Metagaming for fun and profit

In the discussion of common pitfalls in GURPS (which was really common pitfalls in RPGs in general, for the most part, some of which applied more directly to GURPS), the topic of metagaming currencies came up.

What is a metagaming currency? Well, I’ll pick on GURPS, since I can think of a few:

  • Luck can be use X times per hour/day/game session. It allows you to reroll certain bad die rolls, or try and improve on good ones. 
  • Tactics success can allow the equivalent of Luck rerolls, a certain number of times per battle
  • Destiny or Bonus points, discussed in GURPS Monster Hunters at least, and I give them a nod in The Last Gasp, again give you “good stuff,” much of it being Luck-type re-rolls, and you get a certain number per game based on the number of points you’ve invested in (for example) a Wildcard skill
I’m sure there are others.
Whenever I think about metagaming in this context, my thoughts always turn to D-Day, and Band of Brothers. If the PCs are going to cross the bullet-swept beaches of D-Day in the opening scene of your adventure, you’re either going to want to start off with . . .

“OK, you guys just landed on the beach, saw most of your comrades in arms brutally murderized, but have managed to come through relatively unscathed. Now, we begin with . . . “

 . . . or you’re going to want to have some sort of ability for the PCs to avoid random death. I am utterly convinced that by dint of skill, behavior, a knack for making the right call under pressure, certain soldiers (it’s most obvious in war, I think) are “lucky,” but it’s such a repeated kind of luck that it’s probably not actual luck. Well, most of the time.

How to represent that? GURPS does it through a very specific set of metagame currencies, purchased as advantages or bequeathed by certain kinds of skills. I find this kind of metagaming helps with immersion, rather than harms it. When you do things like use such things to make a fatal bullet wound a scary close call (a “graze”) – but you have a limited supply, so your luck can indeed run out. I think it makes for the right kind of resource-management type of decision that is perfectly in keeping – in the outcome, if not strictly by method – with good roleplaying.

We use Destiny points in +Nathan Joy‘s GURPS DF: Jade Regent game, and they significantly aid fun. Honestly, Pathfinder itself, with the flat probability distribution of the 1d20 die roll, could probably benefit from such a thing. Maybe 1 “re-roll” per session every 4-5 levels or something (I may very well find exactly this exists, but I haven’t come across it yet).

In short: bring on the metagaming management of resources to help the players influence their own story. I love it, I love it, I want more of it. 

8 thoughts on “Metagaming for fun and profit

  1. I definitely have less of an issue with the sorts of metagaming currencies you're talking about here. They simply let the player re-roll a bad roll, or force an NPC to reroll a good one. They change the outcome of an action, but don't change the environment to allow actions in the first place.

    I'm much more inclined to balk at the more "player agency in the storytelling" style metagame currencies, of which Fate points are the primary offender. When I can start dictating details about the game world that my character has no way of influencing, that's a problem for me.

    1. I can see where you would draw the line. I'm not sure if I'll groove on FATE or not; it's on my list of read-and-comment, but I have ten chapters of Pathfinder to get through yet. :-

  2. The "Hero Points" in the Advanced Player's Guide of Pathfinder act somewhat like that, but are much more seriously limited and harder to earn.

    I do like the sounds of tying the supply and types of uses of metagaming points to some skill inherent in the character. In addition to some basic functions, a warrior might be able to use them to affect a fight, and have her supply determined by combat skill, while a magic user could use them to affect spells or the magical abilities of her adversaries. The concept helps reflect the role the hero is good at and "destined" for. This could exacerbate any hyper-specialization going on, though.

    1. Ah! There IS something like this for Pathfinder. I mentioned that I figured there was somewhere on my blog (but I can't find it).

      The purpose in both cases is to make up for randomness and keep the heroes center stage and successful. The fact that you have to employ resource management makes it a good story-enhancement device.

  3. The Alexandrian had a great post on the issue of mechanics not tied to the in-game reality, which he called "Disassociated" mechanics:

    I see his point, and I think it generally helps immersion if mechanics are "associated". However, as you point out, there are a lot of intangibles that are difficult to represent. Also, some of my favorite mechanics, like Fate's Aspects, are disassociated. Here's my original response:

  4. In d20 the way you deal with luck is by leveling up or leveraging the modifiers you can. Both those methods add to the chance to succeed. Adding in bennies or a reroll is fine if thats the game you want but its not necessary and it devalues the role/feel of the level or situational modifier systems.

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