Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Nerd History: The Earliest Role-Playing Game

While poking around the intertubes for D&D 5e stuff, I tripped up on something I had never heard of before. My assumption has traditionally been that the D&D-type RPG we all know and love is where the roots of gaming start, or very close to it given the existence of Chainmail and other miniatures games. I was quite surprised, however, to learn of a game called Braunstein.

Braunstein was a variation on a wargame created by a man named David Wesley. As the story goes, Wesley tried to mix up his regular wargame a bit by assigning different roles to the other players. Things predictably went haywire, but the players loved it and wanted more. Thus, Braunstein, named after the German city the game intially took place in, was born.

The funny thing about its evolution is how well it mirrors the edition wars of current D&D in a lot of ways. The more Wesley tweaked the formula, the less the players liked it, feeling boxed in by the rules and constraints. If you read some of the histories, you'll see how players even found ways to break the game relatively quickly.

Also funny: Wesley was not into the fantasy landscapes so much. The wargaming was almost a means to an end for him, having achieved the rank of major in the air force. Thus it's not entirely surprising that the ideas that he got for the game came from a variety of fairly heavy military and strategy texts, including a 19th-century military strategy book written by Charles Adiel Lewis Totten. Heck, one could make the argument that he might be responsible for the earliest role playing games.

Either way, the history of this is fairly interesting overall. Wesley himself posted a bit on a forum to correct some information, and this blog post has more information on some of the texts that influenced Wesley and his games.

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