What is metagaming and can it be harmful to your game?
Weigh in with your thoughts and experiences!
Metagaming - Is It Legit?!
It can be harmful. It can also be helpful. Depends on what's being metagamed and how.
For example, I have no problem with the 'I'm strangely open to trusting this complete stranger because he happens to be a fellow PC' effect, because it improves game flow and gets the new character into the game faster.
Metagaming in my opinion is using knowledge that you as a player has that your character doesn't.
For the most part in Dungeons and Dragons 4e you can use certian skill checks to determine knowledge on monster you're encountering.
It can be harmful but I find it less harmful in my 4e game.
I have more problems with it in my Mutants & Masterminds game where I write cutcenes for players. In that game it becomes a regular problem for some players.
Metagaming is a fact of life. Try to quash it, and it tends to pop up more. Harness it, and games can become much more interesting and creative.
I think the key factor that determines whether metagaming is harmful or helpful is intent. Players that use knowledge that their character couldn't have for their own benefit - likely harmful. Using it for the benefit of the game - likely helpful/positive.
The worst kind of player is the one that uses a professed loathing of metagaming as an excuse for bad behaviour. Remember that the game is suspposed to be fun for everyone at the table and you can't go far wrong.
I think the whole concept is the last redoubt of the fantasy realists. It's a problem that exists only in their minds because of limited thinking. It ruins their "immersion" if something doesn't line up in the fiction with the one way they can imagine it. "How could Ragnar possibly know trolls must be burned? He's not from a region where trolls can be found and I've never put one in the adventure! What do I do?!"
Well, we can sit around and waste time pretending I don't know the answer to something until I meet some prerequisite in the DM's brain that makes it "realistic" enough for me to have information I already know OR we can take a minute to work together as a group to explain the reason why I know it, establishing new fiction about the character and the world, and can then get on with the game already.
There's a clearly better choice here. Use everyone's imagination and there is no problem.
I have started using "DM notes" to pass players information that only their character would know. It helps keep metagaming in check since now the player has this bit of information that is only his/hers, if they metagame and share this info with the group OOC, it dissolves its uniqueness. This technique worked great last night, where every character was able to figure out different things and steer the encounter accordingly.
In the same session, I put a very tricky puzzle. The player for the dumb orc PC was able to contribute majorly to solve the intelectual puzzle. The players were having a good time, and calling off metagaming would have hurt my session. So I let it slide and we all had a good time.
Metagaming is bad if it discourages fun for the players. But if the DM is not having fun with the amount of metagaming, this should be considered and communicated to the players, too.
There is also a problem of "reverse" metagaming - stuff a character knows in character but the player hasn't a clue. Part of this is the DM not telling players enough information about the game world so that the player commits a faux pas in a roleplaying situation. Another aspect of this is a DM complaining about a warrior player figuring out the AC of the monster and calculating the most optimal Power Attack. The character is right there in the combat. He knows the difficulty of fighting the monster and is determining tactics against it. That translates to the player via knowing the AC and calculating Power Attack. "Metagaming!" cries the DM.
This line of thinking affects the skills as well. A player who in real life is a bit introverted cannot play an effective bard because the player himself does not know or incapable of the charismatic words necessary to win over the audience to roleplay as the DM demands, thus his +15 in Diplomacy is irrelevant. The DM requires the rogue player to describe exactly how he is searching for and disabling traps and plays "gotcha" when the player fails to mention the ceiling, his +20's in Search and Disable Device are just inks on paper. Woe be any cleric or druid player who wants to use the healing skill without a medical degree!
The only effort I'd make to discourage metagaming is in situations where one character has learned something independently and hasn't had a chance to share, or has chosen not to share it, with the others. If a players suggests something about the conditions on the ground based on session knowledge that they shouldn't have, I'll say "does your character know that?" I find this to be just a reasonable nudge to help promote the "perspective" of the character's choices. Honestly, they can usually dream up an explanaition for why the character would do such-thing without having the proper knowledge, and I give it to them, but at least they are aware of what they're doing.
So if one player scouts ahead and learns something about the condition of the enemy's camp, and something happens at the ally's camp that forces them to move, and someone at the ally's camp mentions something that the scout learned but that they wouldn't know yet, I'd ask them if they really would know that, and they'd usually just explain their way around it and we'd move on. But at least we're aware of it, and pointing something out will often encourage them to think twice and come up with an even better idea based on their more appropriate character perspective.
I also use DM note cards like jorgeo, especially in situations where languages are being used that some PCs know and some don't. Then I make sure it's clear whether the PC has shared their knowledge or not. I find that my players, at least, appreciate being held accountable for that kind of session knowledge.
I like to draw a distinction between session knowledge and common metagaming. I'm fine with metagaming in terms of character optimization, coordinated backstories, and puzzles (I love puzzles, in fact), but session knowledge is something learned right now in this session that could reasonably impact the challenge of the current encounter. That I try to discourage, if only because my players would rather have the challenge of being held accountable for what they should or shouldn't know.
I rarely call foul for metagaming. If I can assume that something might be common knowledge for a person in the world of the game I let it go. If it seems to be "special knowledge" I may ask for a skill check. As a player I really dis-like the "gotcha" DM who peanizies the party for not specifing EVERY action or item in preparation of the adventure (i.e. we are riding horses and "no one said you bought feed so your horses die")
The biggest reason I woul call foul is if someone read the module and used that information to guide their actions (has not happened in years).
Metagaming is rarely in issue in my group, mostly because we are all fairly immersive players who all think that abusing too much metagame knowledge can ruin our own fun. This is an important agreement, as we players have pretty much all read every 3.5 book we can get our hands on cover to cover and all have an enormous amount of metagame knowledge to not use. There are big bits of knowledge that are easy to "forget" about, but some of the finer points often slip through the cracks of play. Thankfully, this thread has actually helped me to exorcize some of my own worries that we don't do enough to persecute and destroy those guilty of incidental metagaming. navar100's comments and mvincent's response in particular have given me some great insight into our own style of play. I never really thought about it, but that is how I look at metagaming.
Really, the meta I disapprove of is when a player pre-reads a scripted module (LFR, RPGA, Printed WotC modules etc) and then designs a toon specifically to counteract that module.
I was playing at a table, running "Sun and Moon" at LFR, and in the first encounter, you are defending a ring of festival civilians from encroaching aberant tenticles coming out of big-ole portals. There are about 8 to 10 different tenticle spawns, and PCs must kill the tenticles so they don't haul away npcs. The tenticles are 1 hp minions, and as such die in a single hit. This encounter is difficult normally (or can be with bad party composition), and very enjoyable. This time around, however, one of the players had pre-read the module, and decided that he wanted to be the hero in the first encounter.
He built a druid (I mockingly refer to it as the "Architect" druid), who put up four encounter-long walls that did damage. The encounter was effectively over after he went, as the only thing remaining to do was to polish off some soldiers, and to do an in-combat skill event. He was insanely proud of himself, and everyone else at the table and even the DM were really displeased. He has done similar things before and since, and it really aggrivates people to no end.
Other than cases like these two ^, meta is really subjective. I've always thought that PCs, by virtue of being PCs had an "adventurer's sense," or "I'm a PC" thing going for them which made them have above-average (in universe) knowledge of monsters, fighting monsters, and general monster-weakness knowledge. Every person who spends time in a tavern, as adventureers invariably do, will have heard at least one story about how the only way to kill a troll is with fire (or acid in 4e.) Its why you can make monster knowledge checks untrained.
For me it's habitual, and I thought it was a City of Heroes thing (Yeah yeah, MMOs are lame, yadda yadda,) but I have seince learned that it's actually just a Role Playing term in general. Often times it's also applied to characters people have very little actual investment in.
That being said, lets stop derailing :P
Normally a certain ammount of meta is pretty acceptable anyways. I (as both a DM and a player) trend towards letting the DM decide how much of a given field my character knows based upon the setting (So, for example, if your version of the material plane has no recorded history of Sigil, no matter how high your arcana check to figure it out, you will still not know of sigil in name, even if you can conceive of it conceptually,) and modified by that character's particular background.
I also play with a number of people who read the extended materials (Demonomicon, Vile Darkness, etc.) simply for the lore of it, so we do periodically get people going "ooooh..." which can harm "immersion" as it were, but that's not really our primary goal. We wouldn't play 4e if we wanted a simulationist game. (or really, any D&D after 2e)
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