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Metagaming has always been a facet of tabletop RPGs, for good or for ill. The impact that metagaming has on game itself can run from highly beneficial, such as when a group acts on player information to improve the flow or plot of the story, to highly disruptive and/or destructive, such as when one or more players intentionally use player information for self-benefit at the cost of the rest of the playgroup.

Metagaming is, generally, fairly easy to detect in the classic TRPG setting of some table somewhere that the players all sit around. There are whispers, notes, ect. used to pass information between parties and/or exchange plans/plots, or sometimes blatant efforts to change a party's plan based on player knowlege. However, Roll20 presents a very different set of circumstances. Roll20 allows 'whispers', i.e. directed messaging between two players. A fast and savvy player is able to pass information and/or plans to another and influence the flow of events, often without obvious signs.

In my experience as a DM, it is generally possible to deal with the negative aspects of metagaming through direct, timely intervention during the play session. From what I can gather, this is impossible in Roll20.

What recourse to identify negative metagaming, if any, is available to DMs using Roll20?

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To be honest, since the advent of Whatsapp, this is a problem on real tables, too. I had to forbid my players of using their cellphones during game time because of this. – Thales Sarczuk Jan 15 at 10:13
up vote 36 down vote accepted

Talk with your players

Your players are here, presumably, to play a game. They aren't out to get you. Remember that it takes two players to make a conspiracy. Politely ask them not to send whispers containing relevant in-game information. They probably aren't doing this to be malicious or trying to trick you - they maybe just don't see why it's such a big deal. Explain to them why it is a big deal to you, and if they have objections, hear them out.

If they say they agree to stop sending relevant game information in whispers, then trust them. You'll do no one any favors being paranoid at the table and accusing your players when you suspect metagaming.

...or change your game

If your players are habitually sending information to eachother, that might be because they don't find the "information isolation minigame" fun, and would rather that everyone had access to the same information. If that's the case, change the way you run your game. TheAngryGM has a useful rant on the subject. Assume that, whenever one PC is informed of anything, they find a way to relay that message quickly and efficiently to the rest of the party, and that that relay takes place without any input from the players, and then don't create situations where they wouldn't be able to communicate.

...or find new players

If you can't trust your players and don't want to game on their terms, find new players who play your way.

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It's a game table emulation, not a game table

As the DM, you need to both recognize and accept that it's a different game/gaming experience when played in the Roll20 (or similar) venue.

  • The DM and the players lose the synergy and intimacy of the table top experience and the in person experience. (From a personal experiential level, this is what I miss the most). Where visual cues and subtle body language pass information at the table, this capacity is reduced in Roll20 even if you use the voice and video features. (Talking over each other is actually less chaotic in person than it is over the VOIP medium).
  • You gain the ability to play, as we do, across a massive geographical distance and to use some neat automated tools (I have come to love the Roll20 die roll macros and our DM's ability to use the lighting and shading features).

  • What the text / "whisper" feature replaces is part of what you have lost by not being at the same table in the same town. Yes, it can be abused. Part of that is the problem of pacing, since if things slow down anyone with even modest keyboard skills can keep themselves entertained using whisper without being disruptive.

    • On the one hand, that means that various players cracking jokes and asides won't interrupt whomever has the spotlight, on the other hand the meta/information foul is easy to commit.
  • While "breaking immersion" may be complained about here, the immersion when playing over that medium is different, at best, then in person, and is easily lost for a variety of reasons. (Spouses among the top causes in our case).

First step: get expectations to match

As a DM, the practical limit of what you can do is express what your preferred limits are for meta gaming up front. You either get some level of buy-in from your players, or none. If the initial result is "none," it is necessary to expend the effort to get on the same page regarding meta gaming. Unless you come to an equitable balance of expectations, as a group, starting the game will be for you an exercise in frustration.

We are in this to have fun together

Once the expectations match, ask the players to help you enforce it. This means that you expect the players to nudge/mention that "too meta" has occurred to whomever is doing more meta than the group agreed on. Don't be stuck in the position that you are the only one who has to be alert for and catch it. (Heck, you are running the game, that's work enough!)

Embrace the challenge

If you try to micromanage it over the fiber-optic network, you'll fail. If you get the players to help you encourage or enforce the limit if metagaming, you'll have greater success. In that respect, getting the group to buy in, it's a lot like the TT environment.

It's what our DM does and it works for us. (Our players are in: Texas, Virginia, Chicago, Illinois, Michigan(UP), California, Washington(State), New York).

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