Understanding Metagaming

Understanding Metagaming

In the past, we have touched on metagaming a bit, but I wanted to talk about it a little more, since it has been a while since we addressed the topic and there are some new players in the game who may not be familiar with how we handle it.

What is metagaming, exactly?

Metagaming is the act of using a strategy, action, or method in a game that goes beyond the rules, uses external factors or information to affect the game, or goes beyond the limits or environment of the game.  In Riverside Opera, we discourage all metagaming, and we do not tolerate any sort of cheating at all.  For our part, we enforce metagaming as cheating when any information learned or action taken while out of character (OOC) is used to your character’s direct or indirect benefit in character (IC).

Again, in Riverside Opera, cheating is not tolerated.  A first offense will cost the offending player 5 XP.  A second offense will result in the Storyteller asking that player to not return to the game.  It sounds harsh, but we take cheating very seriously, and we do not tolerate it in any form, especially when it comes to metagaming.

The definitions I gave above make it sound like it’s easy to spot metagaming, but in practice, there is a great deal of grey area and nuance to consider.  Since it comes with such a hefty penalty, the staff has to take into consideration every circumstance of a situation before ruling that a particular action is metagaming or not.  We don’t take accusations of it lightly, and we don’t accuse players of it on a whim, either.

We want the story to remain as organic and sensical as possible, and—more importantly—we want the game to be fair to all its players.

But why is metagaming a bad thing?

Say that Randy has saved up a ton of points and is going to cash them in on a set of Perks in order to be able to play his perfect Follower of Set, his favorite clan. In his excitement, he tells a bunch of his friends while at dinner one night that he is planning on bringing that character to the game, but his character is going to pose as a Toreador to avoid suspicion.

Well, Chris, who knows about the shady things that Randy’s characters get up to, overhears the conversation at dinner and decides to have his character tell the Prince that a Setite is planning to come into the city next month and destroy the power structure. After all, Chris’s character is better off if he doesn’t have to compete directly with Randy’s.

See where things get a little unfair? Randy’s entire concept is ruined.

But we can just undo that interaction, right? Tell the Prince’s player that the conversation never happened? Yeah, not exactly. What if the Prince decided to rally forces and told several of her closest supporters to be on the look for a Setite? And then they each told two other people? Now the whole LARP knows, and it is MUCH more difficult to have everyone pretend that they don’t know that Randy’s Toreador is actually a Follower of Set.

Information is king in Vampire LARP. It is crucial to the political economy, and if anyone ever uses out-of-character information in this way, that economy can be disrupted or destroyed.  Riverside Opera is a game of political intrigue, and it’s very difficult to have intrigue if you can’t trust that other players will keep their IC and OOC knowledge separate.

Another good reason to avoid metagaming comes down to a sense of community.  It’s very difficult to have OOC trust when anything you say at dinner or in Discord can be used against your character at the actual game.  That leaves us as players in a very difficult position—do we just not talk about this thing that we dearly love with our friends who also love the same thing?  We are all very invested in our characters, and we want to protect the XP, time, and costuming investments we have in them, but that becomes hard to do if every little thing we say OOC can be used against us IC, so if metagaming is allowed, then we must choose whether to talk about the game with our friends or to protect our investments in our characters, which is a choice no one in the game should be required to make.

Examples of Metagaming

Based on the definitions above, which of these examples is metagaming?

Scenario A

Benny is playing Alfred, a Brujah who really wants to fill the Prince with aggravated damage holes. On the night of court, Alfred attempts to bring a shotgun onto Elysium, but the metal detector goes off as he enters the building.  The Keeper of Elysium informs him that he must leave his gun in his car, so Alfred goes back outside and takes it to his car.  Benny leaves the item card in his passenger seat and comes back inside, getting past the metal detector.

Frustrated at his luck and lack of foresight, Alfred goes to Cindy, an Assamite who takes assassination contracts, and asks her to kill the Prince for him.  She agrees.

Several hours later, near the end of game, Benny goes outside to take a phone call.  He sits in his car and chats for a bit, and before he comes back inside, he picks the item card back up and slides it into his badge, not wanting to lose it or forget it there (since he should be turning it in at the end of the night).  He then goes back inside.  When he goes back in, he fails to narrate that the metal detector goes off.

Right before closing court, Benny bends over to tie his shoe, and his badge tips over, dumping XP votes, Self-Control cards, and item cards all over the place.  Benny attempts to collect everything, but in his embarrassment, he forgets to check and make sure he picked everything up.  Cindy’s player, Daphne, only enters the room after he has already regained his composure and gotten back into character.

When closing court begins, Cindy is standing in the foyer when she notices the shotgun under a table.  Cindy bends over, picks up the shotgun, and attempts to shoot the Prince.

Scenario B

Emily has been keeping an eye on Gerald all night. She knows that he is planning something, and she has been brushing up on her Ancient Etruscan, since he has been having conversations with other suspicious people on Elysium in that dead language.  Emily’s player Fatima purchased Linguistics: Ancient Etruscan to help her character eavesdrop on her enemy.

Later that night, Emily uses Heightened Senses to listen in on Gerald talking to Hagathor, a Nosferatu ne’er-do-well.  When Fatima examines the scene, she notices that both of them are using the hand symbol which indicates they are speaking another language.  She assumes that they are speaking Ancient Etruscan, so she starts taking mental notes about what she is hearing when she walks into the room.  What she hears is Gerald and Hagathor discussing murdering the Ventrue Primogen so they can put someone who will support Gerald for Harpy in that spot.

Excited that she walked in at the exact moment they said something really juicy, she turns on her heel and leaves the room without even closing the door.  The players of Gerald and Hagathor assume that their language hand symbols deterred her spying, since they were speaking Sumerian during their meeting.  They feel no need to clarify, since they assume Fatima couldn’t understand them anyway.

When Gerald and Hagathor exit their private meeting, they are greeted by the Sheriff and four Deputies, who take them into custody for conspiracy to violate the Tradition of Destruction.

Scenario C 

Ichabod has a dastardly scheme to burn down Elysium and make it look like the Tremere did it. His player, James, pulls the Storyteller aside and talks at a normal volume about what he intends to do: he is going to pump a boric-acid napalm into the sprinkler system and set it up with a remote trigger so that it goes off when he texts a particular phone number, lighting up Elysium in green fire.

Latanya sees this interaction and hears of Ichabod’s plan.  Then, her character Kelly goes to the Sheriff and suggests that he might want to check if the sprinkler system is working properly.  The Sheriff investigates and finds the boric-acid napalm trap, disabling it before it can do any harm.

Later, when James tells the Storyteller that Ichabod texts the number, the Storyteller tells him that nothing happens.  James then inquires as to why, since he had never told anyone in or out of character about the plan except for the Storyteller.

Based on the most basic definition, all three of these instances are metagaming, but it is less clear whether there was willful cheating going on.  Let’s go over each instance in detail.

Scenario A – Explanation

Alfred/Benny – Despite the fact that he OOC brought in the item card from his car and despite the fact that said gun was used IC, Benny is not guilty of metagaming or cheating.  He never intended to use the item at all, much less to his benefit, and any actions he took were purely OOC, including accidentally spilling his badge on the floor.  While it might look hinky (and perhaps someone less scrupulous than Benny may have done something similar on purpose), there isn’t any evidence here to prove intent, even though he received IC benefit from an OOC action.

Cindy/Daphne – Cindy’s actions are purely IC, though Daphne should have stopped to ask the Storyteller or gathered room OOC if there actually was a shotgun conveniently hidden under the table.  There still isn’t any cheating going on here, though better discretion and OOC communication were absolutely warranted.

Scenario B – Explanation

Emily/Fatima – Assumptions are a killer in this situation.  She is absolutely guilty of metagaming, but it is another question entirely if it was explicitly cheating.  She had intent, yes, but she assumed that she was doing things by the book.  Had she stopped to ask (as she absolutely should have) what language the other characters were speaking, it would have been clear that she didn’t know what she claimed to know.  If it can be proven that Fatima had prior knowledge that either Gerald or Hagathor knew any other language at all besides Ancient Etruscan, then this circumstance would be cheating (and Fatima would be docked 5 XP).  If not, it is only a warning to communicate better next time, with the next instance, innocent mistake or not, costing Fatima 5 XP.  In any case, you should always clarify what language is being spoken when someone else is using that hand symbol.

Gerald/Hagathor – While they were guilty of not clarifying what language they were speaking, neither of these characters’ players are guilty of any metagaming or cheating.

Scenario C – Explanation

Ichabod/James – Ichabod is rightly upset by what has transpired here.  He did nothing wrong and was not only thwarted, but also might very well be punished IC for doing something that no one ever should have known was going to happen.

Kelly/Latanya – This is a situation where it is 100% metagaming and cheating.  Nothing that is ever said to the Storyteller should ever be taken IC unless the Storyteller is actively playing a character.  In this situation, Latanya would be docked 5XP, and if she ever cheated again, she would be asked to not return to the game.

Avoiding Metagaming

As a player, you have a duty to avoid metagaming.  If there’s ever a situation where you might, even unintentionally, be using OOC knowledge or actions to your IC benefit, you should go out of your way to not do so.  It can be difficult to think about every little thing your character does, so here are some quick tips that, if followed, can help you avoid metagaming without a ton of effort.

  1. If anything is said to the Storyteller, it is OOC information. Just ignore anything another player says to the ST.  Walk away if you have to.  Plug your ears.  Sing a song.  Decide that you’re super interested in your fingernails all the sudden.  You wouldn’t want someone eavesdropping on your conversation with the ST, so do others the same kindness.
  2. Before acting on any information, intelligence, or evidence, be sure you can point to exactly where you got that information IC. If you can’t remember, it might have come from OOC sources, so it might be best to not act on it instead.
  3. Don’t share your super-secret plans. For real. Just don’t tell anyone what you’re up to.  The fewer people know about what you’re doing OOC or IC, the less chance that someone can muck it up.  Don’t talk about it at Huey’s after game, don’t squee over your brilliant plan in Discord, and don’t talk loudly OOC at game, either.  Keep it under your hat, and less goes wrong.
  4. Don’t make assumptions. Always communicate. If something you see or hear is an absolute bombshell, be sure to double check that what you heard or saw was accurate. Especially in cases where the next action you take could carry the risk that someone else’s character might die, it is vitally important that you check to make sure there’s not any misunderstanding.

As always, if you have any questions about whether or something is metagaming, please feel free to ask.  It can be difficult to spot and even more difficult to avoid, and we want to keep the game fair and fun for everyone.