(Note: this list has been placed up elsewhere in the past and is now placed here for easy reference.)
1. Jerome K. Jerome visits H.G. Wells (by 1913)
you might think. But after dinner, Jerome started firing a toy cannon
at some toy soldiers and Wells started firing back. They thought that
adding some rules would be a good idea and took influence from a form of
wargame played for the previous century by Prussian military (called
Kriegsspiel). After several revisions, the renowned author of War of the
Worlds and The Time Machine published his 60 page book Little Wars (the
full title is "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". How times change...)
Little Wars had a
significant impact on the production of Chainmail and Gary Gygax praised
it in his foreword to the 2004 reprint. Wells is often called the
Father of Miniature Wargaming. Fact.
2. Gary Gygax plays Dave Arneson's Blackmoor (Nov 1972)
Arneson liked his wargames to have non-combat objectives and was
partial to the Tolkien-inspired fantasy options in Chaimail (by Gary
Gygax and Jeff Perrin). He invented a dungeon crawling adventure called
Blackmoor that Gygax finally played at Gen Con 5 in 1972. Gygax loved
the game and (long story short) the two went on to become co-creators of
Dungeons and Dragons (and you don't get much more seminal in
roleplaying than that).
The "co-creator" tag is a compromise,
largely. The two fell out dramatically, mainly due to Arneson resenting
Gygax's creative claims. However, it can be said that if Arneson lit the
torch, Gygax ran with it. D&D remains synonymous with roleplaying.
3. Steve Jackson, John Peake and Ian Livingstone found Games Workshop (1975)
three school mates created a small business to make wooden board games
and publish articles about "progressive gaming". The company secured a
deal to distribute TSR materials and quickly grew into a premier
publishing company. Games Workshop would go on to become a titan of the
Jackson (not to be confused with the GURPS designer
of the same name) and Livingstone sold their stakes in GW back in 1991,
but Games Workshop isn't their only great legacy. In 1982, they produced
a book through Puffin called The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. A solo
adventure in the Choose Your Own Adventure style, their book
incorporated game elements (such as rolling to defeat monsters or
traps). Their line of Fighting Fantasy books were highly popular and
many other titles flooded shelves in the Eighties and Nineties.
gaming has largely pushed adventure books aside, but many older gamers
can cite the influence a Fighting Fantasy book had on their formulative
4. Bryan Wiese watches Robin and Marion whilst reading The Lord of the Rings (1977)
Wiese had never heard of D&D, roleplaying or even reenactment. But
while being immersed in both a book and film he was inspired to find a
way to recreate the adventure and combat in those works. He founded
Dagohir which, though maybe not the earliest game of its type, is the
earliest recorded live-action roleplaying game.
Getting the action
off the table and onto a field was a natural extension of roleplaying
and many independant groups started around the world. Combining
roleplaying, sport, theatre and historical reenactment, larping has
gained significant attention recently. Large German events can attract
Live action events are subject to various definitions, and
there are many with no contact (such as White Wolf's global Minds Eye
Theatre games). Nordic countries have a reputation for bleak and high
concept storytelling and Australia has a strong tradition of
"freeforming" (non-contact larp).
5. James Dallas Egbert III attempts suicide (15 April 1979)
State University student James Egbert disappeared from his dorm room,
entered the college steam tunnels, and swallowed some pills in an
attempt to end his own life. It was unsuccessful and, after waking, hid
at a friend's house. The search for him took a turn when private
investigator William Dear suggested that Dungeons and Dragons was a
contributing factor (Dear would later regret making this correlation).
The local media whipped up fear by (falsely) reporting that he was
roleplaying in the steam tunnels.
The resulting paranoia (especially
of a religious nature) that followed still clouds roleplaying to this
day. Chick Publications released the glorious Dark Dungeons which
blatantly links roleplaying with Satanic occultism and Pat Pulling (who
blamed her son's suicide on roleplaying and founded BADD: Bothered About
D&D) created a frenzy of anti-roleplaying sentiment that was ripped
to pieces by game designer Michael Stackpole in The Pulling Report.
The story ends badly. Egbert attempted suicide once more before succeeding on his third attempt. He was 17.
6. Release of E.T. the Extraterrestrial (11 June 1982)
Say wha-? What the hell does E.T. have to do with any of this?
was a marketing phenomenon. It was the highest grossing film ever for
its time and was the first major film to suffer video piracy. In a time
when most people had to pay a ticket to see a film, E.T. was a must-see.
with a high stake in the family market you can't show anything too
controversial. But in this blockbuster we see a bunch of kids
roleplaying, and keep in mind this is about the time when roleplaying is
seen as being literally in league with the devil. And the portrayal
isn't comical or scandalous or offensive; it just shows a group of young
gamers doing exactly what young gamers do. Marking character sheets,
giving out characters, discussing what to have on the pizza, even
explaining to the mum how nobody "wins" it.
The game was a modern
pop-cultural nod in a film that was designed to be an immediate pop
culture success. Compare it to the sensationalist Mazes and Monsters
(with Tom Hanks) also released in 1982 and you'll see why E.T. is such
an iconic moment of roleplaying representation.
7. Mark Rein-Hagen travels to Gen Con with Stewart Wieck and Lisa Stevens (August 1990)
is the second time Gen Con has popped up, so it could have been fair to
give the first Gen Con in 1968 its own spot on this list. On the way to
this event, Rein-Hagen (of Lion Rampant) came up with the idea of a
modern day game about vampires. Stevens (also of Lion Rampant and now
CEO of Paizo) engineered a merger with Wieck's White Wolf Magazine and
the next year Vampire: the Masquerade was released by new company White
Wolf Publishing Group.
Over the course of about 15 years, White
Wolf's star rose dramatically, shone brilliantly, and crashed
spectacularly. They achieved notable success with their World of
Darkness line which near dominated the gaming industry for much of the
mid-nineties. Some poor decisions, player disillusionment and sheer bad
luck saw them massively slump in popularity and they were finally bought
by CCP Games (of EVE Online) in 2006.
However, White Wolf left a
huge mark on game design. Their desire to embrace the more artistic
aspects of roleplaying and game presentation were inspiration for many
in the '00's indie explosion and the higher standard of their published
books forced other game companies to improve the quality of theirs. They
surfed a cultural wave; it's a pity they floundered on the beach.
8. Peter Adkinson turns down Richard Garfield's Robo Rally (1991)
approached Wizards of the Coast (then a small roleplaying publisher)
with his board game Robo Rally, but Adkinson felt that the cost was out
of his league. He asked Garfield if he could come up with something
portable, fast-playing and cheap to make.
The result was Magic: the
Gathering, which debuted in 1993. It proved massively popular, started
the collectible card gaming boom, and grew Wizards of the Coast into one
of the biggest game companies ever.
Magic is blamed for destroying
many roleplaying groups, clubs and stores as card gaming quickly pushed
aside tabletop rpgs. However, it remains incredibly popular and
continues to this day.
Wizards of the Coast would achieve even more
success with Pokemon and bought out TSR (owners of Dungeons and Dragons)
in 1997. Getting hold of the world's most iconic roleplaying game was a
boon for the company, as we will see later...
9. Ultima goes Online (24 September 1997)
was a hard call. I kinda want to steer clear entirely of
PC/video/console gaming, but in all good faith it needs to be
considered. Computer games have taken cues from roleplaying for many
years. Mazewar from 1974 (!) takes place in a virtual maze where players
shoot each other (players could play over ARPAnet, too). Jumping ahead,
TSR licensed SSI for the first AD&D computer game Pool of Radiance
in 1988. But back in 1981, Richard Garriott produced the first of his
Text-based Multi User Dungeons (MUDs) allowed many
people to play together in the same world, but combining such an
experience with a visual interface was beyond the abilities of
contemporary hardware, though a few had tried. Ultima Online finally
came out in '97 and truly launched the age of the MMO.
It was rapidly
succeeded (and surpassed) with Everquest (or "Evercrack" for its
addictive reputation) which in turn was supplanted in 2004 by new
heavyweight title World of Warcraft.
As another note, the terms
"roleplaying game" and "RPG" are now indelibly ingrained in the public's
mind as digital gaming terms rather than traditional pen and paper
games, which I find sad. Just try googling "rpg" and see what you get.
10. Wizards of the Coast produces the Open Gaming License (2000)
the end of the Nineties, D&D had become a joke. The format was
tired and stale. The game showed its faults. There were far too many
better products on the market. And TSR management were running the
company into the ground. Wizards of the Coast bought it out and got to
work revamping D&D.
Most D&D fans weren't expecting the
product to be as good as it was (anti-WotC sentiment ran as high as
anti-D&D did) but the true innovation was the Open Gaming License
that came with it.
The brainchild of Ryan Dancey (bless his soul),
the OGL basically gave permission for anybody to create publications for
the 3rd edition of D&D. Third party publishers sprang to arms,
producing guides, adventures, setting books and more with various
success and quality. Established companies (such as White Wolf, Chaosium
and Pinnacle) had a new medium and new companies also were able to use
the OGL to kick-start their careers.
3rd edition/d20 became the most
popular game of the '00s and easily the best supported title to be seen
in that time. It also gave D&D back the credibility it so
You'll notice that there's nothing for the last 13 years. Did nothing happen?
and no. 3rd ed D&D floated well for much of the 00's. White Wolf
fell in a hole. Chaosium and Steve Jackson Games did their thing. 4th ed
D&D dropped the ball and Paizo Publishing picked it up with
Pathfinder. The indie scene exploded with a blast of creativity and
continues to produce excellent games if you can find them. Warhammer 40K
transferred to tabletop roleplay with success. And the latest trend
seems to be the retrospective Old School Roleplaying (OSR) movement.
big events? Market shaking ones? Not there. That being said, a good argument could be made in favour of Kickstarter and the Forge website, both incredibly important to the current world of roleplaying.
As it stands, this list is subject to change.