24 March 2009

Good metagaming; bad metagaming

In role-playing game circles, metagaming often has a negative connotation. (Wikipedia also has an article on metagaming in role-playing games.)

In general, this is not the case, though. A metagame (“beyond the game”) adds an extra layer—a higher level—that can often (though not always) make the game more interesting. e.g. Trading in Monopoly could be considered a metagame.

I want to ramble about two scenarios today.

Scenario 1: A magic-user is about to drop a fireball on a bunch of enemies. The character doesn’t know that the party thief, who is out-of-sight, will get caught in the blast. The player, however, does know it. The player also knows that there’s a good chance the fireball will kill (or knock out) the thief.

One might argue that the player should have the magic-user choose a different action because: (1) A player shouldn’t knowingly have their character do something that substantially risks the fun of another player. If the thief character were to be killed by the fireball, the thief’s player is going to be out-of-the-game for an indefinite period of time. (2) There are surely other actions the magic-user could take that wouldn’t be out-of-place or out-of-character.

I tend to argue, however, that a large part of the fun of role-playing games for me is having things play out in a “natural” manner. Trying to prevent yourselves from getting caught in a situation like this and suffering the consequences when you do find yourselves in this kind of situation is important

Scenario 2: Black Dougal fails a saving throw versus poison and dies. (This also applies to characters who are otherwise disabled or simply not present at the current scene for some reason.)

What I’ve typically seen in this situation is that Black Dougal’s player is relegated to quietly watching the game since they no longer have a live and present character to speak through.

These days, however, I tend to think that there is no reason that players should not be able to advise other players.

(This post partially inspired by Grimm Studios podcast episode 19.)

4 comments:

Max said...

I tend to think in terms of character knowledge and table knowledge. I do my best to roleplay according to the former: the character's role, personality and in-game knowledge. But I also enjoy putting my head together with other players to plan tactics, solve puzzles and so forth. I don't feel I have to keep strictly in character for the latter.

My 6 Intelligence fighter might not be bright enough to figure some things out, but I think collective player skill is a fair way of simulating the savvy of an adventuring party (Or lack thereof, often enough!).

Don the Bassman said...

For me it has always varied from situtation to situtation. As a DM I have had times where I have let the other players give advice when their characters were not there, and other times I would shush them (of course this doesn't always work with all players), but it was usually for dramatic effect.

As for the fireball example, I've always let people do things that they want to. If the mage is flinging a fireball at a group of enemies and the theif is hidden in with them the question is does the player want to see what happens to the poor theif (mmmm flash fried rogue)? I can see a player wanting to role-play the mage not knowing but an experianced party sould know each others tactics to realize that the theif is going to sneak into the group, that is pretty much up to the group and DM. Of course my big thing for the Meta-gaming aspect is someone looking up stuff about monsters and then telling other party members the weakness's of the monster. That is really the only true problem I have with it. Now let the character roll to see if they can figure something out about the creature or heard anything about it is one thing, but looking it up, that's just not right in my opinion. Of course, I like to change things around a little bit so that even experianced players will get blindsided by new quirks. Like a Troll that is wearing a greater ring of elemental resistance (30pts vs Fire).

For the player who's character was killed I generally don't the player from partaking in conversations or discussions a that are happening out of character, but if the group is interogating someone then the player shouldn't try to interogate, however they could give suggestions to the other party (The voice of Black Dougal echos from beyond the grave "Check his pockets, he has my keys").

Robert Fisher said...

I think the subtext of this post is: (1) That there’s often valid stances on both the good and bad side for any particular scenario. (2) How you answer one scenario may affect how you answer other.

My 6 Intelligence fighter might not be bright enough to figure some things out, but I think collective player skill is a fair way of simulating the savvy of an adventuring party (Or lack thereof, often enough!).

One may notice that I steered completely clear of the “challenge the player/challenge the character” issue. ^_^

“...but it was usually for dramatic effect.

Yes. Not only is there not necessarily a consensus on whether a particular bit of metagaming is good or bad, whether it is good or bad can depend upon the situation.

“...but an experianced party sould know each others tactics to realize that the theif is going to sneak into the group...”

Right. Which is exactly the point. You get in this situation either because you didn’t plan/communicate well or because of unforeseen circumstances. Metagame around that and it devalues planning, communicating, and the fun of unforeseen circumstances.

Of course my big thing for the Meta-gaming aspect is someone looking up stuff about monsters and then telling other party members the weakness's of the monster.

But what about when the player merely knows the information? It’s that old “challenge the player/challenge the character” issue again. When you change things up, is it to simulate that the character shouldn’t have the MM memorized as the player does, or is it to challenge the player directly? (Or both!)

Don the Bassman said...

Actually Changing up the monsters is usually for the fun of it, most of the time.