The RPG reference bookshelf

I’ve been doing some amateur research on role playing games and in the process have acquired a number of books on them. There’s been some serious scholarship on RPGs in recent years, but I’ll limit this to the early days — the twentieth century. Most of these books fall into one of three categories: introductory type “What is a role playing game?”, guides to improve your play, or studies of RPGs from some viewpoint — possibly academic, but most often religious, and almost all of those are part of the literature of the Satanic Panic. Each listing has a short annotation, but it’s been a long time since I read a few of these.

Albrect, Bob, and Greg Stafford. The Adventurer’s Handbook: A guide to role-playing games. Reston, Va. : Reston Publishing, 1984. An introduction to RPGs, with particular emphasis on Stafford’s “Basic Role Playing” system which forms the core mechanics of RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu, and other Chaosium games. The reader is walked through making several characters, and given some solo scenarios to play out with them. The book also includes some reviews of the major games available, suggestions for GMs, and a discussion of accessories like miniatures and magazines. The book as a whole is designed like a school workbook, with short quizzes at the end of each section and art that reminded me of my elementary school days in the 70s. Far out. Overall it’s an interesting artifact.

Butterfield, John, Philip Parker, and David Honigmann. What is Dungeons & Dragons? Warner Books, 1982. A guidebook introducing role-playing and D&D to a general audience. The authors were college students, apparently commissioned to write this book to fill a gap in the mass market. The US paperback has a label clarifying “DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is a federally registered trademark of TSR, Inc. Use of TSR’s trademarks and the contents of this book have not been approved by TSR.” The book outlines the basics of D&D with a glossary of terms, a sample dungeon, an extensive recommended reading list, and some discussion of other the other games then available, including some board games which might inspire D&D settings.

Craun, Joan, and Ludwick, Rick. (Eds.) GamesMaster Catalog: A comprehensive illustrated guide to games. Clifton, Virginia : Boynton & Associates, 1980. Perhaps intended to be an annual, this was the first attempt to be a comprehensive listing of RPGs, wargames, board games, miniatures, and accessories. The board games covered are specialist/hobby games: no Parker Bros. or Milton Bradley. Each company provided samples and information about their games, which were photographed for this catalog. This is far from comprehensive, but covers a lot of smaller companies, and is a glimpse into the market at the time.

Fannon, Sean Patrick. The Fantasy Role-Playing Gamer’s Bible. Prima Publishing, 1996. A reference book that attempts to be an overview of RPGs for novices as well as a source book for experienced gamers. Of note are the extensive glossary, timeline, and extensive notes on gamer culture. The informal writing style may be charming or grating.

Fine, Gary Alan. Shared Fantasy: Role-playing games as social worlds. University of Chicago Press, 1983. A landmark study of D&D and Empire of the Petal Throne gamers from a sociologist’s perspective. At one time this was the ONLY academic treatise on the game and likely to be found in every university library in the 1980s and 1990s. It has garnered some controversy as some of Fine’s subjects say that did not agree to be identified in the book, and felt that their academic reputations and careers were damaged by the quotes.

Galloway, Bruce, et al. Fantasy Wargaming. Cambridge : Patrick Stephens Ltd., 1981. Technically both a game in itself and a treatise, it was noted by Butterfield, Parker, and Hongimann (1982) as one of the only nonfiction works on D&D (alongside Holmes (1981). The book includes both a running critique of D&D and some anecdotes of actual play, along with extensive GM suggestions more appropriate to D&D or T&T than the included game.

Gygax, Gary. Master of the Game. New York : Perigree Books, 1989. Gygax’s book on becoming a better game master, along with suggestions for getting more involved in the industry through conventions, publishing, etc.

Gygax, Gary. Role-Playing Mastery. New York : Perigree Books, 1987. Gygax’s book on becoming a better player and game master.

Hackett, Martin. Fantasy wargaming: games with magic & monsters. Wellingborough : Patrick Stephens Limited, 1990. While the focus is much more on wargames than role-playing, there is some background on RPGs and some of the wargame scenarios presented are really skirmish-level engagements in a dungeon. I’ve always suspect that this was the book Patrick Stephens Ltd. expected Galloway’s book to be.

Holmes, John Eric. Fantasy Roleplaying Games. New York : Hippocrene Books, 1981. Groundbreaking as the first popular work about RPGs, and notable for being written by the editor of the first “basic” D&D boxed set. D&D is not the only game covered, and the extensive photographs of contemporary games, miniatures, and set-ups is a plus.

Larson, Bob. Satanism: the seduction of America’s youth. Nashville : T. Nelson Publishers, 1989. Bob Larson was a radio evangelist and now grifts as an exorcist. I remember when this book was new, as I was working my first library job in high school, and we had a sadly large collection of stuff like this. There were chapters on Satanism in pop culture, and the threat of cults, and some hilarious appendices: “A parent’s guide to occult games, ” “A supplemental guide to Dungeons & dragons,” and “A parent’s guide to black metal music.” I don’t remember too much about it after 30 years, so I recently ordered a copy via interlibrary loan. 

Leithart, Peter, and George Grant. A Christian Response to Dungeons and Dragons: The cathechism of the New Age. Fort Worth, Texas : Dominion Press, 1987. An 18 page pamphlet which is a pretty good representative of the Satanic Panic literature. “FRP activity” is linked to “more than a hundred suicide and murder cases” and similar claims are made without citation, although the suggested reading, to be fair, does include two pamphlets published by TSR. 

Livingstone, Ian. Dicing with Dragons: an introduction to role-playing games. Revised American Edition. New York : New American Library, 1983. A sort of popular guide to RPGs, notable for the choose-you-own-adventure type game that fills the first third of the book, with nice illustrations by Russ Nicholson. There are fairly in-depth explanations of D&D, RuneQuest, Tunnels & Trolls, and Traveller, followed by very brief entries on other games available at the time, as well as a listing of accessories like modules for the games. A brief chapter on miniatures has an interesting approach to painting I haven’t seen before. 

Plamondon, Robert. Through Dungeons Deep: A fantasy gamer’s handbook. Reston, Va. : Reston Publishing, 1982. A guide for role-playing and game mastering, it also includes a selection of reviews of games. I don’t own this one, but leafed through a copy. It was republished in 2008.

Porter, David. Children at Risk. Kingsway Publications, 1998. Devotes several chapters to role-playing games and their offshoots like Magic: the Gathering and their potential for harm to children. Porter is more “moral concern” than full Satanic Panic, and even recommends games based on Tolkien’s works as appropriate for Christians.

Robie, Joan Hake. The Truth about Dungeons & Dragons. Lancaster, Pa. : Timelee Books, 1991. Another full-throated Satanic Panic screechfest. The cover has a neat looking monster though.

Schick, Lawrence. Heroic worlds: a history and guide to role-playing games. Buffalo : Prometheus Books, 1991. The most ambitious RPG book, period. Schick catalogs every game and accessory that had been produced up until 1990, and gives each a short description. In my other life as a librarian I recognize what he’s doing as an attempt at a comprehensive bibliography, and he even assigns a code to each product. The entries are broken up by occasional quotes from important game designers, ranging from a single line to most of a page on various topics.

Swan, Rick. The complete guide to role-playing games. New York : St. Martin’s Press, 1990. It’s fortunate this follows alphabetically after Schick, as it is sort of the corollary to Schick’s book. Not as comprehensive, but much more detailed; no pretense of neutrality, and much more detailed in its assessments, although Swan tends to assess each game without regard to historical context as the ratings are meant to be practical guides rather than an historical review. 

Weldon, John, and James Bjornstad. Playing with Fire: Dungeons and Dragons, Tunnels and Trolls, Chivalry and Sorcery, and other fantasy games. Moody Press, 1984. A brief book on the occult dangers of playing D&D, and somewhat unusual in that it discusses some of the less well-known games of the time. It at least attempts to cite sources other than the KJ Bible and B.A.D.D. press releases, but is mostly hysterical nonsense fueled by out-of-context quotations.

 

Published in: on August 29, 2020 at 9:03 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Your list would make an impressive bibliography. Nice work.

  2. Great and thorough list of RPG references, right up my alley!

    Of these, I think Schick’s Heroic Worlds had the most influence on me. It was one of a few sources that helped me with the start of my reference site back in ’03.

    • Agreed. Schick is pretty awesome. I can’t imagine the effort it would take to update it now, or how many volumes that would be.


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