What is metagaming first off?
Metagaming is the use of information your character has not gained, and has not been exposed to, to alter the way you play your character. Of course much of that information is contextual depending on setting and your personal background. If your father was a career guardsman in a dwarven mining city, whom you spent your youth training under, you likely know some things. Trolls are vulnerable to acid or fire. Dragons attack from the sky. Skeletons break easier when you beat them with a mace than when you try to cut them with a sword. Zombies move clumsy. But you won’t know things like.. three tear drops in a purple triangle is the holy symbol of Talona. You won’t know about the great elven war that drove the Drow into exile. You won’t know the detailed truth about how tieflings are made. You won’t the home plane of Illithids.
Another form of toxic metagaming is when the rogue asks to make a spot check, then rolls a 2. The rogue doesn’t know he failed. You don’t know he failed. So it is toxic behavior for you to suddenly ask if you can make a roll. If the rogue doesn’t ask for help you have no reason to help. Similarly when a player asks to make a particular action and a bunch of others ask to make assist rolls. The answer should be no, unless the action was discussed in character before the player attempts the action.
So, a few days ago I asked my DMs to give me a PM telling me what they think is good metagaming, and what is bad metagaming. I have reviewed each of the lists I was given and here is what I would put forth that I agree with from each of these lists.
Limiting toxic language use while in character. If you end up with some players at the table with you that are to fragile for excessive profanity, but brash and harsh language is part of your character, fake it. Instead of using fake insults or just colorful combinations of words that would fit on the Shakespear list instead of the George Carlin list. This is metagaming to a degree because you are changing the character’s behavior to suit Billy sitting at your left. But you are not losing the point of the character’s language quirks.
Leveraging world lore for magical auto-convenience is a form of toxic metagaming. When you decide you want to play a barbarian that is borderline suicidal in her behavior, but suddenly decide to be a follower of Bahamut as well. Why? Because this city you are playing in has a temple of Bahamut so you expect you can get a cheap or free ressurection because you carry that holy symbol. You have no interest in playing to the religion, can’t name any of it’s tenants or teachings. But expect to be treated as a full member of the religion because of 7 letters at the top of your character sheet and a cheap hunk of wood you wear on a string around your neck.
Co-conspiring with the DM is a productive way to grow your character. Perhaps there is something you wish to do with your character that you can’t see a way to do, or you need the DM to lay out a bit of bait for your character to follow. In a living world like this with DMs juggling dozens of things, the DM can’t always put in the time to predict what you want or what you need. Drop a hint, a clue, a conversation. It will help you, and it will help them. This is not only good metagaming, it’s also a good way to build understanding. You may have taken actions recently that the DM didn’t quite understand or didn’t translate well with the game as a filter.
The Interference play is a popular and vulgar form of Metagaming. Similar to above where the party wants to all roll a check because the rogue failed his. This is where the players know there is a problem, perhaps because of a DM slip of words or because they saw a pattern in a series of NPC actions, or because they have played that scene out before in a different game. What ever the case may be, the players are now aware of a problem so they are conveniently taking irrational actions in character to try to discover the problem when there is no grounds for such an investigation to start. Bob gets poisoned. DM tells Bob that he should note on his sheet that he was poisoned and he will have to act on this next time he sleeps. Susan now suddenly wants to make a heal check, or to cast detect poison on Bob. Bob is showing no outward signs and Bob’s wounds were already tended and taken care of minutes ago. Now Susan is using out of character knowledge, to take actions she woudln’t otherwise, to gain in character knowledge, to solve a problem she knows about but her character doesn’t. Stop is Susan.
Being the DM’s Co-conspirator is another productive and helpful form of metagaming. This of course refers to letting the DM bounce ideas off you. To get your opinions on how something may be run. We have DMings of differing skills here with various knowledges of other games, other systems, and different literary backgrounds. Different ideas are going to come up and different methods of running the same encounter. A happy DM that is enjoying there time around here is going to begin to push themselves in new ways. Expose themselves to new ideas. Try new things. Sometimes these new things need a dry run to feel them out before they get put before the party officially. You may also notice the DM taking to long to respond to a question. Or may be stumbling for an answer. This is a good time to respectfully make a suggestion, or even ask the DM what they are trying to pull off. This does not ever include rules lawyering.
Playing your build/gimmick is a good way to make a DM tired of you showing up. If your primary motivation in your actions is your next spell in your spellbook, if your entire family history can be itemized by the feat they taught you or what class you take at which level, you are a waste of the DM’s time and an insult to the other players. You should be roleplaying a person. Who you are should effect what you do. If your future level ups are making your choices for you, then you really don’t understand the basics of who you are playing or even what D&D is about. You should think of D&D as improve acting, and your character sheet is your rules/guidelines. It’s not a scripted event and you should not let it be. This one comes off as hostile. I am not sorry. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine.
Building for the party you are joining is a good form of metagaming. If you are trying to join a player that has two fighters and two clerics it may be a good idea to ask them if they want something more utility like a rogue or a wizard before you actually join. In a community like ours where the players actually do have a say in who plays with them it’s a good idea to see what you can do to be useful to the party. It’s even fairly okay to ask them a bit about their back story. Maybe there is something in one of their stories you can use as a hook to meet up with the party. Maybe, just maybe, you are a childhood friend of one of them. You should try to keep yoru character partially independant though. Otherwise if you play the baby brother of that higher level fighter then it may result in the DM having a hard time building story hooks particularly for you that don’t include the older sibling. This will lead to you feeling like you are stuck in your older sister’s shadow without any means to separate yourself and become independant or shine on your own.
Emotional baggage is a burden on every aspect of life. It’s something that is just plain stupid to carry into other relationships or projects period. Don’t start carrying your emotional baggage into our games. Especially if it’s because you have a bitter relationship with someone here left over from another server or another game. It’s really pathetic. I would call it childish but it’s even uncommon in children. I would not want to insult the children. This should not really even be considered metagaming but instead should just be called a need to seek theraputic advice. Yet this was suggested to me as a bad example of metagaming, so here we are.
Not all games run smooth. Sometimes it takes some OOC communication to get the characters to work together. Toss some random half dozen people into a party and run it with no planning and there is going to be friction, if the players actually bothered to build a person before they played. Personalities don’t automagically meld together. Sometimes the solution for this is some OOC communication. Find some way to manufacture a situation where the characters can begin to work together or create a means to trust each other. That doesn’t mean one player complains to another about their improper use of elven slurs and the other just suddenly loves elves because it’s convenient. Create an in game situation to create character evolution. Characters change over time based on what they are exposed to. Sometimes, for the betterment of the game, you need to put the situation in that will redirect the character’s growth in the direction the players outside of the game need.
A sense of entitlement is toxic in any field of life. It is also toxic here. Just because you are here does not mean you automatically are entitled to a game. Just because you are made a character does not mean you are automatically entitled to show up at a game and play. Just because you are in a party doesn’t mean you are entitled to the loot or information the party gains. Now, it’s pretty obvious that the splitting of loot is expected. But that too needs to be roleplayed out. If a character has information you don’t, that’s part of the game. It doesn’t matter what that information is. If it’s the rogue keeping his spy network a secret or the barbarian giggling as he watches you walk right towards a pitfall trap. Each character it it’s own entity. It’s mind is not a public library. There are no membership cards and you can’t pay a subscription fee. Unless information is voluntered, you can’t have it. To disallow this is to strip away player agency. If you dislike this, and your character manages to find out that secrets are being kept through legit roleplay, you can simply opt out of playing with that person by what ever means you feel needed. If you can get others to agree to eject them from the party then that’s an option. If you can’t find a way to roleplay your way out of this situation, then you are legally allowed to leave the table.
There is a lot I can continue to do and say in this post, but I think this is plenty of information for people to go off of and learn from. Metagaming is a constant small nagging problem, but recently it had a sudden spike across multiple servers I am on. Funny how trends happen like that. My hope is not to use this post to bash anyone over the head. Yes I do tend to make posts on a subject right after the subject becomes a problem. It’s not to weaponize the blog, or to attack anyone. It’s to inspire a conversation and get people to engage in the subject.