Saturday, 23 March 2013

Comfort Shopping, Lego, Pathfinder and Playing at the World (Jon Peterson, Unreason Press)

I'm blogging from my iPad, so please forgive any really strange formatting and instagramaged photos (edit: gave in and moved to the laptop, much easier, but kept the instagram photos in).  A random post for random times. Miserable weather and real-life chaos have led me down strange aisles in a local supermarket recently, and budget-priced Lego is hard to resist.

Tesco supermarkets (in the UK) are clearing some of their toy lines at the moment.  Bobbing to the surface are the Lego Star Wars AT-RT (75002) at £13.50 and the LotR Lego Orc Forge (9476) for £20 - which for a supermarket isn't such a bad price at all.  This makes a change for me from buying yet more Series 9 Lego Minifigs. Collecting Series 9 has become an addiction - latest two figures were a wine waiter and another cyclops.- I now have three cyclopses, and I'm justifying keeping them for Heroica or as figures for kid-friendly proto-D&D, but that's a whole other post. I already own an earlier incarnation of the Clone Wars bipedal AT-RT walker, but this one seems more posable and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to build an evil droideka - and a Yoda minifig!

The Orc Forge from The Lord of the Rings range is a very odd set - I'm guessing that it's more fun to look at once all of the parts are moving and the fire coloured "brick lights" are turned on. Again, the gamer in me was drawn to the orc/uruk-hai figures and the tiny pieces of armour - perhaps again, subconsciously planning a dungeon crawl with Lego minifigs. ;)

Slightly more game related is the Lego Games Star Wars Battle of Hoth which I bought from Argos for £24.99. I already have a couple of the Heroica Lego Game sets and this looks simpler to play (not that the Heroica system is complicated!). I'm not sure if I should try to create a cross-over game - although the Heroica forest would make a suitable Dagobah or Yavin 4 jungle. I'm really looking forward to assembling the mini snowspeeders and AT-ATs.

For being supportive through times of outrageous fortune, my partner has yet again rewarded me with a roleplaying treat through Amazon (yes, I know, she's a "keeper").

I had initially avoided the Pathfinder Campaign Setting World Guide: The Inner Sea because I felt that core rules books should be just that, core rules. The clever marketing blurb in the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box had finally convinced me that the Core Rules and Bestiary (1) were somehow orphaned without the campaign setting.  Also a paranoia has overcome me, I was fearing that since Pathfinder has been around for a few years, that suddenly the opportunity to buy these books new would be ushered away by a new edition. I think Wizards' must have broken me with DnD3-thru-4 and Next, because so far Paizo have been very sparing with replacement editions - a revision, here or there maybe. Nonetheless, the collector-reader in me had decided that I needed the three staple Pathfinder books whist the covers and logos still matched (-well sot of).

Content-wise The Inner Sea World Guide incredibly dense, and when it comes to atlas details, it puts the the DnD4 Faerun / FR guides I have to shame. Also the map was without a perforated edge - the collector's bane - instead, only tiny spot of cellulose glue holds the map in place - no tearing required. I like this book, every paragraph is a campaign hook in itself. It is immensely rewarding to dip into. There is both consistency and fascinating variety in the world of Golarion.  My partner also approved, because she loves new books and insisted upon sniffing the ink fresh pages (something she refuses to do with my second-hand vintage ebay purchases).

Paperback USA
Kindle US
Paperback UK
Kindle UK

Another random procurement this week, much to the disgust of same said partner, was a Kindle ebook.  As an ex-bookseller, if a tree hasn't been felled, she looks down upon these things (they certainly don't smell the same).

I haven't read deep into Playing at the World by Jon Peterson, but so far, and from browsing through, the author seems to be very thorough with his primary source material, if not a little dry in his style.

It reads very much like a Masters degree final paper, upon the origins of D&D, RPGs, gaming group culture and terminology. Importantly, Peterson observes that it is almost impossible to re-imagine D&D's birth without modern bias due to it's iconic status, that amongst dozens of other niche games, one couldn't have assumed that it's climb was assured or a straightforward commercial success.

Flipping through, I'm not entirely sure why we need etymological sourcing of the word "Dragon", not as much as say examining the reasons behind why a game would adopt the word "Dungeon" in it's title. It's as though Peterson is proving a point to a tutor unfamiliar with the fantasy genre. In his introduction, he stresses the need for works of gaming history which draw upon contemporary publications (journals and newsletters) and not upon internet anecdotes and gaming community folklore. I partly agree, there is occasionally the need for strict academic approaches, but in terms of an entertaining read about a fun pastime, I think I prefer our many casual blog posts of reminiscence, or the personal heart-felts of geek authors like Ethan Gilsdorf and Mark Barrowcliffe.

My own attempts at trying to find books on simulation games, or complex role-based games for educational drama workshops, whist at college, was met with a single publication regarding games in business training, and I was pretty lucky to find that it a library devoted to playscripts (I did Dramatic Arts degree for my sins).  Hopefully, tomorrow's media and social studies students will have a comprehensive selection of texts about RPGs from which to quote with confidence from. Playing at the World may yet become a scholarly definitive text in citing the early history of D&D within American wargaming tabletop culture, but it ain't no nostalgic journey or rites-of-passage-with-dice-tale (like Gilsdorf's Fantasy Freaks' and Barrowcliffe's Elfish Gene).

If this book blows my mind, I'll let you know. If I never type of it again, then assume my jury is still out when it comes to my all-round recommendation. Still, it would be hard not to say that for gaming history aficionados it is an "essential" addition to a reference bibliography. Incidentally, Playing at the World was advertised in Gygax Magazine #1, so it's target audience is almost certainly old-schoolers.  We keep our dice boxes next to our walking sticks, y'know. ;)

My summary so far: Playing at the World has thorough, no-nonsense historical accounts, with a few pictures.
(But we likes pictures of old games)

Right, those Inked Adventures dungeon tiles aren't going to make themselves.  Or shall I start building the Lego?


  1. Have you looked at "Designers & Dragons" or "40 Years of Gen Con"?

  2. If I can get either through Amazon or Lulu I'll prbably be checking them out at some point. I get put off searching about because so many books seemed to be linked with Kickstarters atm.
    Thanks for the pointers!

  3. Definitely if you're looking for a personal account of how D&D changed a gamer's life, PatW is not where you'll find it. It is indeed a dry, factual history of simulation, with a much broader scope than RPGs in its sights - hundreds of pages of the text are about wargames and related phenomena.

    The decision not to include anecdotes and folklore was largely motivated by the availability of admirable works like "40 Years of Gen Con" which do indeed excerpt many later interviews with the protagonists. PatW on the other hand follows contemporary sources that often disagree, sometimes quite starkly, with recollections recorded decades after the fact. What Gary wrote in 1970 is often at odds with what he remembered in 2003, as is common condition of humanity. This to me created the need for a scholarly approach (I wouldn't say academic) for those interested in a strongly-sourced history of gaming. That may not be everyone's cup of tea, but PatW certainly is not masquerading as anything but that.

    1. Thanks for posting Jon. I now feel as if I've now been a little over zealous, harsh and over-generalising in my hey-look-at-this--quasi-review. Hopefully, some followers of this blog will buy copies of your book and decide for themselves, whilst I read on and digest it properly. :)