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The Beatles and Role-Playing Gaming collide in my mind once again, when I consider the role of searching history for relics
Sixty years ago today, She Loves You was being written in a cold hotel room in Newcastle. After a year of travelling from town to town in a package tour, The Beatles needed a new song to be ready for the recording studio, so they huddled together on the twin beds to work on the idea they’d started on the tour bus. A day later they played it to McCartney’s dad at home on Forthlin Road, Liverpool. Famously, his response was, “It would be better if it was “yes, yes, yes.””
How do I know this? I have spent the afternoon at The Lowry Theatre in Salford in the company of Mark Lewisohn, the incredible Beatles historian, who was in conversation with writer and broadcaster Stuart Maconie as part of his Evolver:63 tour. He had a computer containing 63 interesting items from The Beatles story from 1963 and during the conversation he would dip into it and reveal cuttings, clips and songs to illustrate the discussion. A fascinating insight, not only into the formative years of the band, but of popular culture being created before our eyes.
There was no blueprint for what they were creating, they made the rules and did it better than anyone has been able to achieve subsequently. The chart of charts for 1962 only had two bands on it, both Epstein acts, The Beatles and Gerry and The Pacemakers, by the end of 1963 the chart was dominated by guitar bands. Everyone wanted to be The Beatles.
This was the year that Beatlemania emerged. It’s hard to pin down the precise moment when the screaming started, but it is possible to see footage of men forming a queue outside speciality dance stores looking for the narrow boots with Spanish heels their idols wore, or the overnight queues formed for tickets to their concerts in Carlisle, or the boom in the sale Jelly Babies, thanks to a mention in a magazine (apparently John accused George of stealing one of his Jelly Babies in a magazine article, the fans wanted to put things right, “now we have tons of them.”)
The small details reveal so much in retrospect, but as Lewisohn reminds us, they didn’t realise that they were making history while they were making it, they were instinctively creating something they believed was great.
Lennon in December ‘63
THE FAB d4
In the same month, a decade later, in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, popular culture was being rewritten again. The first signs of Dungeons and Dragons were beginning to surface. In Gamesletter 1st June 1973, there is a request for submissions to support Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s “Extensive rules for fantasy campaigns,” and later in the year Gamers Guide gave more clues to what would be published in January 1974. At UK Games Expo, I referenced this classified advert in a discussion about the enduring appeal of RPGs.
The RPG equivalent to Mark Lewishon is Jon Peterson who has worked diligently to recover primary materials from the archives of RPG to produce his works on the history of the hobby. Playing the World (2012), The Elusive Shift (2020) and Game Wizards (2021) track the creative elements moving iteratively from war gaming, SF fandom, to something that exists as an art-form in its own right. My personal favourite of his publications is Art and Arcana (2018) which features reproductions of some of the original manuscripts, sketches and reference material used to develop some the modules and supplements from TSR in their heyday.
RPGs are built up of ephemera such as ‘zines, hand drawn maps, handwritten notes and home-made rules and there’s something magical about rediscovering them and trying to unlock their stories. Dice Men by Ian Livingstone with Steve Jackson captures some of the bottom drawer material from the early days of Games Workshop such as, early dungeon plans, invoices, and draft plans for games. This is a rags to riches business story more than anything, but it is also a social history in the same way as The Beatles. The business paperwork is the story of how a generation of people discovered a distinctive creative pursuit of role-playing games. I’m looking forward to discussing the book during the August ‘23 Book Club. Not only for the nostalgia, but to understand the significance of what it meant to discover role-playing in the UK at that time.
When TV interviewers questioned the people queuing overnight for tickets to The Beatles in Carlisle, they struggled to articulate the appeal. I often get asked what it is about role-playing that I am willing to spend so much effort to enjoy. Like those teenagers in ‘63 who said, “well, it’s The Beatles” I find myself justifying my extreme behaviour by saying, “well, it’s role-playing.”
Would it be good to do the equivalent of Evolve live show for RPGs? What would a show that looked at ‘83 look like? What 83 archive materials could be found to illustrate a discussion about 1983 in role-playing? I’m intrigued and added it to the ‘someday, maybe’ list of projects.
1983 - Somewhere in Ireland James Herbert Brennan was creating Man, Myth and Magic. Yes. Yes. Yes!
Dirk the Dice