Sunday, November 22, 2015

To Hit Armor Class Zero

The die roll value required for an attack to hit an armor class of zero, or "THAC0," is the signature combat mechanism of the second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Revered by some and reviled by others, THAC0 replaced the combat matrices of first edition AD&D with pre-calculated values intended to be faster and more intuitive. Astute observers have long noted foreshadowing of a THAC0 system sprinkled throughout some first edition AD&D texts. It is however less widely known that THAC0 was in use with the original Dungeons & Dragons game, prior to the publication of the Players Handbook or Dungeon Masters Guide. The excerpt above is from Alarums & Excursions #31 (February 1978), and it describes the contemporary use of THAC0, including the acronym itself.

Monday, May 25, 2015

World At War, the TSR of the Twin Cities

In some of the earliest games produced by Tactical Studies Rules, we see a mysterious credit to an entity called "WAW Productions." WAW gets a prominent nod on the cover of the TSR hit location rules Bio One (1976). More striking is the 1975 notice on the title page of Empire of the Petal Throne that it is "Presented in Association with Mr. William J. Hoyt, W.A.W. Productions." That hints at a long forgotten fact: before TSR licensed Petal Throne, WAW had already secured an option to publish it. To learn the origins of some of TSR's seminal titles, we must therefore study the history of the obscure Twin Citites imprint known as World At War.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Fortieth Anniversary of Games Workshop

In February 1975, the circular above went out to a few hundred members of the hobby game community. It announced the formation of a new partnership in the United Kingdom called the Games Workshop, founded by Ian Livingstone, Steve Jackson, and John Peake. Their endeavor marked a crucial turning point in gaming as an international hobby: this British start-up operated by eager young fans would provide a launch pad for many games that might otherwise be overlooked by the European audience. Their discovery of one obscure American game in particular would have huge ramifications.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Gaming the Battle of the Five Armies

Years before companies preemptively exploited transmedia opportunities, before computers made games a primary part of any media strategy, it was up to the fans to make game versions of their favorite stories. Stories could move from novels to the big screen, but commercial tie-in games, when they appeared at all, invariably recycled the play of familiar children's boardgames. Yet great war stories demanded wargames, and the boldest fans brought their wargame designs to the market heedless of the consequences. Here in the tussle between fans and rights holders, between hobbies and commercialization, with a hint of corporate intrigue thrown in the mix, lies the story of gaming the Battle of the Five Armies.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: A Year in Review

2014 is behind us. From all of us here at Playing at the World (well, that's actually just me), I wanted to thank everyone who follows the work here. Since the subject matter is a bit niche, and Playing at the World doesn't boast a great many social media followers, I'm really grateful to the folks with a wider audience who take the time to draw attention to my research.

For anyone who didn't obessively follow Playing at the World in 2014, here's a retrospective year in the life of a gaming historian.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Quagmire: The Making of a 1980s Dungeons & Dragons Module

As my final contribution to role-playing game posterity for 2014, I wrote a new piece on TSR's internal process of making modules that traces the evolution of one Expert-series product from its conception in 1982 to publication  in 1984. It turns out the development process could be a bit of a quagmire - maybe even nine hells worth of development.

Read it here on Medium.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A New Dungeons & Dragons Timeline

Following on the official release of the Dungeon Master's Guide, and thus the completion of the core 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks, Wizards of the Coast has put up a new timeline of the history of Dungeons & Dragons on their web site. It replaces an older one dating to shortly after the turn of the millennium, which had been cited by numerous Wikipedia articles--but which unfortunately contained a few inaccuracies. I worked with Wizards to clean these up and provide a sturdier historical account of the game for today's readers.