I love the late 20th century nerd aesthetic. Not just because of Stranger Things. Not just because I’m a late 20th century nerd, and it’s when I was born and grew up. I love how the technology that has colonised our world today was invented and, in fits and starts, gradually introduced during that period.
From the 1970s to the 2000s, computers entered our offices, then our schools, then our homes, then our pockets. They’re worming their way into our brains, just you wait.
Tabletop role-playing was born in the same era. D&D was published by TSR in 1974, and nerds immediately set about attempting to digitise the experience. The transition between analogue and digital absolutely fascinates me; the experimentation, the fluid nature of mediums as technology steadily improves and people figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Take Hellfire Warrior from 1980, for example, the “first commercial computer RPG that can be indisputably called an RPG”. It was an “honest attempt to replicate the experience of a tabletop RPG, with complex statistics and detailed room descriptions (kept in a separate manual)”. Hear that? Oh, sweet, sweet nerdery. That’s analogue and digital working together to replicate the experience of playing a tabletop RPG.
Or how about the evocatively named Steve Jackson’s F.I.S.T., the world’s first “interactive telephone role playing game”? For that matter, how about the Fighting Fantasy books, which replicated the tabletop RPG experience in the medium of a paperback book.
Over at the DIY and Dragons blog, Anne also seems to be interested in the interplay between D&D and its digital offshoots, and has put together a nifty summary of blog posts and columns by two roguelike developers, John Harris and Jeremiah Reed. The posts offer advice on roguelike development, but many of the suggestions are pertinent for tabletop role-playing as well (particularly if a DM should want to incorporate a spot of procedural generation into their games).
Hmm… this almost makes me want to finish the computer game I’ve been working on [Yeah, I’ve heard that one before. – Ed.]. I’ve already got the entire world mapped out, with all the systems and art assets in place. But it’s just a Potemkin world at the moment, without any actual content. Perhaps some old-fashioned random tables could help me fill it with stuff for the player to actually do?