Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

The world of fantasy role-playing games (RPGs) has been captivating players for decades, with its rich worlds, imaginative creatures, and endless possibilities. But, where did it all begin? Was it the legendary game of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) that started it all? Or, were there other games that paved the way for this iconic game? In this article, we’ll delve into the history of fantasy RPGs and explore the question: was D&D truly the first? Let’s embark on a journey through the realms of imagination and discover the truth behind this timeless debate.

Quick Answer:
Dungeons & Dragons was not the first fantasy RPG, but it was the first to gain widespread popularity and recognition. The origins of fantasy RPGs can be traced back to tabletop games like Chainmail and Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor, which predated Dungeons & Dragons. However, Dungeons & Dragons, created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, was the first to combine elements of fantasy, role-playing, and tabletop gaming into a cohesive and marketable product. This game paved the way for the countless fantasy RPGs that followed, many of which have their own unique mechanics and settings. While other games may have laid the groundwork, Dungeons & Dragons is widely considered to be the progenitor of the modern fantasy RPG genre.

The Birth of Role-Playing Games

Early RPGs in the 1970s

The 1970s saw the emergence of role-playing games (RPGs) as a popular form of entertainment. While Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is often credited as the first RPG, it was not the only game of its kind. Several other RPGs were developed in the early 1970s, each contributing to the growth and evolution of the genre.

One of the earliest RPGs was called “Chainmail,” created by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren in 1971. Although not specifically a fantasy game, Chainmail focused on medieval warfare and was used as a basis for D&D’s combat mechanics. The game consisted of rules for tactical maneuvers, morale, and a unique system for determining the outcome of battles based on the number of figures engaged.

Another significant RPG from the early 1970s was “Dungeon!” created by Tom Moldvay in 1974. While it shared some similarities with D&D, Dungeon! had a simpler ruleset and was designed for solo play. The game included a dungeon map, a character sheet, and an adventure. Players could explore the dungeon, battle monsters, and collect treasure, making it an early example of a solo adventure game.

In 1975, the “Fighting Fantasy” series was launched by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. These gamebooks combined elements of RPGs and choose-your-own-adventure stories. The series consisted of numerous titles set in a shared universe, allowing players to explore a vast and detailed world through text-based gameplay. The success of Fighting Fantasy inspired many similar titles in the following years, further expanding the popularity of RPGs.

Lastly, “Tunnels & Trolls” was created by Ken St. Andre in 1975. This RPG focused on a lighter, more humorous tone than D&D, with simpler rules and a greater emphasis on storytelling. The game’s mechanics included a unique dice system, where players could roll three dice and assign different outcomes based on the combination of numbers. Tunnels & Trolls was notable for its innovative approach to character creation, allowing players to choose their character’s abilities from a wide range of options, rather than assigning pre-determined values.

These early RPGs in the 1970s paved the way for the development of Dungeons & Dragons and the broader fantasy RPG genre. While each game had its unique mechanics and themes, they all shared a common goal: to immerse players in imaginative worlds and provide a platform for storytelling and exploration.

The Evolution of Tabletop RPGs

Tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) have their roots in the 1970s, emerging from the fusion of traditional wargames and the burgeoning interest in fantasy literature. The first tabletop RPGs, such as Dungeons & Dragons, established a foundation for the genre and inspired numerous adaptations and imitations. To comprehend the origins of fantasy RPGs, it is essential to delve into the evolution of tabletop RPGs, examining the factors that shaped the genre and paved the way for its proliferation.

One of the primary influences on the development of tabletop RPGs was the evolution of wargames. These games, which simulated historical battles and military strategies, provided a foundation for the rules-based, strategic gameplay that characterizes RPGs. The concept of players controlling individual characters, each with unique abilities and strengths, emerged from these wargames and became a defining feature of RPGs.

Fantasy literature also played a significant role in the evolution of tabletop RPGs. Works such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons inspired a renewed interest in fantasy worlds and mythical creatures. The idea of exploring imaginary realms and engaging in epic adventures appealed to gamers, and the emergence of tabletop RPGs provided a platform for these experiences.

In the 1970s, Dungeons & Dragons, created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, emerged as the seminal work in the development of tabletop RPGs. This game combined elements of wargames and fantasy literature, enabling players to assume the roles of adventurers in a rich, imaginary world. The game’s rules and mechanics provided a framework for storytelling and collaborative problem-solving, establishing a model for subsequent RPGs.

As the popularity of Dungeons & Dragons grew, numerous other RPGs emerged, each drawing inspiration from the original game while incorporating unique themes and settings. The development of RPGs such as GURPS, Shadowrun, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay reflected the genre’s diversification and adaptability. These games catered to various interests, from science fiction to dark fantasy, expanding the potential of the RPG genre.

In conclusion, the evolution of tabletop RPGs can be traced back to the fusion of wargames and fantasy literature. The influence of these early works, particularly Dungeons & Dragons, can be seen in the countless RPGs that have since emerged. The genre’s ability to adapt and evolve, embracing new themes and settings, has allowed it to thrive and continue to captivate gamers worldwide.

Dungeons & Dragons: A Pivotal Moment

Key takeaway: The origins of fantasy RPGs can be traced back to the 1970s, with early RPGs such as Chainmail, Dungeon!, Fighting Fantasy, and Tunnels & Trolls. Dungeons & Dragons, created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, is often credited as the first fantasy RPG, but it was not the only game of its kind. These early RPGs paved the way for the development of Dungeons & Dragons and the broader fantasy RPG genre, all sharing a common goal of immersing players in imaginative worlds and providing a platform for storytelling and exploration.

The Creation of D&D

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is widely regarded as the first fantasy role-playing game (RPG), but its creation was not a solitary effort. In fact, D&D was the product of a group of friends who shared a passion for fantasy literature and gaming.

In the early 1970s, a group of friends in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, including Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, began to experiment with wargaming and tabletop role-playing. They sought to create a new type of game that would allow players to immerse themselves in a fantasy world and take on the roles of heroes and adventurers.

Gygax, in particular, was influenced by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, and other fantasy authors. He had also been introduced to the game of chess at an early age, which would later influence the development of D&D’s combat system.

Arneson, on the other hand, was a fan of pulp fantasy and had been playing a homebrew RPG with his friends using the rules of the board game, “Chivalry & Sorcery.” He introduced these rules to Gygax, and the two began to collaborate on a new game that would incorporate elements of both wargaming and tabletop RPGs.

In 1974, Gygax and Arneson unveiled the first version of D&D at the Gen Con gaming convention in Lake Geneva. The game was an instant hit, and word of mouth soon spread about this new type of game that allowed players to explore a fantasy world and take on the roles of heroes and adventurers.

The first edition of D&D, also known as the “white box” edition, was released in 1974 and included basic rules for character creation, combat, and magic. It was followed by several subsequent editions, each expanding on the original concept and adding new rules and mechanics.

Today, D&D is a worldwide phenomenon with millions of players and countless books, modules, and other resources available to support the game. While there were certainly other RPGs before D&D, it is undeniable that the game was a pivotal moment in the development of the genre and continues to be a beloved and influential game to this day.

The Game’s Influence on the Genre

Shaping the Genre

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) was the first fantasy tabletop role-playing game to gain widespread popularity. Its impact on the genre is immense, influencing not only subsequent games but also literature, film, and other forms of media. The game’s mechanics, world-building, and character creation techniques have been replicated, refined, or subverted in countless games that followed.


One of D&D’s most significant contributions to the genre is its focus on world-building. The game’s creators, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, developed a complex and detailed setting, with unique cultures, histories, and landscapes. This attention to detail allowed players to immerse themselves in a fully realized world, where their characters’ actions had real consequences. The idea of a living, breathing world has since become a staple of fantasy RPGs, with many games placing equal emphasis on world-building and character development.

Character Creation and Progression

Another aspect of D&D that has influenced the genre is its character creation and progression system. The game’s class and level system, along with its experience point system, provided a clear path for characters to grow and evolve over time. This system has been adapted and refined in countless games, but its basic principles remain the same. Characters still have classes, levels, and abilities, and they still gain experience points through gameplay. The system provides a clear sense of progression, allowing players to see their characters grow and develop as they explore the game world.

Combat and Encounter Design

D&D’s combat system has also had a significant impact on the genre. The game’s focus on tactical gameplay, with each character having unique abilities and tactics, has influenced many subsequent games. The idea of balancing encounters, so that they are challenging but not impossible, has become a staple of game design. The concept of hit points, armor class, and saving throws has been adapted and refined in countless games, but its basic principles remain the same. The tactical nature of combat in D&D has become a hallmark of the genre, with many games emphasizing strategic gameplay and tactical decision-making.

In conclusion, Dungeons & Dragons has had a profound influence on the fantasy RPG genre. Its mechanics, world-building, character creation, and combat systems have been replicated, refined, or subverted in countless games that followed. Its impact on the genre is immeasurable, and its legacy can be seen in every fantasy RPG that has come after it.

Comparing Early RPGs: Dungeons & Dragons vs. Its Predecessors

Chainmail and the Fantasy Supplement

The origins of fantasy RPGs can be traced back to a combination of two different games: Chainmail and the Fantasy Supplement.

The Evolution of Miniature Wargaming

Chainmail, created by Gary Gygax and Don Kaye in 1971, was a miniature wargame that used medieval armies to battle it out on a tabletop. It was heavily influenced by historical events and the rules were designed to simulate realistic medieval warfare. However, Gygax had an interest in fantasy and soon began experimenting with the addition of fantasy elements to the game.

The Fantasy Supplement

In 1972, Gygax released a supplement for Chainmail called the “Fantasy Supplement.” This supplement introduced new rules for fantasy elements such as magic, mythical creatures, and fantastical settings. The supplement was a way for players to incorporate their own imagination and creativity into the game.

The Merging of Fantasy and Wargaming

Gygax recognized the potential of combining the two games, and in 1974, he released the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons. This new game merged the best aspects of both Chainmail and the Fantasy Supplement, creating a unique experience that blended fantasy and wargaming. The success of Dungeons & Dragons would go on to define the entire genre of fantasy RPGs.

While Dungeons & Dragons is often credited as the first fantasy RPG, it was truly the product of a long line of developments in the world of miniature wargaming and tabletop gaming. The evolution of Chainmail and the Fantasy Supplement paved the way for the creation of Dungeons & Dragons and helped to establish the genre of fantasy RPGs.

Other Early RPGs: Warhammer Fantasy and Tunnels & Trolls

Warhammer Fantasy is another notable early RPG that emerged around the same time as Dungeons & Dragons. Created by British writer and game designer, Rick Priestley, Warhammer Fantasy is based on the Warhammer tabletop miniature wargame. It is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game that utilizes a dice-based system for resolving actions and combat. The game’s setting is the Warhammer World, which consists of various nations, races, and mythical creatures. Players assume the roles of heroes and embark on quests, battles, and adventures within this richly imagined world.

Similar to Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer Fantasy encourages creative storytelling and collaborative problem-solving. However, it is unique in its focus on tactical combat and the use of miniatures to represent characters and their environment. Players must strategically maneuver their characters and make calculated decisions to emerge victorious in battle. The game also features a robust setting with a complex history, politics, and magic system, providing a deep and immersive experience for players.

Tunnels & Trolls, created by American game designer, Ken St. Andre, is another early RPG that predates Dungeons & Dragons. Tunnels & Trolls is considered a simpler and more streamlined RPG compared to its contemporaries. It utilizes a single d6 for resolving actions and combat, making it easy to learn and play. The game’s setting is the underground world of Trollworld, where players assume the roles of adventurers exploring dungeons, battling monsters, and uncovering treasure.

One of the unique features of Tunnels & Trolls is its focus on humor and lightheartedness. The game encourages players to embrace their imagination and creativity, often incorporating elements of comedy and satire into their adventures. This approach to fantasy gaming differentiates Tunnels & Trolls from its more serious-toned counterparts, such as Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer Fantasy.

Despite its simplicity and lighter tone, Tunnels & Trolls offers a fun and engaging experience for players. It emphasizes teamwork, problem-solving, and the thrill of discovery as players explore the depths of Trollworld. Over time, Tunnels & Trolls has amassed a dedicated fan base, and it continues to be played and enjoyed by gamers today.

In summary, Warhammer Fantasy and Tunnels & Trolls are two additional early RPGs that emerged in the 1980s, showcasing the diversity and creativity of the fantasy gaming genre during its formative years. Both games have distinct characteristics and approaches to gameplay, contributing to the rich tapestry of fantasy RPGs that exist today.

The Impact of Dungeons & Dragons on the RPG Genre

Shaping the Future of Tabletop RPGs

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) revolutionized the world of tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) and played a pivotal role in shaping the future of the genre. The game’s unique combination of elements from fantasy literature, miniature wargames, and card games captured the imagination of players and led to the development of numerous other fantasy RPGs. In this section, we will examine how D&D influenced the evolution of tabletop RPGs and inspired countless games that followed in its footsteps.

  • The Rise of the RPG Genre
    • The success of D&D fueled the growth of the RPG genre, as new games emerged that built upon its foundation.
    • These games borrowed mechanics from D&D, such as character classes, leveling, and skill systems, while incorporating new ideas and innovations of their own.
    • As a result, the RPG genre diversified, with games that focused on different settings, themes, and gameplay styles.
  • Influence on Game Design
    • D&D’s impact on game design is evident in the development of other tabletop RPGs.
    • Games like GURPS (Generic Universal Role-Playing System) and Vampire: The Masquerade adopted D&D’s dice-rolling mechanics and expanded upon them, introducing new rules and options for players.
    • Other games, such as Shadowrun and Cyberpunk 2020, blended elements of fantasy and science fiction, creating unique worlds that merged magic and technology.
  • The Expansion of Fantasy Settings
    • D&D’s success encouraged the creation of other fantasy settings and worlds, such as Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000.
    • These games built upon D&D’s foundation, incorporating new races, monsters, and lore to create rich and immersive fantasy universes.
    • As a result, the RPG genre became a haven for exploring various fantasy subgenres, from high fantasy to dark fantasy and everything in between.
  • Embracing Multigenre RPGs
    • D&D’s influence extended beyond the fantasy genre, inspiring the development of multigenre RPGs that combined elements of various sources.
    • Games like Call of Cthulhu and Star Trek: The Role-Playing Game blended horror and science fiction with fantasy, demonstrating the versatility of the RPG genre.
    • These multigenre games opened up new possibilities for players, allowing them to explore a wide range of themes and settings within the tabletop RPG format.

In conclusion, Dungeons & Dragons left an indelible mark on the RPG genre, shaping its future and inspiring countless games that followed in its footsteps. The game’s innovations and influence on game design, setting, and genre fusion have helped to establish the RPG genre as a diverse and dynamic medium for storytelling and imaginative play.

Adaptations and Spin-Offs

The impact of Dungeons & Dragons on the RPG genre can be seen in the numerous adaptations and spin-offs that have emerged since its inception. These games have borrowed heavily from the mechanics and world-building of Dungeons & Dragons, while also introducing new innovations and ideas.

One of the earliest spin-offs was Blackmoor, created by Dave Arneson, one of the co-founders of Dungeons & Dragons. Blackmoor was designed to be a fantasy wargame, with an emphasis on exploration and role-playing. It featured many of the same mechanics as Dungeons & Dragons, including character classes, hit points, and experience points.

Another influential spin-off was Gamma World, which was published by TSR (the same company that created Dungeons & Dragons) in 1978. Gamma World was a post-apocalyptic RPG that took place in a mutant-infested wasteland. It used a similar dice mechanic to Dungeons & Dragons, but with a more streamlined system for combat and character advancement.

Other notable spin-offs include RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. These games each had their own unique setting and mechanics, but all drew inspiration from the groundbreaking work of Dungeons & Dragons.

In recent years, the popularity of Dungeons & Dragons has led to a resurgence of interest in classic RPGs. Many of these games have been re-released or updated with new content, allowing players to experience the evolution of the genre.

Despite the many adaptations and spin-offs, Dungeons & Dragons remains the quintessential fantasy RPG. Its impact on the genre is undeniable, and its influence can be seen in the countless games that have followed in its footsteps.

The Continuing Debate: Was D&D the First RPG?

Arguments for D&D as the First RPG

Early Roots of Fantasy RPGs

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) has been credited as the first fantasy role-playing game (RPG), and this is due in part to its early roots in the science fiction and fantasy literature of the time. Influential works such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, along with Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard, inspired the creators of D&D to develop a game that allowed players to immerse themselves in a fantastical world.

Innovative Game Mechanics

Another argument in favor of D&D as the first RPG is its innovative game mechanics. The game introduced a variety of novel concepts, such as character classes, character levels, and the use of dice to resolve actions. These mechanics have since become staples of the RPG genre, and their inclusion in D&D set the stage for the development of future fantasy RPGs.

Widespread Popularity

D&D was not only the first fantasy RPG, but it also gained widespread popularity in a relatively short period. Since its release in 1974, D&D has spawned numerous spin-offs, expansions, and imitators. This popularity has cemented D&D’s status as the progenitor of the fantasy RPG genre, and it has remained a beloved and influential game for decades.

The Creation of a New Genre

Finally, the success of D&D can be seen as the creation of a new genre of games. Prior to D&D, there were no RPGs that allowed players to take on the roles of fantasy characters and explore a rich, imaginary world. D&D’s unique blend of storytelling, strategy, and collaboration set it apart from other games of its time, and it opened the door for a new wave of creativity and innovation in the gaming industry.

Overall, the arguments for D&D as the first RPG are based on its early roots in fantasy literature, innovative game mechanics, widespread popularity, and its role in creating a new genre of games. These factors have contributed to D&D’s enduring legacy and its status as a pioneer in the world of fantasy RPGs.

Counterarguments and Alternative Theories

  • The historical precursors to Dungeons & Dragons, such as Jack Vance’s 1960 novel “The Eyes of the Overworld,” which featured a thief named Cugel who delved into dungeons for treasure and adventure, and E. Gary Gygax’s own Chainmail miniatures game, which incorporated elements of fantasy and adventure.
  • The influence of pulp fiction and other media on the development of the fantasy RPG genre, including the works of Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian) and Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan).
  • The existence of non-D&D fantasy RPGs prior to the release of Dungeons & Dragons, such as Jeff Perrin’s War of the Flower system and Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor game, which used a fantasy setting and featured character creation, exploration, and combat.
  • The contributions of other game designers, such as Steve Jackson (Steve Jackson’s Sorcery) and Tom Moldvay (Basic Dungeons & Dragons), who developed their own fantasy RPGs and expanded upon the ideas introduced in Dungeons & Dragons.
  • The ongoing evolution of the fantasy RPG genre, with new games and ideas continuing to emerge, and the role of retroclones and other homages in preserving and building upon the early history of the genre.

The Enduring Appeal of Fantasy RPGs

  • Embracing the Escape
    • The human psyche has always been captivated by the allure of escapism. Fantasy RPGs offer players a chance to immerse themselves in a world where they can be heroes, explore uncharted lands, and conquer the unknown. This desire to escape the mundane and enter a realm of adventure has been a driving force behind the enduring appeal of fantasy RPGs.
  • Creating a Shared Narrative
    • The collaborative nature of fantasy RPGs fosters a unique experience where players come together to create a shared narrative. As each player takes on a distinct role, they contribute to the development of the story, shaping the world and its characters. This collective storytelling experience is a significant factor in the ongoing popularity of fantasy RPGs.
  • The Allure of Character Development
    • The ability to shape and mold a character’s skills, abilities, and personality over time is a significant draw for many players. As players progress through their adventures, they can witness their characters grow and evolve, reflecting their choices and experiences. This element of character development offers a compelling reason for players to continue their journey in fantasy RPGs.
  • Strategic and Tactical Challenges
    • The strategic and tactical aspects of fantasy RPGs challenge players to think critically and make difficult decisions. From choosing the right spells to deploying troops in battle, players must weigh the consequences of their actions and adapt to ever-changing circumstances. This element of strategic and tactical gameplay contributes to the enduring appeal of fantasy RPGs.
  • A Living, Breathing World
    • Fantasy RPGs often feature intricate worlds with rich histories, cultures, and ecosystems. These worlds are teeming with life, offering players the opportunity to explore and interact with various creatures, factions, and landscapes. The depth and complexity of these worlds make them feel alive, adding to the ongoing appeal of fantasy RPGs.

The Future of the Genre

Evolution of the Fantasy RPG Genre

  • As the popularity of Dungeons & Dragons grew, so did the demand for more fantasy-themed role-playing games.
  • New games were developed, each with their own unique setting, mechanics, and characters.
  • Some of the most popular fantasy RPGs include:
    • World of Darkness: A series of RPGs set in a dark, supernatural world, where players take on the roles of vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures.
    • Shadowrun: A cyberpunk/fantasy hybrid game set in a dystopian future, where players can choose to be human or augmented with cybernetic enhancements.
    • Pathfinder: A game that is often referred to as “D&D 3.75,” as it is a revised version of the 3.5 edition of the game.
    • The Elder Scrolls: A series of RPGs set in a vast, open-world fantasy setting, with a focus on exploration and discovery.
  • As the genre continues to evolve, new games are being developed all the time, each offering something unique to players.

The Influence of Fantasy RPGs on Popular Culture

  • Fantasy RPGs have had a significant impact on popular culture, influencing everything from video games to movies and television shows.
  • Many of the tropes and themes that are commonly associated with fantasy RPGs can be found in other forms of media, such as:
    • Sword and sorcery: A subgenre of fantasy that focuses on action and adventure, often featuring sword-wielding heroes and powerful magic users.
    • High fantasy: A subgenre of fantasy that is set in a completely fictional world, often featuring epic quests and powerful magic.
    • Dungeon crawl: A type of game or story in which the player must navigate a series of dangerous environments, often filled with traps and monsters.
  • The influence of fantasy RPGs on popular culture is likely to continue, as the genre remains a beloved and enduring part of the gaming world.


1. What is a role-playing game (RPG)?

A role-playing game (RPG) is a type of game where players assume the roles of fictional characters and engage in a collaborative storytelling experience. Players create a character, often with specific abilities and attributes, and then work together to complete quests, defeat enemies, and advance the story.

2. What is Dungeons & Dragons (D&D)?

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a popular tabletop role-playing game that was first published in 1974. It was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and has since become one of the most iconic and influential RPGs in the world. In D&D, players create characters and embark on adventures in a fantasy world filled with magic, monsters, and treasure.

3. Was D&D the first RPG?

Dungeons & Dragons was not the first role-playing game, but it was one of the first to gain widespread popularity and recognition. Other early RPGs include Chivalry & Sorcery, Traveller, and Call of Cthulhu. However, D&D was the first RPG to achieve mainstream success and paved the way for the many RPGs that followed in its footsteps.

4. How did D&D influence the development of other RPGs?

Dungeons & Dragons had a significant impact on the development of other RPGs. Its success helped to establish the genre and showed that there was a demand for games that allowed players to explore imaginative worlds and take on the roles of heroic characters. Many subsequent RPGs, such as World of Darkness, Shadowrun, and Vampire: The Masquerade, were inspired by D&D and built upon its foundation.

5. What are some other notable RPGs besides D&D?

There are many other notable RPGs besides Dungeons & Dragons, each with its own unique style and gameplay mechanics. Some popular examples include World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, and The Elder Scrolls series. Other tabletop RPGs, such as Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, Savage Worlds, and Fate Core, have also gained a dedicated following.

The History of Original Dungeons & Dragons

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