Out-of-character/metagame knowledge

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I've never GMed Apocalypse World, but I think it has an interesting set-up for the first session: rather than a GM hook for an adventure, we learn about the PCs in their world, and rely on the rules for narrating consequences, especially failures, and for framing (ie soft moves followed by hard moves) to make things happen.
I haven’t run Apocalypse World either, but I’ve used that technique in other games (started a fantasy campaign using Open Legend that way). It’s not a bad technique, but it’s not universal. The type of conflicts it generates tend to be personal, which might not be appropriate for a campaign where everyone expects a call to action to lead to a plot where the PCs have important parts to play.

The "metagame" dimension comes in via the rules for framing and for consequence narration, which direct the GM to do these things in a particular sort of non-"neutral" way.
I think complete aversion to metagaming is pathological. Even if there are obvious mechanics at play (such as in your Traveler scenario), the players are arguably going through the same decision-making process their characters are: jobs don’t come often, there aren’t many patrons we know, etc. I think it would be better to accept that some metagaming is diegetic (and actually good) than to try to eliminate it completely.

We had a situation in my campaign where this pathological aversion reared its head. Even though the campaign is about what the players want to do (see: my comment in another thread on the structure I use), they got worried they were “metagaming” because they had found what they thought they were looking for, but they had not found the key yet. There were several keys that would open it, but they had a thief. He could also open it. They were worried that having the thief pick the lock was “metagaming”. 🤦🏻‍♂️
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
What the OP is saying is that this sort of technique seems at odds with an anti-metagaming/anti-OOC knowledge agenda.

No.

It's a bait & switch, because it's a definitional problem. The vast majority of people would not consider the knowledge that they are playing a published adventure to be metagaming any more than they would consider the knowledge that they are playing a game, metagaming.

It's perfectly possible to introduce your concepts regarding framing and consequence narration, and your desired modalities of play, without that unnecessary bit. Which is probably why the majority of responses, to date, are less-than-productive.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Some RPGers are hostile to out-of-character/metagame knowledge.

But it seems to me that a lot of typical (what might even be called traditional) approaches to RPGing very strongly foreground such knowledge.

...

That knowledge that the players have, that they are being hooked into an adventure, is out-of-character/metagame knowledge - for the PCs, there is no reason to think that this clumsy file-dropping PC is anything special, or that this journal-carrying drow is any different from any randomly-encountered hostile NPC. And it plays an absolutely fundamental role in structuring and directing play.

Getting rid of this particular sort of metagame knowledge requires fairly radical departure from these typical approaches to framing.
The thing is - what people call "metagaming" is much like what people call "art" - the definition varies from person to person. Some have an expansive definition, some have a narrow definition. But if we call use the label "metagaming" then we can argue all argue about it.

IME when people say they don't like "metagaming" what they mean are variants on the following:
  1. They don't like it when they throw monsters at the PCs and one of the players says "oh this monster has fire resistance so I'm going to put away my flamesword and break out my frostrime warhammer" when there's no way that their character could know that fact. It could be that the player has encountered the monster before in another game, it could be that the player is also a DM and has read the MM, or it could be that the player just memorizes monster stats for fun and profit. This gets dubbed "metagaming".
  2. They're talking about players who "math out" everything and won't take a decision that would be logical for their character to make based on stats that their character wouldn't know/be smart enough to understand. They're playing the game optimally rather than "in character" and that gets dubbed "metagaming".
  3. They're talking about DMs who use tactics to screw over their players using the knowledge of how their players play that the bad guys wouldn't actually know. That gets dubbed "metagaming".
  4. They are referring to the tendency of players to be aware of the tropes of the game that they're in and make decisions based on those tropes knowing that they're in a game where those tropes are active. They're acting like characters in a story instead of people in a simulated world and for DMs and players who don't like that it gets dubbed "metagaming" as well.
I'm sure there are others - these are the most common elements I've seen over the years.

You seem to me to be talking about type 4 metagaming here - and it's a very narrow group of people who get upset about it. Because for most games it literally is not a problem - in fact it's a benefit if the players play to the tropes of the game because another term for "playing to the tropes" is "accepting the premise" of the game. If I know that I'm in a game of X-Files conspiracy horror I'm going to accept that premise and play the game instead of doing what I'd do in a world simulation which is reject the premise and not go along because I'm a serious FBI agent who doesn't have time to truck with aliens and other nonsense. If I'm playing in a game of dungeon exploration I'm going to follow up on dungeon exploration hooks because I'm accepting the premise of the game we're playing rather than doing what I'd do in a world simulation - which is probably find a safe job somewhere that doesn't involve exploring tunnels full of monsters. Even in an open world sandbox game you're playing adventurers looking for adventure and pretending that the hooks aren't really hooks is basically rejecting the premise of the game.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
You seem to me to be talking about type 4 metagaming here - and it's a very narrow group of people who get upset about it. Because for most games it literally is not a problem - in fact it's a benefit if the players play to the tropes of the game because another term for "playing to the tropes" is "accepting the premise" of the game. If I know that I'm in a game of X-Files conspiracy horror I'm going to accept that premise and play the game instead of doing what I'd do in a world simulation which is reject the premise and not go along because I'm a serious FBI agent who doesn't have time to truck with aliens and other nonsense. If I'm playing in a game of dungeon exploration I'm going to follow up on dungeon exploration hooks because I'm accepting the premise of the game we're playing rather than doing what I'd do in a world simulation - which is probably find a safe job somewhere that doesn't involve exploring tunnels full of monsters. Even in an open world sandbox game you're playing adventurers looking for adventure and pretending that the hooks aren't really hooks is basically rejecting the premise of the game.

I would go so far as to say that groups that reject the premise of the game ... or otherwise don't engage in the game ... or aren't enthusiastic players because something something metagame are actually a massive source of discord and contention.

To the extent that calling "refusal to engage in the playing of a game" metagaming seems like abuse of the term.
 


Jer

Legend
Supporter
I would go so far as to say that groups that reject the premise of the game ... or otherwise don't engage in the game ... or aren't enthusiastic players because something something metagame are actually a massive source of discord and contention.

To the extent that calling "refusal to engage in the playing of a game" metagaming seems like abuse of the term.
I'd agree, but that's because I'm a GM who wants to run a game for players who know they're players in a game. I'm not going for anything more immersive than that. And in fact of the 4 types of metagaming that I list above the only one I have issues with is the third one - and I've realized now that I've phrased that one more negatively than the others which means I should think a little harder about it :) If I turn it around and make it a GM who knows what their players like and tailors encounters to their players to keep them engaged it's still metagaming but it's no longer so negative (and honestly not something I've ever heard someone complain about in a metagaming discussion ever - in fact it's generally considered "good GM advice" for many games to do that).
 

The thing is - what people call "metagaming" is much like what people call "art" - the definition varies from person to person. Some have an expansive definition, some have a narrow definition. But if we call use the label "metagaming" then we can argue all argue about it.

IME when people say they don't like "metagaming" what they mean are variants on the following:
  1. They don't like it when they throw monsters at the PCs and one of the players says "oh this monster has fire resistance so I'm going to put away my flamesword and break out my frostrime warhammer" when there's no way that their character could know that fact. It could be that the player has encountered the monster before in another game, it could be that the player is also a DM and has read the MM, or it could be that the player just memorizes monster stats for fun and profit. This gets dubbed "metagaming".
  2. They're talking about players who "math out" everything and won't take a decision that would be logical for their character to make based on stats that their character wouldn't know/be smart enough to understand. They're playing the game optimally rather than "in character" and that gets dubbed "metagaming".
  3. They're talking about DMs who use tactics to screw over their players using the knowledge of how their players play that the bad guys wouldn't actually know. That gets dubbed "metagaming".
  4. They are referring to the tendency of players to be aware of the tropes of the game that they're in and make decisions based on those tropes knowing that they're in a game where those tropes are active. They're acting like characters in a story instead of people in a simulated world and for DMs and players who don't like that it gets dubbed "metagaming" as well.
I'm sure there are others - these are the most common elements I've seen over the years.

You seem to me to be talking about type 4 metagaming here - and it's a very narrow group of people who get upset about it. Because for most games it literally is not a problem - in fact it's a benefit if the players play to the tropes of the game because another term for "playing to the tropes" is "accepting the premise" of the game. If I know that I'm in a game of X-Files conspiracy horror I'm going to accept that premise and play the game instead of doing what I'd do in a world simulation which is reject the premise and not go along because I'm a serious FBI agent who doesn't have time to truck with aliens and other nonsense. If I'm playing in a game of dungeon exploration I'm going to follow up on dungeon exploration hooks because I'm accepting the premise of the game we're playing rather than doing what I'd do in a world simulation - which is probably find a safe job somewhere that doesn't involve exploring tunnels full of monsters. Even in an open world sandbox game you're playing adventurers looking for adventure and pretending that the hooks aren't really hooks is basically rejecting the premise of the game.

I agree that what pemerton is referring to is binned in your # 4.

However, I don't agree that this players is such a small slice of the metagame aversion Venn Diagram pie that its not a worthwhile conversation to be had. Also, I think there is more of the people in that slice that overlap with other slices than you might be giving it credit for.

I think there is another component of this metagame conversation that is either a # 5 or should be binned in your # 4 (therefore increasing the size of your #4...because this one is pretty big both in terms of the number of times the consideration of it comes up in play and its affect upon play if its observed or if its disregarded). Some folks would call this "The Will Wheaton Rule (Don't be a dick)" and likely say that it shouldn't even be in this metagame conversation. I'm not so sure about that because I'm 100 % certain that there can be very healthy, game-enriching instances of (for instance):

* Splitting the party

* Two (or more) players aggressively advocating for and mechanically resolving opposing dramatic needs (PvP)

Its not simply cut-and-dried that players who engage in this stuff are failing to observe metagame conventions around spotlight-sharing, party-splitting, and PvP. It may be the opposite. It may be that metagame conventions want the party to split when it seems fun/interesting or want PvP when it seems a fun/interesting direction for play to go.

However, players who are against splitting the party and PvP are well-represented on ENWorld and I've seen it plenty in meatspace so this isn't a tiny constituency.

And then where would you bin "dutiful bread crumb following" or "we've all signed onto the GM's Adventure Path/Metaplot so we'll gladly put aside any other interests and get the thing to do the thing to fight the guy and take his thing to do the thing?" This is kindred with @pemerton 's lead post in some ways but also not in key ways (inciting events or even plot hooks don't necessitate a through line of bread crumb following and uptake...although they often ride together). So is this also #4? That #4 is growing, if so.

You could probably call #4 "the Ouija planchette." Something about both (a) willfully not noticing the actual nature of the planchette's volition and (b) consistently observing The First Rule of Ouija Planchette Club.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Some folks would call this "The Will Wheaton Rule (Don't be a dick)" and likely say that it shouldn't even be in this metagame conversation. I'm not so sure about that because I'm 100 % certain that there can be very healthy, game-enriching instances of (for instance):

* Splitting the party

* Two (or more) players aggressively advocating for and mechanically resolving opposing dramatic needs (PvP)
I mean, I'll agree that "don't be a dick", "don't split the party", and "don't stab your fellow PCs in the back to take their stuff" are also kind of metagame rules, but they're usually NOT called metagaming but instead have their own name - "social contract". You can include things like X-cards and player content vetoes in the same group as well. Yes they're things outside of the game that impact how the game is played, so in that sense they're metagaming, but they're constraints on the game that should, in a good game, be explicit rather than implicit and so anyone breaking the conventions around these agreed on at the table is not really metagaming, they're just pissing people off because they refuse to play by the actual rules laid down by the group and are trying to drive the game into a place where the group explicitly said it didn't want to go. If you have a group where most of the group doesn't want to engage in PvP but one player insists on doing it every single campaign and it makes people angry that might be metagaming, but it's also just a lousy player that is asking to be removed from the game. Conversely if the group wants PvP then there's no issue - everyone's expecting it and it's just part of the game.

So if you want to hive these off into their own category of metagaming that's fine, but in my mind violating social contracts goes beyond the usual complaints about metagaming and into more general complaints about problem players/GMs and how you remove them from your table/exit their group. (I hesitate calling this "metagaming" myself if only because it applies to all group social situations really, not just gaming around a table).

And then where would you bin "dutiful bread crumb following" or "we've all signed onto the GM's Adventure Path/Metaplot so we'll gladly put aside any other interests and get the thing to do the thing to fight the guy and take his thing to do the thing?" This is kindred with @pemerton 's lead post in some ways but also not in key ways (inciting events or even plot hooks don't necessitate a through line of bread crumb following and uptake...although they often ride together). So is this also #4? That #4 is growing, if so.
I didn't say that 4 didn't contain a lot of examples, I said that there are few complaints about it as metagaming for the most part. The complaints around trail of breadcrumb adventures are usually more about adventure design (it didn't include enough hooks, the adventure wasn't interesting enough, it was a railroad,etc.) or GMing technique (not realizing the weakness of the adventure design and being able to paper over it) rather than complaints about metagaming. Poor adventure design can absolutely lead you to having to metagame more to fill in the problems - or as my players will sing if we hit a point where I've set up some weak sauce hook for them "if you ask yourself how Joel eats and breathes, and other science facts/remind yourself it's just a show, I should really just relax".
 

What I've got in mind is any approach to RPGing where the players know that their PCs are engaged in an "adventure".

In classic D&D, that sort of knowledge is the result of the GM describing the dungeon entrance, or dungeon outworks/surface works, to the players. The contrast with real life is obvious: sometimes archaeologists, treasure hunters and the like think they've found an interesting place, but it turns out to be a bit of a bust.
An "adventure" can indeed be a problem, especially if they keep on happening. That depends on the style of game. In a Pendragon campaign in a mythic style, for example, the PCs expect that they will interact with the magical and religious forces that have created the somewhat-enchanted Kingdom of Logres. They need to do the right things, in terms of their loyalties, ethics and honour, to keep the kingdom from falling. Having meaningful adventures is what knights are for.

In more generic D&D-family games, if the DM wants a framing narrative, they're at liberty to supply one. Here are a couple that work:

I've been running a low-level campaign at a convention (so, two sessions a year) about a group of adventurer types who joined a city police force. They rapidly became the specialists in weird cases and bizarre murders, because they had their own magical support as part of their squad. They get assigned to cases, in a fairly natural way.

In a friend's long-running setting, "Recruit a party of adventurers" is an accepted way of dealing with problems in the somewhat unstable metaphysics of the world. Rather than there being a single group with a fixed party playing in that world, there are dozens of people who have played there over the last 48 years, and the world allows characters from other worlds in, so putting together an appropriate party is usually quite straightforward.
 

I mean, I'll agree that "don't be a dick", "don't split the party", and "don't stab your fellow PCs in the back to take their stuff" are also kind of metagame rules, but they're usually NOT called metagaming but instead have their own name - "social contract". You can include things like X-cards and player content vetoes in the same group as well. Yes they're things outside of the game that impact how the game is played, so in that sense they're metagaming, but they're constraints on the game that should, in a good game, be explicit rather than implicit and so anyone breaking the conventions around these agreed on at the table is not really metagaming, they're just pissing people off because they refuse to play by the actual rules laid down by the group and are trying to drive the game into a place where the group explicitly said it didn't want to go. If you have a group where most of the group doesn't want to engage in PvP but one player insists on doing it every single campaign and it makes people angry that might be metagaming, but it's also just a lousy player that is asking to be removed from the game. Conversely if the group wants PvP then there's no issue - everyone's expecting it and it's just part of the game.

So if you want to hive these off into their own category of metagaming that's fine, but in my mind violating social contracts goes beyond the usual complaints about metagaming and into more general complaints about problem players/GMs and how you remove them from your table/exit their group. (I hesitate calling this "metagaming" myself if only because it applies to all group social situations really, not just gaming around a table).


I didn't say that 4 didn't contain a lot of examples, I said that there are few complaints about it as metagaming for the most part. The complaints around trail of breadcrumb adventures are usually more about adventure design (it didn't include enough hooks, the adventure wasn't interesting enough, it was a railroad,etc.) or GMing technique (not realizing the weakness of the adventure design and being able to paper over it) rather than complaints about metagaming. Poor adventure design can absolutely lead you to having to metagame more to fill in the problems - or as my players will sing if we hit a point where I've set up some weak sauce hook for them "if you ask yourself how Joel eats and breathes, and other science facts/remind yourself it's just a show, I should really just relax".

I'm less concerned about the people breaking those conventions. I'm more talking about the people observing those conventions. Those conventions are similar to the ones in the lead post.

* This overly conspicuous NPC is dropping papers everywhere > I'm supposed to follow breadcrumbs > I follow breadcrumbs

* I feel like I'm not authentically playing my PC if I acquiesce to this other PC in this moment (which might be about a dramatic need or about keeping the party together) > Someone has to compromise > I'll compromise

Its not just "don't be a dick" in that someone is actively creating a hostile environment or ignoring conceits...its also about table time...and mechanical considerations that are either absent from the system entirely or put a strain on the system (eg how do we resolve social conflict between PCs...or splitting the party strains the game's attrition and resource scheduling model).

#4 is involved in that for sure (or we need to create a # 5).

EDIT - Then there is this like a meta-metagaming.

Don't do the thing (because x, y, z - which may be about lack of robust mechanics to resolve play, or table time, or social contract) and don't talk about the thing while you're not doing the thing because we either want to pretend that we're not playing a game or we want to pretend that system doesn't matter and you can just free play your way through any system bottleneck (see The First Rule of Planchette Club)...so long as you just acquiesce to another participant at the table (GM or another player)...which, in retrospect...isn't even doing the thing in the first place.

Its like metagaming that pretends its not happening that circles back to metagaming to ensure it doesn't exist (?). Formulated as such:

My PC disagrees with your PC > crap the system doesn't give us the means to resolve this mechanically and/or a participant refuses to resolve it mechanically and/or another participant doesn't want to spend table time on it > cosplay out your acquiescence to another PC to move past the bottleneck or pretend the disagreement doesn't exist.
 
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