Why I Encourage Metagaming

October 15, 2019

Hey Reader!

 

Welcome back to the Zurn blog! Every online channel has talked about metagaming, and for every online article or YouTube video you read there are dozens of other people talking about why metgaming is good, bad, or ugly (i.e., it's acceptable to the GM, but you're a jerk if you do). This post is a bit different: I have discovered over the years that I not only don't mind metagaming, I actually encourage it (and have started in recent past to do so actively). And I wanted to write a quick post on why.

 

Ultimately it comes down to three things: speed, scarcity, and story.

 

I.  Metagaming Speeds Up Drudgery

 

Quick: what was the worst puzzle or trap you ever faced? I'm going to float a guess (from being both a player working with traps/puzzles and a GM who has run traps/puzzles): it's the one where "your characters wouldn't know this," and "using out-of-game knowledge is metagaming." And so the party trudges on, trying to find in-character ways to learn things through trial and error (which is usually damage suffered and "learning from it").

 

I get why metagaming can be considered "cheating" or "unfair" by a number of GMs: they don't want you to snipe the (fill in the blank NPC, typically the dungeon boss) with the "silver bullet" before it displays its cool abilities, and that makes sense to me. But allowing metagaming, in my experience, speeds up what could be drudgery, increasing the enjoyment that your players have for the session.

 

This has more applications to combat. What's wrong with the players knowing the stats of an NPC? Or even seeing what you roll or modifiers to your rolls? It speeds up the game, as they know more quickly whether they hit or miss the target. So if a person has read up on some of the NPCs you use, don't worry about it - it makes the game faster in an area where speed is helpful.

 

II.  Metagaming Encourages Scarcity

 

I'm going to guess that, upon first reading this, you didn't know what I'd mention here. And truthfully this is the most recent revelation I've had about metagaming. But what metagaming does is it incentivizes scarcity of hints from the GM. If someone starts metagaming - describing things they know, and how it works, and what the best ways are to take advantage of this ability - I stop talking. And I start smiling instead.

 

And the nature of the smile will change. Sometimes it's that I'm just super happy that one of my players knows how to calculate latitude and longitude with a stick, a stone, and a string (don't you just love the amounts of "S" alliteration in this blog post? I do. Anyways). Sometimes it's a cunning smile as the players remind me of an ability that a creature has that I had forgotten about. And sometimes it's an honest laugh of hilarity as the party starts to realize that there's an absolutely bizarre way to deal with a threat.

 

I stop talking - I let them metagame. And if their general knowledge of trolls from other games is different from the lore of trolls in my game, then let them metagame, and when they try to use fire and it is not as effective against the water troll, let them all freak out saying, "But TROLLS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE WEAK AGAINST FIRE!?!?!?" And then say in a low tone, "You think you know everything about trolls?" And then laugh in a low voice. Gets the jitters running every time.

 

And suddenly the party begins to scramble. They learn their lesson: metagaming is fine when it helps the story along and helps the action along, but shouldn't be used to munchkin your way through problems. The humility and the smarts suddenly get whipped out to solve what the metagaming was designed to fix, which builds the creativity and teamwork of the party. All because why? We allowed them to metagame.

 

So let metagaming create scarcity in your hints and tips. Let them work on their own if they wish, conjuring their cheap tricks or finding ways to efficiently use their skills. And once they have their plan, see how it goes. And who knows: they might grow and learn from the experience.

 

III.  Metagaming Encourages Storytelling (When Done Correctly)

 

Do you know what sucks as a player character? When you have invested time and energy into reading myths and legends growing up, you learn a lot about a creature, you see that creature slaughtering your friends, you have the solution, but the GM says, "you haven't seen this creature before and you're from a small village that didn't have books - you can't use that solution because that would be metagaming." Why is this the worst?

 

Because it takes the fun out of the game.

 

Part of why we roleplay is to tell a story. And anyone of you who followed the D&D Revamp series we did shows that we care about realism in our storytelling. But an even bigger reason that we roleplay is because we want to fellowship with friends - if we didn't care about that, we'd play Star Wars: The Old RepublicThe Witcher series, and other similar games. We play to be with people, and that means that if there is a way for me to feed both their enjoyment and realism by interpreting things a certain way, I'll do that.

 

So for example, if a player knows the sound/abilities of a (fill in the blank animal), let their character recognize it - maybe they heard a story when they were little and it's been hounding their dreams since they were four. We reward the player for knowing something, we allow them to share their knowledge with the group, and then we raise the stakes: you not only know about this creature, you know this creature. Now conquer it with what you know. Suddenly metagaming is both a boon to the party and a quasi-penalty to the metagamer, impacting the story because someone knew something.

 

Conclusion

 

We want to be the hero of the story every now and then. And the beauty of the party is that we all get to take turns depending on what the problem is. And metagaming allows the player to feel like they are the hero in that encounter, not because they rolled well (they may or may not), but because they had the solution. And the power that this has over the human soul cannot be overstated. I love making my players feel like they are the best people on the planet, and one of the ways I do that is through encouraging metagaming.

 

Until next time,

 

Aaron

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