Metagaming, combat length, and the death of roleplaying.

Posted on June 18, 2009 by


I had an interesting discussion with some friends tonight about D&D 4th ed.  The four of us were discussing the merits and drawbacks of 4th ed.  in relation to other editions of D&D.  Some background before I get into it, we’ve all played together at some point since 2nd ed. AD&D, and two of them play in my current game now.  The other lives out of state, but plays in a 4th ed. game where he lives.

The general consensus that came out of the discussion was that 4th ed. is too geared towards getting to the next encounter and not enough towards storytelling and character building.  I have blogged about this before and my stance has always been that a group will bring in as much roleplaying to the table as they want.  Some people still think that they need the rule book to specifically tell them how or guide them towards roleplaying in order for that to happen.  I’m not sure I understand that point of view.  It doesn’t hinder roleplaying if you don’t let it.  But that’s not what this article is about, so enough about that.

As the title reads, this post is about metagaming, and specifically, about how I think it’s partly to blame for killing the roleplaying.  I feel it at my table, and after tonight’s conversation, I feel it may be happening at other tables as well, and I want your input.  Here’s what I’m thinking:  the combat is taking way too long in 4th ed. and players are feeling pressured to go from combat to combat in the time they have allotted to play, in order to collect their xp, loot, and level up. There’s no stopping to smell the proverbial roses in D&D anymore.

Time is apparently of the essence in 4th Ed. D&D.

Time is apparently of the essence in 4th Ed. D&D.

At my table for example, time is very critical.  My guys know we have about 4 1/2 hours to get things done.  There are 7 players, with a lot of goofing around before we get to it.  Combat takes a long time.  Unfortunately, I find them rushing over the roleplaying elements I try to sprinkle into my game because of the need and desire to get to the last encounter before the time runs out, and the time the encounters are taking play a huge part in this equation.  The way I DM, I have my encounters prepared for the night on a big DM binder.  I write my flavor text, have my papers with the combats prepared, and have scripts for the NPC’s they may or may not interact with.  I’m ready to roleplay or not.  It’s their call.

My gut feeling tells me that combat length is an issue being discussed and watched over at WOTC.  It’s affected their Game Day events, it’s affected the perception of the game, and now I believe it’s affecting the way people approach the way they play.  When one of the guys, a guy that loves roleplaying, tells me he just goes from encounter to encounter without really ropleplaying; well, then I know something is off.  And I think this may be it.  I think combat length may be the key to the problem.   Have you stopped to think about why there’s no random encounter tables in the game anymore?  A hard random encounter can take up half of a four hour session.  That’s not good for anyone.

I hope I was able to clearly make my point.  Whether you agree with me or not, I think it’s at least something to consider.  If players weren’t metagaming and factoring in the time it takes to resolve a fight, they’d stop and smell the roses and take in the world a little more in the gaming session.

I’d love to read your thoughts.

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Posted in: 4e D&D, Gaming