Friday, June 26, 2020

Combat Metagaming is Fine

That's right, ANOTHER hot take, baby!

When it comes to RPGs like D&D that feature A) lots of focus on tactical combat and B) big ol' super-enticing fancy-looking bestiaries, I think that metagaming is A-OK. This isn't an original thought, nor is it particularly controversial among the RPG intelligentsia I hang out with, but I guess this is still a controversial opinion for some.

My opinions are important!

Blah blah "Metagaming creates dissonance between the knowledge and actions of the characters," yadda-yadda whatever. I know you can't "win" D&D in the conventional sense, but some of the main goals of the game are generally considered to be keeping your character alive,* improving their abilities or status, and achieving their personal goals. When a PC dies in a way the player did not want them to die, that's a fail-state, right? Are you going to look me in the eye and say "Justin, I want you to get totally invested in the role of this character. I want you to care about them, and desire to do whatever you can to see that they succeed. Now I want you to fight a bunch of life-or-death battles with one hand tied behind your back," and expect me to feel no qualms, no resistance to at all? What about my dissonance? The goddessdamn nerve!

I don't like to punish players for being good at the game, and one form of "being good" is being knowledgeable. If your players derive genuine fun and joy from the tactical aspect of your game SO MUCH that they're willing to memorize the whole fucking monster manual, just let them enjoy themselves. Sheesh. Besides, those "Monster Manuals" and suchlike are just so cool with their illustrations and (in the best cases) intriguing ecological/mythological details and suggestive bits of lore and other imagination can I begrudge anybody for wanting to read them in their own free time?

You know what draws so many people into RPGs in the first place? The monsters! Build on that enthusiasm instead of working against it. Capitalize on your players' craving for more MORE MORE to get them completely invested in the game's setting and the decisions they make.

Here's a fun idea: try giving your players reasonable in-game access to the kind of information they already know about your setting's monsters, so that their characters know the same things they know about the game in reality. "Oh look, it's a shambling mound. Woah, hold on there, my magical friend! Remember that codex we read in the Gardeners' Guild library? It said these freaks don't mind getting hit by lightening. Better adjust our tactics." Voila, no dissonance.

Besides, imagine how annoying it would be if you had to pretend not to know how the knights and bishops move at the beginning of every game of chess. The nice thing about RPGs is that when the "knights and bishops" get stale, you can swap them out for more interesting pieces you haven't used yet. Not only are there probably a bajillion pre-made pieces waiting in the wings, but there's also anything you can personally create. Make some shit up!

Here's my important caveat about metagaming: Homebrew monsters (including novel variations on "official" existing monsters) are also perfectly fine, and their use should be savored and encouraged, as long as such monsters are not solely meant to serve as total screwjobs for the players. By this I mean monsters that cannot be overcome and/or avoided and/or outsmarted at all, or at least in any reasonable way that the players could have discovered.

But other than total screwjobs, if your players are whining about homebrew content just because they can't metagame it, then your players suck and need to git gud. RPGs open a world of limitless imagination, and if the rulebooks hold back joy of creativity and wonder, fuck the books.

Metagaming is like sex: there's nothing inherently wrong with it, you can have lots of fun doing it, and too many people get all hung up over it...but no one owes it to you either, nor do you owe it to anyone else, and most people don't want to literally do it all the time.

TL;DR Metagaming is totally hot and all the sexy nerds are doing it. #metagaming #sex #seo-optimization

Pics courtesy of

*At least until they can die in a satisfying way...which probably doesn't involve the vast majority of possible deaths they face. Hence why death is generally a fail-state in the game.

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