Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

Metagame mechanics

Started by Dav, May 22, 2001, 10:26:00 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


Okay, so we've got a new forum, which is dandy.  

So, there seemed to be some question as to metagame mechanics, among other issues.  I chose to just pull this one out of the morass merely because I, personally, have only a vague concept of the vicissitudes of this idea.

First, I noted that Ron referred to the Luck Point theory of Obsidian as a metagame mechanic, and piecing together context clues, I'm coming up with the idea that these are options a character has ex post facto.  To be brief, Luck Points are experience points that a PC can spend after a roll to modify the roll after the fact.  Simple, brief.

I have heard of the "bid" concept from hero Wars (and probably other games) as being metagame, but, being unfamiliar with these games, I have no ability to speak about them.

I can see a variety of other types (such as the Sorcerer idea of "descriptive bonueses", which are pure genius).  These mechanics seem largely geared toward the Fortune aspect of gaming (though the actual modification could be said to be Drama in some ways).  I was wondering if anyone had good examples of these options utilized under other mechanical processes.  

Um, that is all from me (for now... I'm like herpes).



One of the metagame mechanics making the rounds right now is the Deadlands Fate Chip system.  You know, the poker chips.  :smile:  You gain Fate Chips as a reward for roleplaying, and you can use them to enhance a die roll or prevent damage from an attack after the attack was resolved.  Example:  your character is shot for 2 wounds.  You turn in two White Fate Chips to negate the wounds.  Your character was still shot, but the bullet missed anything important.  Each color (white, red, blue) has a different value, with white being the weakest and blue being the strongest.  This is arguably a Drama-based metagame mechanic mediated through the use of Resource (and implemented with a great deal of color).

Theatrix's plot point system is another example of a metagame system (IMHO), also mediated through the use of Resource.  Basically, spending a Plot point lets you (the player) activate the use of a Trait or Statement, making them work as you want.  (I've never actually played, BTW, so I may be misstating this a bit).

Does this help give you an idea?
Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown


Not to toot my horn or anything, but I think I've done a pretty good job of shifting a metagame mechanic from the background to the foreground by making it the core system of my game WYRD.  Jared posted the URL for WYRD in his forum, but here it is again:

The funny thing about WYRD is that I know I've done something, but I'm not sure what.  I think it's Narrativist.  I think it emphasizes either Author or Director's Stances (not sure which, maybe both).  I'm pretty sure it shakes up the A-B-C form of declaration-resolution-outcome of action.  As a work in progress that touches on many aspects of the Forge's game design theory, I think it serves as a neat model for what to do (or not do) when designing an rpg.

If you got a few minutes take a look...:smile:


Not to get bogged down in definitions again, but I think we need a working definition of 'metagame mechanics' (I'm not trying to propose one, I just think we need one that we can all use, whatever it is.)

It sort of depends on whether you're parsing the phrase as (metagame) mechanics or meta-(game mechanics.) The latter is what we're doing in this forum, I think, whereas the former is probably more what you're talking about, in which case you're talking about mechanics that stand outside the game.

So where I'm going with this, is when people talk about metagame mechanics, I always thought they were basically talking about mechanics that, if you removed them, you'd still have a completely functional system. Like luck points in most games; the rest of the system works just fine if you take them out. (aside: using poker chips rather than writing them down on your sheet is mostly just cute, rather than different, IMHO)

In this case, Wyrd's player-directorial-power-creating mechanic is --NOT-- a metagame mechanic, in that if you remove it, you can't play the game.

Hardcoremoose has, then, done something that I think most of us are interested in doing; moving rules that enhance player directorial power, and thus presumably narrative input, from being a metagame mechanic to being a central mechanic.

Of course, I may be misunderstanding all of this entirely.

                       - James


A working definition of metagame mechanic would be nice, just so that we're all on equal footing.  I don't think it's rocket science we're dealing with, but I'm certain everyone has a little different understanding of the term.  I, for one, never looked at it in quite the way you stated, although it does make a certain amount of sense.  I always just thought of metagame mechanics as a "cheat", a way for the players to break the rules, either to save their charcters' butts (the most common form of metagame mechanic, I'm sure), or to gain some sort of narrative impact over the game (this is the approach that WYRD takes).

And, to further discuss WYRD, I must say that my intent was to move the mechanic from being 'metagame' to being 'the game'.  I don't have a great deal of experience with other games that have tried this - I don't own Theatrix, Extreme Vengeance, Sorceror, or Story Engine (although I will shortly, I'm sure), but I've known for some time that the metagame part of the rpg was always the most fun.  I loved cashing in my Deadlands chips, or my Warhammer Fate Points, or whatever, just to offset whatever it was my GM was up to.  So it seemed natural to take those rules and make them the hub of a game.

I suggest we come up with a new term, a term that describes a metagame mechanic that isn't 'meta' at all.  If such a term already exists, please fill me in.  Once we have solid definitions of both, we can begin discussing the worth of a metagame mechanic versus a metagame-type mechanic system, and how they effect game design.

And to suggest a topic for further debate, is it possible to impose a metagame-type mechanic as the core mechanic of a system and not have that system turn out Narrativist?    



I agree with your assessment of metagame versus meta-game.  I think, however, each of them can be considered to be two branches of the same tree.  One is more directorial, the other is more... hmm... gamist(?) (to compare two entirely different things).

I think the definitions you put forth are fine for both mechanics, though I think each of the two has a place in this thread.  


I think it would be possible to have a meta-game mechanic become the core trait to a game's system and still have a non-Narrativist game.  In fact, I see many of them as essentially gamist (or simulationist... or even that e-thing).  The theory of "I have to do this so I win" seems a strong underlying current to many of the mechanics we are discussing.

In many games of Obsidian, or others with the Luck Point idea, the uses of them seem not to enhance the drama or story, but rather to make sure the bad guy doesn't get away with his legs still attached.  I would say that is a bit more gamist than narrativist.

Two cents for the both of you.


[ This Message was edited by: Dav on 2001-05-23 11:45 ]

Ron Edwards

All right, here goes. I'll also scout around some lengthy posts I put on GO a while back, and see what I can import over.

Metagame mechanics have a VERY specific definition. They are those mechanics which permit a player to over-ride the "usual" resolution system of the game. Nuances follow.

1) The over-ride may occur before, after, or in place of the regular system mechanic.

2) The over-ride may or may not rely on resources of some kind.

3) The over-ride's version of D/F/K may mirror the usual system's version of D/F/K, or it may differ dramatically.

4) By definition, the CHARACTER'S role in the "decision" side of the over-ride is retroactive, and therefore the very existence of metagame mechanics is linked to Author or Director stance.

5) Historically, my take is this: metagame mechanics appeared as Narrativist "coping mechanisms" when playing games that were largely 80s-Simulationist designs (Mike, this does not means these games were "bad"). An extreme, early example would be TORG's character-card privileges; a more typical example would be Over the Edge's bonus dice.

Since then, we see an interesting phenomenon - given a more overtly Narrativist resolution system as THE system of the game, metagame mechanics tend to be rare.

For instance, bidding Action Points in the Extended Contest system of Hero Wars is NOT METAGAME. It is SYSTEM. In the same game, spending Hero Points, on the other hand, IS metagame, as they act to increase the success level of a die roll post-hoc.




I see your side of the argument, however, when I think of metagame mechanics, I am more along the lines of James' definition(s).

At least, I see varying types of metagame mechanics.  

However, in most cases, I can never shake the feeling that, rather than a Narrativist focus, the metagame mechanic has a strong gamist element (as I said before).  As for Hero Wars, I stand corrected.  Having never even seen the game, I have little to no idea what I'm saying regarding it.

While I agree that a majority of elements within a game cannot be described as one stance over another, rather, it depends upon the actual usage by the players/GM, I think tendency and creator intent tends to be strongly in favor of a non-narrativist bent when dealing with the metagame mechanic.  

(Dav runs to corner and curls into fetal position, hoping he doesn't get hurt)



On 2001-05-23 11:49, Dav wrote:
I see your side of the argument, however, when I think of metagame mechanics, I am more along the lines of James' definition(s).

I don't really think they're too different, except in that Ron's is more specific (which is good). The things Ron are talking about are all, as far as I can see, elements which could be removed and still leave a functional game.

                        - James


James (Ron too, I suppose):

It's not that I disagree with Ron's assessment, but I think starting with a broad concept and narrowing as the scope of the discussion warrants it seems a slightly better approach.  I'm always leery of starting discussions with a narrow focus.



Metagame provides a lot of interesting possibilities, but it seems wasteful to look at it in isolation. If you really want to see how it fits, you need to look at it in conjunction with the other two aspects of character currency: Effectiveness and Resource. ERM provides the basis for what Ron calls Character Currency.

Taken as a whole, Character Currency defines the character's capabilities in the game, and to some extent, the degree of player input into the flow and outcome of events. I've borrowed this from stuff that Ron wrote, so consider this a reflection of Ron's thought on the subject. If I've screwed it up, ROn, feel free to scribble in corrections.

Effectiveness measures how well the character performs announced actions. This is the effect of all die rolls (includes karma scores, etc) in game play. It also includes spell lists, skill lists, and other items which define what the character can do and how well the character can do it. Ron thinks this probably also includes hit points, even though hit points are technically part of Resource.

Resource is the fuel portion of mechanics in play - like Endurance in many games, or Spell Points to use up
by casting spells, or hit points, or even lives to spend (in games with resurrection), and so on. Certainly, it includes all manner of points which characters earn during play and can spend to alter the course of events, which is part of metagame.

Metagame is specifically the means by which the player or GM can break the rules of any of the above at given instances of play. The famous "GM can ignore rolls" is a crude, early example of GM-metagame. For my money, it's a lot more important for players than the GM. Metagame mechanics include the use of plot points, Shadowrun's  Karma points, the poker chips in Deadlands, the card deck in Torg, and so on are all part of metagame.

The point to note here is that changing the outcome of events is only one aspect of metagame. The power to ignore or change one die roll is insignificant compared to the power to completely rework the scenario or to rearrange the flow of events. Depending on the game, metagame lets a player do that.

I'm going to let Ron elaborate on how all this fits together.



Zak Arntson

To start supremely broad, there should be a division between metagame and non-metagame (or a spectrum).

So ... here's my take:

A game consists of CORE mechanics.  These are a set of generalizable rules that apply to a large amount of situations.  Some games have a single core mechanic, like Sorcerer (from what I've seen in the free d/l, and d20 to a large extent).  Others have multiple mechanics (2nd ed. AD&D with its THAC0, Saving Throws, Proficiencies).  Any way you look at it, these mechanics are integral to the way the game is played.

It is this CORE mechanic that is typically simple, but aspects of characters, situations, etc. provide enough variety to the Core mechanic to offer a near-infinite number of combinations.  For example: d20 consists of rolling over a difficulty to hit.  This difficulty is modified by the TASK (defender's armor, slippery oil, etc) and the roll is modified by the PERFORMER (Str, skill, feats, etc).

So here's an idea:  The CORE mechanic typically has two parts:
CORE mechanic (roll above a number on d20)
CORE modifiers (bonuses/penalties to TASK & PERFORMER)

META mechanics exist outside of this Core mechanic, both the Core Mechanic and the Core Modifiers.  Meta mechanics alter either the Core Mechanic or the Core Modifier.  A Fate point (like Warhammer Fantasy RP) would affect the Core Mechanic (living through a deadly fall). A Luck point (other games, I'm sure) would grant bonuses/penalties to a TASK, affecting the Core Modifier.

Once you bring Meta Mechanics into the Core Mechanics, they no longer become Meta.

This involves no emotional judgement as to the goodness or badness of Meta vs. Core Mechanics, it all depends on the goals of the game designer.

How's that?  

Ron Edwards

Hey Zak,

Looks like we're in full agreement. It puzzles me that anyone sees in this material, so far, any room for debate. These phenomena exist, as described, in RPG design.

The question is, what do we do about it, given that one of us might design a game from a very focused, very coherent perspective?

Elfs, for instance, has no metagame mechanic. Its core system is so heavily dependent on Director stance that metagame mechanics are superfluous.

Does coherence and focus in design eliminate the need for metagame mechanics? I'm thinking about that.

And then I look at Hero Wars, which DOES have a metagame mechanic, and in our game, those Hero Points are truly powerful - more precious than anything. The players love them. I love them. And the system is as Author-stancey as all get-out. So no, the question in the above paragraph does NOT seem borne out.

And that's what I want to ask about - give me metagame mechanics examples that operate IN CONCERT with a coherent Narrativist game (for instance). Maybe the OLD need for metagame mechanics, as a "coping device" for Narrativists to deal with primarily Simulationist game design, is gone - but what NEW need might exist?


P.S. Here's another question - does Simulationist game design ever need metagame mechanics? My current take is that such design is built, among other things, to facilitate and even enforce Actor stance ... which would seem that metagame mechanics would be decidedly out of place ....? Help me out on this one.

Zak Arntson

See the Kids Game I whipped up in the Actual Play section for Metagame Mechanics in a highly Narrativist game.

The Luck Pennies are metagame in that they replace a Core Mechanic (immediate success by the PERFORMER).

The Story Pennies I'm not so sure about.  I considered it a vital part of the game: Turning to the players and saying, "What happens next?".  The reason it isn't Metagame is because the entire game was basically a "What happens next?".


First - Ron - there isn't really disagreement on any of this, it's just that since we hadn't been talking about it HERE, we needed to do a little talking about what we were talking about first. Establishing a common set of definitions so that we DON'T spend any psychic energy arguing when we're really agreeing.

Second - , RE: 'goodness' of metagame vs. core mechanics. This relates back to a thread in the 'actual play' forum. Any mechanic that you don't want the players to be able to ignore should be made a core mechanic. For instance, with the right group of players and GM you could play something a lot like Elfs in many systems. However, if you use the system in Elfs its kind of hard to -avoid- playing like that. Metagame mechanics can be very valuable, but they're also very easy to ignore.

Third - RE: metagame mechanics in simulationist games. The answer here is a resounding "YES !" The reason is because no simulationist system ever designed is actually capable of dealing with every conceivable situation. They occasionally need a fudge factor thrown in, just to keep things 'realistic.' By that token, I suspect that GAMIST systems would never need metagame mechanics, because realism isn't an issue there, and in fact you want people to be able to interfere with the core rules as little as possible. (Could you play a version of chess in which people were occasionally able to teleport pieces ?)

Finally - Hero Wars may be a more strongly narrativist game by design than many, but its resolution system, clever as it is, still doesn't allow much room for wiggle in terms of players defining story. It is still designed to be somewhat simulationist. Hero points are still a way to ignore simulationist aspects of the system when they get in the way of narrative.

Incidentally, I want to have as a caveat to anything I say anywhere that I have occasionally been told that I argue as if God had just whispered in my ear, and I was relating the conversation to everyone else. You may feel free to insert qualifiers into anything I say that this is merely my opinion/what my experience indicates is likely to be true.

                             - James