Thursday, March 19, 2009

Strategos and Braunstein: New Historical Documentation

Most of this week, we've been looking at 1991. I'm going to go over a century back in time from that, to look at an article I've found that should be of great interest to those curious about the origins of role playing.

It has been discussed elsewhere that Major Wesley's Braunstein game may well be the precursor to modern roleplaying games. That fateful evening, Major Wesley and company were playing with rules from Charles A.L. Totten's book from nearly a century past, titled Strategos: The American Game of War.

Here's where it gets really cool: in the NY Times archives, I was able to find this article (click here for the full pdf) dated December 30, 1879, in which Lt. Totten demonstrated his game in New York for (Civil War hero) General Winfield Scott Hancock and other assorted U.S. Army personnel. Reading about this session, its eerie to see the references to tabulated resolution and "casting a single die" in a session held for a group of men not 14 years out of the U.S. Civil War.

Certainly you can keep going further and further back for more originating checkpoints for our hobby, but I find that article utterly charming. Who knew that 100 years after that game, we'd have AD&D in full swing?

8 comments:

Alex Schroeder said...

I also enjoyed searching for Kriegsspiel and reading about The German Game of War (Kriegsspiel).

Thanks for digging this up!

Welleran said...

The Naval War College has a long history of wargaming. One of their "innovations" for pre-computer random number determination was polyhedral dice...long before D&D ever came around! They even sell them:

http://nwcfoundation.org/zencart/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=191

Zachary The First said...

Very cool! I should see about getting an interview with someone from there...

clash bowley said...

Sounds like Strategos was a "Military Heartbreaker"... :D

-clash

Zachary The First said...

@clash: You're a terrible man, you know. ;)

Welleran said...

I don't have any direct contacts with the War College but I know some people who do if you ever want to run any of this stuff down.

Rob MacD said...

Thanks for this post. Charles Totten was quite a character. I wrote a piece with more info on him and the Braunstein connection a few years ago.

Zachary The First said...

@Rob: Great article! Thanks! What an interesting character!