Shannon Appelcline’s Designer’s & Dragons is a truly massive undertaking: A history of the entire roleplaying game industry from its beginnings to about 2010. Just the first volume, covering six years (1974–79), is 400 pages.

However, the structure is such that he is covering a lot more than those six years. Each chapter is a complete history of a single company, running to when they closed down, and many of the companies here are still running in one form or another today (and certainly, none of them ended in the ’70s). This volume covers thirteen companies who had an impact on the RPG industry during the ’70s, plus three ‘mini-histories’ of more peripheral companies, and one ‘magazine history’ (annoyingly, these last do not show up in the table of contents).

This does fracture a lot of subjects, notably how the industry and market was evolving, and how one company’s releases were affecting the others. This is present, but because it bridges chapters, is not well served. And the the history of RPGs outside the companies is under-served. There is a nice bit of background on the Bay Area gaming scene (as the background of Arduin), but no similar coverage of the Los Angeles area, which was an important early center of RPG fandom (most surprising is that Alarums & Excursions doesn’t even rate a mini-history box, even if it is a completely amateur production). Appelcline keeps solidly focused on his general subject, only touching on non-RPG products from a company where they impinge on the company and its RPG side as a whole, making several of those chapters noticeably incomplete on their subject.

And… the book is still 400 pages with all those omissions, and only covers the first corner of the industry. I want more, but I have to admit my interests are further reaching than most, and I would really like to see a good history that tackles wargaming, and frankly also ‘adventure gaming’ in general. It breaks these six years into four parts, with TSR and the genesis of the form being part one (which is available as a very generous free trial here), part two covering the first four major companies to leap onto RPGs, part three consisting of wargame publishers who moved into RPGs in the early days (though GDW is rightfully part of part two), and the fourth talking about the rise of ‘universal’ (as in ‘for any game system’, even when you which which game they really mean…) publishers.

Several of these companies I kind of consider ‘childhood friends’ of mine, having grown up around products by GDW, Flying Buffalo, and of course, TSR. Others, like GW, are less familiar. It is a little depressing seeing just how many ways a company can run into financial trouble, but it is nice to find out just what happened to a fair number of people who, from my fairly limited viewpoint, just disappeared along the way. Finding out more about games I saw ads for, but never knew anyone who had a copy was also a plus. The book was entertaining and informative, with just a few small editing issues. And I’m already most of the way through devouring the second book.