Wednesday, February 13, 2013

[Musings] When is Metagaming good?

When discussing the differences of d20 gaming systems such as Pathfinder or Mutants and Masterminds, to that of games such as GURPS, many people often mention that other game systems outside of GURPS use metagaming in order to promote "good behavior" within their games.

It is my hope to discuss in this post why I feel that metagaming is something of a broad term, often used by people who feel that they shouldn't have to be forced to be enticed to Role Play a character that they helped build.
But first, let us clear some facts be using here:

As quoted from Wikipedia, Metagaming is defined as follows:
- The use of out-of-game information or resources to affect one's in-game decisions.
- A broad term usually used to define any strategy, action or method used in a game which transcends a prescribed ruleset.
- Going beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game.
Every time I have heard Metagaming used in conjunction with the Likes of Mutants and Masterminds (and it's use of Hero Points) I am often unsure of what they are referring too, as Hero Points are an integral part of the system. When I think of metagaming, it is in relation to the above where a player uses knowledge that would normally not be available to a character but the player uses it in order to get an unfair advantage in the game.

Other times I have seen this is when a player uses a flaw in the rules that would make no sense what-so ever for a character to have in a particular combination in order to gain an unfair advantage.

More times than not though, I have found that players use this terminology when the Game Master rewards a resource to the players in order to get those same players to act in a way that their character would act, and in doing so, provide the opportunity to make up for a bad roll or horrible circumstance later on down the road.

Mutants & Masterminds is by far the most notorious in this type of game play, as the system itself revolves around a d20 rolls with the %55 rule is king, and where players often need situational modifiers, attack/defence trade-offs, and the infamous Hero Point to make or break a success. All of these elements are part of the system and promote a specific style of play.

Now for those not familiar on how this works, is that players must partake in complications in order to gain these Hero Points, the points are then used later on in a story in order to provide a reroll in key situations with a higher chance of success or providing extra actions to move things more into a players favor. By doing things that would make their actions "Comic Book Worthy!", and by taking on at least two Complications that come up in any given adventure, these hero points become a very enjoyable aspect to the game and in my mind make for some fun (If not downright Heroic) experiences.

Metagaming and Style

Now in a game where disadvantages are rewarded through some form of mechanic that provides a reward outside of a normal point cost return, people feel that they are having to be "rewarded" for good behaviour, or that the reward from such mechanics can be viewed as a metagaming element as I have mentioned above.

This tends to be somewhat of a conflict of two different views on how a disadvantage or complication should be rewarded in games. For those not familiar, think of Complications as the same as Disadvantages in GURPS. Though, instead of getting an immediate cost return (which was the case originally in Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Edition, but removed in 3rd), the player must choose to either take up or ignore the complication in any given encounter. By ignoring the complication during any part of the game, the player loses an opportunity to gain the Hero Point resource.

In Mutants and Masterminds, the system revolves around a single d20 roll, very rarely requiring more than two d20 rolls for each action in any given round. More times than not, unless the player hasn't taken advantage of key situations, these d20 rolls are likely to have on average a %55 chance of success.

Players must work together in order to change the odds in their favour, either through use of skills, effect/accuracy trade offs, using combat maneuvers, and/or by taking advantage of setbacks caused by complications or by the GM to help provide a greater chance for success later on down in the story.

One other thing that many people tend to forget in any Mutants and Masterminds game is that failing in any given encounter or even suffering a major setback in a Comic Style game does not necessarily mean the death of one's character. Unless people are not familiar, Death in Comics are exceptionally rare, and even then those who do die tend to come back in some way shape or form.

Hero Points are the game's way of allowing players to accept these setbacks, but use them in order to make significant changes in otherwise tragic situations.

In games like Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, and GURPS, this very rarely tends to be the case, as dead means dead, and one bad decision can horribly mean the end of one's character, often times resulting in fellow players having to either let it stay that way or investing tons of resources or favors in order for the player to be brought back to life.

Many Game Masters in such games may often try to take advantage of Metagaming elements in order to promote "good behavior" and reward players by providing the opportunity to re-roll horrible rolls later on in the game.

My View on Metagaming

When looking at the above facts, I feel that the term "Metagaming" when referring to Hero Points, Action Points, or unique modifications on Luck are all tools that a Game Master can use that are inherent in any given system and help to bridge different playstyles in any given game.

Players who enjoy role playing their character tend to do well in such games, having many opportunities on collecting this resource and providing for epic moments down the line in any given game, where those who are quite unsure of how to act have some means of learning how by taking advantage of Story Plot and going along with recommendations by the game master or utilizing what is on their character sheet more often.

Additionally, players play these style of games not to get lost "in character," or at least not from my experience. Instead, they play games in order to have fun, enjoyable, and memorable moments that they can share with their group of friends. Using elements in a game that reward the players for staying as a team, cooperating, and taking their complications/disadvantages into account I feel help to encourage this, and do so in a way that discourages metagaming when taking into is most literal definition.

For those who have made it this far, what are your thoughts on this rather controversial topic?