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In my 5th edition Eberron campaign I have a player who is determined to metagame in combat which makes it really hard for the others to actually get much enjoyment. Recently the problem player gained a box set of the player's handbook, monster manual, and dungeon master's guide and he continually uses the Monster Manual to check creatures stat blocks so he knows what the party is fighting.

I feel this hurts the campaign because it takes away from the surprise and the anticipation that comes with fighting an enemy. I don't have time to create new enemies from scratch and just so he cannot look it up in the Monster Manual. I have informed him of the issue and gave him my reasoning for why I don't want him peeking at stat blocks and he seemed to understand but if a combat doesn't get finished in a session he comes to the next session with notes that are quite obviously about the enemy.

I really don't want to be the kind of DM that threatens players with expulsion from the game but he's making it really difficult to have patience with him.

How could I stop him from meta gaming without coming across as unfair?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Probable duplicate: What to do with a player I have issues with due to metagaming? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2023 at 18:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov Oh that didn't even show up when I searched to see if my question was a duplicate but I believe that I could change it away from being a duplicate (if it really is) and this is a specific metagaming issue with the monster manual being the meta game source so I'm hoping to get more specific answers useful to my situation \$\endgroup\$
    – Argo
    Feb 2, 2023 at 18:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ An issue related to this, is that many long time players will know the stats of most creatures and all commonly used creatures without needing to look them up. So preventing this player from looking up stats during gameplay may not actually prevent him from metagaming. Likely he will just do so outside of gameplay. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 3, 2023 at 15:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Reminder to everyone that answers (which includes any attempt to resolve the asker's problem) belong in answer posts, not comments. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Feb 4, 2023 at 22:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you checked with your other players to see if they also think this hurts the campaign? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 4, 2023 at 23:00

9 Answers 9

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I'll offer two solutions, and recommend you perform both of them, though either one might be sufficient.

First, tell this player that they are making the game less fun for you, and for the other players with their behavior. The Monster Manual is not a player facing book, and they should not be referencing it when playing in your game. Ideally, the player would be reasonable enough to stop with just this, but your post indicates that might not be the case.
I'd recommend telling them that breaking the rules like this, and making the game less fun for you and the other players, is grounds for removal from the game. I know you've said you don't want to threaten players with expulsion, but someone who makes the game worse for everyone at the table is not someone who deserves to be at the table. If you do not remove the problem player, you may find that the other players remove themselves instead. You'd keep the bad player and lose the good ones - obviously a worse outcome.

Second, reskin monsters. You don't need to make up new monsters, just change the description of them. This shouldn't require any more effort than describing an NPC or any other part of the game world. Don't use the Monster Manual names or descriptions, while maintaining their stats. This should make it relatively difficult for your player to look them up.

I think your last sentence about being unfair is backwards: You're not unfair for asking them to follow the same rules as everyone else - they're being unfair by not following the rules.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for reskinning. I'd frankly put that first since the question specifies that the DM has already talked to the player and it hasn't changed the behavior. \$\endgroup\$
    – mkdir
    Feb 2, 2023 at 18:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mkdir I think that reskinning is more likely to solve the apparent problem immediately, but solving the root behavior problem feels more important to me, so I ordered them that way. Reskinning is definitely the easier solution, by far. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tal
    Feb 2, 2023 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ A player who won't accept "Everyone else is unhappy that you do X" as a reason not to do "X" is likely to cause similar problems in the future. Honestly, that's a place for some personal growth discussions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alan
    Feb 2, 2023 at 18:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ You don't "threaten players with expulsion", you make it clear that the situation is serious, you give them a few warnings that their behaviour can't continue like this (without mentioning expulsion specifically), and then you just expel them. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotThatGuy
    Feb 3, 2023 at 15:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ reskinning has other benefits too it keeps experienced gamers engaged , they gather the same meta knowledge just through play. \$\endgroup\$
    – John
    Feb 3, 2023 at 22:10
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An additional suggestion to Tal's correct answer is, in addition to reskinning, you can also make basic changes to some well-known monsters without having to create a whole new monster.

Take a troll with its well-known vulnerability to fire and acid, and instead make it vulnerable to cold and force damage, and resistant to fire and acid damage.

You can even prep players for the fight by having them hear rumors of, for example, a troll that can't be fought off with fire, and never attacks in the winter. This has a few benefits:

  • It establishes that you're changing up how certain monsters work.
  • It rewards any players who are paying attention in the game, instead of punishing individuals for metagaming.
  • It lets players know that you're going to work these monster changes into the story of your game, so that every fight isn't just a whack-a-mole of "how are they different this time".

You can pretty easily swap out types of damage, resistances, and vulnerabilities in monsters without having to either create new monsters or do the work of creating whole new combats with re-skinned monsters.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is good advice, but is phrased as a comment on an existing answer rather than a new answer in its own right. Answers are supposed to stand alone where possible - it wouldn't take a lot of work to add the important parts of Tal's answer into this one if you think it would result in your answer being better. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Feb 2, 2023 at 21:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not saying it is, but this answer could have been copied directly out of a 1980 issue of Dragon magazine (including troll regen as the example). I think Gary Gygax himself once suggested doing this. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 3, 2023 at 0:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is good practice anyway - regardless of whether a player intentionally metagames if you've got experienced players (and especially DMs) they'll recognise some common enemies. It also gives you experience with exercising your creative freedom to flavour your encounters as you wish. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 3, 2023 at 14:01
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Others have noted various ways to handle metagaming, but there's a deeper problem. You did a previous question noting that your combat was too long and you lacked chances to roleplay. Your player may have what's called abused gamer syndrome.

That viewpoint toward “play my character” is what I was referencing with the problematic term “traditional.” I’ll try to summarize it as follows, based on my own experiences.

– Play optimally concerning character survival. The game system is perfectly capable of killing your character, and at least some GMs are invested in making this happen or in not doing anything to prevent it.

– Play optimally concerning your own ego. The GM is very invested in making his story happen, and if your character needs to be overly gullible or stupid for the story to work (often the case), then the GM will take him over and make him that way, making you look stupid and basically stripping you, personally, of social and creative power at the table. Such a GM is not a player-killer like the ones I mentioned in #1, but in some ways, he’s worse!

It probably wasn't on your table, but a lot of gamers have had fairly bad experiences where the sheer brutality and time of combat means they feel a need to play optimally concerning character survival and that games are a brutal contest between GM and player and they need to preserve their autonomy or they'll have issues.

It's a lot easier to fix the issues if the player feels that pure statistical maths isn't the main thing that determines their survival.

There are a few tweaks you can do to make it so that roleplay and thought have more impact on combat, and actively discourage players from wanting to metagame.

  1. Give enemies basic personalities and roles. Rather than have enemies be pure stat blocks, give them a few personality traits and combat roles. For example, rather than them being attacked by four orcs, they could be attacked by two orc beserkers and two orc rangers. Two of the orcs can go to attack in melee while the others try to snipe the backline. They can talk and communicate and you can theoretically disrupt them or break their morale or negotiate based on their roles. This makes pure stat blocks less important.

  2. Add lots of environmental features and ways to interact with them. Rather than having people fight in white rooms, have people fight in varied environments with things to hide behind, explode, make slippery barriers, break through. Be supportive of players mechanically who try to do interesting things, giving them auto success or easy skill rolls.

  3. Make enemies interesting to fight rather than built to kill characters. A lot of enemies are built to provide long and painful fights that risk death rather than to be fun to fight. Generally, make their enemies have flashy abilities, a high damage to hitpoint ratio so that they go down quicker, and not normally massively tactically competent.

  4. Be very positive and flattering in most of your descriptions of players, and try to keep their agency and image. A lot of DMs are quite negative about characters who roll poorly, and so the image and respect players want is lost when the dice go against them. This isn't ideal- players shouldn't find it not fun when a routine occurrence happens.

For example, suppose a player misses a sword strike. Rather than saying "You slip and your sword strikes you in the face, leaving a mark from your incompetent blow." You say "Your strike rings true, but the orc blocks it with their blade, their inhuman strength too much to overwhelm leaning in to tell you how he will kill you and kill your family and kill your dog too."

Explicitly tell the players you're doing all this, and tell that player that you want to see more entertaining combat, not them memorizing the monster book. If they do cheat, you can have their metagaming not be rewarded as the monsters use their skill checks and roleplaying to evade the limits of their stats.

Make it so that being fun and interesting gets mechanical rewards, not memorizing their stat blocks.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 thank you for adding to the answers - very interesting read in particular to keep good morale at the table. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Feb 3, 2023 at 10:42
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Have you asked them why they are doing this?

There are actually a number of reasons that players might do this, and how to deal with it kind of depends on the ‘why’. Actual reasons that I’ve seen players do it (both as player and as a GM) include:

  1. Simply wanting to see what the monster looks like. This sounds stupid, but for a character who is an experienced adventurer there are a lot of logical conclusions that can be drawn just from a creature’s appearance, and drawing those conclusions in character is not metagaming. As an example, consider the succubus. Just from looking at one in it’s fiend form, a sensible adventurer can infer that it is probably a fiend, probably has claw attacks, almost certainly can fly, likely has a high DEX, and probably does not have an amazing STR or CON. You don’t need the stat blocks for this, but some players may not realize that there are other options. You as the GM can head-off this issue by either providing pictures of monsters yourself, or by clearly describing monsters and calling out this type of information.
  2. Wanting to determine what would be ‘common-knowledge’ among adventurers about this monster. Some things do, indeed, logically need an appropriate knowledge check, but for low-CR monsters that are commonly encountered, some things would just be known among most adventurers. For example, it’s reasonable to expect that most adventurers from an area where goblins are common would know that goblins are stealthy, relatively weak, and can see in the dark. This is arguably metagaming, but you as the GM can mitigate it by simply informing players of this type of information as they encounter specific creatures.
  3. Simply being curious about what they’re fighting. This is most common among relatively new or casual players, and may also coincide with the first or second possibilities above. This can usually be mitigated in the same ways I mentioned above for the first and second points.
  4. Actually trying to metagame. This will usually be disguised as one of the three reasons above, either because they don’t understand it’s metagaming, or because they recognize it as metagaming and want to hide it, so you will need to pay close attention to how they play to determine if this is the case. In this case, just look to the other answers for suggestions.
  5. Not trusting the GM to get the numbers or abilities right and wanting to cross-check things themselves. This is arguably metagaming, but it can also indicate much deeper issues in the group. The solution here is, just like actual metagaming, to actually discuss the issue with your players. Some players simply have a strongly adversarial mentality that lends itself to this issue of trust, but in most cases there’s an underlying reason why they feel this way, and not addressing that will likely lead to bigger issues in the future.
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Don't use the monsters as depicted in the Monster Manual.

If the players constantly look up the stats for monsters... alter them. That way they can't use the MM and if they argue that it's not in the book like that, tell them, that that's not just legal, it's actually encouraged by the DMG, MM and other books. We had discussed that part of DMming in the question Is it wrong to use monsters other than how they appear in the Monster Manual?

The GM is always right!

As a subpart of that discussion, you can point to that loaded sentence. Did you know that The GM is Alway Right was coined back in the days when the first edition of DND was published? Well, in any case, it is the beat all argument, that is still true in D&D 5e, and the only justification you need to alter statistics of beasts.

Make the table expectations clear

When I run a game, one of the first things I do is establish sonme kind of table expectations. Besides an introduction to the I use (Timeout T as a gesture to halt a scene that's uncomfortable as an X-card variant, Lines and Veils, Stars and Wishes), I also form expectations about player behavior. Typical for a game where the bestiary is a huge part of gaming, one part of the expectations would be a statement akin to this:

Please don't look up the adventure or monsters you face. You'll ruin your own fun. I do modify the possible beings you face to better fit the situation. I might reskin monsters to better fit the place. If you actually need to look up a beast, do so quietly and without disturbing play. And please, if you do, don't tell the others.

Tell them to stop the annoying behavior

As a basic thing, telling a player that something is annoying should be expected. Unless you voice concearns, you can't come to a compromise. However, in this situation it's not just annoying to you, it is actively hindering you in running the game, and that makes it a behavior that needs to stop. The best is to be clear about this. It doesn't matter if it is excessive description of violence, looking up the adventure or monster stats: if the behavior annoys you or the other players, tell them to stop.

"Do you want to run the game?"

A GM I like to play with has a very humorous way to adress rules-lawyers and too nosey players: he asks one question.

Do you want to run the game? Here, I make room, take over right here and now...

In my circles, I have always seen that a player scolded this way stands down from whatever they were doing to annoy the GM with - be it rules lawyering or looking up enemy statistics. Surprisingly, I have yet to encounter - and hear of - a single case where the player accepts and not stand down.

Repeat misbehavior might warrent removal

If a player continues to be obnoxious and annoy everyone, you are not facing a good player, you are facing a that actively makes the game unfun for you or other players, then there is one last step to consider: letting the player go and telling them not to return is an option.

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TL;DR Let the group decide

Is it really "unfair" for a player to be familiar with monsters? While it seems unfair for a player to be googling the monsters for the current encounter, even if you could prevent this, it doesn't stop a well studied player from knowing this ahead of time. This actually seems to be less of a problem with well-seasoned DMs as player characters, as they understand the fun factor and don't often want to spoil the rest of the party's surprise. They are usually meta-gaming in reverse!

Since you stated up front, you don't have time, I don't think the answer is to alter your monsters. This is time for adult conversation with the player. If they find looking up monsters is "fun", maybe have a conversation with the group. If that's how they want to play, then maybe add some backstory or game feature to that character that makes them a monster sage or something. If they instead want the "surprise and anticipation" of not knowing the challenges they face, then just talk to the player in question and ask them to cease the behavior. What's more satisfying? Succeeding with insider information or finding out in game through trial and error? Let the group decide as a whole. Good luck.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the second to last sentence. 😊 \$\endgroup\$ Feb 3, 2023 at 21:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Heh, yeah, could have probably been just that :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Feb 3, 2023 at 22:05
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Provide the PCs with the monster stat blocks yourself.

Simply put, before the game, print off copies of all the stat blocks for the monsters you're using, and hand them out to the players when they encounter them. That way, there's no need to look them up in a book - they'll be readily accessible to all of the players.

Additionally, the open sharing of information means that they'll be relax when they know you're not fudging things to screw them over, like the answer that suggested swapping a troll's damage resistances.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this just a random idea, or do you have some experience playing like this? How did it work out? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 4, 2023 at 16:07
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My suggestion would be to incorporate this into the game.

Purchase a cheap hourglass style egg time with a short amount of sand in it, and tell them that each time they refer back to the book during an encounter they must role a check of some variety against the timer. As if their character in the game were checking a bestiary of some kind while the creature bears down on them.

If they pass the check you flip the timer to give them more time to look things up in the real world, each time they fail their character is too busy checking their scrolls to do anything. Thus leaving them vulnerable on the board.

This will create a sense of tension that discourage them from using source books during play unless they really have to.

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    \$\begingroup\$ have you tried this in game? How did it turn out? \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Feb 5, 2023 at 11:31
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First : Ask the player to not Do that (already seen in previous responses)

Second : Disguise your monsters (already seen in previous responses)

Third : Punish , when previous did not work

If asking is not enough, you have to punish.

Since the character receive help from the player knowledge, you can consider that character receive a divine help.

Option 1 : Malus on Roll

Enemy gods works hard to balance the forces. Each time player cheats, cheat in returns, give a strong malus or an automatic fails on his actions.

Option 2 : No Experience

God do not win experience when killing goblins. Now, you can argues that character did not win any experience since he did not find resources or solutions by himself, let God (player) to do the dirty job. Split experience between other players, and give 0 to him.

For a Dnd Player, there is nothing worst than be ineffective in combat, or not winning experience. He will change.

Four : You do not want that as said, but if a player do not conforms to your table rules, he must go


Notes:

As this response is really controversial (some upvotes, some downvotes). I would agree that this is not ideal.

Personally, I prefer to exclude a player who does not respect the rules of the table.

The person described is an optimizer, who want to do his best to perform in combat. Show him that meta-gaming it is not a solution, by compensating with a penalties a few time, would certainly work like a charm with this Person. I bet on it.

Not fair vs not fair.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that an in-game punishment is not a good strategy. Outside (bad) behaviours related to the game should be discussed at the table, and I would refrain in using rules, mechanics and DM's power to react to such behaviour, this pays the way to an escalation-from both DM and players-leading to completely ruin the campaing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Feb 3, 2023 at 10:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ DM has no more power than players when players use meta gaming. As a DM, i would exclude the player. If there is no way of exclusion, some poeple could understand strong methods. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 3, 2023 at 12:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Players will tend to do what is incentivized, and will not do what is not incentivized. You offer a variety of disincentives to correct the behavior. They may or may not work for other DMs, but for some they will. The most important thing for your first point is to, out side of game play time have a conversation with all players where you establish (as a group) that the only book players will refer to during play is the PHB. I have seen this done before in more than one edition of the game. The DM will refer whatever books are needed to run the session. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 3, 2023 at 14:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ What Korvin explains there is, that you have to spell out the social contract of the game, just as much as table rules. If the host says "All rolls on my grandfather's heirloom table are to be open, it might anger the ancestors otherwise", that is part of the social contract just as much as "only use the books that your class requires". \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Feb 3, 2023 at 22:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fectin Which ones are calling for reprisals? I do not see any other answer advocating for punishing the players in-game for bad behaviour. I see suggestions to reskin as a response to maintain surprise, but I don't read that as punishment or reprisal. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 5, 2023 at 17:03

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