Listening to old-timers describe RP in the 70s and 80s

Thomas Shey

Legend
My complaint about Powers and Perils was not the crunchiness but the pointless (but common at the time) special-casing. Well, that and the excessive randomness in character gen.
 

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RareBreed

Adventurer
My complaint about Powers and Perils was not the crunchiness but the pointless (but common at the time) special-casing. Well, that and the excessive randomness in character gen.
I'm of two minds about random chargen. On one hand, it's quick and can spur your imagination more. It also forces you to play someone who may not fit your initial concept, but you just might grow into it. It also can be more realistic, precisely because it's not balanced. Just as in real life, some people are blessed and are strong, witty and charming, while another is anemic, slow, and abrasive.

On the other hand, if you really do have a character concept in mind that you want to play, more than likely you will be disappointed. And the power imbalance might lead to one or more players feeling cheated. I think this is the big reason that random chargen has almost died out in games.

In Traveller, the Vietnam homebrew we had, and in HarnMaster, we often generated several "level 0" characters and ran them through a some introductory adventures. The Vietnam campaign was less about which character you liked (or survived) but was more like troupe style play before Ars Magica even came. This was because Phoenix Command was so deadly, that the odds of a character being killed or going home due to a bad wound was very very high.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I'm of two minds about random chargen. On one hand, it's quick and can spur your imagination more. It also forces you to play someone who may not fit your initial concept, but you just might grow into it. It also can be more realistic, precisely because it's not balanced. Just as in real life, some people are blessed and are strong, witty and charming, while another is anemic, slow, and abrasive.

Yeah, but you have to think these are big enough virtues to balance out...

On the other hand, if you really do have a character concept in mind that you want to play, more than likely you will be disappointed. And the power imbalance might lead to one or more players feeling cheated. I think this is the big reason that random chargen has almost died out in games.

...these. Especially since they don't always share all of the first (the randomness wasn't going to be more realistic in P&P because when you got down to it, no P&P character was going to look realistic in any meaningful way). It also assumes that people who got the bad rolls in life were going to go out and do the things that adventurers do, which seems a reach.

In Traveller, the Vietnam homebrew we had, and in HarnMaster, we often generated several "level 0" characters and ran them through a some introductory adventures. The Vietnam campaign was less about which character you liked (or survived) but was more like troupe style play before Ars Magica even came. This was because Phoenix Command was so deadly, that the odds of a character being killed or going home due to a bad wound was very very high.

That could be true with a lot of gritty or quasi-gritty games back in the day. Heck, its still true if your luck runs out in most BRP derivatives, as an example.

Of course a lot of people played multiple characters in games during our early days too, in part for those reasons.
 

It really grinds my gears when people who played [A]D&D in the early days describe their style as if it were the way it was played. I've been listening to people say that the game was, you made a couple characters, started in front of a dungeon and went in. The dungeon was always generated randomly. Brought the loot back to town, lather, rinse, repeat ad nauseum. And I'm like, no, that's the way your group played.

Precisely.

I even played a game with Gary running it at a convention, and it was nothing like that.
 

GuyBoy

Hero
Leaving aside the actual gaming for a moment; one thing we did have in the late 70s and early 80s was loads of game shops, selling D&D, miniatures and loads of other games beside. They were like caverns of wonder to teenage gamers, and remain strong in my memory.
Games Workshop when it was in a back garden on the Shepherds Bush road, the same GW when it moved to Hammersmith, Minifigs-Skytrex near Victoria Station ( which had its own dungeon, where I bought both Fortress Badabaskor and the Runequest supplement Ballastor’s Barracks, known to all teen gamers as Ballastor’s Bollocks!), Dungeons and Starships in Birmingham etc. Just great places.
My idea of Saturday heaven in 1980 was playing rugby in the morning, heading into town (ie London) to a games shop in the afternoon, punk gig in the evening, last train home. Living my best life!
 
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Sacrosanct

Legend
Precisely.

I even played a game with Gary running it at a convention, and it was nothing like that.
Yeah, I don't ever remember playing that way. The game was quickly recognized as an RPG (stressing role) rather than a random dungeon generator. The gameplay was what created the great stories, so we tried to avoid rinse and repeat.
Leaving aside the actual gaming for a moment; one thing we did have in the late 70s and early 80s was loads of game shops, selling D&D, miniatures and loads of other games beside. They were like caverns of wonder to teenage gamers, and remain strong in my memory.
Games Workshop when it was in a back garden on the Shepherds Bush road, the same GW when it moved to Hammersmith, Minifigs-Skytrex near Victoria Station ( which had its own dungeon, where I bought both Fortress Badabaskor and the Runequest supplement Ballastor’s Barracks, known to all teen gamers as Ballaror’s Bollocks!), Dungeons and Starships in Birmingham etc. Just great places.
My idea of Saturday heaven in 1980 was playing rugby in the morning, heading into town (ie London) to a games shop in the afternoon, punk gig in the evening, last train home. Living my best life!
When you had to wait 6-8 weeks for delivery back then, going to a game story sure was more important and impactful than it is now, when people just buy stuff off Amazon and get it in a couple days. Yeah, it's nostalgia, but I still have very fond memories of going into that game story in Ketchikan and just being in awe of the the minis in the glass display, or seeing the modules and books in a rack along the wall.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I think the reason a lot of people did the "dungeon, town, rinse, repeat" thing early on was, well, it was easy. And when the game was new, it was different enough from other things that with a little effort in things like traps and environment, it could stay interesting for a fair while.

That didn't mean more couldn't be done with it, but as noted, when dealing with wider ranging things you had to actually think about them more (and in some cases try to figure out how to avoid otherwise unavoidable TPKs--if used straight out of the book without thought many wilderness encounters were death looking for a place to happen for low level parties).
 

I think the reason a lot of people did the "dungeon, town, rinse, repeat" thing early on was, well, it was easy.
The dungeon only adventure was very common for players that only or majorly played D&D.

Plenty of people thought the "whole game" was just dungeon adventures. And it really gets codified in lots of print that is "the whole game". The D&D Basic Set outright says this, for example.

Though the whole thing that made D&D "the game" were all the people that looked at the rule books....said "cool" and then went ahead and made whatever game/campaign/adventure that they wanted.

This was much, much much less for anyone that played any RPG other then D&D. As the vast majority of other RPGs were not Fantasy games....well, simply put they did not even have "dungeons".
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
This was much, much much less for anyone that played any RPG other then D&D. As the vast majority of other RPGs were not Fantasy games....well, simply put they did not even have "dungeons".

Even other fantasy games didn't lean into that quite often: you'd only see some things like that in RuneQuest, and I'm not sure you'd see any of it in Chivalry and Sorcery. (TFT and DragonQuest may have a bit more).
 

RareBreed

Adventurer
Since people are mentioning non-D&D fantasy games, how many folks actually preferred playing other fantasy RPG systems from the 70s and 80s? Our gaming group quickly graduated from D&D when we wanted to play a fantasy setting. So here's a list of 80s fantasy RPGs and the trope of dungeons...
  • RuneQuest: A visionary of a system, its Bronze Age feel, magic system, classless and skill based characters and concept of mythology is still powerful today. Dungeon diving was not so big a thing though you could go to the ruins of Pavis and Big Rubble for example
  • HarnMaster: is a more realistic and Medieval like setting. Limited magic and monsters are interesting. Dungeon romps not a thing
  • Pendragon: The first game I know of to have personality characteristics as game mechanics. Players didn't have magic, and magic was rare. Also more realistic and less fighting of supernatural monsters (unless you really did want to kill the Questing Beast). No dungeon romps
  • Middle Earth Role Playing: Tolkein, so nuff said. Not as many dungeon kind of encounters unless you went to Moria, or maybe some of the ruins of Mordor. I think there were more caves than dungeons
  • Role Master: very amusing critical hits tables. At first it didn't have it's own setting, so it depended on a homebrew world. I never wound up playing in its official settings, so I can't say much about dungeon diving
  • Powers and Perils: Highly detailed system that unfortunately only had like two supplements. Somewhat reminiscent of Runequest but with a medieval flare. I only played a handful of games, and I don't recall any dungeons from Perilous Lands though I could be mistaken
  • Ars Magica: was "what if all the myths of Medieval Europe were true?". Highly innovative game that mainstreamed troupe style play, and had/has one of the best magic systems out there
  • Warhammer FRP: perhaps the original "grim and gritty" FRP. I didn't play too much of this, though I liked all the character class options. Not sure how much dungeon diving is a thing in the setting
  • Man to Man: the direct ancestor to GURPs (so TFT -> Man to Man -> GURPs). This was more of a board/mini game than a roleplaying system, though it could be used for roleplaying. Stressed combat and came without a setting
  • GURPS 1st ed: not the first, but the one universal RP system that sticks out. Technically it had many fantasy settings, depending on which world book you got.
  • Palladium Role Playing Game: A kind of clone of AD&D. I only played a handful of games, but the setting books never felt like they were geared around dungeon diving.
Games I never played (though some I owned and have the rules for) so I don't know how much of D&D tropes they had.
  • Dragon Warriors: A UK designed game that I never got to play but it feels somewhat similar to D&D
  • Chivalry and Sorcery: I never played this, but did read the rules. Seems similar to HarnMaster above
  • Tunnels and Trolls: can't really say much on this since I never even read the rules/setting
  • The Fantasy Trip: the direct ancestor to Man to Man. Never played this one, though I bought the rules much much later when SJ Games re-released it. Seems more like a board game with some roleplaying attached like Man to Man
  • Talislanta: I never played this, though I had the rules. Lots and lots of different character races to play. Not sure if it was geared to dungeon diving or not
  • DragonQuest: never played this one and sadly the rules are no longer available to check out
 
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