Sunday, December 2, 2012

A History of RPGs: The Fantasy Role-Playing Gamer's Bible


Sean Patrick Fannon's The Fantasy Role-Playing Gamer's Bible is a great book. I read it cover-to-cover back when it came out in 1996, gobbling up his history of RPGs, learning about all the gaming companies out there at the time, and being amused with his side commentary and comics by Stick Figure Theater. His early chapters are a great tutorial for those starting out in RPGs. His advice can still stand the test of time. Beginners and veterans will enjoy this book, even though it might be dated.

But that's not why this book is important!

This book is a snap-shot of the RPG industry as it was back in 1996, right before TSR went bankrupt. Back then, West End Games still produced Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. Iron Crown Enterprises published Middle-Earth Roleplaying. FUDGE, by Steffan O'Sullivan, was the first fully-developed RPG published on the Internet.

And you know what's really interesting: Fannon ranked TSR as #1 out of the top five RPG companies at the time. Hindsight, of course, gives us 20/20 vision when reading why he put TSR as #1.

"No surprise, really. They have dominated the role-playing game market since their inception, and there is simply no game line that is more well-known, nationally, or internationally, that AD&D. Add to that a massive number of support products, all of which are tied into popular novel series, comic books, miniature lines, and computer games of all types, and you see a dynasty that is in no danger of toppling [emphasis added]. Granted WotC shook them up by surpassing their overall sales recently, but they remain the major RPG producer." (page 218)

Wizards of the Coast didn't even make this list, or any of Fannon's other lists, because they were focused on collectible card games, not RPGs.

Yet Fannon acknowledged that WotC was shaking up the industry. Dozens of companies went under. Everybody wanted to create the next Magic: The Gathering. TSR supposedly designed Spellfire in a weekend. In 1995, dozens of companies had come out with their own CCGs. 

"Of course, adding to the whole circus was TSR's latest 'big thing,' DragonDice--an actual collectible dice game. Where would all this lead? Somebody get me my Magic 8 Ball..." (page 157). 

Wow. 

I mean, who really saw that TSR was about to implode? I heard some rumors. But I didn't know anything for sure until my Dragon magazine stopped coming in the mail. (If you did know or suspect something, please share your story). 

Maybe this is why Fannon came out with a second edition of the The Fantasy Role-playing Gamers Bible in 1999. I haven't read it. But it might be worth taking a look

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