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I've seen a lot of people referring to 3.5 recently using the term "Rocket Tag". Specifically, where does this terminology come from, where was this specific terminology named or created, and what brought about its usage as a descriptor for 3.5 and other Role playing games?

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First Person Shooters are the origin of Rocket Tag.

John Romero and John Carmack, gaming developers, helped create Doom and Quake. Quake was the first widely popular "Deathmatch" concept in a first person shooter1 in the early 90's.


  • Quake, specifically in the Player vs. Player gameplay, featured the often one-hit kill weapon: the rocket launcher. The trope didn't exist yet, however, the first person to push the button on the rocket launcher either killed their opponent, or took away almost all of their life and punted them into the air - which they could be easily finished off without much recourse.

    Paul Wedgewood was quoted as saying2

    For most of us, especially the old-school shooter players, that was our entire tactic: In early Quake or early Team Fortress, you would grenade somebody first or rocket them first, so you could take them below 90% damage. You were just going to pepper their head from that point forward. They would always wonder why you didn't carry on. They'd come up and would be launching rocket after rocket after rocket. You'd fire one rocket. You'd roll out a grenade for where they were about to land, and — on their way down — you'd be hitting them in the head with a shotgun, because you knew that if two or three of those bullets hit they'd be dead.

  • Goldeneye also revolutionized this style of gameplay, with not only rocket launchers giving you a one hit kill in normal mode, but also the ability to purposefully turn on one hit kill mode in Deathmatches. This allowed those even caught in the explosion (splash) of a rocket that missed to grant a one hit kill. This tactic made even hiding around corners dangerous.

The first person to pull the trigger - got the kill.

became

The person that wins initiative - got the kill.

Dungeons and Dragons in 3.5 edition is notorious for being able to pump out more damage than can be mitigated. In higher level gameplay, you are either immune or you die. You can see this with all of the "Save or Die" spells, or "Save or Suck" spells. Either you were dead with a failed save, or you may as well be.

Additionally, at higher levels spells in 3.5e can become one-hit kill attacks made at range, essentially making them akin to shooting your opponent with a rocket launcher. Whoever hits first, wins3.

One tiny example of notoriety even at low level in 3.5e is a mounted charge attack with a lance. Take a 6th level human paladin (very sub-optimal example) riding on his special mount fighting a Chain Devil will kill in one hit due to triple damage on a charge, power attacking, smiting, mount damage - if the paladin won initiative he kills the chain devil (CR 6, 52 hp). The Chain Devil, with his natural weapons, and weapons in his hand, power attacking, could just as well kill the paladin in one round as well if it won initiative. In other words, whoever wins initiative gets the kill.


Gaming aside, Laser Tag was a thing before there was an FPS game.

The US Military utilized the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES) in the early 80's. They still use the system (albeit updated). What happens is this (speaking as a former soldier), you fire a blank from your rifle, the laser transmitter detects that blank firing off, and your targets' laser receivers beep - indicating a kill, or at least a wound that removes you from the war game. This was widely known to all of us soldiers as basically a one hit kill. No matter where the laser was aimed at, your gear beeped and you were removed from the exercise (in essence, dead).

The civilian/commercial market began selling a toned down version of this, popular as Laser Tag. I know me and most of my friends in the neighborhood had these rather than water guns, because the beeps didn't lie. Note: Don't point them at police!


1Masters of Doom

2The History of Headshots

3Comment by Thomas Jacobs

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