Thursday, March 10, 2011

Good Metagaming

This is an interesting topic that I don't talk about much, especially since I am more partial to numbers and rules than roleplay. We always talk about the evils of metagaming, but we never hear about how much it can enhance roleplay.


Anyways, think of Metagaming as if you were a person reading a book, but also playing the character in the book. Literature is often filled with dramatic irony, which means that the reader knows more than the character, particularly regarding what's to come.

Now, as players we can react to metagame information in one of two ways - Good and Bad.

The more common, cheating kind of metagaming would use this information to get the character out of a jam. Information is exchanged between the player and the character, irony is eliminated and we're all cheated out of a story.

However, the good kind of metagaming would allow the player to shape his responses based on how his character would react, but ignore the information until the dramatic/tragic event has happened.

Usually when we're confronted with events and have to act quickly, we let the player take control, and if you are very different than your character, this can hinder the rich roleplaying experience. However, if you can form your character's response beforehand, then it's much easier to play as your character in situations like this.

Here's an example of good metagaming improving my experience at Exiles:

One of the guys was playing a skeleton, but was successfully able to hide it for a long time (long story). I knew OOG that he was a skeleton, which let determine how I was going to react when the truth came out well before it happened.

The best part about that is that the skeleton character had saved me from imminent death a number of times, but I already had my plan for when the truth came out. So we had some what of a showdown (where he annihilated us, as Skeletons are combat monsters) while basically everyone looked on.

Now, if I were confronted with that situation without knowing, I personally probably would have chosen a less PvP intensive path, just to prevent it from not being fun for that player to be outcast. As it turns out, we both really enjoyed the experience despite negative relationship between our characters.

So next time you find something out that you shouldn't know, take some time to ask yourself how your character would react to something like that, but continue playing ignorant until it comes up. It can really improve the experience.


  1. I think you've got some good points here Bill! I recently played a character that had a certain knowledge skill. Since I have an intensive knowledge of the game world, one that most players wouldn't have, I was worried that this might make me metagame too much. But actually I was able to do just what you said - prepare better responses to situations I came up against. I could research ahead of time what to do and say, and I could easily see how this might actually lead to a better game experience for everyone. I can roleplay more with other players, and provide useful information, as well as having fun by knowing stuff :) While this is hard for plot or story points, I think that for knowledges about the game world and other characters it can actually help you roleplay better!

  2. "Would have chosen a less PvP intensive path, just to prevent it from not being fun for that player to be outcast."

    Forget the specific context of the event you were at and looking at it more broadly, this is actually an example of good metagaming on its own: when you alter an IG response to make for a more fun experience for others. To put it another way, the plaintive call of the asshole gamer is "but that's how my character would act!" when they do something obnoxious. However, the reality is that any given person might react in any number of different ways to the same set of circumstances without, in anyway, acting "out of character." When you choose a particular reaction that enhances, or does not detract, from the fun of others you are engaged in a form of good metagaming.

    Now, this does not mean all player conflict is bad or that all reactions must be nice, after a certain point you just become a doormat and other people are not having the natural consequences of their actions, but an awareness of this sort of consideration is a good thing.

  3. When I engage in PVP it is always with players that I know will be cool with it. This is a form of meta gaming but in truth, I have no desire to deal with the whiners. That being said I hate random player ganking, I am cool with intrigue driven PVP.

  4. One of the ways I blatantly metagame at Exiles is with new players. This last event I lent out my cool saber to people I knew were new players with low learning to make it more fun for them. I tried to let the new doctors do more patching up if it wasn't a dire situation and when I knocked out the guy that I thought IG was a NPC bandit and quickly found out was really a PC new player (Opps!) I kinda poked around till someone IG could get me that info (and made sure he wasn't dying) so he could get back to the game and have some fun (I also gave him IG money because I felt really bad.) All technically metagaming but I feel like it was for a good purpose and for making the game more fun.

  5. Very interesting post! I'm reminded of a particular personality you sometimes see at tabletop games-- the kind of guy that tries to trigger as many traps and bungle as many situations as possible. It's sacrificing survivability for the meta-game goal of having fun at a table.

  6. Good point, Dan. When we look at classic storytelling, the best stories are the ones full of heroes trying to overcome strife, tragedy, and difficulty - not heroes avoiding it all together.

    I just consider setting your character up for failure to be setting up your character for a chance at greatness.