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Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People, and Fantastic Adventure from Chess to Role-Playing Games

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Explore the conceptual origins of wargames and role-playing games in this unprecedented history of simulating the real and the impossible. From a vast survey of primary sources ranging from eighteenth-century strategists to modern hobbyists, Playing at the World distills the story of how gamers first decided fictional battles with boards and dice, and how they moved from s Explore the conceptual origins of wargames and role-playing games in this unprecedented history of simulating the real and the impossible. From a vast survey of primary sources ranging from eighteenth-century strategists to modern hobbyists, Playing at the World distills the story of how gamers first decided fictional battles with boards and dice, and how they moved from simulating wars to simulating people. The invention of role-playing games serves as a touchstone for exploring the ways that the literary concept of character, the lure of fantastic adventure and the principles of gaming combined into the signature cultural innovation of the late twentieth century.


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Explore the conceptual origins of wargames and role-playing games in this unprecedented history of simulating the real and the impossible. From a vast survey of primary sources ranging from eighteenth-century strategists to modern hobbyists, Playing at the World distills the story of how gamers first decided fictional battles with boards and dice, and how they moved from s Explore the conceptual origins of wargames and role-playing games in this unprecedented history of simulating the real and the impossible. From a vast survey of primary sources ranging from eighteenth-century strategists to modern hobbyists, Playing at the World distills the story of how gamers first decided fictional battles with boards and dice, and how they moved from simulating wars to simulating people. The invention of role-playing games serves as a touchstone for exploring the ways that the literary concept of character, the lure of fantastic adventure and the principles of gaming combined into the signature cultural innovation of the late twentieth century.

30 review for Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People, and Fantastic Adventure from Chess to Role-Playing Games

  1. 4 out of 5

    David

    I have to take issue with this book. Primarily that the title on the cover, Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People, and Fantastic Adventures from Chess to Role-Playing Games, does not even remotely prepare the reader for what to expect inside. This book is about Dungeons & Dragons. Period. It's 720 pages about Dungeons & Dragons. It happens to be so incredibly thorough in exploring the historical roots and inspirations for Dungeons & Dragons (and the historical roots and in I have to take issue with this book. Primarily that the title on the cover, Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People, and Fantastic Adventures from Chess to Role-Playing Games, does not even remotely prepare the reader for what to expect inside. This book is about Dungeons & Dragons. Period. It's 720 pages about Dungeons & Dragons. It happens to be so incredibly thorough in exploring the historical roots and inspirations for Dungeons & Dragons (and the historical roots and inspirations for those roots and inspirations and so on ad infinitum) that it manages to actually contain some of what is described on the cover. Namely, it does have a history of wargaming, war miniatures, miniatures wargaming, and imaginative gaming in general - as well as fantasy and science fiction genre writing and its fandom. But make no mistake, this material is all here just as background material to understand its later influence on Dungeons & Dragons. My second issue with Playing at the World is the chopped-up chronology. If this had truly been "A History...from Chess to Role-Playing Games" as the cover indicated, then I would have expected this to have followed a strict chronological order. Instead, we begin with 20th century wargaming, right where Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson first create Dungeons & Dragons, then dive deep, deep into Dungeons & Dragons specifics (for example, an entire sub-chapter on just its class system alone). Then, in Chapter Three, fully a third of the way through the book, after being pummeled with excruciating detail about the Dungeons & Dragons game system and its origins, we jump way back in time to explore the real origins of war-gaming (way before the 20th century). I really enjoyed this part of the book. It was very well written and contained some real gems such as: "On the eve of the Great War, Britains, Ltd...hastily withdrew an 'exploding trench' contrivance, which spring-launched its resident Tommies to their reward with a sharp bang when a flag on its exterior is struck..." I also learned that H.G. Wells and Robert Louis Stevenson were both avid war-gamers (Wells even wrote a book of instructions). And that the most famous example of "let's pretend" is that of the Brontë children, who had an incredibly rich and elaborate shared fantasy world of imagination (which sounds pretty awesome). Once the historical portion was complete, however, we find ourselves butting up against the time period first described at the beginning of the chapter. And now we head back through that time period, mining the 20th century for examples of imaginative play: the game of Diplomacy, science fiction fandom, and the Society for Creative Anachronism. These things were pretty interesting, but as with everything in this book, mired with brutally thorough detail. Peterson has collected his details from an enormous body of fanzines and game instructions, etc. It was a herculean task, I'm sure. Unfortunately, rather than give us a summary that imparts the fun and excitement of these games, we have to read a staggering amount of details about hit points and dice systems and innumerable other bits of ephemera. It sucks the fun right out of the reading. The last third of the book is all Dungeons & Dragons. It's reasonably interesting, if you have any interest in Dungeons & Dragons, but as sluggish as the rest of the book. And if you didn't come to this book with the express desire to read about Dungeons & Dragons, you're probably sick to death of Dungeons & Dragons. And Dungeons. And Dragons. It's an impressive book. It had to have been an incredible labor of love to compile and write. But it's also an incredible labor to read and it's horribly, horribly misleading if you don't know what to expect. I highly, highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in every damned thing you could possibly want to know about the origins of Dungeons & Dragons. If you just want a "A History of Simulating Wars, People, and Fantastic Adventures from Chess to Role-Playing Games", then I most emphatically do not recommend this book unless you're willing to jump straight to Chapter 3.1, skip 3.2, and then read 4.1 to about 5.3 or so. By the way, this has the longest epilogue I've ever read in a book. There are something like five sub-chapters in the epilogue alone. I also dare anyone to try to get through the introduction. I couldn't do it - and that's coming from someone who made it through the entire rest of this book! Tags: dungeons, dragons, ponderous, laborious, thorough, long, hard

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rindis

    When I was growing up, my dad had a small business in the wargaming industry, acting as a wholesaler for other companies, selling games retail by mail, and publishing a magazine. So, I grew up amidst a collection disparate products from Avalon Hill, SPI, and an insane number of tiny publishers in the wargaming and burgeoning RPG market. Much of Jon Peterson's Playing at the World therefore is familiar ground. Familiar, but not extensively known, since I was never all that directly plugged into th When I was growing up, my dad had a small business in the wargaming industry, acting as a wholesaler for other companies, selling games retail by mail, and publishing a magazine. So, I grew up amidst a collection disparate products from Avalon Hill, SPI, and an insane number of tiny publishers in the wargaming and burgeoning RPG market. Much of Jon Peterson's Playing at the World therefore is familiar ground. Familiar, but not extensively known, since I was never all that directly plugged into the events he talks about. However, I have contemplated trying to produce such a book myself. While this isn't the book I'd write, it is close, and it shows just how insane an undertaking it would be to do my half-formed thoughts right. Jon is obviously a fellow fan, and his viewpoint is shown on the cover, which features a hand-drawn dungeon map on graph paper, a couple of hand-made wargame counters, and a well-worn old-style d10, and on the title page, which is done to look like a copy of an old fanzine cover, complete with staple in the corner, and a rust mark from an old paperclip. In his acknowledgements, he mentions "In keeping with the tradition of self-publishing exemplified by gaming fandom, this work was written, edited, typeset, illustrated and published by the author with the help of some friends." The lack of professional editing shows on occasion, but given the nature of the project, it's very well done. It also points up a criminal lack of academic interest in subjects that have had a profound influence on popular culture, and therefore modern culture as a whole; one of the author's assertions is that early RPGs pioneered systems that can be seen in the vast bulk of current video games, and he later points out that the only histories of the SF&F genre are similarly self-generated without any real scholarly interest. The bibliography of this massive work is twenty-five pages long, most of it dedicated to various tiny-run fanzines of the period. Jon Peterson went to an amazing amount of effort scouring eBay, and getting access to private collections to be able to reference 'zines that often had a run of less than a hundred copies per issue. All of this is in pursuit tracking down what people said at the time, rather than relying on what they said about it later. The scope and breadth of his research shows both in the main text, and in copious footnotes that give asides, point out connections, develop an argument further, etc. There's two themes in this book. The first, and heavily dominant one, is the history of the birth of Dungeons & Dragons. The first chapter (of five, they're all massive chapters) covers from the birth of commercial wargaming in the late fifties to the publication of the original box set at the beginning of 1974. The next three chapters are massive essays on just what history and concepts fed into that, before the last chapter picks up the main story again, and covers the next few years, effectively leaving off with the publication of the AD&D Player's Handbook, by which time the concept of the 'role-playing game' had taken root, and other competing systems were coming out at an increasingly furious pace. So furious, in fact, that even Playing at the World's normally exhaustive coverage starts breaking down, such as when the company Wee Warriors gets mentioned in a footnote with no explanation of who they were, or what they had been doing, other than picking up the publishing of the product that was the subject of the footnote. The middle three chapters are deep dives into what Jon Peterson feels are related subjects. The second chapter looks at the origin and history of the fantasy genre, to show how the genre was understood at the time of D&D. He also points out the recurring theme of the 'visitation story', where a person from the real world is transported to a fantastic land, and then returns to the real world at the end, which he posits played a part in why the first RPG was a fantasy RPG. The third chapter takes a look at the history trying to simulate events in games, effectively a history of wargaming from early chess variants into dedicated kriegspiel systems, then through more civilian efforts, the rise of miniatures wargamers inside of toy soldier collectors, and thence into commercial wargaming explored at the beginning. This part comes with extra warnings from the author that it really is for the more dedicated reader, though I found it all fascinating. The fourth chapter looks at the idea of 'role playing', and notes several powerful instances of shared collaboration in a fictional world. This one is rougher, and doesn't flow as well, but there's some interesting groping towards the shape of an instinctual type of 'group think' that can have a very powerful impact on people. The second theme of the book is just how far the concepts pioneered in D&D have carried outside of traditional RPGs. It doesn't get a lot of space in the book, being mostly confined to the introduction and epilogue, but again, he has some interesting things to say. It's a truly massive book (no, really, I was very surprised by the weight of my Christmas present when it showed up), and the result of an undertaking no less massive. But it reads very well, I had problems putting it down every time I picked it up. I can quibble about a few facts, but they'd be at most clarifications of points he raises, can doubt some of his assertions, but they are massively snowed under by the amount of other arguments that are rock-solid. It's a great, enjoyable book, about a small, critical happening, and why it happened when and how it did, and anyone with an interest in gaming really needs to pick this up.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Johnny

    As an avid wargamer and role-playing gamer, as well as professor of Game History, Ethics, and Design, I found myself relishing Playing at the World. Ostensibly, Jon Peterson set out to find the origins of Dungeons & Dragons in its predecessors (board games, miniatures, and military/academic simulations) and then, trace the development of the system. He does that in well-documented and fascinating fashion, but he also provides insights into the literary sources, social trends (Society for Creativ As an avid wargamer and role-playing gamer, as well as professor of Game History, Ethics, and Design, I found myself relishing Playing at the World. Ostensibly, Jon Peterson set out to find the origins of Dungeons & Dragons in its predecessors (board games, miniatures, and military/academic simulations) and then, trace the development of the system. He does that in well-documented and fascinating fashion, but he also provides insights into the literary sources, social trends (Society for Creative Anachronism, Renaissance Faires, peace movement, and science-fiction fandom), and evolving mechanics that pushed this phenomenon to the forefront. Peterson is extremely even-handed. Having edited Dave Arneson and published Gary Gygax (at different times), I have my own perceptions of what happened between them and what the “real” issues might have been. From my perspective, Peterson comes as close as possible to presenting the likeliest scenario of Arneson’s departure from TSR and Gygax’s attempt to remove Dave from the royalty stream. I can see both sides of the dispute. It’s a tricky issue and Peterson navigates it without so much as scraping against the coral of bias. This is a massive book. The narrative runs 632 pages and the bibliography (which I find to be exceptional) runs another 25 pages. Naturally, the index is almost 50 pages itself. Peterson’s sources are not only what is available in academic collections, but relied on private collectors, as well. Since many of the ‘zines he consulted were restricted to print runs of under 100 subscribers, it’s amazing that he found them. I have a lot of copies of an obscure ‘zine called PW Review and a pretty long run of a miniatures magazine called The Courier, but Peterson found copies of Atlantis, Supernova, Thangorodrim, and Alarums & Excursions, as well as Diplomania, Interstellar Communicator, and Supercalifragilisticexpialodocious. Most were Diplomacy or miniatures ‘zines which had fantasy medieval (or Napoleonic) campaigns that contained rules for economics and/or fantasy in some of their rules suggestions or battle reports, though some were ‘zines which expanded on the new field of role-playing. Playing at the World made me wish I could find PDF scans of some of those old ‘zines (too bad MagWeb isn’t alive anymore—that would have been an ideal repository for some of these). There IS a new eBook of Tony Bath’s book on wargame campaigns that includes many of the rules for his Hyboria (A Conan the Barbarian-inspired world that Bath gamed long before Lin Carter and Scott Bizar collaborated on Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age (a set of miniatures rules for Fantasy Games Unlimited—note the variant spelling since Robert E. Howard used Hyborian Age and even Lin Carter uses that spelling in the foreword to that rulebook) campaign. And, Peterson’s book inspired me to buy it and share some of the ideas with my class on the History and Design of Roleplaying at the university. Of course, part of the joy of this book is the fact that I knew/know some of the personalities as friends and acquaintances or have crossed paths with them in the course of my work as publisher/editor, hobbyist, or professor. Of course, what’s really scary to an old guy like me is how many of these personalities are deceased (the late Alan Calhamer, creator of Diplomacy, all too recently). I can remember losing a naval miniatures scenario of Don’t Give Up the Ship with Arneson, debating whether people buy RPG rules to read them or play them with Ken St. Andre, interviewing Rick Loomis and Richard Bartle (both computer game pioneers in their own way), buying used games from Lou Zocchi, parodying games and companies at Origins with Greg Stafford, Michael Stackpole, and sometimes, Steve Jackson (the U.S. one), going to the late Jack Scruby’s shop in Cambria to buy miniatures, visiting Ral Partha miniatures when they were in the house, being introduced to Steve Perrin by admiring computer game developers, going out to dinner with Arnold Hendrick, etc. So, in a way, this book parallels my hobby experiences from Avalon Hill and 3M games through miniatures and wargaming to computer gaming. The strength of the book is not just the obvious research and detail that Peterson put into it, but also certain intriguing ideas (ok, speculation, but intriguing nonetheless). For example, when Plato described the idea of “polyhedral expressions of the elements” in Timaeus, was that a foreshadowing of the invention of polyhedral dice? (p. 313) When he addresses the efforts of designers as early as the elder von Reiswitz to calculate odds (“one hundred troops…can fire four hundred shots in one minute, but only a twelfth of those shots will hit at three hundred paces, whereas an eighth will hit at two hundred paces.”) and reformulate those studies into markers like 1/8th and 1/12th that could be placed on a stand of model soldiers (p. 234), I felt like he was providing a “meaty” service to future designers (like my students). I think he is quite right that Richard Berg first placed the moniker of “role-playing” on this style of game in Moves #23 (as quoted on p. 534 of Playing at the World) and feel that his speculation about TSR’s legal wrangling literally forcing its competitors to market their games as RPGs to avoid litigation (p. 556) and ironically, caused TSR to market Metamorphosis Alpha in the same way (p. 570). I simply don’t have time to mention all of the great material in this book. I gleaned material for three different classes that I teach, as well as ideas for my own role-playing campaigns and reading material. Playing at the World is an exceptional book. Even though I’ve spent almost half of a century involved with the gaming hobby, I sometimes felt like my knowledge of its history was that of a college student who finished a survey course while Peterson’s approach was a textbook for grad school. I cannot recommend this book highly enough if you are a serious fan of table-top gaming and want to understand it better.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Stuart

    "On March Fifteenth Nineteen Seventy Two, at approximately six fifty eight A.M. Gary E. Gygax rose from his bed in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in the United States of America (more commonly referred to as the "U.S.A.") and got to his feet: knobbled bony handlike appendages which he found at the end of his two legs, a profile typical of the bipedal longitudinally symmetrical biostructure he had inherited from his humanoid species-plan. As Gary opened each of his twin eyes (orblike lumisensing organs p "On March Fifteenth Nineteen Seventy Two, at approximately six fifty eight A.M. Gary E. Gygax rose from his bed in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in the United States of America (more commonly referred to as the "U.S.A.") and got to his feet: knobbled bony handlike appendages which he found at the end of his two legs, a profile typical of the bipedal longitudinally symmetrical biostructure he had inherited from his humanoid species-plan. As Gary opened each of his twin eyes (orblike lumisensing organs packed with transparent gel and complex molecular packages responsing to varying wavelengths of electromagnetic energy focused through the flexing lenses at the front of each "eye" - as discussed in Chapter 5.7), his brain (a hand-sized chunk of supermeat clamped in his cranial structure, see chapters 10.56,10.57, 10.58 & 10.59), incorporated near real-time sensory information from a layered spectrum of embodied biotransmitters with a long-term reality-orientation memory matrix (product of the processes of "childhood" and "culture", as to be discussed in later chapters) with a so-far unanalysed ghosting reiswitzian meta-cognitive entity bearing the hallmark of consciousness. Gary was now in the state 20th Century American Humans would commonly refer to as wakefulness, and he was about to receive a series of timed electromagnetic pulses, not from his immediate senses, as we have previously discussed (see above text), but transmitted via a copper-cored vulcanised tube at the speed of light and re-coded by in-situ solid-state mass-produced 20th century technology into coherent wave of sound which Garys audio-sensing organs would transmit to his comprehending heuristic mind, which would in turn, rapidly meta-cognate the analogue pattern of, into that of a voice. Not the voice of another American human entity in the same three-dimensional space as Gygax, but a signal from an equally-alive equivalent human male named Dave Arneson, who was real, but far away. "Gary" the biotechnological hypersignal resolved within Gygaxes metacognitive array "I've kind of invented D&D but I'm a massive flake." "Don't worry Dave." Gygax replied, in a pattern all-too typical of his species, culture and socioeconomic matrix, "I have contracts for that"." --------------------------- The above is not from Jon Petersons book "Playing at the World", but it does describe the feeling of _reading_ it. Get ready for the Kung-Fu info-spike from the Matrix, except it’s not about Kung Fu and Peterson won't turn it off. ............................................................... Guys, we’ve invented wargaming culture – LETS ACT LIKE NAZIS FOR FUN; "However, despite the best intentions of the staff, the community that emerged from the "Opponents Wanted" column proved more confrontational than Avalon Hill intended... .... it was not long before "Opponents Wanted" featured ads that flaunted a "SIEG HEIL!" to lure indignant opponents into battle. Clubs emerged with names like "Fourth Reich", entire advertisements appeared in German and protestations of invincibility became hyperbolic. The staff of The General quickly downplayed any literal interpretation of these neo-Nazi blurbs, noting that "chest-beating before battle has a sound historical basis; it’s been a human trait since the dawn of time and is found in many cultures." .................................................................... DETAIL I didn't buy this myself, instead I was given it by a Doctor of Mathematics who was unable to get past the initial chapters. "I feel like it’s trying to kill me with detail." he said. There are several books inside this book, only a few of which are the book you probably thought you were getting. None of these books are _bad_. Much of what they say in extremely interesting. But there are a *lot* of them. And they are _dense_. Collectively they do probably about as much as any single human could do to trace every single idea, event and concept that lead up to, and out from, the creation of Dungeons and Dragons. In doing this, Peterson goes from a history of D&D, which may have been what he started with, to effectively writing the first book in what will probably be a multi-volume history of complex, organised parallel play-worlds. *Chapter One: A Prelude to Adventure (1964-1974)* The 'Main Story' the socio-cultural and ludic immediate background that informed the creators of D&D. What you probably thought you were getting. *Chapter Two: Setting - The Medieval Fantasy Genre.* A Sub-Tome going deep into the development of the Fantasy genre, largely set within the 20th Century where the phrase 'Fantasy Genre' starts to make meaningful sense to describe something. *Chapter Three: System - The Rules of the Game.* A Sub-Tome following every. single. rule. in D&D and trying to trace its intellectual evolution, which usually goes back to Kriegspiel, which itself traces itself back to chess and yes we do go all the way back to chess. *Chapter Four: Character - Roles and Immersion.* A kind of combination of the 'main story' about the creation of D&D, with a subject-based book about the growth of role-playing and shared paracosms in the West. Because this growth was focused around the same period as the mid-to-late 20th century, and because it really amped up in the same time and social circle as Gygax & Co, it also forms a kind of parallel but merging tale to the main theme. This is also the bit with some of the freakiest factoids. Fritz Lieber with a sword yo. *Chapter Five: The Dawn of Role-Playing (1974-1977)* We are back to the main series with a thrilling, and typically, detailed, blow-by-blow of the beginnings of D&D and its first few years of existence. DRAMA. *Epilogue: Role-Playing and Reality* Peterson, slavering at the mouth and let loose from any overstructure, goes wild like a Mink in a henhouse and desperately tries to squeeze another entire book into the epilogue, this one about the beginnings of electronic simulated computer worlds. His editors raise their shield-wall and, focusing a shotgun on the whites of his rabid eyes, bravely force him to actually end this book before publishing another one inside it like a wasp-egg in a caterpillar. *Selected Bibliography:* About twenty five pages of stuff that I did not read. It is a very huge book which defeats, easily, the capacity of my memory to comprehend it perfectly, as a whole. That is something of a waste as I am certain, to Peterson, every single piece of information was entirely relevant to his total argument and process of discovery. He is essentially writing the history of this massively encultured cognitive form and process of human parallel world creation and mutual inhabitation and he is trying to get as close as he possibly can to comprehending the *whole thing* or at least as much as _can_ be discovered. I cannot tell you about the whole of the book, all I can do is take you on a handful of paths through it, winding my way through, if not a ruin, then an intimidatingly large palace. ............................................... If you’ve played a lot of wargames and never cried – you are LYING; "Geddes spent most of his spare time for several years in elaborating this game, ending up with a 45-page book explaining the rules... Thirty minutes of play constituted the equivalent of a day's fighting; during the 20's, Geddes and his friends played it every Wednesday from eight in the evening until midnight. Some wars lasted two or three years... The game occasionally took a tragic turn. Rear Admiral William B.Fletcher, long a regular player, lost eight capital ships one night and was so humiliated that he never returned. Another friend, after being court-martialled one evening for losing an entire army, lay on a sofa and cried." ........................................................................ SYSTEMISATION AND POWER Inherent to D&D is a powerful and unavoidable polarity in role-playing between centralised systemisation and individual creation. This is a Faultline Gygax found himself sitting right on top of but versions of it may have existed right back to Reiswitz. Once a handful of people have played a few games of D&D, they _really_ don't need to buy a lot of extra crap, or even more copies of the rules. It calls out to be modified and added to and people start doing this immediately on its publication, some of them after only _hearing_ about the existence of the game. So this is one end of the polarity - D&D as a form of folk art, made by individuals and social groups _for_ those particular individuals and social groups. Independent, anarchistic and freeeeeee. At the other end is D&D as both a product and a coherent system of rules, owned, distributed and publicised by a central authority. The game as it exists in reality, continually draws energy from both ends of this irresolvable polarity. In terms of Capital; by managing to turn D&D into a *product* something which could be owned, Gygax almost certainly added a huge amount of energy and drive to its existence and growth. The money D&D makes goes into paying Gygax & Co, and it also goes back into printing more D&D, advertising it, spreading it, evangelising and proselytising it. This feedback loop acts as a kind of cultural amplifier. Once there is a corporate entity with a direct interest in maximising the growth of the product, it’s like having a tiger draw your chariot. It may be terrifying and destructive and occasionally eat people but holy fuck it goes fast. Imagining the growth of D&D if it was only ever a hobby, without capital feedback loop to drive it, I think it might come close to barely existing at all. I think there would be a mild sheen of low-level RPG-like systems growing from the 70's on, but nothing like what we have now. But more realistically, something other-but-equivalent would have taken that space as, Peterson strongly argues, (or more truthfully, his evidence seems to argue) it was very much "steam engine time" for D&D. In terms of System; systemisation annihilates individuality, and it is open, and largely fair. The same wave of sameness which rolls over much of the nascent RPG scene, which turns everything into D&D and which tries as hard as it can to make sure everyone is playing something like the same kind of D&D, is also fundamentally democratic and levelling. Everyone gets the same predictable experience and ruleset which everyone can understand equally and use equally and which is open to almost everyone in exactly the same way. This reminds me a lot of the simultaneous beauty and horror of modernism, and of the terror-love of watching singular languages wash over and annihilate smaller in-nation languages and multilingual culture. It’s awful and monstrous, because it’s the annihilation of human cultural diversity and of individual ways of looking at the world, of peoples particularity, character, ways of thought and experience, and all over a huge and tragic loss for humanity as a whole. And it’s very fair. Multi-lingual societies, after all, must by-necessity favour multi-lingual individuals, which almost always means middle-class people with the free time and free cognitive resources to learn multiple languages. And in layered societies where people speak different languages, people have differing access to the law, to the processes of government, to the language of employers, to the varying languages of different kinds of power. People are secret to each other. But annihilate that and everyone from every level of society and from every culture group and every ethnic group all speak the same language which is understood in the broadly same way, so everyone reads the same rules and speaks the same language as the judge and their lawyer and can, if they want to, read the same newspaper, scientific paper, books, menus, instructions. So Gygax-D&D spreads across the U.S. meeting, consuming and in some sense, annihilating many pre-existing paracosms, and making them all fair. Because everyone knows what D&D is, and how it should be played, because TSR will tell you what it is and Gary will tell you how to play it. And this opens up the possibility of interaction between wide varieties of different people to a staggering degree. Issues like this seem to exist right at the start of wargaming, with the first theoreticians making boutique gaming sets for princes, because only they can afford them. Kriegspiel is spread through the Prussian military as its expensive and complicated enough that it really takes a governmental organ and pre-existing structure to afford it. Things become mass-culture when they become product. When they can be owned, sold and replicated, this simple process of replication, to a mass market, is what allows something to become a cultural element of a democratic largely-level society. Many, many, many people invent bits and pieces of wargaming and role-playing before D&D exists and primary reasons for them not exploding into “D&D” is because they are not systematised and are very hard to sell. At least one British fantasy wargamer proto-roleplayer opens up their ruleset for democratic review, so each rule is voted on and brought into consensus. This takes so long, and so many editions of the zine they are publishing through, that they Tristiam Shandy their own game and it never starts. The beauty and monstrousness of authority, systemisation and capital is at the heart of Dungeons and Dragons and it is something which I think cannot be resolved. This is the most human of possible games, it calls most deeply upon the widest range of human expression experience and interpretation, more than almost any other game. It is a highly personal game. It is _warm_. You don't need a company or a product to run it. And it is tied by an uncuttable umbilical cord to exactly those nightmare processes of alienation which dehumanise our world. ........................................... Early west-coast Paracosm culture starts to get weeeird; "For fans susceptible to its peculiar allure, however, Coventry seemed to offer a veritable reinvention of fandom, a deeper level of engagement in which fans literally became characters in a science fiction story. Pelz exemplified this radical interpretation of Coventry. He wore a Bruziver of Heorot costume to LASFS club meetings, and sometimes even on public streets. To many outsiders it seemed that the core Coventranians never left character - a difficult charge to refute, given that everyone in Coventry assumes the role of their resurrected future selves. ------------ OUT OF SPACE - FULL REVIEW HERE https://falsemachine.blogspot.com/201...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dylan Horrocks

    At some point in the late 60s and early 70s a handful of young wargaming geeks in Wisconsin and Minnesota - almost by accident - found a new way to create and explore imaginary worlds, realities and lives. It was like nothing they'd experienced before, bringing pleasures and excitements far beyond anything people normally associated with "gaming." In a few short years, this new immersive fantasy experience spread from these tiny local wargame clubs to become an international phenomenon that chan At some point in the late 60s and early 70s a handful of young wargaming geeks in Wisconsin and Minnesota - almost by accident - found a new way to create and explore imaginary worlds, realities and lives. It was like nothing they'd experienced before, bringing pleasures and excitements far beyond anything people normally associated with "gaming." In a few short years, this new immersive fantasy experience spread from these tiny local wargame clubs to become an international phenomenon that changed the world. Playing at the World is a study of the creation of Dungeons & Dragons (first published in 1974), and the birth of fantasy role-playing games. Like a methodical archaeologist, Peterson painstakingly uncovers D&D's origins in the theory and subculture of wargaming, in fantasy literature and fandom, and in the wider social context and subcultures of 1960s-70s America. For anyone interested in role-playing games (as a cultural phenomenon and as a narrative/world-simulation form), this book is an inexhaustible treasure trove of information and insights. The depth of Peterson's research is extraordinary and his prose style is confident and enjoyable (and the presentation, editing and design prove that self-publishing is no barrier to absolute professionalism). It's true that some casual readers may be put off by the (deliciously nerdy) comprehensiveness (Peterson is determined to identify and analyse every conceivable source for and influence on D&D's development), but for someone genuinely fascinated by the subject, that is merely another of the book's many pleasures. But looking beyond the breadth and detail, there are plenty of important larger themes here, which Peterson does a better job of exploring than almost anyone else I've read on the topic. I've long felt that the rise of Dungeons & Dragons was a significant turning point in the culture: a shift in the content, structure and uses of fiction. D&D coalesced various emerging trends and brought them together to provide an imaginary experience that was immersive, exploratory and interactive - in effect providing a template for many of the wider cultural developments since. It offered a new kind of relationship to fictional stories and realities, one that I often think has come to dominate the contemporary world. Peterson sees this too, and underlying much of this book is his search for a deeper understanding of what made such a shift possible and of what it might mean. He undertakes that search not by making sweeping generalisations or launching into academic cultural theory, but by methodically and fastidiously sifting through the detail: who said, wrote and did what when? And why? What did this mean to the people involved at the time? How was all this shaped by the context (both at the micro level of the Lake Geneva and Twin Cities wargaming scene of the early 70s, and also at the macro level of 1970s America)? Along the way - often in very quiet, subtle ways - Peterson draws out some rich and intriguing connections, resonances, meanings. I love this kind of historiography, where broad themes and profound insights emerge out of a careful nuanced reading of complex concrete factual details. It sometimes demands a degree of patient effort on the part of the reader but the rewards can be tremendous. Add to that the pleasures of nostalgia (of which there's plenty to be enjoyed here) and personal drama (albeit less than some might like, thanks to Peterson's determination to be judicious and fair and avoid gossip), and Playing at the World is one of the most satisfying books I've read in a while. It was clearly an enormous task, and I'm very grateful to Peterson for what he has achieved. There will be more books by other authors on the invention of D&D, and there will be many more insights and pleasures to be enjoyed. But we should count ourselves lucky indeed to have such a thorough, carefully-researched, solidly written and thoughtful book among the first. P.S. If Playing at the World leaves you hungry for more, Peterson also maintains a hugely enjoyable blog which extends his research into the minutiae of RPG history.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Joe Kilmartin

    If good research was the same as good writing than this would be the Tolstoy or the Dostoyevsky of books about Dungeons and Dragons. The author confuses EXHAUSTING with exhaustive. There is nothing here that is not verified with multiple sources while, at the same time, driving the passion implicit in the subject matter as far from the body of the work as possible. Much like, Victor Frankenstein separating the heart from the body to see how long it could survive and to get a better look inside, If good research was the same as good writing than this would be the Tolstoy or the Dostoyevsky of books about Dungeons and Dragons. The author confuses EXHAUSTING with exhaustive. There is nothing here that is not verified with multiple sources while, at the same time, driving the passion implicit in the subject matter as far from the body of the work as possible. Much like, Victor Frankenstein separating the heart from the body to see how long it could survive and to get a better look inside, the author takes great relish in simultaneously listing each part of each organ inside down to the white blood cells - and all in the name of SCIENCE!! The one star in my review is for the bredth of reference and excellent photos of TSR's original office and crew. To quote Eric Idle in the Australian Table Wines sketch he wrote for Python: "This is not a wine for drinking - this is a wine for laying down and AVOIDING." Before I hit page 150: Just got this in on library loan. Very much "when nerds write nerd books for nerds about nerdery" - let's see if I can make it through.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rebekah

    I'm seriously not sure how to rate this book. Here's some thoughts: It reads like a really good dissertation, down to the way the sections are marked, but somehow...that's not what it is. It's also not exactly what the title says it is, either: this is a deep, deep dive into the history of SciFi\Fantasy fiction, the history of wargaming (miniatures and otherwise), and of course, above all, role-playing games. Most of it was fascinating, some of it was a bit dull. ANother reviewer notes that the I'm seriously not sure how to rate this book. Here's some thoughts: It reads like a really good dissertation, down to the way the sections are marked, but somehow...that's not what it is. It's also not exactly what the title says it is, either: this is a deep, deep dive into the history of SciFi\Fantasy fiction, the history of wargaming (miniatures and otherwise), and of course, above all, role-playing games. Most of it was fascinating, some of it was a bit dull. ANother reviewer notes that the incredibly thorough research on every. single. topic. was not so much exhaustive as exhausting and yeah, that's true too. The sources were truly great, I think Petersen cites every issue of every fanzine in the US and GB from the 60s and 70s at some point. I found myself sharing (occasionally unwanted) anecdotes with my husband every time I read a bit of this book, and I found myself thinking about what I'd read a lot, and I can say for sure that it has changed my ideas about several cultural phenomena that I thought I knew a lot about (especially the history of Sci-Fi/Fantasy). SO what the heck, 5 stars. But seriously Jon Peterson, go get a damn PhD with this thing, it's a monster.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Shannon Appelcline

    Peterson does a great job of unearthing impossible-to-get source materials from the early '70s to tell the story of how the game to be. Anyone with interest in the hobby will love parts 1 & 5 of the book, which do a terrific job of laying all the foundations. Though the book is a bit dense at times, it's still a very interesting read. The rest of the book, covering deeper bases in fantasy, game systems, and characters may be more than the average reader is interested in, since some of it goes way Peterson does a great job of unearthing impossible-to-get source materials from the early '70s to tell the story of how the game to be. Anyone with interest in the hobby will love parts 1 & 5 of the book, which do a terrific job of laying all the foundations. Though the book is a bit dense at times, it's still a very interesting read. The rest of the book, covering deeper bases in fantasy, game systems, and characters may be more than the average reader is interested in, since some of it goes way back, talking about possible origins. Even if that's the case, the other sections of the book make it well worth buying.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Peter Aronson

    I gave this book 5 stars, but that's for me. I've been a member of the MITSGS and LASFS, I was a Wild Hunt contributor, I've played postal Diplomacy, subscribed to many of the magazines and 'zines mentioned here and met a lot of the people mentioned in this book. I found this fascinating. It is scholarly, detailed and full of facts. Mind you, despite being extensively backed by the written record, there's a certain amount of speculation too, and I suspect not all of that is spot on, but that's a I gave this book 5 stars, but that's for me. I've been a member of the MITSGS and LASFS, I was a Wild Hunt contributor, I've played postal Diplomacy, subscribed to many of the magazines and 'zines mentioned here and met a lot of the people mentioned in this book. I found this fascinating. It is scholarly, detailed and full of facts. Mind you, despite being extensively backed by the written record, there's a certain amount of speculation too, and I suspect not all of that is spot on, but that's a given when putting together a puzzle like this one. It's amazingly complete.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Scott Rogers

    An amazing achievement Make no mistake, Playing at the World is dense. It can be a bit of a tough read especially through the history of Kreigspiel, but when it finally reaches the origins of Dungeons and Dragons, it really shines. My hat is off to the author who obviously put in many, many hours of research. It truly is the definitive book on the topic of roleplaying games and the beginnings of the phenomena of Dungeons and Dragons.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Adam Koebel

    I can't believe I forgot to close and review this! It's fucking perfect. Read it, nerds.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Chris Chinchilla

    An absolute epic of a book that is sometimes tedious, sometimes exciting, but always incredible thorough and you have to credit the author for the shear amount of research he must have undertaken.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jerry

    This is huge and amazing. Peterson has searched out sources as close to the beginning of the D&D-style RPG industry as we’re likely to get, filling in the huge gaps—and clearing up the falsehoods—of decades of history-by-gossip. You know the ones: TSR stiffed Arneson out of any royalties for products not labeled “D&D” (actually, Arneson got 2.5% off the top of every AD&D book). Or that Gygax just collated what Arneson wrote (Arneson definitely got the D&D ball rolling, but Gygax definitely added This is huge and amazing. Peterson has searched out sources as close to the beginning of the D&D-style RPG industry as we’re likely to get, filling in the huge gaps—and clearing up the falsehoods—of decades of history-by-gossip. You know the ones: TSR stiffed Arneson out of any royalties for products not labeled “D&D” (actually, Arneson got 2.5% off the top of every AD&D book). Or that Gygax just collated what Arneson wrote (Arneson definitely got the D&D ball rolling, but Gygax definitely added his own rules, as well—and it was the act of writing it down that meant other people could play). One of the most interesting things about the early pre-history is that Dave Arneson was still basically running a wargame, with two sides competing in a fantasy world. He had two groups of players; he set the location up but the players set up the conflict. But when he came down to GenCon to show it to Gygax, he came alone; Gygax and some friends played one side, and Arneson played the opposing group himself. That drastically changed the dynamic; I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that that one change made fantasy roleplaying. Peterson subtitles Playing at the World “A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures From Chess to Role-Playing Games”. However, this book is not at all about Chess. It is about how Role-Playing Games developed. They developed heavily from wargames, and wargames developed from Chess. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that our hex sheets evolved in a direct line from chessboards. Throughout wargaming history, one of the many splits was between those who used discrete locations and distances, that is, square boards or hex boards, so that distances could be counted up easily; and those who used “sandboxes”, where measurements were made with rulers or other measuring tools. The latter usually involved pre-made boards, such as came in games from Avalon Hill, whereas the latter involved making up terrain for each game. It was the latter tradition that inspired Chainmail, which meant that when someone else wanted to run the fantasy appendix from Chainmail, they made up their own terrain and world to populate with the fantastic creatures. This book is huge and brings together a whole lot of material. It is broken up into four sections, each including some sort of history. The first section provides an overview of the world of fantasy wargaming existing just prior to Dungeons & Dragons: the Castle & Crusade Society, the various wargaming clubs that inspired cooperation among themselves. The second section attempts to explain why fantasy? Why did this type of gaming start out with fantasy rather than something else? Why fighting-men, magic-users, and clerics? It’s a hundred and twenty pages about the history of science fiction and fantasy writing, focused on the writing that would have inspired the efforts that led to D&D. The third section attempts to explain the rest of the system, how D&D rules play out in a session. Here is where the biggest history of wargames lies, starting from Chess through various kriegsspiels, and into the kinds of games being played just before D&D. How did the means of characters avoiding death and progressing evolve into hit points, armor class, saving throws, and experience points? The fourth chapter is about roleplaying. When and how did people start taking on the roles of individual characters in their games, rather than treat them as chess pieces or checkers? It covers the Midgard semi-games (many of them never got off the ground), Hyboria, and so forth. The Brontë sisters, probably the inspiration for the games in A.S. Byatt’s The Game, figure here. The fifth section returns to the “dawn of role-playing” and the spread of proto-D&D and D&D itself throughout fandom, especially California fandom. He blames the term “dungeon master”, for example, on California fandom. After this there’s an epilogue about “Role-Playing and Reality” that includes a short section on the anti-D&D scare and then the rise of computer games. This section is very skeletal and sometimes strange. There’s a footnote, when talking about Ultima Online, that: A critical influence on the economy of early massively multiplayer role-playing games must be Magic: The Gathering, the collectible card game… Magic, while ostensibly a game where players duel one another with decks of cards representing monsters, spells, lands and so on, also comprised a meta-game centered around the acquisition of the cards themselves… the rarest cards were quite scarce… the meta-game of Magic therefore can be seen as a pioneering massively multiplayer game, though not an online one. The actual footnote is much longer; the ellipses elide a lot of text; however, a claim like this really requires much more than a footnote to lay out. Many of the footnotes are extremely interesting in themselves. While many are of the order of: 135Fletcher Pratt’s Naval War Game, 2. many others are interesting side notes such as that: 127 Lake Gloomey may be familiar to readers as the environs of the “Temple of the Frog” scenario presented in Blackmoor (1975). What’s really amazing in the various sources from the modern era is that despite how much the fan and wargaming communities were yearning for something like Dungeons and Dragons, they were not willing to settle for something not enough like it. From Coventry to Hyboria to Midgard, things with a few of the elements of what would become roleplaying never caught on or flashed through one subcommunity and disappeared. Much of the spread of D&D happened through the sheer tenacity and enthusiasm of someone exposed to one game session, who then introduced what they understood of it to their group, who passed it on to another group, without waiting for any official rules. When real rulebooks were eventually available, there was nothing to stop it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Shane

    I've written quite a few Goodreads reviews at this point, but this was the hardest. Why? Because I don't know if this is a two-star or a five-star book. It's one or the other. So I took an average and rounded up - FOUR STARS. What am I talking about? Well, first let me explain what this is. It's a history of Dungeons and Dragons up to, but mostly not including, the release of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, beginning in 1977 with the Monster Manual. What's that? A book that is 700 pages long (to b I've written quite a few Goodreads reviews at this point, but this was the hardest. Why? Because I don't know if this is a two-star or a five-star book. It's one or the other. So I took an average and rounded up - FOUR STARS. What am I talking about? Well, first let me explain what this is. It's a history of Dungeons and Dragons up to, but mostly not including, the release of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, beginning in 1977 with the Monster Manual. What's that? A book that is 700 pages long (to be fair, the last 170 pages are the excellent Bibliography and Index) that ends when the D&D era most fans know and love starts? Yes, exactly. You see my problem. So how do you write more than 600 pages on this topic? By being very, very thorough. Only chapters one and five are really about D&D. The middle chapters are focused on "Setting" (a history of fantasy), "System" (a history of wargaming) and "Character" (a history of immersive role-playing). I have to say, I went in to this book (I thought) well versed in this topic and still, I learned A LOT. If you've always wondered where some of AD&D 1st Edition oddities come from (Why do fighters have percentile strength? Where do the percentages for the thief class abilities, so different from all others, come from? Why are some classes "sub-classes"? Etc.), this book is for you. If you ever wondered how a small group of Midwestern nerds (I use the term lovingly) invented an entirely new type of game, this book is for you. If you have ever wanted a deep, deep dive into the history of sci-fi/fantasy, wargaming, simulationist gaming....oh boy is this book for you. As for me, I was always curious about how pulp fantasy, existing wargames, and more narrative games like Diplomacy were mixed, stirred and heated to create role-playing games. The answer is here. So if I liked it so well, why not a fifth star? As noted above, I took an average. But more specifically, this book is definitely not for everyone. It takes a very scholarly approach. The whole book is massively detailed and rigidly organized. Each section follows a carefully numbered outline. (Chapter 3 is "System - The Rules of the Game." Section 3.2 is "System in Dungeons and Dragons." Part 3.2.4 is "Individualization, Personality and Requisites." You get the idea.) For me, this was a marvelous exploration of a complex topic. For some, even many fans of RPGs generally and D&D in particular, I'm guessing it'll prove about as entertaining as watching a leaky faucet drip. And drip. And drip. For those of us with a deep, scholarly interest in the topic Mr. Peterson has done an immeasurable service in conducting countless interviews, diving deep into many thousands of pages of original documentation, and thinking deeply on the topic to create a work, really virtually a Master's thesis, on role-playing history. I say bravo! Highly recommended for the right kind of reader.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Wayne McCoy

    'Playing at the World' is a 720 page book about the history of the game Dungeons and Dragons that is exhaustive and completely exhausting. So much so, that I gave up on page 345, and I wasn't even halfway through. I wouldn't normally review something that is unfinished, but I did look through the remainder of the book to see that is was more of the same. The book discusses everything that influenced the creation of the game. While much of this is interesting, the amount of detail bogs everything 'Playing at the World' is a 720 page book about the history of the game Dungeons and Dragons that is exhaustive and completely exhausting. So much so, that I gave up on page 345, and I wasn't even halfway through. I wouldn't normally review something that is unfinished, but I did look through the remainder of the book to see that is was more of the same. The book discusses everything that influenced the creation of the game. While much of this is interesting, the amount of detail bogs everything down. Starting with Avalon Hill's wargames in the 1950s, we see the development of a gaming community. Discussed are fanzines, gatherings, and play by mail campaigns. The early days of GenCon are discussed (which is still an annual convention). From there, we move to an extensive discussion of much of the fantasy literature of the 20th century that D&D finds inspiration from. As a fan of SF, this was also interesting, but more detailed than it needed to be. Mixed in is a discussion of the political times during the forming of the game, and the backlash that more modern wargames were suffering from a nation at war in Vietnam. The third section of the book goes way back into the history of wargaming, discussing chess and moving forward to D&D. This is really where I lost complete interest in the book. While the Kriegsspiel games are interesting, and the formulation of dice as a randomizer for war simulation, this section should have been it's own book. Sections four and five come back to discuss mechanics of the game as we know it today. This level of detail seems more appropriate since it deals with the actual subject matter of the book. The writing is fine, and for true fans of the game, this is a comprehensive history. For the rest of us, the sheer scope of the book is completely overwhelming, and not likely to gain new fans to the hobby.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Juhana Pettersson

    The book is a vast achievement, single-handedly expanding the early history of roleplaying games and D&D by a massive degree. If I were to teach a course on the history of roleplaying games, the first half would come from here. I was amazed at all the details, like Gygax's religious beliefs, that I never knew despite thinking myself well informed. When on the core subject of D&D prehistory and events around the game's publication, the book is solid gold. The only small criticism I have is that w The book is a vast achievement, single-handedly expanding the early history of roleplaying games and D&D by a massive degree. If I were to teach a course on the history of roleplaying games, the first half would come from here. I was amazed at all the details, like Gygax's religious beliefs, that I never knew despite thinking myself well informed. When on the core subject of D&D prehistory and events around the game's publication, the book is solid gold. The only small criticism I have is that when Playing at the World ventures out of its comfort zone, the results are not always excellent. Sometimes sweeping statements are made concerning things like story, immersion, or the research of games and play, seemingly without awareness of the recent studies of these subjects. The epilogue draws links between D&D and early videogames in a way that doesn't really work. But these are minor quibbles in an otherwise superb book. Whatever issues there are, they're in the framing, not the real content.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Arnout Brokking

    8 thoughts on Playing at the World by Jon Peterson 1. The title and the blurb are somewhat misleading Playing at the World or, to call the book by its full name: Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People, and Fantastic Adventures from Chess to Role-Playing Games, promises to “Explore the conceptual origins of wargames and role-playing games in this unprecedented history of simulating the real and the impossible.” That’s not only quite the mouth full, it’s also both ambitious and i 8 thoughts on Playing at the World by Jon Peterson 1. The title and the blurb are somewhat misleading Playing at the World or, to call the book by its full name: Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People, and Fantastic Adventures from Chess to Role-Playing Games, promises to “Explore the conceptual origins of wargames and role-playing games in this unprecedented history of simulating the real and the impossible.” That’s not only quite the mouth full, it’s also both ambitious and interesting. So I anxiously started to read the 720 pages behemoth at the beginning of the year, only to discover that the scope of the tome was quite a bit smaller than ‘role-playing games’. It is almost exclusively about the origin and history Dungeons and Dragons. What the scope misses in breadth, however, is has in depth… 2. There’s detailed and there’s detailed Writing Playing at the World must have been a labor of love. Everything is meticulously researched and annotated. There’s details within details within details. This does not make it an easy book to read. It quite often crosses the boundary from exhaustive into exhausting, even for the interested reader. There are many fascinating bits of information, but there’s also a lot of specifics included more for completeness than for explanation or education. I often had the feeling I was reading a PhD thesis than a work of non-fiction. Though I must say I learned some very interesting things, like… 3. Dungeons and Dragons is, in origin, a war game, not a story game Being born out of the wargaming community and tracing its DNA back to the Prussian Kriegspiel, one cannot deny D&D is, at its core, a war game. The style of play that I personally like, and many with me judging by the success of shows like Critical Role or Harmonquest, is one of collaborative world building, of storytelling, role-playing and immersion. The emotion is much more important than the dice. But this is not where D&D started. And even though we are now many editions removed from original box, there can still be moments where that tension between its strategic origin and narrative potential is felt. I thought it was very interesting to trace the origin of this clash between the dice/spells/hit points and personality/conflict/drama. 4. Fantasy in the US had a problematic start From H.P. Lovecraft’s racism and misogyny to Robert E. Howard’s warped view on age and masculinity, the stories that have shaped Dungeons and Dragons were often problematic even for those days. And although I think that Wizards of the Coast are trying their hardest to make D&D as inclusive as they can, it is important to remember where the fantasy community (and especially the one in the US) came from. To keep challenging old ideals and traditions and to reach out beyond its base demographic of white, cis-hetero, middle-class men. 5. Toxic fandom is nothing new As a continuation on that thought, I found it really interesting to read more about some of the earliest fantasy and science fiction magazines in the US. Weird Tales being the most (in)famous of them. The magazine, which not only showcased some of the best Pup-writing, but also the most racist, sexist and homophobic, had a write-in section filled with suggestions by readers, and although Playing at the World only briefly touches on it, the parallels with some of these letters and current “fan” “outrage” about inclusive films like Return of the Jedi are striking. It again shows how fantasy (again, especially in the US) did not develop out of a safe space for anyone other than the straight white male, and how there still is much work to do before it can be. And still, in Dungeons & Dragons’ DNA there are other voices too. Like… 6. H.G. Wells and Robert Stevenson played at war as pacifists As an ardent pacifist H.G. Wells once remarked that by playing a war game, and immersing one’s self in the events, one could not escape the realization how horribly inhuman the whole affair was. So he wrote the rules for Little Wars, maybe the first of the modern war games. The thought of these two literary talents, writers of classics like Treasure Island, War of the Worlds, etc., crawling over the living room floor, moving miniatures around, amuses me immensely. That coupled with a genuine desire by both men to do good in the world, was a welcome relief. 7. Goethe and the Brontë’s were role-players In the same vein, Playing at the World touches on Goethe’s fascination with role-playing, as evidenced in his opera Lila in which a young woman is cured of hallucinations by the willingness of the people around her to role-play along. And then there are the Brontë siblings whose shared imaginary worlds sound awesome, and fascinating, and at times tragic. Those were the things I wanted to delve deeper into, but for my taste they got a bit lost in all the other details. 8. Paradoxically, I wanted more I think the subject is fascinating, I really enjoyed parts like the history of chess or kriegspiel, and the links with literature, but it was so focused on Dungeons and Dragons. I wanted to know about other cultures and their role-playing games, about other systems and other genres. I also wanted to know about Dungeons and Dragons after 1980, and how it moved from go-there-kill-monster-get-loot to more a story-driven game. So should why should you read it? If you are a die-hard Dungeons and Dragons fan with an interest in the minutiae on its history, then this book is perfect for you. Five stars. A tour de force. If you are not, it is too easy to get bogged down in all the details.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Roland Bruno

    Makes High Gygaxian sound positively Shakespearean. Far too much time is spent on the Wargaming history behind RPGS. This makes for encyclopaedic reading at best and tedious beyond words at its worst. Expansive lists and repetitive descriptions on the fictional inspirations behind D&D are positively minute in detail. Overwrought, dry and bruisingly without a whit of life. Reads like a laundry list. Makes High Gygaxian sound positively Shakespearean. Far too much time is spent on the Wargaming history behind RPGS. This makes for encyclopaedic reading at best and tedious beyond words at its worst. Expansive lists and repetitive descriptions on the fictional inspirations behind D&D are positively minute in detail. Overwrought, dry and bruisingly without a whit of life. Reads like a laundry list.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Clark

    Wow, what a blockbuster read! I got so nostalgic reading this book that I felt homesick for the good old days of the Golden Age of RPGs. Jam-packed with information, well-written, pretty well organized, and exhaustive. Quite a few typos but I can live with that in a work of this dedication and specialty. Read every page, enjoyed almost every page, and wish I'd had a lot more $$ and time back in the day. Great book and my favorite read in a long, long time.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Martin Rundkvist

    As a late-80s teen, my main interests were role-playing games, choose-your-own-adventure books, boardgames, fantasy miniatures, text adventure software and fantasy fiction. I still have a love of all these things, and of history, and so it would be difficult to envision a subject matter for a book that would be better-tailored to my taste. And the execution, the scholarship in this book and the writing and the illustrations, are absolutely top-notch. Amazing stuff!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Eric Jackson

    Almost a textbook, or a primary resource for the evolution of the wargaming and role-playing industry. The book ends abruptly as the development of dungeons and dragons is beginning and Gus is ultimately unsatisfying after waiting through quite a bit of historical minutia. Still, an excellent reference

  22. 4 out of 5

    Robert A.

    Very dry survey of the history of wargaming and how it evolved into tabletop RPG's then a brief epilogue into computer RPGs & Choose-Your-Own-Adventure type books. Only really recommend it if you're very curious about the evolution of roleplaying games and where it has led to so far and the history (with plenty of minutiae) behind it all. Very dry survey of the history of wargaming and how it evolved into tabletop RPG's then a brief epilogue into computer RPGs & Choose-Your-Own-Adventure type books. Only really recommend it if you're very curious about the evolution of roleplaying games and where it has led to so far and the history (with plenty of minutiae) behind it all.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kin Guan

    It's a excruciatingly detailed book on Dungeons & Dragons. Had a good blast reading it but I failed my d20 check and got bored. If you want to know more the minds behind the Pen and Paper role playing game, jump into the portal and read this. It's a excruciatingly detailed book on Dungeons & Dragons. Had a good blast reading it but I failed my d20 check and got bored. If you want to know more the minds behind the Pen and Paper role playing game, jump into the portal and read this.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Reza

    Too long, it was like reading a historical essay which is partly true. Nevertheless I enjoyed reading it. Still it's not for everybody. You have to either have enough free time or have to read it because of your job or study.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Woll

    More of a college textbook, with pretty heavy reading, it's still pretty fascinating. Not just a history of D&D, the book also references almost all early war games and board games from 1930-1980ish, including Diplomacy, Gettysburg, and other early Avalon Hill titles. More of a college textbook, with pretty heavy reading, it's still pretty fascinating. Not just a history of D&D, the book also references almost all early war games and board games from 1930-1980ish, including Diplomacy, Gettysburg, and other early Avalon Hill titles.

  26. 4 out of 5

    John

    Packed with information and research, but a bit dry and academic. Still, the sheer amount of work to assemble a history from fragments of ephemera is laudable.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    A very detailed history of D&D following the origins of the game to release of the Advanced rules. A very detailed history of D&D following the origins of the game to release of the Advanced rules.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Terrific and thorough testament to the hobby of role-playing games and their origins.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Summers-Stay

    Dungeons and Dragons is a hugely influential game, but growing up it felt like a secret known only to a few. Impossibly complicated, it combines miniature wargaming with improvisational theater and the worlds of Aragorn, Conan, and Fafhrd. I spent many happy hours playing the game, but many, many more reading the Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual, making my own modules, designing miniatures, illustrating battles, and categorizing monsters. I always wondered where it came from. What was i Dungeons and Dragons is a hugely influential game, but growing up it felt like a secret known only to a few. Impossibly complicated, it combines miniature wargaming with improvisational theater and the worlds of Aragorn, Conan, and Fafhrd. I spent many happy hours playing the game, but many, many more reading the Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual, making my own modules, designing miniatures, illustrating battles, and categorizing monsters. I always wondered where it came from. What was it that made the comic-book-named Gary Gygax the one to invent the game? Why was the company called Tactical Studies Rules? What was the story about Greyhawk, Mordenkainen, Vecna, and the rest of the characters and places that already were part of the background of the world by the time the Dungeon Master's Guide was written? Except for the cost of paper, there was no reason a similar game couldn't have been invented a thousand years before-- played only by monks in monasteries, a combination of the Ragman's Roll, the Theater of the Mind, and divination by dice. This book explains how each element got added to the stew. Starting with wargames, adding in rules for fantasy creatures, moving to playing individuals rather than armies, adding in dungeons, polyhedral dice, etc... The sections on monsters felt kind of scattered and unfinished, mainly because I know a lot about where dragons and griffons come from, mythologically speaking. I would have been more interested to know more about where the bullette, rust monster, owlbear, beholder, and other creatures unique to the game originated.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Want a book that describes the creation of Dungeons & Dragons? [Wild, enthusiastic cheering from the crowd] One that includes a history of epic fantasy that influenced its setting? [Hurray!] One that includes a detailed look at the various wargaming groups and zines and cons in the decades prior to Arneson and Gygax meeting and creating the rules? [Scattered cheers] A book that covers a thorough history of wargaming, from chess through German kriegsspiel and military wargaming, to the development o Want a book that describes the creation of Dungeons & Dragons? [Wild, enthusiastic cheering from the crowd] One that includes a history of epic fantasy that influenced its setting? [Hurray!] One that includes a detailed look at the various wargaming groups and zines and cons in the decades prior to Arneson and Gygax meeting and creating the rules? [Scattered cheers] A book that covers a thorough history of wargaming, from chess through German kriegsspiel and military wargaming, to the development of entertaining wargames by the authors Robert Louis Stevenson and H.G. Wells? Naval wargames created by civilians in the early 20th century? [Maybe!] A book that covers over a century of "let's pretend" games, including such topics as the Bronte siblings' shared imaginative world (!?), RAND political simulations, and the boardgame Diplomacy? [Why not?] One that describes the rise of TSR, the monumental success of D&D, and legal battles with its many imitators? [polite applause] Over 600 pages long! [clap?] With footnotes! [crickets] You there, the remaining nerd at the back! Do I ever have a book for YOU young lady! ---- This is a long, dry, exhausting book. Worth five stars for devoted fans of D&D and role-playing, probably a lot fewer for everyone else.

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