July 30, 2013

The History of the RPG: Might and Magic Book One (1986)

Last Installment: Tales of the Unknown: The Bard's Tale

Up to this point, the two big computer RPG fantasy franchises were Wizardry and Ultima. As great as The Bard's Tale was, it never quite reached the heights of those two stalwarts.*

But in 1986, New World Computing released Might and Magic Book One. And there was another major player in the field. Largely the work of Jon Van Caneghem**, Might and Magic became a fast fan favorite.

The trappings were old-school fantasy. You had six characters in your party and there were six classes. You assigned each character an alignment, gender and race. But here is where it got interesting. These choices actually mattered, in how you character fared or even where they could go.*** This was a new step in the evolution of the RPG.

It was also non-linear. Not to the level that we have today in Skyrim. But you could go around and do other things without concentrating on the main plot, which was another step forward. Add that to the depth of the world and it is easy to see why it was so popular.

There was one other aspect to Might and Magic that set it apart: it had a sci-fi undercurrent. The bad guy in the game (Sheltem), is an escaped alien from a spaceship that crashed. It was an interesting twist to the genre.

The actual mechanics were similar to the RPGs of the mid-80s. First-person view, color 3D graphics and text-based/turn-based combat. So it wasn't inventive in that area. But considering the other things Might and Magic brought to the table, they can be forgiven for that.


Introducing a nascent "open-world sandbox" idea to the RPG. Making alignment, gender and race affect the progression of a game.


Any RPG that allows you to do what you what and to take your time in completing the main plot.

Next on the list: Starflight


* That said, I always like it more than Might and Magic. I never really took to this franchise the way I did with The Bard's Tale. I have no explanation why.

** Van Caneghem went on to develop the Heroes of Might and Magic series and is currently heading up the Command and Conquer franchise for EA. Not too shabby.

** Hell, there was one city (Portsmith) where if you were a guy, you could be injured depending on where you walked in the city. Who thinks to do something like that? It was brilliant.


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