Hi, I'm Jon. I wrote a book called "Playing at the World" which came out in 2012. I think I can say it has been widely accepted as an authoritative, if not overly exhaustive, exploration of the roots and legacy of Dungeons & Dragons, as well as shedding some light on fantasy fiction, wargames, groups like the Society for Creative Anachronism and related phenomena. I blog games on blogpost. I specialize in the early history (like pre-1980) much more than the later events in RPGs, but, I do know a bit about RPGs up to the present. Happy to talk to people today about the history, and to celebrate the birth of D&D 40 years ago!

To prove this account is me posting, check out this post on my blog, which shows I'll be using this username, PlayingAtTheWorld. http://playingattheworld.blogspot.com/2014/01/40th-d-anniversay-today-on-reddit-riama.html

Comments: 176 • Responses: 66  • Date: 

Tenser119 karma

Jon I wish to thank you for being here for so many fans of my father's work as well as that done by David. I hope to see you in one of my Hobby Shop Dungeon games this Gary Con as it still retains much of the original spirit of the game I started to run in 1978, and ran contiguous from the Dungeon through the two incarnations of Margaret Weis and Don Perrin's Game Guild Hobby shops. I am now branching off my standard game/module ground and will release my Grandchild's story Sammi-Zowa versus the Dueling Dragons as well at Gary Con. If you do have any more questions about the past especially involving Dungeons & Dragons Entertainment, please feel free to spend some time with me and I will drag in others as needed. What Jon do you think of the first release of GP Adventures through Gygax Magazine issue #3 The Marmoreal Tomb of Garn Pat'uul? Benoist Poire is my Partner as Don Kay was Gary's and we are quite proud of this work and the many others we will be producing under the new TSR. Hopefully GP Adventures will at least allow paper and pencil as well as the skill of map making, not to leave the RPG theatre. Thank you for your time and efforts.

Ernest G. Gygax Jr GP Adventures

PlayingAtTheWorld7 karma

Definitely save a seat for me Ernie, I'll be there! Your Hobby Shop Dungeon is a real treasure; it was privilege to be able to write up a short introduction for it in Gygax #3. It has an amazing old-school feel, a solid teaser story and fantastic maps by Benoist.

I also really appreciate how you've made yourself available for my questions about back in the day.

And don't thank me - let me thank you!

OneAgingFanboy15 karma

There's been some new developments on the Dalluhn Manuscript. Can you give us the update?

PlayingAtTheWorld12 karma

This is a topic I never got tired of - really, this is exactly the sort of research that I was hoping to be able to do. The short answer is that some new pre-publication D&D fragments have come to light, thanks to my friend Mike Mornard, who was one of the original D&D playtesters. He got photocopies of this working draft made by Gary Gygax from Gary, back in the day, and only recently recovered them.

These new pieces of evidence show pretty decisively that the system preserved by the Dalluhn Manuscript is a 1973 pre-publication system. We can see Gary's hand edits in the Mornard Fragments bringing the text into conformity with what we see typed up in Dalluhn. While of course I've been convinced of the authenticity of Dalluhn for some time, seeing Dalluhn and the Mornard Fragments side-by-side has seemed to mollify a few of the skeptics out there.

Stay tuned - there's more coming on all this, and I'm really excited to be able to share this with the community. I think collectively all of this will give us unprecedented insight into how D&D was created.

agwa9507 karma

Could someone explain what all the manuscripts you refer to above are? I love DnD, but have never heard of any of them...

PlayingAtTheWorld2 karma

You can find a narrative write-up of my initial encounter with, and analysis of, the Dalluhn Manuscript in Gygax Magazine #2. For the more technical details, you can read up on my blog, starting with the more recent discovery of the Mornard Fragments here:


feliksas2 karma

In the next few years, do you foresee a revision to "Playing the World" that incorporates these new findings? It seems worthwhile to update the book every few years, so that it remains the definitive volume on the topic.

PlayingAtTheWorld2 karma

I could imagine revising PatW after a respectable interval. I hope to accumulate a bit more new insight and evidence before I revisit the project. I might also bow to the wishes of many readers and reorganize the narrative to redistributed emphasis a bit.

But I did endeavor, in writing PatW, to restrict the account to claims that were unlikely to be falsified later. So there's plenty I would be happy to add to embellish the account, but thankful little that I am urgently seething to repair.

ChrisMcDee11 karma

What do you predict will be the biggest developments in the hobby over the next decade?

PlayingAtTheWorld15 karma

Depends on how broad a set of work you mean by "the hobby." I'd like to believe MMOs will finally stop making "me too" versions of WoW and promote worlds with genuine dynamism and far more integration with the principles of social media.

For tabletop RPGs, I'm obviously looking forward to seeing WotC's new release the summer, and where their new cross-platform strategy takes us. I'm also just thrilled by the indie community today: so many create games coming out in more artisanal, boutique printing: everything from 13th Age and Numenera to Dungeon World and Burning Wheel to... where could I even stop?

What I guess I'd like to see most is an integration of technology with the tabletop in a way that keeps tabletop gaming a personal experience shared by people sitting around the table, but takes care of the mechanics and the busywork of adjudicating combat. I know a lot of companies are trying to find the sweet spot there. I want computers to know what dice I roll, to know where my character is in a room, to render results on a table, and to have it just work. In a decade, we could have that.

SunAtEight3 karma

That last one is what Robin D. Laws and Slabtown Games are trying to do with a tablet app, although I give it pretty slim chances of succeeding.

PlayingAtTheWorld2 karma

Robin Laws is no fool; I wish him success.

ThatSmallerGuy9 karma

What would your favourite RPG be?

PlayingAtTheWorld12 karma

Always hard to pick favorites. The flavor of D&D that I've played the most myself is probably 3rd Edition (and then 3.5). I loved the White Wolf games in the 1990s, and did a bit of Mind's Eye Theater LARPing. I also played a heavily variant system devised by a friend of mine which has since published under the title Wayfarers. But in terms of games that I think are important, that changed the world most, how could I not say the original 1974 version of D&D - celebrating its 40th birthday today!

rafaelbeltrame7 karma

love your book, Jon, congrats!

jon, why do you think the clerics had this limitation about using slashing and piercing weapons?

PlayingAtTheWorld11 karma

I do talk about this a bit in PatW. There were historical reasons to deprive clerics of bloodletting weapons, based on certain prohibitions on priests practicing medicine (many of which were actually intended to prevent priests from moonlighting in a very remunerative profession). There are also many historical accounts that were known to Gygax and Arneson that showed clerics wielding maces. I actually found a great quote in a book that I know Gary read that could very well be the prototype for the bludgeon-wielding cleric - but I only found it after PatW was done. Maybe next edition.

nesbit377 karma

Are there any events that changed the course of TSR and ultimately D&D more than the death of Don Kaye?

PlayingAtTheWorld3 karma

The only comparable event I'd say would be the WotC acquisition. Counterfactual speculation about how things might have gone if Don Kaye hadn't tragically died... I just can't imagine. We'd have a very different legacy for the game, probably a better one. Still, I'd like to believe that his initial contribution has not been forgotten, and that with his help then D&D really changed the world, as Frank Mentzer always reminds us.

BigMacTMMM7 karma

I'm a fan of campaign settings. But there have been a few that are so obscure, that I only found out about them recently. What do you think the most underrated D&D campaign setting is?

PlayingAtTheWorld7 karma

Tough question. There are so many settings that I like that I wouldn't say are underrated - Planescape isn't underrated, right? Obviously for my historical work I focus a lot on Greyhawk, and on proto-Greyhawk, the original Great Kingdom. That's a setting we're all struggling to understand further, but it's one I'd love to play more in!

rflowers6 karma

I am just wondering if you can tell us approximately how much it cost to do all the research for your book - travel, purchases of "artifacts", etc. Thanks for doing this.

PlayingAtTheWorld11 karma

Tough question. It was a lot. Some of the reasons I took on this project though is that I do travel a lot, and can tack on a few extra days here and there, I got a good head-start on collecting by picking up many items more than a decade ago before valuations went through the roof, and ultimately I do have the means to try to secure items of critical historical importance today, and to get them where they belong: in museums. I think in the long run this last point may be the most valuable service I would end up having done for the community.

that_ostrich6 karma

Jon Peterson: the Indiana Jones of D&D.

PlayingAtTheWorld2 karma

This epithet has gotten retweeted and reblogged more than a little in the last day, I'll have you know.

Prietto6 karma

For you, what is the most attractive aspect in D&D? Why people love it so much?

PlayingAtTheWorld7 karma

D&D was the first game to give people the power to invent, and believe in, their own adventures. It was a tool to enable your own creativity. No one other the than the people sitting around the table had to like your playstyle or your story. You got to have everything your own way. All of these principles absolutely changed the world, and could very well shape popular entertainment in various ways for the next century.

Havardblackmoor6 karma

Dave Arneson's Blackmoor and Gary Gygax Greyhawk are the two most influential campaigns on early D&D. Do you have insight on any other campaigns from the early history of gaming that you would like to share? :)

PlayingAtTheWorld8 karma

Well, don't sell short Duane Jenkin's "Brownstone," the pre-D&D Western RPG were Arneson played the evil bandit "El Pauncho," and Dave Fant was the lawman "Marshall Fant." All of these activities informed the development of role-playing and the idea of simulating people. There are probably too many examples here to cite.

Mutantrogue6 karma

Any thoughts on broadening your study for a sequel or supplement: Into Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Boot Hill, or the early TSR microgames of that golden age?

PlayingAtTheWorld5 karma

I think I could tack on a couple more years of coverage to PatW without any shift in tone. I really would rather avoid the problem era though, after 1982, say; I want to celebrate the achievements of the hobby, not to dwell on its missteps.

If I were to pick up a sequel, I'd be interested in the story arc of the 1990s, I think, when the D&D brand was perhaps languishing, but thanks to WotC and other forces a new renaissance in D&D came about.

Of course, if anyone else would rather write that book than me, feel free, there's plenty of projects on my plate at the moment.

garrybry3 karma

Fan of METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA here, just got a copy and trying to get a group together for it . . .

sigstop22 karma

Just got a copy of MA myself after (re)reading Orphan's in the Sky...definitely something cool there...

PlayingAtTheWorld2 karma

MA is a great game, and although I talk a bit about it in PatW, there's definitely much more to explain about its place in history. Who knows, maybe I'll get the chance to say more about it sometime.

Bog97th5 karma

If TSR would have kept going where do you thing D&D would be now?

PlayingAtTheWorld6 karma

Could TSR have kept going, under the circumstances? I think Peter Adkison did us all an immense service by rescuing D&D and finding the best people in the world to rethink and revive the brand. I'd hate to think D&D would have been dead if WotC hadn't intervened... but I think it would certainly be much more about nostalgia for the very old days than about exciting future directions.

kingmundi5 karma

Have you considered writing a sequel to "Playing at the World"? Maybe go into the history of the game in the mid 80s and beyond?

PlayingAtTheWorld6 karma

I think I like the history of the 90s better. The 80s... it's not a happy story. We'll see though.

Matesamo5 karma

I have had the chance to game with old school TSR employees like Frank Menzer and Tim Kask at various conventions. Have you gamed with any favorite game creators and who do you wish you could have played with?

PlayingAtTheWorld7 karma

I have gamed with Frank, I'm not actually sure I've run in any of Tim's games, but he and I are buds. I've definitely had a chance to play in a lot of amazing games with the original creators of gaming. One I would single out is that I played in Dave Wesely's recreations of the first and fourth Braunsteins at GenCon in 2008. I understand he'll be doing the recreations again at GaryCon this year (you do go to GaryCon, right? in scenic Lake Geneva, where it all started?), so don't miss the opportunity if you can make it.

darjr2 karma

Do you think there is any chance the rules to the Braunsteins could get published. I wonder if Major Wesely woud/could kickstart it?

PlayingAtTheWorld3 karma

I'm not sure Braunstein had "rules" as such. Same goes for Blackmoor. I do have Major Wesely's Strategos N rules, but suffice it to say they do not lay out the principles to create a Braunstein. If I see Major Wesely at GaryCon, though, I'll pass this along.

PashaCada5 karma

The prototype of Dungeon! had a different list of monsters. One rumor I've heard is that the values on the monsters cards where also different from the ones actually published. Is this true? And, if so, do those original monster values exist somewhere?

PlayingAtTheWorld6 karma

My understanding is that Dave Megarry does still have a complete set of the circa 1973 prototype DUNGEON! cards. There are definitely monsters in the prototype rules that didn't end up in the 1975 DUNGEON! rules or in D&D (the Brown Dragon comes to mind). I haven't verified that these conform exactly with the cards he still has - maybe at GaryCon this year I'll check. Good question!

that_ostrich5 karma

I loved your book! I appreciated the journalistic and detached tone of the work, but I was wondering if you'd be willing to share some more personal information about what D&D means to you. When did you first start playing and what were your early experiences with roleplaying like?

PlayingAtTheWorld4 karma

I do ordinarily avoid those sorts of questions, but, this being an AMA, I shouldn't rule it out of bounds. I wouldn't say I played much as a child - I was aware of D&D, and admired it from afar, had some rulebooks, but did relatively little actual playing. After I got out of college, though, I fell in love with M:tG, and it was actually from M:tG that I started playing the WotC card game Jyhad (now V:tES) and that got me into White Wolf RPGs, and LARPs. Some of the people I played with there in the late 1990s also played D&D. And that got me to playing a lot of 3rd ed in the 2000s. WoW sucked away a few years then, but by 2007 I focused more on understanding the history than in playing.

For me these games are about the stories and the friends. I've made a lot of my best friends from gaming. I've had some amazing emotional rollercoasters in the games I've played. They've enriched my life immeasurably. I really wanted to give something back... and that's when I started working on PatW.

interfactor5 karma

Congratulations on a fantastic piece of scholarship. Playing at the World is extremely well-written and very enjoyable. Thank you for this gift to the community.

Could you comment on D&D as art? There is no denying it's similarity to improvisational theater and the actual game itself is remarkably elegant in its simplicity and flexibility.

PlayingAtTheWorld6 karma

Gary Gygax was never very fond of people casting D&D as art; he emphasized that it was above all a game. I do think that an artist can make art from pretty much anything, though, and when I look at the work of people out there like Eric Zimmerman, obviously there are serious people crafting artwork from games. In role-playing, the thrill for me is in those moments of immersion and verisimilitude, when I really believe in the adventure at hand, whether it's a triumph or a tragedy. It has roots in common with improvisational theater, but tabletop at least has only the participants as the audience, and that gives it a very different vibe.

I do look forward though to see what further cultural products artists will make from these games.

OneAgingFanboy5 karma

Jon - I just watched a trailer for a D&D doc, the great kingdom and you are featured. It looks great BTW. How are you involved besides being the expert on all things D&D?

PlayingAtTheWorld7 karma

So I'm involved in two projects right now that are telling different parts of the story of D&D as feature films. These really have the capability to take this story to places that a dense, scholarly book like mine just isn't going to reach. So the short answer is, I'm supporting anybody who I think is trying to get out the message about how these amazing games have transformed our culture. Everyone here interested in the history should check out both:

http://dndadoc.com/ and http://www.facebook.com/TGKFilm

bluecaravan4 karma

Hi Jon, I have no question, but I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your immensely enjoyable book.

I got into D&D through Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale and other early computer RPGs, and never played the pen and paper version, so it was fascinating reading about the history of the game. The amount of research, care and passion for the subject that clearly went into PatW shines through on every page.

As a voracious reader of fantasy, probably my favourite section was the one on fantasy fiction (although as a slightly less voracious boardgamer, I also really enjoyed the explorations of game mechanics). I read The Dragonlance Chronicles for the first time after finishing your book, and it was an eye-opening experience reading them with what I'd learned from PatW fresh in my mind. I constantly noticed things like how Raistlin is called a "magic-user" and has to memorise spells every night, and the careful divisions of good, neutral and evil; indeed the entire series hinges upon the conceit of balance.

And now that I have typed up this wall of text, I find that I do indeed have a question. What is your own favourite fantasy fiction novel/series, and why?

Thank you!

PlayingAtTheWorld7 karma

Welcome sir!

My favorite fantasy series, hmm. I really like Howard's original Conan yarns, very tight, clear, unpretentious. I also enjoy Vance's first two Dying Earth books a lot. As I kid I read Moorcock and Donaldson a bit, so they have sentimental attachments for me today. Lots of great stuff out there!

n8mini4 karma

Any plans for an audiobook? I loved the book, but would love an audio version even more.

PlayingAtTheWorld5 karma

I was losing my voice making that 12 minutes video (the "12 Treasures" I posted recently here: http://youtu.be/_EVQsIETO_A).

I can't imagine reading the 400k+ words of PatW. I'm also, well, not a professional voice person; but who could we enlist to take on the project of reading something this long? Maybe if I wrote something shorter in the future. Or maybe you can just watch my video and close your eyes. Response to the video has pretty good - so far we've hit the proverbial "over 9000" hits. So I might try it again.

rafaelbeltrame3 karma

james earl jones! ;D

wcw439211 karma

I was thinking another Jones--Catherine Zeta. I really like her voice. ;)

PlayingAtTheWorld7 karma

I hear Mila Kunis likes gaming... Hmm....

geekstone4 karma

No question here, but just want to wish you good luck on your AMA today.

PlayingAtTheWorld5 karma

Hey thanks!

selinker3 karma

Hey Jon. I just want to say thanks for an awesome book, and for pinpointing the 40th anniversary so accurately. It inspired me to write this.


PlayingAtTheWorld3 karma

Thanks Mike! It was great having dinner with you last fall. We should hang out again.

rredmond3 karma

Just wanted to check in and say thanks for everything as well. Love the Q&A and folks are asking great questions. Thanks Jon!

PlayingAtTheWorld7 karma


k_carpenter3 karma

In PatW, you go into quite a bit of detail on the history of all kinds of D&D tropes, from dungeons and rogues down to individual monsters and items like rings, staffs etc. Yet one thing is never mentioned: the iconic 10-foot-pole. I’m sure it doesn’t have a literary pre-history, but do you have any idea who came up with this and where exactly it had its origin?

PlayingAtTheWorld7 karma

Oh, but I do (PatW pg193). I cite a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story. I don't recall if it is described as 10' in particular, but ropes, poles etc for "adventure travel" are definitely a part of the fantasy setting.

HonestWong3 karma

All gaming tables seem to generate some legendary characters, PCs whose exploits resonate down through the ages, their stories told over and over (sometimes even by players who were not even there). Where there any if these legendary PCs that came from the early play sessions and if so, which is your favorite and why?

PlayingAtTheWorld5 karma

Sure. Mordenkainen, Gygax's wizard, has certainly been immortalized in subsequent D&D lore, in the names of spells especially. Leomund, Leonard Lakofka's character. Otiluke, from Luke Gygax, Gary's son. How many more could we name? Robilar? Tenser?

I guess I am most sympathetic to Mordenkainen, from what stories survive of his exploits. I also really just like the Disjunction spell.

Redredreditor3 karma

What do you think is the key in growing the market for gaming? Or do you think that the days of teens going nuts for books are long behind us.

PlayingAtTheWorld6 karma

If we look at the Gen Con attendance figures, interest in tabletop game is growing enormously: attendance went from 30k or so in 2010 to 50k or so last year. People like Wil Wheaton through his TableTop show are doing yeoman's service in popularizing games and driving up sales. As for whether or not we will drag teens away from the iPads and the Skyrim's back the rulebooks... I think they'll come around. Especially if we can figure out better ways to integrate the best of tabletop and the best of computer gaming.

Zahvah3 karma

DM Screens: Useful tool or divider between actors and story?

PlayingAtTheWorld4 karma

Up the conscience of the individual churchgoer. I've seen both ways work.

Dindagor3 karma

I'm running an OD&D campaign again now (using my original White Box set) and was curious about the alternate combat system given in book 1. Although we had a copy of Chainmail in our group, we never used the original combat system. My question is about the LBB system: any idea why the armor classes ranged from 2 to 9? Was there something better than "Plate Armor & Shield" that originally occupied the missing line for AC 1?

PlayingAtTheWorld7 karma

The "why" of armor class running as descending 9-2 versus ascending 1-8 is tough, but there is some historical data on the how. This really does derive directly from Chainmail. Actually I did a blog post about how armor class comes from Chainmail that might help clarify this for you. Check it out:


Andro1010103 karma

When I look at my old 1978 "basic D&D book" the date on the foreword (copied from the original books) is November 1 1973. Why are we celebrating now?

that_ostrich4 karma

Mr. Peterson covered his reasons for this here: http://playingattheworld.blogspot.com/2013/12/when-dungeons-dragons-turns-40.html

In short, the last Sunday in January of 1974 was when Gary Gygax invited people over to try out D&D for the first time, and it coincides with when the game was first made available for sale.

PlayingAtTheWorld4 karma

True story.

bbarsh3 karma

Hey, Jon! You get a chance to look at that IGHIP? If you think they would be helpful, I can try and scan the rest that I have. Problem is the blue ink. I could always forward as a loan if you think you could use them anything.

PlayingAtTheWorld5 karma

Thanks Bill, I have some but not all of those (for those reading, this is a very early gaming fanzine). That particular issue is one that I actually already had, but your copy was much nicer than mine. I would certainly take you up on the offer to see the rest of those, since I know there are gaps in my own collection. Let's figure something out.

Lmu3 karma

Was this your first book you have wrote? And how did you get your inspiration into becoming an author?

PlayingAtTheWorld8 karma

This was the first book that I wrote, yes. I looked a bit into the existing accounts of D&D's history and saw a fundamental disconnect: there were people who really wanted to the tell the story, but lacked the evidence to piece it together; and people who had the evidence, but apparently lacked the motivation to tell the story. I believed I could close that gap.

PashaCada3 karma

I've heard that Dave was more of a fan of Napoleonics rather than fantasy. Did Dave ever run a Napoleon-era RPG? What was the first historical (i.e. no or little magic) RPG developed? The oldest I know of is Behind Enemy Lines from '82 or so.

PlayingAtTheWorld6 karma

Arguably his Napoleonic Simulation Campaign from 1969-1972 (with a few years of slow activity following) was as much an RPG as Blackmoor.

EggoIII3 karma

Any plans to publish copies of some if the original source material? I'm particularly interested in seeing better that Brontein card you show in your video. Also, related, when can we expect a revised edition with results from your new finds?

PlayingAtTheWorld6 karma

Publishing original source material has all kinds of hard edges due to intellectual property concerns. You can expect that at some point though, I will look to revise my previous research in some fashion. The great thing about writing a book like this is that it inspires more people to come forward with their stories, and their evidence. Though I'm sure an even longer version of PatW would reach an ever more niche audience...

[deleted]3 karma


PlayingAtTheWorld4 karma

No question that the early-to-mid 1980s was the peak of D&D as a fad, so it's unsurprising that you saw your gaming group's rank swell around that time. Female players are one crucial respect in which the appeal of D&D went well beyond prior wargames, which were almost exclusively played by young, white men.

The Arduin setting (was it really a game system then? or just a variant set of rules) and Petal Throne had their adherents then and still do today. We could point to many systems, like Chivalry & Sorcery, that offered a competing variation on the core principles of D&D. I think that many of them suffered from a critical mass problem - you had to move your entire social circle, your gaming group, off of D&D onto something else. But people had so much investment in characters, and in settings. I think D&D's design inherently came with some golden handcuffs that retained players. D&D also just managed to dominate the press of the time. WoW has been in a similar position for MMOs for the last decade, I'd say.

TR_Knight2 karma

What are your thoughts on the upcoming release of a new D&D by WotC and the marketing blitz they are planning? Could it create an influx of goodwill and interest back into the roleplaying hobby as perhaps the Tabletop youtube videos have done for board gaming? Gen Con and other cons continue to grow so I am curious what impact a new D&D and its marketing could do.

PlayingAtTheWorld5 karma

I hope that their cross-platform approach to the Tyranny of Dragons and upcoming releases will help ease gamers back to the tabletop, sure. There will always be some things computers can't do - they can't innovate and improvise as we can. As computer game budgets swell, necessarily there is more groupthink, more catering to the broadest demographic. I think people will always find something more compelling in the story that five people around the table want to tell than in what other folks think up for you.

That much said, there are some brilliant computer games out there today. The tone of Last of Us, say, hits very close to my own preferred D&D playstyle.

Mark_CMG2 karma

Tell us a bit about your first DM (and maybe first time DMing) as well as your first campaign, please.

PlayingAtTheWorld7 karma

Oh... okay, fine. So I was a tyke, less than ten years old, say. I had been left in the care of an older kid (named Neil) for an evening while my mother was at some social function. Neil was obsessed with D&D, with Michael Moorcock, and with some of the Steve Jackson board wargames. First he taught me to play O.G.R.E. (which has just been revived by Jackson in a beautiful deluxe edition), which was my first introduction to wargaming.

But Neil wanted to turn me on to D&D as well, so, he had me roll up a Magic-user and play through the sample dungeon of the DMG. Mind you, it was just me, 1st level, and I had one spell, on his recommendation, Sleep. He told me not squander it. So my mage wanders into the first room of the dungeon, where I encounter twenty orcs. Not wanting to blow my wad here, I kept my Sleep spell in reserve, tried to hit something with a dagger, and was of course immediately slaughtered. Although I had a few more positive experience over the next five years, I didn't really start playing seriously until I was a grown-up.

PashaCada2 karma

In your blog, you stated that Grasstek's Game of Dungeon preserved some early playstyles of Blackmoor, notably resource based magic and mitigation based armor. How exactly do those work in Grasstek's game?

PlayingAtTheWorld7 karma

Very technical question. Spells are cast through "balls" in Grasstek; you buy "balls" at the General Store before going into the dungeon. Some are effectively fire "balls," but there are even charm "balls" and if I recall like axe "balls." This conforms to the highly reagent-based casting system of pre-D&D Blackmoor, where spells are effectively manufactured, and the level of the manufacturer dictates their percentage chance of success. You can read about this in the First Fantasy Campaign.

Armor mitigation works by absording hit points of damage until the armor is destroyed. We can see remnants of this in a few points of the Blackmoor system.

WesSchneider2 karma

Can you recall the earliest instance you found of someone saying that "X" will kill or is killing D&D or the RPG industry? Around when was that and what was the "X"?

PlayingAtTheWorld2 karma

Plenty of people predicted that Chivalry & Sorcery was a "D&D killer." After all, it let you simulate all kinds of things that D&D didn't, and had a far richer vision of a viable medieval world. What could be wrong with that? Only after people absorbed the enormous complexity of the system, especially its cumbersome combat, did those prophets start backpedalling.

sigstop22 karma

In your opinion, did the creators of D&D want the kind of success that it ultimately had? Clearly, D&D has reached the world...but did it lose something in the process? Did the creators of D&D think about those kinds of topics (cottage industry vs mega industry) or was it all too "fast and furious" for anything but the passing obvious thoughts?

PlayingAtTheWorld6 karma

Given their circumstances at the time, which were quite humble, they welcomed financial success. Whether or not they were prepared to deal with the magnitude of the business they created, that's another story. They certainly believed they were. In retrospect I wouldn't be so sure.

AGNKim2 karma

Gary is usually the guy pegged as "The creator of Dungeons & Dragons", but most of us know that Dave Arneson had a huge part of it's development. Was Dave nudged out intentionally by Gary? Was it solely because of money?

PlayingAtTheWorld7 karma

Immensely complicated and controversial question, not one to wade into lightly. I doubt money was really an issue, given when Arneson's tenure at TSR ended (about eleven months after it started, in 1976, way before there was big money involved). I think Gary and Dave had irreconcilable working habits, and very different expectations about the direction of the game and TSR as a company. It was inevitable that they would part ways.

catrambo2 karma

Hi Jon - I grew up in South Bend (as did my brother Lowell Francis) and know we coincided at more than one game at the Griffon. I just picked up your book and look forward to reading it!

For geeky kids, D&D was a way to find other smart and often outside the norm kids. How do you think that's shifted nowadays?

PlayingAtTheWorld5 karma

The Internets have changed everything. Now geeky kids have many more opportunities to self-organize and change the world.

TrustingSoul2 karma

Your book "Playing at the World" is quite the behemoth at 720 pages. Regarding the book and your research in general:

  • Was there anything you couldn't put in the book due to size limitations?
  • Is there anyone you'd like to interview on the subject of games/RPGs that you haven't yet?
  • Is there anyone you did interview, but had to leave out of the book?

PlayingAtTheWorld6 karma

The one thing I changed most at the last minute in PatW was section 2.6, about the history of monsters. That needs a book-length treatment itself. Who knows, maybe I'll get to that at some point.

A lot of the people I'd most like to interview are unfortunately no longer with us. But, say, I've never met Brian Blume.

TrustingSoul2 karma

Did you have any favorite "tidbits" of gaming/RPG history that came out of all your research? Or stuff that you didn't know until you dug really deep?

PlayingAtTheWorld6 karma

A lot of people have enjoyed my story of how the Thief class was invented - that was a surprise to me when I discovered it. I understand that Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica now bills itself, deservedly, as the birthplace of the Thief class.

nesbit372 karma

What is the biggest challenge to others doing research like yours into D&D or other games?

PlayingAtTheWorld6 karma

Getting access to the primary sources.

deus_irae3362 karma

What are your toughts about big gaming industry losing it's battle agains 99 Cents games on cellphones. Any recommendations for those developers to attract more players to spend more money on their games?

PlayingAtTheWorld2 karma

Perhaps not my forte - I don't think indie publishers of role-playing games are in any meaningful competition with the Angry Birds of the world, say. If you hope to break into a computer gaming market with such low margins, the traditional Internet wisdom would be to start free and go freemium. I fear that many of the business models along these lines rising in popularity toward are overly deceptive, if not punitive.

DeathHamster12 karma

This may be a difficult question to answer - but what is the greatest RPG system ever, and why?

Also, 2nd Ed AD&D is the greatest edition of D&D. Discuss. Or at least, tell us what your THAC0 is.

PlayingAtTheWorld6 karma

I did play a lot of variant 2nd ed. It's a good system, when properly administered.

I prefer 3/3.5.

Tails_1552 karma

What 5 games blew you away historically?

PlayingAtTheWorld7 karma

1) D&D 2) Cosmic Encounters 3) Ars Magica 4) Chrono Trigger 5) WoW

Louie_Being2 karma

Have you read Dragons at Dawn or communicated with its author, D. H. Boggs? Do you have an opinion of that project you'd like to share?

PlayingAtTheWorld5 karma

I haven't read it, though I do know Dan Boggs. But no real opinion on it as a game, as like I said I haven't played.

sigstop22 karma

Is the era of "paper an pencil" effectively over?

PlayingAtTheWorld8 karma

Um. Nah.

wcw439211 karma

Do you have a favorite character that you played in D&D? What about in other games and genres?

PlayingAtTheWorld2 karma

My favorite D&D character was a drunken arsonist named Lask. Rogue. He died in the last battle of the campaign in a very satisfying way, because he certainly didn't deserve to make it out alive.

Tommybeast1 karma

I haven't actually played D&D before, but how realistic is the D&D episode of NBC's community?

PlayingAtTheWorld2 karma

I have never seen Community. I've also never seen the Big Bang Theory. I'm really enjoying the new House of Cards at the moment, and I recently watched and adored the first couple seasons of American Horror Story. Desperately avoiding Sherlock spoilers.

shittyartist1 karma

What do you think about the Ultima series?

PlayingAtTheWorld2 karma

Hugely important. Ultima III is the grandfather of many significant JRPG franchises (Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, say). I played Ultima IV fondly back in the day. Pioneering MMORPG. And of course Akalabeth broke all kinds of new ground.

Gnomemaster1 karma

As someone interested in writing gaming material, is it better to make your own game system or write stuff for already existing rule sets (Dungeons and a Dragons, Pathfinder, etc)?

PlayingAtTheWorld2 karma

Depends on what sort of material you hope to write. A campaign setting? Probably go with something familiar. Variant rules, within OGL constraints? Build on something like D&D or Pathfinder. If you have some unique story game or innovative system, strike out on your own. Don't force your game into someone else's constraints if you've got the next Fiasco on your hands.

Runnerbrax1 karma

Why do you think the West End Games version of Star Wars RPG had such a short lifespan?

PlayingAtTheWorld3 karma

I have no special insight beyond what you could read in the Wikipedia entry.

95regenrator1 karma

Where do you think League of Legends is going with the esport thing?

PlayingAtTheWorld2 karma

While I'm no authority on LoL or DotA, I imagine that e-sports will become increasingly prominent as competitive games with greater depth and skill level grow in popularity.

strongman573680 karma

I loved your book! I appreciated the journalistic and detached tone of the work, but I was wondering if you'd be willing to share some more personal information about what D&D means to you. When did you first start playing and what were your early experiences with roleplaying like.

PlayingAtTheWorld4 karma

I think you can find answers in some responses elsewhere in the thread.

nerdulous0 karma

Looks like Wizards of the Coast finally got around to acknowledging the 40th anniversary. Better late than never I guess.

PlayingAtTheWorld2 karma

It was acknowledged in the USA today splash about Tyranny of Dragons earlier this week:


Also, Mike Mearls (who designs D&D these days) tweeted at me about the anniversary the day before:


So I'd say WotC has been on the ball here.

DuckBilledDuck0 karma

So i just gotta ask man, when and where have you ever seen a ghost before?

PlayingAtTheWorld5 karma

In the Blackmoor letter sword rules in the First Fantasy Campaign?

garrybry0 karma

What are your feelings about DND NEXT? I found the combat calculation much more straight forward.

PlayingAtTheWorld4 karma

I did the D&D Next playtest at ComicCon last year, with a couple friends, we did two sessions. Just walked in off the street, didn't say "hey I write about this stuff." I was favorably impressed, I'd say. Liked the way skill levels had been simplified, and how skills checks worked. Liked the guidelines for "attempting anything" (as readers of PatW might imagine). Obviously I was quoted in the press splash about the Tyranny of Dragons (http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/gaming/2014/01/23/dungeons-dragons-anniversary/4713259/) and I'm eager to see where this goes especially the multiplatform component.