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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    \$\begingroup\$ Potential answerers: the question is not asking if metagaming is bad. Answers that focus on talking about whether metagaming is good or bad, instead of the history question actually asked, are off topic and shall be removed. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 30, 2016 at 14:25

1 Answer 1


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 theory (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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    \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 22, 2014 at 0:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 22, 2014 at 0:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I think that was "tournament Gygax". The one who wrote Tomb of Horrors and gave birth to AD&D 1e (that was more codified than OD&D and intended for tournament play), not the one that advocated "my campaigns can't fit in published adventures, because the NPCs take decision based on what the characters do and everything moves organically" (very-much-not-"no-real-RPing", IMO) \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Aug 1, 2016 at 22:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel That contradicts accounts I have read about people who have played at his table. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Aug 1, 2016 at 22:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ The idea that a character has no idea about any monster he has never faced is really simplistic, adventures do not appear at the start of session 1 new born to the world and fantasy worlds are full of storytelling. If you look back to greek mythology there was no social media but probably all greeks knew how to solve the riddle of the sphinx. So I have no issue with my players using knowledge they may have when fighting a monster, it doesn't "break" the game \$\endgroup\$
    – Richard C
    Aug 24, 2020 at 10:56

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