Don't look at this trap!

I was drawing a map on the table, extemporaneously from a source online. My players had predictably wandered off course. Not having thoroughly prepared, I absentmindedly drew a trap on the map in front of them.

I erased it. One of my players said, "What was that there?"
"A trap."
"Are we supposed to act like we don't know about it?"

Well, the answer to that question is no, and comes along with a story about how meta-gaming is like a tube of material ejected from a bull's ass.

Meta-gaming is dumb

Now, follow me here. Outside of directing a play or fulfilling a sexual fetish, when is it appropriate to tell someone, you've got to do what I want the way I want it because I said?

I don't have time to talk about the boring stuff, like "Metagaming is when players use real-life knowledge about the state of the game to determine their character's actions." The real question is what are you doing in a room?

Are you there to play a game? Hang out with friends? Tell a Story? Generate a mood? It certainly varies. I don't feel like I'm there to tell a story. Doesn't mean I can't see how people are playing the way Matthew Mercer plays are having fun.

But in all those cases, you're talking about a group of competent adults together in a room that like each other. Would you like it if someone told you what to do and how to do it? I know I wouldn't. A decade ago, I might have assumed that no one would. I mean, maybe it's your thing!

Generally though, it's considered a dick move. So I'mma gonna go with that.

The people metagaming are ruining the game!!!!!!11EXCLEMATIONPOINT

Are they though? Are they?

I've never never agreed with the principal that anything in the game takes priority ever over verisimilitude. From experience: Watching a player who made a character sit out of a game for five hours because "this wouldn't be a good time for him to show up yet." I liked that guy. I thought it was shit to make him sit out and he didn't come back. If I were who I am today, I might have had the courage to speak up at the time instead of after.

Now this doesn't mean verisimilitude isn't important, just that it shouldn't ever take precedence over something that is breathing.

What, exactly, are you in this room for?

The most common example, of course, is players knowing the weaknesses of the creatures in the monster manual. There are lots of solutions that avoid the problem ("Create your own special monsters!") but my core stipulation is it's not a problem.

Who cares if they know the monster abilities? Or, to put it more clearly, is the feeling you get when they don't use lightning or slashing weapons on the black ooze worth having other players lose agency? Do you need to make other people feel bad for 'not playing correctly'? How do you even determine what correctly is?

We have a table consensus. It's not a game you play to win. When we are talking about the outcomes, we focus on what seems most reasonable for the shared reality, not what is of most benefit to our characters. This is always a voluntary discussion. To compel someone to act as if they did not know a thing they know seems absurd to me. It's a game. I've played in adventures I know from memory. I'm not going to play stupidly, but I won't lead play.

I'll tell you my six year old does it ("You're playing wrong!"), and I'm going to socialize her out of doing that too. Which is sort of my point. I'm just going to flat out state that placing the freedom of your friends, below your own desire to reduce cognitive dissonance, isn't a mature thing to do. That might be because that's kind of how I view everyone who ever told someone "there character wasn't allowed to do that."

Really, because what this issue raises isn't the problem. When the 'problem' of metagaming comes up, it's always because there's some sort of other disagreement, that is being addressed non-directly by one person trying to dictate the behavior of another. I don't think this is a good idea considering how most people talk about metagaming. It's just a passive-aggressive way to avoid conflict.

Looking at it, and all the classic examples, I can't see in any case about how it's bad.  Metagaming seems fine or stems from another problem. I certainly think this has its roots in narrative control from second edition, and I don't remember anyone who ever played those Dragonlance modules who thought they were good. Not only now in the internet age, but back in the hobby shop two cities over with my dad, talking with the cigar guy behind the steel and glass counter age. Everyone knew they were shit to play back then. I think my dad pitched it to his group as getting to play the heroes from the books, but I'm 100% certain that game died a very quick death.

There isn't any should, because their can't be. Don't think of a white elephant. DAMN IT. Now I want you to have not done that! Complaining about metagaming is crazy, weird, mildly unhealthy expression. Which, you know, if that's the cross you gotta bear, you be you, but damn man. Don't it get heavy?

Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong in the comments. It's a brave new world that looks like the old one, circa 2008.

Hack & Slash 
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9 comments:

  1. Regarding the knowledge of the Monster Manual, most folks know how to kill a vampire. Perhaps we all know wrong information but the Holy Water, cross, stake in the heart are pretty well know. Peasants that live in a world with real monsters, they'd probably hear a thing or two about them. This just provides an opportunity for the GM to change a monster here and there and subvert expectations.

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  2. You're not wrong.

    Also, your Dad played the Dragonlance modules? I feel old.

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  3. Pretty much agree metagaming almost always doesn't actually matter. If they want to throw fire at a troll they can go nuts , I don't need them to arbitrarily roll knowledge. If anything familiar elements help them make sense of the world and are a really useful short hand since players know so little about the gameworld in a GMs mind.

    I did once have a player when I threw a bunch of zombies with some special abilities angrily point to the monster manual and say I couldn't do that because they didnt have that ability in the book.

    Ironically I was running a module the players had asked me to run and was running the special zombies RAW from the module rather than the MM.

    I'd say that was an example of legitimately bad metagaming. But that's incredibly rare I think.

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    Replies
    1. That player is meta-gaming to be passive aggressive and push their desire to control the game and keep it where they can be excellent at it. They would have to either develop some maturity or stick to board games.

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    2. I have two players like that. They are twins with Aspergers. For them it is hard to control, or though sometimes they are just being dicks. I've learned to have a signal language with them to let them know when they are over stepping boundaries and they pull back. If we need to we talk about it after the game, but that is getting rare now. It works, in a slightly uncomfortable way, but it works.

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  5. Metagaming is basically "topping from the bottom"...or like a really bad back seat driver. When I read about it, I know it's a smokescreen that is hiding something else. So I won't tell you that you are wrong. Regarding the abomination that is Dragonlance (do not make me sing the song in the first module), this was the thing that smacked in the last nail that drove me from D&D. Dragonlance illustrated that all TSR wanted was my $ at any cost. Idiots.

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  6. I devoured Dragonlance as it was being published.

    We tried playing adventure 1 and it was a deep failure, so I took it appart and turned it into Dragonlance: The Sandbox. That worked as a campaign for a couple of years.

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  7. Our table has a split on meta-gaming; not if it is good or bad, but what KIND meta-game of knowledge is ok. Basically, any meta-game knowledge about in-game stuff, like monsters and their abilities, is fine. Characters hear rumors and stories and know about the world at large. Out-of-game knowledge, like how engines or chemistry works, is frowned upon because the characters would never know about those sorts of things. In the end, players are playing the game so it doesn't matter much and almost never comes up.

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