Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Dungeoneering & Dragon Hunting

Roleplaying is all but forty years old, and thus, so is Dungeons & Dragons. As evidenced by the recent number of books that detail the hobby’s history, role playing has become something more than just a silly game. Mongoose Publishing’s Designers & Dragons, MIT Press’ Second Person – Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media, and McFarland’s The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games are all testament to that. Further, they have also become collectable, and none more so than Dungeons & Dragons. Collecting Dungeons & Dragons has always been something of challenge, for although sites like eBay and The Acaeum have made the task much, much easier, what collecting has always lacked is a guide. That is, until now.

Published by Italian publisher Wild Boar Edizioni srl through Chronicle City, Hunter of Dragons – The Original Dungeons & Dragons Collecting Guide is the complete guide to collecting Dungeons & Dragons. It is important to note this because its focus is entirely on Dungeons & Dragons and what that game became, Basic Dungeons & Dragons, rather than its bigger, bolder, better supported, if not bloated, younger brother, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Its time frame is also thus limited to just a nineteen-year time frame from 1974 to 1993. Within that span it not only covers the various editions of the game, adventures and accessories, miscellaneous items and unreleased products, but also titles from Judges Guild too! It is even more important to note that Hunter of Dragons is not a price guide. That would be impossible to accurately report given that such prices are constantly changing. So instead, it gives a rarity value for each entry.

Hunter of Dragons opens with “The History of Dungeons & Dragons” before discussing “The various editions of Dungeons & Dragons.” What is surprising to note is that there are as many editions as there are – six all together. Each edition is given its own entry with each entry giving the book or product name, its publication date, the names of its designers, its contents, its rarity, some notes, and whether there were any foreign editions. These include the Australian and British editions as well as those in French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish, and even the Japanese and Hebrew books! Some entries also include a trivia entry, for example that B3 The Palace of the Silver Princess Orange version is one of the few TSR titles to have been written by a woman and is one of the most sought after items for Dungeons & Dragons – more so than the fabled ST1 Up the Garden Path. Each section ends with a thumbnail illustration of each of the entries it includes.

Although the book has no index, it is neatly organised. Each section is broken down by edition of Dungeons & Dragons. So that for the Accessories section, the entries are from the game’s first through fifth editions, while for the Boxed sets the entries come from the fourth and fifth editions. Some ranges receive a section of their own, for example, that devoted to the Hollow Earth line. The “other products” section covers the 10th Anniversary Products, the Endless Quest books, novels, Calendars, Electronic Games, licensed items, magazines, and more.

Judges Guild receives a section to itself. This is almost a mirror of Hunter of Dragons, including as it does a history of the publisher as well as the listing of products that it released. The trivia sections for each of these entries are consistently more extensive than those for entries elsewhere in the book and makes for interesting reading.

Rounding out Hunter of Dragons is a trio of interviews, each appearing in print for the first time. These are in turn with Gary Gygax, David Arneson, and Larry Elmore. The one with Gary Gygax dates from 2002 and is the more noteworthy of the trio, being a lengthy piece that covers Gygax’s complete history – before, with, and after his time at TSR. Gygax takes the time to answer each and every question, and does not avoid the difficult subject of the financial difficulties and other problems that he had during his time at TSR. In many ways it is actually the most interesting read in the Hunter of Dragons, to an extent because it really offers the book’s strongest narrative, but mostly because five years on from his death, it presents a retrospective on the father of Dungeons & Dragons, if not the hobby itself, one in his own voice. In comparison, there is a certain reluctance to the interview with David Arneson and an obvious ebullience to the one with Larry Elmore, and as a consequence neither is particularly interesting.

As much as Hunters of Dragons describes itself as the “Collecting Guide” to Dungeons & Dragons, one aspect it does not address is the actual “collecting.” To an extent, this is understandable, for just like the notion of including an actual price guide, it can be countered by the fact that either is by their very nature, ephemeral. Prices change and fluctuate just as the sources that a collector goes to for the titles that he is after will also alter and vary. Nevertheless, some general guidance would have been useful.

Physically, Hunter of Dragons comes as a thick digest book, its vibrant red cover evoking Larry Elmore’s illustration for, and the trade dress of, the classic Red Box Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. In addition to the illustrations for each of the book’s entries, Hunters of Dragons is illustrated with a range of surprisingly interesting TSR adverts. It is a pity that that the book’s many illustrations could not been in colour, as that would aided the collector’s visual identification of any of the books that he is after, but the fact that it is not, is understandable. Another issue is the language. Hunter of Dragons is written in English, but he is Italian and it does show in paces. That said, the author’s English is better than this reviewer’s Italian, and this could have been addressed with a closer edit.

The release of Hunters of Dragons is a timely one in light of Wizards of the Coast’s re-release of its extensive back catalogue for both Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in PDF and thus making them available to all. That said, the re-release of those PDFs by Wizards of the Coast has to an extent superseded some of the details given in Hunters of Dragons, essentially the history and the trivia, thanks to the efforts of Shannon Appelcline, the author of the aforementioned Designers & Dragons. That said, the focus and remit of Hunters of Dragons is much, much tighter and certainly successfully fulfilled by its author. Hunters of Dragons is a well-written, solidly researched, treatment of what to collect when it comes to Dungeons & Dragons that will with any luck be joined by companion volumes devoted to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.