The metagame of TTRPGs

and here I am with my campaign of the sword the crown and the unspeakable power where all the PCs either got murdered by or murdered each other at the end of a year of backstabbing and lies :joy:

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I should have added that one exception I will make for intra-party conflict is if all parties agree to it beforehand. So the evil thief can steal the cleric’s holy symbol if all players think it will be fun. You do have to be careful here that players aren’t being pressured into agreeing.


Well, you know there’s always that one player who ruins it for everybody.


Haha, when I read your post Pinkunz I thought, OMG, you’re ‘that guy’!

I would have been mad at a player that did any of those things, tbh.

Other people posted similar things about session 0 and getting on the same page.

But you titled this The metagame of TTRPGs, and to me the real metagame is that the goal of TTRPGs is:

to make the other people happy

Why? because the game will just die off if they’re not happy. And that’s exactly what happened here…

To me, it seems like you were playing a game where the goal was ‘prove that you’re a clever player’.

But that didn’t make the other people happy; in each example you listed, you basically shut down the flow of conversation, keeping other people from doing their next plan and leaving the DM with nothing to do. In each case, the DM was excited to have people see what they planned and the other players were excited to make their own plans and play the game, but by having a long logical argument about an idea, you were forcing everyone to drop their plans and the DM to abandon everything they worked on. I was expecting to see each time you say, ‘I had learned from last time not to have arguments about things that would disrupt the game…’ but each example was as if nothing was learned from the last time at all.

I laugh because I’m the same way with a lot of games. When I play Monopoly I insist we play ‘the Real Way’ with no money on Free Parking and properties going up for auction if you don’t buy them when you land on them. It makes the game brutal and ends it way faster. But for some reason, people never want to play again…(not from me winning, since I don’t, but because it’s a super depressing game played ‘right’).

This is semi-related, but I played a campaign with just me and my ex-wife a few years ago (our toddler son played her pseudo-dragon familiar), and she just refused engage with the game the way the DnD rules intend (i.e. fighting). She would just say, ‘I want to talk to the goblin and be his friend’. So I’d roll persuasion checks and since she had a high charisma she won a lot. So she just made friends with all the monsters. It was actually a lot of fun. But only because she was trying to make me happy by playing a game I like and because I was trying to make her happy by responding positively to her actions.


I am now more conflicted than I was before I posted this. I’m going to be a bit to digest all of that.


Take all the time you need! The Campfire meows are always around if you wanna chat about it.


My take on this is that in all three situations, you broke unwritten assumptions about what the game was about. You didn’t know what those assumptions were because you were new both to the table and to roleplaying in general. But the groups also, I feel, didn’t know what those assumptions were, probably because they happened to match by default, so they never had to explicitly work any of them out.

One of the pleasures of being an older roleplayer is that you get to the point where you can finally see what’s going on, and you have some tools to fix it (which is mostly ‘the language you need to talk about it’). Newer games (and even newer editions of D&D itself) also do a better job of teaching people this sort of thing.

Fundamentally, these are all social problems: roleplaying is a collaborative effort, with distributed authority (and in any game with a GM, unevenly distributed authority). As such, everyone is going to have to collectively agree on the sorts of things you’re going to do, so that fun is had by all. All three situations basically boil down to P: “I want to do X.” Others: “We don’t want you to do X.” At that point, the game mechanics have to be put aside and a social conversation has to happen instead. Can you find a compromise? Can we just explain that doing X isn’t fun for others and agree to not do it? Can the others agree that sometimes X might be fun after all?

Fundamentally, that’s the problem: the ‘social contract’ had been breached, and to repair it, a conversation among the players had to happen. It sounds like that just didn’t happen, at least not enough. (“I want to play a goblin-killing simulation, not a taxidermy simulation” is actually a pretty clear statement of desires, so is a good step! But that never got resolved or followed up on enough.)

So, yes: there are tables out there where you and everyone else would find the same sorts of things to be Fun Things To Do On A Friday. There may be systems that are more likely to attract the sorts of players that match your playstyle, so you’d be more likely to mesh from the beginning. But mostly, you just have to find a mature enough group that’s willing to have those conversations, ideally before you even decide what you’re playing, to get everyone on the same page. Any resources out there about a ‘Session Zero’ are exactly what you’re looking for, here.


“RPG” is a misnomer unless the role you want to play is “kill monsters and steal their stuff”. At least you found one like minded person - maybe if you find a couple more you could try a different type of game. Or maybe it would fail for lack of direction and shared purpose. In any case, I’m ambivalent about how I feel about people who take their leisure activities too seriously.

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If I were your DM I’d make up Pinkunz Points.

Have you ever played those wordplay game where you find words that are technically words, just not on the main list, so it gives you bonus points?

Every time you found a clever solution that either derailed my planned out game or made the other players irrelevant, I would say, “that’s a perfect idea, but I’m not prepared to handle the consequences of it. You get one Pinkunz Point.” And then you can cash it in for die rerolling (like inspiration in DND) or being allowed to control the villain’s dialogue in a major scene or something. Then you could get rewarded for finding neat loopholes without taking the game in a direction they are somewhat unprepared for.


This. Exactly this. Now, I’m an RPG newbie too, but my take on this is that the DM’s authority is always to be respected unless there’s a real good reason not to. What the DM says, goes. If the DM isn’t prepared for something and needs to disallow it to maximize fun for the table, then that’s what needs to happen. However:

This is brilliant, and exactly what a clever DM should do. There are always going to be gaps in even the most well-prepared DM’s preparation, but clever DMs find fun, socially-acceptable ways to fill in those gaps. Really good DMs will do it in such a way that the table doesn’t even know that they’re making up a reason or a bit of content or a reaction on the fly to fill in a gap in preparation. But if the DM ever has to admit that there’s a direction the story just needs to not go, even if it’s plausible, rewarding the players in some way to make up for it is a good way to go.


I don’t understand the metal part.

I am sure you meant Runequest, not Runescape. But I’m keen on finding out more about that magic system. If that’s true what you say I surely will by a copy of Mythras.


I’ve role-played online and at the table. It’s a strange game because you have all these rules that favour combat, above most else… and with rolling dice, you’re encouraged to maximize your chances so most take the best statistical character design and focus on improving that. Unfortunately that has very little to do with actual “role-playing” and creates a divide among the player’s and game master’s expectations.

When I role-play, I approach it as if I’m doing this for the benefit of the other players. If they’re having fun, then I’m having fun. We’re basically putting on a play for ourselves. All player characters must matter to the story and get moments to shine in front of the audience. As others have said, this is a cooperative/social game. If the group isn’t concerned with the minutia, I’m not concerned. It’s a collaboration and everybody should be on the same page. If people aren’t having fun, it should raise a flag immediately.

One thing that a mature group can do is embrace failure. Failure leads to struggle and all great stories have struggle at the heart of them. It also teaches people how to do improv better, which is key to great role-playing. It takes practice, but your mind will soon enter that of your character’s and soon you’ll be thinking with your character’s motivations and not the meta-game aspect… then reacting, as your character would, becomes second nature.

My guess, Pinkunz, is that you just had a group that wanted to roll dice and feel powerful. This is how most start with role-playing games. That, mixed with your inexperience, just lead to bad feelings all around. If you ever decide to try role-playing games again, I would run hypothetical scenarios by the GM and get their feedback. The game really balances on everybody’s expectations and not everybody can work together either. Some people’s personalities are not meant for role-playing at all, but they love rolling dice and “kicking ass”.

Unfortunately, the GM has the most crucial role to play in these games. They are the director, the referee, and they wield all the power. Having an approachable, diplomatic GM is so important. GMs can’t sit idly by while the ship is sinking; they need to know how to avoid ice bergs. GMing is a tough, thankless job.


If that isn’t the truth! I turned my back on GM / DM reliant games after years of being stuck as the perma-DM, and have been much happier in GM-less systems that distribute the responsibilities, or encourage brief shifts of stepping into the directorial role. Way less burn out.


How do they determine what’s the next thing happening and if a player’s action succeds?


Lots of communication and overlap with improv theatre (‘yes, and…’). The one we’re playing in my group at the moment is based off of the No Dice, No Masters system. Broadly, they focus less on mechanics, and more on character reactions and relationships, with a collaborative approach on moving the story forwards. Alternatively, rather than sharing the role of GM, it might use an Oracle mechanic (usually a deck of cards or the randomness in a table with some dice.)


Ran across this organically. Speaker briefly descibes nuking a D&D campaign due to role-playing their character:

He moves on to talk about the film at 3:50, so you can stop there if you like.


It seems like everyone here has talked through what went wrong in your TTRPG experiences (and I’m sorry to hear they went so poorly for you). But I’m really curious about a thought from your original post:

Do you know, what about the idea of TTRPGs do you love? Like, at least before you made this post, what kept you coming back to TTRPGs thinking “This time it’ll be fun! It sounds so fun!” or whatever you were saying to yourself?


Late to this thread but man, you certainly played your character to the hilt but in the process ended the campaign. It’s not surprising you were dis-invited. There exist skilled DMs who can deal with anything, and true the game is about improvising and playing a role, but players (not necessarily their characters) also need to work toward the goal of keeping the game going. A smarter DM would have been like “[fake dice roll] Ooh, too bad! You discover the ropes holding the bridge are reinforced with Tryraeilium (?) steel cable that your puny blade is no match for…and before you can sever it through, the rest of the party manages to cross the bridge. Anyone want to roll to kick the bounty hunter’s ass?”

It’s like when your testers insist they want to kill a plot-critical NPC and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to do that but it would narratively ruin a story. In theatre/comedy improv, one of the cardinal rules is “don’t say no, say yes…and” because everyone is working together and participants need to improve the scene; the concept we were taught was “yield” - you can have ideas, but yours can’t eclipse everyone else’s. The author/DM also needs to be capable of improv: “Oh, you want to kill this NPC? Well, turns out they’re a retired assassin and *** You have died. ***” (That’s a “yes…and” with player discipline…)

Also, most D&D/RPers usually get a sense when the DM is not prepared for a situation and know to politely back off, as with the horse/carriage thing.

This ties in with the “how much player freedom and agency should I allow?” If your game is a treasure hunt, should you be expected to include plot tangents if the player decides to romance the troll under a bridge and get married and live out their life by the river instead of answering it’s riddle and continuing to the next plot relevant town? That’s not what the story is about so the author can “yes…and” that and end the game, but there’s a limit to what players should reasonably expect outside of a joke game where the point is destroying the narrative in every way possible.

I remember Fallout 3 actually did a bit of that. Sometimes you could kill off an NPC who was the trigger for an enormous side quest and just close that section of the game off to yourself. That actually was part of the gimmick of Fallout.

Slightly bawdy video game anecdote

One of my favorite random things that happened when I played Fable 2 which was a bit open world RPG/dating sim - I went to the bad part of town and was buying supplies from a bare chested thuggish Tattoo Artist who ran a store. In the game you could establish relationships and there were “fade to black” romance segments. During the transaction, a local wench sidled in and offered to rock my world. I chose to accept, and somehow the shopkeeper also got involved unexpectedly. Whoa! Inadvertent threesome! Stuff went down and when the scene faded back in suddenly the shopkeeper aggro’d and attacked me so I had to kill him and the wench went screaming away never to be seen again. It was cool how this plot twist had (seemingly? maybe it was planned) emergently happened, and I was left to wonder did the wench set me up to be murdered and looted, or did something unfortunate happen in the encounter (accidental ball contact? friendly fire?) that just made everything go south? :joy: Then I was like, “Oh crap, I never finished buying stuff from that guy!”