[RPG] How to find out about the game world without meta-influencing it


I'm a fairly new D&D player and as you can see from one of my other questions I'm attempting to play as spoiler free a game as possible.

With this in mind I try and keep my reading about D&D to a minimum and tend to ask my DM (either 'in-game' or 'out-of-game') about things I'm not sure about, some of which would likely be well known by seasoned players.

My concern is that by doing so I may be inadvertently meta-influencing* the world.

Here is the example that I've been playing with in my mind:

My level 5 Ranger wants to cast Locate Plant or Animal fairly
regularly. For it she needs Bloodhound Fur which is a bit tricky to
come by. I know, by reading the PHB, that a Component Pouch could work
in the place of the Bloodhound Fur and also be useful for any other
spells with a material component.

So, given that I now want a Component Pouch, I set about in-game to find one. However, as a player, I'm not really sure where to start and this is where my problem lies.

I imagine it's going to be a shop of some sort and I imagine, uninfluenced, 'Ye Old Magic Shop' as having a set inventory of items, let's say: Magic Hat, Magic Dice and Magic Shoes.

  • If I ask my DM, out-of-game, where to get a Component Pouch I may now find that 'Ye Old Magic Shop' suddenly has one!

  • If I ask at 'The Blacksmiths', in-game, he may direct me to 'Ye Old Magic Shop' which suddenly has one!

  • If I let the DM know, either in-game or out-of-game, that my character seeks a given item I may suddenly find the Big Boss drops that very item instead of what he would have dropped had I not mentioned it!

So my question is, how can I find out about the game world, such as situations like this, without meta-influencing it?

* I use the term meta-influencing to distinguish it from my character's in-game influence. I wouldn't be concerned, for example, with 'Ye Old Magic Shop' ordering in / making a Component Pouch for me as a result of my charactering showing an interest in it.

Best Answer

Meta-influencing the game is normal and unavoidable

In D&D everything in the world exists as a set piece for the benefit of the players and the PCs. Things that are expected to be important or evocative are usually created/described by the DM ahead of time, however they can't anticipate everything the PCs might want or need. That means that often the DM ends up creating NPCs and locations as the PCs ask about or need them.

This is a good thing.

Putting too much content that the players/PCs won't interact with and doesn't enhance the experience is largely pointless and a waste of time. On the flip side, putting too little content such that PCs aren't getting what they expect or need in a realistic way is also really bad. That is why a good DM lets the players meta-influence the game to a certain extent.

The players and PCs tell the DM what they need and want in many explicit or subtle ways. This can range from explicitly asking the DM if there is a pub nearby, or if they have component pouches for sale or it can be as subtle as deciding to go down the left fork thus cutting out the content that would have happened in the right fork.

The very act of playing the game is meta-influencing things and is a normal healthy way to play the game and, moreover, there is no way to avoid it.

Let your DM worry about it

Since creating the game and enhancing fun is part of the role of the DM, they are going to be the ones deciding how much and to what degree the players can influence the game and its world. The amount varies from DM to DM and game to game and there's no one right way to do it. However, a good DM will try to choose the option that seems to enhance the best fun at the table.

Even in published adventures, I and most DMs I know will tweak and cater the content to what best suits the players and PCs at my table and I strongly believe this to be a good thing — to a point. I think most people would find it jarring and not fun if, minutes after asking where one could find a component pouch, the DM describes you finding one by the side of the road (without a good narrative reason to back it up). On the other hand, telling a player who wants a component pouch that they can't ever get one simply because they hadn't thought that one might ever be needed would also be bad. The best way to play lies somewhere in the middle.

Talk to your DM and trust them. Make adjustments as issues come up.

However, if you are too afraid of meta-influencing the game to talk to the DM about the things you want or what you want to do, you are taking away this information from the DM and making their decision harder.

Instead, give your DM as much information as you can, and trust them to handle that in a way that is fun for you and the table. If they repeatedly are allowing things to be influenced too much for your tastes, talk to them about it then and they can adjust what they do from there.