Friday, October 24, 2008

Legalizing Metagaming

We all know that metagaming is a big no-no. But does it have to be?

I was thinking about new character classes recently, and an idea hit me: Imagine a campaign setting in which the characters are aware of the DM. After a brief brainstorm, here are some ideas on how that campaign would work:
  1. If a player wanted to introduce a non-core PC class, an avatar for that class would appear in the game, and would challenge an NPC controlled by the DM to a duel to the death. Both characters would have to be of the same level. 
  2. In the campaign world, adventurers belong to a religious sect that regards the DM as an objective director of all events in the universe. PC's believe that they have spirit guides (i.e., players) that direct their own behavior.
  3. Fudge Points are implemented, but in this case are referred to as "Grace Points." Low-level PCs benefit from the DM's grace, and the effect is similar to the lucky breaks that bumbling protagonists in television and the movies experience. You know the cliches: The bad guy's handgun jams, the hero falls off a bridge and into a garbage truck, an apple cart gets in the way of a pursuer, etc.
  4. There can be no possibility of metagaming, because the characters' knowledge is entirely based on that of their players. You can justify this as the result of off-camera PC research, or as some sort of divinely granted insight.
What's interesting to me about this type of setting is how it promotes a sort of "DM versus Players" way of playing. The DM must work harder to challenge the players, because they can't roleplay ignorance. Say you're DM'ing for a group of seasoned players, all with first-level characters, and they encounter a rust monster. You describe the creature as being "armadillo-like, but with a buggish face, with a long tail terminating in a couple of fins and two large antennae." In a no-metagaming environment, your players must try their best to feign ignorance of the creature's identity. You could allow their characters to recognize the creature with an Intelligence check, Challenge Rating 5 (the monster's HD). In a metagaming-allowed environment, a rust monster is recognizable to your character if you the player know what it is. In the game world, this could be considered a benefit of "being in tune with the collective unconscious," or some mumbo-jumbo.

How do you keep monsters interesting? By creating your own, of course. Naturally, the ecosystem is all messed up when new species constantly appear; but that could be worked into the setting, also. For example, this could be a very mystical world, where the Supreme Being (DM) constantly toys with creation. The PCs' religion bears an interesting twist; the GM is not to be worshiped, but always challenged. Believers of this faith see their deity as mischevious -- a force to be tamed, not idolized.

We've seen the phenomenon of characters breaking the fourth-wall quite often already, as in the Order of the Stick web comic. In Knights of the Dinner Table, there is plenty of metagaming, which in their case seems to enhance the intensity of the gaming experience; although it often results in B.A. having to spend more cash at the local game store, in his ongoing efforts to stump his players. And who could forget the godawful D&D cartoon from the 80's, in which the characters knew they were in a game and had a working relationship with the DM as an NPC.?

This approach to fantasy gaming takes some pressure off the players to be in-character. Might this enhance the experience, or hinder it? I personally think it could go either way, depending on how it's justified in-game. Let me know what you think.

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