How to handle Metagaming

It strikes fear in the hearts of players and Dungeon Masters alike. Something so terrifying and divisive that it can tear groups apart and leave what was once a happy family of adventurers in ruins. When it has slithered its way into your group, is there any hope left? Or should you just pack your bags and wait for the inevitable? I can only be referring to one thing, spoken of in hushed tones. Metagaming.

What is Metagaming?

Ok that was a little dramatic, but if you have spent much time on forums and reddit threads, you would likely come to the same conclusion that metagaming is one of the biggest banes to our hobby. Metagaming can be defined as the use of knowledge by the players that their characters ‘wouldn’t know’ to get some sort of advantage. This can be common game knowledge (knowing trolls will often regenerate unless you light them on fire), observational knowledge (seeing part of a battlemap the character has not moved to yet), or interpersonal knowledge (knowing that unless the DM says ‘do you check for traps’ there will be no traps down this dark hallway).

Is Metagaming Bad?

Most players I have encountered want to be a ‘good roleplayer’ and believe they should avoid metagaming where possible. When faced with a group of trolls they will try to play dumb as ‘their character wouldn’t know that trolls are weak to fire’ and not use that bit of knowledge to their advantage.

I know this may be a controversial opinion, but I am here to say that I believe metagaming is totally fine, and 100% allowed at my table. Now I know some of you are clutching your pearls and whispering, ‘oh but the immersion of it all’, but just bear with me for a moment. Let’s take a closer look at the three types of metagaming and how they impact our games.

Types of Metagaming

As defined above, metagaming is the use of ‘outside’ player knowledge for an in-character benefit. We also outlined the three distinct types of knowledge, game knowledge, observational knowledge, and interpersonal knowledge. Let’s dive into each type of metagaming knowledge, and I will give my reasons as to why I believe it is a perfectly fine thing for players to take advantage of.

Metagaming Type #1: Game Knowledge

Game knowledge is the understanding of how your typical Tabletop RPG game works, its systems, and maybe specific rules such as having read the bestiary of monster stat blocks. This type of metagaming is the one players are the most aware of. You’ve fought mummies in other games in the past, therefore you already know to watch out for their mummy rot disease. The typical fantasy orc is evil and brutish, so even though your character has never heard of one before you know to be on your guard when you encounter one on the road. How do you keep out all this knowledge you have gained over the years of playing Tabletop RPGs and just being immersed in nerd culture?

The answer is you don’t. I think what a lot of players and dungeon masters forget is that these characters we have created did not spring from nothingness, but are supposed to be residents of this fantasy world we are playing in. You think these characters who wish to be heroes have never heard stories of fearsome orcs in their lives? That they didn’t pour over books of knowledge about monsters in the known world, and potential weaknesses they might have? That they didn’t fight mummies before, same as you had in different adventures? If these are indeed supposed to be ‘real people’ then they come with their own set of history and knowledge. Since it is impossible to honestly say what they have learned or encountered over the course of their fictional lives, is it not fair to say that we can simply insert our own experiences and memories into theirs?

I tell my players if you have game knowledge it is fine to use it to your advantage, just tell me how your character might have learned that over the course of their lifetime. Do they know trolls are weak to fire from a book the character read, or perhaps a story at a bar a few years back. Heck if they want to open the monster manual then and there, I am fine with that, but that means that in the game their character has such a book, and it can be destroyed or taken from them. Using game knowledge is perfectly fine, just come up with an in-game reason for that knowledge to be known by the character.

Metagaming Type #2: Observational Knowledge

This type of metagaming knowledge stems from the player's observations, be that of the not fully covered map on the table, the DM getting their minis ready, or the initiative tracker popping up on the Virtual Tabletop. The player has observed something that their character wouldn't have access to, and thus is using that knowledge to make in-character decisions. The player can clearly see that there are some post-it notes covering up the secret room on the map before them, so they set out their character to search high and low until they find it. There are many tricks' DMs use to ‘hide’ what they are doing, (I for example like to just make random rolls when the players are in a dungeon just to keep them on their toes) but if the players do spot some sort of observational knowledge how do we explain that away?

The answer is instinct. How many TV shows have you watched where a character in the story had a ‘gut feeling’ about something that guides their decision-making process? Similar to how players can use their game knowledge as character experience, we can use observational knowledge as the instincts of our characters. Sure, you the player know there is a secret room next door, but we can simply say that in the moment the character has an odd feeling about the hallway and something just seems off, which is why they are exploring it more closely. Instinct is an important part of life, and we can use our observational knowledge to roleplay instinct for our characters.

Metagaming Type #3: Interpersonal Knowledge

Interpersonal knowledge is when the players gain out of character information from a personal understanding of the Dungeon Master and their unique DMing stye. The players know the DM will always have the obvious treasure chest be a mimic, that unless they ask for a stealth role there is no need to be stealthy, and that the DM has a certain way they roleplay evil characters pretending to be good. 

It’s the knowledge of the DM as a person and using that to give the character an advantage as they ‘know the mind of God’ so to speak. This can seem the hardest metagaming to rectify, as it is not easy for a DM to change their personality or playstyle on a whim to make things challenging for their players.

The thing about interpersonal knowledge is at the end of the day, we are still sitting around a table playing a game of make believe. With that comes a level of interpersonal knowledge that we simply can’t escape from, for better or for worse. There is a positive side to interpersonal knowledge as well. Players trust that their DM will take them on a fun story of adventure and will ‘take the bait’ for plot hooks and quests out of that knowledge. We just need to have fun with it and accept the metagaming that comes with interpersonal knowledge as there is no realistic way out of it. Make it part of a running gag or theme of an adventure, Bobkins the Goblin will always be part of the story no matter where the players end up. Have fun with interpersonal knowledge, and let the game be a game.

Knowledge is Power

I have gone through the three types of metagaming and given my reasons as to why I don’t think you need to try to ban metagaming at your table. Players metagame as a way to gain power for their characters, and I don’t believe it is often a dreadful thing. What you need to remember is the intention behind metagaming. If someone is doing it to remove fun for others, then there needs to be a conversation. However, if it is just part of playing the game, then I say let them go for it. You can always switch things up to make it different or more difficult than the players may expect with their extra knowledge. But don’t let that be your default. Let players use all their assets to their advantage and have metagaming add to the roleplaying of their characters. Let me know your thoughts about metagaming in the comments, and I hope you won’t let it cause arguments in your group.


  1. Personally, I limit my metagaming as I've had a good bit of experience with the monsters/traps/etc; I do my best to ask for some kind of knowledge check to see if my character recognizes the monster/class/etc in question, and let the DM tell me what if anything I know about it. I also encourage my players to do the same thing.

    1. That's a good approach, You also can never be sure if it is a homebrew monster by the DM, so rolling knowledge to confirm is a good way to handle it


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