How to squash metagaming
Metagaming is an inevitable challenge to face as a DM. Your players most likely have an INT score above 10 and are aware of common tropes and dangers the D&D world has to offer. On top of that, “table talk” and players coaching other players what to do in an encounter (often while they’re not there themselves) can spoil the suspense of a scene. Here are a few tricks I’ve picked up since beginning my campaign to mitigate metagaming and keep players at the edge of the couch.
Night Shift Notes
When players take the night off and have lookouts take turns keeping watch around the campfire, have the lookout roll Perception. Write what they see on a piece of paper. Be it good news, danger, or nothing out of the ordinary, do this every time one character is visually or audibly checking something out on their own. It beats giving everyone in the party the same visual description simply because one of the PCs rolled high on Perception. Plus, it keeps things moving if you’re managing many party-splitting players at once.
It’s also fun to leave things ambiguous for that lookout player. Describe sounds that could be tree branches scraping against the window, that could be nothing, but it could also be something… else. This trick may have varying effects, depending on what’s going on in your story. But just like a good horror movie, the simple act of farming out mundane info to just one player can build suspense, and gives a single player a bit of the spotlight as they time-manage what they can do between what their senses can pick up and how fast they can alarm the others of what they think is happening.
Fog of War
Whenever the party explores a dungeon or dangerous area they’re unfamiliar with, try revealing fractions of your playmat at a time. I always show a 15x15 starting point, like the entrance to the dungeon, and show enough in that small space to tease the corridors the PCs can travel down, at the risk of stepping into the unknown.
You can also draw the map as you go, beginning with a blank canvas and taking your wet erase markers along the path as they explore it. To hint at what’s around the corner, be sure to have audible clues prepped in case someone is waiting before stepping into the next fraction of the map you’ve prepared.
WIS and CHA Saves
Sometimes a single player is experiencing a condition that removes the option of choice. Perhaps a PC has been charmed in secret, or was possessed while separated from the party. Similar to how I deal with lookout encounters, I write an “If… Then…” guideline to follow, otherwise I let them role-play as normal.
You’re under the effects of an enchantment spell. If you see one of the royal guard, you must alert them to your presence and the presence of your friends by any means necessary. You otherwise behave completely normal.
It’s as if you’ve taken on the hatred of someone, or something, that can’t stand the sight of the living. If you hear the sound of laughter or merriment, you must take steps to remove yourself from the area or attack the source of happiness. Whenever possible, find the local gravekeeper: you believe there’s unfinished business with him, though you’ve never seen or met him before.
Are there special steps you take to squash metagaming at your table? Let me know by reblogging and sharing your wisdom!