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My understanding of early D&D play is that there was a general expectation that players could use any and all of their own skills to overcome challenges — including knowledge that their characters may not necessarily possess in the fiction. If you knew something about the scenario or the monsters, you could generally use it to your advantage and nobody would be like, "I'm sorry, Tim, but Tim the Thief doesn't know that you need fire to kill trolls."

Fast forward to the nineties or early aughties, though, and there's plenty of play advice (in game books, in periodicals, online, and passed along from player to player) based around the idea that any use of "out-of-character knowledge" is bad play, especially bad "roleplaying." (And this is still a widespread belief among tabletop players in the modern day, though it seems to be quite a bit less of a monolithic consensus.)

So, how did that happen? Who introduced terms like "metagaming" to the hobby? When did firewalling your own awareness and your character's first become a part of RPG play and RPG texts?

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Good question! My least favourite environment for meta-gaming is Call of Cthulu (or any horror-based game where the characters are designed to be unaware of what they face, but the players are often highly aware). – Neil Slater Feb 21 '14 at 11:54
You might be able to get a better answer on the etymology of the word here If you're looking for its base origin. – Zibbobz Feb 21 '14 at 15:48
@Zibbobz At the moment, I'm only concerned about the concept as it applies to RPGs. – Alex P Feb 21 '14 at 16:00
If you give a minimum importance to story and plot on roleplaying games instead of understanding it as a game of explore+kill+levelup, metagaming is something bad for it. I think this is basic and I doubt it was invented in the 90s. – Flamma Feb 22 '14 at 17:08
@AlexP - does Carl's answer complete this question sufficiently, or do you need more? – JoshDM Sep 15 '14 at 16:40
up vote 27 down vote accepted

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rulebook (1981, Gygax & Arneson), pg B60

Your character doesn't know that

A player should not allow his or her character to act on information that character has no way of knowing (for example, attacking an NPC because the NPC killed a previous character run by the player, even though the NPC and current character have never met). If the players get careless about this the DM should remind them. The DM may, in addition, forbid certain actions to the characters involved. The DM should make it clear to the players before the adventure begins that characters may not act on information they don't have. It will save lots of time later.

In my experience (and I started playing in the 80's with the Basic Set referenced), it has always been bad form to use out-of-character information. Reading an adventure module or studying the Monster Manual just to get an edge was frowned upon.

"Metagaming" apparently originated in military/political theroy (Wikipedia), via the work of Nigel Howard (Wikipedia), published in 1971. This original use of "metagame" doesn't seem to match the way we're using it in roleplaying, and I can't find a source for where it began to be applied to "using out-of-game knowledge in-game".

Wikipedia also has an article on metagaming in roleplaying. It may not add anything useful to this discussion, but I include it for completeness.

It's worth noting that not all game systems (or communities) consider metagaming to be a bad thing. Generally, this is when meta information is used to improve play (as in many storygames, where players may intentionally have characters make sub-optimal decisions to complicate the story in an interesting way), as opposed to the player gaining an advantage.

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Huh, I’m surprised. This strikes me as extremely odd, given Gygax’s heavy trial-by-error (where an error means death), have-the-players-learn-by-failing (and failure means death), minimal-story-and-no-real-roleplaying style. – KRyan Feb 22 '14 at 0:19
Yeah, I was actually surprised to find it there, but I looked just in case. I was trying to remember my own experience, and that book was where I started. – Carl Cravens Feb 22 '14 at 0:46

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