|This article relies on references to primary sources. (August 2012)|
The RPGA (previously called the Role Playing Game Association and the RPGA Network), is part of the organized play arm of Wizards of the Coast that organizes and sanctions role-playing games worldwide, principally under the d20 system. The group was founded in November 1980 by Frank Mentzer of TSR, Inc., the original publishers of the Dungeons and Dragons game, to promote quality roleplaying and to allow fans of roleplaying games to meet and play games with each other. Wizards of the Coast acquired the RPGA when they purchased TSR in 1997.
The RPGA was originally formed to provide tournaments to conventions that would be both fun to play and fair to the players in the event. Each player was given a pre-generated character with a background, equipment, and some limited information about the other characters at the table, and a great deal of effort was spent trying to create balanced events. A game master and four to eight players would play a 4-hour adventure supplied by the RPGA. At the end of the adventure, the "winner" of the event was decided (on the basis of rules knowledge and role-playing ability) by tallying votes from the game master and the players (the game master's vote counted double and was used to break any ties). These events are now referred to as "Classic" events. Players were awarded experience points based on how well they did in competitive events, and over time they could advance to higher levels. The players also rated the game master, and the game masters similarly gained experience points and could achieve levels as judges.
Initially, all RPGA events were for TSR products, primarily Advanced Dungeons & Dragons but also the Top Secret (espionage) and Gamma World (science fantasy) role-playing games. By the mid-1980s events based on games from other publishers were approved and distributed by the RPGA; the first such event was a Star Trek Role Playing game at Glathricon in Evansville, Indiana.
The RPGA later decided to allow gamers all around the country (and world) to play in a single campaign where everyone could create changes in a dynamic world. In essence it was to create the largest single RPG campaign(s). The first such campaign was Raven's Bluff, the Living City.
The game(s) are set up as a series of "modules" (or adventures) where players play in groups of 5-7 people (one of whom is the Dungeon Master) at a time. Modules with story arc hooks have results sent to RPGA Headquarters for compilation - usually a certain percentage (a majority) is required for a specific result to occur. For example, if a world is cursed due to a cursed item and most people in a particular adventure succeed in removing the object, the curse could be lifted or altered for the world in all future story modules. Players who do not succeed still play in the world and gain experience and character growth as if they had succeeded since the "official" storyline dictates as such.
Membership was originally paid by yearly fee and included a subscription to Polyhedron magazine. In the early years, membership was largely limited to North America, but in 1989, the RPGA Network branched out into Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the UK, Israel, and Australia. In 2002, RPGA membership became free, but the subscription to Polyhedron was no longer included as a membership benefit—the magazine's association with RPGA ended the same year when it was bought by Paizo Publishing, who then published it as a section of Dungeon.
The RPGA currently has members on all continents of the world, except Antarctica.