Book2 9

Fantasy Role Playing Games (1981)

This week is a little bit of a “How to be like Vintage RPG” crash course, revealing some of the books that have filled my head with history of the games I rattle on about. Let’s start with the oldest of them, Fantasy Role Playing Games (1981), by J. Eric Holmes, the same Holmes who shepherded the original Basic Set Dungeons & Dragons into existence.

In the early 80s, a bunch of books came out  that were sort of introductions to the idea of RPGs, mixed with brief how-tos and overviews of the market. You saw one in yesterday’s revised reprint. This is another and it is probably my favorite of the ones I have read. The first third or so of the book is an overview of the key concepts of how to play, complete with transcripts of game sessions and a sort of read-along dungeon. Holmes shines, though, when he gets to the history of Dungeons & Dragons, in which he was a firsthand eye witness for a time the immediacy of his account is engrossing even if he is an unabashed Gygax cheerleader.

He follows this with a look at other games on the market (including big ones like RuneQuest and Traveller as well as odd ones like Bunnies & Burrows and Superhero 44), miniatures and the magazines (both the semi-pro stuff like Dragon and the zines like Alarums & Excursions). The brief chapter on computer games is a hoot and rightly spends a chunk of time on Zork.

I particularly like the penultimate chapter, which discusses the supposed perils of roleplaying, makes a spirited defense of the hobby and also muses on the sorts of people who are attracted to it. It is one of the earliest acknowledgments of the hobby’s gender disparity and Holmes has some thoughtful ideas on why that is. It is his hope, back in 1981, that parity will be attained when RPGs are more popular and socially accepted. Nearly 40 years later, I like to think it is moving in that direction.  

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