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D&D General Has the meaning of "roleplaying" changed since 1e?

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This is a spin-off from another thread (kind of like Laverne and Shirley) and I'm curious if others have opinions about this question.

I've seen (and heard) the argument that "it's called a roleplaying game, therefore it is primarily about roleplaying".

However, I don't think the word "roleplaying" means what it used to mean. When I first started playing (my first games were a mish-mash of 1e and 2e) our characters didn't have personalities. Or, at least, we didn't think of the way we played as being driven by the character's personality. Adam played his rogue Porthos as a jerk, for example, but really I think it was just an excuse for him to be a jerk. Also, he was only a jerk toward the rest of us: we also didn't really interact with NPCs very often, and we certainly didn't explore who our characters were, or show any interest in who the NPCs were. They had information we wanted, or goods to trade, or stuff to steal (Adam...) and that was it. And even that was the exception, not the rule. Mostly we killed monsters and took their stuff. We "played a role" by pretending to be a fighter or a magic-user or a rogue. End of story.

I'm curious what others' experience was.

But I'm also wondering what the folks over at TSR intended. What did they originally mean by "roleplaying," and has that meaning changed?

I just skimmed through the Red Book and could not find a single passage that had a whiff of anything we would consider "roleplaying" today. In fact, I did find this passage on page 3 or so:
Prior to the character selection by players it is necessary to roll three six-sided dice in order to rate each as to various abilities, and thus aid in selecting a role. Categories of ability are: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma. Each player notes his appropriate scores, obtains a similar roll of three dice to determine the number of Gold Pieces (Dice score x 10) he starts with, and then opts for a role. Character Abilities Low score is 3-8; average is 9-12; high is 13-18. The first three categories are the prime requisites for each of the three classes, Fighting-Men, Magic-Users, and Clerics.

In other words, your "role" was determined by your class. Which is how I remember it.

In the other thread another poster offered this passage from an early edition (that I couldn't find in Moldvay; not sure which edition it was in):
This is a roleplaying game. That means that you will be like an actor, imagining that you are someone else, and pretending to be that character
Although that doesn't really explain very much. That also fits with the "you are a fighter" version of roleplaying. It says nothing about the motivation and goals and backstory and relationships that we think of with modern roleplaying.

AD&D expanded on these ideas a bit, and defines your character as being a combination of your attributes, your backstory, and your alignment. That's beginning to sound more like modern roleplaying, but still pretty flat. Some modules had NPCs to interact with, and even advice to the DM on how to portray that, but other modules were pure hack and slash, and the pregenerated characters had nothing about their personality. But overall the percentage of text that suggested this form of roleplaying was very, very low.

Now of course the books are chock full of roleplaying content. In the PHB we have backgrounds and Traits/Bonds/Flaws/Ideals and many pages of fluff on the various races, etc. etc. etc. The published adventures include as much storytelling, NPC personality profiles, and social interaction content as they do fighting and looting. Clearly the content of the published material has changed.

But has the game? Has 'roleplaying' always meant the same thing, and the published game has just (officially) embraced more and more of it, or has the meaning of the word itself evolved?

Were we playing it wrong?(wrong question)

Thoughts?
 
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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Yeah you can absolutely trace the shift from skirmish level wargaming to early class=role games like D&D right through to the narrativist games (sine the 90’s). Not that some degree of it wasnt attempted in the 80’s but rather the rules focussed on a mechanics rather than narrative. D&D with its fixed classes is also a pretty bad model- which is why other games came out that first tried to expand the concept by adding skills and then things like GURPS which added advantages and quirk mechanics to build characters and then the narrative approach of things like Fudge and Fate etc etc
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I am not sure about the various Original or Basic sets, but the Foreword of the 1e AD&D Players Handbook says:
Get in the spirit of the game, and use your persona to play with a special personality all its own. Interact with the other players and non-player characters to give the campaign a unique flavor and "life". Above all, let yourself go, and enjoy!

In the Introduction, it says:
As a role player, you become Falstaff the fighter. You know how strong, intelligent, wise, healthy, dexterous and, relatively speaking, how commanding a personality you have. Details as to your appearance your body proportions, and your history can be produced by you or the Dungeon Master. You act out the game as this character, staying within your "god-given abilities", and as molded by your philosophical and moral ethics (called alignment). You interact with your fellow role players, not as Jim and Bob and Mary who work at the office together, but as Folstaff the fighter, angore the cleric, and Filmar, the mistress of magic! The Dungeon Master will act the parts of "everyone else", and will present to you a variety of new characters to talk with, drink with, gamble with, adventure with, and often fight with! Each of you will become an artful thespian as time goes by - and you will acquire gold, magic items, and great renown as you become Falstaff the Invincible!

There's definitely nods to role playing as more currently promoted, but there's not a lot of elaboration as the rest of the rules get into a lot of the nitty gritty of play.

So, were you playing wrong? No.
Were you playing in a way that didn't leverage as much role playing as you could? Yes.
Was that OK? Yes.
Is it OK now? Yes.
 

So, were you playing wrong? No.
Were you playing in a way that didn't leverage as much role playing as you could? Yes.
Was that OK? Yes.
Is it OK now? Yes.

I'm not looking for absolution as much as wondering how other people were playing back then, and if EGG and company meant the same thing by "roleplaying" as we do today.
 

GuyBoy

Adventurer
I am aware that I’m looking at this through a lens of memory and that I was a teenager when I started playing, but my own perception is that we played with a significant amount of roleplay.
Characters were in campaign worlds, either homebrew, Greyhawk or Wilderlands, and had backstories, motivations and interactions with NPCs, both friendly and malign.
To me this was, and has remained, the most important and enjoyable aspect of the game.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I'm not looking for absolution as much as wondering how other people were playing back then, and if EGG and company meant the same thing by "roleplaying" as we do today.
There was likely considerably less demand or expectations for amateur theater hour out of the players or that not adhering to this is somehow badwrongfun roleplaying or "not true roleplaying" that you sometimes hear here.
 

John R Davis

Adventurer
From the start players had characters that had quirks and personality, and relationships with other PCs. We used voices, we drew pictures of our PCs, we were saddened when we lost an ally, we were fearful for our own, we were cautious, curious, greedy, boastful etc.

At some point games came out that quantified / mechanised these things.

Its all the right way to play and all were GoodCorrectFun.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
But has the game? Has 'roleplaying' always meant the same thing, and the published game has just (officially) embraced more and more of it, or has the meaning of the word itself evolved?

I, for one, am not the same person I was when I was 12, and started playing the game. Whether or not the definition of the word in the game books has changed, I have changed. I have different desires now, and even if the game text were 100% the same, I'd be playing differently today.
 

From the start players had characters that had quirks and personality, and relationships with other PCs. We used voices, we drew pictures of our PCs, we were saddened when we lost an ally, we were fearful for our own, we were cautious, curious, greedy, boastful etc.

Yes, we did sometimes draw pictures of our PCs, or at least wrote down physical descriptions. (The "Summoner Geeks" parody is spot on in some ways.)

I don't remember being genuinely saddened by the loss of NPCs...more concerned about the potential negative impact on our eventual success...but we might ham it up a bit when yet another hireling or henchman bit the dust. My bard used to play Taps whenever one died.

But other than a few examples like that, of what quirky things my characters would do, I can't really recall any details about their personalities or backstories, of the sort we put energy into today.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I'm not looking for absolution as much as wondering how other people were playing back then, and if EGG and company meant the same thing by "roleplaying" as we do today.
When I started in 1983 with 1e we roleplayed a little bit, but mostly gamed it. Of course we were also in junior high school. By the late 80's and early 90's we were doing more roleplaying, but still not like we do now. 2e raised the bar. 3e raised it more still. And so on. Each edition has focused more and more on the RP aspect of the game.
 

I, for one, am not the same person I was when I was 12, and started playing the game. Whether or not the definition of the word in the game books has changed, I have changed. I have different desires now, and even if the game text were 100% the same, I'd be playing differently today.

Yeah, that's the other question: was the difference simply a function of age?

Still, the fact remains that the old books barely touch on any aspect of what we would today call roleplaying. It's hard (for me, anyway) to read it and conclude that it was meant to be a core aspect of the game, as opposed to something that would make it just a little bit more fun.
 

Has the meaning of roleplay changed over the years? I think so. My pet-theory is that the background of the player-base changed.

As an example, I play three campaigns:
  • One with old-school players with 20+ years experience in the game, who have played at least 3 different versions of D&D as well as other RPGs. These may best be described as nerds who love to power play, optimize their characters and roll the dice. They are able to quickly digest the mountain of info that is in all the D&D books and use that try to find loopholes to trick the DM. Typically combat heavy campaigns.
  • Two campaigns with newbies. These are people who jumped into the game as they are already in their mid-thirties. They can't be bothered to read the whole PHB let alone other books, and can't be bothered to build an optimized character. But they love to sit down with friends and create a story together. These players prefer interaction with NPC's rather than a dungeon crawl.
With the rise in popularity of the fantasy genre, maybe the game has opened up to new types of people who play the game differently?
 

Stormonu

Legend
Roleplaying has certainly evolved over the years. A lot of early roleplaying was simply you, the person, laid over mechanics. Your character knew what you knew; interactions had to be played out verbally so it was dependant on your personal charisma. It was very much a question of "what would you do in this situation?" Certainly, you could take on personality aspects different from your own, but at times the game would punish you if you didn't act on metagame knowledge that your character might not necessarily have known if not for your previous knowledge of the game (i.e., old tricks like 10' poles, remembering monster stats and weaknesses, etc.).

As time went on, games started to encourage you more and more to think and act like your character - non-weapon proficiencies appeared in late 1E, further putting a wall between what you knew and what your character knew and what they could do. The term metagaming started to appear more and more, with negative connotations.

By the 90's, a whole new brand of roleplaying game started to appear, led by White Wolf's storytelling system for its series of games. Mechanics took a back seat to becoming your fictional character, telling their stories and trying to understand the world through their - not your eyes.

Eventually, D&D took notice and started to pull some of those elements into its own game. It's still very much a combat cookbook with story aspects, but you can do some pretty good storytelling to boot. It's a lot easier to play a character different from yourself and the game to back you up on such decisions. But at the very least, roleplaying has changed and evolved from those early years of proto-tabletop skirmish wargames.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Still, the fact remains that the old books barely touch on any aspect of what we would today call roleplaying.

So, it pays to realize something when comparing older rules to newer ones. Gygax, et al, were visionary in their way. But they were new at this, because everyone was new at it. And by today's standards, their writing, even about basic mechanics, leaves a lot to be desired.

Newer writing has the benefit of years of looking at those old rules, and listening to and speaking with players, and watchng them learn, and watching what they did at the table, by the hundreds and thousands, and that leads to having better ways to talk about stuff. It isn't clear that the original authors really had the language to discuss character immersion clearly ready to hand, even if they played that way and intended others to as well.

I am not sure how much you can divine about how the definition of role playing has changed, when those original definitions... were not themselves well-written.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Here is the post where it points out that, not in OD&D, but straight from the basic set, playing a role was the stated intent of the game. When a game states, in the very first lines of its introduction, what type of game it is, for what reason, and what is expected, I find it somewhat disingenuous to explain that, since there are many other things in the book, it is not about that stated intent.

That being said, it is also a game that is played amongst friends, where you don't need to read the book to play, that you are often introduced to by friends who are already playing in a certain style. And god knows that there are many, many ways to play the game. Moreover, after the first CRPGs came out, and a number of these were based on D&D without much roleplay in them, I can also understand a certain drift towards particular forms of playing the game.

My circumstances might have been peculiar, as I had heard about the game in a French magazine about science, but it was impossible to procure it in France, but I mentioned it to the family who hosted me in 1978 (I was 14 at the time), and because they were absolutely brilliant, they found the box for me. It was unfortunately a bit complex, and I was not confident enough to be the DM for a crowd of US teenagers despite their benevolence, so I had to wait for september to be back in France to be the DM for a group of friends from high school.

This means that, for my friends and I, the words in the books, and in particular that introduction, were really the one source that we had about playing the game, apart from that very first article in Science & Vie which very much lacked detail. But, right from the start, our characters had personas, although they were admittedly very basic and copied on characters from Heroic Fantasy that we liked (we had a Gandalf and an Arioch in the very first group, and they did not really see eye to eye in terms of decisions, let me tell you :D ).

So, in any case, for us, it was obviously the one thing that made the game what it was, compared to a boardgame in particular, roleplaying, acting in character, etc.

Now, from the above, you might think that it was an isolated phenomenon, but we met a few other groups, and soon the french magazine, Casus Belli, came out, and it was obvious from the start that other people were playing the way we were, as a roleplaying game, not an adventure/boardgame, with stories and roles.

I also played with clubs, and although I did not spend a lot of time there, I played with a few people from the famous Rue d'Ulm club, and in particular the French munchkin archetype, Gros Bill. One of the main person in that group was FMF, who actually was invited by EGG to develop games for him in Lake Geneva, and who in particular wrote the AD&D 1e Oriental Adventures.

Screenshot 2021-08-27 094620.jpg


And one thing I can say is that, although they were huge powergamers (lots of us were at that time), there was a large amount of roleplaying in the games. Actually, FMF has started a while back a very successful comics in France which recounts some of the adventures of the group, if you can/want to procure it, it's really not bad.

220px-Black_Moon_Chronicles.jpg


All this to say that there definitely was a congruence about the way we played the game in our groups, the way it was played in France and then back to the US. And I have discussed this with other people who played at the time - some of whom I still play with, by the way - and they have the same views.

Moreover, over my career, I've been an expatriate for years in many countries, and played there. And in particular in the UK, whether it was in a club or with the friends that I met discussing a game of Bushido (and who remain friends to this day), people were playing exactly the same way, with roleplaying always at the forefront of the game.

Has it changed ? Of course it has, I am obviously not the same person that I was when I was 14 and just discovering the book through reading. But not only were the seeds there, but they clearly germinated in many people, most of the hundreds of people that I have gamed with over these many years.

I must also point out that this is not the only game that we played during these first years. We were also huge fans of Runequest, and here is the very first paragraph of a game which, although its contents are even more technical than D&D if you look at them (armor and hit locations, detailed rounds, etc.) is also extremely role focussed in a setting that blows any D&D setting out of the water.

Screenshot 2021-08-27 100042.jpg


So it was definitely there, although as these games are so rich, they support so many ways of playing them and, as the developers always pointed out, there is no wrong way of playing them as long as you are having fun (and the Runequest guys are the ones who developed the concept of Maximum Game Fun anyway).
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
You could easily make the opposite argument.

That for years, the trend was for RPGs to become increasingly tactical and gamey. Both in ever more involved char-gen, and in combat and other in game systems at the table. And that all this came at the cost of the more open and role-playful approach of the past years.
 

I, for one, am not the same person I was when I was 12, and started playing the game. Whether or not the definition of the word in the game books has changed, I have changed. I have different desires now, and even if the game text were 100% the same, I'd be playing differently today.
Well said
 

Argyle King

Legend
As I would read the quotes provided in the OP, I think "role" in the context of what your skillset is in a combat squad (i.e. rifleman, grenadier, medic) means something different than "role" in the context of roleplaying a narrative role.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
So, it pays to realize something when comparing older rules to newer ones. Gygax, et al, were visionary in their way. But they were new at this, because everyone was new at it. And by today's standards, their writing, even about basic mechanics, leaves a lot to be desired.

While this is indubitably true, although I never met EGG personally or had the chance to play with him, I have met friends who did, and I can assure you that the intention was there, and this is where the true genius was, as this was far more groundbreaking than moving from chainmail units to individual characters.

As proof, these words from two of the earliest and most iconic modules published by TSR, I'm sure you'll recognise which is which:
4.jpg


3.jpg


Also, NPCs had personality notes and behaviour, it's even in bold in the text.
Screenshot 2021-08-27 102450.jpg


Or: "The corporal is rather grouchy, with a low charisma, but he admires outspoken, brave fighters and is easily taken in by a pretty girl."

And the hint at larger intrigue (the type of game that I have always loved best, even from these early days):
Screenshot 2021-08-27 102633.jpg
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
You could easily make the opposite argument. That for years, the trend was for RPGs to become increasingly tactical and gamey. Both in ever more involved char-gen, and in combat and other in game systems at the table. And that all this came at the cost of the more open and role-playful approach of the past years.

I actually completely agree with this. Admittedly, even though the intention was there not only in D&D but in other games as demonstrated as early as the mid 70's, it evolved positively really quickly, until there were games that were extremely focussed on roleplaying in the 90s. And although, for me, 2e was really the worst edition technically, the settings published and in particular the incredible Planescape are really heavy on Roleplaying.

But this took a serious hit with 3e, which was an extremely technical game, and which created a whole generation of players that are very much focussed on technical builds and optimisation. But this conflicted with the open nature of the game and created an unmanageable explosion of options and combos that quickly destroyed the game." As a result, but also because there was an attempt to cater for the MMORPG crowd which is again very technical and optimisation-oriented, 4e was created to be even more technical and precise, but extremely controlled.

This is, by the way, totally recognised and acknowledged by the designers of 5e in the SAC: "The DM is key. Many unexpected things can happen in a D&D campaign, and no set of rules could reasonably account for every contingency. If the rules tried to do so, the game would become unplayable. An alternative would be for the rules to severely limit what characters can do, which would be counter to the open-endedness of D&D. The direction we chose for the current edition was to lay a foundation of rules that a DM could build on, and we embraced the DM’s role as the bridge between the things the rules address and the things they don’t."

All this just to point out that although some people can be considered "old school" for having played 20 years, it does not mean that roleplaying is at the centre of their way of playing (not that it's a criticism, everyone can enjoy the game the way they prefer). You might have more roleplaying from "older school" players who started in the 90s, or even before. And as I write in my initial post on this thread, it's for me very much linked to how you were introduced to the game and to which edition as well as, of course, your personal preferences.
 

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