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

FrozenNorth

Explorer
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.
Besides, Bayes likely doesn’t exist in the game world (unless you are playing urban fantasy) and in a high fantasy setting, his theorem hasn’t been discovered.
 

pemerton

Legend
Story logic is the form of meta-gaming that's relevant to this thread. If the DM makes things happen in order to facilitate a story, then that's a form of not-acting-purely-on-internal-causality (aka meta-gaming). It's the same category of behavior as other forms of meta-gaming, such as dungeon speed-running. If you're in the game because you want to pretend to be a real person in a believable world, then those things are both bad for the exact same reason.
I have bolded the false statement in this post. In my view, based on my experience, it is obviously false.

When I play (which is much less often than when I GM, but it does happen from time to time) I play my character as a real person in a believable world. As one component of that, I engage the fictional world on its own terms, as it is narrated to me by the GM. I don't worry about the real world issue of how the GM decided to narrate A rather than B.

I've also underlined a clause in the post. That clause is incoherent. A person in the real world (eg me the player) cannot act purely on something that is purely imaginary, ie "internal causality". I act for reasons that exist in the real world, such as (to quote) pretending to be a real person in a believable world. That act of pretence is largely independent of how other participants make their decisions. Of course if other participants take decisions that puncture the believability of the world, that might be an issue. But it's not remotely unbelievable - though of course it might be incredibly shocking - that my brother has joined the cult, or that Darth Vader is my father.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Anyone here seen the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, Last Action Hero?

The Hero and Villain of that film operate on different logic than you or I do (or would, in their general situation), because they come from a world where the rules are different. Events unfold differently. It is in character for a person to act in accordance of the rules of their world... but for RPG characters, that world is different from ours. Theirs is the game world.

So, the player has to emulate someone with a different experience from their own. To do that, they do have to have the rules of the fictional world in mind, and abide by them.
 
Last edited:

pemerton

Legend
Now here I'll ask: how many have even tried full-immersion RP?

For me, full-immersion is kind of like a holy grail
Full Immersion is a myth, there's no such thing. There are certainly levels of immersion, some of them quite deep, but we never get to escape the fact that the character is an avatar of the player.
If full immersion means not knowing who one really is, or actually believing that one is the PC, then it seems like it may not be compatible with lucid sanity.

If full immersion means experiencing the ingame situation as, or from the perspective of, the PC, then I have done that. Mostly playing CoC, with GMs who are very skillful at evoking the situation in not only "objective" terms but in emotional terms also.

Because what they're doing is spoiling the play of others.

<snip>

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.
This assume a very particular approach to the RPGing experience. It seems at least related to @Saelorn's example, upthread, of cheating in the play of a module by reading it in advance.

As soon as we change some of the parameters of what play is for, and about, and how it's to be done, then all these other things change too. Eg for the full immersion experience I described above it's absolutely crucial that players, and even moreso the GM, engage with you by commenting on your choice, helping you see the full emotional significance of the situation and your response to it, etc.
 

Aldarc

Hero
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.
I know that I have posted it before, but Angry GM comes to a similar conclusion about metagaming: "Dear GMs: Metagaming is YOUR Fault." Of course, it's something that most GMs don't won't to hear. Or in the words of the Angry GM:
In the end, as a GM, if you start losing your s$&% about metagaming, you need to adjust your attitude. Most metagaming isn’t problematic. It’s only problematic because you have some f$&%ed up idea about how the game is supposed to work. And the problematic metagaming, the metagaming that really DOES somehow break something is a sign of another problem. And you need to fix THAT problem. And THAT problem is usually you.
The more I have discussed metagaming, the less that I have actually seen it as a problem that actually exists. Most players are there to have fun, so that's what I try to focus on as a GM or player rather than a fake metagame boogeyman.

We need to have a fantasy draft for our drama titles. Could be awesome. I'd like to be a Viscount, or perhaps a Marquis.
I hereby inform you of my election to the position of "Drama Doge."
 

pemerton

Legend
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.
A tangential remark:

What you descibe here is an important aspect of (well-designed) 4e D&D combat encounters. That is, it should be both interesting to discover what a NPC/creature can do in combat, and if the players learn this other than the hard way (typically by way of a monster knowledge check) it should still be interesting to work out how you're going to handle it given the constraints (of resources, terrain, other elements of the situation) that you have to act under.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I know that I have posted it before, but Angry GM comes to a similar conclusion about metagaming: "Dear GMs: Metagaming is YOUR Fault." Of course, it's something that most GMs don't won't to hear. Or in the words of the Angry GM:


I hereby inform you of my election to the position of "Drama Doge."
Heh. I don't read Angry, but I might should, given how often I'm told Angry has said something similar to me.

I'd like to be a Drama Despot, but I promise an enlighted rule. Trust me.
 
Just keeping track, we have a Drama Despot and a Drama Doge. I'd like to encourage some additional verbiage, as it'll get crowded if we just have single titles. For example, Fenris-77, Marquis of Drama, Knight of Optimization, and Protector of Salty Snacks.
 

Aebir-Toril

Creator of the Elfgrinder Mech
I try to incorporate the backstories of my player's Player Characters in each campaign or adventure as best I can, generally, through little details, and being lenient enough to allow leeway which makes sense in-world. For example, if the player says that their Fighter inherited a small farm with arable land from their parents, I will give them the deeds to the farm as an in-game item, and allow them to do what they wish with their land. Tie-in often takes the form of land, family ties, or, sometimes, small villages or outposts which only exists due to the player's backstory. Although I will sometimes incorporate the background/backstory into the main plot of the campaign, or into the subplots, it's often unnecessary, and just clutters everything in the adventure. On the other hand, if a PC expresses interest in, say, slaying the Orc Lord who slew his family with one mighty swing of the Sword Geoyr, I will certainly tailor a sidequest to their aims.
 
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.

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.
Okay, let me try to elaborate.

Forget that we're playing a game for a minute. Imagine a group of 8 people has split up into two groups of 4 in order to search an abandoned building. Each group moves about the building, room to room, examining what's there.

One of the people in the first group gets a little concerned and decides to check in on the second group. Maybe he has a hunch, or maybe he sees something in one of the rooms that indicates there may be a need for caution.....whatever the case, I think you will agree that this is a possibility in the real world. He may, without any direct knowledge of what is happening to them, decide to go and check on the other group. This seems like a very reasonable and plausible action, no?

Okay, now let's take that situation and drop it into a game unconcerned about metagaming, and one that is concerned about metagaming.

In the unconcerned game, the above is still possible. The character from the first group is free to go check in on the second group. There is no restriction on his actions from reasons outside of the game.

In the game concerned with metagaming, there very likely may be such restrictions. Of course, it depends on what is happening at the table. If group 2 actually is in some kind of danger, and anyone from group 1 says "I'd like to go check on them" the DM blocks the action because of the outside knowledge. Oddly enough, if there is no danger, the DM would likely allow it. This is not at all consistent, and is entirely dependent upon elements beyond the game world.

One game allows for any and all actions, the other restricts actions based on a concern about metagaming. A perfectly reasonable and plausible action on the part of one character is blocked.

If plausibility is one of the guiding principles of play, then I think the one that limits plausible actions is probably not preferred. Or would normally not be considered preferable, except that metagaming's been set up as a boogeyman for many gamers.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Just keeping track, we have a Drama Despot and a Drama Doge. I'd like to encourage some additional verbiage, as it'll get crowded if we just have single titles. For example, Fenris-77, Marquis of Drama, Knight of Optimization, and Protector of Salty Snacks.
Well, then, allow me to amend:

Ovinomancer, the Diabolical Despot of Drama, Slayer of Sacred Cows, Terror of Trap Choices, and Despoiler of Salty Snacks.
 

Saelorn

Hero
Mod Note:

You should be aware - the owner of this site does not buy into "One True Wayism" - and while you put a disclaimer here, that's what you are doing. If you do not have room in your head and heart for what others do, you will be asked to leave the discussion. Gatekeeping like this is not acceptable.
I apologize if it was not clear. At my table, anyone who tries to meta-game is necessarily a cheating weasel, because agreeing to not meta-game is a pre-requisite to playing at my table. Doing so would be a direct violation of explicit social contract. I have zero tolerance for meta-gaming at my table.

At anyone else's table, I have no control over what sort of game they're playing; but there's zero chance that I'll ever play in any RPG that allows for meta-gaming.
 
Just keeping track, we have a Drama Despot and a Drama Doge. I'd like to encourage some additional verbiage, as it'll get crowded if we just have single titles. For example, Fenris-77, Marquis of Drama, Knight of Optimization, and Protector of Salty Snacks.
Well, then, allow me to amend:

Ovinomancer, the Diabolical Despot of Drama, Slayer of Sacred Cows, Terror of Trap Choices, and Despoiler of Salty Snacks.
Why are the snacks so salty? Is someone accusing them of metagaming?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I apologize if it was not clear. At my table, anyone who tries to meta-game is necessarily a cheating weasel,
Mod Note:
We don't need your clarification.

We need to you to stop using emotionally loaded terms like "cheating weasel" about other types of play. There is no way that comes across as if you actually feel it is perfectly acceptable for other folks to play that way - it comes across as judgemental, no matter how many disclaimers you put around it. So, please stop using that kind of language.

And, we need to you to follow the rules, and not argue or try to justify yourself in-thread in the face of moderator statements. If you feel you must justify yourself, please take it to the private message system in the future.
 

Arilyn

Hero
I appreciate chatacter backstories because they give me hooks, and give me an idea of what kind of stories the players are hoping for. I don't insist on backstories. Totally up to the players. Sometimes players come to the table with zero backstory and have incredibly rich characters, while others have detailed backgrounds and very flat characters. I know I have had times where a character I've thrown together with little thought ends up being very memorable, whereas one with lots of background just fizzles. Just never know, which is part of the fun of the game.

As for metagaming? I think there is way too much hand wringing over it. I just assume my players know fire works on trolls, and if somebody remembers some more obscure weakness, no biggie. They have probably remembered wrong anyway. 😏 And I change up monsters, so no guarantees.

Players get to know their GM, so metagaming is pretty unavoidable. If a particular GM expects players to talk first, they are going to learn not to attack everything in sight, whereas, attacking first, might be the best tactic under a different GM. Players are going to start unconsciously picking up on patterns, and not even be aware that their behaviour in Bob's game differs from Anne's.

I also find that certain "metagame" systems, such as Fate points, story cards, the escalation die, etc. actually enhance the engagement of the players at the table. To me, maximizing engagement as much as possible, is what is going to make the game world seem more real, and ensure players return to the table.

Really, the only metagaming sin I can think of, is a player reading a published adventure ahead of time, and acting on that knowledge. Or deciding to gather the ingredients for making gunpowder when it hasn't been invented yet, and said character is no alchemical genius.

We are sitting at a table, eating snacks, maybe drinking beer, dealing with phone calls, bathroom breaks, and getting distracted by such gravely important questions, like which is the best Marvel movie. Not going to worry too much over whether John's character insists that the hooded man in the corner of the tavern must be important somehow.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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?

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.
Exactly. Leave it at the door.

But that don't always happen...and thus the DM has to step in.

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.
Or the play-at-the-table of my game, yes.

You're here to play the game, in good faith. Leave the rest of it outside.

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.
It's both, as one (the interpersonal conflict) leads directly to the other (meta-game character decisions). And I know - I've both seen it and done it during my playing career.

And as I said earlier, as DM of the game it's not my place to sort out the interpersonal conflict but it is my place to - where I can - not allow it to unduly affect my game.
 

Advertisement

Top