The fourth (and kind-of final) volume of Shannon Appelcline’s massive history of the RPG industry finishes up the project well. However, I can’t help a feeling that this one is less important, and unpolished.

Some of this is my prejudices, but some is caused by the nature of how the books are put together. Since each chapter is a look at the full history of a company, instead of being confined to the decade under study, earlier volumes had histories that covered multiple decades in long histories with a lot of context. Here, all the histories are relatively short, since no company could have more than thirteen years of existence at the time of writing. This is shown by the coverage of 26 companies in this volume, plus thirteen company mini-histories, a quick look at OSR, a short look at Glorantha fanzines, and finally two asides talking about his conception of ‘story games’ (which have been brought up since the first volume).

The format also ill-serves overall industry trends, which was a minor problem before, but really damages coverage of the d20 years. I know it was a big thing, and it comes up a lot as a driving force in a lot of chapters, but I still don’t have a clear picture of how it operated because of the fragmentary coverage. Short of the creation of the RPG itself, it’s probably the biggest industry-wide force there’s been, and I have no idea just how many companies (large and small) published during it (and how that compares to, say, the ’80s boom), and so on.

There’s some good coverage of the indie movement, and trends in it (including a much better picture of how it got going than I’ve seen elsewhere), and some lesser coverage of OSR. Of course, the real problem with all of this, is that with it all being so recent (/ongoing), it’s harder to judge what’s going to be of lasting importance at this point. Moreover, the book was written as D&D 5E was preparing to come out, so current events are still playing havoc with important subjects here, notably Paizo.