D&D 4e: Top 12 Ways to Stop Sounding So Damn Metagamey

My single greatest pet-peeve of Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition is how gamey it can sound during play. 

That is, we tend to use gamespeak or metagame terms far too often during our favorite roleplaying game.  Want to stop?  Or at least cut back? 

Here’s a start – another Leonine 12 to the rescue!

12. Stop talking party roles.  Congratulations, we now know, without a shadow of a doubt, what the paladin and ranger generally do as part of the party in a fight.  Stop reminding us!  Can we still create a pretty balanced party without mentioning the ‘need’ for every role?  Can we trust ourselves to make the right adjustments to cover any perceived weaknesses?  You know, like every single edition of D&D before this?  Wow, nothing really has changed on this front, has it?

11.  Stop calling it some other game.  No, it’s not World of Warcraft.  No, it’s not a miniatures war game.  No, it’s not hopscotch or canasta either.  But if you really must go there, I’m pretty sure all of D&D was ‘borrowed’ from some (awesome, admittedly) combination of Tolkien, mythology and our history of warfare.  D&D existed long before any cool video games about it did.  Use of smarter visual aids doesn’t automatically make D&D a miniatures war game either, sorry.   Now that monster tokens are all the rage, what shall we call D&D now?  Pokemon?  Chutes and Ladders?  Trivial Pursuit?  Tell me! 

10. Describe your actions instead of reading off a skill and rolling a die.  Put down your damn dice!  What does it look, sound or feel like first?  What are you actually thinking or doing to earn that skill check?

9. Roleplay your social skill checks.  Once again, put your damn dice down and actually attempt to use a voice that isn’t yours and mannerisms that aren’t yours to actually lie like a rug, say something threatening or imposing, or talk some sense into folks or make peace through Bluff, Intimidate or Diplomacy.  You know, actually roleplay your character!

8. Stop giving gamey play-by-play.  No one needs to hear you announce your action type and give us a public running remaining inventory for every single action you make during your turn, especially obvious and annoying ones like “for my move, I’ll move here.”  Are you serious?  This isn’t a ball game, Johnny Most.  For the love of Gygax, spare us.  I trust you, ok?  D&D 4e’s been out long enough.  It’s really ok.  Freaking stop!

7.  Stop calling them short and extended rests.  Catch your breath, tend to your wounds, check your armor and weapons, grab a snack or pound back your waterskin or wineskin, but do not stop for a “short rest,” whatever the hell that is.  And get some sleep for the night – absolutely do not “extended rest” – once again, whatever the hell that is.

6.  Don’t go ‘Bag of Numbers’ on us.  Describe your combat actions.  Don’t just rattle off a list of numbers and gamespeak conditions and actions like you’re reading from some horrible combination of a calculator and tech repair manual.  Your ‘powers’ (dry heave…), feats, and magic items have names and flavor text for a reason!  Use them or at least be inspired by them to describe your actions and attacks.  Acknowledge their existence and magic, at the very least.  Give them some props.  Maybe even enjoy their RP flavor!  Wow!

5. Roleplay during combat.  Don’t leave all theatrics and roleplaying to the DM.  What, he or she doesn’t have enough to do?  A bit of friendly banter or encouragement during a fight is good for the D&D soul and party morale.  So too is getting into character and describing your killing blows and monster death scenes - at the very least, this is better than nothing when it comes to roleplaying your ‘powers’ (hurl…).

4. Abort Tactical Metagame Mission Conference Discussion Delta Niner.  Now that I have the tacticians’ attention… stop launching into lengthy gamey tactical analysis and prolonged discussion of every single player’s turn!  If you want someone to help you flank, then, brace yourself: say it in character in a non-gamey way!  You can do it, I have faith in you.  After all, you’re playing D&D, an RPG, and I know those roleplaying skills are buried inside your board game or war game mentality somewhere.

3. Stop calling them powers.  This isn’t sci-fi, SyFy or science fiction!  You’re actually not technically a superhero or wear uniforms or yellow spandex - leave that to other RPGs and the (extremely cool) Marvel universe.  They’re called arcane spells, divine prayers, martial exploits or maneuvers, etc.  You cast, speak, or perform them.  Say “I use a power” (yawns-ville!) one more time, and I swear I’ll have Wolverine cut you.

2. Stop saying “I Spend an Action Point!”  Honestly, what the hell is that?  Who spends a what where?  Quite possibly the gamey-ist sounding phrase in the game.  Flex a tiny RP muscle in your brain and describe what you’re doing more cinematically.  Even saying “I go into an inspired blur of heroic action” sounds ten times better than some bizarro trip to your online D&D combat shopping cart.

1.  Stop Sleeping in the Damn Dungeon.  Seriously?  Who does this?  It’s almost always beyond stupid.  Ask yourself the age-old D&D roleplay question: But what would your character do?  I’m pretty damn sure he or she wouldn’t want to get some shut-eye right next to a stack of twelve eviscerated and beheaded orc bodies, a shining pool of blood nearby and disgruntled reinforcements just upstairs.  Take your ‘extended rest’ (vomit…) in your dungeons and shove it!  Or else expect a gauntlet of hungry, curious or even concerned monsters to eat you.  Slowly.  And with tabasco sauce.

Got some more tips for us all to Stop Sounding So Damn Metagamey?  For my minor action (sigh…), I suggest you leave yours in the comments right here, right now.  Or sleep – do NOT freaking extended rest - on it and come back later.  Remember to tell your friends!

29 Responses to “D&D 4e: Top 12 Ways to Stop Sounding So Damn Metagamey”

  1. Erik says:

    I would argue, though, that from a gameplay standpoint some of this terminology is absolutely necessary to use, especially in a group that is new to 4e or roleplaying games in general. When both me and the DM have only been playing 4e and roleplaying games for just under a year, I will sure as hell use the phrases extended rest, action point, and minor/move/standard, just so there’s nothing lost in translation.

    That said, there’s certainly a comfortable compromise to be found. I’ve been interrupted mid-sentence while trying to roleplay something meaningful because another player wanted to know what I was doing mechanics-wise, which was really frustrating. On the other hand sometimes it’s absolutely necessary, especially in dire straits, to go OOC and talk shop on tactical planning. I don’t know all the powers the defender or the striker have, and trying to work out the tactical bits is simply faster to do OOC, saving the in character stuff for when you’re actually executing what you’re doing.

    I agree that metagame talk can get annoying in abundance, but some level of metagame discussion is absolutely necessary- at least at a table of newer players. Perhaps my perspective is skewed as someone new to the hobby.

    • Kilsek says:

      Erik, yes, transparency is definitely very helpful sometimes. Sometimes, do you want to be very clear, as a player or DM, what is happening and what action types were used, etc. Like you pointed out, it’s more when there’s an overabundance of gamespeak that it starts detracting from the whole D&D experience, which has always been and will be a fine and precarious balance of rules and roleplay. That’s the crux of what I was getting at. And I don’t think it’s a new player thing at all – I know lots of veteran gamers who spew out turns full of fantastically heavy gamespeak! Thanks again for your comment!

      • JMCampbell says:

        I don’t think we ever talk about role once game starts. We mention it before game because we rotate players and characters frequently. Usually it comes up as, “I’m a druid, but I’m not really a controller.”

        And while I like trying to eliminate gamist speak, I have ran into DMs that are either ignorantly or purposefully obtuse.

        Like in one game we came up a locked desk. I told the DM, “I want to put my dagger between the lip and the jamb and see if I can pop the lock open.”
        “Ok, you try to stick the tip of your dagger into the keylock, ruining it. Now it can’t be unlocked.”
        “But that’s not what I…”
        “You tried to pick a lock with a dagger.”

        In that instance, had I used very gamist terms maybe the DM would have understood what I was trying to do. But because all he heard was “open lock” and “dagger” it became something that became a recurring joke about my character.

        Same with “Short rest” when we say it in my gaming group, it’s usually as a limiting factor. “You don’t have time for a short rest” meaning don’t heal up yet. Otherwise we assume we have time to heal after combat.

        Same with Action Points. I like players saying “I’ll Action Point” because then I don’t have to ask “How are you getting two attacks this round?” if they don’t give me their chip.
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        • Kilsek says:

          That’s a tough situation – if anything, we need to reward roleplaying efforts in big ways, instead of punish them, especially with 4e’s inherent risk of higher than usual D&D gamespeak.

          With more familiarity with the game, I already see and expect less gamespeak in actual play. Sometimes it’s just setting an example of how to roleplay or flavorfully describe opening a lock or taking a few minutes to gather yourselves after a battle.

          Welcome to Leonine Roar and thanks for your comment JM!

  2. Draco says:

    I agree with Erik. Sometimes it’s necessary to say these things for clarity. You can say, “We stop to catch our breath.” but are your characters taking a Short Rest or are just pausing for a moment? It’s easier to specify that you’re using the game mechanic so everyone is on the same page.

    It can also be difficult and sometimes tedious to come up with a new description of your character’s Twin Strike/Magic Missile/Sly Flourish every time it’s used.

    Some of these don’t even count as “metagamey”. You can quibble over what kind of game D&D is, exactly, all day long but it doesn’t have anything to do with metagaming. Technically, metagaming is using game knowledge in “inappropriate” ways. For example, if a monster uses an Action Point, as a player I know it’s an elite but my character doesn’t know that. If I use that knowledge (“This thing probably has a lot of hit points. Let’s unload a daily or two on it!”) then I am metagaming.

    What you actually want, it seems, is more immersive role play and less gamist play. The real solution for this? Find other players who want what you want.

    • Kilsek says:

      Draco, thank for your comment and welcome to Leonine Roar!

      Yes, you and Erik are right that sometimes some gamespeak is necessary for clarity. I simply believe D&D, in its “out of the box” state has always been and always will be about a balancing act of left brain and right brain, like it’s always been, or to use some of the words you used, a fine balance of immersive roleplay and a game.

      Your thoughts also go me thinking of an alternative title: Was 4e’s original presentation of D&D too gamist? Their more recent titles include more flavor and lore (i.e. Monster Vault), so they too seem to think so.

  3. David says:

    Great points. I’d like to say it’s old news, but people still do all these things! We need a reminder every now and then.

    The trap me and my group always falls into is using the skill names as verbs during skill challenges, similar to calling out power names. The one that always irks me is “I perceive the cave.” We all do it, and it’s silly. Sleeping in the dungeon is another common bit of ridiculousness.

    • Kilsek says:

      David, welcome to Leonine Roar and thanks for your comment! I have to say, “I perceive the cave” sounds painful just reading it haha! The good news is, we’re all roleplayers to some degree in D&D, and we all know we’re capable of better efforts and more balanced roleplay vs. game approaches. Truth is, it’s very little effort to use just one or two different words or phrases to add a dash of color or flavor to our RPGs.

      Robert Schwalb’s articles on sleeping in the dungeons are an excellent read, too – just follow the link above for more.

  4. jSpengler says:

    An excellent (if not overzealous) call to keep the focus on creativity and role-playing. Bravo! I would add on to your list, actually: 13) Refer to characters by the character’s name. Saying “Nat should charge the skeleton” is much less badass than “Shamash, third son of Ogash of the Ashgrip Tribe, should charge the skeleton.”

    I will add a moderate note, however: my group (counting myself) loves the tactical nature of 4e and we don’t get the same foul taste in our mouth when the rogue’s player says “Sly Flourish with sneak attack” instead of describing his character’s actions in detail. The game is long and detailed enough already without describing every attack, we can make due. But at climactic moments, I find that the question “What are you *doing*?” to do wonders; all it takes is a little prompting to get players describe in gruesome detail how they impale the Big Bad when they reduce him to zero hit points.

    • Kilsek says:

      Thanks for your comment jSpengler and welcome to Leonine Roar! And thank you for your kind words, I’m happy you enjoyed the piece – I loved writing it.

      Your #13 is outstanding! It’s true, sometimes we’ll mix up or say the player name instead of the character name and that just kills immersion. It’s a simple thing that actually makes a big impact. I’m big on characterization, so saying and using character names are absolutely important to me.

      And honestly, I do in fact love the tactical nature of 4e – taking it a step further, I love the “teamplay” tactical aspect of 4e. Like no other edition before it, there are new levels of cooperative tactical play that never existed before, and that’s very exciting to watch unfold during actual gameplay.

      That said, like you suggest, a dash of the flavorful roleplay that goes along with describing an action or attack goes a long way to adding creative spark to the game, especially in important, climactic scenes and moments.

      • Nerethel says:

        I would add to #13 the reference to characters by their class. “The fighter will charge the ogre while the wizard goes over to pull the lever” (or whatever). The characters in my games are required to have names and backgrounds, and actually use them in play.

        Also, D&D is made from rules. A lot of rules. Every class has its own set of rules now, and there are classes running amok in three (!) player’s handbooks. Calling out ‘powers’ that a character will use still speeds things up, because by design, D&D would slow down to a crawl otherwise.

        Sorry. Do I sound jaded? :)

        • Kilsek says:

          Welcome Nerethel and thanks for your comment! Using the ‘power’ name is okay, and is fine sometimes. Just like sometimes, something more descriptive and immersive is even better. D&D’s speed is rarely impacted by RP – quite the opposite, it’s too many rules happening at once and not being efficiently managed or communicated. That’s where we consistently lose precious time in my experience – and our sense of immersive RP in the process. A double whammy no one really wants, rights?

  5. jonathan_sicari says:

    Stop being an elitist and let the rest of us have fun.

    :)

    My tongue is somewhat in cheek but by typical gaming sessions are restricted to about 3 hours so gaming shorthand helps us speed up play and have fun. Not to say that your advice is not helpful as it can lead to a greater immersion but I’ve actually run into people that ruin the game for others by insisting on everyone try to be (insert your favorite actor here) when all they want to do is hit an orc in the face with an axe.

    • Kilsek says:

      Welcome to Leonine Roar and thanks for your comment Jonanthan! When short on time, more clarity of terms helps too, agreed. In general however, I advocate – and this site advocates – that wonderful balance of D&D gameplay and roleplay which D&D is. I really think we’re turning a corner now with 4e, as their products (i.e. Monster Vault) mature with that careful balance in mind. So too, do we mature as 4e players, getting closer to mastery of a brand new combat and game system for D&D. That helps us better see what we may be missing and how we can get back to truly balanced D&D play.

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  7. ZZZ says:

    Hey. I liked your list. I’d like to suggest one more for the list: “Your character does not know his or her class, level, or alignment, or that of his or her companions.”

    Seriously, if you have two elves in leather armor with a shortsword in one hand and a dagger in the other who work together in combat to flank enemies and cut them down as quickly as possible, would anyone watching really dub the one who seems more reliant on having the other guy in position “Rogue” and the one who hits with both weapons at the same time more often “Ranger”? Wouldn’t you just consider them both warriors (lower-case “W”) with slighly different fighting styles?

    As lots of people have noted, a little bit of “gamespeak” is necessary (for one thing, if you don’t make some people declare which power they’re using by name before rolling the die, it’s amazing how their misses always seem to be at-will powers). But I agree, it’s nice when you can keep it to a minimum. The one problem I do have, though, is that I absolutely hate giving a long, elaborate description of my character’s spectacular maneuver or making a long, impassioned speech about why the town guard should help me that ends with me rolling a 1 and missing my attack by a mile or the guard shrugging and walking away. That’s why I prefer to say what I’m doing and roll first, and THEN describe my action if I succeed (or describe myself screwing up if I fail). It works pretty well in combat (if you want to know the effects of my attack, you have to listen to my description first) but out of combat it tends to fall flat – once you know the NPC is going to do what you asked him to, other players rarely have the patience to listen to you restate your request in more flowery language.

    • Kilsek says:

      Welcome to Leonine Roar and thanks for your comment, ZZZ!

      I see what you’re saying with class-speak. While there are some that are classically familiar in most fantasy dialogue or historical contexts (i.e. cleric, templar, druid, etc.) there are some that push the limits a bit more, like saying “I’m a weapon master!”

      The timing of the RP surrounding rolls is something I see a lot – some people are okay with only RP’ing an action before the roll, some only after, and some both. I’m in the ‘both’ camp, as I like a bit of improv and RP’ing on the fly, whenever, wherever!

      They all work well, though I know sometimes I get a bit impatient or bored if all I hear is a string of gamespeak and a bunch of dice hitting the table. It’s something I’ve had to adjust to, as some of the (extremely cool) people I play with prefer to roll first and RP afterwards, based on the result.

  8. Kilsek says:

    Edit: I’ve revised #11 for clarity. The original language of “Stop calling D&D a game it’s not” was confusing enough that some folks rightfully pointed out it sounded like I was saying that D&D wasn’t, in fact, a game! Not my intention at all! My intended point should now be clear: “Stop calling D&D some other game.”

    Carry on and thanks for reading!

  9. Mike says:

    Yes, I’d toss in as #14: Stop talking to people you can’t see/ hear. If you’re in one room and your teammate is two rooms away, you can’t talk to him without all the monsters in the dungeon hearing it too. You can’t talk strategy with your team, even if it’s in character if they can’t hear you.

    That said, there are some creative ways to play with this. I tacked on a home-made wizard cantrip that allows my group’s resident pyromaniac mage to relay a psychic message to teammates as a minor action. Relay, but not receive.

    • Kilsek says:

      Mike, welcome to Leonine Roar and thanks for your comment!

      Absolutely, sometimes the sheer amount out-of-character gamespeak or even in-character communication is excessive or doesn’t make sense given the situation (blinded, deafended, out of line of sight, out of earshot, etc.), like you mentioned. It’s a tough balance to strike, especially for the level of tactical play in 4e combat, but you have to do your best as a player and DM to keep the occurrence and duration of any kind of in-combat conversation or tactical discussion reasonable.

      • ZZZ says:

        Personally, I’d extend that one even further to “Remember that each character is a specific individual who occupies a specific location.” Failure to observe this rudimentary idea leads to the following immersion-killing issues:

        1) The Hivemind: in which characters have conversations, share information, and talk strategy despite being in seperate rooms. This also manifests when the party has a strategy session about how they want to handle dealings with an NPC in the middle of a conversation with that NPC. “I think this guy knows we’re not really travelling scholars, do we want to keep up the act or just come clean? … No, I’m not saying that out loud we’re, um, exchanging meaningful glances.” This is especially bad if you have a party member with the telepathy racial ability, because they literally think this is something their character can do.

        2) Mr. Everywhere: the guy who declares “I loot the bodies!” immediately at the end of a fight but still thinks he can be the one who opens the chest another character examines, grab items out of the hidden treasure cache a third character finds before anyone else, and “Aid Another” every skill check anyone makes. And then he argues that he should get dibs on anything anyone else finds on a body because when he said “I loot the bodies” he meant ALL the bodies. Simultaneously.

        3) Piecey, the Living Party: This is the group that handles every skill check as though they were a single entity whose skill bonuses are all equal to the highest bonus any one member of the group has +2 for each other member of the party (via Aid Another). Piecey is sometimes accompanied by his sidekick, Enpiecey, who has no needs or opinions and exists solely to provide another +2 for each NPC with the party. An good litmus test is to ask the party cleric something about his religion; if he refers you to the party Wizard (because Religion is an Int-based skill) you’re dealing with Piecey.

        • Kilsek says:

          ZZZ, these are fantastic, and so true!

          The Hivemind seems to happen all the time, and though I don’t mind some OOC-speak, there does come a point where it’s far too much or there’s no effort to do or say anything IC before it, however risky, given a situation like you mentioned that does happen regularly enough.

          And of course, there’s the lets-talk-strategy-fest during other people’s combat turns, further extending typically already long, grindy combat. Let people play out their turns without four people helping map out and analyze their options for them!

          Mr. Everywhere is funny – sounds like a byproduct of the new 4e automatic “you search the room” post-combat now, just to speed things along. And perhaps some RPG video game influence there, even though you can’t loot all bodies at once in those games either.

          I have a Piecy in one of my playgroups. He’s always “mathenizing” (yes, I know that’s not a word, but it gets the point across, doesn’t it?) every skill check that can possibly be done by one person for the group, asking every single time who’s got the best modifier, so others can just sit back or aid another. It’s smart, but also very gamey.

          It’s one reason I don’t really like the Aid Another rules all that much and much prefer situations where everyone gets to make a meaningful check of their own – whether it’s the same skill or a few different options.

  10. [...] 12 Ways to Describe Minions: First, Stop Calling Them Minions! by Kilsek on September 30, 2011 Do your battles with minions ever sound or feel a bit too gamey?  [...]

  11. [...] yes, the short rest also clearly suffers from Sounds Too Gamey Syndrome (and yes, I’m trademarking this!), one of my 4e pet peeves.  As much as try whether  I [...]

  12. [...] Top 12 Ways to Stop Sounding So Damn Metagamey - also published in Johnn Four’s Roleplaying Tips Newsletter # 519 in May.  Thanks again, [...]

  13. Hunter says:

    Just want to throw out there that resting in a Dungeon is not a good idea, but if players are doing it (and getting away with it) then it is completely the fault of the Dungeon Master. Stop envisioning the game world as a static place where the characters are the only actors. Those suppositions are an insult to the Dungeon Master, and he should really do better.

  14. [...] ROAR – Online since: February 2011 – A great post: Top 12 Ways to Stop Sounding So Damn Metagamey Leonine Roar is a D&D blog with a passionate focus: ideas and solutions for both the [...]

  15. tikinator says:

    Just doing a little D & D blog hopping and came across this little list. My familiarity with 4e is easily described as amateur but I have twenty five years of experience ranging from original to 3.5 edition D & D with a sprinkling of various other RPG style games. This is a wonderful list and I will be making an abbreviated version to post of the wall of my game-room. Seems easier to tell individuals to read the list then me (the DM) playing coach all the time on how to role play.

    Thanks for you time
    Mike

    • Kilsek says:

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for commenting and welcome to Leonine Roar! You’ve got a brilliant idea there – anything to get your gamers more into character and into the story, right?

      Good luck – would love to hear what they say when they see these tips scrawled on your gameroom wall!

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