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RPGs - A Cornerstone of Gaming Part 2X - The History of RPGs Part 1

Hello TAY! Ascendant here, back with part 2x (not part 2 for various reasons) of the -RPGs : A Cornerstone of Gaming- series of RPG - related articles! So this, the second article, shall be the first in a separate series that highlights the illustrious history of the RPG, and all of the innovations that has lead to the RPGs we know and love today! So without further ado, let’s start!

Today, we’ll be seeing how RPG gaming has changed from before the 19th century until the 1980s, in a relatively short form.

The Commedia Dell’arte All’improvviso


In 16th century Europe, there was a form of theater known as the Commedia Dell’arte, or Comedy of Craft, in English. The main characteristics that set this sort of play apart from the others was the All’improvviso line, which meant it was improvised. This form of improvised theater relied on professional actors acting along to a stock setting and story, however there were no lines; thus, the characters’ lines had to be improvised, with the actor fully stepping into the characters’ shoes. The first form of actual Role-Playing, though its legitimacy as a ‘game’ is debatable.

Change : Massive / Negligible

Reason : If we believe that this form of theater is reasonably well placed under the mantle of the RPG, then it has provided a huge change/improvement to the genre. If not, then it’s negligable.

Gaming in the Parlour


This is Jury Box, one of the first board game ‘RPGs’ featuring mock trials, mock legislations, and Roles for the players to Play. It was played as far back as the 1930s.

It however has a lot more in common with Murder-Mystery games, with slight elements of RPGs.


Again in relation to theater, RPGs were also influenced by Viola Spolin, a theatrical educator that invented the ‘Theater Games’ which thought the players to fully immerse themselves within the character, without allowing for conscious thought. This form of role playing would form the foundations for good characterizations.


Change : Minor, though not negligible.

Reason : The changes wrought by the above two instances have been minor, though they do bring the seeds of change, starting to plant notions of gaming.


Dungeons and Dragons - The Advent of RPGs


Dungeons and Dragons (covered in the first part of ACoG) was only the tip of a massive iceberg, heralding a new age of gaming. Lots of spoofs, ranging from blatant ones like Travellers and Tunnels and Trolls, to Sci-Fi variations like Metamorphosis Alpha sprung up, while other major events such as the first gaming publication, the Dragon Magazine, and also Dagorhir, a massive live action battle game started.

The games drew a gigantic cult following, leading to a massive focus on the market throughout the 1980s, both in support and against the industry, which will be fully covered in upcoming articles.


Change : MASSIVE.

Reason : I need not say anything.

Now this article is supposed to be relatively short, because pointless detailing would just make it boring as heck. I will cover in detail these segments in their own parts, however.


Again, I shall ask this question, and also put out a reply!

What is an RPG to you?

If you have the inclination to do so, please answer this question! I would love to reads what others think of RPGs, as I love them so much, and of course, recommendations would be great!

Japanese RPGs are not that much different from Western ones.

The earliest Japanese RPGs were basically knock-offs of the early American RPGs (Ultima I-III, Wizardy, etc.). Over time the two went in some different directions, but notably Japanese games held tighter to their roots and largely ignored the ideas of player agency that came from later (Ultima IV-VII, etc.) American RPGs.

But if you play a Western style RPG in 1999, you’re getting something like Baldur’s Gate or Fallout 2, which is a top-down game with a turn-based combat system with fairly complicated mechanics out in the open. They really only started to move in the more action-oriented direction fairly recently. The difference between Skyrim and Baldur’s Gate is at least as large as the difference between Baldur’s Gate and Final Fantasy VII. Probably more. Very very different games.

Dark Souls is a “JRPG” in that it is an RPG made in Japanese, but From Software from way back in the King’s Field days were making games that were, basically, old-school American-style dungeon crawlers. Dark Souls is an evolution of that, but so is, for example, Persona Q or Legend of Grimrock. - ghostandgoblin


I totally agree with what you’ve said. A (or an?) RPG is definitely a difficult thing to classify, especially when we deal with differences between western and Japanese variants, which still amount to similar products. I do say however story telling wise, they have diverged a lot, with WRPGs going more player choice oriented, however that isn’t foreign to the Japanese, with their choice oriented VNs. In the end, it’s still just a very fine line that’s often crossed, which is all the better for us!

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