Sep 062012

So here’s one that snuck up on us.

A while back I became aware of Shannon Appelcline’s efforts to document the history of the roleplaying game industry. This is no small job. Our weird little hobby spans four decades of gaming, and there are a ton of stories, known and unknown, floating around out there about what’s gone before, and how we got where we are. Is that really… capturable?

Turns out it is. Our product page says it best:

If there’s one thing that the “old school” revolution has taught us, it’s that history is important to us as gamers. Our roots matter. But how much do we actually know — or remember — of the origins of this hobby of ours?

Enter Designers & Dragons.

Shannon did an incredible job and, while I was consumed with getting other things published through Evil Hat, he brought his manuscript to Mongoose Publishing. They printed the first edition of this project of his, titled Designers & Dragons, in what I’ve come to think of as the Big Black Monolith Edition. (I have a copy. Signed and numbered. Ha!) It won some accolades too — a Special Award at UK Game Expo 2012, and a Judges’ Spotlight Award at the Ennies that same year.

Thing is, I’d always wanted to be the one to help bring this to light. But I’d had too much on my hands to do, and missed the opportunity. So when the rights became available to produce an updated version — thanks to some savvy footwork by Chris Hanrahan — I jumped.

The problem for me with the Big Black Monolith Edition was one of approachability. The contents — Shannon’s words — were great, but as I spent time reading it, I found myself struggling with a number of the design choices made there. Simply put, I found it hard to read, without that being the fault of the text.

Then, sitting there on the shelf next to it, was my copy of Green Ronin’s Family Games: The 100 Best. That seemed to be more what I would want out of a history-of-roleplaying book, in terms of its size, form factor, readability in layout — all of that stuff.

So that’s the thought we had in mind coming to doing a new edition of Designers & Dragons for 2013 and beyond. We’re going to split the work up into four volumes, decade by decade, which folks can buy and read separately or in total. Each volume will work as an entry point to the wide and varied field of roleplaying history. If your heyday was in the 1980’s, you’d grab that volume first. If you were more of a White Wolf era gal, maybe grabbing the 1990’s volume be your first move.

In terms of how we’ll design and lay out the book, we’ll give the text room to breathe, and we’ll make the book comfortable to hold, whether you’re spending five minutes with one section, or in for an evening of browsing.

Each volume should be a book you’re happy to have on your desk, bookshelf, or coffee table. Something you’ll read in your library, your bathroom, or your bedroom. (On your kindle or nook or ipad, too!) In short, a book you’ll live with, comfortably.

We’ve also asked Shannon to update the material. In the 2000’s book, this will include some deeper and broader exploration of the small press and indie publishing scene, but there will be more material and more updates found throughout all four volumes.

There’s a lot of work ahead, both on the publisher and on the authorial sides of the project, but all that work is already underway, and we’re looking forward to producing the first volume by the early parts of 2013. More updates will show up here and on as we have them.

Whether you’re familiar with the Big Black Monolith Edition or will be a newcomer to the project in 2013, I’ve got a question for you: what do YOU want to see covered in a history of the roleplaying game industry?


  33 Responses to “Evil Hat to Publish Multi-Volume Designers & Dragons Edition”

  1. I’m not sure if it was covered in the BBME, but I want to read about controversies, even old ones, and how they eventually played out. Sometimes you hear about the controversy but never on the resolution of it.

    • Nice thought. I know Shannon will be watching the comments, here.

    • They’re in there. The ’70s covers TSR and thus has quite a few dust-ups. Gygax vs. Arneson. Gygax vs. the Blumes. Gygax vs. Lorraine Williams. The James Dallas Egbert incident. Angry Mothers. The removal of demons & devils from 2e. The killing of SPI. The lawsuits against Mayfair. The lawsuit against GDW. The threats against fans on the internet.

      There are other controversies scattered throughout the volumes, such as how Palladium almost killed WotC just before they put out Magic (that’s in the ’90s) and more. I don’t think anyone has as good of a controversy density as TSR though.

  2. On one hand, I’m excited because I love Shannon’s work. On the other hand, it wasn’t very long ago I paid a fair bit for the book. A new version already? Feels a bit too soon.

    • We’re looking to reach beyond the maybe-1000-at-best folks the first edition got to, here. You might be compelled to stick with the version you got, and that’s perfectly fine if so. Maybe we can pester Shannon for a “changelog” so folks like you can decide which of the new volumes you want to grab, if any.

      Also, this isn’t happening right away. The earliest of the four, focusing on the 1970s era, won’t be here until next year.

    • My first reason for talking to Fred was that the book had gone out-of-print and the few copies I saw when they briefly appeared on the ‘net were being listed as $100+! As Fred said, I wanted to get past the 1000 (I think 750) folks who got the first edition.

      But if you did buy the first ed, I’ll definitely let you know exactly what’s new so that you can make a good choice about the value of the new books. My guess is that the ’70s and ’00s will be the most valuable to existing readers. The ’70s should have tens of thousands of new words (some of them available on the net, as I’ve been previewing the material at RPGnet) and I’m guessing the ’00s will be 50% new material thanks to very solid coverage of indie publishers (though I’m a ways from writing that material, so I don’t know *exactly* how it’ll come down at this point).

    • Try publishing an ebook instead of a $50 hardcover (and I own a copy).

    • We will be publishing in softcover, PDF, kindle, and epub formats at the least, at least as intended.

    • Will electronic versions be “bundled” with the print version, or completely separate?

    • We already do this with all of our books, so: yes.

  3. I will buy all 4 copies of this.

    • Yay!

    • To be a little less succinct, the reason I am able to make such a statement is because I am very interested in the history of the hobby and industry and was well aware of Designers & Dragons and very interested in it. It’s actually on the shelf at my LGS. I just kept hesitating to pull the trigger. I didn’t really realize why until I read this post a second time. It’s approachability. In a single volume it is both a bit too expensive, too physically large and a bit too much of a reading commitment for me. Breaking this up into 4 volumes (and probably beautifully laid-out knowing Evil Hat’s track record) completely solves all those issues for me. So you have at the very least demonstrated that you have a strong marketing knowledge and intuition for my individual consumer needs! 🙂 Let’s hope that I am a data point representing a larger potential market.

    • Yeah, that’s our feeling as well. Thanks!

  4. I am very interested in this!

    My request (as posted on Twitter but repeated here) is that I’d like to see expanded and objective coverage of the Forge and its design community. I know that controversy always arises when one mentions the Forge, but I honestly see it as one of the most important “events” int he history of RPGs; it fundamentally changed our hobby.

    • How about a half-dozen new articles on indie companies for the ’00 book? That’s what’s in my tentative table of contents for the ’00s. I think it’s going to gel as a interesting book that shows three strong strands of development in the ’00s: d20, indie, and legacy companies.

  5. nice move Fred

  6. I’m interested. I have the RPG gamers bible and always thought there was so much more to tell. I would like to see “generations”, not sure how to explain it.

  7. Don’t forget the women who have always been a part of gaming.

  8. I’m a proud owner of one of the BBME, but I’m always interested in the history of the hobby, so an expansion of the topics covered are good news to me.

    As somebody has already said, I would really love some discussion about the Forge and indie publications. IIRC Burning Wheel wasn’t even mentioned (or very lightly).

    I feel the 70’s were already good covered, but ten of thousands of new words, Shannon? Just take my money! :D.

  9. I am definitely interested in these as well. Is is possible to sign up for a notification list to receive emails as the books become available? Or perhaps pre-orders?

    • We don’t have anything like that set up yet. I’ll be putting the word out here and on when they are, though!

  10. If you are not too close to it, I would like to see more on the history of Chaosium, including the Keith Herber split, the Greg Stafford departure, the dissatisfaction/alienation of the Delta Green creators, the Pendragon ‘journey’ and the complaints about Chaosium business practices. The problem is, I suppose, is that much of this may wander into rumor-mongering, and so may not be fit as a subject for journalism/history. I was not able to get the 1st edition, so I don’t know how much of this you already explore.

    • At the start of the project, I had more familiarity with Chaosium than any other company out there (it was my first fandom, and I worked there for 2 years), so much of this is in there. However, an important question in the book has always been how much of this sort of he-said-she-said stuff to include. So, you’ll see info about Herber, Stafford, Pagan, and Pendragon there, but not (hopefully) in a salacious way. But, if anyone who’s read the first edition thinks that some of this was glossed too much, let me know, as I’ll be looking at the article again soon as I finalize the ’70s book.

  11. The only request I’d make is that you keep something like this in print, barring updates/new editions. If it gets to the point that a traditional print run isn’t cost effective, farming it out to POD would be great.

    One of my biggest peeves is low print runs, and not discovering awesome stuff until after the print stuff is no longer available. E-Books are great as a companion product, but don’t do it for me as the primary distribution.

    • Our rights are conditioned upon keeping the thing in print — even via POD methods (which may just be the right approach throughout the lifecycle) — so it’s pretty certain we will. 🙂

    • Excellent! It took me forever to track down a copy of the original that someone had been hoarding, and I’m thankful I’ve got it.

      I guess I lied when I said “the only request” – I’d definitely like to see more “behind the scenes” stuff, like John Tynes’ article here:

      I don’t know if that gets too much into the “he said, she said” aspect or not, but there’s an attraction there, at least for me.

    • I did read John’s article while working on the previous version of the book, so some of the material made it in, but I think for the most part it was too salacious.

  12. […] Read Fred’s post about the project […]

  13. How can I preorder all four volumes? Anyone know where I can buy a copy of the Big Black Monolith Edition as well?

  14. The original edition made an unfortunate choice to omit source attributions and footnotes. I hope the new one will make a serious commitment in this area.

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