ST 272: Metagaming

One of the things that hurts player’s enjoyment of the games they play is metagaming, an accusation called down so often that most people no longer remember what the term means.  From using out of character knowledge in character, to leaving the game (or not showing up) when they know that their character is in another player’s crosshairs, metagaming can ruin a game if left unchecked.

Metagaming, according to dictionary.com “is a broad term usually used to define any strategy, action or method used in a game which transcends a prescribed ruleset, uses external factors to affect the game, or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game.”

Below are some of the ways that Metagaming can occur during playing a game.Since each type can occur in different ways, there are several different methods to trying to solve them. Storytellers should try to keep these in mind while running a session, and ensure that get solved quickly before too much time has passed.

OC/IC knowledge

The problem of OC/IC knowledge occurs when the player fails to separate Out of Character and In Character knowledge.

OC/IC knowledge falls into two categories, the first being what has come to be called ‘White Wolf Lore,’ where the player has and has read so many books on the setting that they know more than their character does.  The second can happen after players have been sitting around talking out of character about IC events in the game and perhaps one player doesn’t realize it Out of Character, or uses that knowledge to have their character ‘figure out’ what is going on.

The first is easily solved by the ST asking the player, ‘How does your character know about XX?’ or ‘When did your character learn that?’  Many times, a player will realize their mistake, apologize and take back their statement.  If not, if the player tells you that the character does know about the subject, ask for the character sheet and check to see if an appropriate lore is on the sheet and if it has an appropriate database approval number.  More problematic is the ‘figuring out’ of closely held information through logic more appropriate to a Voltaire novel than a role playing game.  If the line of reasoning that the player provides does not logically flow from one step to the next, ask the player how they made that leap of logic.

OC/IC friendships/antagonisms

The first part, Out of Character friendships coming In Character, isn’t as bad, but can cause some unusual pairing, and doesn’t really need to be addressed unless it results in the teaching of faction specific secrets, such as blood thaumaturgy, tribe specific rites and the like, or pairings that just shouldn’t happen in canon.

The second part, antagonisms, i.e. I don’t like you, therefore I am gunning for your character, can be a problem, and one that needs to be addressed.  The Storyteller should ask what this new character has done to rouse the player’s character’s ire.

Unfair Escapes

If a player has to leave to pick up a roommate, or go to work, or get some sleep so that they can go to work the next day, this is not metagaming.  Not showing up to game because, real life, is not metagaming.  Not showing up to game because you know that someone who is gunning for your character is going to be there is, leaving early because you know that your character will most likely die in the current combat is metagaming as is leaving the combat right before the antagonists attack to go to the bathroom and coming back right before your turn.

The  easiest solution is on the player side and that is to keep the ST informed.  Let your ST know that you can’t make game because of an outside situation, or that you will have to leave early because of the same.  Also, taking the ST aside and whispering, ‘I just realized, XX is trying to take out my character.’  Most STs will accept OC realizations as IC realizations and allow you to act on them.

For the players who use tactics like opportune breaks to save their characters, the STs need to remember where the character was and what he/she was doing and have the NPCs attack the character when the player comes back, at least if that is what the NPCs would do.

NPC Networking

STs, we are not immune from the problem ourselves.  How often have we had players who complained that they told ONE NPC their flaw/weakness/plan and suddenly every npc in the game knows about it and is telling every other pc in the game about it.  The best way to deal with this particular problem is to keep a notebook of NPCs and what knowledge they have and who their gossip buddies are.

Conclusion

The first step to metagaming is figuring out what is and is not metagaming, being able to work with players to solve the discrepancies. Once that is figured out, being able to deal metagaming becomes much easier. The second step should start with the ST simply asking the player ‘do you realize what you are doing?’  Most of the time, an upfront question when the behavior starts, help set the players on the right track.

If the metagaming starts to become a regular problem with a particular player, then it might be necessary to have an extended open dialog with the player. Open discussion is an excellent tool that can be used to address potential problems before they escalate and spread across the group. Discussion can be face to face, by phone or electronic medium. This allows people to get issues out in the open and makes everyone aware of the potential problems and different perspectives. Please read 156: Recognizing and Correcting Problems for more guidance on the conflict resolution process.

If players work together or develop background information for having out genre items. Also ensure that they properly enter those items into the Approvals database to help a credit their actions.