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Friday, 6 April 2012

Metagaming: A Player's Perspective

Dallas Kasaboski
Originally posted on D4sign, a blog about D&D design, here is my response to metagaming, from a player's perspective. 
This is in response to Dominic Matte's article on Metagaming, or using knowledge of game mechanics to influence character choices. In this article, I will attempt to give some advice and perspective on what a player should consider involving Metagaming.

Whether you're a seasoned veteran or relatively new to D&D, metagaming can be an interesting and challenging issue. You spend a lot of time learning the lay of the land, so to speak, the rules and guidelines of the world in which you are playing, and now you're expected to act as if you didn't know?

Well no, that's not it exactly. There's nothing wrong with learning all of these things. I'm sure your DM will appreciate it and it can really add to the experience. However, as always, you have to make a distinction between you the player and you the character. And you have to realize the difference between winning and having fun.

Maybe you're not really into the role-playing aspect of D&D. It's likely that you're there just to kill things or cast spells and roll dice. I get that, really I do, sometimes a session can feel a little dry if there's no combat or challenge. But, remember, other people are there for the experience. Some people put a lot of effort into their characters, their actions, and the development of the story. Since it's a game played together, everyone has to make compromises in order to make the experience enjoyable for everyone.

So, whether you're a slayer or a role-player, you have to know when and how to dispel certain information. When it comes to understanding your enemy, knowing more about their tactics and vulnerabilities, remember that there are rules for monster knowledge. In order to know that a green dragon probably has resistance to poison, or whatever, you either have to have reason for your character possessing said knowledge or you should really roll well on your monster knowledge skill.

Let's say you are not skilled in any of the required skills for gaining knowledge on the situation, but your experience or obsessive reading allows you to know the monster and its vulnerabilities. The first thing you must remember is that while it's not technically cheating, it comes across that way if you use that knowledge to shut the DM down without any connection to your character. D&D is a role-playing game and thus the actions of your character should have a connection to your character's experience.

The second thing to think about is when it is appropriate to unleash some knowledge. If your characters are doing well, there's no reason to rush things, to shut down the monster and expose the DM's tactics. If you're all about to die because people refuse to stop casting fire at a fire-resistant creature, well, maybe you have to step up.

But how to go about it? Well, obviously, try to make a connection to your character. Use your skills, or if they suck, ask your DM if maybe your backstory allows you to have certain knowledge about the situation. Probably not, but there are other ways to get away with/mitigate the threat of metagaming. First, you could say nothing, and act on your own. As long as it's not obvious what you're doing, it could come across as accidental. There's nothing wrong with using a different power, but you have to try to make sure that your actions don't come across as really odd. Once the other players realize that you are being more effective, they might figure out how to take the monster down. I don't personally endorse this tactic, but it probably works best for the slayer.

A more favourable technique is to make observations based on what is happening. You're fighting that dragon, and a sorcerer's powers are not working. The player rolls high, and still misses. At this point, I usually try to make some kind of innocent comment like, "That fire just bounced off it!" or "Those big guys may look dangerous, but I don't trust that robe-wearing old man in the back."

While seemingly obvious, it's nice to just make a comment like that in the game. It doesn't exactly point out what's going on, the players still have to pay attention, but it does allow you to have a reasonable explanation as to how or why you know certain things. And if the other players are paying attention, they'll catch on without you having to out-and-out explain it to them.

I really enjoy the role-playing experience that D&D provides. I love it so much that when I'm playing, I try to stay in character the entire time. I try to think like my character would, speak as he/she would, and act in a similar manner. There have been times where I realize what we are fighting, due to my casual perusal through the Monster Manual. But, I realize that my librarian-curator character, a cleric who has rarely left the library, probably wouldn't know what's going on. So, sometimes I just dive right in, have my naive character walk right into a trap. If that's what my character would do, that's what I do. If I really don't want to do that, but I think my character would, I make it clear.

"Okay guys, Quinn (my character) doesn't know anything about adventuring, he's new. Now, you notice he's got his face so far into that book he's holding that he isn't watching where he's going. Anybody going to stop Quinn from tripping any possible traps?"

If no one reacts in time, or if the DM deems this a good way to mix things up, boom, Quinn trips the traps. Or, an observant player/character can step in and save the day. Without direct example, it can be difficult to give advice on this matter, but I will make one final point clear:

There is you, the player, and there is you, the character. D&D asks you to play a character, and thus your actions and knowledge only really should come from your character's past or by the roll of a die, if you try to butt in, with your knowledge of game mechanics, well, it makes the experience less fun, not only for us role-players, but for you slayers as well, as it would make the killing of that creature less of an accomplishment.

-A bit round-about, but thanks for reading!

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