A Short (personal) History of the RPG


My puzzled looks must have reflected my confusion, as I opened up the small black box to reveal three tiny booklets. Just what kind of joke was this? I had coughed US$10 or so of my hard earned money to buy this sci-fi game, with the promise of far-flung adventure across the "Imperium" and all I got for my money were these three lousy little black books? What kind of game was this, anyway?

Turns out I picked up something called a "role-playing game", still in its infancy in 1977 when I bought the little black books of "Traveller" by Marc Miller. Thus began a long, winding, adventurous trail that I am still on today, mostly played on computers. With the news of the passing of Gary Gygax, co-author with Dave Arneson of the seminal RPG Dungeons & Dragons, I have been thinking of how much fun I have had playing RPGs.

After some initial confusion, a couple of friends and I jumped into the world of Traveller with the intensity only a group of high school geeks can generate. We had charts, worlds, characters, dice and, of course, adventures galore. I still have that little black box, to which I've added a couple expansion books and two of the "Best of" from the Traveller's Journal. I also have the hardcover version, which consolidated the three black books into one big hard cover.

I didn't start playing Dungeons & Dragons until I headed off to college. There I came across a group of freshmen and sophomores in another dorm and we played D&D constantly. My fighter was Brodin and we had many adventures, playing with the basic three tan books and maybe the Greyhawk addition. This friendship led to a very nice on-campus apartment we shared in my sophomore year.

Other favorite tabletop role-playing memories:

  • Running my own D&D campaign with a friend, my girlfriend and my sisters. My girlfriend loved to paint the miniatures, which I still have. Some favorite personal touches were the sneaker clad random monster encounters, incorrect treasure maps and the way too tough room. If my players dilly dallied too much, I would only have to mention that they hear the sound of wet sneakers off in the distance and they knew they had to hurry it up. And they eventually figured out they couldn't always trust the treasure maps they found, as there might be a secret door marked on them that really wasn't there (which lead to many encounters with the squishy sneakers as they searched in vain for the missing door). And I liked to have an impossible room on a level, as they usually needed a dose of humility. You know, a gold dragon on the first level or something like that.
  • Over Christmas break one year, I ran a short Chill campaign with my sisters. We would sequester ourselves in a back room with the lights out and play by candlelight. I sure got some good scares with the Village of Twilight adventure!
  • Running a Swordbearer campaign with some friends. I still feel that, of all the fantasy RPGs out there, Swordbearer is the clearest and most rational.

During the tabletop RPG heyday during the 1980s, I collected many of them and, being the packrat I am, still have most. From well known ones like Runequest, Call of the Cthulu and GURPS, to obscure one shots like Jorune (perhaps the most original setting of any RPG ever), Star Rovers and Castle Perilous. One of my favorites was TORG, an RPG from West End Games that let the players define its history. It has a nice cinematic feel and the Drama Deck adds a nice touch. It has some real problems with outlying stats, as things don't tend to scale very well, but I have always wanted to run a TORG campaign.

Now that my girls are a little older, I think I would like to get them started on an RPG campaign. TOON might work well, although really, a good GM should be able to shield the playes from the complexity of any RPG, even Chivalry & Sorcery. Or maybe bring them back to Chill. I have the 2nd edition hardcover, although I think I would stick with the 1st edition.

Oh well, enough tabletop RPG reminiscing. Next time, I will enthrall you with my CRPG thoughts!


[this is good] Heehee.  Traveller was before my time, even though I eventually ended up with a copy of the rulebook.  I knew it only as "the game where you could die in character creation."

With my rolls I'm sure I'd have been a goner.

Classic line from the first page of the character generation chapter:"Should a player consider his character to be so poor as to be beyond help, he should consider joining the accident-prone Scout Corps, with a subconscious view to suicide."

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on March 6, 2008 8:57 AM.

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