Thursday, 29 November 2018

Dungeons and Dragons: Art and Arcana

I recently bought Dungeons and Dragons, Art and Arcana, a huge book full of images of D&D paraphenalia and a concise history of the publishing history of D&D in its various incarnations over time.

I've never been a (A)D&D player. When I started playing roleplaying games in the mid-eighties, I was totally addicted to Warhammer, and hence Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was my preferred system. I gamesmastered every single adventure that was published, and The Enemy Within campaign still is the pinnacle of my GM career. The only other game I played regularly was Call of Cthulhu. All other game systems were limited to a single adventure lasting only a few sessions, and that also included some (A)D&D adventures. The original Ravenloft module is still fondly remembered.

That doesn't mean I didn't own any D&D material. I used to buy a ton of roleplay related stuff in the 80s and 90s as inspiration for my WFRP campaigns, and that included a fair amount of D&D books and adventures. I sold most of them again after a few years, but still have some of the basic rulebooks, spread over different editions.

It's hard to say why we never really got into (A)D&D. I guess we felt too sophisticated as roleplayers. preferring the Lovecraftian setting of Call of Cthulhu, or the dark medieval setting of Warhammer, rather than the somewhat fancy, high-fantasy settings of (A)D&D. Personally, I always felt that the settings of (A)D&D reflected an American view on what a medieval fantasy world should look like, as compared to a more grim and realistic view favoured by Europeans, whose history it all is based on. There is a certain dose of down-to-earth realism that you get when a real medieval castle is literally around the corner, instead of only having heard about it or having seen it in romanticized movies.

But anyway, the Art and Arcana book is an excellent book for anyone interested in the origins and development of roleplaying games. It shows a host of products, books, modules, spin-off products, along with many of the adverts and covers of gaming magazines that are very recognizable and bring back strong memories.

It is also enlightening to read about how business decisions were made by TSR (does anyone remember when using T$R was in vogue on Usenet?) or Wizards of the Coast to gain marketshare in the broader gaming market. Indeed, the popularity of Magic the Gathering during the nineties, or computer games, or Warhammer and Warhammer 40K, and the response to those, are all nicely explained.

(A)D&D has never been, and probably will never be my primary choice for fantasy roleplaying, but this book is a must-have for anyone who wants to take a trip down memory lane. Highly recommended!

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