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Let's say that I have a group of 4 players. During the game they decide to split for some reason (e.g. one group goes shopping, the other goes to the tavern).

Now let's say that the group in the tavern gets into a fight and ends up being kidnapped. At the same time, they can see where are they taken, but the second group should have no idea of such event happening or where they're being taken.

What should I do in this case? Players who went shopping might (even unintentionally) use the information about the event, if I were to openly talk about that. What should I do? Should I simply prevent splitting the party from ever happening?

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"Please Don't Do That."

Players are not born with the knowledge that meta-gaming is [often considered to be] harmful. Not all of them, anyway. But I've found that the vast majority of players, once asked or coached gently a few times ("How exactly does your character know that?") are perfectly capable of performing the mental fire-walling necessary to avoid meta-gaming. And most of those are willing to do so under reasonable conditions, i.e., if they don't sense that the GM is out to get them.

This doesn't mean no one ever slips; fire-walling is not effortless, and occasionally I as a player (or even as a GM) forget who exactly knows what about what. But asking for and receiving a good faith effort is a lot better than any other solution I know.

Occasionally you will have a player or players who are just recalcitrant about this. At that point, bust out the various solutions here.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That second paragraph is spot on. Usually my party, when faced with a situation where we may meta-game, will speak our thought process aloud to get feedback, then we can use that data to make an in-character decision. \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov May 14 '16 at 3:51
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What you're asking about is meta-gaming, when a player uses information the character does not have. There are a few different ways you can approach it.

Prevent It

When the characters split up, the players split up. If one group of characters is doing something the other characters should not be privy to, make the other players leave the room. This works well for some groups, but it can also foster a variety of hostile/negative feelings. It takes a great deal of social awareness and insight from the GM to prevent hard feelings. Nobody likes to be excluded, but some people do like surprises. You have to gauge (or ask) your table how they feel here.

Embrace It

The players are contributing to a group story. The story as a whole is more important to the group of players than the individual characters are to the players. This is a more recent mindset in gaming. Allow the players without characters in the given scene to provide suggestions to the players who are. The final decision and ultimate agency of Character A belongs to Player A, but there's no reason Players B, C, and D can't contribute ideas.

Punish It

There are two ways to punish them.

  1. Tell the players that if they meta-game, you will ret-con the heck out of anything they metagame about.
  2. Deny them experience points (or whatever the game's advance metric is) when they make progress via metagaming.

This, by the way, is the surest way to piss people off and lose players.

Dodge It

Never split the group. This has some immersion drawbacks, unless you can work it into the story in some way. TNG7x08: Attached had a technological way to do it, while I've seen magic-based settings do something similar with an enchanted brand.

My recommendation? Embrace it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've seen DM's grant telepathic powers or give players psuedodragons or minimally intelligent animal cohorts that can fly back and forth to keep players informed. This allows the players to split while also guaranteeing at least one player knows what is going on with the rest of the group. \$\endgroup\$ – badpanda May 13 '16 at 20:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is a game about to be released that focuses on the final option - Headspace \$\endgroup\$ – Tritium21 May 15 '16 at 7:33
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Usually the right answer is to not let the players split the party. Splitting the party means that all the players whose characters aren't in the scene will be bored. They might disconnect from the game, start checking their phones, et cetera. You, as the DM, are part of every scene, so you might not realize how boring this is for the players whose characters aren't there. But, trust me, it's pretty boring.

If the players split the party for a very short period of time, that's not as bad. But sometimes my players will split the party for what they think is a short period of time, but then they'll accidentally get into a fight or something. When that happens, the first thing I do is I try to make up an excuse for why the rest of the party is there after all -- maybe they got back early, or maybe they heard the sounds of a fight and wanted to investigate, or something of that nature. That way the players don't have to miss out on a combat scene.

But what's even better than that is to discourage them from splitting the party in the first place. Usually when players split the party, it's because they think there's time pressure: they think they can get more things done by splitting up than they can all in a group. The solution is to assure them that there's no time pressure: the things they want to do won't take too long, and they can just have the whole group run through each thing in sequence.

Player A: "Okay, so I want to go shopping once we get back to town..."
Player B: "I don't need to go shopping. I want to go get drunk in the tavern!"
Player C: "I want to check in with the village cleric and see if there's any news."
DM: "You've got the whole evening, and none of those tasks will take a long time."
DM: "How about you all go shopping, then you all go see the village cleric?"
DM: "Then you can all finish the evening in the tavern."

The players who aren't interested in a scene still don't have to do anything, but if they suddenly decide there is something they want to do, with this method they can just jump in and do it.


Having said all that: if you absolutely must get half the party kidnapped, the way to avoid metagaming is to scene-shift away from the people who were kidnapped, to avoid telling the rest of the party anything they shouldn't know.

DM (to Players A and B): "Welp, looks like you guys are all unconscious."
DM: "The good news is you're not dead. The bandits have kidnapped you."
DM (to Players C and D): "Okay, you guys get back from shopping an hour later and the tavern is a wreck. It looks like there was a fight here. You don't see your friends. What do you do?"
(Players C and D make some skill checks to figure out where their friends were taken)
DM (to C and D): "You arrive at an abandoned warehouse. Your friends, and the people who kidnapped them, are inside."
DM (to A and B): "You guys wake up. You're in a warehouse. The kidnappers are standing nearby. What do you do? Do you have some sort of clever escape plan, or are you just going to wait for rescue?"

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Dice, dice baby.

Usually, events in RPG's are determined by a combination of role-playing and dice rolls. When there's a big gap between player knowledge and character knowledge, rely heavily on dice rolls.

It can be slightly jarring, but players will generally react well, because it's fair and rolling dice is always fun.

Maintain Immersion

In my experience, most meta-gaming is done by experiences players trying to get get advantage.

Assuming you are starting with an immersive play style, you can solve this in character by interpreting the actions of the meta-gamer in character, without breaking the action. Show that the meta-gaming actions make no sense, by the reactions of NPCs, etc. Set the expectation of high-quality play.

Most players, even novices, will quickly see that the only way forward is to play their characters properly. If some newbie just isn't getting it, and is getting frustrated, you can stop the game for a minute and give a short lecture.

Other tips for you situation:

  • If meta-gaming persists, issue a warning.

  • Limit any exploitable details you give to the separated parties to just what's needed.

  • Get the party back together as quickly as is reasonable.

An illustration - After your tavern goers lose their fight:

Larry: 7 damage? I'm at zero hit points.

GM: You're down. The good news is they don't kill you. They bind your wounds, and your hands and feet, put a sack over your head, and trundle you off.

Larry: Can I tell at all where they are taking me? To a basement, or out of town?

GM: Your character knows, but the others don't. I'll tell you when it matters. You're losing consciousness.

Moe: You know, I think we should probaby check on the others.

Curly: How would we know to do that?

GM: Curly, Moe starts talking crazy. You are afraid you might have to restrain him.

Moe: I check the roads out of town.

GM: Moe, you hear a demon's voice in your head telling you do do things. You shut your mind to it, knowing that to listen to its urgings would bring only madness, despair, and a permanent loss of hit points. You do get a good price on that healing potion you wanted, 5GP off!

Moe: Humph.

GM: A boy runs up to you, "Hey you guys, your friends just got kidnapped!"

And this is where the skill check rolls come in to try to identify and find the culprits. If nobody can get a decent roll, then the next morning a ransom is waiting for the remaining characters (or something).

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    \$\begingroup\$ IMHO it would be better to ask Moe for a explanation of the actions of his char and allow him to decide to act differently, if he can't. That way it would feel less like you controling the actions of the player's chars. Furthermore it's not a problem of the chars, but a problem of the players and thus should be dealt with out of character. \$\endgroup\$ – fabian May 14 '16 at 10:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fabian thanks for the comment, I edited my answer a bit. In my experience, most meta-gamers, novice or experience, understand they are trying to get away with cheating when they meta-game. But I always prefer to deal with issues in character when possible, and not pause the game. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant May 14 '16 at 11:44
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I think many of the options above are great, and are probably excellent practice for your real life negotiation skills. https://www.udemy.com/negotiation-problems-solved/

My parties frequently split. Sometimes just in town, but sometimes for separate quests or during battle to different areas. Sometimes people have died on their own, and I decide whether they should be able to get away or not. If one group insists on metagaming after you have asked them to please think critically about what their characters should know, then you could try this... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQ8jGqdE2iw

Character, please roll a DC10 perception check.

Success, "You hear a strange moo sound with a bell coming from the sky above you with just enough time jump back out of the way."

Failure [Warning Shot], "A cow lands just in front of your character splattering the ground and deals (2D4) splatter damage in a 10 ft radius."

"On the remains you find a bell with the message "Every time a player meta games a cow loses it's life." etched on it. The bell appears to be worth nothing."

Don't let the cow hit the character if you want to keep your players (friends).

If you want to lose players (frienemies)... Start rolling D% with a 11% hit chance. On miss roll D4 direction [1] front of player, [2] left of player, [3] back of player, [4] right of player. 2D4 splatter 10 ft radius On hit, DC15 Reflex Save for half damage. Roll 4D6 damage.

Here is how I decided damage for said object: http://www.d20pfsrd.com/gamemastering/environment/environmental-rules#TOC-Falling-Objects

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