Where did the idea for playbooks originally come from?

Where did the idea for playbooks originally come from?


  • Apocalypse World, surely.

    Antecedents: the idea different character classes having different discrete crunch organized into random access lists had taken shape over time in class-based games. It's not that different from modern D&D, really. The idea of having character books instead of character sheets has existed on the fringes, most notably as something you'd implement in D&D (e.g. TSR already sold deluxe character sheet portfolios, I think - WotC definitely did at some point).

    I guess it depends on what you consider the central idea of the "playbook" to be. AW invented the use of the term in that sense, at least.
  • As Apocalypse World is said to be partly based on @lumpley & Meg's experience playing Ars Magica, I think it's worth noting that, in Ars Magica, there are different types of characters. I don't mean character classes, as in different but roughly equal skill-sets (AM also has those, as magical traditions I think they're called: some Magi are better at certain sorts of magic). I mean characters of different "tiers" which participate in the same game with different roles, concerns, authority and even importance: in AM those are Magi, Companions and Grogs (with each player supposed to own multiple characters, but only play one at a time). Not all AW-derivative games have kept to this tradition, though: when I look at Dungeon World or Monster of the Week, say, their playbooks do represent character classes in the AD&D sense of different skill-sets you bring to the same job.

    That said, playbooks as individual booklets/character sheets + rules and instructions, as introduced in AW, felt extremely novel and overall brilliant to me at the time. I believe they mark an evolutionary step in the presentation of RPG texts.
  • edited August 2018
    Although Apocalypse World's playbooks are more evolved, the basic format (including how advances work) appeared in Red Box Hack.

    In the Apocalypse World text, Vincent also references a Ben Lehman game, I believe, as the source of playbooks (XXXtreme Street Luge, perhaps?).

    I don't know which came first.
  • I would point to Ace of Aces (1980)? Or maybe if that's not quite refined enough, Lost Worlds (1983) as the seed of the idea.

    For these games, each player had a playbook (Ace of Aces had "Allied" and "German", Lost Worlds had various character types).

  • Oh wow, I never really drew a line before now between those old "combat books" and PbtA-style playbooks, but that's a really interesting hypothesis for a genealogy!
  • Something really similar has also been common in board games and card games for a long time. The only substantial difference is the size of the "book": a single card, usually, with some set of bonuses/maluses and/or a small list of unique mechanics (or "moves", if you like).

    Talisman (1983) is the oldest example that I remember playing, but I wouldn't be surprised to find something older.
  • I see your Talisman and raise you a Magic Realm (1979).


    Though I imagine at some point "player avatar information presented in a self-contained form" might be moving to too generic a territory for what Hopeless_Wanderer was asking about?
  • Wasn't part of inspired by early stuff like Capes, with its interlocking, 2 part chargen cards ?
  • The first edition of John Harper's Danger Patrol (July 2009) had you create PCs by putting together two cards, one with a Style (like Atomic, Psychic, or Two-Fisted) and one with a Role (like Daredevil, Professor, or Warrior ).

    Come to think of it, a lot of the terminology and advice in Danger Patrol is reminiscent of Apocalypse World. Not sure who influenced whom, since Harper could have played some Apocalypse World while Vincent Baker was still developing it.
  • http://www.tao-games.com/xxxxtreme-street-luge/

    Ben Lehman's XXXtreme Street Luge is a heaping share of the answer, as such a thing exists.
    I mean, where do ideas come from?
    We're all thieves, and bad mimickers.
  • Yes, that's the one! Confirmed.

    So, Red Box Hack and XXXtreme Street Luge.
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