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Roleplaying Games of the 1970s (and very early 80s)

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
A separate thread had me thinking about the RPGs of the 1970s (Disco Ball Not Included), and what people played back then. So I though I'd start a separate discussion primarily for that purpose, given that it can be a rich topic and I didn't want to continue threadjacking a completely different topic.

The primary contentious issue that started the conversation was what, after "D&D," was the second-most popular TTRPG of the 70s and early 80s? Now, to be honest, I think that the question is fundamentally unanswerable ... but you're welcome to try! The reason I think you can't answer it is because we don't have sales figures from back then that I know of.

If you happen to have a source for real sales figures of RPGs during this time, please post them. That would be wicked cool.

Anyway, it's hard to fully understand just how different the gaming terrain was from 1974 - 1982. To start with, even though everyone complains about how D&D is the 800lb gorilla today ... well, D&D (and TSR) was really the big mover back then.

TSR published "the" RPG, to such an extent that "D&D" was often synonymous with RPGs in general. TSR ran "the" convention- GenCon. TSR published "the" magazine- Dragon (previously The Strategic Review ... get it?). TSR had the distribution channels that others lacked- sure, you could find your D&D products at the local game store alongside Avalon Hill, but you could also find them at your chain booksellers, or even toy stores.

But the 70s and early 80s were also very much a time of ferment, of trying out new rules, of DIY and homebrew. While TSR was pushing out its own games (Boot Hill, Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, Top Secret, etc.) other people were getting into it.

Whether it's Tunnels & Trolls, Bunnies & Burrows, or Starships & Spacemen, the only thing more exciting than ampersands was alliteration. But you also began to see other games that lasted ... Villains and Vigilantes, Traveller, RuneQuest, Chivalry & Sorcery, Champions, and many others.

So I'm throwing it out there for those who are interested in discussing the issue- what games do you remember playing and/or being prominent during those years?
 

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ragr

Explorer
D&D, Traveller and Runequest were the big three for my group of friends, and by big three I mean it was 75% D&D in terms of table time, if not more. We'd play D&D at the weekends, generally all day Sunday, and then if there was any spare time it would be the other two. I'd normally run the D&D and the Traveller and another guy was big on Runequest and would take us out in that on the odd occasion. I remember that the Traveller was almost always very low prep and even improvised; often the pcs would find a patron who'd hire them and then we'd just take it from there. There would also be the trading game but that got very stale, very quickly to our adventurous hearts.

Personally I was always sceptical about RQ as it often seemed to bog down in fights that took forever to resolve which is quite ironic given that D&D eventually seemed to take over that reputation from 3rd onwards.

We dabbled a little with C&S but it seemed an ungainly beast that sent us scurrying back to what worked for us already. Same thing when Rolemaster arrived, although MERP really lit us up. But we're stretching towards '82 by then and work had reared its ugly head which curtailed most off the cuff games, leaving us with an even more dominant D&D.

Ah, blessed, soft focus, nostalgia blanket, wrap me in your loving arms.
 

These were probably more mid-80's than early but:

Marvel RPG (the FASERIP version)
Villains and Vigilantes was huge with us.
GURPS toward the end of the 80s.

The most obscure I think was Space Patrol.

We did a lot of one off games (MERPS, Pendragon, ELRIC/Stormbringer)

Non-RPGS consisted of Car Wars, Star Fleet Battles, and Battletech (again late 80s)
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Non-RPGS consisted of Car Wars, Star Fleet Battles, and Battletech (again late 80s)

Side-note; they might have occasionally straddled the RPG line (Battletech moreso than SFB), but .... so much fun.

All three of them.

I still remember playing a Gorn Warship (SO SLOW!) in SFB, and the first time I played Car Wars (and later AutoDuel, I think, on an Apple II), and I played so much Battletech.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
For the early years, besides D&D we regularly played Gamma World. I had a copy of Villains & Vigilantes and Star Frontiers - they got played a little. Some friends had Champions (another I didn't play much).

I remember seeing Boot Hll, Empire of the Petal Throne, Metamorphis Alpha, Traveller, and Top Secret at the local comic/record/book/game store and/or hobby store from the list on Wikipedia through 1982 List of tabletop role-playing games - Wikipedia.

For other games, a friend had Car Wars (I never played it), and I still have some Lyran Miniatures and a ton of rule books for Star Fleet Battles - didn't start that until later in the decade though.

-----

Pulling up the old Dragon Magazines makes me remember how much I miss the feeling of reading those when I was much younger. It's a bit late in the time frame, but #64 in August 1982 was my first. (And I don't think it's particularly representative necessarily!!) Also, I had completely forgot the ads for Play by Mail games!!


Game Specific Advertisements:
----------------------------------
RPG -
Fullpage: Star Frontiers, Rolemaster, Man Myth & Magic
1/2 page - Bushido, Space Opera, Villains and Vigilantes, Traveller
Smaller: Champions, Espionage

Play by Mail -
Fullpage: Silverdawn
Smaller: Star of Uldor, Logan's Run

Computer -
Fullpage: Crypt of the Undead

Other games -
1 page - Warriors of Batak
1/2 page: Grav-Ball, Jasmine
Smaller: Quirks, Empire Builder

D&D specific articles:
---------------
New weapons (Aklys, Atlatl, Blowgun, Caltrop, Garrot, Harpoon, Hook Fauchard, Lasso, Man Catcher, Sap, Spiked Buckler, Staff Sling, Sword Falchion, Sword Khopesh, Whip).
New creatures (Planetar, Solar)
Events of the Eastern and Southern Flanaess (Raxivort)
Giants in the Earth (Tanith Lee's Myal Lemyal, John Henry, Fin MacCumhal)
Sage Advice (non-thieves can't climb walls and more)

Non-D&D articles:
---------------------
Traveller
OGRE (Review)
Worlds of Wonder (Review)

And... Planet Busters Game, Championship Sumo Wrestling Game, and a system free Assassin's Guild article and adventure, with the usual book reviews, letters, and comics.
 
Last edited:

Nytmare

David Jose
The only things I remember from that time period were Powers and Perils and Gamma World, which I owned but never played, and an old mimeographed and bound copy of Space Quest. The non fantasy games weren't at all attractive to me as a kid and Powers and Perils just looked like math homework.

It wasn't till I hit high school that Paranoia, Rifts, Battletech, and Shadowrun were heavily shuffled into the mix, and then college in 92 when the floodgates really opened.
 

Nytmare

David Jose
Pulling up the old Dragon Magazines makes me remember how much I miss the feeling of reading those when I was much younger. It's a bit late in the time frame, but #64 in August 1982 was my first. (And I don't think it's particularly representative necessarily!!) Also, I had completely forgot the ads for Play by Mail games!!

I was just thinking back fondly of the three turn play by mail Battletech game I ran for two friends the summer of 1993. I had stumbled on to the Battletech Center in Chicago the year before, and tried to recapture that fledgling VR experience for two of my college friends by hand drawing a HUD and control panel for each turn of the game. Two movement phases and a single exchange of fire before we had to go back to school and thankfully return to playing in person.
 

A separate thread had me thinking about the RPGs of the 1970s (Disco Ball Not Included), and what people played back then. So I though I'd start a separate discussion primarily for that purpose, given that it can be a rich topic and I didn't want to continue threadjacking a completely different topic.

The primary contentious issue that started the conversation was what, after "D&D," was the second-most popular TTRPG of the 70s and early 80s? Now, to be honest, I think that the question is fundamentally unanswerable ... but you're welcome to try! The reason I think you can't answer it is because we don't have sales figures from back then that I know of.

If you happen to have a source for real sales figures of RPGs during this time, please post them. That would be wicked cool.

Anyway, it's hard to fully understand just how different the gaming terrain was from 1974 - 1982. To start with, even though everyone complains about how D&D is the 800lb gorilla today ... well, D&D (and TSR) was really the big mover back then.

TSR published "the" RPG, to such an extent that "D&D" was often synonymous with RPGs in general. TSR ran "the" convention- GenCon. TSR published "the" magazine- Dragon (previously The Strategic Review ... get it?). TSR had the distribution channels that others lacked- sure, you could find your D&D products at the local game store alongside Avalon Hill, but you could also find them at your chain booksellers, or even toy stores.

But the 70s and early 80s were also very much a time of ferment, of trying out new rules, of DIY and homebrew. While TSR was pushing out its own games (Boot Hill, Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, Top Secret, etc.) other people were getting into it.

Whether it's Tunnels & Trolls, Bunnies & Burrows, or Starships & Spacemen, the only thing more exciting than ampersands was alliteration. But you also began to see other games that lasted ... Villains and Vigilantes, Traveller, RuneQuest, Chivalry & Sorcery, Champions, and many others.

So I'm throwing it out there for those who are interested in discussing the issue- what games do you remember playing and/or being prominent during those years?
The big floppy books for Classic Traveller include the publication numbers. Mine aren't to hand.

Now, in 1980, I knew of only 3 RPGs: D&D basic, AD&D, and Dallas. I wasn't aware of The Fantasy Trip, and it wasn't fully an RPG at that point. So really, I knew of 2.5...

In 1981, I remember seeing adverts for Star Frontiers. I wouldn't get to play it until 1983, but it appealed more than D&D; I got to play D&D and I bout a copy of B.
I was vaguely aware of the James Bond RPG at the time; it had come into my friendly local grocers right next to D&D and Dallas. And a bunch of thin-box wargames.

Fall of 83 I got to try Star Frontiers. Not bad, not great, but I got started down a road that has impacts still: I got started with a group playing traveller.

Christmas 1983, I got SpaceMaster and The Traveller Book; Spring 1984 I was playing traveller, but running AD&D when I ran things.

Fall of 84, I got, and ran, Twilight:2000, played stormbringer, ran RuneQuest 3e, got AD&D, got a copy of Palladium Fantasy 1R dirt cheap (used), along with vols II and III. (I didn't actually run Palladium FRP until the late 90's...)
Spring 85, I got robotech and ran it. Was never happy with Robowreck. I also maid acquaintance with TFT, and it's solo modules. (Thank's Dan... getting me started collecting OOP RPGs...)
I was introduced to Champions summer of 1985; ran it a bit in fall of 1985. 1986 I got Delta Force. It was a solid game, but for the kinds of one-offs it engendered, it was too detailed and took too long to generate characters. I also, in 1996, finally ran some spacemaster for more than one-shot fights.
I got Crime Fighter in 1988, but no one wanted to play cops.
 

Ace

Adventurer
I owned a lot of games back in the day . Read every game I could get my hands on .

Not that many games other than AD&D 1E got much play though we tried a few of the TSR games like Gangbusters as well as Runequest 2E and Traveller.
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Classic Traveller and Basic/AD&D were the core of my gaming experience from sixth grade to first year university (79-86). Along the way we played a fair bit of Top Secret, some Champions and Paranoia, and Car Wars as a palate-cleanser between adventures.

Wizard and Melee were both played in 79 and 80, but I never played TFT, though I did buy it at the time.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I was wondering ... for all of the references I have seen to Boot Hill, did anyone ever run full campaigns of it?

I once had an AD&D campaign venture into the Boot Hill universe, but I don't recall anyone discussing running long campaigns in that system.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I was wondering ... for all of the references I have seen to Boot Hill, did anyone ever run full campaigns of it?

I once had an AD&D campaign venture into the Boot Hill universe, but I don't recall anyone discussing running long campaigns in that system.

I wasn't into westerns at the time and never even made a character for it... but I'd be happy to try it out now!
 

werecorpse

Adventurer
pre 84 - that was high school for me
Mostly AD&D
some Traveller, Runequest, Gamma World, Top Secret, Bushido
dabbled (1-2 games) in Man Myth & Magic, Boot Hill, Thieves Guild, Space Opera, Chivalry & Sorcery, Gangbusters, Bunnies & Burrows, Aftermath, Stormbringer, Call of Cthulhu

84-89 Apart from AD&D which was still No 1 Bushido & Runequest were second tier and Call of Cthulhu and Traveller popped up from time to time.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I was wondering ... for all of the references I have seen to Boot Hill, did anyone ever run full campaigns of it?

I once had an AD&D campaign venture into the Boot Hill universe, but I don't recall anyone discussing running long campaigns in that system.
Outside of D&D, Boot Hill was the game we played in the early 80s, and we did run a couple campaigns in it. I only remember bits and pieces (I was just a kid in 1981), but remember adding a lot of weapon's tables to the core list, and doing a lot of shooting bandits, and doing a LOT of dying...
 


We played.
D&D and AD&D (obviously)
Cthulhu
A few of the Palladium Games including Robotech, The Fantasy RPG and Beyond the Supernatural. Rifts came a bit late but we did try it. The strange thing with Palladium is that is often much more fun to read than to play. The only three games we had more than one campaign were Robotech, Heroes unlimited and BTS.
Battletech the RPG and the Battle simulator. (The RPG was really just an excuse for the mech battles).
Star Trek the RPG and the Battle simulator. (The RPG was really just an excuse for the space battles.)
Role Master and MERPG. (both, but the critical system was way too brutal and unforgiving for us. Making a crit was fun, receiving it, less so).
Paranoia (for comic relief and a nice change of pace).
Top secret.
and finally, Star Wars (d6).
 

the Jester

Legend
We played a fair amount of Gamma World, Star Frontiers, and Top Secret (pre-SI). And there were a bunch of local groups that were heavily into playing Arduin Grimoire/D&D hybrids (not that Arduin wasn't basically D&D with the serial numbers filed off to begin with).
 

TarionzCousin

Second Most Angelic Devil Ever
I was wondering ... for all of the references I have seen to Boot Hill, did anyone ever run full campaigns of it?

I once had an AD&D campaign venture into the Boot Hill universe, but I don't recall anyone discussing running long campaigns in that system.
A good friend's older brother tried--but the characters kept dying. After ten sessions most people were on their third character. Nobody was still playing their original character.
 


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