A certain amount of meta gaming is expected as a dungeon master. Your role is to not only know the plot, but players, villains, and everything in between. By default you have to do some meta gaming to maintain the game state and keep players on track. Even if you let your players go off script and avoid the story, you still need to adjust the world around them to keep the game running. Most of the time this is fine, but way too often DMs make a few common mistakes that can easily be avoided.
3 Common Meta Gaming Mistakes
1. Not Allowing the Players to be Heroes
The first meta gaming mistake a dungeon master might make is creating challenges too specific for the party. This happens all the time in the name of balance, but there’s nothing balanced about it. This is constantly throwing things at the players that are their exact weaknesses. You can do this from time to time, or mix in these elements here and there, but constantly building encounters that pick at a specific mechanical weakness of your players will get stale.
For example, if you know that your players do not have magical weapons and you haven’t made finding or purchasing those types of weapons available in the game, it would be incredibly rude to keep throwing monsters at them that are resistant or immune to damage not dealt by magical weapons.
When you know what your players’ weaknesses are you should try to remove them from your encounter building considerations. It’s better to build more robust encounters that can be challenging without targeting the players’ specific deficiencies. Allow your players to be the big damn heroes they are.
2. Convenient Railroading
The number two meta gaming mistakes is railroading. Not all railroading is bad, but like most things you do as a DM the players should never notice you do it. Many DMs will fall prey to easy and convenient ways to keep the players on their created plot. This kind of meta gaming manifests as rock slides that only block the wrong path, player failure despite high rolls or great plans, NPCs who insist on only a certain action, and all sorts of invisible walls in your game.
While your players should not be fighting you on following plot threads, it’s also something that you need to maintain around them rather than force them into. It’s okay if your players go off track, as long as they aren’t doing so maliciously, because they are likely just trying to do what is most fun.
3. Exactly What I’m Looking for
The third meta gaming issue is one that is too much in favor of the party itself. It is possible to be too generous with your players and say yes to too many things. This mistake is simply the act of providing your players with exactly what they want to find all the time with little or no work on their part. Looking for specific armor? The next shop the go toy has it in stock. Do the players want to go on a beast hunt? They’re in luck, there’s a hunters lodge in town!
While these types of meta gaming can be fun and provide your players with more favorable experiences, it removes tension and the unknown from the game. The story and plot should drive the players forward, not follow their desires to a T.
It is worth noting that this is not the same thing as preparing for what your players want to do in the game ahead of time. It’s always a good idea to talk with your party and find out what parts of the game they like best and try to develop a play style that suits the group. Just be sure you’re not constantly pandering to your players’ desires at the expense of a challenging and rewarding game.
Making Your Game Better
Dungeon masters have a hard job. There’s so much to keep track of and prepare for each session. These difficulties are often what lead DMs to lean more on meta gaming, even when it’s less fun. When you get in the habit of saying, “It’s okay to meta game, I’m the DM,” you will do the game and your players a disservice. These are the times you should remind yourself that a dungeon master’s role is impartial. You’re not the sole force that drives the story, you’re simply the lens through which it is viewed. Your players’ actions should be driving the story.
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