gaming life and that's mainly due to the raging popularity of World of Warcraft.

    Among people of my own age (40+) it's still a huge stigma and I would never talk about it with people my age that don't play. However, in a group of adults under 30? No problem they all have at least tried WoW (and I do mean ALL) so they get it just fine and have no problem with it.

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  8. I remember purchasing and reading What is Dungeons & Dragons? back in 1983. (Thankfully, Penguin books distributed to Canada.) I didn't really need an introduction to the game at that point, but I enjoyed reading it nonetheless. I even ran the sample adventure that was included.

    My copy still sits in my OD&D box!

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  9. "...the fastest-growing fantasy cult of the 80s..."? What other fantasy cults were there that I'm not aware of?

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  10. @Shane Cubis:

    I still remember 793.9 - the Dewey Decimal code for wargames and role-playing games.

    Those authors also did the Cretan Chronicles gamebook series.

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  11. I've just been given a copy of Ian Livingstone's Dicing With Dragons, another introductory book from the early 80's, and I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like with the benefit of thirty years of hindsight!

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  12. @Christian:

    The miniature on the cover of What is Dungeons and Dragons? is Asgard Miniatures: The Dragon. I've got one stashed away somewhere.

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  13. I own a copy of "What is Dungeons & Dragons?", same cover as yours, that a friend picked up for me at a used book shop. The back picture does have a certain charm, though for me it's more because of how awkward nerdy people look when photographed. :-) (My copy of Warhammer Fantasy battle and the army book from, er, 3rd edition gets the same reaction from me - the photos of the gamers look fun, while also looking exactly waht you'd expect. :-) )

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  14. Someone else, besides Bruce Galloway I mean, named their fantasy-game-in-a-book "Fantasy Wargaming" (then republished under a slightly variant title)? That's wonderfully confusing!

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  15. Two more books along the same lines which you might enjoy are: 'Dicing with Dragons: An Introduction to Roleplaying Games' by Ian Livingstone (illustrated by Russ Nicholson), Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London, 1982 -- which among other things lists almost ALL of the roleplaying products available then (it was a smaller list in '82). Also, 'Through Dungeons Deep: A Fantasy Gamers' Handbook', by Robert Plamondon, Reston Publishing Company, Inc. (a Prentice-Hall company), Reston, Virginia, 1982. This one goes into great detail about player and dungeon master strategies -- much more than your average 'What is role playing' type book.

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  16. "What is Dungeons & Dragons" was *the* book that got me and everyone else I knew into RPGs. So great. If I remember correctly, it had just about enough information to actually play D&D if you didn't mind making up a few up a few unimportant things like To Hit rolls...

    And wow - last time I looked at that cover, those guys were older than me - now I could be their Dad.

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  17. As faoladh notes above, some of the posts are confusing Bruce Galloway's 1982 Fantasy Wargaming (which was an RPG and book about RPGs rather than traditional "wargaming") with this new book by Martin Hackett (which I haven't seen yet).

    I fondly remember using Galloway as a guide on how to set up "realistic" medieval kingdoms and campaigns.

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  18. JBM: Actually, it's even better than that. Galloway's Fantasy Wargaming (about which James has had a previous Retrospective) came out in 1981 (1982 in the US). In 1990, Hackett published a different book under the title Fantasy Wargaming. That book was reprinted in 2007 as Fantasy Gaming (title change probably due to the confusion of the previous one).

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