I started writing this post about how I feel like maybe I don’t understand Dungeon World very well, and here was…

I started writing this post about how I feel like maybe I don’t understand Dungeon World very well, and here was…

I started writing this post about how I feel like maybe I don’t understand Dungeon World very well, and here was this DW game I got roped into GMing for a few sessions that didn’t really end the way I was expecting, but as I typed it turned into a “I really fucking hate meta-gaming” post and had very little to do with anything Dungeon World.

Whether they know they’re doing it or not, how do you handle players who meta-game?

24 thoughts on “I started writing this post about how I feel like maybe I don’t understand Dungeon World very well, and here was…”

  1. As far as I know “meta-gaming” only has one definition: using player knowledge to make character decisions.

    Do you ever have a player or two who don’t really remember the previous session? Or maybe they just aren’t invested in the adventure so they weren’t paying attention to what was happening before the current scene? or maybe they just have new ideas about an NPC or a situation after having a week away from the table? and any one of these things can lead to the player (not the character) wanting to seek a new direction or abandoning the current path? Maybe you don’t know about that. when I’m GMing a fantasy game it seems to happen with some level of regularity.

    At the beginning of our final session one of the players had a change of heart about helping the NPC who had led them through the wilderness, up a mountain, through an eagle-headed centaur clan, and to the gates of an extraplanar prison. He decided to turn around and head back to town, despite the fact that they were days away and some of that centaur clan was still alive and sitting between him and civilization. I wasn’t prepared for this about face, and it completely soured what I had planned for that session, and my mood along with it. Now that I think about it, they were actually supposed to go into the extraplanar prison one session earlier but meta-gaming prevented that too.

  2. Dear Patrick, I hear your pain, but ready yourself to be flooded with posts explaining how the GM can’t and mustn’t prepare a plot and only the players decide where the story goes. I’ll write one myself, but I’m actually in a hurry!

  3. As one of the players who changed their mind on helping this NPC, it was based on continued interactions and distrust with her.

    When I prep a game, I try to avoid assuming that the players are “supposed” to do anything.

  4. Patrick Henry Downs: Dungeon World is designed as a sandbox anyway, so you shouldn’t really be writing “traditional” adventures that prevent you from doing improv. You need to have the freedom to introduce unforeseen twists on a failed roll, and the players need to have the freedom to dictate setting elements, and then you’re supposed to make something awesome together from those two parts.

    That said, yeah, I’ve been in similar situations where I’d prepped some stuff and then the players decided to do something else. Either throw the prep out and agree to go where the players want to go (and reuse as much of your prep as makes sense), or just be frank with your players and tell them “okay, but if you do this we’ll have to stop for the night so I can write more material, it’s your call.”

    Also, don’t forget that you can always ask the player to explain why they feel this makes sense for their character. They might have a perfectly valid reason that you can fold into your current fronts/dangers (which, incidentally, don’t go away just because the players decided to do something else, and absolutely should advance and have real consequences on the world).

  5. Sounds like there are two separate issues here: players using out-of-character knowledge, and players not following the expected plan.

    Most of my fun in GMing is setting up my plans and watching the players turn them into burning ruins, so I’m probably not the best person to ask on the second point.

    On the first point, your objection appears to be that the action the player took was counter to what you expected, based on what had been established in the previous session.

    If the problem is just that players aren’t remembering details, what I do is I ask one of the players to recap what happened last time. That reminds the players what they did and lets me gauge how much they remembered, both of which are highly useful.

    On the other hand, if the thing that really bothers you is that the players are using out-of-character knowledge rather than following the fiction, it can help to ask the players why their character is making that decision and see if they have a reason in the fiction. Putting the conversation in the open helps both sides.

  6. Also worth noting is that the Powered By AW games tend to include meta gaming in the mechanics. This is more true in Vanilla AW and Monsterhearts than DW, but here’s the thing, EVERYONE is going to meta game some. Better to have that designed into the game then just shake your fist angrily and say “No, don’t do that.”

    When embraced, meta-gaming can help ensure everyone is on the same page, the story remains interesting, and everyone is surprised and entertained by the ongoing story.

  7. When players aren’t doing what you want them to do, whether or not you feel like it is in character, you gotta stop and step back.  It definitely sucks to have tons of planning go up in smoke when a character decides to do something stupid, but it sounds like you’d been railroading your characters, sending them along a pre-determined path with regularly scheduled ‘stops’ along the way.  The thing about Dungeon World, it seems designed to fight that approach at every turn.  It does, however, excel at allowing you to respond in kind.  

    Possible ideas:

    NPC is really a lesser god in disguise, extremely displeased with players for abandoning him.  Threatens to burn down their hometowns if they don’t help him.   

    The way back has changed. Close proximity to the extraplanar prison has shifted the party into a different plane.  A side effect the NPC conveniently forgot to mention.  

    On their way back, players meet another band of adventurers led by an identical NPC, on the same quest.  

  8. First rule is do not assume that the story will follow a path. If you do that, the system will fight you, the players will fight you, and you will not have a good time. Throw your players your input, and let them react, always ask “what do you do?”, “what now?” and if they don’t do anything, throw something else at them (like maybe advance your fronts). Do not go into it with a specific idea of how it will go, you’ll only be frustrated.

  9. I will finish writing the blog entry when I have time, but I assure you, planning a unique feature for a dungeon the players all say they’re going to explore in a Dungeon World game doesn’t seem like it’s following a path. Arbitrarily splitting the party because one player wasn’t paying attention to the story seems like meta-gaming.

    Willow Palecek: Aleph’s story didn’t change, the player attitude changed between sessions. It seems odd  and out of character to me that Rook was promised treasure and abandoned it at the last minute because the player needed to be reminded of what the party was doing.

  10. No offense intended, but I think your initial thought that you don’t quite get DW is right on 🙂 DW is not meant to be played like a more traditional plotted game, and you shouldn’t prep like that, in fact the prep for a DW game is minimal. At the core a DW game is a conversation where you all play to find out what happens. Check the sections on GM soft moves vs. hard moves, and on creating threats and fronts.

    As GM, find out what it is your characters care the most about and what they want. Then use some soft moves to threaten or challenge those things and see how they respond. Then you respond with another move, and the conversation goes from there. Prepping an adventure like for D&D is exactly what you’re not supposed to do in DW. Does this make sense?

  11. When a player is doing something I don’t expect, I ask “What are you trying to accomplish?” 

    When a player is doing something that I think will harm the potential fun of the adventure (such as developing interests that attempt to drag all attention onto their own character, or will result in an adventuring party with no motivation to remain an adventuring party), I always explain exactly what problem I see with how their actions could possibly harm the spirit of this current session, and they have always agreed with me. I then work with them to find something that evokes a similar spirit for their character, something that they will like just as much, that won’t make my job as a GM (giving everybody a good and exciting time) incredibly difficult.

    These two things have solved any problems with ‘meta-gaming’ or attempts to derail a game, because even a completely improvised game like the ones I run can be derailed when a single player starts causing too much friction with what everyone else at the table is hoping for.

  12. Yeah, I totally get your frustration.  Fionna was never fully comfortable with this NPC, and the extra information I gained seemed like helping her was a huge cosmic risk.

    Your frustration with Colin is totally valid.  I just hope you aren’t mad at me.

  13. I understand the game is supposed to be sandboxed and freeform, but when the PCs commit to a plan at the end of one session and then one player derails the whole thing at the start of the next session because he forgot what everybody is doing, that is not role-playing and that is not Dungeon World. That is fucking meta-gaming at it’s most banal.

    You’re right Alessandro Gianni, none of this advice really helped me and it was just a lot of people banging the same redundant drum.

    Willow Palecek, it definitely wasn’t you, though sidling along on his “I’m going to spend half a week walking back to town” didn’t really help. His dismissive attitude toward fantasy is the main reason why I didn’t want to GM Dungeon World. He ignored the plot and needed to be constantly reminded of “why” we were doing something when I ran DCC and Birthright too.

  14. Ouch, sounds like you’ve got a player from hell scenario. Not much one can do other than confront the player with their behavior directly and ask them not to return if it continues.

  15. But Manu Saxena, the weird thing with this player is that he isn’t dismissive of science fiction. It doesn’t matter if there’s aliens or psychic powers or self-replicating AI or digitized consciousness, because his mentality is that is plausible and therefore it’s worth paying attention to. But as soon as you discuss magic and dragons and elves he throws his hands up in the air and has this attitude of “this shit aint real so why should I bother paying attention.”

    He plays sci-fi games fine, but when it comes to fantasy he is just an awful meta-gamer because he doesn’t pay attention to anything and just plays off the cuff every week. It’s like having a perpetually chaotic-neutral player… but only during fantasy games.

  16. Patrick Henry Downs Actually one awesome thing about DW is you can absolutely split the party. I’d have him head back to town, and let the other go have an adventure. Switch back and forth with the PC in town having absolutely nothing to do but sit around in a tavern, while the rest of the group goes off and be big damned heroes.

  17. Sounds like the problem is the player, not metagaming per se. He’s not engaged in the game, so he’s acting out. The behavior is a symptom, albeit an annoying one.

  18. Yeah this doesn’t sound so much like meta-gaming to me. Meta-gaming isn’t any action taken due to player reasons rather than character (heck? Maybe the character is that complex? Who knows). Rather meta-gaming is using knowledge that their character wouldn’t know (like details from a conversation where the player wasn’t present, or reversing direction to go back up another player when there is no sign they’re in trouble).

    Maybe I’m wrong on this, and if so let me know, but it just sounds more like your player is being a dick.

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