Behind the D.M. Screen - Metagaming


This week our new show Noobs and Dragons was released, which has the Gamezilla and Legend of Retro teams running an adventure that I've made for them in the game of Dungeons and Dragons. Years ago, I would expect that hardly anyone would know what the game was about, but in this day and age, I feel many people are at least familiar with the idea of D&D. A group of people play a team of characters who interact with each other and the world around them, and one person is the Dungeon Master, a title granted to the person who runs the game. “Running the game” sounds like a vain power trip, but to run the game means you not only are the person who makes the final decisions on rules, but you also craft the world around the players. Each player in D&D can only react to what's around them, and so the DM must make interesting things for the group to interact with, but still keep things grounded in the “reality” of the world around the players. While the word “reality” might sound funny considering it's a game, that leads us to a very important aspect of Dungeons & Dragons: the avoidance of metagaming. To metagame in D&D is to view the game as a game, and for someone who's never played before it must seem odd, as you're playing a game; why wouldn't you view it as a game, right? The problem comes from the fact that in Dungeons and Dragons, you're playing a character who exists in a fantasy world, and the moment you think about the world around you as a player, instead of as your character, then it detracts from the game. For example, let's say that you're walking along in a spooky mansion, said to be haunted. You arrive in a large chamber after walking down a long hall, only to see a room with very little furnishings, and a large portrait of a somber looking Halfling up on the wall. A quick glance around the room reveals nothing out of the ordinary, but you decide to wait in the room before moving on and say “I've seen enough Scooby Doo to know that someone is watching me behind that painting!” and you launch an attack at the portrait.



In this example, I offered you no clues to make you think the painting was a fake, and you've even referenced something from the real world as justification for your actions. Now, if the painting of the stoic looking Halfling caught your attention, that's totally fine, and you can ask to analyze it further. With a closer look, you see the eyes blink, alerting you to the idea that someone is spying on you. While both examples ended up with the same result, in the second one, you played your character and acted accordingly, but in the first example, you didn't actually play in character, as you made a reference to an old Hanna Barbera cartoon and lashed out based on that knowledge. That's what's called metagaming, and it can really bring the game to a screeching halt. For another example, let's say you're still walking along in that scary mansion. You creep down a flight of stairs into a large basement, and shine the light of your lantern around, but see nothing: no boxes, furniture, supplies, or adornments on the wall. You're assured you see nothing, and nobody seems to be around but you. If you were in character, you might be a bit rattled by the barren basement, but without anything to interact with, you'd likely search elsewhere. If you were metgaming, then instead you'd say “Well the DM wouldn't just make an empty room with nothing in it, so I'm going to wait here until something happens.” On one hand you might very well be right, the game is designed so that you should have plenty to explore and investigate, but on the other hand the character that you're playing has no idea that it's a game, and so not only are you acting on things your character doesn't know, but to top it off, you've very likely brought the game to a hold, and any other players are stuck waiting because you've decided that your character suddenly has omniscience of how the universe works. Dungeons and Dragons is a wonderful game, but unlike most other games out there, it's charm relies on the fact that you think of it less as a game, and more of an interactive story. I hope you'll listen in as Noobs and Dragons releases every Wednesday, and follows the exploits of a band of adventurers as they take their first steps into a world of wonder and danger, and watch out that they don't metagame.