The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Publisher: Jolly Roger Games
Reviewer: Frank Branham

One of the reasons that Greg and I decided to continue the format of The Games Cafe is that there just was not enough material being written about gaming as a hobby, an industry, an artform, and techniques and trends. While the puzzles were the most popular part of The Games Cafe, it was definitely the quality of the editorial articles that we wanted to preserve, because no one else was really doing that.

Except for what Jolly Roger Games was working on, a project called Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Essays on Roleplaying. Even better, all of the proceeds from their work are going to a local charity working with cancer patients. Curiously, I have not heard much talk about the book at all on the net. So it is time to climb up to my parapet and tell you about this one.

The book is really good.

And it is not entirely about roleplaying. Take a look at the authors: Richard Garfield, Greg Costikyan, Marc Miller, Jim Dietz, Rick Loomis, Matt Forbeck, and some unknown named Gary Gygax. The articles range from musings on the nature of gaming, to histories of game companies. The final result is a fascinating set of disjointed images by several of the people who helped shape the modern hobby game industry.

Jim Dietz (Orcs at the Gates, Jolly Roger Games) ends the book with a description of how he got started producing games. This article appeared in edited form last month. (From A to Z) (And was one of the reasons I had to nip out and pick up a copy of this book.)

Rick Loomis (Of Flying Buffalo, Nuclear War, and Tunnels and Trolls fame) has written a short piece about a cycle of open hostilities between RPG players, miniature gamers, and collectible card games.

Greg Stafford (Chaosium and Runequest) tells you about the particular mythologies chosen for his wonderfully ornate RPG (Pendragon) based on Arthurian legend.

Richard Garfield (Magic, Robo Rally) writes about concepts of Metagaming-the actions outside the scope of the actual rules of a game. (Considering the main draw of Magic revolves around its trading aspect, this is a particularly nice choice.)

Greg Costikyan (SPI, and West End Games too numerous to mention) preaches to the choir about how gaming is really an art form, but that few people seem to treat it as such. This article left me almost screaming "It's not fair!" to the heavens, and wanting to go up to the editorial floor (my real life job is at a large metropolitan newspaper) to kick around a couple of editors.

Matt Forbeck (Deadlands, and Brave New World) has a very long and detailed article about his experiences freelancing and trying to create a new roleplaying game from scratch. He goes into detail about production hassles, flaky artists, conventions, promotions. More than anything I have ever seen in print, he shows us the sort of stuff that goes on behind the scenes in making games. And throws in several tips on how to freelance.

Marc Miller (Traveller, other GDW games) tells us about the design philosophy of Traveller, with a history of just how the game ended up in its current form. We are also reminded that Traveller was really the second roleplaying game to become popular, and yet the design is so radically different from Dungeons & Dragons.

Gary Gygax (Dungeons & Dragons) writes a very similar piece about the history of the creation of the Greyhawk world. The interesting thing about this piece is that you can easily see the effects of group creation, as he is forced to fill in sections of his empty world as the players become curious about them and begin to explore.

Rounding out the book are illustrations by folks whose work graces much of the roleplaying material we have been seeing for ages. All of the content was donated by the authors and artists, who deserve many judos for their efforts.

Reading the book, I was struck with a strong sense of reading the runes left by people who really and truly love games. Even though much of the content drifts from the boardgame-centric universe, Horsemen of the Apocalypse really struck a chord. Within its pages there seems to be brief glimpses into how our gaming hobby came about, how it is currently being done, and where it might be headed.

- Frank Branham

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