Designers & Dragons – A Look Back into Gaming History


Designers & Dragons: A History of the Roleplaying Industry” sounds like a boring concept. A history of table-top RPGs? Even to a long-time gamer like me it sounded more like a tedious textbook than something fascinating to read. Yet, during conversations on the history of D&D and its original designers, the book kept coming up. After several people recommended I read it, I decided to pick up the first volume (which covers the 70’s).

Although not something I couldn’t put down at times, I have to say this historian’s perspective on RPGs was a lot more fascinating than I’d thought. The first thing I noticed was this didn’t just discuss the gaming industry in the 70’s; instead, it discussed the histories of a dozen-plus important game companies and their influences on the industry. These histories often span decades, from the origins of the companies (or their founders) through their endings or current whereabouts. This provides a far more interesting look at how RPGs have progressed and influenced each other.

Probably the most interesting aspect of this history was the stories of the main figures in gaming. Although wargames (the predecessors to RPGs) had been around for decades, the current industry and hobby was populated by a limited number of key enthusiasts. These individuals helped design and drive a scattered industry into a nationwide (and worldwide) phenomenon. Friends, opponents, mentors, students, etc., “Designers & Dragons” was almost like being in the midst of that sort of drama. You saw people work together, split apart on ideological lines, and then fight with each other over rights and copyright issues. Newer designers would arrive on the scene, mentored by the experienced or simply trying to outdo them and “fix” what they felt was wrong with the current trends. There was probably as much drama and politics in the gaming industry as the fantasy worlds they wrote about.

Another fun part of the book is watching table-top roleplaying games change in style and theme. Starting with the origins of D&D and other 70’s RPGs as antagonistic wargames, where a single referee purposefully pit his players against challenges in a restricted area; characters were stats on a sheet, death was common (and expected), and any story was secondary. Then the 80’s brought about open worlds and story-centered games, where gamemasters acted as both antagonist and support in the hopes of creating “fun”; characters become more in-depth, story became more important than “winning”, and death was a far bigger event. Sadly, as this book focused primarily on companies that arose in the 70’s (few of which made it to the 90’s and beyond), the progression ends there until the next volume. I cannot wait to see as RPGs become more focused on drama and complex moral themes.

This book also helped fill in several gaps for me, as I didn’t start gaming until a decade after the industry took off. Many of the used games I saw were from the 70’s; like syndicated television, I would pick them up without realizing their importance or influence. “Designers & Dragons” allowed me to watch the industry and games move into the era I was familiar with, and to better understand where my hobbies came from and how they would move on.

For my fellow gamers out there, I have to recommend picking up these books. Admittedly, I’m only finished with the first volume, but I can’t wait to watch as more familiar designers appear in the 80’s and how they interacted and changed tabletop-gaming. This is no boring textbook, but a fascinating look into the past (and future) of a favorite pastime.

A Critique of Awesome Con 2015


I did this last year and I feel it’s only fair that I continue to summarize the good (and bad) of Awesome Con again. It’s always nice to reflect on an experience and offer some constructive criticism, if necessary. This is doubly so as I now consider Awesome Con my “home convention” that I will hopefully be attending on an annual basis.

I started the previous critique mentioning how much I hated conventions and that Awesome Con turned me around. This is no different this year as I had a blast, but now I’m approaching the convention from a new viewpoint: as an exhibitor. I purchase an artist’s table in conjunction with several talented friends of mine, working as their backer. Hopefully what I write will help others and provide some consideration.


So… much… bigger. Everything felt larger this year, from the con floor itself to the amount of panel rooms. More guests, more merchants, more artists, and more space in general. I rarely became stuck behind groups, and those few I did I could usually find my way past within seconds. Even more notable was the huge space behind the artists’ tables, which was a blessing to our ever-rotating group watching over our things. The only areas that became truly crowded were the autograph booths and the photo ops, which was understandable.

Speaking of which, I want to salute the photo ops people for a job well done. The logistics of that area was a vast improvement over the previous year. Three booths (instead of one), dedicated areas for lines (including markings on the floor), and a group of volunteers working hard to handle the crowds. I heard a few complaints from some attendees, but pay them no heed. No one working the photo ops was rude; at worst, during huge crowds, they might have been a bit curt. If anyone felt offended, they were probably too sensitive to begin with.

The panels were also a nice improvement, as there wasn’t a single one I attended that was boring. The only one I left was more due to the other attendees than the panel itself. I want to particularly salute “There Are No Bad Movies (Only Bad Audiences)” for a great discussion; I loved the panel and enjoyed some excellent after-conversation with John Dimes (aka Doctor Sarcofiguy). For those few panels that had large lines, the addition of line rooms was a smart idea and really helped keep things organized.

As usual, I cannot stop mentioning how excellent the staff are. I’m not saying they’re perfect, but compared to the “all business” of large shows and the “dorks on a power trip” of small events, the Brute Squad are a refreshing reminder of how you can wrangle volunteers into a professional force. I did hear about a few bad seeds, but from what I saw the staff appeared to take those complaints seriously. Everyone I dealt with was very helpful and appeared trained in a few key customer service techniques.


So… much… space. This is a minor gripe, as it was nice to have so much room, but there was also a lot of emptiness to the place. The ticketing area was way too large, and there was no need to have the various registration booths a good 200 feet from the nearest line. It almost winded me when I needed to get something done about badges or ask questions, which was good exercise but bad planning. Also, the choice to require everyone to enter at Mt. Vernon or L Street, then walk through multiple city blocks of building was a bit ridiculous. Every time people finished a panel, they had to walk 2-3 football field lengths just to return to the convention floor. Next time, perhaps a rear entrance for those with badges would be a better idea.

While I truly show my support for the staff, there was still an issue with volunteer knowledge. All too many times a volunteer would be asked a question, only to respond “I’m not sure about that” and have to ask someone higher up. This wouldn’t normally be a problem but the questions were all about things already well-known and listed on the main website. The most common was confusion over what access the Guest-Specific VIPs had, namely cuts in line to everything like general VIPs. The website (and announcements) were quite clear they all had the same access, yet somehow the volunteers didn’t know that. If a staff member is uneducated about the policies and rules of the very organization they are volunteering for, something is wrong. I think the FAQs, announcements, etc. should be required reading for all Awesome Con staff. Those who cannot be bothered to brush up on this information might best be placed in duties not involving customer interaction.


Awesome Con is growing fast, which is good and bad. The good is that it’s providing something the DC area has missed: a major comic convention that is beyond the local “geek fests” hosted at hotels. The bad is that this means prices may rise quickly as the convention reaches New York or San Diego levels. Still, so far they’ve done some great things and learned from their growing pains.

The location is great, with lots of space, tons of panel rooms, and organized areas dedicated to guests. Staff learned their lessons and have found good ways to control the long lines and massive amounts of attendees. Panels are extremely diverse and fascinating, with something for everyone. And the staff have continued to prove how fun and professional they are, the few bad apples notwithstanding.

Of course, the location is also a little too big, with some poor decisions about use of space and entrance policies. Although great exercise, this turns off a lot of people who don’t feel like walking a marathon every time they want to visit other aspects of the convention. In addition, although helpful and nice the ignorance of some staff was astounding. They didn’t know some of the simplest information pulled straight from the website’s FAQ, which is neither professional nor comforting.

I’m already planning my visit for next year, so here’s hoping some of these new problems are addressed and they continue to put on a truly awesome show.