Earlier this year I was walking through a mall in my city that has a used book store. Like a siren calling me to the depths, I went in not knowing what I was going to find. This used book store has had several roleplaying game books in the past, but it actually had an entire display towards the front of the store. It was probably trying to capitalize on the Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves movie that was playing in the theater across the mall. Most of the books were ones I already owned or made my savings throw vs buy. But one book caught my eye. A little hardback book with a worn book jacket titled Dicing with Dragons: An Introduction to Role-Playing Games by Ian Livingstone.
I don’t know why this book jumped up and said “buy me”. Perhaps it was a chance to look into the early parts of the role-playing hobby since this book was published in 1982. According to the text on the inside of the jacket, the author co-founded Games Workshop and was (at the time) editor of White Dwarf magazine. Since the price was reasonable, I made the purchase with the intent to read and review the book for the blog.
This version that I had picked up was the book club edition. From what I saw on the internet, this book also appears to be available in paperback as well. This book was printed in the United States by The New American Library. I believe this company is one of the branches of Signet and/or Plume. All three company names were listed in the credits.
My book has 210 pages with several black and white illustrations (created by Russ Nicholson) and several sample pages from various games. The cover on the jacket was painted by Victoria Poyser. The book is broken down by acknowledgements, introduction, nine chapters and three appendixes.
The introduction takes a narration from the characters point of view through a combat scenario in a dungeon setting. This is one that you would normally read at the start of a ‘what is role-playing’ section of a core rule-book. In typical old-school fashion, one of the characters dies in this narration. This leads us directly into chapter one “Mind Games.” The author gives a description on how role-playing games work. What are player characters, working together in a group, using the power of imagination, etc. There is a discussion of the differences between RPGs and board games, the different styles of dice and what the different players do (including the dungeon/game master).
Chapter 2 “A Solo Adventure” talks about the rise of solo roleplaying (which is making a comeback from what I understand). There is a mention of Tunnels and Trolls (a popular solo RPG at the time) but primarily focused on a game written by Mr. Livingstone for this book called Fantasy Quest. It has a character sheet, creation rules and a combat system. Don’t be surprised if I end up creating a character for the next Character Creation Challenge coming up in January, 2024. I didn’t read too much of this chapter beyond the rules section primarily because I wanted to actually play the game after I’ve created my character. But the adventure is in the typical (if you want to go left, read section 17, if you want to go right read section 18, etc.)
“Games You Can Buy” is our next chapter. The author talks about some of the beginnings of the industry in the 1970s and how someone can learn the different games and rule sets. Then he discusses the popular games at the time with a little bit of detail. Not exactly a rule-book, just enough to give you an idea of what is needed to grasp the game. These included Dungeons and Dragons, Runequest, Traveller, and the above mentioned Tunnels and Trolls. The end of this chapter mentioned a few other games that were available on the market at the time, but didn’t go into detail on these systems.
Chapter 4 “Accessories” talks about the various published or authorized books and products that were available at the time of publishing. It broke these down by rules expansions, playing aids, background supplements and scenarios. It also listed their publisher and status (official, approved, etc.). Most of these I had heard about or seen in person or in catalogs. Some I wondered if they actually existed, but at the time of reading I didn’t want to get distracted by internet searches. There was also a description of magazines (yes White Dwarf was listed first) and a very brief listing of fanzines.
“Miniature Figures” was the subject of chapter 5. I really skipped a lot of pages in this chapter so I really couldn’t tell you if the techniques would still be useful for today. The primary reason for this is my lack of patience to put together models or paint miniatures. I love seeing them in play and I admire the person who does have that patience, but I know that person isn’t me. There are color charts and diagrams about how to paint. So, it may be useful to someone with that interest.
Chapter 6 is titled “Playing God” and the author discusses a lot of tips and tricks for new game masters to use. A lot of it made sense and were items that I had thought about (or read about in other GMs guides). But it was interesting seeing the early 80’s viewpoint.
Chapter 7 was for something very new at the time, “Computer Games“. The author talks about the wide possibilities that computers could help in gaming (if he only knew). I did skip a few pages in this chapter as well, but not for the same reason as chapter 5 above. The author was trying to describe in 80’s terminology the parts of a computer. “A kilobyte is…”, etc. It is a little dated (remember that a computer year is like a dog year). Having worked with computers since the late 80’s, a lot of it was very dry to me. If you are interested in the early days of computing, this chapter may be of interest to you.
The next chapter, titled “One Step Beyond” was very short. It covered live action role-playing. From the assassin game Killer to the SCA to something in the United Kingdom called Treasure Trap that was held in a real medieval castle. It sounded interesting, but I don’t think it may have gotten very far.
Chapter 9 titled “How Do I Start?” covered the different methods that you could use to get involved with other gaming enthusiasts and groups. It also talks about game shops and conventions. These techniques were good for the time and gives a look on what challenges the players had in getting together. It was a good chapter to end the book on.
Appendix 1 gave the postal addresses for the various game publishers. Magazine publishers were found in Appendix 2. Addresses for companies involved in miniatures and figures could be found in Appendix 3.
As I was reading this, I started gaining an appreciation for those who came before me. I started getting interested in role-playing games not too long after this book came out, but I was stuck in the bubble that most junior-high kids found themselves in at the time. What information we gathered came from local shops or what was published in the magazines of the time. While some of the items in this book are a little dated now, it still gives an interesting look into the introduction that many of our fellow players may have used. I’m glad that I have found this book and added it to my collection.
Have you read Dicing With Dragons? What books would you recommend about the early days of the role-playing game industry/hobby? This article is open for discussion on the TardisCaptain dot Com Discord server. You can also email me at Carl (at) TardisCaptain.com with any comments.