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The Origins of Tabletop Gaming

Long ago…on a stone table far…far away…

Since the dawn of time, people have always required the basics to survive. Food. Water. Shelter. Games. Yes, we list games. 5,000 years ago, at the beginning of recorded history, we find references to ancient Mesopotamians playing backgammon. We like to imagine they played those games after dinner, in their shelter, with a nice cup of water.

Ancient Egyptians took time from building their pyramids to play a game called Hounds and Jackals, you might recall seeing it being portrayed in the classic award-winning movie, The Ten Commandments.

But what about those games you see in the comic book or pop culture stores?

Well, the birth of modern-day tabletop gaming has been dated to the early 1970s. This is when tabletop gaming was introduced as something known as pen and paper gaming. 

While not the first, the most notable pen and paper game is hands down Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). Developed in 1974, D&D became a household name and spun off thousands and thousands of other pen and paper and related tabletop games.

What is D&D?

Dungeons and Dragons was created by Dave Arneson and E. Gary Gygax and published by TSR. Often referred to as a tabletop role-playing game or simply role-playing game (RPG), D&D has risen to new heights in popularity over the years. It is also the foundation for many other RPG games in other media formats such as video games.

Have you ever played Baldur’s Gate or the Dragon Age series? Maybe you have heard of World of Warcraft? These games are highly built upon the foundation D&D created.

What do you do in D&D and other Tabletop RPG games?

If you find yourself asking, what do players do in tabletop RPG games? We have your answers.

The first step is to create your character.

Pen and paper games are distinguished by the need to use tools such as a pencil and stack of paper. With RPG games, one of the first, and often most fun parts, is creating your character. Players use something called character sheets for this.

Based on the information packed inside a highly detailed rule book, such as brief descriptions of character classes, gamers will pick what aligns to the style they want to play in. The choices can be simple or broad. Think of the fantasy movies you have watched, and you can probably list the basic classes off the top of your head. Here are just a few: fighter, rogue/thief, wizard, cleric, barbarian, ranger, and bard.

After picking classes, players need to roll dice to collect numbers for their statistics. These numbers represent your ability to do things or to avoid things being done to you. They also help measure the success of the class you want to play as.

Maybe you want to be a fighter, but rolled numbers that more closely match those that would be beneficial for a wizard. It might be time to put down the sword and pick up a staff before you go into that first campaign.

Granted, we are overly simplifying the process, it should be noted that this is the stage where gamers get to create a backstory and narrative for the character they will be role-playing.  If you want to be a narcissistic, yet righteous, defender of the downtrodden, who likes to collect shiny red gemstones and drinks mead at their favorite tavern every Friday night, yep you can do that.

If you want to be a learned weaver of magic who, while shy, is also the role model of students, and secretly studies to raise the dead in and effort to bring your long-dead loved one back to life, you guessed it, you can role-play that character too if you want.

What’s next?

Players will enter a campaign lead by a game master or (GM). These campaigns can be long or short and consist of a single mission or a string of missions.

As the game begins, the GM will describe the scenes and scenarios the players face. For example, the GM may need to describe a town as a whole or more minute details of a tavern inside the town.

The GM is the eyes and ears of the player. In turn, the players will describe the actions of their characters to each other and the GM.

As the players face events or obstacles, even enemies and battles, the GM will determine what actions those players can take, and which ones are successful. This may be a simple answer or require the roll of dice. Remember, your characters’ statistics are what come into play now. We hope you rolled well!

Players are encouraged to be vocal and energetic in their descriptions of actions they want to take. Improvisation by the gamers and game master will make a session a ton of fun and endlessly exciting. Having the right snacks and liquid refreshments can improve the tabletop gaming experience and raise the roof on this party.

Not Convinced?

Check out these stats on tabletop gaming and board games!

  • Over 50% of people polled in 2021 said they spend $251-$1000 on tabletop, board and card games.
  • 30% of those people spent over $500!
  • The global board game market, in 2017, was valued around $7.2 billion dollars and increased to $12 billion by 2023.

How many tabletop games are in existence?

Well, according to the website, BoardGameGeek, well over 140,000 board games are available in the known universe.

These games can be found at your local Barnes and Noble or on the app on your phone. We suggest visiting a local game store if you can find one. You may even find your next group of gamer friends there!