Game Wizards

Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons by Jon Peterson

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Game Wizards is a business history spanning the creation of Dungeons & Dragons and TSR to the firing of Gary Gygax in 1985. The book has a special focus on the legal battles between Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson around creator and royalty rights for D&D, but also covers the rivalry between GenCon and Origin and the overall growth of TSR. Jon Peterson assembles the story from a broad-range of sources, including media portrayals, fanzines, interviews, legal documents, unexpected artifacts, and recreations of financial statements.

Peterson lays out the pivotal and mundane operations by year. This approach allows a very deep recalling of each year’s happenings and an “uncompressing” of history. As D&D takes off in the early 1980s, TSR becomes profligate with spending and bad habits become entrenched. By maintaining a constant velocity through history, the narrative is less of a “bubble burst” business story and more a nuanced look at the mechanics of selling and producing the games. The book’s detail will make it a primary resource for later historians and should be of interest to game entrepreneurs for details on marketing, distribution, and rights management.

The result is far-less hagiographic than Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons (2015) and showcases more of the personality issues, lousy business practices, and messiness inherit in starting a business within a novel market. The book spends little time on game design or why roleplaying games were successful or fun; for example, non-gamers may be mystified why modules were so lucrative as the reader is assumed to understand the mechanics of hosting a gaming session. However, audience restrictions aside, the book is a very valuable addition to the relatively young field of game studies and should be very useful for comparative studies for how other entertainment industries managed their growth and talent.