Does anyone know where the first reference/explanation of role-playing exists in OD&D (beyond "I am x class")? Dave Arneson is often credited with the advent of what we would consider role-playing today (speaking in character to NPCs), but he exited TSR to publish on his own. I've never had a copy of The First Fantasy Campaign to look at.

Heck, where are the first mentions of NPCs as NPCs and not combat stats? Something more than the Sage description as a resource from Blackmoor.


1 Answer 1


The first allusion to role play is in Men and Magic (OD&D Vol 1)

In the originally published game, what the gamers who came up with the game were already doing, and had already been doing, didn't require explanation, and likely weren't given treatment given the time and budget constraints of the first publication.

References on "how to role play" (speak in NPC voice!) do not fit the style of the original D&D rule books (TSR, three little brown books in a box, 1974).

Most of what was published in OD&D was "descriptive" rather than "prescriptive," but roles and role playing did get an early mention. The first allusion to playing roles is in Vol 1 (Men and Magic, p. 5, 6). The "speak in character as NPC" wasn't a rule: it is something that grew among the community of gamers who kicked off the hobby.

  • Role play was present in the Blackmoor campaign for a long time, but as EGG noted in The Dragon, Issue 7, in an editorial, Dave Arneson was disappointed in what finally got published. The published game was different from Blackmoor, which was also different from Chainmail... (Separate topic, really).

  • Among gamers / wargamers before D&D was a thing, role playing was already going on in the Braunstein games, in kriegspiel, in RAND's Crisis-Playing games, and in Diplomacy - in which game there was a tradition in the Play-by-Mail versions of long-winded in-character dispatches as moves were submitted to the referee. Likewise there was role play in Napoleonic Simulation Campaigns, the Midgard games, Castles & Crusades, etc. A lot of this is discussed in Playing at the World by Jon Peterson. Likewise, there were IFW records of Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz playing in long running Diplomacy games.

    As an old school gamer might say "We didn't need a rule to do that, we just did it." (At this point I cast the Summon Mike Mornard spell). In our Diplomacy club in high school (1973-1974) some of the players adapted godawful French accents, Russian accents, Italian accents (etc) and some did not. (And nobody had a clue how to do a Turkish accent).

    Look at the original three books' title and sub title:

    Dungeons and Dragons
    "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures"
    Gygax and Arneson

    There were no references to the word "role-playing" in the original text. The description of the game as a role-playing game grew up in the surrounding material, during play, during conventions, and through the community experience.

    The slate contains no less than 44 tournaments and seminars, running the gamut of boardgames, miniatures and role-playing games. (The Dragon #1, p. 10, GenCon Update)

The first mention of roles in the game.

First, the referee must draw out a minimum of half a dozen maps... When this task is completed the participants can then be allowed to make their first descent into the dungeons beneath the "huge ruined pile, a vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses." Before they begin, players must decide what role they will play in the campaign, human or otherwise, fighter, cleric, or magic-user.
Thereafter they will work upwards — if they survive — as they gain "experience". First, however, it is necessary to describe fully the roles possible. (Men and Magic, p. 5, 6)

On page 12(Men and Magic) we find the first treatment of NPCs you asked about.

{snip} Non-player characters can be hired as follows:
{snip} The player wishing to hire a non-player character "advertises" by posting notices at inns and taverns, frequents public places seeking the desired hireling, or sends messengers to whatever place the desired character type would be found (elf-land, dwarf-land, etc). This costs money and takes time, and the referee must determine expenditures. Once some response has been obtained, the player must make an offer to tempt the desired character type into his service. As a rule of thumb, a minimum offer of 100 Gold Pieces would be required to tempt a human into service, dwarves are more interested in gold, Magic-Users and elves desire magical items, and Clerics want some assurance of having a place of worship in which to house themselves.
Monsters can be lured into service if they are of the same basic alignment as the player-character, or they can be Charmed and thus ordered to serve. Note, however, that the term "monster" includes men found in the dungeons, so in this way some high-level characters can be brought into a character's service, charisma allowing or through a Charm spell. {emphasis mine} Some reward must be offered to a monster in order to induce it into service (not just sparing its life, for example). The monster will react, with appropriate plusses or minuses, according to the offer, the referee rolling two six-sided dice and adjusting for charisma:
Dice Score Reaction
2 Attempts to attack
3-5 Hostile reaction
6-8 Uncertain
9-11 Accepts offer
12 Enthusiast, Loyalty +3
An "Uncertain" reaction leaves the door open to additional reward offers, but scores under 6 do not.

You've got the kernel of the PC/NPC interactions, negotiations, etc, framed there but you don't get a lot of detail.

On page 13 (Men and Magic), the loyalty of NPCs is checked now and again by rolling 3d6, modified by Charisma's effects as laid out in another table:

  • to summarize, a score of 3 or less indicate that NPC's desert at first opportunity; a score of 19 or above (High PC charisma earned plusses) was "need never check morale" with various other reactions in between.

    Note that Charisma was not a spell casting ability score in the original game. (added in 3e).

So much for first references in the published material; perhaps disappointing, but the intent wasn't to publish a "how to role play" rule set. A lot was left up to the players to fill in. (More on that later).

As time went on, articles in Strategic Review, Dragon Magazine, Alarums and Excursions, etc, and in various supplements got printed and more discussion on role play began to emerge. I first find reference to "role" in Strategic Review Volume 6 (1976, TSR) in an alignment discussion.

This brings us to the subject of those character roles which are not subject to as much latitude of action as the others. The neutral alignment is self-explanatory, and the area of true neutrality is shown on Illustration I. Note that paladins, Patriarchs, and Evil High Priests, however, have positive boundaries. (p. 13, SR, Vol 6)

A mention of role-playing in SR is found in the last issue.

We decided to leave the house-organ field to the rest of the pack, and fulfill a crying need of the hobby: a good, well produced objective and visually stimulating magazine devoted to gaming in Fantasy, Swords & Sorcery, Science Fiction and role-playing games (p. 2, Vol 7, SR)

I found the first published description of "role-playing game" being what D&D was in the back of Greyhawk (p. 69, Supp I, 1976, TSR, second printing) in advertisements for TSR merchandise1.

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Collector's Edition — The original game of swords and sorcery role-playing with paper and pencil, in its original formal. This is the game that started it all! Three booklets, boxed

If you look at the covers of the first few issues of the dragon, it says ... "The Magazine of Fantasy, Swords & Sorcery, and Science Fiction Gaming" even though in Dragon Rumbles Tim Kask says that The Dragon's mission is

... to publish the best magazine devoted to Sword and Sorcery, Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Role Playing gaming. (p. 3, The Dragon, Issue 1)

"How to play a monster / NPC" wasn't in Vol II

Volume II (Monsters and Treasures) was mostly charts and descriptions. Nothing on role play as such, although there is a treatment on the egos of magic swords versus the character that could lead to some interesting role play. A prompt, more than a how-to.

Role Playing Prompts in Volume III

Volume III (Wilderness and Underworld Adventures): there is some discussion of it there, but mostly there were prompts to initiate role play.

Page 15, Vol III

Fighting Men within castles will demand a jousting match with all passersby of like class. Otherwise they will demand a toll of from 100 to 600 Gold Pieces from the party. If a joust takes place (use rules from CHAINMAIL) the occupant of the castle will take the loser's armor if he wins, but if the character wins the castle owner will host all in the party for up to one month, supply them with two weeks of rations, and provide warhorses (Heavy) if the party so requires.

I'll skip the Magic Users and head to ..

Clerics will require passersby to give a tithe (10%) of all their money and jewels. If there is no payment possible the Cleric will send the adventurers on some form of Lawful or Chaotic task, under Quest. Generally Evil High Priests will simple attempt to slay Lawful or Neutral passersby who fail to pay their tithes. (Pages 15, 16)

These are examples of prompts to role play this situation, rather than any description of "how to role play" ... descriptive, not prescriptive.

On page 24 of Vol III - the "Angry Villager Rule"

Anyone who has viewed a horror movie is aware of how dangerous angry villagers are. Whenever the referee finds that some player has committed an unforgiveable outrage this rule can be invoked to harass the offender into line. Within the realm of angry villagers are thieves from the "thieves' quarter", city watches and militia, etc. Also possible is the insertion of some character like Conan to bring matters into line.

A prompt to get the world to react to the players (in this case nefarious) actions. (And yes, I was once in a party that had to deal with a town full of angry villagers ... when we were coming out of a dungeon crawl ... we ended up fleeing.)

The afterward to Volume III underscores the point of "descriptive rather than prescriptive" being the tone throughout the original game. (Emphasis mine)


There are unquestionably areas which have been glossed over. While we deeply regret the necessity, space requires that we put in the essentials only, and the trimming will oftimes have to be added by the referee and his players. We have attempted to furnish an ample framework, and building should be both easy and fun. In this light, we urge you to refrain from writing for rule interpretations or the like unless you are absolutely at a loss, for everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way! On the other hand, we are not loath to answer your questions, but why have us do any more of your imagining for you? Write to us and tell about your additions, ideas, and what have you. We could always do with a bit of improvement in our refereeing. (Vol III, p. 36)

A note about Dave Arneson and Role Playing
I accept Rob Kuntz' general point (as did a judge in the infamous court case) on Arneson's genius being the trigger to role-playing as a game form. Gygax said as much in the Dragon Magazine #7, page 7, editorial article "Origins of the Game." (Mentioned above). He also pointed out that his campaign (Greyhawk) was different from Dave's campaign (Blackmoor) which was different from Chainmail. (Chainmail was a starting point, but as Arneson later pointed out it was left behind as his Blackmoor campaign, and role playing, took on a life of their own).

How all of this pertains to your question

A lot of what the players and the referees "did" in Blackmoor didn't make it into the first published books, OD&D, even though that thing that they were doing grew and grew so that more people wanted to do it.

1 I received an anonymous comment along these lines; thank to @Comment for this:

TSR changed what products it lists, and how they described them, in the back of the Greyhawk pamphlet across its several printings. The 1975 first printing of Greyhawk does not call D&D "role-playing" in the product list. It calls it "Swords & Sorcery Wargaming with Paper and Pencil and Miniatures, 3 booklets, boxed." TSR didn't really start using RPG as a term until 1976, at which point they were following other people who were doing so.

It appears that I have a later printing as my electronic reference; my original Greyhawk is as @Comment describes it.

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    Nov 30, 2018 at 4:22

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