What is Roleplaying?

What is Roleplaying?
Roleplaying is "let's pretend" for teenagers and grownups. It grew out of wargaming and skirmish gaming in the 1960's and 1970's. Some wargamers, such as Tony Bath in the United Kingdom, developed ways of personalising rulers and army commanders so that an umpire, or another player, would know how a character would react in a given situation, based on a series of characteristics.

As the number of figures or models on the table reduced, more characteristics could be given to the remaining figures until they became "little people" in their own right. The next step was to take these characteristics away from a set 'battle table' and instead allow the character to campaign or adventure in a completely make-believe world.

Early Roleplaying games
The earliest of these new games were Dungeons and Dragons - which grew out of a skirmish wargame called Chainmail - Tunnels and Trolls, and The Fantasy Trip. The latter game later evolved into games systems like Steve Jackson's GURPs and Hero Games' Champions.

What these three early games shared was a simply system for adjudicating combat between player characters and non-player characters, and a simple magic system. Everything else could be added by the players and referee as required.

Second Generation Games and Traveller
Then, in the mid-70's, along came Traveller, a simple science fiction game that allowed the players to create adventurers in 'the far future'. At this time, a second generation of Roleplaying games were appearing. 'Advanced Dungeons and Dragons' (AD&D), and games from Fantasy Games Unlimited (FGU), such as 'Chivalry and Sorcery' and 'Land of the Rising Sun', sought to make world-building easier by containing myriads of tables to generate everything from randomly discovered treasure to the tax yield of a fief. It must be something that teenage boys go through, but I remember spending many happy hours rolling up feudal demesnes, and their inhabitants, from tables in these rule books. Cleverly, the creator of 'Traveller', Marc Miller, captured the essence of the simplicity of the first generation of roleplaying game rules, while providing design systems to generate both starships and entire star systems that satisfied the table-rollers.

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Land of the Rising Sun, Chivalry and Sorcery, Champions and Bushido formed the staple diet of my Roleplaying during the late '80's and early '90's, with occasional games of GURPS, Paranoia, and other systems.

During the middle and late '90's I pretty much gave up on roleplaying as real life took over. Around the beginning of the new century, I began getting in a few games again - Bushido and Ars Magica - though in the latter game we swapped from Ars Magica to a couple of free systems, Window and then Fudge. Lately, I have tried Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, which seems to be a mash of AD&D and Chivalry and Sorcery, and am seriously thinking of going full circle and running Traveller again.

A glance at the various internet roleplaying discussion groups, and the shelves of various on-line games stores show that roleplaying is alive and well in the new century of Second Life and World of Warcraft - in fact I know of people in Second Life who regularly get their avatars together to play old school roleplaying games!

I've hung on to various rules I've acquired over the years, for which I'm very grateful. While it's exciting to see all these new games around, it's still nice to be able to pull out those little old black books and play Traveller.

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