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Average Rating:4.8 / 5
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Designers & Dragons
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Designers & Dragons
Publisher: Mongoose
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/12/2012 18:46:03

Take a trip—a very long trip—down memory lane with this impressive history of the role-playing game industry (with some forays into related game forms like customizable card games). Shannon Applecline has done gaming enthusiasts a remarkable service here. For players like me who grew up with this history (I was born in 1967, and got my first exposure to D&D in 1978–79), many of the “names and faces” will be familiar, and yet there’s still so much to learn! The book is organized by date and company, so it’s easy to follow the narrative flow.


On the production side, the layout is spare and uncluttered. The “grayness” of most pages gets interrupted by full-color product covers—some readers will enjoy this, and others will find it jarring. In a 442-page document, some typographic errors and outright misspellings are pretty much inevitable; witness, for example, the indecision about whether Adamant Entertainment’s superhero games is “Icons” (p. 77) or “ICONS” (p. 426). Occasionally, reliance on “auto-correct” features results in single quotation marks (inverted commas) facing the wrong way. But these little glitches are minor, as well as few and far between.


Such a large book may wear down readers who try to read cover to cover, and the RPG industry can appear as a tangled web with many interconnections. Thus, in a stroke of brilliance, either Applecline or editor Charlotte Law included wonderful bullet lists of “What to Read Next” at the end of each chapter. Unfortunately, Mongoose didn’t bother to hyperlink these lists in the PDF edition, nor even to provide bookmarks to the chapter headings (much less subheadings)—a glaring oversight in a digital product of this magnitude.


Unless Dungeons & Dragons is your favorite RPG, you’ll probably come away a little disappointed that your favorite game didn’t get more press in the book, especially if your favorite game is a more recent publication with a fairly short history. If you start to feel that such-and-such a game was unduly neglected, set that aside and remember the huge scope of this work.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Designers & Dragons
Publisher: Mongoose
by James H. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/28/2012 12:58:24

The first thing I liked about this book was the way that it is organized chronologically rather than alphabetically. This makes it a true (hi)story rather than just a dry gazeteer. There is detailed information about the larger companies and the designers who worked for (or sometimes at odds) with them, but smaller outfits are not forgotten. The links between different organisations and writers are made clear in the body of the text, but I found the "What to Read Next" sections at the end of each larger company's entry particularly helpful in directing me to related articles.


Beyond these admirable details the author draws out overarching trends which affected the industry since 1974, including trends of different sorts and styles of games and periods of boom and bust. I think the author also did well to show sympathy for designers who had a rough ride with certain companies, whilst also showing understanding for the market and corporate forces driving the organisations.


My only criticism is the lack of an index, or at least an alphabetical list of designers and the companies who published their products. I've been reading this pdf on a portable device, and searching takes a long time!


Overall I found this a detailed and engaging guide to the RPG business from its wargame beginnings to the present day, which puts my favourite RPGs into context and has whetted my appetite to explore others.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Designers & Dragons
Publisher: Mongoose
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/07/2012 13:53:58

Everything you need to know about the history of RPGs.


This is massive (440+ pages), well researched tome is perfect for reading straight through, picking up a year or company at random or even looking things up.
They style is easy to read and it's almost informal in tone. One can easily picture Appelcline sitting down ans saying "let me tell you a story, you see it all started 1974..." Like a storyteller the story takes turns and twists and doesn't follow a chronology, but that is fine since it does follow a narrative.
They layout is clean and simple. The story is the key here, and there are plenty of color photos of the games being talked about, though not all games have photos.


While there is a lot of information there is a lot of material to cover too. So sometimes some topics get a little shorted, but I can't blame the author for this to be honest. There is just so much to cover. That been said there is a lot that is in this book. I consider myself very knowledgeable about RPGs and I was nodding along with the text going "yes I remember that" but I still found myself going "wow, I didn't know that!" quite often.


In a nice feature each chapter/part ends in a "What to Read Next" that can lead you in many different directions. Like coming to a crossroads in a dungeon do you go right, left or straight ahead. The choice is yours.


This book is so full of information that it will take me weeks to digest it all and I am sure I'll be coming back to it often.


This book is the most comprehensive history of RPGs and the companies that produce them to date. I was even happy to see my own name in these pages.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Designers & Dragons
Publisher: Mongoose
by Michael T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/28/2012 13:19:42

I've known Shannon Appelcline virtually for over a decade. I write an action horror column for his web site, RPG.net, and have participated in the site's reviewer program in the past. Although we've individually dabbled in the role-playing industry as authors, we both recently made the leap to non-fiction. My book, The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games (TEFRPG), came out almost exactly one year before Shannon's Designers & Dragons. I really wish it hadn't.


See, Shannon's motivation behind Designers & Dragons – to catalogue the successes and failures of the cyclic industry of hobby role-playing games – also drove me to write EFRPG. The tabletop role-playing industry is an ego-driven, creative niche that repeats itself endlessly in an effort to innovate often without innovating at all – the "fantasy heartbreaker" being the foremost example. What was lacking from the industry was a sense of history. I tried to cover multiple game channels in TEFRPG, but could have easily focused on tabletop role-playing alone. If I had Designers & Dragons on hand, TEFRPG would have been a heck of a lot easier to write.


Shannon was kind enough to give me a hardcover copy to review. It's gorgeous, a thick tome worthy of any RPG monster manual with over 300 pages of content in two column format and almost no illustrations. Designers & Dragons is written in chronological order, covering each game company's rise and (all too often) fall. Sidebars provide occasional digressions into other game formats to clarify what else was happening in the game industry. Each game history concludes with jumping off points to other topics. In an industry as tangled as tabletop role-playing, this approach makes perfect sense.


Reading the book cover-to-cover gives a true appreciation for Shannon's depth of knowledge. He also crowdsourced RPG.net's collective experience as a check and balance. As if that weren't enough, Mongoose approached many of the publishers for their input. Designers & Dragons is the most thorough history of our favorite hobby to date.


Read enough of the histories and a pattern develops: creative designers dabble in the industry, start an unofficial fan-supported effort for their favorite game, become successful enough to produce a professional periodical, eventually move into mainstream game publishing by publishing their own game or being a licensee, underestimate market forces by taking a risky gamble into a new market (like card games) or failing to adapt to changing conditions (like the D20 boom and bust), and eventually run out of money, resources, and business. A few are pushed over the edge by unscrupulous employees, a disturbingly common occurrence. Of all the game companies, Shannon points out that only a handful of these ventures began with a business plan; it's no coincidence that Fantasy Flight Games is still in business. If you're considering becoming a game publisher, Designers & Dragons' record of failed hopes and dreams might convince you otherwise.


On the other hand, it's comforting to know that the industry is cyclical. Dungeons & Dragons and Traveller are at the center of these cycles, spawning thriving communities that eventually branch out on their own. The hubris of developers drives them ever onward, and if the recent Atlantasia is any example, this will likely never change. The 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons design team's attempt to embrace disparate Old School Revolution (OSR) players is evidence that the cycle is on the upswing once more.


This book is not without its flaws. Designers & Dragons is not going to improve public opinion about Mongoose's editing department: there are incorrectly attributed pull quotes, British vs. American misspellings, and numerous typos. None of these seriously detract from the book – I blame Shannon for none of them – but they stand as mute testimony that the tabletop role-playing game industry is always going to struggle with professional print publishing. I would have also liked some sort of concluding chapter by Shannon about what's next for the industry. Fortunately, Shannon has an online column that gives much more commentary on the current and future state of gaming.


None of these issues detract from the important scope of this work. Shannon has crafted a critical building block for future role-playing game scholars. I just wish it had been published earlier.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Designers & Dragons
Publisher: Mongoose
by Alessio M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/01/2012 03:06:37
Designers & Dragons is a really interesting book. As it explores the history of all the companies that created our hobby, it shows the people behind them, their history, their dreams, their rise and, sometimes, their fall. There are few pictures, but these few are about cover also of long forgotten products and reading the pages of this book you could feel a nostalgic feeling of your youth.
In my opinion is a book that could be a pleasant reading, but also an interesting one for every role playing's scholar.

(Italian) Designer & Dragons è un libro veramente interessante. Nell'esplorare la storia di tutte le società che hanno creato il nostro hobby, vengono presentate le persone dietro queste aziende, la loro storia, i loro sogni, la loro ascesa ed, a volte, la loro caduta. Vi sono poche immagini, ma queste poche riguardano copertine anche di prodotti ormai dimenticati e leggemmo le pagine di questo libro puoi sentire un senso di nostalgia per la tua gioventù.
A mio parere questo libro può essere una lettura piacevole, ma anche una interessante per qualsiasi studioso di giochi di ruolo.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Designers & Dragons
Publisher: Mongoose
by Shane W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/20/2011 19:25:28

This book is fascinating for someone like me who has been playing RPGs since 1977. It brought back a lot of memories of the orignal D&D boxed set, Empire of the Petal Throne, Traveller and many more. A word of warning though - it has made me go all nostalgic, and re-kindled the collector in me, and I will be chasing up some supplements I never knew existed. I suspect this book will cost me a fortune in the long run.


The history of RPGs is organised by publisher, a novel idea which works well. I also like the "what to read next" section at the end of each chapter, which is useful if you want to follow up something you read in that chapter. The interrelationships between game companies were, and are quite complex.


One small minus is that I noticed quite a few typos - a good proof reader would have been helpful.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Designers & Dragons
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/15/2011 09:35:34

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.


Authoratative, 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.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Designers & Dragons
Publisher: Mongoose
by William W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/06/2011 13:28:39

Shannon Applecline's Designers & Dragons: A History of the Roleplaying Game Industry is a massive history book (the page count clocks in at 442) on the origins, growth, and development of tabletop roleplaying games, from the beginnings of TSR to the indie revolution. It is the product of years of research and interviews, presented in a very accessible style, making no assumptions on the reader.


The PDF covers the history of the hobby chronologically, but gives the reader the opportunity to explore at the end of each section, where there are short lists labeled "What To Read Next." Each of these lists present the reader with related games, companies, play styles, and other subjects from the previous section that may have caught the reader's interest, allowing the opportunity to either visit another section of the book, or forge ahead to the next one. It's subtly similar to choose-your-own adventure books, and gives the reader the sense of control and exploration that comes with actually playing the games that the book is devoted to.


Designers & Dragons takes us from the early days of TSR, Flying Buffalo, and Judge's Guild, through the turmoil of the satanic panic era of the 1980s and AD&D's second edition, past the CCG and D20 eras, and into today's indie revolution and retroclones. It is a fitting chronicle to our hobby, and I'm dying to have a dead-tree edition to put on my shelf with my other reference books.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Designers & Dragons
Publisher: Mongoose
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/03/2011 22:32:18

The writer's voice is very comfortable to read, the book is well laid out and the topics and insights (that from my POV) are interesting as hell. I'm sure all of this knowledge is available in thousands of bits and pieces strewn about the internet, but it would take me years to track down most of this. Author Shannon Appelcline has done it for me, and wrapped it up nicely on top of all that.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Designers & Dragons
Publisher: Mongoose
by Paco G. J. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/19/2011 17:32:23

This review was written by Paco Garcia Jaen for GMS Magazine.


For some reason, Role Playing Games fascinate me. Ever since I got started, I just can’t get enough.


Ever since I started with so many many years ago with AD&D, Call of Cthulhu, Vampire: The Mascarade, Rolemaster, Paranoia and anything else I could get my hands on. I couldn’t get enough!


Having said that, the RPG industry in Spain was a lot different than it was internationally. We had a limited number of games that were translated, distribution was dire and everything arrived years later than in the rest of the planet. However, we were exposed to some games that barely ever made it out of Spain, even though they were (are!) fantastic games, like Aquelarre and Mutantes en la Sombra (Mutants in the Shadows). That limited my exposure to the international scene and industry politics that everyone else who’s been for a while into the industry is so aware of.


Thus, when I heard about Designers & Dragons from Mongoose, I downloaded it right away. I started to read it and after a while I had to stop. I just couldn’t continue.


I had to go and buy the paper version of the book. My fascination with role playing games has increased by understanding the politics and history behind them.


Designers & Dragons is, in a nutshell, a not-at-all brief history of the industry. In detail. The author, Shannon Appelcline, has spent five years collecting an incredible wealth of information and then presents it in well structured chapters. Lots of chapters.


The layout is not very imaginative. Two columns and sometimes a spread that takes the two columns, breaking the page somewhat. The artwork is taken from the covers of some of the games published by the companies described. The rest is not inspiring, but it does the job and, to be honest, this book is not about looking pretty, is about providing information and unbiased content.


The content is truly amazing. The amount of companies Appelcline goes into is huge. 62 if I remember correctly. Starting with the start, TSR and D&D, and coming all the way to the present with the likes of Cubicle 7, Evil Hat Productions and Catalyst Games. All of them described in some detail, which is the least you could expect.


However the great thing about the book is not how many companies it mentions. It is the reasons and the relevance of the companies it mentions.


The geneses of the companies is taken care of, but also the relationship between companies, the personalities that started and sometimes ended them, and how they all intermingled, affected each other and changed as time went by.


Divided in relevant episodes, the book also takes us through in a chronological order, but without loosing track of the changes that would happen in the future. Thus, understanding and getting to grips with events that would unleash changes later on, is also very easy.


I never got lost reading this book. Although there are some typos here and there, he book has been well written enough that a dyslexic like myself didn’t have too much trouble reading it either on paper or in my iPad. Every chapter makes perfect sense and the information is always relevant and, most importantly interesting.


I can’t recommend this book enough. I kid you now when I tell you I have it on my desk at work and it’ll remain there so I can flick through the pages when I have some downtime.


My only request from the guys at Mongoose: please don’t wait another 30 years to write another!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Designers & Dragons
Publisher: Mongoose
by Kevin G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/12/2011 10:16:24

Very informative, interesting and unbiased view of the history of RPG told via the companies. It was fascinating to read how they started and how they intertwined. My only "negative" comment is that whilst it looks a lot at the past, a little more information about the present would be nice. For example it mentions how Paizo got started by doing the magazine for Wizards of the Coast, and have had a close relationship - and that they now make the Pathfinder system which is competing with Wizards' D&D4... there is no mention of the relationship between the companies at present... considering how they're now in direct competition, it would have been interesting to learn how relationships may have soured/changed. That's my reason for not giving 5*. If I could have given 4.5 I would.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Designers & Dragons
Publisher: Mongoose
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/29/2011 23:39:09

Designers & Dragons is a much needed look at the history of the hobby, tackling the individual histories of the men and women who worked in various companies which have brought countless hours of entertainment to RPG enthusiasts. The book isn't made to be read from cover to cover, but I did find the focus on individual timelines by company to be a fascinating look at what worked, what didn't and what is going on in the industry.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Designers & Dragons
Publisher: Mongoose
by Nathan C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/29/2011 12:38:31

Iron Nugget


I will give a full review of this book next month, after I finish reading and digesting it. Still, I can't imagine that the remaining 200 pages are not as thought provoking and engrossing as the first 200. Shannon Applecline is an amazing reviewer. Her comprehensive documentary on paper of the history of RPGs should be required reading for everyone. Instlead of a linear history, Applecline breaks down specific publishers that shaped D&D in a very unbiased way. She manages to shape emotion around fact without stepping into the middle of still ongoing disputes. From the Hasbro purchase of WOTC to the shunning of Dave Areneson at TSR, it is all covered in detail and clarity.


Iron Word
The best advice I have received on role-playing, whether as a player or a dm, has been from accomplished game designers talking to me outside of a game environment. Designers & Dragons is the voice of 4 decades of a powerful role playing soul telling you its story.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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