The third volume of Shannon Appelcline’s history of the RPG industry maintains the same general format as before: about four hundred pages, separate chapters for each publisher, covering (essentially) a decade of time (1990-1999).

I tend to be fascinated by beginnings, and with 25 years since the first RPG when this book opens, the beginnings are over, leading to a slightly lower interest for me. Also, this is a time period where I wasn’t paying as much attention to RPGs, so there’s not a lot of personal connection. Reading through the ’10 things about the decade’ section in the back shows that maybe it was mutual. Trends in the ’90s angled away from my interests, which carried over into less interest in some company histories. Cyberpunk did well in the late ’80s, and urban fantasy did well throughout the ’90s, and they’re both genres that have never appealed to me.

But there’s still a lot of interest to me here. Most notably, part two of the book is a single chapter, a pattern that echoes TSR being the sole chapter of part one of the first book. In fact, it is called ‘The Other Half of the Story’, on the idea that the story of the RPG is still very much the story of D&D, and Wizards of the Coast is the other half of that. This was published in 2014, so actual end of 4th Edition D&D and the last few years of 5th are too recent to be covered, which is a shame (and great grist for a future update of this volume). Past that, AEG was interesting, as they kind of came out of left field on me with a few issues of Shadis being handed out for free at cons. The full stories of a few other companies I knew of (especially the train-wreck of Imperium Games) were very nice to see, though I found the history of Guardians of Order didn’t seem to dig in to what exactly happened to the company as much as I’d like.

There’s 21 company histories this time, plus four mini-histories, and a nice page on Ars Magica fanzines and how they helped keep that property going; an all too rare look at the fan side of the industry in these histories. There’s also a good section on early Swedish RPGs as the background to ’90s English-language publisher Metropolis. As much as I admire how wide-ranging these books generally are, it is a little annoying to not get any sense of what was going on outside the US, Canada and Britain (and I imagine far more than merely ‘annoying’ for anyone from outside those countries).

It’s another well-written book, and I doubt there’s any other wide-ranging source for RPGs in the ’90s, and so is recommended if you have any interest in that subject. I will note that the (necessarily) focused coverage on RPGs continues to hurt proper coverage of what exactly many of the companies were doing, but instead of the lack of wargame coverage, now it is the lack of CCG coverage that causes problems. However the overall CCG boom-and-bust cycle was so fast that what is given is sufficient in many, but not all, cases.