Thursday, February 24, 2011

Terminology Question

I'm sure this question has come up and been answered several times before, perhaps even on this blog. If so, please forgive my failing memory, but has anyone ever pinpointed the first (or at least, one of the first) times that Dungeons & Dragons was referred to as a "roleplaying game" in a TSR product or periodical? I don't believe that precise term is ever used in the LBBs or Supplements, but I could be wrong about that. My guess is that the term originated in a fanzine somewhere, possibly even The Strategic Review, but I haven't had the chance to look myself and I was hoping someone better informed than I could save me the trouble.



  1. According to Greg Costikyan, "The term roleplaying game (or RPG) was first coined in the pages of Alarums & Excursions, an APA (pron. "apah", meaning amateur press association--first used by amateur printers in the 1920s, then borrowed by science fiction fandom, then carried over into gaming) devoted to games like Dungeons & Dragons."

    Doesn't get you first TSR usage, but...

  2. I have a Gateway to Adventure catalog that came out before Metamorphosis Alpha that mentions their "role-playing" games.

  3. The earliest TSR book I own is the Metamorphosis Alpha rulebook that uses the term "Fantastic Role-Playing Game" on the cover.

  4. Dragon Rumbles column in Dragon #1 says (2nd para) "That mission is to publish the best magazine devoted to Sword & Sorcery, Fantasy, Science Fiction and Role Playing gaming."

  5. 74 White bookset, Men & Magic, Vol I. Page 6...

    "Before they begin, players must decide what role they play in the campaign, human or otherwise, fighter, cleric, or magic-user."

    Alarums & Excursions by the way... is still in print. It is the longest running periodical devoted to fantasy gaming in existence first being published in 1975, and you can subscribe by postal mail (the one true way) following instructions found here:

    Still only $2.50 an issue (plus postage....)

  6. "Before they begin, players must decide what role they play in the campaign, human or otherwise, fighter, cleric, or magic-user."

    Sure, the words "role" and "play" appear in close proximity to one another in several places in the LBBs but not, so far as I can find, the words "roleplaying game." That's the specific formulation I'm looking for.

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  8. When I was recruited to try the game back in 1977 my friend Tom specifically said...

    "This is not a wargame. This is a role-playing game."

    Me: "How does that work?"

    Tom: "Instead of playing the general, and commanding the entire battle you roll up just one character, and pretend you are that character..."

    Me: "Uh... okay..."

    Tom: "Doug is running the game, we are going over to his house."

    Doug was in ROTC in college, we were in high school. He was the neighborhood wargames master. The guy who beat everyone at the table hands down, in any wargame we cared to try.

    I wasn't really very interested in playing, but if Doug was interested, it was noteworthy. Three hours later, after two-thirds of the players had died in really horrific and interesting totally exotic new ways, I was hooked, and less than a week later owned the BD&D Blue Book and B1 Descent into the Unknown.

  9. In 1975's Chainmail, there's the standard advert of Other Fantasy Releases, where it states:

    That's interesting. That's the third edition then, yes?

  10. Scrath that, as it was a reprint from 1979. 1975 was the time TSR was still calling it "Wargaming with Paper and Pencil and Miniatures. 3 booklets, boxed".

    Not what you wanted, sorry. :(

  11. Ah-HAH! April 1976, Tim Kask had an article in the Strategic Review where he mentions:
    "gaming in Fantasy, Swords & Sorcery, Science Fiction and role-playing games."


  12. @Bob: If Greg has that A&E usage on hand, I'd like to know where that one's eluding me. :)

    => otherwise; either applied first to En Garde! (GW side) or a wider range of games, including D&D and Diplomacy (from the TSR side), both April 1976.

    The total mess in terms of defining "roleplaying games" isn't much better for the earlier terms used for such, including "individual wargames" since that required further clarification (e.g. "Having characters with lives of their own who find themselves in situations and then behave /in character/ rather than simply acting in their own best interests, adds greatly to the enjoyment of the game"; June 1973)

  13. @Grendelwulf: I'll let you fight that one out with Steve Jackson(UK). :p

  14. "...with my eyes closed, one paw tied behind my back, standing on one leg even..."


  15. What I'm interested in is the evolution of the word "role play." The dictionary defines it as two separate words but between TSR and Wizards I've seen Roleplay and Role-play. I personally like the latter because I like the appearance of hyphens and think more words should have them. If it were up to me I would write things like non-sensical and co-incidental.

  16. That's easy... Roleplay is first person more akin to acting, and role-play is third person. I have always used role-playing as describing what I am doing when I am running a character in an RPG game or GMing. Roleplay is what happens if I am a participant in a LARP, or historical re-enactment. For as long as I can remember, when I wrote about my tabletop games, I would insert the hyphen... It's only in recent years that I have dropped that practice.

  17. > What I'm interested in is the evolution of the word "role play."

    OT/@Twitt: see also John Riddle Cleaveland's 1973 article in Supernova which was (presciently) close to bridging the terminology usage gap several years "before the fact".


  18. I wonder which point the influence of psychotherapy method of psychodrama, which is often called role-playing, could have influence the strange neologism of role-playing game.

  19. It does appear in the Foreward to Metamorphosis Alpha:

    "METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA is one of the new breed of role-playing games."

    But it's signed 15 July 1976, Gygax and Blume, so GW's reference has me beat by 3 months. *shakes fist angrily*

  20. Okay, got another earlier one, this time from Boot Hill:

    "Since it is a role-playing game, each player participating takes on the persona of an individual character and controls his actions." Boot Hill, p. 3, (May) 1975.

  21. I have a 1 May 1976 sell-sheet and set of ads from TSR that promote the transition from The Strategic Review to The Dragon and Little Wars, in which the terms "role playing game" (with or without hyphen) doesn't seem to appear at all. I'll have to go through it again later in detail, but a quick flip-through suggests to me that TSR wasn't using the term yet, as of the middle of 1976.


  22. From Ecology Today 1971:
    "The Redwood Controversy is an ingenious role-playing game in which players act as legislators, experts, and pressure ... Players each represent an imaginary country whose fortunes are determined by rolls of the dice and a selection of ..."
    The term "role-playing game" was in use in psychotherapy for decades before D&D and was used in education, as well. "The Redwood Controversy" may, or may not, have been the first commercial product marketed as a "role-playing game."

  23. @Joseph - presumably that's the 1977 printing of Boot Hill, since that text is not in the original printing.

    The original printing of the Boot Hill rules states: "These rules are aimed at enjoyment on a plane unusual to wargaming, the individual and personal"; which is not so "unusual" really, given that they were in large part ripped (not "inspired", since that would require an acknowledgment of "inspiration") from pre-existing "individual wargaming" rules.

    In the 1975 BH printing, the "role" word in used in isolation four times, including "How well this character performs within this role will then serve as the measure of the player's ability". (in ethos, harking back to the June 1973 quote, above)

  24. Joseph said...
    so GW's reference has me beat by 3 months. *shakes fist angrily*

    Mwah-hah-ha! ;)

    Although the term may have existed in the psychoanalytical field, I think it is apparent (maybe?) that the originators of D&D hadn't really intended for it to be a role-playing game as such.

    They saw it for what they originally intended, a scaled down wargame with pencils and paper, etc. Role-playing was a sort of side effect. Not necessary to have fun, but it opened up a new avenue of possibilities from players goofing off and then getting more serious about their characters.

    It is kind of relatable to one playing a video game, like Super Mario. You laughed when the little bugger got squashed every now and then. But then at some point the game got personal. You were one with Mario! That was you versus the computer!

    TSR finally acknowledged it after a few years of their game coming out.

  25. Well, as far as D&D being called a "role-playing" product, it states it at the bottom of the cover of the Holmes box/rulebook (1st print, 1977).