Wed. May 22nd, 2024

The world of tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) has come a long way since its inception. Today, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is the most popular and widely recognized RPG, but it wasn’t always so. In fact, the RPG genre has a rich and diverse history that spans decades and includes many different games. This article will explore some of the lesser-known RPGs that came before D&D, shedding light on the fascinating evolution of this beloved gaming genre. Get ready to discover the hidden gems of the RPG world and learn how they paved the way for the modern RPGs we know and love today.

The Origins of Tabletop Role-Playing Games

The Evolution of Wargaming

Wargaming, which involves simulating battles between armies, has its roots in the ancient world. The earliest known wargames were played in ancient Greece, where soldiers would recreate battles as a way to train for war. These games were often played with pieces made of wood or metal, and the objective was to capture the opponent’s pieces or reach the opponent’s side of the board.

As time passed, wargaming evolved and became more complex. In the 18th and 19th centuries, wargames were played by military officers as a way to plan and practice battle strategies. These games were often played on large tables with miniature figures representing soldiers, horses, and other units. The objective was to simulate a battle and see how different strategies would play out.

One of the most influential wargames of the 19th century was “Battle of Waterloo,” which was created by H.G. Wells in 1896. This game used a tabletop to represent the battlefield and miniature figures to represent the soldiers. The game was designed to be played by two players, each controlling one side of the conflict. The objective was to defeat the opponent’s army and capture their leader.

Wargaming continued to evolve in the 20th century, with the introduction of more complex rules and the use of dice to determine the outcome of actions. One of the most popular wargames of the 20th century was “Dungeons & Dragons,” which was first published in 1974. This game combined elements of wargaming and role-playing, allowing players to take on the roles of characters in a fantasy world and simulate battles and other actions.

Overall, the evolution of wargaming has played a significant role in the development of tabletop role-playing games, including Dungeons & Dragons. By simulating battles and other conflicts, wargames provided a framework for the creation of games that allowed players to take on the roles of characters and interact with each other in a imaginary world.

The Emergence of Pen-and-Paper RPGs

Tabletop role-playing games, also known as pen-and-paper RPGs, have a rich and diverse history that stretches back to the early days of modern gaming. The roots of these games can be traced back to a variety of sources, including wargaming, tabletop board games, and even theater and improvisation.

One of the earliest examples of a pen-and-paper RPG was called “Chainmail,” which was created in the 1970s by Gary Gygax and Don Kaye. This game was designed to simulate medieval warfare and was played using miniature figures and dice. It was a complex and highly tactical game that required players to think strategically and make decisions based on the situation at hand.

Another early RPG was “Dungeons & Dragons,” which was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974. This game combined elements of fantasy and adventure with complex rules and mechanics, allowing players to create characters and embark on epic quests in a fantastical world. “Dungeons & Dragons” quickly became a phenomenon, spawning countless imitators and spin-offs and becoming one of the most popular and influential games of all time.

In addition to these early RPGs, there were other games that helped shape the genre. “Traveller,” for example, was a science fiction RPG that was released in 1977 and allowed players to explore the vastness of space and encounter strange new worlds. “Call of Cthulhu,” meanwhile, was a horror-themed RPG that was released in 1981 and allowed players to investigate mysterious and terrifying events in a world inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Overall, the emergence of pen-and-paper RPGs represented a significant shift in the world of gaming, allowing players to engage in immersive and interactive stories in a way that had never been possible before. These games would go on to inspire countless other titles and become a beloved part of popular culture, capturing the imaginations of players all over the world.

The First RPGs: The 1970s

Key takeaway: The evolution of wargaming and pen-and-paper RPGs have led to the creation of popular games like Dungeons & Dragons. These games have a rich history, with various editions and supplements expanding the genre’s possibilities. The rise of video games and online RPGs have also influenced the development of tabletop RPGs, leading to new trends and innovations in the genre. The future of RPGs looks bright, with continued emphasis on storytelling, character development, and world-building.

Dungeons & Dragons

Dungeons & Dragons, also known as D&D, is widely considered to be the first modern tabletop role-playing game (RPG). It was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974, and published by the company Tactical Studies Rules (TSR).


Gygax and Arneson were inspired by a variety of sources when creating D&D. Gygax was particularly influenced by his love of fantasy literature, including works such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and the Conan the Barbarian series by Robert E. Howard. Arneson was influenced by the game of miniatures warfare, which he played with his friends.


D&D is a tabletop RPG in which players take on the roles of characters in a fictional world. The game is typically played with a group of friends, with one person acting as the game master (GM), who creates and narrates the story, and the other players taking on the roles of their characters. The game is played using a set of rules, which are used to resolve actions and determine the outcome of events.

The rules of D&D are complex and have evolved significantly over the years, with new editions and supplements being released regularly. The most recent edition, known as the “5th edition,” was released in 2014.


D&D has had a significant impact on the world of tabletop gaming, and has spawned numerous spin-off games, including various editions of D&D itself, as well as other RPGs such as Pathfinder and World of Darkness. The game has also had a significant impact on popular culture, with references to D&D appearing in a wide range of media, including movies, TV shows, and video games.

Overall, D&D is considered to be a seminal work in the world of tabletop RPGs, and its impact on the industry cannot be overstated. Its popularity has continued to grow over the years, and it remains one of the most popular RPGs in the world today.

Other Early RPGs

The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds, first published in 1898 by H.G. Wells, served as an inspiration for the first RPGs. It is a science fiction novel that follows the invasion of Earth by Martians using advanced technology. The story was later adapted into a role-playing game by Joseph A. D’Lacey and Brian Asbury in 1975. The game was played using a map of the United Kingdom and allowed players to assume the roles of characters defending the country against the Martian invasion.

Gamma World

Gamma World, first published in 1972 by Gary Levitt and James M. Thomas, was a post-apocalyptic science fiction tabletop role-playing game. The game was set in a world devastated by nuclear war, where players assumed the roles of survivors exploring the ruins of civilization. Gamma World used a dice-rolling system for resolving actions and included rules for character creation, combat, and exploration.

Car Wars

Car Wars, first published in 1981 by Steve Jackson Games, was a tabletop wargame set in a post-apocalyptic world where players controlled armed cars in battles. The game was played on a modular board that represented a cityscape, and players could customize their cars with various weapons and upgrades. Car Wars used a dice-rolling system for resolving actions and included rules for movement, combat, and special abilities.

The Space Gamer

The Space Gamer, first published in 1975, was a magazine dedicated to science fiction and fantasy tabletop games. It included articles, reviews, and game content for various RPGs and wargames, including Dungeons & Dragons. The magazine also featured short stories and articles on science fiction and fantasy literature, as well as news and reviews of science fiction and fantasy films and television shows.

These early RPGs and wargames paved the way for the development of Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop RPGs that followed. They showcased the potential of the genre and inspired new ideas and innovations in game design.

The 1980s: The Golden Age of RPGs

The Rise of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

The Evolution of Dungeons & Dragons

In the early 1980s, the original Dungeons & Dragons game had been in circulation for over a decade, and its popularity was growing. The game had a loyal following, but it was starting to show its age. The original game had been designed as a generic fantasy game, but over time, various add-ons and supplements had been added to the game, creating a complex and sometimes unwieldy system.

The Publication of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

In 1980, TSR, Inc., the company that published Dungeons & Dragons, released a new version of the game called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D). This new version was designed to streamline the original game and provide a more consistent and cohesive system. The new rules were designed to be more balanced and less arbitrary, and the game was divided into three books: the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual.

The Impact of AD&D

The impact of AD&D on the gaming industry was immediate and profound. The new version of the game was more accessible and easier to understand than the original, and it quickly became the most popular version of the game. The new rules provided a more structured and consistent framework for players and Dungeon Masters, and the game became more widely played and more popular than ever before.

The Evolution of AD&D

Over the years, AD&D continued to evolve and expand. New editions of the game were released, and new supplements and sourcebooks were published, providing players and Dungeon Masters with even more options and ideas for their games. The game continued to grow and evolve, and it remained one of the most popular tabletop role-playing games in the world.

Today, AD&D is still widely played, and its influence can be seen in many other games and genres. Its rich history and its impact on the gaming industry make it a fascinating subject for anyone interested in the world of tabletop role-playing games.

The Expansion of the RPG Genre

During the 1980s, the tabletop role-playing game (RPG) genre underwent a significant expansion. A plethora of new games emerged, offering unique settings, mechanics, and themes. The 1980s witnessed the birth of various groundbreaking RPGs that broadened the genre’s appeal and laid the foundation for future innovations.

Some of the notable RPGs that emerged during this period include:

  • Call of Cthulhu (1981): Based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, this RPG emphasized investigative gameplay and psychological horror. It introduced a unique sanity mechanic, which simulated characters’ descent into madness as they delved deeper into the eldritch mysteries.
  • Traveller (1977): One of the earliest science fiction RPGs, Traveller allowed players to explore a vast, detailed universe, engaging in space exploration, trading, and combat. The game’s emphasis on character development and the vast scope of its setting helped it gain a dedicated following.
  • RuneQuest (1978): A fantasy RPG set in the world of Glorantha, RuneQuest was known for its intricate combat system and focus on character growth. It also featured a unique magic system, which combined spells and runic magic.
  • Paranoia (1984): This dystopian RPG took place in a darkly comedic future, where players were undercover agents working for a sinister organization known as “The Computer.” The game’s emphasis on satire, paranoia, and traitor mechanics made it a standout in the genre.
  • GURPS (1986): The Generic Universal Role-Playing System (GURPS) aimed to provide a universal RPG framework that could be adapted to any setting or genre. It offered a flexible, customizable system, allowing players to create characters from a wide range of backgrounds and professions.

These games, among others, broadened the RPG genre’s appeal and expanded its possibilities. The 1980s saw a rise in popularity for both fantasy and science fiction settings, as well as a growing interest in experimental and narrative-focused games. This period set the stage for the continued evolution and growth of the tabletop RPG hobby.

The 1990s and Beyond: The Evolution of the RPG

The Third Edition of Dungeons & Dragons

The third edition of Dungeons & Dragons, also known as “3e,” was released in 2000 and marked a significant departure from its predecessor, 2e. The new edition was designed to address some of the perceived weaknesses of 2e, while also streamlining the rules and making the game more accessible to new players. Here are some of the key changes introduced in 3e:

  • New Rule System: The 3e rule system introduced a more streamlined and cohesive set of rules, making it easier for players to understand and use. The new system also allowed for more customization and flexibility, allowing players to tailor their characters to their own playstyle.
  • Class Features: The 3e system introduced a new set of class features, giving each character class its own unique abilities and playstyle. This allowed for more specialization and customization, making each character feel more distinct and unique.
  • More Flexible Combat: The 3e system introduced a more flexible combat system, allowing for more tactical play and strategic decision-making. The new system also introduced a more granular approach to damage and injury, making combat more realistic and engaging.
  • New Magic System: The 3e system introduced a new magic system, allowing for more creative and versatile spellcasting. The new system also introduced new schools of magic, such as Divination and Enchantment, expanding the range of spells available to players.
  • Improved Balance: The 3e system introduced a more balanced approach to character creation and advancement, addressing some of the perceived power imbalances in 2e. The new system also introduced new character options, such as feats and skill points, allowing players to customize their characters in new and interesting ways.

Overall, the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons was a significant departure from its predecessor, introducing a more streamlined and flexible rule system that allowed for more customization and player choice. The new system also addressed many of the perceived weaknesses of 2e, making the game more balanced and engaging for players of all levels.

The Emergence of Indie RPGs

  • The Indie RPG Movement: A new wave of independent game designers began to emerge in the 1990s, challenging the dominance of established RPG publishers and introducing fresh perspectives and innovative game mechanics.
  • Self-Publishing and Crowdfunding: The advent of digital printing and crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter have allowed indie designers to produce and distribute their games more easily, enabling a thriving independent RPG scene.
  • Emphasis on Narrative and Storytelling: Indie RPGs often prioritize narrative and storytelling over complex mechanics, focusing on evocative settings, rich character development, and dynamic, collaborative play experiences.
  • The Rise of the OSR (Old School Renaissance): A reaction to the increasing complexity of mainstream RPGs, the OSR movement sought to recapture the spirit of early D&D by emphasizing simplicity, rules-light gameplay, and a return to the roots of tabletop RPGs.
  • Indie RPGs and Diversity: Indie RPGs have fostered a more diverse and inclusive gaming culture, with designers from various backgrounds and experiences creating games that reflect a wider range of perspectives and experiences.
  • Influence on Mainstream RPGs: The success of indie RPGs has also influenced mainstream publishers, with many incorporating indie game design sensibilities and innovations into their own products.
  • Examples of Notable Indie RPGs: * Dogs in the Vineyard, Fiasco, The Shadow of Yesterday, My Life with Master, Apocalypse World, and more.

The Digital Revolution and the Future of RPGs

The Impact of Video Games on RPGs

While tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) have been around for decades, the advent of video games in the 1970s and 1980s marked a significant turning point in the evolution of RPGs. The popularity of video games, particularly those with RPG elements, has had a profound impact on the way we think about and play tabletop RPGs today.

  • The Emergence of Computer RPGs:
    The first computer RPGs, such as Akalabeth (1979) and Ultima (1981), allowed players to explore virtual worlds and interact with non-player characters (NPCs) in a way that was previously unimaginable. These games paved the way for the development of the “golden age” of computer RPGs in the 1980s and 1990s, which included classic titles like Wizardry, Might and Magic, and The Bard’s Tale.
  • The Influence of Console RPGs:
    The rise of console RPGs, such as Final Fantasy (1987) and The Legend of Zelda (1986), introduced a new level of polish and accessibility to the genre. These games featured more sophisticated storytelling, graphics, and sound than their computer-based counterparts, and helped to establish RPGs as a mainstream gaming genre.
  • The Impact on Tabletop RPGs:
    The popularity of video game RPGs has had a significant impact on tabletop RPGs. Many players who grew up playing video game RPGs have gone on to discover and enjoy tabletop RPGs, and have brought with them a love of storytelling, character development, and immersive world-building. At the same time, the rise of video game RPGs has put pressure on tabletop RPGs to adapt and evolve in order to remain relevant and engaging.
  • The Future of RPGs:
    As technology continues to advance and the gaming landscape becomes increasingly diverse, it’s likely that RPGs will continue to evolve and change. While the core elements of RPGs – storytelling, character development, and immersive world-building – will always be central to the genre, the ways in which these elements are expressed and experienced are sure to change and grow in exciting and unexpected ways. Whether you prefer video game RPGs, tabletop RPGs, or both, the future of RPGs looks bright and full of possibility.

The Growth of Online RPGs

With the advent of the internet, online role-playing games (RPGs) began to emerge, offering players the opportunity to participate in RPGs without the need for a physical gathering. Online RPGs were initially simple text-based games, but as technology advanced, so too did the complexity and sophistication of these games.

One of the earliest online RPGs was MUD (Multi-User Dungeon), which was first created in 1978. MUD was a text-based game that allowed players to explore a virtual world, interact with other players, and complete quests. It was a revolutionary concept at the time, and it paved the way for the development of countless other online RPGs.

As the internet continued to grow and evolve, so too did online RPGs. Graphical user interfaces (GUIs) were introduced, allowing players to visualize their characters and the world around them. Online RPGs also began to incorporate more complex game mechanics, such as leveling systems, skill trees, and inventory management.

The popularity of online RPGs continued to rise throughout the 1990s and 2000s, with the emergence of massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs). These games allowed thousands of players to simultaneously explore and interact within a shared virtual world. MMOGs such as EverQuest, World of Warcraft, and Guild Wars became cultural phenomena, attracting millions of players from around the world.

Today, online RPGs continue to be a major part of the gaming industry, with new games and updates being released regularly. However, the rise of mobile gaming and the emergence of virtual reality (VR) technology have led to new opportunities for the evolution of online RPGs. It will be interesting to see how these technological advancements will shape the future of RPGs in the years to come.

The Continuing Evolution of the RPG Genre

The Popularity of Tabletop RPGs Today

In recent years, tabletop role-playing games have experienced a resurgence in popularity. The growing interest in these games can be attributed to several factors, including the rise of niche culture, the internet’s impact on the dissemination of information, and the increasing demand for social interactions that are not solely reliant on technology.

One of the main reasons behind the popularity of tabletop RPGs is the growing niche culture. As people become more interested in exploring subcultures and unique interests, they are drawn to the creative and imaginative worlds that tabletop RPGs offer. These games provide an opportunity for players to explore new ideas, characters, and storylines, all while interacting with like-minded individuals.

The internet has also played a significant role in the popularity of tabletop RPGs. With the advent of social media and online communities, information about these games is now more accessible than ever before. This has allowed for the creation of online forums, discussion groups, and social media pages dedicated to tabletop RPGs, making it easier for people to connect with others who share their interests.

Additionally, the popularity of tabletop RPGs can be attributed to the growing demand for social interactions that are not solely reliant on technology. With the rise of social media and online communication, many people are seeking out alternative forms of social interaction that are more personal and engaging. Tabletop RPGs provide an opportunity for people to come together, share a common interest, and engage in face-to-face communication, which can be a refreshing change from the often impersonal nature of online interactions.

Furthermore, the accessibility of tabletop RPGs has contributed to their popularity. Many games are now available in digital formats, making it easier for people to learn and play the games. Additionally, the availability of free resources, such as online guides and forums, has made it easier for new players to get involved and learn the rules of the game.

Overall, the popularity of tabletop RPGs today can be attributed to a combination of factors, including the growing niche culture, the internet’s impact on the dissemination of information, the demand for alternative forms of social interaction, and the accessibility of the games themselves.

The Future of RPGs: Trends and Predictions

The future of tabletop role-playing games is as bright as ever, with new trends and innovations continuously emerging. Here are some of the key trends and predictions that will shape the genre in the coming years:

  • Increased Emphasis on Storytelling: As the RPG genre continues to evolve, there is a growing emphasis on storytelling and narrative depth. This means that players can expect more immersive and engaging storylines, with greater emphasis on character development and world-building.
  • Integration of Technology: The integration of technology into tabletop RPGs is another trend that is set to continue. This includes the use of digital tools to enhance gameplay, such as online platforms for playing and organizing games, as well as digital character sheets and other resources.
  • Greater Diversity and Inclusivity: The RPG community is becoming more diverse and inclusive, with a growing number of games and settings that cater to a wider range of players. This includes games that focus on diverse characters and settings, as well as greater representation in the design and development of RPGs.
  • New Mechanics and Systems: As the RPG genre continues to evolve, new mechanics and systems are being developed that offer players new ways to experience and engage with the games. This includes innovative gameplay mechanics, such as card-based systems and cooperative play, as well as new rules and systems for character creation and development.
  • Crowdfunding and Indie Development: Crowdfunding and independent development have become increasingly popular in the RPG genre, allowing for more diverse and innovative games to be developed and released. This means that players can expect to see more unique and creative games emerging from independent developers in the coming years.

Overall, the future of tabletop role-playing games is filled with exciting possibilities, as new trends and innovations continue to shape and evolve the genre. Whether you’re a seasoned RPG player or just starting out, there has never been a better time to explore the world of tabletop RPGs.


1. What is a tabletop role-playing game (RPG)?

A tabletop RPG is a type of game where players assume the roles of fictional characters and work together to tell a collaborative story, usually guided by a game master or dungeon master. The players use rules and mechanics to determine the actions and outcomes of their characters in the game world.

2. When was the first tabletop RPG created?

The origins of tabletop RPGs can be traced back to the 1970s, with the creation of games such as Dungeons & Dragons. However, tabletop RPGs have their roots in earlier games like tabletop wargames, such as Chainmail, which was created in the 1960s.

3. What was the first tabletop RPG before Dungeons & Dragons?

While Dungeons & Dragons is often credited as the first tabletop RPG, there were earlier games that had some elements of RPGs. One of the earliest known RPGs was called “The Fantasy Game,” which was created by MIT students in the late 1960s. However, it was not a commercially available game and did not have the same level of popularity as Dungeons & Dragons.

4. What inspired the creation of Dungeons & Dragons?

Dungeons & Dragons was inspired by a combination of fantasy literature, tabletop wargames, and role-playing games. The creators of Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, wanted to create a game that would allow players to immerse themselves in a fantasy world and assume the roles of characters in that world.

5. How did Dungeons & Dragons influence the development of other tabletop RPGs?

Dungeons & Dragons was a revolutionary game that set the standard for many subsequent RPGs. Its success led to the creation of numerous other RPGs, each with their own unique rules and settings. Many of these games borrowed heavily from Dungeons & Dragons, incorporating elements such as character classes, leveling systems, and combat mechanics.

6. What are some examples of other early tabletop RPGs?

Some examples of early tabletop RPGs include Chivalry & Sorcery, Tunnels & Trolls, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. These games were created in the 1970s and 1980s and had their own unique settings and mechanics.

7. How has the RPG genre evolved over time?

Over the years, the RPG genre has grown and evolved to include a wide variety of games with different settings, mechanics, and play styles. Many RPGs have moved away from the traditional tabletop format and have been adapted to digital platforms, while others continue to be played using pen and paper. The popularity of RPGs has also led to the creation of numerous sub-genres, such as video game RPGs, live-action RPGs, and hybrid RPGs that combine elements of different games.

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