Dungeons and Dragons

Talking Paper Interview Series: Lauren Bilanko

Talking Paper Interview Series: Lauren Bilanko

Lauren Bilanko co-owns and operates fantasy games outlet Twenty Sided Store (TSS) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In April 2016, she and co-owner Luis Chato will celebrate five years of serving customers from their storefront at 362 Grand Street, and providing a friendly backroom space to players of Magic: The GatheringDungeons & DragonsSettlers of Catan, and other games. Those loyal customers generated enough word of mouth to earn TSS the title of "Best Game Shop in New York City" from the Village Voice in 2014. Following a store expansion, Bilanko collaborated with Nomadic Press to present The Backroom Theater music / reading / film showcase in December 2015 within the refurbished gaming space. In advance of the TSS five-year anniversary, I interviewed Bilanko about her business, some of the popular games she sells, and the enduring popularity of tactile games crafted from paper and cardboard.

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Talking Paper Interview Series: Steve Jackson

Talking Paper Interview Series: Steve Jackson

Steve Jackson is a London, England-based author and game designer. Along with friend Ian Livingstone, he co-created the Fighting Fantasy series of interactive gamebooks, which were first published by Puffin Books in 1982. Prior to that, the two helped co-found Games Workshop (G. W.) in 1975 from their Shepherd’s Bush flat, dedicated to distributing and manufacturing board games within the UK. Their company newsletter, Owl and Weasel, caught the attention of Gary Gygax, American co-creator of paper and pencil role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). Livingstone and Jackson soon negotiated a three-year deal with Gygax’s company, TSR, to be exclusive European distributors of D&D book manuals. The resulting income led to G. W. opening a popular London retail shop in 1978. At the end of their exclusive contract, Livingstone and Jackson turned down a merger offer from TSR, remaining D&D wholesalers, but prompting a search for new income streams. One of those would be Fighting Fantasy, a series whose origins trace to the 1980 incarnation of G. W.’s annual game convention known as Games Day—and a deal cut by Livingstone and Jackson with attending Penguin Books editor, Geraldine Cooke, to create a synopsis for a book about fantasy role-playing games. The project morphed into a pitch for a book-based solo role-playing adventure, incorporating multiple outcomes based on a reader’s choices, and a dice-based fighting system to resolve combat with creatures the readers encountered during their quest. The resulting gamebook, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, was published by Penguin’s youth imprint, Puffin, in 1982, and incorporated cover art by Peter Andrew Jones and illustrations by Russ Nicholson. 

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