Metagaming at the table

I just read and responded to a post by Martin Ralya (follow him on twitter @martinralya). This post entitled How Much Metagaming Is Too Much? asks pretty much what you think it does, how much meta gaming should there be at the table and when is it too much.

If I can take an attempt at distilling Martin’s definition of metagaming to two points, it’d be:

  1. Players are talking and not the characters. This I guess could either be out of game-chatter, or injecting knowledge the players have that is hidden from the character. I think he meant the latter. I’d also include in this broad category using knowledge the player has about mythology, fantasy tropes, science, adventure movies, etc.
  2. The discussion is phrased in terms of the rules/mechanics. This could be talking about hit points, movement squares, THAC0, or even my gripe in my last post about damage types.

One of the things I really enjoy about 4e is the tactical aspects.  Rules/mechanics metagaming doesn’t bother me, beyond than the sheer amount that has to be done. I am a fan of tactical board games, and nobody ever called me out in a game of Memoir ’44 or Stratego for not being in character enough. That aside, I do loose immersion when talking strictly in mechanical terms. That’s why I like using the power names, cheesy as they are, and describing how a particular attack goes down. I also feel like skill challenges have introduced more opportunities for mechanics-talks. In previous editions, we didn’t have to talk as much about skill checks, or say “well… that was the second failure, the next  check better have the best chance of succeeding.” My DM so far has done a good job of keeping us out of that trap by making skill challenges flow naturally into the story. I bet the mechanical-talk issues are proportional to the pervasiveness of rules in a system.

For me “the line” of too much metagaming isn’t so much about context, but “how long.” I like game design and appreciate many aspects of a dungeon or encounter and want to discuss it a little bit. So far my fellow players haven’t expressed annoyance. I also metagame because I’m excited about the plot and want things to turn out well for the party. What I do try to do is keep it to a minute or two before getting “back into character.” The best way to do that is just keep track of what’s going and try to pull yourself back in. If a fellow player is extending the discussion you can either be passive-agressive about it and just talk in character and ignore any out-of-game comments he makes, or just give a friendly reminder to get back to the situation at hand for the characters.

The hardest  part for me after an in-depth metagame discussion about the plot getting back to being in-character. I want to make sure my character’s actions are based upon his personality and his knowledge and not my own. I feel like I’m about 75% successful at this. It’s easier the more I really enjoy a character and have a good sense of his history and motivation and harder when I’m not really feeling like I’m part of the game. When I slip and make a non-character-y choice I try to recognize it and use that as a learning experience. Sometimes its easier to define a character by what he wouldn’t do (next time) than necessarily by what he would do.

Once again, this behavior is the kind of thing that’s easier if all your fellow players are doing it too. The best way to encourage them is by doing it yourself, and maybe with a little help from the GM. Of course if everyone else is against it… well that’s a discussion for another time.


2 thoughts on “Metagaming at the table

  1. Your point about skill challenges is particularly good. What’s interesting to me is lining that experience (which I’ve also had) up against big opposed tests in Burning Wheel.

    In BW, the lead-up to the big roll-off would include lots of mechanics chatter interspersed with roleplaying (such as the RP you need to do to justify some types of bonus), and once the roll was made, both sides — essentially all the players and maybe the GM — would roleplay what happened to the hilt. Very different dynamic.

  2. @Martin, I’ve heard lots of good things about Burning Wheel. I would like to try it sometime, but I already have a dusty collection of system books… I think I could make a post about trying lots of systems versus not having a lot of time and wanting a nice long campaign to play in.

    Personally I think good players and GMs can make whatever they want out of any system, but some make it easier than others.

    I’d like to try doing all the skill challenge rolls up front and then doing the exposition. In 2e we used to do all the rolls for a combat round up front and then the DM would weave the story for the whole round. I think its more fun in the 4e way.

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