Vintage RPG FAQ

Hi, welcome to the Vintage RPG FAQ. You’re probably here because you read my book, subscribed to the Vintage RPG Newsletter, follow Vintage RPG on Instagram or on Tumblr, or listen to the Vintage RPG Podcast. And you have questions. Well, I’m Stu – I run the joint and I have (some) answers. I get these questions a lot, so hopefully this satisfies your burning curiosity. If not, drop me a line at [email protected]!

Who exactly are you?

I’m Stu Horvath. I’ve been a player of tabletop RPGs for pretty much my entire life and a culture critic since about 2007. I got my start at the New York Daily News and have had bylines at a bunch of places like Wired, Paste, Complex and others, but I mainly write for my own publication, Unwinnable. If you like Vintage RPG, you might like Unwinnable too.

What’s the deal with your Instagram?

The short answer: it seemed like fun to post about my collection of tabletop roleplaying stuff.

The long answer: I think too much, particularly about stuff I love. I’ve always loved tabletop roleplaying games, even the bad ones, and have accumulated a ton of opinions about them, so this seemed like a good way to get all that out. In a lot of ways, the Instagram feed is all one big notebook for my book, Monsters, Aliens, and Holes in the Ground. Regardless, RPGs are my happy place – I often spend some time rearranging or reorganizing the shelves as a nerdy version of meditation after a rough day – so I figured I could integrate that happiness into my daily life and have an excuse to use my camera more to boot. I never once thought people would actually pay attention to it, but it is pretty cool that y’all did. Thanks!

There’s a Newsletter now, too?

I’m rather tired Instagram seemingly doing everything in its power to make communicating with my follower as difficult as possible. A newsletter seems like a great way to solve that problem. I plan to post mini-essays every weekday on this site, then send out a newsletter collecting those posts on Fridays. You can read as we go, or wait to get everything in your inbox in one go at the end of the week. Posts will continue as normal on Instagram for now, but my hope is to eventually get to a point where I only do a once-a-week recap there.

You can sign up for the newsletter here!

You wrote a book?

Yep! A couple, actually. The first one, published by MIT Press, is called Monsters, Aliens and Holes in the Ground: A Guide to Tabletop Roleplaying Games from D&D to Mothership and is a decade-by-decade look at RPGs from 1974 to 2020. It is very large and was on store shelves starting on October 10, 2023.

The second one will be out in the spring of 2025. It’s an editorial project, really, a collection of quotes from many sources forming up an analects that reflects on the nature of “dungeons” as a mythic place for exploration. It’s called Down, Down, Down and will be published by Strange Attractor Press.

There are a couple projects in-progress currently. The most complete one is currently called Monstrous Descents and it’s a book about monsters, starting with the 1977 Monster Manual and sort of working back through time into literature, folklore and mythology to pick through the origins of our favorite beasties. Hoping to kickstart that in 2026? Maybe.

You can get excerpts, musings on process and updates on all these things and more by signing up for the Vintage RPG Patreon.

What’s the podcast?

Me and my co-host and producer Hambone chat for 30-ish minutes about a roleplaying game that has caught my attention. We get into the history, the art and the impact. You can check it out here.

Hambone’s got a lot of other stuff going on, including his own RPG system, 3-2-1 Action! You should check it out!

Will you ever make the podcast longer?

I get this question a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I know you think you want longer episodes, but I think keeping to the philosophy of “leave ’em wanting more” will work in everyone’s best interests.

So, about that Patreon?

You can check out our Patreon here. It is a great way for us to give folks a peak behind the curtain, interact directly and offset some of our costs. Mostly, its an excuse to spend more time doing cool RPG-related stuff.

Right now, you get access to the patrons-only section of our Discord, early access to new podcast episodes every Friday and my Patron newsletter. Hambone’s been running one-shot RPG sessions ever month as well, and I have an ongoing West Marches campaign using Old-School Essentials that will eventually get turned into another book!

Does everything you post come from your personal collection?

Yup, gods help me. The collection currently resides on the dozen shelves seen in the first post on the Instagram, a neat loft space and something like 19 27 17 storage boxes (I’ve been downsizing). This might sound like a lot or a little, depending on your own collection. My brain says this is probably too much, but my heart is actually a bit surprised at how little space it takes up, all things considered.

I’ve never played a tabletop RPG – where’s the best place to start?

This is a tricky question because we are at a point in time where the definition of what an RPG is has become wonderfully broad – there are all kinds of different games for different people now. The important thing to remember is that anyone can play an RPG and it is much easier to run or play than you might think.

If you want to try Dungeons & Dragons – which is probably the easiest thing to do since the game is played pretty much everywhere – find a beginners group playing Fifth Edition. It is modern and streamlined and you’ll have a good time.

Mausritter is a great introductory roleplaying game – the core concepts are similar to D&D but the rules system is way simpler.

I am a big fan of literally every indie storytelling game I’ve read – these have light rules, can usually be played in a single session and cover a wide variety of themes. Fiasco is a good starting point (though folks who are used to older RPGs, particularly D&D, might find storytelling games surprisingly difficult to get a grip on).

Tales from the Loop is a mystery game where social interaction is favored over physical violence. It has rules that are easy to pick up. I’ve run it a couple times and it is always a blast, for players of all experience levels.

Finally, if you’re a horror fan, just dive right into Call of Cthulhu (the seventh edition rules are the best).

How about RPG history? Where is a good place to start?

I don’t have a good answer for this. Most of what I know, I’ve absorbed over years of reading, talking to folks and occasionally looking stuff up on the internet. RPGnet is a great resource. I also devoured Shannon Appelclines’ four-volume Designers & Dragons when my very supportive wife got them for me for Christmas. Oh, and I guess my book, too. But I’m no historian.

Have you played all the games you’ve posted?

I wish. I’ve read nearly everything, though.

What games have you run?

A lot of Dungeons & Dragons, so much so that I doubt I will ever seriously run it again (even as I type, that, though, it sounds like a lie [it was – I’m having a lot of fun running the West Marches D&D campaign for Patrons). I’ve also run Call of Cthulhu, Pendragon, Stormbringer, HeroQuest, Blades in the Dark, Tales from the Floating Vagabond, Alien, West End’s Star Wars, Marvel Super Heroes, Mouse Guard, Tales from the Loop, Middle-Earth Roleplaying and probably a bunch of stuff I am forgetting right now.

What games have you played?

A lot of Dungeons & Dragons. Every edition, in fact, including the Red Box. I’ve also played Star Wars, Paranoia, GURPS, After the Bomb, Marvel Super Heroes, Nightlife, Vampire: The Masquerade, Rememorex, TORG, Troika, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Electric Bastionland, Honey Heist, Chill and some Powered by the Apocalypse games, not to mention a bunch of solo games. A lot of board games, too, if you were wondering.  

Where do you get all this stuff?

I accumulated a good deal of it over the course of playing RPGs from about the time I was in fourth grade (1988-ish?) to the present. I only started seriously collecting in the last ten years. For that, I mostly dig around on the usual spots online (eBay, ABE Books, some Facebook auction groups) until I find a good price for whatever I am looking for. Sometimes people give me stuff when they are cleaning out their house. Those people are very nice. Hit me up if you just gotta get that box of D&D books out of the attic. Seriously.

Why collect this stuff?

The basic answer is because I enjoy reading RPG rules and sourcebooks. A more precise answer is that a few years back, I began to miss a (sizable) number of RPG books that were no longer in my possession thanks to a flooded basement, selling them off and, occasionally, borrowers not returning them. Things slowly got out of control after that, obviously.

Any advice for new collectors?

Patience, first and foremost. The collector’s market for this stuff is ridiculously overpriced, so the best bit of advice I can give you is: If you don’t see it for a reasonable price, wait. With the exception of some genuinely rare items from the early days and some short run modern publications, these books had print runs that were large enough to accommodate the small number of people who collect them. You shouldn’t pay anything much more than three times the cover price and even then, most things can be found on the cheap if you are patient.

That said, truly rare books only get more rare (and more expensive). So maybe try to pick off the high priced stuff on your list first.

Are you on the hunt for anything at the moment?

Glad you asked! You can check out all the non-TSR books I am looking for here. As for TSR, I have all the first edition AD&D products (oh god how did that happen?) and about half of the rest of their output, so a want list would be unwieldy, but if you’re looking to unload stuff, let me know. Same goes for adventure game books.

What is your favorite tabletop roleplaying game?

It is impossible to pick favorites. Dungeons & Dragons is the blue jeans of RPGs – I might have problems with it, and it doesn’t suit every occasion, but it is a classic without rival. I think every game has it charms, though. Call of Cthulhu is probably the one I enjoy the most, RuneQuest has the world I find most fascinating and countless indie games have mechanics that delight me, but Pendragon is the closest to something I would call my favorite. It is a beautifully realized game, from concept to theme to mechanics. A real underappreciated masterpiece.

What is your favorite Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting?

Planescape, by a large margin. There is a lot to love in most of them, though.

What is your favorite Dungeons & Dragons edition?

Second, also by a large margin. And I say that fully recognizing how crappy it got in the middle.

Who is your favorite RPG artist?

Again, impossible to pick favorites. It is easier to go by era. Dave Trampier or Russ Nicholson for the old school. Keith Parkinson for the 80s. Tony DiTerlizzi and Stephen Fabian for the 90s. There are too many excellent artists working today in too many different styles to pick a favorite.

You sometimes talk about social issues as related to RPGs. Aren’t games just supposed to be fun?

I don’t see fun and dealing with important issues as being mutually exclusive. I am a Lovecraft fan, so I have lots of practice in enjoying things while wrestling with questionable stuff they contain. I think it is important to be able to identify and examine things like sexism, racism and homophobia in creative works. Sometimes, you can set the negative aspects of things aside and still enjoy them – but only if you take a good hard look at them and are open to discussing them. Other times, the gross outweighs the good – you won’t ever see those books in my feed.

What is your deal with manticores?

Sigh. Look, the manticore is a legendary creature of antiquity. I don’t think because something is old means that it is perfect – remix, reimagine, do whatever – but manticores were cool (and creepy) as they were, with their three rows of teeth and siren-like voice. Giving them wings actually works against the idea of the manticore as a sneaky, opportunistic man-hunter. I don’t know who first gave manticores wings (it predates roleplaying games – there are winged manticores in Roger Zelazny’s 1972 novel The Guns of Avalon) but I would like to find out so I can send them a strongly worded letter.