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While reading an old article in White Wolf Magazine I learned about cd-augmented tabletop RPGs. Issue #43 had a brief describing what seems to be the first example, First Quest:

First Quest features a 50-track audio CD that guides you through four adventures ...

What was the purpose of this CD? What was the content and what did it add to the gameplay experience that a more traditional book-and-mortar approach didn't offer?

The wikipedia article on First Quest mentions the CD, but doesn't say what is really on it. Apparently the CD helped guide players through a couple of adventures, but I'm not sure what that means.

Though I'm using First Quest as an example, the White Wolf brief also mentioned that TSR was planning on releasing similar products for the Mystara campaign setting. Ideally I'd like to know broadly what CD-augmented games added over other existing RPG products in terms of functionality, game play experience, or something else.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What's the point of [radio / podcasts / Spotify / audio books / sound in movies] when [newspapers / magazines / text-based websites / regular books / subtitles] exist? \$\endgroup\$ – NotThatGuy Jun 18 at 8:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NotThatGuy Those are the next 25 questions I plan on asking verbatim. \$\endgroup\$ – indigochild Jun 18 at 16:54
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I realized that while it's totally obvious for me how one of those CDs worked and Wikipedia spells it out, it might be hard to grasp if you don't know the circumstances.

Setting

So let's go back to '94. If you weren't there, just imagine a Stephen King level power outage. There were no mobile phones. There were no mobile computers. If you were lucky and had a computer, there was a good chance it actually was your parents' and you were allowed to use it when they did not work. Your parents' computer and your friend's parents' computer were not compatible in any way. But that did not really matter, because there was no way to connect the two anyway, other than physically wrestling one of them to the other place and plugging a connection cable into both. Although that would have required both to have a network card and they had not, why would they?

A nice roleplaying evening would be 5-8 kids around a big dinner table, lights dimmed, books piled high, dice, chips and coca cola on the table. Pizza for dinner. Lots of pencils, erasers and notepads all around.

There were no mobile phones. No PDFs of books. No iPads or laptops. You wanted to look up your to-hit-bonus? Sure, just after Jake finished looking up his stuff, because there only is one book and he's thumping through it right now.

Today you may have a mobile phone, a set of bluetooth speakers (available from online retailers for a few bucks) and you just googled "dragon flying by breathing fire audio" and downloaded the first 10 hits, picked the best and played it to your friends at the table later. In '94, that was triple-impossible. Mobile phones (the computers we know today as phones, that allow us to place calls as an afterthought) did not exist. The internet was an obscure thing where you might go to your friend's parent's company and spent 4 hours downloading a new graphics card driver onto 5 floppy disks, one of which would inevitably get damaged in your backpack on your bike or bus ride home, so you would do it again next week. Google? Did not even exist for another half decade.

Sorry for rambling a little, but it's hard to understand the full impact of something back then, that today is so much part of our everyday life. We are used to take whatever audio we want, to wherever we want, ready to be played any time. '94 was way different. You had a Walkman. And the one cassette tape you liked best in it. If you wanted to hear a specific piece, you had to fast forward (or rewind) to it. No skipping, no picking. That's it.

So yeah, the default setting was kids around a table with nothing but books. No audio. If you wanted audio, it would be up to the DM's acting skills. Imagine a kid acting out a dragon breathing fire? Yep. That level of acting.


Answer to your question

So in this light, lets look again at what the CD offers:

The CD starts with a long track that introduces the idea of roleplaying. The narrator helps a group of young gamers act out a brief roleplaying session.

That's basically the Player's Handbook's introductory section, but read by a professional voice actor instead of roughly paraphrased by a kid who wants to go on playing.

The adventure text directs the Dungeon Master to play certain tracks at various points to reveal clues or enhance the atmosphere.

So if you have a book adventure today, there are those boxes the DM is supposed to read to the players. Just with the CD, it is a professional voice actor that will play it out, maybe multiple actors, with background music and sound effects. A dragon flying by, a creaking door, a creepy voice.

That is what a CD offers: professional voice acting with background sounds, comparable to today's books and audio books.

You may ask "but they had music before, what changed?" The real change from cassette tapes and vinyl records to CDs was the ability to freely skip and select any track you want. Adventures are not streamlined. Your player may pick door #1 or door #2 and you want to play track #1 or track #2 at a moments notice. CDs made that possible (although early CD players might not conform to today's expectation of a "moment" looking for the right track).

With a CD you could pick your music just as players picked their adventure.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you were really lucky, your Walkman was one of the ones that could automatically stop on the gap between tracks. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Jun 17 at 7:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ That would have been amazing. I never had one of those. The car radio could play both sides of a cassette without physically taking it out and turning it around. That was high tech at the time. \$\endgroup\$ – nvoigt Jun 17 at 8:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Kids these days :) Get off my gaming lawn! \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 17 at 12:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM c'mon, man, we weren't all rich kids =) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jun 17 at 13:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you wanted to connect two computers in 1994, you wouldn't have used a network card, you'd have used a null-modem cable and Kermit. After all, there were almost as many different types of network hardware as there were computer architectures, but everything supported RS-232. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Jun 17 at 22:25
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As it happens, someone has posted the audio CD for First Quest to YouTube, so we can find out exactly what it contained. The CD appears to have two main uses.

The first is to present a sample of play which can introduce new players to AD&D. Before YouTube and Twitch made it easy for people to watch a real D&D game, it was sometimes difficult to convey the manner in which the game is played. The use of AD&D as an introductory game in the mid-90s marked a shift from early TSR which used D&D (i.e. Basic) as the introductory game; it seems that TSR wanted to move players to their main AD&D product line rather than continue to support two separate rules systems.

The second is to provide audio to enhance play by providing audio clips with voice acting and audio cues unique to each area of the dungeon or event, with each having its own separate audio track that you could skip to. This is something you couldn't really do before audio CD technology became widely available. In the early 90s you had VHS-based games like Atmosfear/Nightmare and Star Trek: A Klingon Challenge, but these had to be designed around the linear nature of the medium. There was also a VHS tape with TSR's DragonStrike, but it only served as an introductory video.

Another factor is that audio CDs were cool in the 90s, and releasing any kind of CD-based product back then might have seemed like a good way for TSR to expand their market share among the new generation of young people.

I suspect that First Strike has its creative origins in the unreleased D&D Radio Show, a pilot for which was created by TSR in the 1980s. According to D&D historian Jon Peterson, it was created with the intent of promoting D&D by broadcasting audio examples of play. Years later, with the popularity of Critical Role, we can see that broadcasts of professional actors playing D&D could indeed have increased the game's popularity.

There's also review of First Quest on YouTube which describes the appeal of the audio CD as improving immersion and just making for a cool experience in general.

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