How to deal with metagaming in D&D is a question almost as old as D&D itself. “Oh, it is a hydra so don’t cut off the heads!” This has frustrated dungeon masters and other players. But how do you deal with it?
How to deal with metagaming in D&D depends on the situation and the group. You can talk to each other, set rules, avert expectations, or be fine with it.
That is a big summary statement with a vague answer, but it is true. After over a decade of experience with different groups, I have found that there isn’t a universal rule for how to deal with metagaming. That is why this article will go in-depth in order to help you improve your gaming experience.
Fixes for metagaming
When figuring out how to deal with metagaming in D&D there are a few solutions.
- Be strict.
- Talk to your players in session 0 or after.
- Adding a mechanic.
- Changing expectations.
- Be fine with it.
There it is. 5 fixes on how to deal with metagaming in D&D.
I will go into each part in their own section or 2 in order to give them the proper attention. If you think your problem is most fixable in 1 of these areas then skip to there, but I highly encourage reading the entire article for your own sake.
Why for your own sake? I used to think that my players were causing problems with how they were metagaming. They were not. They were causing problems with different metagaming that I didn’t think about, but they also were fine doing what they were up to at times.
This is why I highly suggest reading the ‘be fine with it’ section. Metagaming can be a problem, but it can also be blown out of proportion. It is hard to tell as a beginning or even experienced DM, so I once again highly suggest reading the whole article.
Since you are here to fix metagaming, let’s get into some fixes!
This is a natural response on how to deal with metagaming in D&D. You need to be strict with your players in order to stop the metagaming.
If a player constantly tries to get out of game advantages like knowing how every single monster works and proceeds to tell the party how to kill it, you might want to be strict. If the player blackmails another with out of game knowledge, you might want to be strict. There are many times you might need to be strict.
The most important time to be strict is with a player who you cannot talk to, is ruining the fun for others, or who doesn’t listen to the dungeon master.
In these instances, you need to be strict. It may not just be an individual. The entire group may be at fault. The group might after seeing a skill check fail have everyone attempt a skill check when they normally wouldn’t.
If a player is not there but is trying to give insight you can just tell them ‘you are not there’ and cut them off.
Normally these players are new or from the old era where dungeon masters actively tried to kill players. We are not in that era anymore and new players can learn but need to be tempered.
Being strict is a way to solve metagaming, but it has a downside.
If you are strict you discourage players to be autonomous and might slowly kill your game or be forced to kick a player.
Kicking a player is the last resort that I never want you to lean on. Many people online say to kick a person if there is a problem. I know that you don’t want to kick a player and I wouldn’t want to either. That is why there are many better solutions on how to deal with metagaming in D&D.
One such solution is setting expectations.
If you have not checked out our article on session 0 then check it out here!
Now that you have checked that out, you understand why session 0 is important. More importantly, you understand that this is where you want to establish the ‘no metagaming’ rule. This might be the most effective way on how to deal with metagaming in D&D, but there is a problem.
Session 0 is before the campaign begins. If you are reading this article it is probably past session 0. Can you still talk to your players about this after session 0?
Yes, you can! Talk to your players and discuss the issues. Players are usually very receptive to concerns.
If you cannot set up these expectations in session 0 then it is okay. Before the next session starts tell the players how you feel about their metagaming and why it will make the game better if they don’t metagame. Explain why you are trying to stop metagaming with a timer, pre-roll initiatives, skill checks, or just ask what they want to do about metagamaing.
DM’s are there to have fun as well. If everything is being subverted because of out of game knowledge it isn’t fun for them and it should be changed.
Every table is different and you might not need to change the metagaming, but talking to your players about the issue is an important first step to solving the problem.
The problem might be internal. Players believe that they should use all their knowledge and min-max to beat a monster. D&D doesn’t have to be a hack and slash game. It is normally meant to be a social game. If the player in question wants a hack and slash game they can adjust to play the game that everyone else wants or find a hack and slash game.
There is nothing wrong with a hack and slash game. I actually have an article on it here but you have to know what you want or the group will clash.
Talking is great and all, but after a session or 2 everyone will forget the conversation. Metagaming will happen again, so how do you permanently fix the problem?
Adding a mechanic
You should only add a mechanic AFTER YOU HAVE TALKED TO YOUR PLAYERS! I cannot emphasize how important this is. If your answer on how to deal with metagaming in D&D is springing a new mechanic on players that will make the game harder, they will be mad.
When you talk to your players you tell them why you have a problem with metagaming (as described in the article above) and then you implement your solution. You add a mechanic to solve the problem.
This 2 step process (talking to players first) is extremely effective in most groups. You gain player feedback and make the new mechanic likely to work. But what mechanics should you implement?
There is no magic mechanic that solves how to deal with metagaming in D&D.
Each situation requires a different mechanic.
If your party is having problems with initiative taking too long you might want to have the party pre-roll initiative at the beginning of the session to speed things up. This might be because you want a natural flow into combat, or to make combat start before they take 5 minutes to plan.
Conversely, if your party is not paying attention to when their turns are and conversing about strategy implement the ‘batter up’ mechanic. Tell each person who is on deck that they are next.
Both issues have to deal with the initiative, but the circumstances and mechanics to solve the problems are different.
You don’t have to use 1 mechanic to solve a situation.
Take the skill check issue. A player fails a skill check so the entire party rolls on it. You could:
A. Make your party follow my home rule in the skill checks article (it is in the group checks section).
B. Have the DC for the skill check go up as the party gets more and more confused with different wrong voices chiming in. Possibly drowning out the voice of reason that is correct.
Both ways can work. There isn’t a perfect solution to any given metagaming problem, but you can still come up with 1.
If characters are sharing out of game knowledge a lot or talking about a person while they are in-game in front of that person, you can make a new rule. All talking is considered in-game.
If they are sharing out of game knowledge that others shouldn’t know, you can have them text or write a question to you on paper.
All of these are new mechanics for different problems, but as you can see there are many different ways that metagaming can be a problem. It isn’t as easy as ‘do this and it can be solved’ or ‘here are 5 ways to solve it x problem!’ Metagaming is a broad term with broad problems, but talking and conversing with your players when problems arise is a great way to solve it.
If you don’t want to talk to your player or want to be proactive instead of reactive, there are different ways with how to deal with metagaming in D&D.
“Alright guys! It is a troll so let’s burn it! Wait, fire is healing it? What?”
Changing expectations is the proactive way on how to solve metagaming in D&D. There are many ways to change expectations, but you should have a reason for anything that is weird.
The reason can be as simple as ‘that is how trolls are in this world.’ That is not a great explanation though, so you can come up with a better one. Trolls recently have gained a ‘blessing’ from a corrupt god. Now you have subverted expectations, a changed monster, and a plot hook if the players want to pursue it!
You can change expectations by changing the monster’s stats. ‘You face a rabbit.’ Rolls 13 d20s. ‘Do 10 25s hit you?’
Obviously a rabbit can’t do this, but you can change the stats on any monster. Adjust the health of an orc, hydra, whatever to make the monster a bit stronger.
The problem with adjusting stats is that you have to know what you are doing. Even with experience, you can still screw up and make the monster too strong. That is why I suggest that you only adjust stats if you are very comfortable doing so.
A different option as described above is to swap weaknesses. If a troll is normally weak to fire instead make them weak to lightning. The troll can still die, it just dies differently. This completely takes care of metagame knowledge in most cases. If a player encounters a red dragon that has the stats of a blue dragon, the players will still know that a dragon is a big deal though. That is okay. Most adventurers would know what they don’t want to fight.
The last option was to switch the stats of a monster with another one. I already mentioned this with a red dragon having the stats of a blue dragon, but you can do this with other creatures.
Switch a troll’s stats with that of a xorn. The monster is of the same CR, but it is a completely new monster.
I would only suggest changing expectations if you want your game to be more social than a hack and slash wargame. Knowing what you are facing is actually good for a hack and slash game, so just be cautious about what game you are running.
These are a few ways to subvert expectations with monsters, but you might not even need to do that!
Be fine with it
“On a scale of 65, I’m feeling at a 32.”
“Your new character poofs to the group. Now plan on how to kill the bad guy. By the way, you all know each other.”
Is this really bad? You don’t have a system to have other players tell each other “I am < > wounded.” That can give a healer an accurate idea of how hurt an ally is.
Do you really want to bog down gameplay with figuring out how a character gets to the group and is accepted by them? Isn’t there a natural nonspoken agreement at the table to trust and help other players?
More importantly for talking in combat, you can have players only talk 6 seconds in combat or lose their turn. But what about how the characters have spent days together before this? Don’t the characters have some experience on how to deal with combat? Wouldn’t those characters plan battle strategies to survive?
We just skip past the boring parts that the characters would try to figure out, so why are we punishing the players for trying to make up for it? The game should be about fun and not flow charts. In order to increase the odds of survival characters would normally come up with 10s if not 100s of plans and practice them. They might even practice formations!
Players are not their characters. They are trying to roleplay and represent these characters. Metagaming might be needed in order to help players accurately roleplay.
All I am saying is that metagaming doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You don’t always need to figure out how to deal with metagaming in D&D. Instead, you can just accept it.
I am not saying to accept metagaming when a player is ruining the game. I am not saying to let a player control others with metagame knowledge.
Players will always metagame. It is natural and it will happen. The extent of metagaming is the problem.
Metagaming is natural, but dungeon masters do it too.
When the players talk, roleplay, or come up with plans don’t you metagame? You may spend this time to look up notes, plan ahead, figure out where the plot is going as you panic, but you can metagame.
If the players can know that the hydra shouldn’t get their heads cut, why can’t an intelligent humanoid lay a trap? Why can’t intelligent beings run away to inform/fight another day? Who should be targeted? The person in front or does everything have a natural instinct to kill that thing emitting white light and healing people?
You can metagame while they metagame and probably do. I do, and that is fine.
All I am saying is that metagaming may not be as much of a problem as people think. At times you will have to deal with it but training people how to play isn’t always good. Maybe the players are trying to be tactical and represent the hours of preparation. It is up to your group how to deal with metagaming in D&D, but you may not actually need to deal with it at all.
How to deal with metagaming in D&D is a very broad topic. I cannot possibly cover every aspect of it, but I can give you the tools to do so.
There are 5 ways to deal with metagaming.
- Be strict.
- Talk to your players in session 0 or after.
- Adding a mechanic.
- Changing expectations.
- Be fine with it.
Being strict can be the worst way to deal with it. Parts 2 and 3 are intertwined. You need to inform your players and then implement a solution. Part 4 is a proactive subversion of expectations to discourage and nullify metagaming. Part 5 is simply being okay with it.
Metagaming is not always a problem.
If the metagaming is too much then it can be a problem and you should fix it, but always consider if it really is. Is it a problem that the party is planning combat in combat? That is a question up to you and your group.
This topic was a bit complex. There isn’t a simple answer, but I hope that I was able to help solve your conundrum on how to deal with metagaming in D&D.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!