Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Who in gaming is worth knowing about?

After my exasperated outburst about people not knowing about Ron Edwards I started thinking. Jeff Rients, always with his eye on the pulse of gamerdom, asked a very relevant question. Maybe the contributions by the "Forgeites" are not really impacting the hobby very far? Maybe rpg theory is largely ignored by most gamers? Even if that it true (and I hope it's not), it still leaves me with the question of who you should know about?

Earlier this year, a friend was giving me a ride home after a gaming session. I was kind of tired, and as I usually do in that state I was blathering on about whatever my mind had gotten stuck on. Amazed (and bored?) my friend asked me "How do you know all these biographical details about all these game designers!?" after I had talked about when someone started this or that game company. I am interested in the history of our hobby, and some things sticks in my mind. The ups and downs of the business end of the hobby seem to be one such thing. So, is this something everyone should know about? Quick! When did Greg Stafford start The Chaosium? Who else was involved? What? You don't care?

So who do you think everyone should know about in gaming? I guess the most famous people probably are Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Being there from the start counts a lot. How about Rick Loomis, who in 1970 started the oldest game company still around doing the same kind of business? How about Mark Rein*Hagen who helped create the phenomenon that is White Wolf? How about Matthew Sprange who runs one of the most successful game companies today? How about Ed Simbalist? Frankly, I'm not sure I know who everyone should know about. I have many times found that the one-game-gamers who only know of Gygax and D&D to me seem like they have deprived themselves of some of the sublime heights possible in the hobby which so succinctly combines game elements, storytelling and performance art. And some really cool game mechanics and worlds, to boot! Just look at two very distinctly different games like Dogs in the Vineyard by Vincent Baker, and Tunnels & Trolls by Ken St Andre. Both opened vistas in my head I didn't even suspected existed!

So, hell know who is important enough in the big scheme of things. I just hope everyone out there treats the whole field of the hobby is one big dungeon, filled with treasure. Who don't want to explore some more, and get just a little bit more loot home? Happy delving!


  1. In my gaming circle of about 20 people, there are maybe two others that care about any game beyond the one we're playing right now (D&D 3.5). Some remember Gary Gygax because we started playing using AD&D 1st ed.

    Even I don't know any biographical details of designers. Part of the problem has been the tendency to put publisher over author. Quick, who wrote Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia (Necromancer Games)? Who wrote DCC #23 The Sunken Ziggurat (Goodman Games)?

    And I think we're repeating this partly by using our pen-names on our blogs and making PDF files available for download that don't contain our real names, and sometimes contain no author information at all.

    Another issue: Sometimes I like a system like Zorceror of Zo, and I want to know more, so I subscribe to the author's Twitter feed. But I will learn very little about the game I'm interested in by following the author.

    Then again: “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people” -- Eleanor Roosevelt

    Also worth thinking about.

    How about this highly subjective approach: The people I know (not many) that I'd like to tell my friends about. Mostly I'd tell them "watch new releases by these guys, it might be interesting."

    Chad Underkoffler. Ed Greenwood. Monte Cook. Michael Curtis. Michael Shorten. Matt Finch. (Point in case: Who are Calithena and Ignatius Umlaut?) S. John Ross. Luke Crane. Fred Hicks.

  2. I'd add Marc Miller to that list. He created Traveller, published in 1977. Like D&D, Traveller brought a lot of gamers into the hobby. It's interesting to note that there are gamers who started with Traveller and never really got into D&D, which was growing in popularity the same time Traveller was published.

    I guess you could say that Traveller introduced the concept of skill based characters and combat that remained lethal throughout a character's life.


  3. I have a massive amount of respect for the distinguished authors/game designers you've mentioned, but very little interest in knowing more. Like my favorite fiction authors, I love the worlds they create, but their place in the mundane world is not something I expend much energy on. I hope that doesn't offend anyone. It's just how I feel.

  4. Chad Underkoffler. Ed Greenwood. Monte Cook. Michael Curtis. Michael Shorten. Matt Finch. (Point in case: Who are Calithena and Ignatius Umlaut?) S. John Ross. Luke Crane. Fred Hicks.

    There's one guy on that list who's a real hack. :)

    But seriously, that's a pretty nice compliment lumping me in with some of those guys. Thanks!

  5. Here we see a problem at once. Some of you interpreted this as designers worth following, and some as historically important for the hobby. I mostly intended the latter, and picked some different names. Could you pick differently? You most certainly could. It's not even my own "top five" or anything.

    So, do you need to know anything about these guys, or about their games? Good question.

    Also, I think Alex is really unto something about the distinction between producers and designers, and the habit of using pen-names. Who are the game designers whom I'd recommend to my friends? That is a very practical approach. I wont even try to do one, though. I will add two names to Alex list: Vincent Baker and Greg Stolze.


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