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In the campaign that I'm running, the party is currently in a dungeon. They cleared most of the entire dungeon except a hidden door to an area that holds some loot but nothing integral to the game.

Because of how Roll20 works, they see a huge black area in the bottom right that's currently still in "fog of war." Because of this, they know out of character that there is still some dungeon area there left unexplored.

They made a perception and magic check to look for a hidden door but the rolls fell short, so I informed them that they have not detected any doorways. One of the players says that they want to spend the rest of the day looking through the dungeon with a fine tooth comb to "make sure" there aren't any hidden doors.

In game, his character has searched and determined there is nothing there, so that should be it right? They're clearly using meta-gaming to keep at the hidden area even though their characters have no reason to do so.

In my campaign my players have done this sort of thing semi-often, like using healing spells on ghouls even though this is the first time the character had even heard of a ghoul.

These are two specific examples, but in general the group doesn't hesitate to use knowledge their player, but not their character, has to take in-game actions.

So how should I go about stopping the meta-gaming?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I rewrote your question a bit for clarity. Adding something about why this is a problem for you would help, though. Because it breaks your suspension of disbelief in the fictional world? Because it is causing lack of game balance via unfair advantages? What? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 16 '18 at 3:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please answer the full question. Answers that just say "well maybe you could guess with the ghouls" are not good answers and will be downvoted. Similarly, this isn't a technical "how to use roll20 to hide the fog of war" question. Given several examples, his group in general metagames and he'd like to stop that. A possibly general answer is "you can't, so you'll have to rely on tricks like adding more fog of war where it doesn't exist and not telling them those creatures are ghouls" and other kinds of AD&D 1e kind of anti-meta techniques, but don't just speak to the examples please. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 16 '18 at 17:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ ♦ Reminder: comments are for clarifying content, not discussing the subject nor posting small or incomplete answers. Prior comments containing discussion and answers have been removed. For discussion please use chat; for answers please use the Post Your Answer button. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 16 '18 at 18:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments that are not used to improve the question will be deleted without notice. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 17 '18 at 1:52

16 Answers 16

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Let's first talk about adventure design. If you're hiding anything that's important to your story -- in other words, anything where the game would be worse if the players somehow failed to find it -- you need to make sure your adventure includes lots of ways to find that thing. There's an article about the Three Clue Rule that goes into this in more detail:

For example, let’s say that there’s a secret door behind which is hidden some random but ultimately unimportant treasure. Finding the secret door is a problem, but it’s not a chokepoint, so I only need to come up with one solution. In D&D this solution is easy because it’s built right into the rules: The secret door can be found with a successful Search check.

But let’s say that, instead of some random treasure, there is something of absolutely vital importance behind that door. For the adventure to work, the PCs must find that secret door.

The secret door is now a chokepoint problem and so I’ll try to make sure that there are at least three solutions. The first solution remains the same: A successful Search check. To this we could add a note in a different location where a cultist is instructed to “hide the artifact behind the statue of Ra” (where the secret door is); a badly damaged journal written by the designer of the complex which refers to the door; a second secret door leading to the same location (this counts as a separate solution because it immediately introduces the possibility of a second Search check); a probable scenario in which the main villain will attempt to flee through the secret door; the ability to interrogate captured cultists; and so forth.

Let me say that a different way: your goal in D&D is not to simulate everything that might happen with high accuracy and fairness. Your goal is to run a fun adventure. Solving problems is fun; giving up and going back to town because the character wasn't smart enough to solve the problem is not fun.


Having said all that, let's now assume that you really don't care if the players find the secret door, and let's actually answer your question. : )

You can avoid leaking map information to metagamers by using a much larger map than your actual dungeon. Most of the map area will be blank unexplorable space, so that the players can't tell the difference between secret room and unexplorable.

You should assign penalties for spending too long in a dungeon. Dungeons are dangerous places! Even if the players have cleared all the encounters on the map, there can still be wandering monsters -- or, there could be more monsters trying to move in to the newly cleared dungeon. If the players take too long searching, they should encounter monsters which they have to fight.

The players might also be on a deadline if they want to return to town before nightfall.

If you haven't assigned any penalty for spending time, it really just makes sense for the characters to spend some time searching a dungeon, regardless of metagame information!

You've also asked about using metagame knowledge against monsters. I'll echo YogoZuno's excellent answer:

If characters display knowledge about specific monsters that you don't think they should have, ask for a Monster Lore skill check. If they fail the check (or are unable to make the check, due to not being trained in the appropriate skill), then inform them they cannot take that action.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the time penalties/enforcement. As far as the Monster Lore skill, if they complain "but I want to do it anyways!" explain that there's no way their characters would know that casting a healing spell on a ghoul would not heal it, and that it makes zero in-character sense for them to do something that would be perceived of as beneficial to their enemy. \$\endgroup\$ – Doktor J Apr 16 '18 at 13:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ > your goal in D&D is not to simulate everything that might happen with high accuracy and fairness. Your goal is to run a fun adventure. Depending on the DM's and players' preferences, these may be the same thing. \$\endgroup\$ – LastStar007 Apr 17 '18 at 11:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that it's important for the GM to explain to the players the mindset behind their actions, so they stop feeling the need to "find everything". It stems from CRPGs which have fixed, predefined content, so it's very important to find as much of it as possible -- for the best game experience and 'cuz you never know if there may be something crucial. In a tabletop RPG, content is made up on the fly, depends on the party's performance, so missing a random bit isn't so punishing -- the GM should (and will have to if the players become stuck) make alternative clues or options for them. \$\endgroup\$ – ivan_pozdeev Apr 18 '18 at 13:32
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They Fail

Metagaming, in this context, is a form of cheating, and people only cheat as long as they think it will work. If the cheating doesn't work anymore, then they will probably stop.

Examples:

For your door situation, you can just let the character commit the entire day to that area and then say that he doesn't find a door. He didn't notice any of the signs of the doorway to begin with, and he simply looks in all the wrong places. Don't tell him that, of course, just tell him that he doesn't find any doors and has now wasted a day.

If a character doesn't know something, then they can't act on that knowledge. Even if they think they know something, if they don't, they don't. This is why it's sometimes good to make Perception rolls in-secret for things like this.

Roll20

If you are concerned about the Fog of War feature, add more to the Dungeon than there actually is. For example, you can add the area around the dungeon into the Map (so it's always covered by Fog of War), and that will throw-off this specific exploit.

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I will answer in terms of Roll20 mechanics. Use the GM info layer for these kinds of situations. Instead of engraving it as an object everyone can see or a map layer, just put it in GM info layer and open the fog of war revealing nothing. If they can find out the secret area, just first set it to map layer from GM info layer and then reveal the area.

Source: I use this very method to reveal hidden rooms, or not. I just reveal the fog of war naturally.

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Addressing one of your minor concerns - the game actually already includes mechanics for determining whether or not a character could know something about specific types of creatures - it's called Monster Lore, and is a use of a number of different Knowledge skills. If a character displays knowledge about specific monsters that you don't think he should have, ask the player to attempt a Monster Lore skill check. If he fails the check (or is unable to make the check, due to not being trained in the appropriate skill), then inform him he cannot take that action.

Also, to maintain some mystery, don't describe creatures by name - only give descriptions of the creatures, and try to vary the descriptions from the norm in some way on occasion.

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Well, I'm not completely familiar with Pathfinder system, but this doesn't seem too much of a system-related question.

So, some suggestions in how to address this type of metagaming, mainly the first one: As mentioned here, make them fail. Once they have already tried out something and have failed, they have failed, period. In some other systems, like CoC, you can, instead, insert punishment if they keep trying the same thing over and over. For example (not exactly applicable in your scenario since the dungeon was already cleared, but bear with me) you could make monsters approach, or just set a deadline in a way that they can't lose time vaguely searching for a non-existent door. God, make them find the door, but an ancient evil was sleeping inside and is annoyed that they have been hitting its walls and making noise and just kicks them out of the dungeon.

But, above all, a general advice I could give is

Make meaningless things.

When you are playing IRL and you start rolling some die, your players start to be cautious because they think there are enemies close (hence you are rolling die). When you put too much detail in a map or scene, they think it's important and spend more time there. If they see a black hole in the map, they think there should be something there. The pattern is: they think everything is meaningful. Make meaningless things. Put black holes randomly in your map, places they can't go into at all. Describe a statue in a very detailed manner, and it's just a statue, with absolutely nothing hidden. Eventually they will give up on trying to find a meaning to everything and will stop this kind of metagaming.

Monsters' Knowledge

About your second question (the ghoul one), at least in D&D most weakness are supposed to be "intuitive", both for the player and for the character. A monster with decomposing flesh that is clearly an undead being weak to Divine/Holy things should be intuitive or known by characters that are adventuring themselves. You could ask why they are specifically using that kind of spell, but I honestly would accept "it's intuitive" as an answer. If you can't accept that (or any other answer given) just change the monster so that it doesn't have that weakness any more. Then give them a book about Ghouls that states that most take damage from healing, but some (1 in 1000000) X-Ghouls don't.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good point about monster weaknesses. Most clerics should know that "healing" undead is effective regardless of type. In fact this knowledge is in the spell description which most players and DMs would expect PCs to understand for spells that they can cast. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Apr 16 '18 at 7:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NeilSlater I agree completely: It it's in the spell description, then I think it's pretty reasonable that someone who has spent years learning to cast the spell would know it. Monster specific knowledge should require a check, but spell specific knowledge should not. \$\endgroup\$ – TemporalWolf Apr 16 '18 at 18:06
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If the area can easily be put onto another roll20 page, that's what I do. However in this case it is too late.

You can point out that it is unlikely the characters would suspect a hidden area. If that doesn't work, you can also just say any future rolls to find it fail regardless of what they roll. Or maybe they do find the room but it is empty.

OTOH, maybe anyone of reasonable intelligence can guess that given the layout there is probably a secret room. Therefore the extra searching is justified and should be rewarded.

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Meta-gaming is a question you have to answer with your players, not a problem you can design around. If you start declaring that their actions don't work, or that they're not allowed to take those actions, the results will probably be less than good. If you start requiring in-character justifications for things, expect convoluted half-baked responses and frustration.

You really need to ask yourself what you're trying to prevent, here. I'm going to largely ignore the map problem, because the answer there is simply to design a better way to handle the map, or better yet, don't permanently hide areas of the map behind a die roll.

Let me give you an example of a trapped door. In D&D the interaction typically goes like this:
PC "I search for traps." (roll)
GM "You don't find any."
PC "I open the door."
GM "Ha ha, it was trapped all along!"

Here's a meta-gaming solution:

PC "I search for traps." (roll)
GM "You don't find any."
PC "Hmm, I bet there's a trap I just don't see. I'll push open the door with my 10 foot pole."

And here's where trying to defeat that logic without actually asking your players about it goes right off the rails:

GM "The door has a handle latch, you can't just push it open." PC "Then the Mage casts Mage Hand to turn the handle."
GM "The latch requires 11 pounds of force to actuate, the Mage Hand can only do 10."
PC "We tie a heavy rock on the end of the pole and use that to turn the handle." GM "There's a little metal guard over the handle, you can't fit the rock."
PC "We get a bunch of lead and make a really small weight for the pole."
GM "You have to move the guard out of the way to fit it in, it requires two hands.."
PC "We use two poles"
GM ".. I mean three hands."
PC "WHY DOES IT REQUIRE THREE HANDS? Fine, we go grab a bunch of goblin shields and glue them in layers all around the opening so nothing can pop out and kill us!"
GM ".. the walls are coated in Universal Solvent."

So, essentially, talk to your players about it.

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In our group (playing WoD, Fate, and Shadowrun, but not Pathfinder), we try to incorporate meta into character creation, or, at least, into character development. So, for instance, a player who knows a lot about WoD setting would choose a char with high Lore stat, and the char will then have a reason to access all the meta-knowledge of the player.

In your case (and I don't know enough about Pathfinder mechanics, but assuming that's possible), I'd force the player who insisted on keeping on searching to take a high Intuition at the next levelup.

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I have had this vary same situation, especially when using roll20. If people aren't willing to think about those things in character (some people just can't) then there are a few solutions that I have used.

  1. Seperate Maps - This has worked in some situations but would fail in others, it it's a larger area you can stick it on it's own map, if it's smaller, you could have a duplicate map where one has the area present and one doesn't
  2. GM layer - placing hidden areas in the GM layer means you could have somewhere not fogged, but allow the area to appear when discovered by moving it to the map layer, depending on how you're using fog will dictate whether this would work or not.
  3. Add fake fog - placing fog in areas that don't have secret rooms can lead the players to ignore them in game, sometimes this works but it may take a little time before they stop trying to explore every shrouded space.
  4. expand the map - if the secret area is isolated and in it's own part of the map, you can set the size smaller and expand it if they discover the secret area.
  5. talk to your players - explain the situation to your players, it's always good to talk. Tell them that due to some of the constraints of the system, hidden areas can be quite bothersome. hopefully they'll understand, you are putting in all the effort for them.

It all depends on whether the maps are fully custom and whether you could work them differently. I'm not sure if you're not a subscriber to roll20, and how exactly you're using fog (fog everything and remove only whats needed or fog only what's needed).

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Well you've asked two questions and each one is a different kind of meta gaming. How to keep people from knowing the map looking at your roll20 screen, and the other "knowledge based" type of meta gaming where characters don't know what ghouls are but the players do.

The first question about roll20 is well answered, so I won't cover that again. The "ghoul type" meta gaming problem I think I can help with.

You could outright ban them from doing so when they meta like that, but I think that would cause conflict. Having the GM constantly say "your character doesn't know that" and forbid in-game actions is unpleasant for GM and for the players. To the GM it feels like babysitting, and to the players it feels less like a game and more like someone reading a story to them. So I wouldn't go that route.

So one way to fix that would be to have your players at character creation type up a background story for their character. Give them a chance to say what their character knows and what they don't.

This way, if you have another ghoul-type meta gaming incident you could handle it this way. Look at the character background. If they're particularly devout or a cleric or some such, they would have a good chance and as a GM I'd let it pass.

Or if that character is a woodworker who happened to build the roof at St. Flarn's Ghoul Academy, then maybe they would have a chance of knowing what to do when a ghoul shows up. Maybe they overheard some monks talking. So give it a percentage chance and roll in that case. But if they don't have anything like that written down, the GM would have every right to say "I don't see how your character would know what to do when a ghoul shows up, even if you do." Give them a chance to have their say at that point, and with any luck they'll see that their position isn't tenable.

So I'd go with character backgrounds at character creation as a possible remedy. And as an added bonus you'll also get the benefit of having more backstory to work with when you write games for your players.

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In a more general case, as long as they see a blank area on the map and don't know what is behind, it's yours to choose or change.

So, the players (rightly) suspect that there is a treasure room or an important plot device hidden, but their characters shouldn't have any knowledge about that? Make the room a walk-in closet, maybe filled with some critter who doesn't like to be disturbed, and hide the treasure one level down.

The players suspect a trap the characters should have to be uninformed about, but don't have any details about the trap? Change its nature to counter their (unwarranted) preparations... or simply remove it. Especially removing could be warranted if you see your players developing trap phobia and resort to metagaming to have their characters avoid being stabbed, sliced, burned, crushed, dissolved in acid or turned to stone.

The basic idea is to make any meta-information they have of questionable value.

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I have a really simple solution to this form of problem that I've used in a wildly different setup that was just similar enough.

Don't make full maps of underground regions.

If the players get used to large sections of solid rock there's places to hide rooms. If they don't, any unexpected "solid" area has something in it. Adding up floorspace is something I do in real life so I won't be easily fooled anyway.

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Regarding the Ghoul question, or using "out of character" knowledge.

My first step would be to ask them to justify their action, given their character doesn't know to do this.

A simple, "Why would you do that?" - if they can't come up with a good reason, then as the GM, you just disallow that action, "No, your character wouldn't know to do that". (TBH, players should be mature enough to accept this). This is also good, because it gives players the opportunity to refer to their character's background (e.g. their father was a ghoul hunter or something) as well as potentially rewarding them for coming up with a background - but of course it should have been done at character creation time.

Now user43875 suggested that some actions may simply be intuitive, and that may be the case although I'm not sure I'd agree in this case, but if you agree with that, you can still get them to make some sort of appropriate skill roll to "intuit" this fact.

But it's a perfectly acceptable response from a GM to tell the player they can't do something because their character wouldn't know to do it.

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Cleanest way is to talk to your players. As you're writing here, I assume you've already tried that.

The question is why your players are metagaming. My group is now on a point in our P&P career (I'm now P&Ping since more than 15 years) where the players do stuff although they know they don't have to. I.e. I bought an expensive armour for a character although I knew there was a spare one somewhere. My character didn't know, so I spent the money. The reason I did is for fun, I really try to be the character and not me when I'm rping. That's the point of it. So, good rp is reward enough.

Now, how to make your players not want to metagame. Punish them for it. There is a simple XP punishment, that usually works very well (although I do not really fancy it). In your example, the player wants to stay and search for a whole day. Ok, let him do it. Let him search every bloody field. Let him roll 300 times, define which roll will be the essential one in advance (like the 237th). Let him experience what his character is has to endure. If he wants to take the 'easy' way out by taking a 20, make him roll 6k times.

I can also, from my own times when I was not so experienced, tell you that I used metagaming because I thought I'll loose something (i.e. power) if I don't metagame. Maybe you can convince your players not to metagame if they don't have the feeling of loosing power if they don't do it.

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In my games I turn it against the players.

"You take 20? In 26 separate rooms? And the corridors? At 20 minutes per 5 ft space that makes... Do you have 6 months of provisions? You starve."

For creatures, make the ghoul true neutral and therefore immune to positive energy damage. You're the DM, make small changes to things (or big ones and remember to boost the cr a point or 5), be inventive. I don't mean this to criticize, I know how hard that is at times, just a reminder... You are God!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ -1: This answer is correct that yes, the GM could do this, but it fails to address whether the GM should and why. \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Apr 16 '18 at 8:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ As far as antagonizing players goes, making it clear that metagaming has in-game consequences is only antagonistic if the players are prevented from rethinking their choice. If they do, a new single search check for the entire dungeon (with a % roll to fail anyway) ends it. \$\endgroup\$ – wolf Apr 17 '18 at 3:53
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About your second question (the ghoul one), at least in D&D most weakness are supposed to be "intuitive", both for the player and for the character. A monster with decomposing flesh that is clearly an undead being weak to Divine/Holy things should be intuitive or known by characters that are adventuring themselves. You could ask why they are specifically using that kind of spell, but I honestly would accept "it's intuitive" as an answer. If you can't accept that (or any other answer given) just change the monster so that it doesn't have that weakness any more. Then give them a book about Ghouls that states that most take damage from healing, but some (1 in 1000000) X-Ghouls don't.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not so sure I would ever consider, "Healing an Enemy" as intuitive. From one point I can understand it in the sense that disinfection kills plagues, but at the same time I'm not entirely sure it's something that would come naturally to someone who didn't have the faintest idea of how medicine or plagues worked. Maybe if they had a good Int or Wis and proficiency in Medicine or Arcana, but not intuitively for everyone. \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Apr 18 '18 at 17:19

protected by doppelgreener Apr 16 '18 at 13:47

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