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The earliest I remember hearing this comment was about Dragonlance, which began to be published in 1984. There was earlier RPG-influenced fiction, though, as far back as Norton's Quag Keep (1978). Do we know the origin of the phrase?

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  • I think the earliest I read it was in a review of E. Gary Gygax's first novel, Saga of Old City. That came out in 1985, after the first Dragonlance books proved that novels based on AD&D could be very successful. I'm not sure where I would have read the review though.
    – Buzz
    Oct 12, 2021 at 23:27
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    Not necessarily the same thing, but in Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic (1983) there actually were dice rolling in the background, as the gods of Discworld played a game of D&D over the characters' fates. From time to time, just before something particularly unexpected happened, the characters would look up and wonder what that funny noise was that sounded like dice.
    – A. B.
    Oct 13, 2021 at 5:41
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    The Dragonlance series is the earliest popular novel I'm aware of. The Record of Lodoss War novels were also based on a campaign in 1986. This isn't specifically RPG influenced but tangentially related - Philip Dick used the I-Ching to make decisions for The Man in the High Castle, which was in 1962. From an interview, he said: "I used it in The Man in the High Castle because a number of characters used it. In each case when they asked a question, I threw the coins and wrote the hexagram lines they got. That governed the direction of the book." Literal coins being flipped in the background! Oct 14, 2021 at 17:17
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    My guess is Quag Keep: this was released as AD&D 1st edition was being released… OD&D had existed for a few years at that point, but was—in the Gygax, Arnesson, &Co circles more or less the genesis of dice-driven RPGs. There may have been some previous "dice in the background" metaphors for fate, but they are unlikely to be RPG-related.
    – Lexible
    Oct 15, 2021 at 4:52

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