Recently I read a question* which asked when to use Spell B, because the asker felt Spell A was a better alternative. One of the answers stated that it would beneficial to use Spell B if:

Your next ally to attack is a rogue who will get sneak attack damage from the advantage.

The tag defines usage (of the tag, and as such the definition) as:

concerning using, managing, or separating player knowledge and character knowledge.

Even though a round in DND is each player taking their turn, I feel that's just an abstraction and only used so the game isn't chaos; therefore I feel that a Cleric attacking knowing that a Rogue will attack next from sneak is meta knowledge: knowledge a PC wouldn't have.

Is using an ability which affects the next person to hit, knowing a particular PC will go after you, considered meta-gaming?

I don't feel this is specific to but I've tagged it as such since I'm not an expert on games so it may actually be specific to the D&D series.

*I don't mean to draw attention to the question, but I've provided the link in case it sheds more light on what I'm asking

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for partial answers, opinions, or discussion of the topic. Answer in answers please. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Mar 7 '17 at 14:01


I'm working to the Wikipeadia definition:

Metagaming is any strategy, action or method used in a game which transcends a prescribed ruleset, uses external factors to affect the game, or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game. Another definition refers to the game universe outside of the game itself.


Metagaming is not ipso facto a bad thing and it happens in every game to a greater or lesser extent. The fact that you ask the question inherently assumes that metagaming is bad (otherwise there is no point to the question): I raise this to explicitly call out your not necessarily correct assumption.

Each table must decide for themselves what they consider is unacceptable metagaming as opposed to what they will permit. Of course, if it's allowed in your game then, by the definition above, it stops being metagaming because the game now accommodates it.

For example, a professional football coach choosing his lineup and strategy for Saturday's match based (partly) on who the opposition is, is metagaming: the strategy is informed by things that are outside the rules of the game of football. However, when considered within the completion as a whole it's not metagaming and any coach who didn't do it would not be a coach for long.

The answer

The initiative order and the effects of spells:

  • do not transcend the prescribed ruleset,
  • do not use external factors to affect the game,
  • may go beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game, and
  • do not involve the game universe outside of the game itself

The only aspect of metagaming that applies here is one of verisimilitude - you seem to think that initiative order is something known to the players but not the characters. If so, then your problem goes deeper than deciding what spell to use based on that order - your mind should be rebelling at the fact that people in combat take turns in the first place!

There are two ways of reconciling this:

  1. It's actually a fundamental feature of the fantasy world that includes dungeons and dragons, magic and monsters. If the PCs were playing us they would be equally discombobulated that combat here happens in a wildly simultaneous way.

  2. The abstraction that we use is hiding the fact that trained people in combat actually coordinate their actions. The spell grants advantage partly because of the magic, partly because the spell caster picked the opportune time to cast it and partly because the attacker knew it was coming because she and the spell caster are part of a tight-knit fighting machine and they practice this stuff off-camera.

In either case, there is a narrative analogue to the mechanical resolution which allows whatever small metagaming there is here (if any) to be safely ignored.

As a final point, without knowledge of the mechanics of the game the spell would be rather useless. This is true of a large number of spells and other effects: the spell Guidance, Bardic Inspiration and the Lucky feat all spring to mind.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If nothing else--and it's not nothing else--I'd +1 for "metagaming is not ipso facto a bad thing." When a character's ability is tied to a in-game-but-not-in-universe concept like turns... what else is one to do? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Mar 7 '17 at 12:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, if action order is out-of-character knowledge, then delaying an action (or at any rate, delying it until exactly the right place for it) must also be metagaming. This is not generally held to be the case ;-) No doubt it's true, though, that a well-oiled D&D team can execute certain kinds of co-ordination that aren't terribly realistic, simply due to having more thinking/reaction time than is really available, and a better field of view (e.g. perhaps you "shouldn't" make decisions based on the turn order of someone standing behind you, unless you've practiced the move like an NFL play). \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Jessop Mar 7 '17 at 14:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ The narrative for turn-based combat is that characters are all acting simultaneously, with characters with higher initiative acting just slightly ahead of the rest, allowing his or her actions to take precedence. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 7 '17 at 14:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Such spells tend to also have a plausible 'in-universe' explanation for the bonus they provide. If spell A causes the opponent to be momentarily blinded for example, someone with a lot of fighting experience like a rogue might respond to that by attacking that same opponent with a potentially more damaging attack that would normally be riskier since it can be stopped if noticed, but since the opponent is blinded it's more likely to land. A blinded opponent can be stabbed more easily for instance since they won't see you coming so they can't block. \$\endgroup\$ – Cronax Mar 7 '17 at 16:18

It could be argued that it isn't meta-gaming at all. (In the sense of making decisions that the characters couldn't be expected to make.)

Dividing a six-second round into turns is an abstraction, making it possible to have all characters act simultaneously in-universe while keeping the game playable out-of-universe. Turns also have an order, which is another abstraction for characters' reflexes and awareness (initiative) in combat. The concept of "who acts next" doesn't really exist from the characters' point of view.

I agree with BlueMoon93's assertion that during and after the second round the characters know how the other combatants are fighting and what their "readiness" for their next action is. But I also think that in most cases the party can be expected to have enough experience fighting together to have a basic plan or system to the fight, even if the players aren't re-enacting it. The RAW apparently say that only the character whose turn it is may speak (PHB p. 190), but I think it would be silly to assume that the acting character has to make decisions in a vacuum of information during the first round. The cleric should be able to see if the rogue appears ready to strike.

Finally, players rolling initiative publicly (as opposed to the DM doing it), while usually probably just a convenience, could possibly be an acknowledgement that the characters too can see their companions' readiness. That interpretation is definitely up to the DM though. :)


Just thought of providing an in-game solution that would keep the player and character knowledge separated. Assuming that the initiative abstraction is just how it works in the D&D universe....

Is using an ability which affects the next person to hit, knowing a particular PC will go after you, considered meta-gaming?

In my table, before Round 2, yes.

Characters don't know the initiative values until Round 1 is over, or unless you can calculate it (everyone else attacked in this round except X, then X is probably next).

When combat starts, initiative is rolled. Players know order, characters don't.

Round 1: Enemy attacks, Cleric attacks. He does not know who is next (although he knows the Rogue will attack eventually, but it might be the Bard first). He uses some spell for damage. Turns out, Rogue is next, then Bard.

After round 1, the Cleric (character, not just the player) knows that the Rogue is after him. From here-on-out, he can take advantage of that knowledge. And we don't consider it meta-gaming anymore.

This also applied to enemies. I don't let my characters say I attack the enemy that is going to attack next!. They can choose from one of the enemies that has not attacked yet, but that's as far as it goes until Round 1 is over and the order has been established.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer makes an implicit assumption that turn order in combat is a real thing in the characters' world, so that it can be perceived and acted upon. That assumption is called out as undesirable in the question, so I think it should be highlighted in the answer why it is considered acceptable in order to address the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Mar 7 '17 at 13:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ This seems strange to me, in a real life fight different people move at different speeds, I was in a LRP duel once where I hit my opponent 3 times in a gap in his armour and dropped him before he even tried to hit me once. In a hypothetical second round of combat though this doesn't mean that I would wait for him to try and hit me before I hit him another 3 times. The rules and initiative are an abstraction to model lots of people all moving at once in a manageable way. In reality both sides are always moving and something like that spell IC means you time it for when the ally attacks. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B Mar 7 '17 at 14:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Initiative is just the mechanism by which you achieve that timing which is an OOC representation of everyone running around madly IC. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B Mar 7 '17 at 14:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ How do you handle powers that state where creature X has not yet taken a turn in combat? If everyone is running around madly in IC, then do these powers just work on surprised creatures? \$\endgroup\$ – BlueMoon93 Mar 7 '17 at 14:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BlueMoon93 Delaying your turn does not exist in 5e. Critical Role is more house rules than actual 5e. The only "delaying" you're allowed to do is readying an action \$\endgroup\$ – JBC Mar 10 '17 at 15:36

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