April 12, 2024
6 min read

What Was the First RPG?

What Was the First RPG?

What Was the First RPG? 

RPGs are something that the majority of players can recognise straight away. The ideas of levelling up, gearing up, quest completion is pretty common. But what about the very beginning of the concept? Shall we find out…?

What was the first ever RPG?

If we were to define it as a party game of characters created via character sheets with a gamemaster to oversee their actions and narrate the story, then the title would probably go to the Dungeons and Dragons. 

If we were to “relax” the term to an interactive game containing a group of players with designated roles in a setting, trying to fulfil an objective while overseen by a “referee” to judge outcomes of their interactions, then the game Braunstein would take the honour.

The early influences to RPGs

The RPG genre was a combination of many different ideas and influences, effectively culminating into what it is today. 

Storytelling, tabletop wargames and fantasy/sci-fi literature are the fundamental parts of RPGs and removing any of these would be detrimental.

Fantasy/Sci-Fi literature

No denying it, LotR was a big influence on RPGs. Fortunately for us!
Source: booksofbrilliance.com The Lord of The Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

There’s no doubt in anyone's mind that fantasy and sci-fi literature had a HUGE impact on the creation of the RPG genre. 

Magic, mythical beasts, cool gadgets, heroic characters, fantastical/alien races, world ending stakes etc. 

And of course, going full circle, many RPGs today are attempts at either recreating that experience in either tabletop or video game format. Both fantasy and sci-fi literature is a really great source of fun and a great place to put a group of eager players into for a cool campaign.

Wargames and tabletop simulations

Setting miniatures on a tabletop to simulate movement of troops might’ve started with actual real life war conflicts and used in strategic/tactical planning. 

The first wargame was invented in 1790 by Johann Christian Ludwig Hellwig, a Prussian (unsurprisingly). 

Originally made to assist in officer training, Johann wanted a commercial version to be sold for the purpose of recreational entertainment. 

It had a “grid” map and figurines to represent basic troops (cavalry, infantry, cannons) and it of course had a ruleset to make the game more competitive. 

Sounds a lot like a turn-based game. It’s not nerdy if it’s used by the army, right…?

Collaborative storytelling games

A vital component is of course storytelling. Taking part in an epic story is fun thanks to the interactivity between the players inside said story. And of course the all powerful DM to assist (and hinder) the progress of the heroes for the complete role-playing experience. It may be only a “made up” character, but it’s your “made up” character. 

And is it really made up after you’ve given it “life”?

Each part is equally important for the true RPG experience but at the same time, each can be enjoyed on its own. 

The early RPGs

These titles were the strongest inspirations/direct influence on today’s RPGs

Braunstein

David Wesely is considered a very influential figure when it comes to the concept of RPG. Initially an attempt at playing an experimental wargame in a fictional town of Braunstein with 20 volunteers Each volunteer would have a designated role, including civilian roles, with David serving as a “referee”. 

The players unexpectedly started to act as their in-game characters and as the experiment started to stray further and further away from the original, David began coming up with rules on the fly to keep up with the changes. 

While the original concept of a wargame didn’t go as planned, the players themselves were thrilled to participate in another game. 

The next session had a different scenario with more role-playing experience, with another influential character taking the role of a referee, namely Dave Arneson, co-creator of D&D.

Blackmoor

Dave Arneson, potentially inspired by “The Lord of the Rings” and “Dark Shadows“ , an American produced gothic soap opera, developed a campaign in the fantasy world of "The Northern Marches". 

The main premise was to create a similar experience as Braunstein but with supernatural elements in a mediaeval time period. Unlike Braunstein though, the game was meant to be played in a continuous manner. 

After completing their tasks and objectives, the players could then move onto a new adventure. Very similar to a typical Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D)

You can definitely tell when they could afford better artwork...
Source: www.dicebreaker.com

Without a doubt, one of the biggest TTRPG titles today. 

First released in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arenson. Both were fans of tabletop wargames and were influenced by both fantasy and sci-fi novels. 

While there wasn’t as much content and mechanics as there is today, the first game did introduce the concepts of character classes, ability scores, races etc.

Luckily for RPG fans everywhere, the game was successful enough to expand on the original idea and inspire others to create their own systems, worlds and franchises.

The first RPGs and systems

Some franchises were more successful than others, while there were some that had good ideas or less complicated rules for newcomers, they didn’t get enough attention to become as well known as D&D.

Dungeons & Dragons (1974)

The Dungeons and Dragons franchise expanded after its initial success and changed its core rule set multiple times since its creation, with the most recent one being the 5th edition.

The first “split” from the original was in 1977 with the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, offering a more rule-heavy system as opposed to the original rule-light one. 

Each new release brought changes to, or, added completely new mechanics, expanded on characters abilities, etc.

The system used in Dungeons and Dragons has been called d20 since the release of 3rd edition by Wizard of the Coast, current owners of the franchise.

Empire of the Petal Throne (1974/1975)

Empire of the Petal Throne, plenty of fun lies inside this box...
Source: tenkarstavern.com Empire of the Petal Throne by M. A. R. Barker

Created by M. A. R. Barker and self-published by him in 1974 and then by TSR, Inc in 1975 Empire of the Petal Throne is a fantasy RPG set in a Tékumel universe, a fictional setting created by M. A. R. Barker himself. The game itself was praised by the creator of D&D, Gary Gygax, potentially being an influence on the later versions of the game.

The concept of a “critical hit” was first introduced in this system. Rolling a natural 20 on a 20 sided dice caused the attack to deal double damage. If the player rolled 19 or 20 after the initial natural 20, it would count as a killing blow instead.

Tunnels & Trolls (1975)

Long, long hours of content lie before you. Better use that left over time off...
Source: alegisdownport.wordpress.com Tunnels and Trolls by Ken St. Andre

There’s little doubt that Dungeons and Dragons was a strong inspiration for Tunnels and Trolls, a fantasy RPG created by Ken St. Andre and released in 1975. It offered a less complex system to the one in D&D, which made it more newcomer friendly.

While it wasn’t as complicated as its biggest competitor, it definitely offered fun adventures to the players. 

It was also the first to publish “gamebooks”, a single player adventure without a need for a referee (DM) due to the use of their d6 (six sided dice) system to resolve challenges.

The Future of RPGs with Dreams Quest

Interested in a more single player oriented experience but still want to satisfy the RPG itch?

Our company Dreams Quest is currently developing an ARPG mobile game called “Origins: The Fall of Azoria” which will contain a fantastical world, intricate lore, intense combat and fun puzzles.

Check out our social media links to Twitter(x), Youtube , Discord and more at the bottom for all relevant info on its development!

FAQs about the first RPGs

What is the oldest RPG system?

Dungeons and Dragons and Empire of the Petal Throne were the first ones to create their systems and made it available to the public.

What was the first real time RPG?

The first “real time” RPG was Dragon Slayer created by Yoshio Kiya for PC-8801 computer in September 1984. It required the player to perform actions in real time without the usual menu based choice system used in turn-based RPGs.

What was before D&D?

The closest you could get to the RPG before D&D was Braunstein and later Blackmoor. They weren’t what you’d typically call a TTRPG today but they were early prototypes.

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