Over the years, I’ve observed that a certain amount of transparency on the GM’s part about metagame issues is pretty widely accepted by most gaming groups, particularly when it relates to the survival of the PCs.
If the party is headed for Certain Doom, most GMs I’ve encountered (myself included) will give the players at least one out-of-game warning — something along the lines of “You know this is going to be really, really dangerous, right?” (Talking things out when PCs are on the line is a permutation of this.)
But what about other aspects of the game, not just life-and-death situations for the PCs? Burning Empires got me thinking about this, because the one-shot that I ran for my group assumed that we were going to explicitly discuss the climax of the session before we started playing, and then work towards that goal.
If the transparency spectrum starts with “Are you sure you want to do that?” as the lowest end, BE’s “Okay, this is the climax — how do we get there?” is the far end, with maximum transparency. BE’s level of transparency is a long way from the more traditional model, where the players might or might not know what the climax of a scenario is from the outset — if they figure it out, or guess it, they’ll know; otherwise, it’s probably a mystery.
So while the far end of the spectrum might not be to everyone’s tastes, the middle — not zero transparency, not 100% — merits consideration for most GMs and most groups. Your group has a limited amount of time for each session, and sharing metagame information can help you maximize the amount of fun stuff you can pack into that time.
Three non-extreme examples of transparency:
You’ve only got an hour left to play, and your players are choosing between two options: one that will take less than an hour, and one that will take much longer. Everyone will have more fun if you share that information with your players, and encourage them to choose the shorter option and come back to the longer one next time. I’d put this on the low end of the spectrum.
Nope, We’re Not Doing That: When your players decide to go in a completely unexpected direction and you’re not comfortable winging the session, taking a break and discussing that with them is a good idea. This falls solidly in the middle of the spectrum.
Your players are deciding how to tackle an important encounter with an NPC based on their PCs’ knowledge of that NPC’s motivations, goals, etc. — using in-game knowledge to make their decision, in other words. There’s a gap in their knowledge, though, and no good way to fill that gap in-game.
If they proceed, the encounter won’t be as fun as it would be if they had that bit of info — so you just share it with them. “Your characters don’t know this, but this encounter will be more fun if they do. Let’s assume they found out X.” I would also put this in the middle, transparency-wise.
Sharing this kind of stuff won’t be every group’s cup of tea, but I generally think it’s a good idea. (There are certainly exceptions: mystery games come to mind, as a large part of the fun comes from figuring things out, not being spoon-fed.) It passes the “Are you putting your players first?” litmus test, but it’s not so extreme a divergence from the traditional model that your group is likely to reject it out of hand.
And if this approach does turn out to be wrong for your group, then everyone learns something about their gaming preferences — and that’s never a bad thing.