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I’ve been gaming with the same main group for around 10 years now, with a couple roster changes early on, and like nearly every other group I’ve gamed with we seem to have developed and then fallen into a groove. In the CCG world, “meta” means the state of the game — strategies, tactics, which cards and decks are best/worst, and reactions to all of those things — in a particular area: your local store, your state, your country, whatever. When I think about how my gaming group does things, I tend to think of that as our meta.

(As always when I talk about personal gaming stuff, these are my opinions and they’re not intended as value judgments. I suspect my gaming buddies would agree with most of what I’m about to say, but they might not.)

Four things stand out to me about my group’s meta:

  • We play a lot of licensed property RPGs. Stargate, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and Marvel Heroic have all seen extended campaign play, and I’m pretty sure they outnumber the non-licensed property games we’ve played.
  • We like consensus. It often takes us a while to choose a new game because we try hard to make sure it’s a game everyone is excited about. One person being against a game is usually enough to kill it, and one person amenable but not jazzed about a game generally means we keep that game in the wings.
  • We don’t generally play indie RPGs (story games). There are four of us, and two players (myself included) like story games while two typically don’t, so our desire for consensus usually takes them out of the running. (Side note: “Indie RPGs” is a pretty reductive descriptor, but it’s still the most useful shorthand I’m aware of.)
  • Our games usually last about a year. We’ll often end campaigns in a state that enables us to pick them up again down the road, but it’s a rare game that runs for more than a year straight.

I also game with a second group, less frequently and always over Google+ Hangout. Our meta is totally different:

  • We only play indie RPGs. Three of the four of us like indie games a lot, and the fourth is up for pretty much anything. We started this group specifically to play indie games.
  • Games last for a few sessions. With a sproadic schedule and a short time slot (usually 2-3 hours), I think the longest game we’ve run is three sessions.
  • We try new things all the time. Indie games often lend themselves to pickup play and single-session games, so there’s lots out there for us to try. When one game ends, a couple of us will pitch some ideas for what to play next, and we’re off and running.

There’s nothing wrong with either group’s meta — or any group’s meta, except for dysfunctional groups that don’t really get along (a whole different topic). But I think it’s an interesting thing to think about.

For one thing, it makes it easier (though not always easy) to narrow down what games to pitch and consider playing next; the meta acts like a filter. It also helps me decide, when I’m thinking about buying a gaming book, whether it will get played or sit on my shelf. And like any piece of data in my mental library of Things My Groups Like, it’s a data point when looking at stuff that isn’t quite in our meta but also might work, and which would expand our shared horizons.

For me, my two groups are very different not only in their meta but in how they arrived at it. My face-to-face group arrived at our meta over the course of several years, more or less organically. My online group sprung up around a pretty explicit meta, and has stuck with it. Again, nothing wrong with either approach, I just think it’s interesting.

Anyway, that’s enough from me: How about you — what’s your group’s meta like? Do you think about it often, or not at all? Is having a sense for your group’s meta useful to you?

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. You can find out a bit more about him on his personal website.

9 Responses to Does Your Group Have a Meta?

  1. I play with two main groups and there have very different meta aspects (though I would not have termed it such before this article). Interesting way to think about how groups deal with games.

  2. Interesting way to put it – I guess I sort of thought about this subconsciously but now there is a name for it. I am exceedingly blessed to be part of a large and vibrant gaming community. I have a gaming group of about 20 (maybe more, depending on how you define it), and play in a number of different games with various combinations of my group. Sometimes, someone will say something like “I’m interested in running an X-style game with strong Y-themes, who’s interested?” Other times, “I have Tuesday nights free, who wants to get together for a game?” Sometimes, even, we’ll specifically ask certain people to play who would have the right playstyle for the game. So I guess various metas do evolve – my sunday game has a comedic bent, my monday game is more story/character driven, wednesdays are old-school D&D and the like. Thanks for the article!

  3. While I am not a collector of RPG material per se, I have played sci-fi games in the 1980’s, however, my current group prefers typical fantasy and mostly do not care for specific themes. While I try to include thematic aspects to help color our game world, I don’t overly push the theme, as certain players are really against that sort of thing. It really depends on which of the 3 GMs of our group is running things to what ‘meta’ is added to the basic non-theme of our game. I’m sure that if I had access to other groups, we might approach the game differently, however being in a low population rural area I am limited on just a single group.

    • Your comment about which GM is GMing making a difference is interesting. All four people in my face-to-face group GM, as do 3/4 in my G+ group, and I don’t think it makes a difference in our overall meta — for either group — who’s running the game.

      • I’d say our group is not completely in sync and problematic because of that. Its something we each have to deal with since there are almost no other available players in my remote area. The problem is 3 players (including me) has been playing together for 20 years. Another player though with a long gaming history, never played with us previously and his game style is completely different, heavily home-brewed, really not my taste at all. 3 other players were newbies when they joined our group, but have been playing for 5 years. I apply more roleplaying in my sessions than the other GMs. I wish we were more congruous, but we aren’t.

  4. I run two D&D 3.5 groups with mostly new players, and it’s interesting to see how the meta shakes out as people figure out what they want from the game and from themselves as players. Definitely going to have to mull this over a bit more.

  5. It’s funny to hear mention of wrapping up games to potentially return to them because there’s no history to support this. It feels like a wasted exercise in an effort to make people feel better about ending a game. Offhand I can only think of one game that we came back to, Stargate.

  1. TPKtalk for Jan 18 - TPK

    […] Gnome Stew always has great articles, and this week is no different. Martin talks about the meta, the terms of play that exist around the two games he’s involved in. It’s a good way to articulate what your group’s values are and understand what works for them without prescribing terms or practices. […]

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