Little Wars & The History of RPG games

Artix Krieger | Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Want to learn the history of RPGs (Role Playing Games)?

What was the first one? Who invented them? Why are they... the way they are? In this special design notes post you are about to find out.

I have been wanting to write this post for nearly 6 months. It all started when I read this book....

Gary Gynax Rise of the Dungeon Master

The most popular Fantasy RPG of all time... Dungeons & Dragons

You have probably heard of Dungeons & Dragons. If not, please hand over your gamer card XD. A lot of people believe it was the first Fantasy RPG. You create a character by rolling dice for your stats, and play at a table. The game is run by a live dungeon master who is... in video game terms, a human server running the game :D The results of attacks and used skills are determined by rolling dice.  It is a fascinating interactive, storytelling experience. Have you ever played? If not, you should... nearly all modern RPGs are descended from this brilliant game.

I got the book "Rise of the Dungeon Master" when it first came out. It tells the story of Dungeon & Dragons legendary creators, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. I was pleasantly delighted to find that it told the REAL story. See, they did not just create Dungeons & Dragons out of thin air. Turns out, nothing is created out of thin air. Creativity is the process of combing two ideas into something new.

<Did you ever write three paragraphs to accidentally hit the back button and lose all of your work... that just happened. *weeps and re-types*>

Before Dave ever suggested the idea of making a game with swords and sorcery, the two creators of D&D were obsessed with playing war games. These war games were all the rage. Using little military playing pieces... soldiers, ships, tanks, etc they would play out famous battles with strategy and rules. In fact, the creators of D&D met at a war gaming convention where they played these games.

So if the D&D guys did not create the 1st RPG? Who did?

H.G. Wells wrote the first published RPG book!?

Ever hear of "War of the Worlds"? Maybe you saw the movie... or perhaps you know of the War of the Worlds radio broadcast that a lot of people thought was real that caused mass hysteria and death. Or maybe you heard of The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, or any of the other amazing books (turned into movies) by the amazing H.G. Wells. Turns out he seems to have written the 1st ever publicly published RPG rule book "LITTLE WARS" 

Hearing my fascination about this bit of gaming history.. my wife (Trini) found me a long out of print facsimile of it on the interwebs. (Never thought I would actually read it cover to cover.)

Little Wars by H.G. Wells

Vesper and the Moglins peek into LITTLE WARS for the first time.

Little Wars - the 1st published RPG Manual

"Little Wars: a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys' games and books" - a reasonably progressive title for a book from 1913.

Ready for this? You know those little green army men you can get at stores? Apparently things like that have been around for a long time. And some brilliant company made a little civil war style cannon that actually shot little pieces of wood. So this book is a rule set for players waging war using the little cannons... shooting each others troops. So, there was no die rolling. Only trying to knock your foe's troops over with your cannon.

But it turns out this was not the 1st RPG game... NOT BY FAR. One of the first things Little Wars talks about is how war games have basically existed since mankind was able to move little rocks. But the most popular and rule set of was actually a game called Kriegsspiel!

Kriegsspiel - The 1st RPG Table Top Game?

"Artix Kriegsspiel?"

OK, so in German, "Krieg" means war and "Spiel" means play. So basically "war play" or "war game". The original Kriegsspiel was made allllll the way back in 1812. It was not for regular people to play, it wascreated  to train generals of the Prussian and German armies. You would not enjoy playing it. OK, well, maybe some of you... maybe you like long, insanely slow moving, tedious, rule entrenched table top games. It did use dice! (Note: There have been plenty of "modern" remakes of this... but we are talking about the original 1812 brutal one here.)

Simulating Reality

The purpose of this Kriegsspiel "game" was to simulate real war the best you could. If you think about it, all games are really a simulation. From Kriegsspiel, to Little Wars, to Dungeons & Dragons, to AdventureQuest 3D... all of these games are simulations that allow you to experience being a part epic battles & adventures.

Takeaway... The Evolution of RPGs and Creativity

I will never forget that day so long ago when I was reading out forums and a player posted, "OMG! You have a Mummy in your game. You totally stole that from that Brandon Frasier movie!" Other than being wrapped in mummy gossamer there was really no similarity. I am not sure which part of it shocked me most. Probably that they seemed to believe that the origin of all Mummy lore came from the Brandon Frasier version of "The Mummy" XD. It struck me as odd that they did not know that was loosely based on the Curse of Tutankhamun* and the real life archaeologist Howard Carter. There have been endless remakes and retelling of Mummy lore... from the black and white movie the Mummy to the villainous Mumra from the Thunder Cats. I am really glad you read all the way through this... most people do not find exploring our roots interesting. It is really cool that you do too.

* Original name Tutanaten... and his Dad was Ankenaten which is the Pharoah Yugioh's alternate ego is based on. (We need that "THE MORE YOU KNOW" graphic right here.)

The Great Conversation

We are all part of the great conversation. That is, we are part of an ongoing process of creators, thinkers, writers, artists, and in our specific case, game makers who reference, build on, and refine the work of our predecessors.

In the words of Robert Maynard Hutchine, "...the Great Conversation that began in the dawn of history and that continues to the present day."

QUESTION: I hope you found this design notes post interesting. Would love to hear you thoughts, favorite  D&D memories, and any additional information you might be able to add to make this more exciting. You can likely find all the books I mentioned above online if you are curious and want to read them youself.


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