If you’ve ever held a Cheeto-stained icosahedron, you’ve probably heard some variation of the following: “Which one looks more injured? Do any of them seem to be on their last legs? Do I think I could take one out this round?” Push up your geek glasses and strap in, because we’re in for a metagaming discussion.

Let’s start with the easy half of the equation. When it comes to the GM’s side of screen, a combatant’s behavior is often a subjective question of “what makes sense” within fiction. A dimwitted creature might target the closest enemy, the one that attacked it most recently, or roll randomly to determine its next victim. More intelligent enemies might follow a more refined script, seeking to pick off weaker PCs or (with the benefit of a little pre-combat reconnaissance) counter the party’s go-to tactics. If you’re running a module, you might even get some useful instructions (e.g. the “during combat” entries for this lake troll or this sea hag). In all cases there’s a balance to be struck between characterful behavior, smart tactics, and dramatic appropriateness.

That balance still exists when you’re standing on Fighter’s side of the combat. As all good PCs know, roleplaying doesn’t stop when combat starts, and it’s occasionally cool to go for the sub-optimal play in the name of a fun character moment. But all things being equal, you probably want your character to be an effective combatant. Unlike GMs however, players don’t have perfect information. You might not know your target’s AC, weaknesses and immunities, or its current hit points. That means that, unless you’ve got something like the deathwatch spell active, making the tactically-sound play can be down to guesswork.

This is where the metagaming part of the discussion comes in. Questions like, “Which one looks more injured?” or “Do I think a 21 would’ve hit?” or “Did it react when I pulled out my silver/adamantine/cold iron weapon?” all come into play. And just like that, we’ve entered into a bizarre realm of cat-and-mouse between player and GM. What you can plainly see, what your character might guess, and the details that only a trained eye could pick out are all up for debate. More generous GMs might allow a free Perception or Medicine check to glean “enemy status” information. Others might demand you spend some number of actions actively analyzing the situation. If you’re in a system like 4e D&D, you might rely on mechanics like the bloodied condition to inform your decisions.

And because this is such an expect-table-variation aspect of play, I expect that different groups have developed their own ways of dealing with it. Therefore, in an effort to showcase this oft-overlooked aspect of gaming, what do you say we compare notes in today’s discussion? If you were a GM faced with Fighter’s question, how would you handle it? Does he roll for it? Do you just give him the information? Or is it a mystery that he has no hope of unravelling in the heat of combat? Sound off with your own “status report” mechanics down in the comments!


THIS COMIC SUCKS! IT NEEDS MORE [INSERT OPINION HERE] Is your favorite class missing from the Handbook of Heroes? Maybe you want to see more dragonborn or aarakocra? Then check out the “Quest Giver” reward level over on the The Handbook of Heroes Patreon. You’ll become part of the monthly vote to see which elements get featured in the comic next!