Combating the Meta-Gamer

December 28, 2019

Jenna the Rogue enters the secret room and finds a chest. Upon opening it, they find a jewel encrusted dagger that glows with a magical energy.  They also find a purse with a hundred gold coins. Tucking them into their pack they return to the party.

Jon the player speaks up. I demand that Jenna shares the gold she found. What Jon is doing is called Meta-Gaming. He is acting on knowledge that he, as a player, knows, but which his character would not. This is a tricky one to guard against, especially when you get more experienced players in the game. That may sound contradictory—more experienced players should know better—but the truth is, there are those that have just learned to work the system, especially if that player is also a DM at times.

“Your Character Doesn’t Know That.”

Much like I said before, you can’t fault a player for not knowing how to do something their character would, in the same vein, the character can’t act on something that only the player knows. Sheila the player may know that fire works well as a weapon against a Gelatinous Cube, but that doesn’t necessarily mean her character would.

This crops up more often than you think it might. You ask one player to make a perception roll, and suddenly everyone at the table is on guard and starts nosing around, acting on something they obviously don’t know. As the DM, you need to stomp out the sparks of meta-gaming before it becomes a roaring inferno. Gently remind players that they can’t act upon things their character wouldn’t know. If someone just decides they want to make a perception check because the fighter did, tell them no. Don’t go into drawn out explanations. Just inform them that what is happening involves someone else.

There can be ways around this too where you give the player a chance. They can make skill checks that may be appropriate to know things. They can make a Nature check to see if that berry is poisonous. Want to know what a spell does? Try an Arcana check, but don’t just let them get away with whatever they want because they read about the spells in the Player’s Handbook or they know how many hit points a Roper has.

It can be hard, and some players will push back on it. However, if you let it slide they will do it more and more often. If you let one player do it, next week it will be two players, then three, and soon the whole table is reading up on monster stats and maybe even peeking at the module you’re running. Intentional or not, meta-gaming is a form of cheating, and cheating makes the game less fun for everyone.





Glenn B.

Glenn B. is the Mayfair store manager and the King of Awesome. Outside of the Board Game Barrister, Glenn is an amateur film maker and game designer. He has three short films under his belt and one game as well. He's currently working on a new card game, Apocalypse How. Glenn has been to Ireland 8 times and speaks a little Irish Gaelic. His favorite games are Malifaux, Eldritch Horror, Scoville, and Colt Express.

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