Metagaming: how a frustrating problem can be fun

Metagaming is a hot topic in any TTRPG as it is always something the GM and players should be wary of. (Metagaming is when a player uses knowledge outside of the game to determine their actions, this can include known game mechanics or story elements.) Once everyone has a feel for the style of play on the other hand, it’s usually not a big deal, but metagaming shouldn’t be avoided in its entirety. Metagaming has certain advantages that can enhance gameplay and overall enjoyment. Do not worry; I will review everything. As someone struggling with anxiety and depression – a combo that’s not ideal for a reporter or game master juggling seven different players in a six-hour Dungeons & Dragons game – I understand that he can be difficult to take a stand on metagaming situations, especially as a gamer.

In this week’s tabletop advice column from an anxious GM (all of which can be found on our DND Advice hub), I will discuss when metagaming can help improve the game and even deepen the understanding of certain characters.

There’s a big difference between metagaming to gain an unfair advantage and metagaming to enhance storytelling and overall gameplay. Today we’ll be talking about examples of the latter and how you can add some metagaming to your games. Let me explain.

TL;DR

Communication! I will say this forever and it will be engraved on my tombstone: Communicate with your GM and your players about the rules of metagaming. Flavor of history. Add some meta knowledge during your introduction – just enough to make them want more. Let’s dwell on the statistics. No, your characters don’t know what hit points are, but it’s a game, relax.

Keep people around more often than not. Don’t fire players during private moments, they want to have fun too! You can even use them to enhance the encounter. Advice for your children. Don’t let a player character die because they’re going to do something stupid – just tell them (trust me, they’ll like you). Parallels, themes and prefiguration. Use your meta-knowledge for good and guide the narrative to a place with the most creative storytelling potential.

Metagaming: how a frustrating problem can be fun

(Image credit: Wizards)

Communication! First, you need to communicate with your GM and players about the limitations currently in place regarding metagaming. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to metagaming, mostly because every table is different. For example, at my table, I let players tell each other how many life points they have (some tables don’t).

Flavor of history. There are some things that don’t come naturally at the start of a campaign, so it’s hard to get a feel for everyone’s characters, but when they’re introduced, consider adding a meta flavor. For example, in my recent playthrough of Call of Cthulhu, I introduced my character as a war veteran who defected and fought against his own people. Naturally, some characters wouldn’t know this, but it gives players an idea of ​​who this character is and what he’s talking about. I didn’t tell them everything, which left them hungry!

Metagaming: how a frustrating problem can be fun

(Image credit: Wizards)

Let’s dwell on the statistics. There are so many things you can do to not metagame. Let your players talk about stats, spells, and item descriptions regarding said stats to strategize around combat scenarios. Of course, the characters don’t know they’re in a game, but the players do, so let’s not roleplay so hard that it’s impossible to play the game. That’s a big concern when you’re buying items, decide who gets advantage on a certain ability check, or help a player on a check, and more. When it comes to game mechanics, metagaming is necessary.

Keep people around more often than not. It’s common to take a player into a private chat or ask other players to leave the table for a while in order to provide someone with private information or details regarding a one-on-one encounter. However, if it’s not essential to the overall narrative, trust that your other players won’t metagame for the worse and let them stick around to enjoy the ride. It’s exciting to see other players facing solo encounters. You can even let the other players help you out by letting them play the bad guys or play some other role in this private encounter.

Metagaming: how a frustrating problem can be fun

(Image credit: Wizards)

Advice for your children. GM, you can give your players fair advice or warnings about certain events for the sake of brevity or clarity. It can save time and lives, and more importantly, your players will appreciate you. For example, if there’s something that’s going to kill one of my players outright, I tell them — ultimately it’s their choice if they want to go all the way, especially if what they’re looking for worth the risk. This happened in one of my previous sessions when a player character died after learning forbidden knowledge, but when revived was able to share that information with the group. Plus, it empowers your players, because instead of being swept up in a foolish death, they have to face the consequences of a conscious choice they made.

Parallels, themes and prefiguration. You can’t predict what’s going to happen in an RPG because it’s all an impulsive decision, but that doesn’t mean we can’t add weight to the story by channeling some meta knowledge. Whether you’re trying to draw an interesting parallel or foreshadow a particular event, by using creative storytelling you can weave the narrative together with your meta-knowledge without breaking the immersion. No, your cleric doesn’t know that some party members are doing shady business that could get them killed. But, despite how the characters feel, players may want the cleric to be there to support them, so it’s a fun and challenging exercise in understanding how the cleric gets to this shady place. Metagaming around a certain point in the story is fun and may be necessary. In the same way that a GM must gather all the players when they have decided to divide the group.

Metagaming: how a frustrating problem can be fun

(Image credit: Wizards)

Hope this helps new players and GMs getting into TTRPGs. If you enjoyed this column and would like to see it continue, you can send me your own questions regarding mechanical, narrative, or social issues in the tabletop gaming space. You can email me at rami.tabari@futurenet.com or find me on Twitter.

About Johanna Gooding

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