To: Deus Ultionis mailing list
Date: Mar 1, 2006 2:26 PM
Subject: schedule + a rant on metagaming

Hi everyone,

The Saturday/Monday joint sessions have concluded, so we are back to single groups.

The next Wednesday session will be March 8th. Please note that Wednesday sessions will begin at 7:00 pm (instead of 6:30 pm) from now on.

The next Saturday session will be March 11th at 2:00 pm. This week is not of the normal parity, but the 4th and 18th both had issues. Saturday will return to the normal parity for their following session on April 1st.

The next Monday session will be March 20th at 6:30 pm. This week is also not of the normal parity. The delay is partially to give me a short break, and partially because it simplifies the logistics of the in-game timeline for Saturday’s events to precede (out-of-game) Monday’s events. Monday will return to the normal parity for their following session on April 10th.

As usual, see the Story page for complete details.

On to the rant…

Generally, I encourage players to roleplay their characters as "realistically" as possible, however they deem most appropriate. However, there are a few exceptions where metagaming is encouraged instead – when certain actions are so disruptive to the universe that suspension of disbelief is easier for people to maintain by avoiding those actions, however appropriate they might seem on the surface. Unfortunately, in a multi-group campaign in particular, such actions arise quite often, especially surrounding joint sessions.

For example, once you have encountered other groups of PCs, it might make sense to stay in constant communication with them. As GM, I’m not going to say it can’t be done. But I will caution that the more such connections are utilized, the less realistic – and thus believable – the campaign becomes. There are many "tricks" that I can use to facilitate such communication (or prevent it – remember "the bird" in Pax?), but none of them are as sophisticated as the forms of communication being used in-game. I can call individuals from other groups on the phone. I can send instant messages to those individuals. But because of time skew (differences in time in-game between parties), such conversations must be prefixed with when in the timeline the conversation is occurring. If the timestamp is further forward in time than the individual’s party is, that person is going to have a very hard time saying with any certainty what his group is currently doing. As GM, even I will not necessarily know where the character is, whether he can respond to such communications and if so what his ping time is, or even whether his character is still alive. So these tricks have far more limited application than the forms of communication taken for granted in the Deus world.

As I said above, it becomes harder and harder to believe that you actually have an active path of communication with the other characters. If it’s so active, why can’t you communicate reliably? There is no universal in-game explanation. So what is the alternative? The answer is metagaming. Realize that out-of-game, such actions strain the believability of the universe. Instead, rationalize a reason for your character why you wouldn’t call the other party at the drop of a hat. If you really need to contact them and engage in heavy discussions, perhaps a joint session is warranted. But remember, even that solution requires me to first correct for time skew in a believable way. If I fast-forward your party two weeks to make it possible, rather than getting upset, consider what your character can do during those two weeks that is brief enough (in out-of-game terms) to facilitate the joint session, so everyone has more fun.

The same holds for when a joint session concludes. It is my responsibility as GM to maximize the reasons why the parties would want to split up at that time. However, I cannot always do a perfect job. You may decide your character disagrees with the group consensus of whether, when, where and how to split up, what to do next, etc. But remember that you control your character. You can rationalize a reason why the character would go along with the split, even if you feel he normally would not, to facilitate things out-of-game. Otherwise, you only end up hurting everyone involved by forcing the GM to take a more heavy-handed approach and introduce elements that will likely be much harder to swallow (for everyone, not just for you) than your character’s change of heart.

Please remember that joint sessions are a privilege of this style of campaign, which (as far as I am aware) is quite rare. Everyone must be willing to make small compromises in order to maintain the campaign’s integrity. Too many compromises too often indicates that I as GM am doing a poor job of weaving a robust storyline. However, unless I clamp down hard to prevent any real choices (which I’m willing to bet no one wants), multiple parties will always diverge, creating time skew. Although I am constantly battling to correct for time skew, it will never go away completely. Even if the parties were always temporally aligned, there would still be difficulties with free transportation and communication between groups.

One other option is for the three parties to be run in complete isolation, with no opportunity for joint sessions, which I personally feel would be much less fun. But maybe some of you feel the joint sessions are not worth the "price" of these compromises (or maybe some of you don’t even like the joint sessions at all)? If that is the case, please let me know, and I can avoid them for the remainder of the campaign.

There are other options. Someone asked me recently what would happen were people to insist on engaging in "Operation DM Headache" (ODMH), a plan wherein the Saturday & Monday groups split into several cells of 2-3 characters each, all in constant communication with one another via "BriceNet." I listed the following choices: 1) Rocks fall; everyone dies. 2) Hull breach; everyone dies. 3) Harry Bryant; everyone dies. 4) Planets collide; everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – dies. 5) We run joint sessions with all involved players for the remainder of the campaign.

I question whether #5 would honestly be a better choice than numbers 1-4. With the first four, everyone makes new characters that do not know each other and equilibrium is maintained. With #5, everyone’s schedules must mesh (which is likely impossible in the long term), and some people probably end up gaming with others whom they had specifically requested not to. Some players would most likely drop out of the campaign. In addition, in the case of ODMH, these joint sessions would be extremely boring, since I would be forced to focus on each group of 2-3 individually as everyone splits up to do different things. Yet everyone would have to pay constant attention to represent that their characters were all interlinked. It would not be the optimal gaming organization.

One further option I listed: 6) We continue with the old groupings, but I NPC all absent PCs as realistically as I can.

However, any time I even whisper about NPCing someone’s character on a regular basis, I am met with strong opposition. And why shouldn’t I be? The one thing you have real control over is your character. It’s not fair for the GM to take even that away from you. So I assume that #6 is right out.

In conclusion, there are critical circumstances where I ask that you please roleplay your character with certain out-of-game considerations in mind, to maintain suspension of disbelief, and ensure the campaign stays fun for everyone. If you honestly feel the gulf between your character’s "compromise action" and "preferred action" is too great (i.e., the compromise action opposes your character vision so strongly that following through with it would shatter your suspension of disbelief) then please talk to me in private about it, so that I can correct the problem (either find a creative solution such as guest starring or switching characters, or arrange for an external circumstance to encourage your character into the compromise action).

Wow, that rant was longer than I thought it would be. Thanks for reading.