Something that really confused me for a long time was how to help other players during combat without being “the metagamer” at the table. Allow me to explain briefly for those of you that don’t know what a “metagamer” is. A “metagamer” is someone that uses information that they know, and more importantly that their character doesn’t know, to make decisions in the game. Now that we’re all on the same page, I hope you can relate in some way to my dilemma. How can I help a teammate that’s confused by their character’s abilities, or confused by the mechanics of the game, without crossing that thin line between knowledge and meta-gaming?
In a very anti-climactic twist, I found the answer to this question on accident during a session of Dungeons and Dragons I played recently. Our Paladin had, through a series of unfortunate circumstances and bad rolls, found herself alone with three gnolls and no help coming. She was totally flustered and didn’t quite know how to use her smites or other paladin abilities to their maximum efficiency. I wanted to jump right in and give all of the advice I could from the get-go. I have a very intimate knowledge of the paladin class from a nearly two year campaign I played with one, so if anyone could give her help or advice I felt that it would be me. The only thing that stopped me was the fear that I would cross that thin line and end up breaking the game a little bit because of it.
That’s when it hit me, again in rather dull fashion, that my character wasn’t even there for me to metagame through. If I gave advice to our Paladin, it would be strictly player-to-player information that her character would already know. There character already knows what spells she has and what they do, but the player needed a little bit of help getting to the same page. At that point I also realized that it wouldn’t have mattered if my character was there or not. The topic at hand was something that her character already knew and mine didn’t, so all I had to do was temporarily step away from my character to help her.
In the same way, things like battle strategy (i.e. flanking, light, stealth, etc.) is something that can be assumed as generally understood by the characters, and thus is on the table for open discussion. It’s not going to break the game, or be super scummy if you suggest to another player to take a step to the right and gain a bonus to attacks. Frankly, in my newly enlightened opinion, it’s part of the game. Your characters talk to each other all of the time, why not during combat?
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Thank you again, and as always,