Metagaming and the PC Glow

One of my biggest peeves in role-playing games is the phenomenon we refer to as the “PC Glow,” in which the player characters can look at a crowd and pick out fellow PCs at a glance. It’s as though the word “PC” were written on their foreheads in big glowing letters.

Yes, it’s useful to be able to get the PCs together quickly and efficiently, especially in action-oriented games like D&D when the players are eager to skip past the introductory bits to get to the meat of play. But any game that falls under the RPG rubric demands a certain amount of integrity in its fiction, however flimsy that fiction may be, and abuse of the PC glow can violate that fiction most egregiously.

In an example from my Glantri game, several players had replaced their deceased PCs with members of a small mercenary band that they’d taken on as hirelings. One of those hirelings-turned-PCs, Francois, made himself the de facto leader of the party, which he renamed the “Company of Crossed Swords.” Seeing their longtime comrades doing well for themselves as members of the party, the remaining NPC members of the mercenary band approached Francois:

Henri [NPC]: Francois, now that things are working out so well with the new mercenary company, Guy and I were thinking that perhaps we could become full members and get shares instead of our usual fee.

Francois [PC]: Ah, no, I do not think so. I do not think you have earned this thing.

Henri: But… I don’t understand. We’ve fought at your side as long as Isaac and Emory [two other PCs], and they’re full members now.

Francois: Ah, yes, but you see, they have demonstrated vision and initiative! Perhaps, after a few more months as hirelings, you will also demonstrate vision and initiative. Until then, we will pay you the usual fee, eh?

Henri: You’re an ass, Francois.

[The NPCs leave; two new PCs arrive.]

Francois: Gentlemen! You look like fine examples of adventurers. How would you like to be full members of the Company of Crossed Swords?

In retrospect, the problem began with my decision to have the NPCs demonstrate a specific ambition that lay outside of our group’s social contract. We have a house rule whereby PCs gain additional experience points by “squandering” gold on things of no material value, so any treasure going to an NPC is a loss of potential experience points. It’s no wonder that Francois’ player found the notion distasteful!

Thus far, the best solutions I’ve found for PC glow abuse—or for any sort of metagaming, for that matter—are as follows:

1. Foresight. Don’t use rules that encourage metagaming, or if you do, try and avoid laying the groundwork for a conflict between the fiction and the players’ cupidity.

2. Communication: When a PC does something that makes little sense in the shared imaginary space of the game, don’t just block it or let it slide by; step outside of the game for a moment to talk directly to the player about why they’re doing it and whether they (or you) could take some other action that makes more sense in the context of play.

3. Justification: If a PC acts uncharacteristically, work out a worthwhile justification for that action with the player. In the example of Francois, we could invent a prior incident that caused Francois to distrust Henri and Guy, or to feel some personal animus toward them. Such additions to the fiction take a potential problem and use it to make the game more interesting!

Of course, old-school D&D being what it is, Francois died later that session, before I could even consider working in elements of his relationship to his NPC comrades. But the peeve—and the potential solutions to it—remains on the table, waiting to be tested again in play.


4 Responses to “Metagaming and the PC Glow”

  1. October 20, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Yup that “PC Glow” can be darned annoying. It’s often used when players introduce a weirdo character and I find it troublesome and a slayer of verisimilitude.

  2. October 20, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Like many other things, it’s terrible in excess but useful in moderation. Go too hard in the other direction and you’ll have PCs turning up their noses at one another and each going their own ways, which is fine for the fiction but a terrible nuisance for the DM. (You can, of course, run a game in which the PCs never deal with each other ever again, but it’s usually preferable to politely inform the players in question that failing to connect with the rest of the party may result in a significant–if not total–lack of spotlight time during sessions.)

  3. October 20, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    Aw man. Opinions differ on the shape of the earth! Post a-comin’!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Past Adventures of the Mule

October 2009
    Nov »

RPG Bloggers Network

RPG Bloggers Network

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog & get email notification of updates.

Join 1,052 other followers


%d bloggers like this: