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DND Player’s Handbook – When Plans Fail (STOP DOING THIS Part 4)

dwarves war giants ettins

Art by Montjart

Welcome to Part Four of Player Tips and DM Rants

Part one is here!

Part two is here!

Part three is here!

I continue my rant/guide/request of various player behavior that needs to stop. If you want to be a better player, don’t do these things. Get rid of the bad habits and then, afterward, we’ll focus on some good ones to build.

I assume you’ve read parts one and two, so without further introduction… let’s discuss more SINS OF PLAYERS!

Getting Upset When Your Plan Fails

whine

Is this you? Did things not go how you wanted?

Sometimes you make a plan, similar to the situation in part two: you’ve planned and plotted for 45 minutes trying to figure out the best way to go about sneaking into the enemy’s base. You finally decide on a path forward, and your plan falls apart for any number of reasons. The most common way for this to happen is that you just didn’t consider something, or you fall victim to poor rolls. I’ve seen players get audibly angry that things didn’t go the way they wanted. This falls under the next category that I’ll address in a bit: The Whiner and the Dice-Doomed.

Other times plans fall apart for a potentially far worse reason, and that’s why I bring it up now. The party has made their plans, but you’ve failed to consider very important factors, overlooked them, didn’t gather information, or forgot about a mechanic entirely. Perhaps you weren’t even aware the mechanic existed because your new. Maybe you just assumed it would work out.

For example, I had a player, we’ll call him Mike, discussing plans about killing a group of NPCs and saying all sorts of nasty things about them. Said NPCs were in the same room, sitting not more than 20 feet away. He just “assumed” that they couldn’t hear. This led to him wanting to take back all of that nasty stuff. He was a bit of an Overcompensator and a Mary Sue type player. All of these are things that just don’t work well, so he’s gone now. Whenever I use the name “Mike,” I’m always referring to the same person. Mike argued with me for 10 minutes in the middle of a session, got whiny and huffy and made things awkward for quite a time. But I digress.

Depending on player mentality, some decide that I am choosing to make their plan fail, when in fact it fails for reasons I, the Dungeon Master, am privy to such as extenuating circumstances or features that the players haven’t yet learned about. If the failure is due to a plain game mechanic that they didn’t consider, I’ll still have the plan fail, but take the time to explain why it failed.

In cases such as the latter, the players made their plan without fully planning or preparing. As a result, they become indignant because the Dungeon Master didn’t immediately point this information out to them before they decided to take this course of action. Instead, I “let them fail” because I knew they would. The role of the Dungeon Master is to present problems to the players and let them solve them in their own fashion. It’s not to guide players towards a solution. (I AM guilty of this sometimes, but only if players are struggling with any path forward or can’t figure out a puzzle or riddle.)

 This more usually comes from a character mentality that they cannot lose, they have victory in the bag, and that nothing can surprise them. Then, it turns out the enemy has a heretofore ability or trap that allows them to essentially say “Cute plan. Here’s how things are actually going to go.” Clearly, it wasn’t just the characters but also the players with such a detrimental mentality. Cocky people don’t like being put in their place.cute plan

Just because games like Dungeons and Dragons are designed to be played out as a power fantasy doesn’t mean that you can just jump into any situation and not expect to face the consequences of your actions. You won’t always come out on top, and setbacks are sometimes more fun than succeeding when you thought you had the situation handled.

Rather than whining about the situation, I suggest you stop treating every single situation like you and your party are The Chosen and that nothing is more powerful than you, and that NPCs (allies and enemies alike) only exist to serve you.

This brings me to my next point.

Stop Assuming NPCs Follow The Same Rules You Do

At its core, D&D is a game. Very few combative games are designed in such a way that everything follows the same rules. Even the classes you choose from bend or break some of the already established rules. NPCs break these rules even more. Otherwise, Dragons and Lichs wouldn’t exist. Players can’t play as them; so, unless they break the “rules”, monsters can’t be them either. And it doesn’t stop there. I often give the “Big Bad Evil Guy” a new mechanic to make the final battle interesting. Maybe they can concentrate on two spells. Stop metagaming that “they are already casting Witch Bolt, they couldn’t possibly cast it a second time and keep the first one going.”

As soon as players open up your mind to creative scenarios, stop assuming that every orc is the same as the last, and plan accordingly, Mike stops being surprised by every single little thing that he assumed would be the same forever.

Metagaming

I’m going to have an entire post devoted to this, but I mention it here as well because it belongs on the list. Like the Rules Lawyer, the powers of metagaming can be used for good. We first need to identify it and define it because not everyone is familiar with the term. 

Metagaming describes when a player uses real-life knowledge or any type of knowledge that isn’t available to their character, given the current state of the game. They use that meta knowledge to govern their character’s actions. Wikipedia gives good examples which include:

metagamingGathering knowledge:

  • Any action that is based upon the real-life knowledge that one is playing a game.
  • Gaining knowledge from Out-Of-Character (such as pre-reading adventure guides or watching others play through the same game or pre-prepared campaign).
  • Using in-world knowledge from a previously played or dead character.
  • In split-screen games, using another player’s viewpoint to gather the information that one’s own character doesn’t know and could not access.

Bending the rules:

  • Adjusting a character’s actions based on foreknowledge of the long-term intentions of the gamemaster.
  • Basing a character’s decision on knowledge of the game’s mechanics to gain an advantage, when the resulting action goes against that character’s personality, history or motives.
  • As a form of powergaming during character creation, when a player takes flaws or liabilities that they know the gamemaster is unlikely to fully exploit, thereby acquiring extra creation options without paying a corresponding penalty.

closet metagameAltering behaviors:

  • Using certain types of attack or defense based on the strengths and weaknesses of an opponent of which the player’s character has no knowledge.
  • Acting on any knowledge that the character doesn’t know and could not learn – for example, applying real-life chemistry to create gunpowder in a pre-firearms setting, without the said character having any foreknowledge or interest in chemistry or any precedence for its development.
  • Adjusting a character’s behavior towards other player characters based on real-life relationships with other players. This extends to and includes attempts to engender friendships or relationships and manipulate those of others, via favoritism in-game.
  • Deciding on a character’s course of action based on how the game’s abstract mechanics will affect the outcome.
  • Assuming that something that appears to be wrong or unlikely in the game world is a mistake of the game’s master rather than something that could be investigated. (There are incidences where a game’s master’s depiction of the world is genuinely at fault, causing players to gain knowledge their characters should not now – however, it is incumbent on players to not utilize that knowledge for their character’s future decisions.)
  • Assuming that if an item (such as a chest, desk or book-case) is mentioned by the gamemaster during the initial description of an area, it must have some relevance to the storyline, and immediately searching or examining it. (while ignoring other furnishings or objects that are most likely there as well).

This is bad because, in competitive games, it’s considered cheating (e.g. looking at the split-screen). In games such as Dungeons and Dragons, it’s considered breaking character because the character making the choice is doing so based on information they don’t have and thus wouldn’t do so “in reality.” Players tend to dislike seeing it more than some Dungeon Masters do. It ruins immersion. I know this is a controversial topic, and I’ll address it more fully at a later date. Below, starting at 10:03, you can see how it’s considered cheating in a professional setting.

The most flagrant example of meta-gaming that I can remember is when I was running a pre-written module. I often run the same module repeatedly for different parties. Because of this, I change things up. Well, the party entered a room and after I described it one player said 

“I want to open the closet and look in there.”

Only… there was no closet. I had removed that part of the room for various reasons. As written, there was powerful magic in the closet that Mr. Metagamer would have loved to get their hands on. The rest of the group was fed up with them at this point, and that person was removed from the table.

More often, though, is that players will just decide to make a roll for something after they see that someone else rolled poorly. Or someone will ask if they can roll for something, and someone else will quickly announce “I Help!” because the player knows that the roll will be done at advantage in Fifth Edition. I Never say no to this, but I do immediately ask them “How? How do you help?” If they give a good example, then it’s fine. Just as often, though, Mr. Metagamer can’t come up with a good method of helping.

Players frequently use the AC (as they can estimate it by what hits/misses) as a gauge for how their efforts to attack the opponent are going; it’s technically metagaming but an excellent analog for something their characters could gauge themselves.

 Stop it.

 

How To Deal With Metagaming

Because I intend to elaborate more on this in the future, I’ll be brief. Hopefully, I can remember to come back here and link my article later.

  • Be strict. As a Dungeon Master, just call it out and put a stop to it. I don’t recommend this, but it’s an option. Sometimes players are new and don’t know what they are doing is bothering you or others. Point it out and explain why. Send them here. That might be enough.
  • Talk to people about your expectations in session 0. Session 0 is before the campaign begins. If you are reading this article it is probably past session 0. Can you still talk to other players about this after session 0? Yes, you can! Talk to your players and discuss the issues. Players are usually very receptive to concerns.
  • Be fine with it. To a certain degree, you have to be. “I have 12 hit points.” “I’ve failed 2 Death Saves.” Sometimes, for the sake of fun and expedience, you have to let certain things slide. Lots of groups actively embrace and use metagaming at their table. If that’s the case, and you don’t like it… leave. It’s not right to say that someone else’s fun is wrong.laugh at memes

And So Concludes Part Four

Rest assured: there is plenty more to come. I have a significant list of things I want you to stop doing. I hope you’re now on the path to correction.

For now, have some finger guns. *pew pew*

What are some of your pet peeves with other players?

Share with us! Make others aware of their disgusting habits.

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DM Patrick

DM Patrick is a 20-year-hardened veteran of the awesome world and hobby that is table-top gaming. His primary passions include DMing for new players and bringing people into the hobby. He considers himself a "RPG Game connoisseur" and a master of none due to the fact that he's tried so many (both table-top and video games). He's been a full-time DM now for nearly 5 years and intends to remain the "Forever DM" for as long as he can survive because he's so passionate about what he does. By day, DM Patrick removes his DM screen and is known to the world as Patrick Flynn. He's a 35-year-old former Navy Submarine veteran from Ocala, Florida. If you want to know more about Patrick, roll investigation.

2 Comments

  1. I do find sometimes not meta gaming is hard work.

    A good example is recently our group was travelling down a road, with the intent to rush to the next major location to rest and resupply.

    We passed a fort town and had a conversation on wether or not we should go inside. Now me as a player, new there must’ve been something worthwhile in there. Maybe a quest, maybe some enemies to kill, some fat loots. Things rarely exist for no reason.

    But I just couldnt find a legitimate reason as to why my character would want to go there instead of continuing the course to get to the major plot point asap.

    There have been many other times in which I’ve had this internal battle of “how can I make my character want this”. Ultimately I think I tend to do well with the advice you gave me when I first started:

    “Does my character know this?”
    “Is there anything in my characters history that would set his thoughts on this”
    And
    “Based on the character, why would they care”.

    These dont always lead to the best choices but in general I’m more satisfied with the outcomes long term then I wouldve been by not staying true to my hero.

    • Really glad you think that way, Zak. Either way, though, what you’re doing is metagaming.. it’s just a less intrusive version. Also, there was nothing at that hold. Not in the campaign you’re in, anyway. I made stuff up on the fly. I’m glad with how it worked out.

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