Roleplaying Family Trees

"Out in the Streets ... 1972-1979". Rock family tree by Pete Frame

As is often the case, I come away from GaryCon all fired up about a project. In this case, it’s making a comprehensive family tree of gaming groups, modeled on the Seattle Band Map: a community-driven effort to document every local band that ever played a show or recorded a single, and demonstrate how they interconnect.

I’ve been fascinated by these kinds of lineages ever since seeing Pete Frame’s rock family trees in college. The specific impetus for me to pick this up at Gary Con was playing in the Dungeon! boardgame with Dave Megarry and thus getting to meet one of the two people who form the original branching of Dungeons & Dragons’ family tree: Arneson and Megarry traveled together to Lake Geneva to introduce Blackmoor and Dungeon! to Gary Gygax. I’ve learned a great deal from others who moved between the two groups, like Michael Mornard, and members of Arneson’s original gaming circle like Maj. Wesely and Ross Maker, and many others have worked on tracing the members of the earliest gaming groups.

I don’t think this should just be a backwards-facing enterprise, however. Someday the connections between our contemporary gaming groups will be just as interesting, and a lot easier to trace accurately. And the Seattle Band Project, like other genealogical efforts,  shows that filling in the gaps between the small and knowable origin and the huge and knowable current gaming scene is a doable task.

Does anyone out there in Muleland have skills that’d help make this project a reality? Experience with genealogy would be invaluable, of course, but there are a lot of database and visualization components involved as well, and probably there are lots of things I’m not even thinking about yet.

3 Responses to “Roleplaying Family Trees”

  1. 1 aromero5
    March 31, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    This sounds like a super-awesome component of the book you must eventually write. I don’t have anything to offer, except that to suggest you purchase a lot of fuzzy red string and push pins and clear a wall, preferably in a room with only a single naked light bulb. You should spend a lot of time alone in the room, also naked.

  2. 2 Adam
    March 31, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    One of the challenges would be to try to figure out how to handle brief play experiences. The principal connections in an RPG family tree ought to be at least moderately long-term groups: MAR Barker GMed for Arneson, X, Y, and Z, X GMed for A, B, and C, Arneson GMed for …, etc. But what do you do with “we’ve never been in a permanent campaign together, but we’ve played in 5 (or 10 or 30) con games (or Google Hangout games) together”? For example, Kevin Kulp has had a major influence on my gaming by providing a great example of a very successful way to GM, but I’ve never played in a regular game of his, only in games at cons and stuff. I think if you wanted to be inclusive of everything important, you would want to include links like that. Do you extend that out to people who’ve played together once or twice? Should we have a link? That’s important for trivia like calculating people’s Gygax number, but it’s usually not important for the propagation of play styles and norms. Except when it is–I think plenty of people can point to that single game experience that was eye-opening, or the people who played a game with its author and then brought it home to their gaming group. Anyway, I think those are things that are worth thinking about. The ties between gamers and among gaming groups are hugely important to any social history of gaming, but many of them are more ephemeral than for example ties between bands, and the heavily connected hubs are massively connected. There are GMs who have easily run for hundreds, probably even thousands of different players in some cases. (I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve run for 100 people or so, and I’m not even a particularly highly linked GM.)

  3. April 2, 2012 at 4:16 am

    Sounds like a very cool project, Tavis: I’d buy one :D


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Past Adventures of the Mule

March 2012

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