Monday, January 2, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: Playing at the World - How RPGs Came To Be

Playing at the WorldWell, it's arrived: my copy of Jon Peterson's Playing at the World. If you don't know what this is about, allow me to quote the blurb:

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.

This book is the first serious work of historical research done on the early days of role-playing games. If you ever played any such RPG, be it at the table or (more likely) on a PC or a console, then you should be interested in this book. Within its pages are the origins of many tropes we now take for granted. It's not light reading or a slim volume; this is a 600+ page tome of academic-grade historical research.

Well, if you're at all interested in this matter, stick around. For as long as this takes, I'll read this beast and put forth the time to read this beast and make regular posts about what's therein. I'm not promising a set schedule, but rather a recurring feature topic in specific for this year. All such posts will have "PATW" as a label, so you'll easily be able to search for them after the fact.

In the meantime, I await the completion of a memoir by one of Gary & Dave's old crew of players, Michael "Old Geezer" Monard. It is through him that I began to learn the true origins of many Dungeons & Dragons (and thus, many RPG, tropes): including one that was not revealed until last year in the wake of another old-timers death, the origin of the Magic-User class. If there is more to report, you'll see it here as soon as I get the word.


  1. Generally speaking, I discourage people from reading PatW, but since you seem quite determined to do so and engaged in the history, I'll be interested to hear what you think.

    It is a book that's now almost five years old, and in the intervening time, new things have come to light. For example, I had a different opinion of the origins of the Magic-user class before I encountered Leonard Patt's 1970 fantasy wargame. So I recommend attacking PatW with occasional glances at some of the updates in my blog. Someday, it will be time to give the book a bit of a refresh...

    1. I'm almost finished reading the book, any pointers to the most relevant blog posts for updates? It's a good read, and interesting to see how some of the names I know from MITSGS fit into the picture.

      One bit that was cleared up a bit for me in the book but wonder if you have any updated information on is Glenn Blacow's entry into RPGs. I remember him claiming involvement with Midgard before D&D which always confused me a bit, and it sounds like maybe his timeline wasn't quite right...

      These days I also wish I had not performed a lossy physical compression of my Wild Hunt archives, I had many of the early issues courtesy of Glenn.