DM question: how much do you incorporate PC backgrounds into the campaign?

Legatus_Legionis

< BLAH HA Ha ha >
I have a background generator I use when a player creates a new PC.

I have had PC's interact with family/siblings.

If their family was killed, etc. I can use that as a plot point later, and introduce the NPC that had either killed or ordered it.

As the PC grows in fame and fortune, it can effect their social status.

They can be awarded titles, and lands, and coat-of-arms.

A PC's reputation can effect their interaction with NPCs later.

So yes, a PC's background can and does effect my game.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
But otherwise yes, this is one instance where I don't hesitate to step in and smack things down. Ditto with players making suggestions for what other players' PCs should do when the suggesting player has no PC in the neighbourhood and thus no way of knowing the situation; this is something I've had to get rather nasty about in days of old.
Why would you want to get “nasty” with a friend over OOC conversation in a game?
 
When people step outside the boundaries of the table conventions for personal gain (even if they didn't mean to) you need to step on it. It's not about friends, it's about nipping that shizz in the bud before it gets out of hand. The table conventions are sacred and the game (any TTRPG) doesn't work without them.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
There's a pretty big difference between "I'm bringing personal issues into the game" metagaming and "I'm prioritizing moving the plot over character immersion" metagaming. The first is bad, and the second is good.
I agree there's a difference between these but I disagree when you say one type is good.

If the plot comes to a standstill for a session because players spend that session in in-character conversation or discussion about something in the game-world (in the game I play in, these days the topic would probably be the place and uses of Necromancers and undead) then so what?
 
The so what is entirely about table enjoyment. If your players are having fun then fine, very cool. If it's one drama queen leading the charge then less so.
 

Tallifer

Adventurer
There's a pretty big difference between "I'm bringing personal issues into the game" metagaming and "I'm prioritizing moving the plot over character immersion" metagaming. The first is bad, and the second is good.
Indeed. It irritates me when a player keeps pretending not to know something because another player did explicitly parrot a word-for-word repetition of the information which was already shared openly at the table. It drives me up the wall when a player will insist on acting in the most foolish way possible because "no one told me" even when the dungeon master says "yes, X told Y all about it when he got back... do you still want to do that?"
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The point of an RPG is to engage with the world as our character does, as though it was a real place, and not just a story. That's the unique thing, which distinguishes an RPG from any other type of game.
I largely agree with this.

Meta-gaming is bad because it means you aren't doing that anymore. You aren't engaging in the world as your character would, if they were a real person, living in a real world. Once you start operating on story logic, then all you're left with is a story. It no long reflects that unique thing, which is only possible in an RPG.
But I don't as largely agree with this, because it's quite possible - very possible - to operate on story logic and still be fully in-character.

It simply means the character has connected the dots and figured out what's going on*, and is acting on that basis. Not always that hard to do provided that a) the character is halfway intelligent and b) the DM provides enough in-fiction clues (or "dots") to allow a pattern to emerge that the character can work out and then follow.

* - or thinks it has; only time will tell if it's right or not. :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
You are practicing full immersion roleplaying, which is a type of roleplaying. Most other players practice other types of roleplaying.
Now here I'll ask: how many have even tried full-immersion RP?

For me, full-immersion is kind of like a holy grail - it's out there somewhere, and now and then I almost see it in the distance, but I've yet to be able to achieve it other than for a few fleeting moments at a time now and then.

That said, I've never really done any LARP, where from what I gather full immersion is somewhat easier.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I hope that any well-adjusted adult here, which may already be asking too much from people, could recognize here that the problem is not metagaming, but personal issues between Bob and the Speaker. Bob and the Speaker should handle this between themselves like adults. But in no way is the actual problem here metagaming. It's the personal lives of the players. So we should probably stop pretending like metagaming is the disease rather than a mere symptom. IME, metagaming is almost always the symptom of an underlying problem at the table rather than the actual problem itself.
Yes, and when you can't cure the root problem all you're left with is to suppress the symptoms as best you can.

It's not my place to sort out any out-of-game problems between Bob and the Speaker. If they're both friends of mine outside the game, I could try; but even then in the end it's their headache to deal with as they see fit.

It is, however, my place to sort out what happens at the table I'm running; which means whatever's going on between them out-of-game is, as far as I can manage it, not going to be allowed to influence what happens in the fiction of my game.
 
Metagaming happens when you play games. It can't be avoided, only minimized and controlled to affect the table as little of possible. Unless someone wants to claim we aren't playing a game, which is whole other thing.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
But even then.....isn't it that I'm actually establishing that there's something not quite certain about my character's devotion to life?

I don't mind when the players or GM says "Wow, really? That seems unlike your cleric"; we can discuss it and maybe I'd even revise my choice. But ultimately, I'm the one that decides.

I'm surprised to hear you advocating for this.
I'm all for player agency over their character, provided such agency is exercised in good faith. Bringing out-of-game issues into the game isn't good faith any more.

But like I said.....the approach of letting them metagame actually "aligns with reality" better since it allows for all conceivable options. Where as the decision to restrict the character's actions is the one being made by outside of game factors.

Do you see what I mean here?
Uh...no, I don't, really.

If your character and Bill's character have gone ahead to scout with no means of communicating back to my character and Mary's character, then ideally Mary and I as players should have absolutely no knowledge of what's become of you until and unless you return or find some way of communicating with us. The only things we should know are a) how long you've been gone (vs. how long you expected you'd be gone) and b) whether there's been any sign of trouble we'd be able to notice e.g. a distant scream or the lights and-or sounds of unexpected spells going off.

Because if we-as-players do have knowledge that, say, you got captured and Bill's PC got killed then no matter how hard Mary and I try to deny or avoid it, that knowledge is inevitably going to seep into our thought processes as we determine what our PCs do next: how long we wait, whether we come looking for you or give you up as a lost cause, and so on.

Mine and Mary's actions should be restricted by the knowledge our PCs have, which ideally is the same as our knowledge as players so that we don't have to self-restrict.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Why would you want to get “nasty” with a friend over OOC conversation in a game?
Because what they're doing is spoiling the play of others.

I'm not talking about OOC conversation as in "Did you see the Canucks game last night?"; that's bad enough but I'm used to it, and I'll usually just tell them to pipe down so I can hear those who are still playing the game.

I'm talking about where we're both players in a game, your character is off on a solo scouting mission where my PC has no idea what you're doing, yet every time you've a decision to make I'm butting in and suggesting (or worse, outright telling you) what to do and in so doing interrupting both your immersion and your thought process.

'Cause if I'm the DM and a player does this, yeah, things can get nasty in a hurry. I've seen it far too often and for far too long and my tolerance long since wore out.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The so what is entirely about table enjoyment. If your players are having fun then fine, very cool. If it's one drama queen leading the charge then less so.
Guess it's a good thing then that most of us are, if not drama queens, at least somewhere in the ranks of drama nobility. :)
 

Sadras

Hero
I'm not talking about OOC conversation as in "Did you see the Canucks game last night?"; that's bad enough but I'm used to it, and I'll usually just tell them to pipe down so I can hear those who are still playing the game.
Hilarious :)

I'm talking about where we're both players in a game, your character is off on a solo scouting mission where my PC has no idea what you're doing, yet every time you've a decision to make I'm butting in and suggesting (or worse, outright telling you) what to do and in so doing interrupting both your immersion and your thought process.
Just a quick comment on this.
I have been a little more lenient on this of late but more so IF the PC who is supposed to be deciding has a high INT or WIS, depending on the situation. One way to cater for the high character ability scores but average RL scores of the players is to allow for more ideas to come through i.e. allowing the other players to voice suggestions.

It's a good thing my players don't read Enworld. :p
 

Aldarc

Hero
Yes, and when you can't cure the root problem all you're left with is to suppress the symptoms as best you can.
Before claiming that metagaming is the problem, how about starting with a more basic rule for the table: Don't use this game as a battleground to be jack-donkeys to each other?

It's not my place to sort out any out-of-game problems between Bob and the Speaker. If they're both friends of mine outside the game, I could try; but even then in the end it's their headache to deal with as they see fit.

It is, however, my place to sort out what happens at the table I'm running; which means whatever's going on between them out-of-game is, as far as I can manage it, not going to be allowed to influence what happens in the fiction of my game.
You don't have to try. Just tell them that they can't play until they sort it out themselves. They can take it outside but they can't bring it in here. But ruling that this is a "metagaming problem" is absolutely ridiculous. It completely misses the forests for the trees. It completely pretends that the people aren't the problem and that they aren't people. It comes across as a self-centered approach that only views the personal problems between the two individuals in terms of how it inconveniences the "fiction" of your game. I don't think that's the appropriate approach for the situation. If you can explain to me how this is actually more of a metagaming problem and not an interpersonal conflict between the two players then I'm all ears. But right now your example seems incredibly ill-picked. You are welcome to replace it with something that maybe would have served your purposes for this reply better, because metagaming is not the problem here.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
"Metagaming," as generally defined as using out of PC knowledge to direct PC actions (scare quotes because this is a specific definition inside the broader actual definition of metagaming), really can only exist in a situation that has a fixed fictional framing where parts of that framing are meant to be hidden from the players and discovered in play. The focus on the players here rather than the PCs is important, here. The reason for this is because if the players actually do not know these facts, then they cannot engage in "metagaming" because their reference frame is the same as their PCs. The issue occurs when the hidden structure breaks down and you have players than know the supposed hidden facts but these facts haven't been revealed to the PCs in the fiction, yet. Every argument I've seen on this relies on this set of hidden facts. The canonical example is the troll vs new players and then the troll vs experienced players. Against new players, the player knowledge aligns with the supposed PC knowledge in that neither have information on trolls, so the encounter is difficult and challenging. Against experienced players, the troll is trivialize if they use their knowledge to attack the troll's weaknesses, but this raises complaints of metagaming because it's not established that their PCs know this. Much argument has ensued.

So, "metagaming" exists when the player/PC hidden fact knowledge diverges, for any reason. Here's the controversial statement: this is mostly going to be the GM's fault, except in cases of outright cheating where a player has knowledge but conceals it from the other players for personal gain. So, outside of bad faith play (lying by omission), "metagaming" is usually a GM caused issue. It's caused by the GM establishing a fact pattern that is known by the players but expected to be not known by the PCs. You don't have to do this. You could, with a bit of effort, establish fact patterns that are unknown to both players and PCs or, alternatively, you can establish fact patterns that aren't dependent on player's knowing them. To turn back to the troll, you could reskin the troll or change it's abilities to be a surprise to both players and PCs as an example of the first, or you could just not expect the troll to be a serious single challenge to experienced players and establish that PCs do know about trolls in the latter. If you're canny, you can do the last by putting the troll in a place where fire is dangerous or difficult to use, such as a explosive gas filled chamber or underwater. This establishes a fact pattern where the players knowing about trolls is irrelevant to the anticipated challenge of the situation.

And, if you really want to drive this home, play a game where metagaming cannot exist because there's not a hidden established fact pattern. PbtA games are good for this, in that the only established fact pattern that matters is the one established in play. It's hard to metagame if there are no hidden facts for which the player/PC diverge in knowledge.

This leaves the split party table talk example. This is a situation where the divergence in knowledge is created at the table, in play. Here's a place where you can get out of your own way pretty easily. The example is given where two PCs have moved ahead and are captured/killed outside of the rest of the party's knowledge. The "metagaming" occurs if the rest of the players act on this as if they know what happened. What's the actual issue, here, though? Is it that the party will mount an operation with foreknowledge of the foe and thus trivialize the encounter? This is the same as above -- change something and it's not an actual problem. The monsters know about the party as much as the party knows about the monsters, so, while their prepping, the monster fast reaction force descends on them before their ready. Or they move, or they leave a trap. There are hordes (heh) of ways to frustrate this kind of play by just not rigidly sticking to your fiction. I get the desire to have a fixed fictional world the players engage fairly, but it's impossible to do so in the given situation because the knowledge divergence has occurred, so you can either demand that players act against their play goals and risk PCs in ways they don't want to or you can change with the situation a bit. It doesn't have to be much. You can also arrange to have the PCs find out what happened in myriad ways. This kind of problem occurs because GMs have decided to codify into fixed forms areas that the game has left open and have painted themselves into corners. The game rules do not define an exact reality, they provide a general outcome and leave open large areas for interpretation and improv.

Metagaming is caused by an insistence on a fixed, immutable fact pattern that is intended to be hidden from the PCs but is not hidden from the players. You can correct for this by changing the fixed and immutable part, the hidden from PCs part, or the not hidden from players part. Or you can complain that people tend to actually act on what they know instead of pretending otherwise and be upset when it happens at your table because you've set up the conditions for it -- and blame the players for it. I don't let my players metagame, not because I insist that they ignore things they know, but because I, as GM, don't set up the conditions for it to exist. If I do, I blame myself, not the players.
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
I agree there's a difference between these but I disagree when you say one type is good.

If the plot comes to a standstill for a session because players spend that session in in-character conversation or discussion about something in the game-world (in the game I play in, these days the topic would probably be the place and uses of Necromancers and undead) then so what?
Because making stuff happen is FUN. Talking is fun, getting into fights is fun, exploring new places is fun. If "being my character" gets in the way of that, then it takes a back seat to "push to make something fun happen", and simply justify it with something in character.

My character is simply a tool to drive events into motion. I certainly try to push events into motion that are in alignment with my character's goals and drives, but the most important thing, for me, is to choose action over stasis.

For my playing style, the reason to play a paladin is to have him fall. If you finish playing a character and his alignment hasn't changed, you probably haven't pushed him hard enough.
 

pemerton

Legend
You are practicing full immersion roleplaying, which is a type of roleplaying. Most other players practice other types of roleplaying.
I don't thikn it's "ful immersion" at all. Look at this:

Bayesian probability analysis. Estimate the likelihood that someone would have made a given decision on the basis of honest character interpretation, compared to the likelihood that they would make that decision on the basis of some other motive. If an observation is too improbable, then we can feel a degree of confidence in how it came about.

The likelihood of an adventurer walking into a dungeon and immediately proceeding to the treasure, without hesitation and without triggering any of the traps along the way, is too small to really consider. Call it one-in-a-thousand, if we're being generous.

The likelihood of a player having their character act in such a manner, if they've read the source material, is much greater. Call it one-in-ten.

Given the relative likelihood of the observed outcome, given those possible motivations, we should believe that it's one hundred times more likely that the player is cheating than that they are not.

And likewise, with a DM manipulating the background to contrive drama for the players. If there are a dozen evil cultists, then there would be a one-in-twelve chance that the character's brother is the one sent on the mission to where the PCs happen to show up, if the DM was acting impartially. If the DM was acting on a bias to create drama, then the likelihood of that outcome is much closer to eleven-in-twelve. Thus, given the observation that the brother does show up, we should believe that it's eleven times more likely that the DM is acting with bias than that they are not.
I can't see anything remotely immersive about responding to your brother turns up in cultist robes not by worrying (in character) about how and why one's brother joined the cult, but rather (as a participant in a game) calculating the odds that the GM made a framing decision one way rather than another.

Meta-gaming is bad because it means you aren't doing that anymore. You aren't engaging in the world as your character would, if they were a real person, living in a real world. Once you start operating on story logic, then all you're left with is a story. It no long reflects that unique thing, which is only possible in an RPG.
A player can engage the in-fiction situation as his/her character would regardless of how the earlier decision was made that the PC has a brother, or that the brother is a member of a cult.
 

FrozenNorth

Explorer
"Metagaming," as generally defined as using out of PC knowledge to direct PC actions (scare quotes because this is a specific definition inside the broader actual definition of metagaming), really can only exist in a situation that has a fixed fictional framing where parts of that framing are meant to be hidden from the players and discovered in play. The focus on the players here rather than the PCs is important, here. The reason for this is because if the players actually do not know these facts, then they cannot engage in "metagaming" because their reference frame is the same as their PCs. The issue occurs when the hidden structure breaks down and you have players than know the supposed hidden facts but these facts haven't been revealed to the PCs in the fiction, yet. Every argument I've seen on this relies on this set of hidden facts. The canonical example is the troll vs new players and then the troll vs experienced players. Against new players, the player knowledge aligns with the supposed PC knowledge in that neither have information on trolls, so the encounter is difficult and challenging. Against experienced players, the troll is trivialize if they use their knowledge to attack the troll's weaknesses, but this raises complaints of metagaming because it's not established that their PCs know this. Much argument has ensued.
Very good post and your definition of metagaming is similar to the one I use.

I would add an additional point: because adventures take place in a constructed world metagaming is necessary to play the game.

Specifically, there are innummerable, anodine elements in a game that to interact with we need to extrapolate from the real world and to “fill out” details of the constructed world. (This is at least somewhat system-specific). What happens when my character grabs a handful of dirt and throw it in an enemy’s eyes? Can My character use a pail of water to extinguish a fire? Does my character have a reasonable chance of successfully climbing that tree?
 

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