Much like any history, the history of RPGs is long, drawn out, complicated and full of little details that are often too much, or too tedious, to read about. What is presented here are the major points of the history of RPGs in a condensed form. There are books out there that explain it better, and websites as well, but you should at least be familiar with your hobby's history.

Page breaker

The Beginning of the Hobby

The roots of the RPG started way back in the mid-60s, before even the idea of roleplaying games was even thought of. Before RPGS, there were wargames.

Wargames are still around today, but the basic premise is that players are controlling armies, and the two armies move around a battlefield and fight, until one army is declared the victor. Wargames were still not very popular back in 1966. This changed with Gary Gygax.

Gary Gygax (left) and Dave Arneson (right)

Gygax was an Illinois native who loved wargames. He helped form the International Federation of Wargamers in 1966, after which he subsequently moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsion in 1967. Two years later, Gygax helped co-author the rules to Chainmal, a miniatures wargame. Only a year afterwards, during a wargame session, a player by the name of Dave Arneson suggested that instead of storming the castle in the scenario they were playing, they could instead invade the castle through the sewer. This sparked the beginning of roleplaying, and put Arneson and Gygax down as the grandfathers of the hobby.

Over a few years, Arneson and Gygax developed more rules for "The Fantasy Game", and Gygax formed Tactical Studios Rules, also known as TSR, with Don Kaye. TSR, which became the first roleplaying game publishing company, published "Dungeons & Dragons", the evolution of those rules for "The Fantasy Game", in 1974. Out of the 1,000 copies they hand-made, they all sold within the first year.

Though Gary and Dave are no longer with us, and Dungeons & Dragons is on its 4th edition under a different company, the hobby is still alive and well. It has had its bumps and bruises, for sure, but it has managed to head through the years for the better. For more information about the history of TSR, visit the official Wizards of the Coast website.

Page breaker

The Satanic Scare

One of the most noteably and embarassing portions of the RPG hobby occured in the mid-80s. Dungeons & Dragons has become engrained in popular culture, and it was only a matter of time before some kind of controversy sprung up. And this controversy did show up, in the form of Patricia Pulling.

Patricia Pulling

Pulling's debate with D&D came about from the unfortunate event of her son's suicide, in 1982. Refusing to accept his suicide, she rationalized that her son was under a curse that was put upon him during a game of D&D. She formed Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons, a group of mothers who thought of D&D as a gateway to satanism and the occult. She filed multiple lawsuits against TSR, but none of them stuck. Regardless, this was just the first in a wave of anti-roleplaying material generated during the 80s.

The waves of hate kept coming, and in different forms. Infamous Christian comic producer Chick Publications put out a comic called Dark Dungeons, a story about D&D and its ties to witchcraft and sorcery. Hollywood also put out a major motion picture adaptation of a novel called "Mazes and Monsters", which was about the attempted suicide of a teen who played D&D, and once again, its connection to devil worship. The movie was also, strangely enough, Tom Hanks's first major motion-picture billing.

Either way, all these allegations eventually got to TSR. Though the first edition of D&D featured demons as enemies you could fight, these were subsequently removed when the 2nd edition was released in 1989, along with removal of any mentions of occult. These things were eventually brought back with the release of the 3rd edition in 2000, but not without careful consideration. Some fragmented groups still think of D&D in a negative light, but that dark time in our hobby is gladly in the annals of time. For more information about Patricia Pulling's accusations, visit here

Page breaker

Where Its Been and Where Its Going

Just like all media and entertainment, RPGs have evolved over time. People learned from mistakes and took in opinions, and adapted ideas for the better. However, there are some general trends you can go point out in how the industry has developed.

The major point of contention is complication of systems. The first D&D that was released in the 70s had very basic rules to learn. There were not many statistics, no complicated concepts to learn, no real barrier to entry and everything you needed to know about your character could fit on an index card. However, people wanted more detail and explanation and examples, so publishers responded.

More rules and idiosyncrasies were added. Some systems functioned entirely off of charts, and rulebooks became thicker and thicker and more complicated. The barrier to entry slowly was built, and this posed a problem to publishers. They were keeping their old fanbase, but new customers were harder to bring in. Furthermore, some people were unhappy with the complication of games, saying that it should be left up to the imagination of the players.

What changed this were really three events: The release of the D&D SRD, the introduction of independent roleplaying games, and the release of Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition.

SRD stands for Systems Reference Document, and what it is is the base rules for the 3rd Edition of D&D. Copyright law in United States of America does not allow the copyright of rules for games or sports. So Wizards of the Coast, the now owners of D&D, released this ruleset, which allowed waves of published and fan-made material. People started using it to basically "remake" older games, a movement which is known as the Old School Renaissance. It fired up the community to a pitch that was not known before.

This also inspired the independent community, who started putting out custom made RPGs for public release. With the advent of the internet mercantilism, selling these projects is the easiest it has ever been. Forums such as The Forge and publishing sites such as Lulu help encourage this.

Finally, the release of the 4th edition of D&D in 2008 brought upon a turn for commercial games to become more mainstream again. This edition sells in retail bookstores and comic stores, and the rules have become more compact and easier to understand. RPGs are adjusting to their markets as we speak. The industry is moving quickly, making it an exciting time to participate in the hobby.

Page breaker