RPG Fridays: Frell Metagaming!
The biggest no-no at my table? Metagaming. By the gods, I hate metagaming, and metagamers never fair well in my games. What is metagaming, you may ask? For the few non-gamers that may be reading this, it is a sin!
Metagaming, my non-gamer readers, is when a player uses out-of-character information to alter what their character does in game. It is using that information to try to "win" the scene of scenario and goes against the spirit of the game. It can also be found when a player attempts to guess what the scenario wants them to do, instead of having their character engage with the scenario. Simply put, metagaming is cheating.
Metagaming is like when you're watching the movie Psycho and you're screaming at the screen, "He's got a knife! He's in the bathroom with you!" Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) has no idea that the bad guy is behind the shower curtain, but as the viewer, you do. The character can't suddenly decide to grab her razor and steady herself for the attack unless contextual clues or actions within the scene tell her to do so. The character did not pay 12 bucks to see the movie from a comfy seat in the theater; you did.
Metagaming Example #1: Don't Try This at Home
Let's say we are playing Pathfinder with a party of four, first-level adventurers who barely know how to use their weapons.
Jane - The Dwarven Paladin - Experienced Player
Bob - The Elven Wizard - New Player
Jace - The Human Cleric - Meta-Gamer
Alice - The Halfling Rogue - Newish Player
The group's first encounter against the Black Talon League (BTL) goes in their favor and they have bested the bandits. The last-remaining bandit pleads for his life saying he will tell them whatever they want, as long as they let him live. Bob, whose character failed his knowledge (Gangs) check and therefore has no idea about the BTL, read in the main book prior to the session that a BTL will never surrender and each has a geas (basically a curse) on them that will force whoever questions them to do a mission for the guild and kill on behalf of the BTL. The rest of the gamers do not know this, and being a good party, decide to spare the man to find out what the BTL has been doing. Bob, instead, kills the man with a magic missile. Then when questioned after the scene, tells the other players while out-of-character why he did it. As we all know, he did it because he metagamed in a big way. His character had no information, and now the other characters just witnessed their wizard kill a prisoner in cold blood with no way to explain it.
Metagaming Example #2: When It's Okay
Look, some people will say that you have to do it and it is impossible not to do it. While that's true on some level, it is something that should be minimized. When is it acceptable to metagame? To aid in moving the plot along.
I was running a scenario I wrote for the Beta Delta Green (I love you DG!!! If you have not played it, buy the new copy when it comes out. Hell, track down the old one, but that's just to complete your collection. Give Shane or Dennis a shout out afterwards about how awesome it is.)
Delta Green Agent - CDC Forensic Scientist - PTSD
Delta Green Agent - FBI Agent - Adapted to Violence
Delta Green Friendly - Blue Collar Worker (Mechanic) - Depression
Delta Green Friendly - Wilderness Guide - Indefinite insanity due to The Unnatural
Delta Green Friendly - Computer Engineer - Adapted to Helplessness
Delta Green Agent - Pilot (Drone) - Indefinite insanity due to Violence
Delta Green Friendly - Firefighter - Indefinite insanity due to Violence
There is a call for the team to go to Laredo, Texas to deal with a white supremacy group with cult ties that is attempting to correct the America problem. The agents are deployed under the premise that an ISIS operative was seeking to acquire nuclear material and smuggle it over the border.
The game has been going on for a couple of hours, the group has less than a day to solve the problem and the entire group has different ideas about what to do but know they need to stick together (a little metagaming) because they had a scuffle with a couple of gun totting "rednecks" and barely survived the firefight. The CDC scientist wants to study this unknown material they had discovered, the FBI agent wants to keep knocking on doors to talk to people, the drone pilot wants to go to a nearby base and try to get a drone for surveillance, etc. The metagaming to move the game along occurred when the players decided that the research was the most important and would likely benefit them the most. It is also reasonable that the characters would agree that the unknown material could be a weapon the cult was using.
An Unnecessary Evil . . . Most of the Time
Why does metagaming bother me so much? I am a storyteller and role player first. Attempting to create, maintain and be immersed in story is nearly impossible when one of your gamers breaks character every chance they get to try to one-up a situation. This action then drags the other players into a downward spiral of not gaming and eventual frustration when things go sideways.
Each of the above are examples of metagaming, but only one aids the story. What if the GM for Pathfinder knew the party would spare the life of the on BLT member and had planned a series of adventures about the party working to have the geas removed from them? That plot has been destroyed or at the very least significantly altered. Yes, the BLT could have a clue to share, but that does not have the same storytelling power of a cursed party, working to have the curse lifted before they have to complete some evil task or die. All of that gets kiboshed because one player "cheated" and it cost everyone an epic story.
How can a GM prevent metagaming? A couple of quick suggestions:
1. Let your players know that metagaming is a no-go from the outset.
2. Change the information in advance or on the fly (a lot more work but usually worthwhile) to minimize the ability of gamers to metagame.
3, Encourage players to know all they can about their characters. Knowledge is power.
4. Provide insights by describing in detail what the characters can see. Don't make them guess.
5. Focus on creating an immersive atmosphere. For example, only refer to players by character names, and insist they do the same.
What did I miss? Other tips for creating minimizing metagaming?