Metagaming: How to Stop Your D&D Party From Engaging in It
Updated: Oct 19, 2018
Has this ever happened to you? You’re running a party of newer players through a dungeon when you surprise them with one of the game’s more esoteric monsters—a magma mephit. Suddenly, the barbarian stops charging, turns back to the rest of the party and says, "Careful. This is a magma mephit. When it dies, it explodes and deals 2d6 fire damage to everyone within five feet of it.” The barbarian drops his greatsword, draws his bow, and fires the first arrow he’s ever shot in his whole life.
This is a classic example of metagaming, and it can lead to some pretty challenging situations for any Dungeon Master (here at Quest Chests, we call them Quest Masters).
Anytime players use or share information about the game that their characters wouldn’t have, that’s metagaming. This can be information about the game’s rules, its monsters, or even your personal style as a Quest Master (QM)—anything that shifts the focus from the story and action at hand to the books, words, and numbers on the table where you’re playing.
Metagaming can distract from the story you’re trying to relate and detracts from the drama you’ve worked to create, but it’s also a pervasive phenomenon. While it can be as egregious as the example that opened this article, it can also be relatively benign, such as when a player ascribes a number of hit points to the seriousness of the wound her character has suffered.
As QM, you need to decide what level of metagaming you can tolerate. After all, there are certain levels of metagaming that irritate almost no one, and your personal limit may even change with each new campaign or adventure. A horror story generally needs more ambiance than a dungeon crawl, so you’ll likely have a lower metagaming threshold in your horror story. In addition, you will want a plan for when and how to deal with metagaming at your table.
A certain measure is inevitable. After all, the game’s rules demand that you address the numerical values of life, injury, and personal talents. The real danger in metagaming doesn’t show up until it starts eating away at your players’ characters’ personalities and the tenor of your adventures.
In order to ensure that you don’t find your game charging full-speed through the fourth wall, you’ll want to fill your Bag of Holding with several of the following ways to deal with unwanted metagaming!
Get everyone invested in staying in-character as much as possible. Set your expectations and ask players to focus on the story.
Use advantage to incentivize good role-playing and disadvantage to discourage metagaming. Players who disrupt their games with metagaming tend to do so in search of an advantage, so assigning them disadvantage for related checks may get them to rethink their behavior.
Tell players when something is metagaming and not allowed. Be direct!
Spontaneously thwart expectations. Perhaps those magma mephits are only illusions, and the real threat is the pair of sorcerers using Silent Image to lure the party into a trap. If your players are frequent metagamers, you might even prepare several of these “spontaneous” encounters in advance!
So there you have it—metagaming doesn’t need to destroy your campaign. It’s a behavior that can be addressed; with just a couple of adjustments to how you run your quests, you’ll have your players back in-character and in the thick of the story in no time!