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August 5, 2005 9:16 AM   Subscribe

A Brief History of Game: A nine-part review of the major highlights in rpg history. Other interesting if generally unrelated pieces on the history of gaming, pen & paper or otherwise: "Where Have All the Demons Gone?", discussing the history of Magic the Gathering; A somewhat flippant piece by GameSpy; and some obligatory RPG theory regarding the historical popularity of various styles of RPG.
posted by voltairemodern (32 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
No Knights of the Dinner Table and their battles with Gary Jackson games?
posted by klangklangston at 9:41 AM on August 5, 2005

Woah. Those dudes much have taken lots of skill points in History (Games).
posted by papercake at 9:54 AM on August 5, 2005

Speaking of the history of RPGs, I offer this list of "Famous Last Words" from 1993. The classics never die.

And as for skill points, I think we have all played some RPG or another with Kyros.
posted by ilsa at 9:59 AM on August 5, 2005

"Combat and magic both made use of ridiculously complex cross-referencing tables, and the skill system involved more dice rolls then a craps game."

More than two, they mean?
posted by absalom at 10:06 AM on August 5, 2005

On second thought: Maybe more than two, since I misread it. I read part I and was not very impressed, since it was all stuff I've heard before, but by the time part III rolled around I was in awe. This is pretty cool.
posted by absalom at 10:11 AM on August 5, 2005

Damn cool. I still don't think of "gamers" as anyone other than RPGers. Even the card players.
And videogames are just out. How is that playing a role? Phht! Dolts.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:20 AM on August 5, 2005

"It seems all those young people who weren’t doing LSD and listening to Bob Dylan were playing a hell of a lot of wargames."

Can't it be both?
posted by ford and the prefects at 10:21 AM on August 5, 2005

Nice post! Thanks voltairemodern.
posted by turbodog at 10:24 AM on August 5, 2005

[this is cool]
posted by chunking express at 10:29 AM on August 5, 2005

Bored internetting (and the Jrun was keeping me down) so browsed the OKCupid people that had been referenced here not long ago.

Loads and loads of suspiciously young people listing themselves as being into "RPGs". I have to think they mean videogames.

posted by dreamsign at 10:48 AM on August 5, 2005

Wow. Great link, voltairemodern.

I started playing with Chainmail a zillion years ago and was pretty much absorbed from that point forward. I havent thought about Barkers work with the "Petal Throne" for years, even though I have a virtually pristine copy of the game I found at a yard sale twenty-odd years ago. It really is an amazing peice of work.

Now I'm all nostalgic... snff
posted by elendil71 at 10:55 AM on August 5, 2005

The History of Game article is neat, if pretty dated. Steve D is a good guy from the forums that have been around since, well, at least forever and a day. The big stuff that's happened in the past 5 years include:

D&D 3.0 and the Open Gaming License
So when 3rd ed came out, the folks at Wizards of the Coast (who bought it from dying TSR with filthy Magic: The Gathering money) decided to open up their core mechanics, the d20 system, for free to other companies. This meant that any gamer that could make PDFs could create, publish, and even profit from the use of the d20 system (there's some rules on the use, of course). There was a huge (Hooooggeee!) explosion of material back in 2001 as everyone and their brother tried to cash in. Hell, I even ended up getting some freelance editing work (My nerdbadge is *this big*). WotC sold the three core books (Players Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and the Monster Manual) at 20 bucks a pop and did pretty well for themselves publishing various source/splat/extras on the side.

A year or more back, the 3.0 system was upgraded again to 3.5. There were some rules fixes, the core books have jumped up in price, but the core rules are still there online, free for use.

The other biggie in my opinion was the pretty recent attempt by White Wolf, the folks who publish the Vampire games all the goth kids know and love with their black, bleak hearts, to assert their ownership of their gameworld by requiring licensing (organizer must join a national organization, there should be a cut of the proceeds, etc) for any game run using their rules where money changed hands. This caused a huge uproar ("You mean if I run a game and ask the player for a few bucks for pizza and soda, I have to pay you a fee and join your organization?") in the nerdosphere and eventually, WW backed down. They'll probably come out with another version of this in a few months (they just restarted their big core games and so likely don't want to piss off a fanbase that they're trying to get still-yet-more cash out of) aimed at protecting their IP and shutting down some of the larger organizations that run WW games without joining the big, often shoddy, "official" group.

Neat post! Now I gotta get my nerd rinsed off before the neighbors complain.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:59 AM on August 5, 2005

As a relatively younger gamer, I got my first taste of rping with Rifts--which is mentioned only in the last 3 chapters or so of the above history. It was really cool to read something about DnD's extinct predecessors/contemporaries like Chainmail and Petal Throne. Neat to see that some MeFites were playing back in the day (though, of course, entirely expected).

My question for you elder gamers: how do you rate these older games compared to more recent ones? I'm trying to decide if it would be worth it to try to track down some of these books.
posted by voltairemodern at 11:20 AM on August 5, 2005

Cool post, and thanks for the information regarding d20 robocop. I had grown older and not paid attention to WotC ever since I saw their first publishing of D&D books. This d20 thing is pretty neat.

Also regarding WW it was my understanding that they had a decent idea- - just toally botched the presentation of it. They wanted no money of somebody charging bucks for a pizza, they wanted a cut if you had a convention or other big gaming event where you were profiting off people showing up and playing their game. Maybe I'm just a naive old WW fanboy but I'm tempted to give them benefit of the doubt...
posted by cavalier at 11:39 AM on August 5, 2005

ford and the prefects writes "'It seems all those young people who weren’t doing LSD and listening to Bob Dylan were playing a hell of a lot of wargames.'

"Can't it be both?"

That's just the section of the first part that I was going to comment on. I think that an awful lot of the appeal of Tolkein for those early folks had to do with some meshing with LSD.
posted by OmieWise at 12:01 PM on August 5, 2005

posted by showmethecalvino at 12:04 PM on August 5, 2005

I agree on WW's intent, cavalier, I just wouldn't trust them (or others) to keep true to it. My college LARP could have been blasted off the face of the map by angry players narc'ing us out to WW for not letting them play their ninja/ahroun/black spiral dancer/ventrue/abomination/mummy when they wanted to.

Also, given the Cam's shoddy reputation (I admit bias, my first impression of them was the idea that by baking cookies for meetings you could end up playing a 6th gen or something) being forced to join their over-arching storyline could suck malkie balls.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:24 PM on August 5, 2005

Great link. As a former RPG'er (started with the red "Basic" D&D box set) and long-term wargamer (both historical and fantastic). I think some of this is something I'll show people when trying to explain the difference between RPG and wargaming.
posted by infowar at 12:26 PM on August 5, 2005

how do you rate these older games compared to more recent ones?
I think there are trade offs voltairemodern. Lots of new books have excellent support and a variety of ancillary materials. On the other hand the olds stuff pushes you to do more of your own work in both game mechanics and theme.

As a fer instance: Rifts vs. Aftermath There is more gamescape to play in Rifts, but from a game mechanics point of view Aftermath is leagues ahead.
Both systems however are relatively closed when it comes to the freedom offered by older simpler systems.

What makes the older games, to my mind, better was that there was more room for playing a role, interaction and creativity.
Although there are lots of gamers customizing the newer stuff.
I don't know how often my buddies & I worked over Cyberpunk's combat system.
Kevin Dockery has done lots of work with games systems and makes very tight systems for fantasy damage (The Armory is great, he did work for RTalsorian, etc).

I think it's worth getting your hands on some of the old stuff just for the perspective you get. Looking at modern AD&D at the book stores, you have tons and tons of kits and ways to do things. It's far more important to work on the dramatic aspects, storytelling, etc, that you pick up from working with the older RPGs.

...say, which Crown Royal bag did I leave that cheap brown plastic d20?
posted by Smedleyman at 12:45 PM on August 5, 2005

I agree with you on WW, robocop is bleeding. Waaay too much social intermix (and power gamers) overshadowing characters & story lines.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:52 PM on August 5, 2005

My question for you elder gamers: how do you rate these older games compared to more recent ones? I'm trying to decide if it would be worth it to try to track down some of these books.

voltairemodern, RPG style and preference, like everything I reckon, is largely a matter of personal taste. The article did a very good job I thought, of pointing out the creative highlights in the evolution of RPG games. Not necessarily recommended as starting new campaigns for, but if you are interested in older game systems with creative (and sometimes literary) brilliance for inspiration, try (in no particular order and linked when possible);

West End Games Space: 1889

Phage Press' Amber Diceless Roleplaying

Nobilis - also previously mentioned here

Ars Magica, mentioned in the article. Precursor to much of what went into Vampire: The Masquerade.

Empire of the Petal Throne. Good luck finding a copy of that. I'm holding on to mine :)

I was also quite enamored of TSR's Star Frontiers, West End Games Star Wars (simplest, most fun game system ever!), and (article aforementioned) TORG.
posted by elendil71 at 12:55 PM on August 5, 2005

I'm so sorry about the derail here, but were you ever in the Cam robocop? (Have I mentioned I love your nick?) I hung with that crowd for quite a while, actually moving all the way up to Domain Coord.. yes, I gave up because there were some ... players .. who seemed to dominate the inter-networking of the guild and basically made playing the game turn into a job. I always end up seeing that though, with SCA and everybody else. I like fun hobbies that are immersive and challenge me mentally. I dislike them when they become fulltime occupations staffed by the mentally challenged. Oooh, zing! Look how creative I am! Going now, ciao.

cav, 9612-010.. i think?
posted by cavalier at 1:09 PM on August 5, 2005

Whoops, I just realized I misattributed Space: 1889 to West End Games. It's actually Game Designers Workshop.
posted by elendil71 at 1:53 PM on August 5, 2005

Roberts eventually went on to form the Avalon-Hill Game Company, now one of the world’s biggest game companies.

Yeah, this article must be pretty old. Avalon Hill is now a tiny little division of Hasbro, which publishes some classics like Diplomacy, some stuff like Robo Rally and Axis & Allies which were previously published by other divisions of Hasbro (WotC in the first case and MB in the 2nd), and some new stuff which has received mixed reviews such as Sword & Skull and Monsters Menace America.
posted by jlub at 2:03 PM on August 5, 2005

Spake elendil71:
Empire of the Petal Throne. Good luck finding a copy of that. I'm holding on to mine :)
You know about the new Tekumel RPG, from Agents of Order, right? It's based on the Tri-Stat system. It's probably the best Tekumel RPG ever, not least because it's really quite complete in one volume (unlike previous versions that have been spread over a large, incomplete number of books).


Robocop is bleeding mentioned, but I thought I'd actually link to it. The forums there are huge and thriving -- a great resource for anyone who's into gaming or would like to get into it, or back into it.
posted by jiawen at 5:32 PM on August 5, 2005

Cool article. I enjoyed the section about anti-rpg campaigning. Unfortunately they didn't mention the best anti-rpg propaganda ever: the film version of Mazes and Monsters starring Tom Hanks!!!
Truly a shitfest to behold.
posted by papakwanz at 6:19 PM on August 5, 2005

The reason I bring up the waves is that the best indicator of Magic's growth as a genre setting game was Dungeons and Dragons. As such, the Magic Brand Team spent a great deal of time studying D&D's early days. One of the great pitfalls that D&D had when it reached the higher levels of public awareness was a huge backlash against certain parts of its fantasy elements.

And so we see, yet again, how it is that nothing truly mainstream can ever be cool
posted by JHarris at 7:04 PM on August 5, 2005

Thanks for all the great comments, everyone.

elendil, thanks very much for your responses, especially the link to Phage Press. I just recently fell into the Amber collection, and have been looking (somewhat idly) for a copy of the fabled roleplaying game based on it. Now it's only a matter of time, and finding a group.

And so we see, yet again, how it is that nothing truly mainstream can ever be cool.

posted by voltairemodern at 7:31 PM on August 5, 2005

Whoa, it's weird to see RPG. net mentioned here and see posters post.

Voltairemodern> Frankly, the older stuff's a mixed bag. It's more diverse than good. I'd look more into stuff published in the mid-to-late 90's. Unknown Armies is the game I often use to (re)introduce people to roleplaying. It's not really in print anymore, but you can download the first section (legally) from here for free. It has everything other than the magic and madness rules.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 8:03 PM on August 5, 2005

cavalier, I was never in the Cam. I was a player/sometime ST at BU's LARP when it was still going strong (from 80+ player to struggling for 10! This is the Way of All LARPs). We'd have visits by the Cam, though, and we scoffed. Nowadays, however, those that scoffed are, uh, regional STs. I'm done with Vampire (dwarves and fighters pummeling the undead with d20s is more my speed after a long period with L5R CCGing). When our LARP was going strong the Cam seemed like lame-os.

One of the guys who ran our game for years seems to be entwined with the new Mage. If you think it's weak, lemme know. He lives 'round the corner from my place.

As for, it rocks. I edited some columns there for abit (search under, uh, 'Drew') and have only recently come back unto the fold.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:16 PM on August 5, 2005

The whole WW storylines these days are weak, their only fault being not knowing when to quit and move to another topic. They took the whole 'World of Darkness' line and made so many sequels that all you are left with is a watery, pulpy mess.

Having said that, I actually enjoyed moving to a system that used 10 sided dice and only 10 sided for -everything-. It was fun. The LARP stuff was cute too, the whole rock paper scissor thing was again a laugh and something a step away from 10x10 stone corridor.

Having said that, unfortunately all the true nerds I know have moved to other cities, etc, so trying to find a passable group to get together and throw dice with has been nigh impossible these days. I tried to hit the local university gaming club type affair and wooooahhh generational chasm. No bueno. There's always Warcraft...
posted by cavalier at 9:52 AM on August 6, 2005

I rather liked White Wolf, both for Ars Magica (aside from the difficulty of finding people willing to play a non-competititve RPG) and Vampire, which I never played, but enjoyed its storyline as much as I know of it. Kind of like FASA, though (with Shadowrun), the game mechanics weren't great, but refreshing themes after a dozen years of D&D.

Other faves: paranoia, Top Secret, and Champions (with a good group, although I guess that goes for all of them).

Oh, to have the time, and the people, again.
posted by dreamsign at 10:50 AM on August 6, 2005

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