For the early part of gaming history, the history of role-playing games was the history of fantasy role-playing games.
Fantasy role-playing games arose from the culture of fantasy wargaming. Unlike traditional wargames, fantasy wargames included elements such as dragons and spells. Dave Arneson hit upon the idea of having one miniature figure represent one character controlled by one player. Gary Gygax developed the Dungeons & Dragons game from this concept, using the Chainmail rules as the skeleton of the new game. Together, they created a hobby. Initially, fantasy wargaming was virtually synonymous with D&D. Over time, however, fantasy wargaming has developed in two different directions. One branch is traditional wargaming, typified by Warhammer Fantasy Battles. The other branch became what is now known as the role-playing game, which now includes not only traditional fantasy wargames such as Dungeons & Dragons 4e and GURPS but also storytelling-oriented systems, such as Vampire: The Requiem and The Dying Earth role-playing game.
Dungeons & DragonsEdit
Dungeons & Dragons appeared in 1974. In 1977, the Basic Set appeared, beginning one line of the D&D family, now known as BECMI (for Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immmortals, the sets comprising the run from 1981 on). AD&D appeared in 1977 as well. While the Basic Set adhered to the simple design of the original rules, AD&D quickly established a different approach to the game, steeped in exploration, numerous optional rules system, swords-and-sorcery themes, and greater thematic complexity.
The earliest RPGs included a number of D&D clones, including The Palladium Role-Playing Game, The Arcanum, Harnmaster, and Rolemaster. Many began essentially as third-party D&D supplements. For instance, Rolemaster began as a set of tables for resolving weapon attacks and Harn as a campaign system, but as each developed its own systems, a new game evolved. The Arcanum was explicitly designed to serve as either a standalone game or as a supplement to another game system.
Other games departed from D&D in a number of respects. Tunnels & Trolls dispensed with complicated rules systems and focused on beer-and-pretzels style play. Runequest did without character classes. Games like Powers & Perils or the archaically named Fantasy Wargaming developed their own approach to design that departed from AD&D in one or more particulars. Meanwhile, many games exploded outside the traditional fantasy genre, including super-heroes, science-fiction, and horror.
Development of the GenreEdit
D&D continued to dominate the hobby for years, lending its name almost to the entire role-playing game hobby, even outside the fantasy genre. While the BECMI family diminished in importance, while retaining its own following and an important role as an introductory game, AD&D experimented with different flavors of fantasy and numerous rules expansions.