A Country Where D&D isn't No. 1 - Germany's FRPG History

 Asking questions is the only way I can learn about things, and this morning, I got a nice little history brief of D&D/fantasy gaming in Germany in the 70s/80s.

I've been following @kyonshi/Geoffrey on Mastadon for a brief amount of time, but this morning, he had an interesting post about the history of RPG development within Germany. 

This whole #ogl situation just reminded me of the way #dnd lost the German market back in the 80s. Back then there already was at least one German #ttrpg (Midgard, loosely based on EPT) and a translation of Tunnels and Trolls (Schwerter und Dämonen). 

So I had to ask about Midgard and the T&T translation (S&D).  You can see the whole thread here.

Midgard was a fantasy game developed to play in the world made popular by a wargame called Armageddon. (Technically: Armageddon - Das Strategische Fantasyspiel). Armageddon was created by fantasy enthusiasts as a way to play out conflicts using made up cultures and groups. The main group pushing this for both private and convention play was called FOLLOW (“Fellowship Of the Lords Of the Lands Of Wonder” -- apparently an English name for a German group!) (German wikipedia article: https://de-m-wikipedia-org.translate.goog/wiki/Armageddon_(Spiel)?_x_tr_sl=de&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en)

Midgard was created out in the late 70s as a way to bring fantasy roleplaying to their wargames (this sounds like a familiar story, huh?), but it may have its genesis also in a D&D game run by a German student who discovered it while traveling in England. 

@kyonshi/Geoffrey shares an article by Manfred Roth from a German fantasy website that tells the story:

One of the first members was Josef Ochmann, who later became known as a draftsman of the first MIDGARD years ... In the course of his studies ... he stayed in England for half a year. There he had come into contact with SF and fantasy fans who were indulging in an "all new" game, something with "dragons and dungeons"; Dungeons & Dragons in the original, and it was about something called "RPG".

He had brought three small rule books with him to the 1976 Fantasy Festival, they weren't very extensive (about 50 pages each), poorly printed and with a lot of text and lists, actually just "fat fanzines" and of course everything in US English, but if you looked at it and were interested, you could already see a certain fascination from it.

Unfortunately, there wasn't time to try it out at the time, so it took a whole year more before the first test match as part of  FOLLOW took place at the 1977 festival in Gumattenkirchen (a secluded little village in southern Bavaria).

Josef Ochmann acted as the game master (following the logic that he was still the only one who owned the rules) and commanded about 12 players and their role-playing characters for 8 hours across the board and through one of those so-called "dungeons" that it's all about title went.

Please go see @kyonshi/Geoffrey's article that dives a bit into how Midgard developed. https://gmkeros.wordpress.com/2020/07/31/the-maybe-first-dd-game-ever-played-in-germany/ - it's pretty fascinating!

In my conversation with @kyonshi/Geoffrey, he shared that Midgard and the Tunnels & Trolls translation didn't take off nearly as well as the game that Schmidt Spiele developed - Das Schwarze Auge" (The Dark Eye):

Well, there basically was no market to begin with. Midgard was a very homespun zine-like publication tied in to the Armageddon wargame originally (but later spun off due to trademark issues). SuD [Tunnels and Trolls (Schwerter und Dämonen)] was at least professionally published by FanPro. I got the impression that most people who would have played RPGs would have used English language DnD up to that point. The whole scene basically only started with DSA in 84.

The translators of the latter [Tunnels and Trolls (Schwerter und Dämonen)] tried to translate DnD for the German market, had lots of translations already ready, when TSR decided to demand an outrageous amount of money. 

This caused Schmidt Spiele to drop out of the negotiations and in a sort of hissy fit hire the translators to create their own house system to "blow DnD off the market". The result was "Das Schwarze Auge" (The Dark Eye), which was not necessarily better ruleswise, but quickly managed to get a much higher market penetration thanks to Schmidt Spiele's position as a market leader. (Although I think the game world also helped). #dnd for decades was at most an also ran in the German-language market

Amusingly some quirks of the #dsa system that still survive into the newest edition were intended to set itself apart from #DND as much as possible so they could not be accused of plagiarism. That's why lower rolls are better in DSA, attacks and defense are in different rolls, and armor class modifies damage.

The wikipedia article on "The Dark Eye" shares that "It is the most successful role-playing game on the German market, outselling Dungeons & Dragons." There's no citation on that statement, but @kyonshi/Geoffrey seems to share that opinion, saying "It was the most successful German-language RPG for decades. Still might be."

So much of the conversation centers these days around the OGL controversy and what games might be seen as alternatives to Dungeons & Dragons. It's easy to not see that D&D is not the center of the FRPG universally. Maybe this is a good time for folks to try out DSA? 

Here's a link to the PWYW DSA Quick Start on DTRPG: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/154720/The-Dark-Eye--Quickstart-rules


  1. You might also want to look at Drakar och Demoner, which for a long time was the Swedish RPG of choice. It originally was based on Chaosiums Basic Role-playing before getting rewritten completely. I think this lately got released in English as Ruin Master's.

    In a similar vein, if a bit later, the main RPG in Poland always has been the Warhammer Fantasy RPG, to the point that playing Warhammer sometimes used to be understood as playing roleplaying games.

    (France btw seems to have been really into Call of Cthulhu for a while, so the BRP inheritance is strong there as well)

    1. Apparently I'm taking steps into a much larger world! :) Thank you for the insights.


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