Metagaming: Trials and Tribulations

As a new player to tabletop roleplaying games, it wasn’t long before I became acquainted with the taboo that is metagaming and its ever-present shushing from players and Game Masters alike. To metagame is to use knowledge or information in-game that is gained out of character, and in a RPG, frankly, what’s the point? You’re there to roleplay. The issue was that I was new, I didn’t know half of what my spells and feats could do, let alone all the possibilities open to me, but my character would; needless to say you wouldn’t find a Dragonborn Paladin facing down a horde of the undead screaming at his/ her companions, “What do I do?!” It takes time and practice to get to know your powers as a player and how to utilise them effectively in the heat of battle, and until then it will come from the patience and advice of other players and your GM to get you through the early days.

Roll dem bones.

However, breaking the habit is easier said than done but you will notice a large change in gameplay almost instantly. Without metagaming, you will be free to think strategically about how you can benefit the game. Without metagaming, you won’t have another player offering suggestions on what your character “should” do to help them, you get to play the game how you want to play it. Metagaming, honestly, is just bad gamesmanship. Why set up rules, create a world, adventure, characters, scenarios for you or someone else just to flush it down the proverbial toilet and ruin the essence of roleplaying? So after months of memorising and learning as much as possible, metagaming was still an issue and sometimes, just unavoidable. Take the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons for example. With a single glance at the piles of rules and handbooks, even the most experienced players would agree that there is too much information to cram into the brain for a four hour session once a week. So surely there is no harm in discussing some aspects during a game? Well, yes and no.

For players it can ruin the immersion (and let’s face it, we’re all there for that escapism we do so crave) and for the GM, an entire week’s planning can be ruined with a quick tactical conversation amongst the group. But with the 4th edition combat can become tedious and slow, especially with the D20 system; for example, give yourself a group of 6 players and a GM, with 10 enemies on the table, they all have to get a turn and that means multiple die rolls and checks. You can find yourself waiting up to ten minutes or more between your turns and that’s not including with the possibility of other players metagaming. Ten minutes doesn’t seem like a lot of time but your move will be over in less than two minutes, just for you to wait again: you’ll become a master thumb-twiddler in no time. Combat seems to take precedence over the roleplaying within the campaigns and with the intense, almost continuous number-crunching you begin to see why. The 4th edition is too technical and for the roleplayers, they are unable to dip their toes in the pool of immersion let along dive straight on in there. It becomes difficult to not metagame when there isn’t very much going on.

The Nerd Bible

Not that there’s anything wrong with smashing the heads in of Kobolds or setting Bugbears aflame but even the fighter, ranger or mage in you will become tired of having only corpses for conversation. It’s easy to lose interest in the combat but that itself ruins the immersion, leaving us with a lose-lose situation. The difficulty can be that players will only take as much roleplaying to the table as they want to and the GM might be lacking the creative flare to immerse the group 100%. The group itself might have a more casual approach and might not find a restriction on metagaming necessary; I mean it is only a game, right? But as a new player tentatively trying to get her foot in the door as a GM, I discovered that encouraging the players to write background stories for their characters and to agree on working relationships within the group, helped limit the amount of metagaming when it came to roleplaying. It helps to get the players to try and write down what’s happening to their characters during an adventure and what they think when the see the empty room. What do they feel when a character makes a stupid decision jeopardising everyone? Do they have an inner monologue or thought process?

Not only is this a pretty awesome way to make players develop their characters but it distracts players from each other, limiting the opportunities for metagaming. That, and it provides several points of view for recapping the next week. Another handy trick, is if in doubt, play ignorant. It can be easier to explain how your character forgot about something as opposed to why he/she would know something they shouldn’t. Asking questions about other characters or the encounter out of character, should be completely restricted, because that can easily be metagamed and I hope you’d have a more subtle approach than that. I take the extra time to learn my NPC’s tactics and the entire adventure or encounter to heart, eliminating metagaming on my part and restricting it from players during combat. However, as long as we continue to cast the die and make our checks, roleplaying and metagaming will always have that love-hate relationship we can’t seem to get enough of.

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