Hypothetical Fun: What If A Different Genre Was The RPG Foundation?

MGibster

Legend
This is a fun exercise. My first throughts turn to westerns or science fiction. If you were a kid in the 60s and early 70s, someone old enough to write RPG books in the 1980s, you would have grown up with westerns on television even if their popularity was waning. But of course there was also a lot of good science fiction in the 60s and 70s as well. I'm going to throw another hat into the science fiction ring. Mainly because I think science fiction fans are more likely than western fans to play war games and therefore take the leap to role playing games. Of course I'm assuming RPGs still have their origins connected to war gaming.
 

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re a sci-fi alternative:

I have a vivid memory of being both enthralled and overwhelmed by all the chits and bits in...a sci-fi wargame whose name I can't recall...but it was the mid '70s. My oldest brother had it, and he would have been in his late teens at that point. And then I remember trying to figure out the Starship Troopers game a few years later.

Given the rapidly exploding popularity of Star Trek in the '70s, and of the Planet of the Apes movies, and of similar forces that brought us Star Wars, it's not hard to imagine a lovingly-made but also a clunky and weird sci-fi rpg that didn't have any licenses but had rules and art that was obviously trying to emulate all the popular sci-fi of the mid-20th century. It would have been a mish-mash of genres cludged together, and it might have been overly-crunchy if it sprung from the sci-fi wargames.

re super-heroes

Given the convergence of comics and pop art and youth culture in the '60s, I can imagine a loosey-goosey supers game. It wouldn't be inspired by wargames, but maybe traditional boardgames or card games instead.
 

Given the rapidly exploding popularity of Star Trek in the '70s, and of the Planet of the Apes movies, and of similar forces that brought us Star Wars, it's not hard to imagine a lovingly-made but also a clunky and weird sci-fi rpg that didn't have any licenses but had rules and art that was obviously trying to emulate all the popular sci-fi of the mid-20th century. It would have been a mish-mash of genres cludged together, and it might have been overly-crunchy if it sprung from the sci-fi wargames.
That accurately describes Space Patrol (later Star Patrol) from Gamescience, which was out IRL in 1977 alongside Traveller and the nearly-forgotten Space Quest. And Flying Buffalo beat them all to the market with Starfarers in 1976. FGU dropped Starships & Spacemen (effectively Trek with the serial numbers filed off) in '78 and Space Opera in '80, with the latter really being the closest competitor to Space/Star Patrol as kitchen sink scifi TTRPGs went in that era.

So that type of games were getting made in our own timeline, but never caught on to the degree D&D did. In a world where one of them (or something like them) was THE first TTRPG and fantasy games came along later it's possible scifi could have been dominant as a genre for a while, but given how rapidly RPGs in general diversified from fantasy IRL I'd expect the same thing to happen at similar speeds in a hypothetical "scifi first" timeline. The equivalent of OD&D coming out in 1976 inspired by (say) and early-to-market Space Patrol's success would be pretty plausible - and might result in D&D being remembered as that first largely-forgotten attempt at fantasy the way Starfarers is the first attempt at scifi in our world.
 
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re super-heroes

Given the convergence of comics and pop art and youth culture in the '60s, I can imagine a loosey-goosey supers game. It wouldn't be inspired by wargames, but maybe traditional boardgames or card games instead.
I still don't think supers-as-the-original-RPG is very likely, but maybe that's just bias from how things are in reality speaking. Reaching for a plausible reason for a 1974 comics TTRPG starting the hobby, the most likely scenario I see is what I call the Magic Effect. Some staffer (no doubt in accounting - lets call him Garfield Richards) comes to the execs at, say, Marvel and sells them on doing a print run of this weird new "roleplaying game" prototype he's already gotten the bullpen addicted to. The thing unexpectedly takes off with readers and rapidly gets much more funding and staff thrown behind it, leading to DC quickly imitating it with their own innovations and opening a new front for the intercompany rivalry to play out on. Their dual successes lead to the roleplaying concept rapidly diversifying into other genres the same way in our world, but this time starting from comics - and maybe the comic industry as a whole gets enough of a boost that it's much less moribund going forward from there.

Speculatively, the earliest RPGs in this timeline wouldn't be boxed sets or magazine-sized booklets, they'd be printed in comic book format, complete with full color throughout, shoddy paper quality that won't hold up to extended use, and the art isn't going to be the amateur-hour stuff seen IRL, it'll be whichever bullpen artists get assigned - and if they're addicted during playtest that might include some very big name volunteers. Real-world V&V was boosted a fair bit by Dee and Willingham's art - imagine what a having art by Kirby or Ditko or Steranko would do. They'd probably be weird experiments with formats and release styles - maybe the "core rules" are jammed into one high page count floppy that keeps getting reprinted, while expansions and hero/villain stats take the space of what would have been backup stories in regular comic issues, boosting sales for both comics and games and driving collectors nuts. The print runs (at after the first) would be large than normal by RPG standards, but the fragility of the floppy format means finding mint copies would be difficult and result in high back-issue prices.

This probably wouldn't go on for long before more durable formats got adopted for the games-first crowd, resulting in more recognizable game books. Maybe not so much on boxed sets though, and knowing the way the Big Two skeeve for for profit they'd likely still stick some gaming content in their comics to encourage buying an extra copy now and then. After all, comics are relatively cheap still (and could stay that way longer with higher circulation/demand) and xerox copying (especially the rare color copiers) was not all that inexpensive, somewhat discouraging piracy. Stuffing a particularly juicy big of crunch into a comic might be the early equivalent to the variant/foil/hologram covers with polybagged collector cards BS seen from the 90s boom onward. Adventures based loosely on the comic plots themselves could be serialized over multiple issues, perhaps showing "off page" stuff going on with supporting characters while the main action is happening. Oh, and the crossovers, so many crossovers. I can hear Garfield Richards chortling down in the accounting department. :)

And of course, there'd be tons of comic purists bemoaning the loss of page count to this "roleplaying" nonsense and how these "gamers" have ruined the hobby forever, yadda yadda yadda.

Be a very different world, and even with non-supers-based RPGs things might look odd because of expectations shaped by the DC/Marvel games.
 

Aldarc

Legend
It would probably be on the Science-Fantasy side of Science-Fiction. Keep in mind that the genre lines between Fantasy and Sci-Fi were not as hard-lined then as people imagine them to be now, and you had bigger sci-fi/fantasy IPs like Dune and Star Wars at the forefront. I still think that we would see things like psionics as a magic system. Traveller leans into hard sci-fi, but even it includes psionics.
 

It would probably be on the Science-Fantasy side of Science-Fiction.
Very likely, yes. It's worth remembering that psionics in particular were still regarded as plausible scifi by the literary community back in the 70s. Traveller included them in part because they were so commonplace in fiction back then, with even hard-ish authors like Larry Niven happily using them without much explanation. These days pretty much any psi marks you as sci-fantasy - which I still find amusing, because while that fad faded away we're still awfully accepting of magic tech like FTL and implausibly efficient maneuver drives when they provide narrative convenience. Don't see many books getting thrown in the same bucket as Star Wars just for including a little artificial gravity or inertial dampeners even today, but they sure ought to be.

Then again, some of my earliest scifi was EE "Doc" Smith, so my viewpoint may be skewed. Parents probably should let their kids read Lensmen and Skylark if they want them to grow up to be scientists. :)
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
Very likely, yes. It's worth remembering that psionics in particular were still regarded as plausible scifi by the literary community back in the 70s. Traveller included them in part because they were so commonplace in fiction back then, with even hard-ish authors like Larry Niven happily using them without much explanation.
Remember, even the US and USSR were trying to weaponize psychic powers during the cold war, pouring millions of dollars into remote sensing and other projects.
 

aramis erak

Legend
FASA Trek dropped in 1982, and was quite successful for the next seven years, at which point Paramount yanked the license because they didn't like the direction FASA had taken with the three TNG books. The system was rather crunchy by modern standards, but there were a fair number of solid adventures published for it and the starship combat rules (which got an expanded, separate wargame-specific boxed set) remain reasonably popular in wargaming circles. Far more so than any subsequent Trek RPG's starship rules, which were never written to do more than support the RP side of things.
Per the Lawsuit - it wasn't they didn't like the direction taken, its that they did them at all, since they were not part of the license to TOS & TAS.
(Due to the concurrent lawsuit vs TFG & ADB, TFG published updates on both cases in Nexus magazine, their house organ.)
The court agreed that TNG was a separate IP, and not included in the extant license.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Very likely, yes. It's worth remembering that psionics in particular were still regarded as plausible scifi by the literary community back in the 70s. Traveller included them in part because they were so commonplace in fiction back then, with even hard-ish authors like Larry Niven happily using them without much explanation. These days pretty much any psi marks you as sci-fantasy - which I still find amusing, because while that fad faded away we're still awfully accepting of magic tech like FTL and implausibly efficient maneuver drives when they provide narrative convenience. Don't see many books getting thrown in the same bucket as Star Wars just for including a little artificial gravity or inertial dampeners even today, but they sure ought to be.

Then again, some of my earliest scifi was EE "Doc" Smith, so my viewpoint may be skewed. Parents probably should let their kids read Lensmen and Skylark if they want them to grow up to be scientists. :)
And despite that implausibility, psychic powers, psionics, and telepathy have remained a fairly staple part of the science-fiction genre: e.g., Babylon 5, Firefly, Stargate, Starship Troopers, Star Wars, Dune, etc.
 

Per the Lawsuit - it wasn't they didn't like the direction taken, its that they did them at all, since they were not part of the license to TOS & TAS.
(Due to the concurrent lawsuit vs TFG & ADB, TFG published updates on both cases in Nexus magazine, their house organ.)
The court agreed that TNG was a separate IP, and not included in the extant license.
That does not conform to either my memories (including Nexus, which I was subscriber to throughout its run) or the Memory Alpha page on FASA. Not that Memory Alpha is flawless, of course - they claim the company stepped away from tabletop products in 1990, which would come as quite a surprise to fans of Battletech, Vor, Crimson Skies, etc. AFAIK the license was simply terminated over the concerns about the RPG being too combat focused (something that reared its head repeatedly from the very start, not helped by some of the supplements) and Paramount becoming more invested in the IP and maintaining tighter creative control over it in general. The latter factor spawned the legal troubles with Steve Cole/TFG/ADB/SFB as well, which were complicated by the whole Franz Joseph Designs involvement.

Do you have a link to this FASA court case? The search engines are clotted with Axanar stuff, making it hard to dig back into the distant past of '88-90.
 

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