Out-of-character/metagame knowledge

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
There is a degree of OOC knowledge that is necessary to make the game run smoothly. DM's who refuse to let people even use game terminology at the table are shooting themselves in the foot- maybe it breaks your immersion, but I'm reminded of the +1 sword problem.

You find an unidentified magic sword. You decide to use it. Maybe it's cursed, but maybe it's better than what you had, so you take a chance. The DM doesn't want to give you it's stats for free, there is a cost for this, be it the Identify spell, a Sage, or a Bard.

Fine. You then say, every time you attack: "I hit this AC plus or minus whatever the sword does. I do this damage, plus or minus whatever the sword does."

I've yet to see a DM yet who doesn't capitulate and say "Dear Sweet Pholtus, it's a +1 sword, ok? Are you happy now?!"

What degree of OOC knowledge is acceptable and what isn't has to be hammered out by the group, but I tend to err on "if steam starts pouring out of the DM's ears, and his eye starts twitching, maybe we'd better stop metagaming and start roleplaying".
 

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One is purely mechanical - does the resolution system of the game create an opportunity for the escape to happen? In Classic Traveller, the answer is "yes" - if the character moves out of the last range band for "very long" range then they have escaped the encounter. In Prince Valiant, the answer can also be "yes" - the last time I did this it was opposed Riding vs Riding to see if the PC could ride down the fleeing NPC (the player's roll beat mine, and so the answer was "yes").

The old Marvel Super Heroes RPG by TSR had a means for this kind of thing in the form of Karma. The heroes and villains had pools of karma points they could spend for different effects. For the PCs, they were primarily spent to increase the roll of a result, but also for performing power stunts and advancing abilities. For villains, they were also spent to increase results of rolls, but also to trigger certain events or moves. It cost a villain 40 karma to make a getaway.

I honestly think it's a lot more satisfying (or maybe only less dissatisfying?) to know that the bad guy got away because he devoted a resource to doing so rather than simply because the GM decided he got away. Better to know that the GM didn't use the Karma to bolster his rolls for that villain in order to save them for an escape; at least then, there's some decision making involved, and some kind of cost.

I was thinking in terms of the character escaping the encounter no matter what because its predetermined for the story that they do. I know many mechanical systems can determine this. I recall a Pathfinder adventure I ran had three witches trying to steal an item form the party. They had very little in the way of challenging the party, but loaded in get away abilities. After the 3rd or fourth encounter the PCs were just done with it. So, there is something to be said about escaping characters and diminishing returns.

I used to do that kind of thing all the time in my earlier GMing days. I like recurring villains, and I think that they can be great, but there are two things I've come to learn about using them effectively.

First, don't overdo it. Not every villain needs to come back into the picture. You're not limited in the villains you can bring to bear... you can always make up more.

Second, the best way to establish a recurring villain is to play them cautiously so that if they escape, it occurs naturally and by the rules, so that they earn their status as a recurring villain. Don't force it.

(I think the decision-making structure of your Folk Hero example doesn't so obviously involve OOC decision-making; but maybe I've missed something?)

Not so much the decision making on the part of the players, but more about how the GM decided "this is what I prepared, I'm going to ignore this player's use of an ability to bypass what I prepared". A bit different than the kinds of things you were talking about in your OP, and in the getaway examples, but I thought it worth mentioning.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
And I don’t understand how what is being depicted isn’t metagaming (again, putting aside any value judgment on any given episode).

I’m going to throw out a few examples here:

1) Player 1 and 2 (of 4) wants to split the party. Both of their characters have dramatic needs that involve going to this place rather than that. 3 and 4 are concerned that the party-splitting will negatively impact the collective payload (it will) and therefore put 3 and 4 at risk for the Adventure x they’re interested in. The GM is entirely neutral on the subject.
Fine so far.
Ultimately, 1 and 2 eschew their dramatic needs and go along with 3 and 4 on Adventure x because concerns of a “hostile work (game) environment” + they’d spent too much table time disagreeing already. They’re subverting character interests/actions for concerns about the gamestate or the state of the play at the table because of the collision of divergent interests.
Not fine.

1 and 2 should play true to their characters and leave. 3 and 4 would then, realizing in-character that they're suddenly short of people, look to recruit some replacements; meanwhile (and here's the metagaming bit I'm fine with) 1 and 2 are rolling up new characters to be said replacements.
Whether play within Adventure x becomes a bit hostile and passive-aggressive isn’t relevant to the question of “was that decision-point navigated via metagaming?” Now if it did become hostile, that we be metagaming upon metagaming!
Not necessarily - characters 1 and 2 could be (and, I posit, quite likely would be) resentful in the fiction, having been talked into this adventure against their own better judgment.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
There is a degree of OOC knowledge that is necessary to make the game run smoothly. DM's who refuse to let people even use game terminology at the table are shooting themselves in the foot- maybe it breaks your immersion, but I'm reminded of the +1 sword problem.

You find an unidentified magic sword. You decide to use it. Maybe it's cursed, but maybe it's better than what you had, so you take a chance. The DM doesn't want to give you it's stats for free, there is a cost for this, be it the Identify spell, a Sage, or a Bard.

Fine. You then say, every time you attack: "I hit this AC plus or minus whatever the sword does. I do this damage, plus or minus whatever the sword does."

I've yet to see a DM yet who doesn't capitulate and say "Dear Sweet Pholtus, it's a +1 sword, ok? Are you happy now?!"
You have now. I'm that DM.

After using the sword for a while you might get a chance to narrow its abilities down some, particularly if you're already familiar with a variety of magic swords. Till then, you worry about your own bonuses and leave what the sword can do to me.

That said, you'll probably have to remind me a few times you're using this unknown sword. :)
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Wow, and that never got annoying? I remember hearing tales of people trying all kinds of crazy 'tests', including trying to hit one another in mock combat, to figure out if a sword had a bonus (now that's some metagaming right there!).

I rarely gave out weapons that were only +x anyways, I had no problems letting them know the bonuses, the rest- they had to figure out (I was really inspired by the magic items in The Magister).
 

aramis erak

Legend
There is a degree of OOC knowledge that is necessary to make the game run smoothly. DM's who refuse to let people even use game terminology at the table are shooting themselves in the foot- maybe it breaks your immersion, but I'm reminded of the +1 sword problem.

You find an unidentified magic sword. You decide to use it. Maybe it's cursed, but maybe it's better than what you had, so you take a chance. The DM doesn't want to give you it's stats for free, there is a cost for this, be it the Identify spell, a Sage, or a Bard.

Fine. You then say, every time you attack: "I hit this AC plus or minus whatever the sword does. I do this damage, plus or minus whatever the sword does."

I've yet to see a DM yet who doesn't capitulate and say "Dear Sweet Pholtus, it's a +1 sword, ok? Are you happy now?!"

What degree of OOC knowledge is acceptable and what isn't has to be hammered out by the group, but I tend to err on "if steam starts pouring out of the DM's ears, and his eye starts twitching, maybe we'd better stop metagaming and start roleplaying".
I'm fairly certain a trained swordsman should figure out the quality of a sword within a single combat.
I know (as a rapier fencer) that it takes a mere matter of seconds with sword in hand to detect poor balance in a blade.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Probably, but since the game designers didn't include such a system in the game (but did make Identify a spell and gave Bards an ability to recall legends about items and such), a lot of DM's felt that there was a good reason to keep the powers of magic items a secret until you paid the knowledge tax (usually, a 100gp pearl and an owl's feather steeped in wine).

Even though it's been acknowledged that this is not an ideal system at various points (I remember a discussion about this in the 3e Magic Item Compendium), it keeps returning as a core mechanic in some form or another.

Except for Pathfinder, where all you need is a good skill check (but Identify grants a bonus).
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
It would also be worthwhile asking whether anyone here takes the above positions. From this thread, it doesn't seem like anyone does. Posters are ok with some types of metagaming and perhaps not ok with others, depending on context, system, play culture. Thus it might be more helpful to look at specific types of metagaming and when and why they might be problems.

Per my earlier example, I would guess that trad players are generally ok with the out of character knowledge that they are playing a published adventure, but still prefer for their characters to have plausible hooks into the story in order to "suspend disbelief." And definitely would not be ok with anyone at the table besides the gm reading the adventure book itself.
Is it that they're okay with it, or that the predominant mode of play is this, so if you want to play you have to get on board?
 

Is it that they're okay with it, or that the predominant mode of play is this, so if you want to play you have to get on board?
well in that sense "wanting to play" involves out of fiction concerns, so it's metagaming all the way down. For example, I think combat is slow and boring in 5e, but my friend is running a game in that system, and I want to play, so I get on board.
 

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.

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.

In more post-DL D&D, it comes from the players seeing the GM pick up the module and narrate the opening scene. Here's an example from the 2nd ed AD&D module "Five Shall Be One" (p 6):

The adventure opens with the PCs arriving the city of Rookroost . . . Read the text below to your players at the beginning of the adventure. . . . ". . . As you leave the temple, you see the half-elf mage striding down the steps before you. He falls scattering possessions and documents on the ground before him. He scrabbles desperately to retrieve them, looking anxiously about him."​

Even if the GM somehow manages to hide the fact that this is module text from the players, they will almost certainly realise this is an adventure hook, given that the GM has never before narrated NPCs tripping and dropping their files. The module provides information about what the PCs (and hence players) learn if they take and read any of the files.

Here's an example from the 3E D&D module "Expedition to the Demon Web Pits" (pp 8-11):

No matter which hook you've selected to involve the characters, get the action started quickly with the drow attack. . . . It's a few hours after dusk and the day has wound down, but the PCs are likely awake, preparing food or sharpening weapons and oiling armour. The drow and undead aren't very quiet as they approach the shelter. . . . Once the drow and zombies are defeated, the characters should notice that the drow's tracks came from the east.​

There's also an account of a clue-laden journal to be found on one of the dead drow.

Again, I think it will be fairly evident to players that this is an adventure hook rather than a random encounter - the tracks and the journal signal that even if the players don't notice the GM is reading from a 200+ page hardback book.

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.

True roleplayers will refuse to take the hook, because doing otherwise would be metagaming.
 

well in that sense "wanting to play" involves out of fiction concerns, so it's metagaming all the way down. For example, I think combat is slow and boring in 5e, but my friend is running a game in that system, and I want to play, so I get on board.

Don't you mean "I get on bored."

ba GIF
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Wow, and that never got annoying? I remember hearing tales of people trying all kinds of crazy 'tests', including trying to hit one another in mock combat, to figure out if a sword had a bonus (now that's some metagaming right there!).
First, that's not metagaming: trained warriors would be able to narrow down a sword's abilities through sparring, most of the time.

And no, item testing never gets annoying because a) it means you've got new items to test and b) it's part of the mystery.
 

aramis erak

Legend
First, that's not metagaming: trained warriors would be able to narrow down a sword's abilities through sparring, most of the time.

And no, item testing never gets annoying because a) it means you've got new items to test and b) it's part of the mystery.
I find it boring, even in real life, until the sparring begins.
 



But doesn't not taking a hook because they know it's a hook and true roleplaers would refuse it mean that by refusing the hook due to OOC knowledge they are still metagaming? 🤔
So that means that refusing to use fire on trolls, because you think your character wouldn’t know about it, is metagaming. Hmmmm.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
By definition, it's not. But it shows that there are levels of metagaming. The first level is "metagaming as required to keep the game flowing". This includes players knowing what their actual modifiers are, knowing monster AC's, and not turning a troll encounter into a TPK because no one knows how to kill a troll. This kind of metagaming is rarely bad.

The second level I'd call "incidental metagaming". This is when a player acts like their character lives in the game world, and will spout out facts that are known by many, even if it was never established that the character knows these things. Saying you know about the War Wizards of Cormyr, Bladesingers, or Hobgoblins, for example. This kind of metagaming is not often bad.

The third level is "restricted metagaming": here, the player is taking knowledge that is only known to a privileged few and using it or acting upon it. Knowing that the phylactery of a lich is his massive golden throne, or that the Princess is secretly a Silver Dragon. This kind of metagaming is often bad.

And finally, we have "terminal metagaming". This is where you've read the adventure or the DM's notes, or took something the DM told you in confidence and bring it into game. Once, my roommate used my computer when I was at work, and saw a lot of word docs on my desktop. Curious, he read them, and they were stories about my campaign's lore.

When he mentioned them to the other players, I was not happy. Terminal metagaming is almost always bad, but it doesn't have to be- it's annoying, and a breach of trust, to be sure, and there should be a discussion about it. Where it crosses the line is when the player uses this information to their benefit, like knowing to search a certain area to find a magical intelligent sunblade (I'm sure some of you know what adventure I'm referring to).
 

By definition, it's not. But it shows that there are levels of metagaming. The first level is "metagaming as required to keep the game flowing". This includes players knowing what their actual modifiers are, knowing monster AC's, and not turning a troll encounter into a TPK because no one knows how to kill a troll. This kind of metagaming is rarely bad.

The second level I'd call "incidental metagaming". This is when a player acts like their character lives in the game world, and will spout out facts that are known by many, even if it was never established that the character knows these things. Saying you know about the War Wizards of Cormyr, Bladesingers, or Hobgoblins, for example. This kind of metagaming is not often bad.

The third level is "restricted metagaming": here, the player is taking knowledge that is only known to a privileged few and using it or acting upon it. Knowing that the phylactery of a lich is his massive golden throne, or that the Princess is secretly a Silver Dragon. This kind of metagaming is often bad.

And finally, we have "terminal metagaming". This is where you've read the adventure or the DM's notes, or took something the DM told you in confidence and bring it into game. Once, my roommate used my computer when I was at work, and saw a lot of word docs on my desktop. Curious, he read them, and they were stories about my campaign's lore.

When he mentioned them to the other players, I was not happy. Terminal metagaming is almost always bad, but it doesn't have to be- it's annoying, and a breach of trust, to be sure, and there should be a discussion about it. Where it crosses the line is when the player uses this information to their benefit, like knowing to search a certain area to find a magical intelligent sunblade (I'm sure some of you know what adventure I'm referring to).
I like that you qualify in each case: rarely, often, etc.

There are some who seem to think it’s more black and white than that.

Maybe it’s safe to say “playing in good faith is always good. Being a jerk is always bad.”
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Oh absolutely. "Don't be a jerk" should be a rule of the game. Alas, nobody wants to come out and say that in any rulebook, and instead we get half-hearted diatribes about the different kinds of players and how to deal with problem players.

And if you think metagaming is black and white, I'm not going to convince you otherwise, that's your belief. I don't agree with it, because I think this is a more nuanced topic, but as long as your belief leads you and others you game with to have fun, in the end, I'm just some idiot with too much free time on the internet. : )
 

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