What game Could "Be" D&D, Culturally?

Jaeger

That someone better
Seems the OP's vagueness has resulted in two questions being answered:

1: If D&D wasn't released in 1974 - would RPG's be invented anyway?

2: If WotC didn't bail out TSR and they went under - what RPG would have taken D&D's place.


So first, question number one...

1: If D&D wasn't released in 1974 - would RPG's be invented anyway?

I don't even think I could speculate, because I don't think we understand properly other than right-time, right-place why D&D became what it did.

Disagree. The early days of the hobby are very well documented.

Not that right place, right time, wasn't a huge factor.


While there have been people claiming that RPGs were already inevitable before Gygax and Arneson made a deal to create D&D as a product, I think basically all the RPGs that exist have their current shape because of D&D. Be it following in its footsteps or as reactions against its mechanics.

I used to think that argument was BS myself - after all why didn't they publish their version when D&D proved such a hit? Turns out some things are just more complicated and nuanced than that:

One example:

There was convergent / parallel discovery going on in the 70's. Some of the hopefuls couldn't get the scratch together that Gygax and co. did to publish. Some had their creators die too early to see things through. And some just said stuff it, and played the more popular and commercially available ruleset rather than going through the hassle of publishing their own.

RPG's are Wargame Derivatives.

And in 20-20 hindsight, we know the intuitive leaps needed to go from the variety of wargames in circulation in the 1970's, to RPG's as we now recognize them.

IMHO - for A "different" RPG to take hold it would have had to be a Fantasy RPG similar to B/X in complexity, and would have had to hit before 1980. So that it would have enough time to build up a player base before videogames start to become a thing...

And I do side with the argument of RPG's being inevitable sometime in the mid to late 1970's.

Also, yes; all current RPG's and storygames are a reaction to D&D in some form.

Now on to question number two...


2: If WotC didn't bail out TSR, and they went under - what RPG would have taken D&D's place.

And that's really tough because when you look at the history of D&D there are all kinds of places where TSR "stumbled" early on and throughout its stewardship of the game, so you'd think someone else could have taken over from them. And yet here we are - nearly 50 years later and it's still the king of the hill.

D&D as the market leader was the beneficiary of "bailouts" because it is better to start with an established IP than trying to build one up on your own.

Sometimes those of us that are into other games can forget how big the D&D 800lb gorilla is. Even in Vampire's WoD heyday, D&D only got outsold when it literally went out of print. As the market leader D&D has been bailed out by $$ at least 3 times from its own mismanagement.

Other RPG game lines went bankrupt in similar circumstances because they do not have the player base to make it worth someone's while to jump in with rescue money beforehand.

RPG's are a niche money making endeavor of a hobby, and D&D has always been an outlier.

WotC had to make internal own-goals of epic proportions to create the environment where an edition of D&D that was briefly but legitimately outsold by a competitor.

And even then the "competitor" was a clone of its previous edition...


Also, if TSR had died and no one picked up the D&D mantle, it is absolutely certain that the RPG industry would have continued on. It is not like people suddenly stopped making RPGs when TSR collapsed. To say that there would be no modern RPG landscape without 3E is a bold statement.

Yes. Power hates a vacuum.

The Pathfinder 1e saga has proven that the hobby will gravitate to an alternative if the mainstream game fails to serve.

Even in the TSR heyday there were D&D alternatives like palladium fantasy and countess Fantasy heartbreakers of "D&D done right"...

Even pre-3e there were fantasy games that used d20 roll-high, stat+skill, as their base mechanic.

It may have taken a few years but eventually the hobby would have formed around a new fantasy RPG standard.

It would be interesting to see the ascendency of a fantasy RPG that hewed close to many of the tropes of D&D, but was without the decades of TSR baggage, and lore assumptions would have turned out like.
 

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Disagree. The early days of the hobby are very well documented.

Not that right place, right time, wasn't a huge factor.

I don't see how that matters; the fact we knew what was going on, doesn't mean we have any better understanding of its success. It just means we know the events that lead to it, but not why they lead to it.
 

Random Task

Explorer
MHO - for A "different" RPG to take hold it would have had to be a Fantasy RPG similar to B/X in complexity, and would have had to hit before 1980. So that it would have enough time to build up a player base before videogames start to become a thing...
I think The Fantasy Trip had most of these characteristics. Wargamey, combat focused, pre-1980s.
 

I think The Fantasy Trip had most of these characteristics. Wargamey, combat focused, pre-1980s.
Given quite how wargamey it was (while early D&D used some kind of markers and surfaces more often than some people claim, TFT absolutely demanded a hex board), I'm not sure it'd have spread into SF and fantasy fandom the way D&D did, though. One of the things that helped D&D grow early was how much it fished into both pools.

That's why I often say (though I think there's problems with it) the next most credible option would have been Traveler. It did suffer from being more focused, even within its genre, than D&D though.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
Given quite how wargamey it was (while early D&D used some kind of markers and surfaces more often than some people claim, TFT absolutely demanded a hex board), I'm not sure it'd have spread into SF and fantasy fandom the way D&D did, though. One of the things that helped D&D grow early was how much it fished into both pools.

That's why I often say (though I think there's problems with it) the next most credible option would have been Traveler. It did suffer from being more focused, even within its genre, than D&D though.
I played TFT with out a hexboard.
 

TFT came out in 1977 and by 1983 it was dead because of the company being shut down and the remaining owner asking an intentionally inflated price for Steve Jackson to buy back the rights. So all that would have had to change for TFT to go anywhere. Plus, when I started gaming in 1981, most gamers I knew in my area would only play D&D, when it came to fantasy RPGs. So that is not a new phenomenon that started with 5E. People knew D&D, knew they could go to those big tournaments that TSR had in the 80's, making it easy to find other players in their areas. While other fantasy games were always much harder to find enough people to make a full group.
 


Random Task

Explorer
TFT came out in 1977 and by 1983 it was dead because of the company being shut down and the remaining owner asking an intentionally inflated price for Steve Jackson to buy back the rights. So all that would have had to change for TFT to go anywhere. Plus, when I started gaming in 1981, most gamers I knew in my area would only play D&D, when it came to fantasy RPGs. So that is not a new phenomenon that started with 5E. People knew D&D, knew they could go to those big tournaments that TSR had in the 80's, making it easy to find other players in their areas. While other fantasy games were always much harder to find enough people to make a full group.
Right, but if TSR had dissolved into the cheese curds of Wisconsin in 1977 and Steve Jackson had the rights to TFT, what could have happened?
 

Jaeger

That someone better
I think The Fantasy Trip had most of these characteristics. Wargamey, combat focused, pre-1980s.

I would rather say something like TFT would be a logical substitute.

After all we need to remember that D&D was a known quantity when TFT was created. And the game received little follow up.


the next most credible option would have been Traveler. It did suffer from being more focused, even within its genre, than D&D though.

I disagree. For two different reasons.

First:

Traveller was made after D&D came out. It was not developed independently of it. Its mode of play was very much influenced by how D&D did things:

Without D&D's release there is no reason to believe Miller have made the intuitive leap to the RPG GM/PC paradigm D&D swept in.

Not that he couldn't have. But a lot of people doing similar things failed to make that intuitive leap. The odds are more against than for.


Second: (I am presuming that somehow the odds were beat and Traveller did become the first RPG...)

The Default Traveller setting and mode of play is just not as good as D&D's take on Fantasy adventure when it comes to capturing the imagination.

Someone (or several someone's) would have recognized the concept, and made a Fantasy RPG that would have gone on to become dominant.

Even if it was first; Traveller would have been the Everquest to someone else's World of Warcraft...
 

Random Task

Explorer
The Default Traveller setting and mode of play is just not as good as D&D's take on Fantasy adventure when it comes to capturing the imagination.

Someone (or several someone's) would have recognized the concept, and made a Fantasy RPG that would have gone on to become dominant.

Even if it was first; Traveller would have been the Everquest to someone else's World of Warcraft...

Yes, if a space faring RPG was going to become really huge, I think it would have happened already over the last 40 years. For whatever reason, I think that sort of game is somewhat niche in the RPG space.
 

I would rather say something like TFT would be a logical substitute.

After all we need to remember that D&D was a known quantity when TFT was created. And the game received little follow up.




I disagree. For two different reasons.

First:

Traveller was made after D&D came out. It was not developed independently of it. Its mode of play was very much influenced by how D&D did things:

Without D&D's release there is no reason to believe Miller have made the intuitive leap to the RPG GM/PC paradigm D&D swept in.

Not that he couldn't have. But a lot of people doing similar things failed to make that intuitive leap. The odds are more against than for.

Eh. While I agree that the initial jump is the sticking point, I think most of this assumption is that if D&D didn't happen or failed someone would have. That was what I was doing here.

Second: (I am presuming that somehow the odds were beat and Traveller did become the first RPG...)

The Default Traveller setting and mode of play is just not as good as D&D's take on Fantasy adventure when it comes to capturing the imagination.

Someone (or several someone's) would have recognized the concept, and made a Fantasy RPG that would have gone on to become dominant.

Even if it was first; Traveller would have been the Everquest to someone else's World of Warcraft...

This assumes fantasy would automatically would have automatically been more necessary than SF at the time. That can't be but speculative and predicated on the view of D&D in the rear-view mirror.

I personally don't think its compelling; the biggest problem with Traveller is it wasn't as far reaching within SF as D&D was within fantasy, and lacked some elements of the reward loop (the lack of in-play contribution to advancement for example). To really do the job you'd likely have needed something with more of the scope of the later Space Opera, but with a game system less convoluted (which is where Traveler has virtues). But if you had something like that, I think SF could well have been as good a launching point as fantasy in the populace that ended up launching D&D (mostly wargamers and SF/fantasy fans).
 

Yes, if a space faring RPG was going to become really huge, I think it would have happened already over the last 40 years. For whatever reason, I think that sort of game is somewhat niche in the RPG space.

One sort of did; the original Star Wars RPG. It wasn't able to dismount D&D, but neither has anything else so you can question how much of that was the general advantages D&D had in the market place, rather than one being fantasy and one being SF.

So the question is, if D&D doesn't happen or is gone, can an SF game rather than a fantasy one assume its niche? I don't think the available data is such to say "no", because a lot of it is colored by how much D&D's influence had colored other related media like computer games.

Pulled out in isolation, at the time D&D happened, SF was at least as popular and visible as fantasy was, but all the SF games that appeared for a while were either more narrow in scope or had other problems, and were dealing with D&D already taking up a fair bit of mindspace. So its pretty hard to say how a relatively simply and wide-reaching SF game would have done.
 

To make it clear, I think, as has been noted, this thread has discussed two different scenarios, and there are important differences between them here: What happens if there's no D&D, what happens if there's a D&D and it fails after initial success.

In the case of the latter the most likely replacement is fantasy, because fantasy has already been set in people's expectations for what an RPG does; assuming it isn't someone else's D&D knockoff, the most likely cases I can think of are DragonQuest or (as previously mentioned, despite my critique of it) TFT. Runequest, for all its virtues was less generalized and because of Glorantha, accessible.

In the case of the first, I simply think dismissing an SF game is premature, and is based on a view backwards inevitably colored by the fact D&D did exist, and influenced expectations strongly.
 

Like if it not, in the fantasy vs scifi argument pre-release of D&D, fantasy had the behemoth of the Tolkien books, while scifi had some popular books, but nothing on that scale. Tolkien was big in pop culture back then too, with "Frodo Lives" graffiti showing up all over the place. So even without D&D, fantasy wins. Plus, it is much more an escape from reality than scifi ever will be.
 

Jaeger

That someone better
This assumes fantasy would automatically would have automatically been more necessary than SF at the time. That can't be but speculative and predicated on the view of D&D in the rear-view mirror.

Yes hindsight is 20/20.

But in this case we do have it.

Like Random task said:
if a space faring RPG was going to become really huge, I think it would have happened already over the last 40 years. For whatever reason, I think that sort of game is somewhat niche in the RPG space.

Agreed.

So, I don't want this to come across like I'm slagging on Traveller per se. It is a solidly designed RPG, with a loyal following, that has stood the test of time.

That being said: Traveller has never risen out of its niche. It has been absolutely murdered in sales by whomever the current license holder of the Star Wars IP is.

Always. Every time.

It also has never matched the current runner up fantasy RPG to D&D. Ever.


I think SF could well have been as good a launching point as fantasy in the populace that ended up launching D&D (mostly wargamers and SF/fantasy fans).
I simply think dismissing an SF game is premature, and is based on a view backwards inevitably colored by the fact D&D did exist, and influenced expectations strongly.

Still disagree. Fantasy would have still won out.

But what about this!...
at the time D&D happened, SF was at least as popular and visible as fantasy was,

You mean the cool Sci fi stuff from the late 1970's that people still remember today? Buck Rodgers, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars...

Traveller did not, and to this day still doesn't sell itself as any of that. Which has always been a limiter on its popularity.

And other things were still going on in popular culture when RPG's would have appeared in the late 70's.

Namely the big 'revival' in fantasy going on in the 1970's that shaped how a whole generation viewed the genre. Everything from reprints of classics from Lieber and Howard, to the Lord of the Rings animated film. Not to mention the increased popularity of Fantasy Wargaming that was also happening in the 1970's even before D&D's release.

By the late 1970's Tolkien was as popular as he had ever been, and many pulp sword and sorcery authors of the past were exposed to a whole new generation. This fantasy revival was instrumental in shaping many of the tropes we now associate with D&D today. It wasn't until we get into the 80's that D&D starts to influence the genre that spawned it.

And I am not even touching on the ways Fantasy directly taps into, and draws from our collective mythology and folklore in ways that Sci Fi does not.

All the cultural elements that made Fantasy RPG's dominant would still be there even if Traveller somehow came first.

A Traveller RPG would still have been the Everquest to someone else's World of Warcraft...
 

Like if it not, in the fantasy vs scifi argument pre-release of D&D, fantasy had the behemoth of the Tolkien books, while scifi had some popular books, but nothing on that scale. Tolkien was big in pop culture back then too, with "Frodo Lives" graffiti showing up all over the place. So even without D&D, fantasy wins. Plus, it is much more an escape from reality than scifi ever will be.

On the other hand, SF had a well known TV show and a couple other lesser ones. Its not like "Water Brother" wasn't a pretty big cultural element in some parts too. And your last sentence is entirely your perspective on it.
 


On the other hand, SF had a well known TV show and a couple other lesser ones. Its not like "Water Brother" wasn't a pretty big cultural element in some parts too. And your last sentence is entirely your perspective on it.

No clue what this "Water Brother" is. And a tv show that died after 3 seasons and did not really become popular until it was used to give birth to syndication years later. Which also never spawned an RPG that could challenge D&D.
 

jdrakeh

Front Range Warlock
If we step back in time to the late 70s absent D&D, I think Traveller would've had a good chance. Star Trek and Star Wars were both wildly popular at the time, as were other space-faring science fiction novels and television series. Something like Traveller seems like a natural fit.
 

Jaeger

That someone better
I note you've conveniently forgotten Star Trek.

Not conveniently - just flat out forgot! :eek:

But it changes nothing about what I posted.

The Star Trek IP has never really come to anything in RPG land. And not for lack of trying.

However popular as a show - its premise has never translated into the kind of sales and popularity as an RPG the way that the various Star Wars RPG's have.

A Traveller RPG would still have been the Sci-Fi Everquest to someone else's Medieval Fantasy World of Warcraft RPG.
 

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