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Nowadays we're all familiar with one-night games like Fiasco. But when I started playing back in the late 80's, all the systems I encountered were geared for campaign play. Sure there were "tournament scenarios" designed to be played with pre-generated characters in one sitting, but they were very much the exception. As I recall, many of the ones I encountered played up their novelty value with silly themes.

So what was the first system specifically designed and released to facilitate this kind of play?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Reminder: comments are for clarifying content, not posting small or incomplete answers. Please use answer posts to submit answers instead. Prior comments containing answers have been removed. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 20 '17 at 15:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ D&D is based on tabletop wargaming, and there's plenty of instances in wargaming of “replay this historic battle” played as one-shot experiences. Would Chainmail or original D&D count? Or do you want the first game that includes roleplay (or at least player/character avatar association), fits in one session, that, I guess, doesn't include multi-session advancement? \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe Mar 20 '17 at 16:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @okeefe Roleplay, please, and a system designed specifically for that format as opposed to a campaign focus. \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Thrower Mar 20 '17 at 16:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast A parody would be fine, so long as it was a role-playing game. Snit Smashing is most definitely a board game, so is disqualified. \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Thrower Mar 21 '17 at 9:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you clarify what you mean by one-shot? Some possibilities I see: "Must not support arbitrarily long campaigns, but multiple sessions are okay. (ex Psychosis or Alas Vegas)" "Must finish in a single 6 hour session. (ex Fiasco)" "May support arbitrarily long campiagns, but really isn't expected to be used as such. (ex Call of Cthulhu or Paranoia)" \$\endgroup\$ – Alan De Smet Mar 22 '17 at 16:43
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Dallas (SPI, 1980) The game is built around scenarios ("scripts") which are self contained and intended for a single session of play. There is no character advancement. A given character may not appear in any given scenario. While players could carry forward beliefs from scenario to scenario, it's not really something the game expects.

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Various boxed murder mystery games (circa 1982) For a stricter definition where it is impossible to carry over even knowledge from session to session, how about the boxed murder mystery game genre? The earliest I can find is either Murder by Proxy or Who Killed Roger Ellington?, both from 1982. While not commonly considered "RPGs," participants are supposed to play the role of a character, and they're games, so I think they qualify. The "system" is pretty minimal, but it exists. I'm less certain for the earlier games, but later ones had requirements on sharing some information, and a schedule for adding more information to the game.

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It's probably not the first but Macho Women With Guns from 1988 was a very quick to set up beer and pretzels game that had just enough character creation rules to make it an RPG.

It, and it's follow up games were mostly a parody of RPGs, the beginnings of the PC trend, and other tabletop games. These games are very much not PC and the easily offended should look elsewhere. To give an example: their 4th game "Walker Wars" was a parody of Car Wars with weaponized wheelchairs and walkers. If that offends you, you really don't need to read any of the games. If that makes you giggle, shame on you and here.

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