It is the night before our last session to finish Tomb of Annihilation.

For the previous three sessions we had seen things in the tomb that gave us a clue to what creature we might face. [spoilers]

...Our party saw eye stalks popping out of purple mold all over the Tomb. The party saw a door with 10 eyeball "keys." The party suspected for weeks that they were probably going to face a Beholder - just as described in Volo's Guide being sold in the Port of Nyanzaru. One player had once used Fog Cloud to shut down a Beholder in a different AL adventure just a few months earlier. He had cast it wrong so it didn't cover the whole area and the party almost died.

The player decided the next time he used it he would try to cast it right. This time, after it seemed clear what the party would face, the player decided he would again try the strategy of using Fog Cloud.

To prevent any rules confusion, the player posted this question on RPG StackExchange [spoiler link] so there would be a link to share if any debate or confusion came up.

The group had previously found RPG SE to be useful to quickly solve many rules confusions though occasionally looking things up slowed the game. For example, the party got confused about how a Fog Cloud canceled advantage and disadvantage. The player used a link from RPG SE to solve the confusion.

Then the adventure started. Sure enough the creature mentioned above was encountered. The player cast the Fog Cloud but it was dispelled for unclear reasons. The player thought perhaps an unusual object in the room was the cause but wondered if the DM might have had a different interpretation about how a particular skill of the creature interacted with that particular spell.

After the unusual object was destroyed, the player cast Fog Cloud again. This time, he said, "Now that object is gone - maybe this will work this time and it seems like it should work according to this" and he attached the link to the RPG SE question. [spoiler]

The DM asked, "did you just look that strategy up?" The player said no - it was an idea he had already had.

Later that night, the DM said that what that player who cast Fog Cloud did was "serious" metagaming equivalent to cheating and posted a link to wikipedia on the definition of metagaming.

To clarify, the Fog Cloud was an original idea of the player - not something found on the web. The player was accused of "cheating" for using their own idea in another game and for referring to a post they themselves created that showed their idea to prevent any rules confusion.

Per the DM, posting that rules clarification was cheating. We want to know if there is any support in AL for that interpretation.

The question is:
What guidance or criteria for AL exists for determining whether this is "serious" metagaming, and equivalent to cheating, for this specific situation of when a player uses the same strategy they used before on the same creature - but before using it posts the strategy on RPG.SE to ensure that there isn't a rules debate?

As this was AL play, the player could have argued his PCs knew each other. By a strict definition of metagaming, almost any use of a players brain using previous experience could qualify as metagaming. This question isn't focused on that binary, fine grain determination of "is" or "isn't" but rather how do we determine whether this is a "serious" metagaming that qualifies as cheating, violating the player-DM tenets of the game, and unacceptable in AL play.

put on hold as primarily opinion-based by mxyzplk 2 days ago

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locked by SevenSidedDie 2 days ago

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  • 7
    Reopened, but warning - this needs to focus specifically on what's considered cheating in Adventurer's League rules (and under what circumstances a DM can stop running an AL game) - if the answers are a bunch of opinions they'll get deleted and the question closed. Refrain. – mxyzplk Aug 11 at 1:42
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it has become clear from comments and edit history that it is “just a rant in disguise”. – SevenSidedDie Aug 16 at 5:33
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    @SevenSidedDie If we can close it that would be great. I tried to close it the other day because the answers seemed to veer way off the question and judging players and GMs. Trying to defend players while protecting the privacy of the DM proved impossible. My last edit was to strip all those details out to boil it down to just the essence of the question. Definitely not a rant - but I was sad to see the players behavior criticized - particularly using faulty details from the actual circumstance. I'll make one last attempt to sterilize the question. – Praxiteles Aug 16 at 5:52
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    @SevenSidedDie Removed all references to the DM closing the game or other player or DM's behavior to focus on just the question at hand. Hopefully that will clear up any veering from the focus of the question. – Praxiteles Aug 16 at 5:57
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    Your edits have invalidated the existing answers, which is bad form. I know you didn't "like" the answers you were getting but IMO these edits are just an attempt to further obscure the real issues and focus on a meaningless point of order. No one here has the authority to challenge a GM's call at your AL table. You can read the AL guide as well as any of us can, what question really remains? – mxyzplk 2 days ago

First things first.

This is tagged as AL and I will be giving AL answers. First thing striking me is that half the post is about how the Code of Conduct was ignored essentially the entire session. From AL Player's Guide, p.6:

Follow the DMs lead, avoid arguing with the DM or other players over rules.

Just to make a point, the FAQ states these two important things:

As a D&D Adventurers League Dungeon Master, you are empowered to adjudicate the rules as presented by the official materials (PHB, DMG, MM, etc.). Run the game according to those rules, but you are the final arbiter of any ambiguities that might arise in doing so.

Sage Advice (SA) is a great barometer for ‘rules-as-intended’, in any case. Whether or not your DM chooses to utilize SA for rules adjudication in is at their discretion; as always, the DM remains the final arbiter of rule disputes.

Unless it's utterly clear that the DM has some rule wrong and completely prejudicial to the table (and if it was utterly clear, you wouldn't need to argue for dozens of minutes), all these discussions about rules shouldn't be happening, at least not during the session - note that even Sage Advice can be hand-waved by the DM. All this arguing is usually considered disruptive behaviour and the DM could simply kick the player out of the table.

The Dungeon Master has the right to ask a disruptive player to leave the table and speak with the organizer.


Now about the Metagaming - is it cheating (according to AL)?

Metagame is not mentioned in the AL DM Guide. The Cheating section from the DM's Guide is pretty clear on what is cheating: things that are simply and straightforward against the rules of the game. Metagaming is not. The books don't say that your character doesn't know how to use Fog Cloud properly.

As DM you are allowed to review paperwork (character sheets, adventure logsheets, and certificates) at any time. If you notice something amiss—either with the paperwork or during the game (fudging dice rolls, not checking off used items, and so on)—discuss it with the player and attempt to resolve irregularities. You can disallow a rules item that seem outside the official rules. You can ask a player to reroll a dice roll that isn’t obvious to the table. Handle the corrections in a professional manner—never embarrass the player or assume wrongdoing.

If you rolled a 1 and say you rolled a 20, you are cheating. If you are not tracking your spells and use 10 spells without a long rest, you are cheating. If you are not tracking your arrows and shoot 40 while having 20 in your bag, you are cheating. If you start your level 1 character with 16 stats on every attribute, you are cheating. If you use a spell that you know in a way that the spell is allowed to work, it is not cheating - the reasons you used that spell won't change that it is allowed by the rules of the game. You might be completely destroying the fun of the DM by doing that (and it seems you did :P), but that is not cheating.

On a note on that, nothing even stops you from reading the whole adventure and knowing each detail before playing and maximizing your plays - while some might call it bad sportsmanship or badwrongfun, if the whole table is fine with that, nothing in AL says you can't.


Stopping a game

AL is Session-based. AFAIK and from guidance, any player or DM can simply drop an adventure whenever they want - your character can play another adventure while one is already running (p. 14 of the FAQ), so that doesn't harm you in the sense of your character getting screwed. Nobody is - and shouldn't be - forced to keep playing a game/table that he doesn't want to play any more. If you think he DM's behaviour is prejudicial to the players, talk to the AL organizer. If there isn't an organizer, just stop playing with that DM, there isn't much more you can do.

The "I'm not sure about this part" part of the answer: you probably should be able to talk to the organizer and get another DM to finish the adventure. Either way, since ToA is a HC, you can also play the chapters individually - just ask/find another DM to run the chapters. Again, if there isn't an organizer, just find another DM the same way you found this one.


TL;DR

So, essentially, no, what you (or "the player", I'm still confused on that one) did is not "serious metagaming equivalent to cheating". Even if it was, the appropriate response for cheating is talking to the player and, worst case, kicking him out of the table, not punishing the whole table.

On the other hand, the DM, just like any other player, does not need a reason for stopping a game, other than "I am not having fun with it any more." - and he clearly wasn't. Even if the "metagaming" is completely acceptable, the incessant rules arguing is not.

  • For the metagaming section: I assume in AL one person is allowed to DM a game while concurrently playing in another. This clearly necessitates deep module knowledge while also playing nice with the other table. – Joel Harmon Aug 14 at 23:41
  • "since ToA is a HC" - what does "HC" mean in this context? – starchild Aug 16 at 20:40
  • Hardcover. This is usual AL abbreviation – HellSaint 2 days ago

RPG.SE has a lot of great answers, but isn't a source of AL official rulings

This seems to me to be a root of your problem.

To prevent any rules debate, the player posted this question on RPG StackExchange [spoiler link] so there would be a link to share if any debate or confusion came up.

And here:

There had also been rules confusion about spells that slowed the game. For example, the party got confused about how a Fog Cloud canceled advantage and disadvantage. The player used a link from RPG SE to solve the confusion.

Finally, you mention a table-tone issue:

Across the almost 30 sessions, the group had had just a few rules debates (maybe 3-4 across 30 sessions) but they felt unusually contentious compared to other gaming groups.

I will make an estimate here: there was an undercurrent, possibly mild but still present, of the "player versus DM" mindset. The DM may have felt that reaching out to non-AL sources when rules questions arose (which happens) was a step toward "player versus DM" rather than a step toward a harmonious DM/players relationship. The "I'll drop an assassin in that field" is another indication of that undercurrent being present.

The DM responded by allowing it, but placed an assassin in the field to spring on the mage. The player had almost quit the game previously because of how the DM interacted during a similar situation but decided to stay when the DM apologized.

Compare your group's efforts to what AL provides as guidance:

Follow the DMs lead, avoid arguing with the DM or other players over rules. (AL Player's Guide, p.6)

From the FAQ:

As a D&D Adventurers League Dungeon Master, you are empowered to adjudicate the rules as presented by the official materials (PHB, DMG, MM, etc.). Run the game according to those rules, but you are the final arbiter of any ambiguities that might arise in doing so.

The DM is the final arbiter.

Sage Advice (SA) is a great barometer for ‘rules-as-intended’, in any case. Whether or not your DM chooses to utilize SA for rules adjudication in is at their discretion; as always, the DM remains the final arbiter of rule disputes.

You will note that RPG.SE is not cited as a rules source.

Were you cheating? No.

You were using player expertise to try and overcome a challenge in the game. It is difficult to completely separate player knowledge from character knowledge; people are people.

  1. An experienced player, and / or an optimizer, will often approach an in-game problem differently from a neophyte.
  2. Public play can't achieve the degree of immersion and playing-field-leveling that could preclude metagaming/thinking out of character, and it doesn't try to.
  3. The answers from Jack and HellSaint delve into two different ways to assess the charge of cheating in AL, and I agree that your group cannot be fairly charged with cheating.

But you had an at-table problem that had never been resolved, and possibly had not been acknowledged. You mentioned it in a couple of comments.1, 2:

Try to see this from the DM's point of view

The AL DM's typically have a time limit, and other constraints on what is or isn't legal for players to do based on the AL format. We experienced that in our AL ToA campaign as we began; we all worked through it as a group. Given your candid observation that when the rules were unclear, and a ruling was made, the rules discussions / arguments in your group ...

felt unusually contentious compared to other gaming groups.

An effective means by which your table would "get a ruling and play on" had not been adapted by your group, or by one or two players in your group. The linked answer is a tool that I've seen work well at a variety of tables.

When the DM finds difficulty in playing by the basic framework ...

  1. DM describes environment

  2. Players describe actions

  3. DM narrates results {Roll dice when necessary}

    (You will note that there is no step 4: Argue with GM/each other over the rules).

... due to pushback from the table, the incentive for the DM to remain and run the game goes down. While the charge of metagaming isn't fair, nor supported by AL material, the unwillingness by one or more players to accept "DM makes a ruling and then you continue play" appears to be a fair charge vis a vis how AL play is supposed to flow.

... how do we determine whether this is a "serious" breach that qualifies as cheating, violating the player-DM tenets of the game, and unacceptable in AL play?

I will offer an alternate point of view: this is not your actual problem.

How do I solve the problem? (The Campaign Blew Up Near the End)

I strongly recommend that the group, particularly whichever players who were the most in the DM's grill, apologize to the DM and ask him to reconsider so that your group can complete the campaign. It's a real shame that after 8 months and 28 sessions, this game blew up over a metagame issue: DM-to-player relationships and communication.

Communication and mutual respect are a two way street.

Give it a shot: offer the apology. Maybe, with a day or two to calm down, the DM will appreciate an apology, and will see the value in completing the campaign with your group that you have all been doing together on game night for 8 months.

As with arguments in a marriage, if you focus on "who's right!" you may soon be confronted with a different problem ... who's left to argue with?


Notes based on comments:
1

The GM accepted the complaint without arguing that he shouldn't change the rules on seeing creatures in fog to benefit the creature against RAW. The GM accepted the Owl Help action after looking up the rules for himself. He shared the link to a tweet that took seconds to read. The GM also accepted the rules from RPG post of the creature/spell interaction. What the players saw was antagonistic behavior by the DM after these discussions. The PCs abided by AL's Code of Conduct

2

The DM actually was wrong about rules in all four circumstances that night and "obviously" so as you describe. I added additional background to the story of the DM's attempt to change long-standing rules to help the creature in combat, making allied NPCs run away and adding new creatures to the encounter - which players felt was antagonistic

It does not appear to me that the Adventurers League has an opinion on metagaming.

From the D&D Adventurers League FAQ:

As a D&D Adventurers League Dungeon Master, you are empowered to adjudicate the rules as presented by the official materials (PHB, DMG, MM, etc.). Run the game according to those rules, but you are the final arbiter of any ambiguities that might arise in doing so.

House rules, that is to say rules that you create that aren’t in the official materials such as critical fails, new races, new classes, etc., aren’t permitted for use in D&D Adventurers League play; the Adventurers League uses the rules as presented in the PHB.

I don't believe there's a reference to metagaming in the PHB.

There are only two references to metagaming that I can find in the rules, both from the DMG:

From Chapter 8, under Table Rules:

Metagame Thinking

Metagame thinking means thinking about the game as a game. It’s like when a character in a movie knows it’s a movie and acts accordingly. For example, a player might say, “The DM wouldn’t throw such a powerful monster at us!” or you might hear, “The read-aloud text spent a lot of time describing that door — let’s search it again!”

Discourage metagame thinking by giving players a gentle reminder: “What do your characters think?” You can curb metagame thinking by setting up situations that will be difficult for the characters and that might require negotiation or retreat to survive.

The second reference from the DMG is under Ignoring Inspiration, and suggests "that some DMs feel [inspiration] adds a layer of metagame thinking".

So while you might argue whether or not the described incident is metagaming, the Adventurers League does not appear to have any specific rules about it.

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