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

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
"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.
Exactly. Player knowledge = character knowledge.

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.
These options work for this example, but see below...

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.
It's also difficult to pre-establish or foreshadow anything when you're playing in, at the extreme, Schroedinger's Setting. Pros and cons.

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.
Yep. Do the scouting by note, or physically separate the players. Happens all the time and is, in most situations, easy to do.

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?
The issue is that no matter what the surviving players do with their PCs, there's no way of ever knowing whether they'd have done the same thing absent the knowledge of what happened to their companions; which means the whole process becomes tainted.

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.
It has nothing to do with sticking to the fiction. Sure the foes can (and likely will) react in some way, but unless that reaction directly affects the remaining PCs in some way (including what they can observe) it doesn't change anything.

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.
Or better yet, I can make sure the knowledge divergence doesn't occur in the first place, by using notes or separating players or whatever other means come to hand.

Doesn't solve the troll example above; and here sometimes I will shake it up...in one memorable instance, much to my players' dismay: I used the explosive-gas atmosphere idea with some trolls and despite several hints and clues (to the point where even a couple of the players said in-character we'd better not use fire here) sure enough someone forgot, and cast Flaming Sphere to burn the bodies after the battle was done.

Oops.

One death and about 150000 g.p. worth of magic items later.......
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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.
And here I thought I was gonzo. :)

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.
Thing is, character development - which is what comes of these long in-character conversations - isn't stasis, though it's usually less dramatic than normal adventuring would be.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
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.
You can’t weasel out of the insulting tone you’ve taken toward other gamers that easily.

Referring to people who differently from you as “Players”, as if they aren’t real rpg players, for a start. No one is buying the notion that this only refers to your table.
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.
Yep. And it doesn’t actually require treating meta gaming as a boogeyman that destroys all hope of immersion.
When I play Dresden, I feel his rage when his enemy’s cultists speak of demons* as Knowing Ones who will usher in a new utopia from the ashes of a broken world. I am not brought to tears by a desire to perform, but from inhabiting his emotional state.
And I also remain cognizant of things like spotlight time, what time of night it is, etc.
*demons being a term which here means, any fiendish creature from beyond the middle world. This campaign has no demon/devil/yugoloth dynamic. Devil and demon and fiend are interchangeable, yugoloth is an unknown term, and their all the same sort of creature.
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.
That sounds like a very unfriendly table. If someone at my table because rude, or abrasive, or whatever, with another person at the table for anything other than treating someone else poorly, they’d be told to leave the table, and come back when they can act like an adult, apologize, and express their concerns in a civilized manner.
You're still implicitly accusing other tables of metagaming if they are not roleplaying by your One True Way.
And more importantly, of not “really” roleplaying at all.
And of course “XYZ doesn’t have any place in the community/hobby” is explicitly not limited to a given table/group.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
That sounds like a very unfriendly table. If someone at my table because rude, or abrasive, or whatever, with another person at the table for anything other than treating someone else poorly, they’d be told to leave the table, and come back when they can act like an adult, apologize, and express their concerns in a civilized manner.
As DM I claim and retain the right to be rude and abrasive whenever I feel like it. Sometimes it'll even be in character! :)

But no, it's not so much unfriendly as it is that some don't have quite the social skills of others.
 
I think character development comes through choices as much as anything else. I think character development happens in spades during peak stress times in a campaign. Important choices with real consequences are key to building a character. It also happens within long in-character conversations of course.
 

uzirath

Adventurer
I just launched a new campaign this past weekend with three of my players (three more will be joining in the coming weeks). Each player approached their backstories differently.

One wrote a great character story (she's a published writer, so I don't complain when she writes longer backstories), leaving some blanks for me to fill in with setting-appropriate details. We had a good time batting drafts back and forth before the game.

The next player sent me a basic idea, "I want to be the rich third son of a nobleman, perhaps from this town on the map that you shared with us." (We're using Douglas Cole's excellent Citadel at Nordvorn as the setting.) I sent him some further information on the town, suggested some names for other members of the family, and ran with it.

The third focused entirely on the mechanics of his character, knowing only that he was a "Viking sea druid." During the course of the game, however, he invented many background elements, writing everything in his campaign journal for future reference. These inventions invariably added the the fun at the table, and gave me many ingredients to use in future adventures. For example, when he fought a minor winterfae villain, he discovered that his enchanted bone harpoon wasn't very effective because it isn't made of iron. When one of the other PCs suggested switching to his knife, he decided that his harpoon is a religious artifact that he has vowed to use as his only weapon. This was an awesome moment of roleplaying at the table, despite the fact that it was written into his character on the spot.

Over the course of the weekend, we played for more than15 hours. I went into it with zero notes. My only preparation (to my consternation, initially) was bouncing around some of the backstory ideas, perusing their character sheets, and skimming the setting book. I let the players take the lead, allowing for flashbacks and spatial/temporal jumps as we explored the world and got to know the characters. Within an hour of the start, they had zeroed in on a thread that interested them and we were off and running. I had to insert a few breaks to plan some encounters, but everything was remarkably spontaneous.

It was an exhilarating game with far more drama than any of us were expecting. Backstory, even for the player who didn't initially write any, was essential to provide the sense that the characters were real people exploring a real world.
 

gepetto

Explorer
So once you achieve "great things", your friends and family are dead to you? That just because you can punch things really hard or cast rare and powerful spells, that mundane concerns of life, baggage from your past, and really just being a normal, functional person are beyond you?

Well, then I hope you find some sort of greatness in your life, so your family and "friends" no longer have to deal with you.
You mean all those people your character ran out on years ago in search of bigger, better things and spent exactly 0 thoughts on until the villain of the week tracks down great aunty so and so and ties her to a railroad track while stroking his villain goetee? Causing you to suddenly remember their existence and rush off to save them just in the nick of time?

Shall we complete the ludicrously trite cliche by giving you a phonebooth to run into and change into your hero clothes first?

Or maybe they also kidnapped your brothers, neighbors, crippled puppy and you can only save 1 😭? Zoinks, the heroes choice......

Pass.
 
You mean all those people your character ran out on years ago in search of bigger, better things and spent exactly 0 thoughts on until the villain of the week tracks down great aunty so and so and ties her to a railroad track while stroking his villain goetee? Causing you to suddenly remember their existence and rush off to save them just in the nick of time?

Shall we complete the ludicrously trite cliche by giving you a phonebooth to run into and change into your hero clothes first?

Or maybe they also kidnapped your brothers, neighbors, crippled puppy and you can only save 1 😭? Zoinks, the heroes choice......

Pass.
Perhaps your distaste for the idea is due to the limited way you seem able to imagine it being employed?

Look at the post directly above yours for a pretty strong counter example of how this method can be used to great effect, with three different players going about it three different ways.
 

gepetto

Explorer
Perhaps your distaste for the idea is due to the limited way you seem able to imagine it being employed?

Look at the post directly above yours for a pretty strong counter example of how this method can be used to great effect, with three different players going about it three different ways.
I didn't find any of those examples to be the equal, much less superior to a situation created solely and entirely by events that happened during previous sessions of actual shared play.
 

FrozenNorth

Explorer
I didn't find any of those examples to be the equal, much less superior to a situation created solely and entirely by events that happened during previous sessions of actual shared play.
Uzirath provided examples. You provided a bare assertion and denigrated other people’s examples by mischaracterizing them. I know who I find more convincing.
 

uzirath

Adventurer
I'll just crawl over into the corner and be jealous now... :)

I really like the harpoon bit - cool stuff!
Thanks. We were up at my tiny rustic cabin in northern Minnesota surrounded by deep snow. It was an idyllic escape from the real world. We were pretty sure that this would be our last face-to-face game for a while. All of this helped fuel the immersion, I’m sure. We were in it.
 

Sadras

Hero
gepetto said:
I didn't find any of those examples to be the equal, much less superior to a situation created solely and entirely by events that happened during previous sessions of actual shared play.
Just something to consider - once a background element is allowed to breath into a session of actual shared play any spring off step from that can be defined as an a situation created solely and entirely by events that happened during previous session of actual shared play.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I didn't find any of those examples to be the equal, much less superior to a situation created solely and entirely by events that happened during previous sessions of actual shared play.
Then you don’t understand story as well as you think you do. 🤷‍♂️
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I didn't find any of those examples to be the equal, much less superior to a situation created solely and entirely by events that happened during previous sessions of actual shared play.
You keep saying "shared play", but your earlier comments about how players can't possible have ideas better than yours, and they have to do whatever you tell them, I have to wonder if you know what shared play actually means. That's not shared play. That's just a DM dictating what happens however they want the adventure story to progress.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
You keep saying "shared play", but your earlier comments about how players can't possible have ideas better than yours, and they have to do whatever you tell them, I have to wonder if you know what shared play actually means. That's not shared play. That's just a DM dictating what happens however they want the adventure story to progress.
I suppose it's possible it's one instigated event after another, followed by characters reacting, with little tie-back to character origins. There might be multiple threads going at once, but that doesn't seem likely to me.

Wouldn't be my first choice, but if everyone is enjoying it I wouldn't call it wrong, either.
 

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