Celebrate D&D's 40th: AMA with author of "Playing at the World"


The first link to “Playing At The World” needs to be changed to Amazon (or some other site related to the book) as it currently just loads up boingboing again.

I’m currently reading Playing at the World. It is quite dense and scholarly, not a “fun” light read or popular history. But since it is about “my” culture I’m enjoying it a lot.

One thing that comes across was how relatively short and fragile the hobby of military simulation games (board wargames, miniatures wargames) is. When I got into wargames, and then quickly into RPGs, there seemed to be this great august mass of old-time gamers. I’d run into them at game conventions in the late 70s;early 80s, and assumed they’d been around forever. There were established companies, Avalon Hill and SPI, that seemed huge and to have been around forever. But it all just blew away, or got subsumed, by adventure gaming.

The books suggests that the “backstory” was rich, but not as long or as deep as I expected. There were miniatures wargaming going back to H.G. Wells, but it was pretty much an eccentric’s hobby. Avalon Hill boardgames had a lot of fans, and SPI was ambitious and popular, but over the span of decades they turn out to have been flashes in the pan.

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Unless you include chess and checkers.


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I’m talking modern, “marketed” military games.

There were lots of simulations, like Kreigspiel, going back a century or more, but they weren’t the kind of thing hobbyists would get into.

It must have caught on fast. By 1979 we were playing it regularly in the dorm at Michigan State.

I know the genre, I’m just having fun. Though if Stratego and Risk had not been mainstream games, they could have been released by one of those companies, likely with expansion rules.

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I wish I had some of my old graph paper dungeons now. It would be interesting to revisit my 14 year-old creative mid via monsters, treasure, hidden doors, spike pits and collapsing stairways.

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So many maths textbooks. So little homework…

I tossed away a huge folder of dungeon drawings before I moved west. Most were pretty simple and and uninspired.

It was good practice, though; starting in '81 I started getting paid to write RPG stuff!

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I had some very sprawling and complex multi-level dungeons. Unfortunately, at 14-15 I had a tendency to make them too difficult, so some parties were either completely killed off or bailed out before fully exploring them. That’s why I’m not a pro I guess!

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