How to Prevent Metagaming as a Dungeon Master
Metagaming is one of the most difficult things for a new Dungeon Master to handle.
Metagaming is a term that refers to the use of a player’s knowledge that the Player’s Character wouldn’t really know to gain the upper hand in a given situation.
For example: You have set up an encounter for your players where they enter this cavern, and inside there is a huge Umberhulk. None of the Player Characters have ever encountered these creatures before, however the Players are familiar with the creature and its strengths and weaknesses. Say one of your players shouts in character “It’s an Umberhulk!” You as the Dungeon Master would notify the player that their characters don’t actually know what the creature is, and in order to identify it, one of them would need to make a Nature Skill Check.
There are many ways to metagame and this can be frustrating for new Dungeon Master. In this post, we’re going to discuss what kind of ways there are to metagame, and some of the techniques there are to deal with them. Here’s a brief list of things a player can metagame:
- Creatures and Their Abilities
- Unrelated NPCs
- Sharing Information Out of Character and Applying It in Character
- Player Character Health and Conditions
Creatures and Their Abilities
Often you will find players that have memorized the entire Monster Manual.
They know everything there is to know about every single creature in the game. Just like the example above, you can avoid such metagaming by simply telling the player that their character has never encountered the creature before and that they must make a skill check to identify it.
However, there is another handy method you can use that overrides what the player knows about any creature. Customize your monsters! Give them extra abilities to put your players on edge. Give them more hit points, damage resistances, and immunities. Craft them to suit the situation and to be a challenge for the Party. This way what the player may know about the creature doesn’t make much of a difference. The encounter can be refreshing and provide a bit more difficulty.
This is a situation that doesn’t occur very often, but it does happen.
Sometimes you’ll have an NPC that is related to a Player Character’s backstory and the other players are aware of this. Then the players use their knowledge of the NPC to take advantage or get something extra out of the NPC, when their Characters have never met the NPC and the Player Character that did know the NPC isn’t around. The only thing I can think of to counter this would be to gently remind the Players that their Characters do not know that this NPC is related to their companion’s story unless that Player’s Character told them about it.
Now some Players may try to spin a story off you saying they heard about it from another NPC. It is up to you at that point to allow it or not. If it were me, I would maybe have them roll for it. Perhaps an intelligence, investigation, or perception check. Whatever they roll plays and you can move on from there. These situations tend to be delicate, but you must be decisive when they happen.
Sharing Information Out of Character and Applying It In Character
This is very much like the previous section. Sometimes you’ll let a certain player whose character is separated from the party know a bit of crucial information. Whether you say it aloud and the other players hear it, or the player you whispered it to shares the information, it can be troublesome. You may have to remind the players that because their characters are separated that they have no idea what the other player knows. They don’t even know what the status of their comrades is at present, and they must keep this in mind moving on.
There are a great many other circumstances in which this could occur. Just remember that it is your word that is final, and the players must respect that and roll with it.
Player Character’s Health and Condition’s
As a Dungeon Master you may or may not care about this next circumstance. When a player asks “How many hit points does the Bard have?” and you respond with “All you can tell is that he is pretty hurt.” The player might then say to the Bard’s player “How hurt are you?” then the bard would reply “On a scale of 1 to 125, like a 30.” That, by definition, is metagaming.
As I said this is more of a preference thing. If you don’t want players to coordinate using the detail of character conditions, then you need to reiterate that. If you’re okay with your players knowing each other’s hit point totals and conditions during combat, then great. More power to you.
Thank you so much for reading. If you’re an experienced Dungeon Master and have a few tips and tricks of your own I invite you to leave some comments below and share your knowledge.
Author: Ven’Orik (Zach)
I’m just a regular nerd with a passion for storytelling and fantasy. Growing up I read books by Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, and this solidified my love for the genre. I first started playing D&D when I was 13 and have been pursuing it since. I’m just here to share my knowledge and hopefully learn a thing or two from all of you as well!