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on 29 August 2014
A must-read for anyone who knows even the slightest detail about the origins of Dungeons and Dragons. This book is admittedly a bit dry and technical, dare I say "geeky" AND "nerdy" in parts, but it is nevertheless excellent, packed with detail, fascinating insights, and a wry sense of humour (always read the footnotes!).
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on 28 February 2014
This is a fascinating look at the development of role-playing games from their origin in war-gaming, focusing particularly on the seminal Dungeons & Dragons. In his astoundingly thorough piece of research, Jon Peterson considers all the influences and factors that led to the creation of D&D, and the subsequent rapid growth in this style of gaming. The book would have benefited from another copy-editing pass, as it still contains a number of typos and infelicities of expression, but this is a minor criticism of an impressive book that I enthusiastically recommend to anyone interested in the history of role-playing games.
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on 7 October 2012
As the editor of wargaming books (some mentioned in the bibliography), I was asked by the author to do a review of this new book.

The book is Jon Peterson's magnum opus (great work) about the development of roleplaying up to the 1980s when the roleplaying games started to spread onto various computer platforms. The chapters explore the detailed chronology of wargaming events prior to the publication of Dungeons and Dragons (D+D), the development of the medieval fantasy game genre, the origin of the D+D rules and what happened in roleplaying after D+D was published.

The source of much of the material is various archives of fanzines held in American, publically and in private collections. The list of games and magazines alone covers nine pages in the bibliography. The intellectual effort to pull together this vast plethora of material was a staggering undertaking.

The result is a substantial book at 698 pages, with the section on the development of wargaming rules and their influence in the development of roleplaying games having approximately 100 pages. Due to the length and depth of the book, it is no easy read. Some of the ins and outs of development are covered in great detail, for example the material shedding light and investigating the D+D clerics is eight pages. Saying that, the material is fascinating to anyone interested in the murky origins of roleplaying games.

The book delves into such mysteries as the issues of copyright and intellectual property for the creation of D+D (a most curious tale), the development of the magic user, dungeon settings and role of thieves in the game. It was new to me that Tony Bath, the UK wargamer who started ancient and medieval wargames and was well known for his Hyborian campaign, was given credit by Gary Gygax for the inspiration for his Chainmail rules.

The book also has a most interesting section on early wargames of Hellwig, Venturini, Reiswitz, etc, based on translations of the some of their pioneering work. Some of this work has never, to my knowledge, been available in English before.

With a book of this length, it is not surprising that I have some different interpretations in a few areas, particularly in the discussion about the history of wargaming. Donald Featherstone, one of the dozen or so people who made wargaming a popular past-time, is rightly given credit, but his main job was a physiotherapist. Perhaps I would have included more about the advent of live-roleplaying, where people borrowed the idea from historical re-enactors and started to play out D+D adventures in full costume and padded weapons, but exploring the origin of that subject would have added more pages to this book.

I can say with some certainty that no-one else is likely to write a book about the development of roleplaying that will ever match the scope and depth of this book. Whilst the book is targeted at a specialist audience, if a wargamer is interested in the origins of the D+D genre, this is the book. There is no other to compare.

John Curry, Editor of the History of Wargaming Project.
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on 3 January 2013
Definitive review of wargaming from its infancy, and particularly appealing to followers of the Dungeons & Dragons game, and how it all came to be. A must read!
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on 10 February 2015
Heavy Reaserch and well versed writing from Jon Peterson make this monster of a book a must buy for all of us who imerse ourselves in the world of Play!
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on 26 September 2012
Jon Peterson has written a huge, very ambitious tome. As far as historical data goes, the work is incredibly devoted, including almost-unnecessary minutiae, but there is good reason to include it all, in order to give credit where due and to debunk myths in other places. The author has done a massive amount of work to provide as much information as possible.

However, the minute Peterson starts speaking of the influence of rules on play, narrative, and especially immersion, the fact that he is almost totally ignorant of existing research shows through. I therefore found the book very valuable (5 stars) on some parts, harmfully oblivious on others (barely even one star).

For anything beyond exacting details of the early years, Michael J. Tresca's "The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games" is the weapon of choice. For the precise history of how and why it all began (and that alone), Peterson's absolutely great.
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