Thursday, 28 April 2011

Flashback to ... 1982, Dicing With Dragons

I'm going to share something with you.  Scans of a cover of a book.  Okay, here's some back-story and filler, but honestly, skip this rubbish and scroll down to the pretty pictures.

No, really, I don't mind!  Scroll! ;)

Some time in the early 80's I was just about already playing D&D (Mentzer's Red Box), amongst other games - perhaps I'd already moved over the AD&D - the peer pressure to play half elf druids and rangers was immense, but to this day I'm still in denial about bards and psionics.  But that's another story.  My entry into role-playing had actually come through the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, which I have to admit is still unfashionable to mention in some circles.  I still wonder now if those books were really just an elaborate of marketing campaign by the the founders of Games Workshop to get children into buying imported fantasy games.

A few years after (or maybe just months) I'd become a fully fledged DM, playing against real people and buying up every type of game I could afford from Nottingham GW (in the Broadmarsh Centre), but still only ever playing three different systems max as a campaign.  A friend of my father's gave me this book: Dicing with Dragons - An Introduction to Role-Playing Games by Ian Livingstone.  My dad's friend was a psychology academic and had presumably assumed the book was about something completely different.  His loss of £3.95 was my gain!  It was already a little battered - but certainly not to the level it now is (maybe I'd leant it out a bit as well, I don't remember).  Inside, it's illustrated by Russ Nicholson - then a hero of mine and others, because of Warlock of Firetop Mountain. I may have to post some of those pics some time at a later date.

The book is clearly written for an older audience and covers a much broader spectrum of games, than say What is Dungeons and Dragons? (see retrospective review at this blog) A fair bit of it is reads like a catalogue of games and fanzines up to 1983.  A real gem in the book is an introductory "Fantasy Quest" solo adventure named "Eye of the Dragon" (134 sections with a system based on rolling 3D6). In recent years Eye of the Dragon has been reborn as an FF gamebook.  It has had mixed reviews, and to be honest, the original is very much like a boiled down Warlock of Firetop Mountain, with almost identical situations and challenges.  It's also a very "classic" or archetypal dungeon. Naturally with illustrations by Mr Nichsolson, it is impossible not to compare it to Warlock of Firetop Mountain.  Those illustrations can be scanned on request. ;)

Incidentally, the monster stats are provided in brackets within the paragraph text, in a suspence-killing revelation of their strengths (which reminds me of old T&T solos).  The abbreviations are suitably confusing, as if Ian is saying "Oh, you want to play role-playing games?  Get used to indecipherable shorthand. It's not a six sided die, it's Dee-Six!" etc.

Par Example:
"They are too involved with ...
[looking up the RPG style abbreviations] notice you."

Gosh, I've managed to get this far without using the phrases "old school" or "dungeon-crawl".

Anyhow, all that is really an aside...  this is what I'm really posting about:  It's the cover, you see.  The cover had a massive impact on me.

I present the cover of Dicing With Dragons (the Revised edition) from 1983 (Routledge & Kegan Paul 1982)...!

Dicing with Dragons, RKP 1983 (1982)
Miniatures, funny shaped dice,
Dungeon Floor Plans and a pencil!
In fact when I was telling a friend all about my Inked Adventures Cut-Up Dungeon Sections, he pointed out that I was really just trying to recreate the cover of this book.  I think he is right.  Back then when I was playing, I think I had already bought the GW Floor Plans (Set 1), but my "ideal" of role-playing and tabletop gaming was very influenced by this picture.  I don't remember there being many close-up colour photos of actual play or mock-ups (my main references here are White Dwarf and Imagine magazine).  Even the dice were posher than the ones I already had. Funnily enough, this combination of nice floor plans with painted figures is what drew me to Warhammer Quest later, but I say all this with unease, because deep down I still prefer the fact that in a well played RPG, the figures and scenery will struggle to get close to the pictures in the mind's-eye, and also the fact that it became apparent very quickly that it would be difficult to match a very limited range of unpainted metal figures with many of the monsters I was plucking from AD&D MMII.  However, at the time, pre-printed cardboard plans with a few PC figures were infinitely more sophisticated than a scrawlly pencil on graph paper with "x"s to mark where everyone was. 

All of the items depicted are accessories not provided
with the rules or in the actual boxes of RPGs from the early 80s.
Here's the whole scene, with the figures, which wraps around the back of the book cover.  On the back, there's chairs, tables, a balrog, even an umber hulk!  The dungeon floor plans worked best on a dark surface.  A black table was ideal ("Mum, can I paint the table ...?").

Ian Livingston, pre-Eidos upgrades.
My first hit was certainly not free.
(Photo on inside cover, circa 1982)
Where in Middle Earth (UK) could one buy all these lovely things?  Why, at Games Workshop of course!

Years later, I now think of Ian Livingstone (and his sidekick, SJ) as a sort of charming brotherly drug dealer, who still manages to take my money in other ways. I just hope that there was some genuine wonder there and that I've not just been just a complete gimp for over 25 years to cynical marketing ploys.  Surely, not?  Hey, even the art-nouveau decoration and lettering is cool. :)


EDIT: Scans of early floor plans can be seen in this thread on Lost and the Damned Forum.

EDIT 8.5.11 Dragon find! :  Mortis from the above forum tracked down that dragon on the book cover as a Ral Partha "Cold Drake". :)

EDIT 21.05.11 Italian Cover.
Marchomer on Lost and the Damned also found this Italian cover!


  1. I remember that book - it was an awesome find after the era, and a look back to what Games Workshop was really all about because it because the lead mini-fig crack whore we know and... know today!

  2. Fill me up a syringe of white metal! :D

  3. Nice post! There's a gallery of the Livingstone dude here:

    (scroll down a bit)



  4. Excellent. It's like watching Senator Palpatine turn into the Emperor. ;) Thanks Andy!

  5. Hi, Thank you for your words of praise so glad to hear you liked my stuff, and if you've a kindness you might send the scans to me so I can post them on my blog.

    1. Excellent. Thanks for posting!
      I've held back on the scanning for the most part partly to protect the spine, but I'll have a go today. I've just reread part of my entry - I just need to clarify, that I'd certainly be asking for permission before publicly posting any art from Dicing with Dragons. :)

  6. Runescape- What is dicing and what is the trust game?