Settembrini first pointed me to the fact that RPGs have as their earliest identifiable hobby roots, not Chainmail, but a multiplayer wargame designed/organized by David Wesely in the 1960's. Lately I've been referring people to THE PERFECT PLANET: Comics, Games and World-Building
, by Dylan Horrocks, who summarizes some information from a print source, Heroic Worlds
Even better is this recent thread from the Acaeum
in which Wesely himself gives his account and answers a few questions. Some interesting tidbits:
• Wesely based his original Napoleonic miniatures games not on Prussian/German Kriegspiel but on an American equivalent (no doubt influenced by the Germans) found in a book entitled Strategos, The American Game of War
• Wesely co-designed Source of the Nile
, of which I own a copy. It's a board game of 19th-century exploration of Africa, in which the terrain is unknown (you generate it randomly as you go and draw it in with crayons) and the action is driven by random tables and paragraph lookups. (Similar games include Barbarian Prince
and Voyage of the B.S.M. Pandora
Weseley also says some interesting things about the role of the GM:
The idea of having an all-powerful Referee who would invent the scenario for the game (battle) of the evening, provide for hidden movement and deal with anything the players decided thatthey wanted to do was not taken from Kriegspeil but was mostly inspired by 'Strategos, The American Game of War', a training manual for US army wargames Lt. Charles Adiel Lewis Totten, USMA 1871, publshed by Doubleday in 1880.
Combined with what Dave Arneson had to say in an interview I linked some time ago, I think we can see that the initial role of the GM in the 60's and 70's was limited in terms of what might today be called "narrative prerogative"--that is, "telling a story" wasn't something the GM actively did in the course of a game, while players would interact with the games as a means of exploring the interaction of characters' motivation and information. Glenn Blacow's "Aspects of Adventure Gaming" is still the first written documentation--that I'm aware of--of a "storytelling style", circa 1980.