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September 13, 2013 6:38 AM   Subscribe

Playing at the World is a blog about the early days of tabletop RPGs. Select articles include "How Gaming Got Its Dice" (and the followup "The Origins of Dice Notation,") "The Early Works of Gary Gygax, " "A Playtesting Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (1973)" (and the followup "The Dalluhn Manuscript: In Detail and On Display") and "Character Sheets in 1975."
posted by griphus (36 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
There are now more blogs about D&D than there are people left playing D&D.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:42 AM on September 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


You know what I miss more than playing D&D? Having the time to play D&D all night with a group of friends who lived down the block from me, while we stuffed ourselves with oreos and mt. dew and didn't gain weight. You know what I miss even more than that? Playing Shadowrun.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:44 AM on September 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


There are now more blogs about D&D than there are people left playing D&D.

Back when Vampire and Shadowrun were still a big deal D&D was something like 70% of the tabletop RPG market. The only serious sales competition to WotC D&D is Paizo D&D.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:45 AM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Playing at the World is also (and originally) a giant tome of a book detailing many aspects of the history of D&D. I'm currently on page 600 or so; it's all pretty fascinating.
posted by jiawen at 6:48 AM on September 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


If you're looking for ways to play a game with less time, there are always one-shots or computer-moderated play. See my FPP on how to find an RPG for more.
posted by jiawen at 6:50 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm currently on page 600 or so; it's all pretty fascinating.

How dry/academic is it? I want to dig into it, but I'm not big on Just The Facts non-fiction.
posted by griphus at 6:59 AM on September 13, 2013


In the same vein as the book of this name, but much lighter in both tone and tonnage, there is a recently released book called Of Dice And Men on the history of D&D.

In covering the early history of the development of the game, the author, David Ewalt, describes the very first dungeon adventure: Dave Arneson invited his usual wargaming cronies around for the weekly game in his basement but sprung on them a model castle and the weird notion that they would each play an individual 'character,' and found to his delight that this was actually popular and people demanded more.

Much later the author describes going to a small convention of old-school games in Lake Geneva -- Gary Con, in honour of EGG himself. He finds himself about to sit down to a game of Dungeon! with Dave Megarry, creator of that fine game. Megarry was also part of Arneson's group and he tells the author an anecdote or two about the dawn times, mentioning in passing that the battered ping-pong table where he has set up the game board was in fact the table from Arneson's basement where Arneson set up the model castle four decades earlier. Ewalt's reaction is about what anyone would expect of a D&D fan being told that that unprepossessing folding table in front of him is the birthplace of the hobby.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:07 AM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Playing at the World is also (and originally) a giant tome of a book detailing many aspects of the history of D&D.

Am I drunk (yes, a smidge) or did MeFi's ownRobocopIsBleeding do some art for it? Some Mefite did, because I purchased the damned weapon of war.

How dry/academic is it? I want to dig into it, but I'm not big on Just The Facts non-fiction.

I haven't read it, just flicked, but it looks more dry/academic than I had hoped, but still readable. And, also, a solid weapon on public transport. It has a Taft heft.
posted by Mezentian at 7:08 AM on September 13, 2013


there is a recently released book called Of Dice And Men on the history of D&D.

OH. GOTH DAMNIT.

Off too "BookVault" I go. Stupid online shopping.

Also, Gygax Magazine made it out the door!
posted by Mezentian at 7:10 AM on September 13, 2013


I bought and enjoyed the first issue of Gygax Magazine. I see #2 is shipping and they're taking subscription orders for the next four. But I'm a little wary ever since that time I procrastinated on getting a Kobold Quartertly subscription and it folded like a month later.
posted by griphus at 7:27 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know what I miss even more than that? Playing Shadowrun.

This. Oh my goodness, this.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 7:46 AM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


> ... "sprung on them a model castle and the weird notion that they would each play an individual 'character' ..."

Arneson did indeed run the first "dungeon" adventure, but the concept of playing individual characters was actually pioneered by David Wesely, another member of Arneson's gaming group. Arneson first adapted the idea to a fantasy setting, and added many key concepts such as gaining skill through experience. That innovation alone arguably changed the nature of the game, since it effectively allowed for a lengthy campaign with a single character, rather than a one-off, more wargame-style game.

But Wesely is the one who first sprung the 'character' idea. Credit where it's due.
posted by kyrademon at 8:02 AM on September 13, 2013


There are now more blogs about D&D than there are people left playing D&D.

This might be true, but at least over 7,000 folks still play enough to fund this.

And with the 1500% return, they opened up shop.
posted by linux at 8:20 AM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


did MeFi's ownRobocopIsBleeding do some art for it?

I did! I've known the author for years and read an earlier edition of Playing at the World for him. I ended up making some doodles in the margins that fit the feel of the early 'zine world, so he asked me to make some more for the book.

Really glad this finally made it on the Blue so I can talk about it more. This project really is the culmination of a 12+ year labor of love and research on the part of the author. I was with him when he bought his first true first box set (from Games People Play in Cambridge) and have been constantly amazed with the other treasures he's uncovered over the years. We're talking Big Stuff that, Indy-like, should (and now is) in a museum or at the very least, scanned and presented on his book and blog (first character sheet, early map of Greyhawk, etc) When I was down at his place this summer, he showed me some more recent finds - one that sticks out is the copy of Alarums and Excursions (#4 I think?) sent by Gygax to Arneson when the latter joined up.

And with the 1500% return, they opened up shop.

I'm wearing my r20 right now!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:31 AM on September 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


And with the 1500% return, they opened up shop.

God damn I wish I knew about that last week when I was picking out a wedding ring.
posted by griphus at 8:32 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm wearing my r20 right now!

So am I!
posted by linux at 8:34 AM on September 13, 2013


Really glad this finally made it on the Blue so I can talk about it more

And because of the Blue I purchased it. Haven't read it, because I am a golden age SF jag, but it sits there, tempting me.
posted by Mezentian at 8:36 AM on September 13, 2013


God damn I wish I knew about that last week when I was picking out a wedding ring.

I guess congrats are in order!
*raises pewter mug filled with mead*
*Rolls ST Vs Booze*
posted by Mezentian at 8:37 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


God damn I wish I knew about that last week when I was picking out a wedding ring.

Get a pair anyways and make them your Secret Wedding Rings. You can use them when having pointless arguments and just need to declare a winner to end things before they get out of hand.

"I took out the trash last time!"
"Well, I took out the recycling so now it's your turn!"
"No way! Trash goo is a bigger deal than empty bottles!"
"Get the rings. We'll roll for it."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:39 AM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


How dry/academic is it? I want to dig into it, but I'm not big on Just The Facts non-fiction.
It's pretty dry, but if you are interested in the subject it's totally fascinating.
posted by dfan at 8:39 AM on September 13, 2013


"Get the rings. We'll roll for it."

The whole point is that they are to hand, and require no go getting.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:46 AM on September 13, 2013


Character Sheets in 1975.

Missing: A single sheet of blue-lined notebook paper, written on in pencil.
posted by Gelatin at 8:49 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


>Missing: A single sheet of blue-lined notebook paper, written on in pencil.

And how. Screw those pre-made store bought ones with space for stuff you're never going to use nohow and with not enough space for the stuff you need to put on there. Waste of money and paper. Doin' it by hand is the only way.

Oh, except for the character sheet generating program I wrote on my Vic-20. It was perfect. It was the first ever significant program I wrote and figuring out how to generate the dice rolls was a triumphant moment.
posted by bfootdav at 8:55 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the "How Gaming got its Dice" article: Nonetheless, polyhedral dice quickly became a signature feature of D&D. They were moreover an early stumbling block when demand for the game was high: one could easily photocopy rules, but not dice.

I have to admit, that's kind of clever, RM by dice control. It was a foreign concept though even by about 79-80 when my brothers and I got our first boxed set (one of the Basic D&D ones) for Christmas. There were enough local games stores that buying funny dice (we each wanted a set, of course) was a Saturday morning trip costing not much more than your weekly allowance/chores money.
posted by bonehead at 9:02 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pretty sure my fiancee is not going to let me have one of those as my wedding ring. :-(

(Hell, it's September and I haven't even managed to get her to sit down with me and put together the Lego X-Wing I got her last Christmas. Almost no nerdish tendencies whatsoever.)
posted by Naberius at 11:07 AM on September 13, 2013


Anyone know what the "Swanson Abilities" listed on two of the character sheets were? I am picturing Ron Swanson Abilities, which would be amazing, but I know that is not what they are referring to.
posted by jeribus at 11:10 AM on September 13, 2013


But Wesely is the one who first sprung the 'character' idea.

True, but I was talking about the table.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:54 AM on September 13, 2013


jeribus: "Anyone know what the "Swanson Abilities" listed on two of the character sheets were? I am picturing Ron Swanson Abilities, which would be amazing, but I know that is not what they are referring to."

This post says: The "Swanson Abilities" mentioned on some sheets were an early system of beginning merits and flaws invented by Mark Swanson (and documented in Alarums #1) which differentiated starting characters, as otherwise all starting characters of a given class had very similar abilities. So apparently nothing to do with hunting and fishing.
posted by exogenous at 12:21 PM on September 13, 2013


I'm glad at least some of this history is being recorded. Other gaming groups — I'm looking at you 20+ year-old LARP's — should take the hint and do the same.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:40 PM on September 13, 2013


Does LARP have a written history though? Given my experiences LARPing, I suspect most of it is oral. One of the things that sets Playing at the World apart from, say, Dice and Men, is that the author relies on what the people wrote about the hobby at the time rather than what they tell you about now, their memories perhaps clouded by time.

When I went my one time to GenCon (on a press pass, no less, in days before blogs), I sat and a table and listened to a bunch of elder developers talk about Back In The Day. When I eventually got up to pee, one of the Elders was also in the restroom and said I shouldn't take any of what was said as fact - he'd been at enough of these things that he had heard some of those same stories evolve and change over time.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:56 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's an excellent point, r.i.b. At least in the case of the game I'm familiar with, there is some written history. Somebody still has the BBS archives, and there were other written works, at least some of which haven't been thrown way. From the in-play perspective, there is the in-play newspaper. The current editor has a nearly complete archive of that.

I guess I'm just expressing my wish that the lessons learned were recorded in a more orderly format.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:31 PM on September 13, 2013


" How dry/academic is it? I want to dig into it, but I'm not big on Just The Facts non-fiction."

Playing at the World is fairly academic, but the prose is quite readable. If anything, I'd say Peterson errs too far in the other direction; as I've been reading it, I keep finding myself saying "citation?" or "source?" to myself. It may be because I'm reading it in electronic form, but there are a lot of assertions that a) I'm pretty sure Peterson has a source for but b) he doesn't actually spell out, so I keep wanting to know where he's getting the information.

I have a good bit more in a (first of an eventual multi-part) review on my blog.
posted by jiawen at 6:23 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Get a pair anyways and make them your Secret Wedding Rings.

If we could post images here, there would be a Wonder Twins animated gif *here*
posted by Mezentian at 7:31 AM on September 14, 2013


Does LARP have a written history though? Given my experiences LARPing, I suspect most of it is oral. One of the things that sets Playing at the World apart from, say, Dice and Men, is that the author relies on what the people wrote about the hobby at the time rather than what they tell you about now, their memories perhaps clouded by time.

My experience with LARP is all vampires and none of the medieval fantasy stuff, but that's a scene that's used websites extensively. I'd bet there's a lot of highly specific history locked away on old hard drives and forgotten websites.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:21 PM on September 14, 2013


So I grabbed the Kindle sample of Playing at the World last night and I'm really enjoying it!
posted by griphus at 12:47 PM on September 14, 2013


The First Critical Hits
posted by homunculus at 9:10 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


« Older Jeff Wagner...  |  Composer Wesley Johnson (aka j... Newer »


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