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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Rich Ranallo on April 24, 2002, 12:15:43 AM



Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: Rich Ranallo on April 24, 2002, 12:15:43 AM
After lurking on this board since Ron told me about it, I might finally have something to contribute (though I'm sure the topic has come up before).

I'm wrestling with metaplot issues in Starchildren.  There is a definite metaplot in the game, but I think I may have been able to minimize its impact for those that hate the things.

What I need to know is this: what is it about metaplots that makes people hate them?  And, of course, what is it that makes people like them?

I'm personally kind of neutral on the issue in games I play/run.  I'm one of those "they've got their place" type guys.


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: contracycle on April 24, 2002, 01:24:57 AM
Well, the haters, as I understand it, say that it mandates actual in-game action, which they wish to create themselves.  I have little sympathy for this argument myself.  I like metaplots becuase they lend the setting a sense of dynamism, progression.


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: hardcoremoose on April 24, 2002, 01:33:52 AM
Gosh, this would make a good topic for the Theory forum.

And yeah, we've discussed it before, here, and here, and finally here, where Ron explains why Hero Wars does not suffer from a metaplot.  There are probably other threads about this topic, but these are the ones I remember the best.

I can't speak for everyone, but I'm sure a few folks out there will echo my opinion:

My basic problem with metaplot is that it doesn't offer players any sort of ownership over the game.  All the important stuff has already been plotted out, and surprise, it's all perpetrated by characters that are not the PCs.  And as a GM, you have to manage the game's continuity, making sure that nothing the PCs do is so important that it'll disrupt the "official" happenings in the setting.  The story's already been written, and the players are merely observers to it, not major protagonists, and certainly not contributors of any significant content (note that the "protagonism" and "content contributor" are merely my goals within a game  - I'm sure there are people out there who enjoy watching a metaplot unfold, I'm just not one of them).

The funny thing about metaplot - and this is pointed out by just about every game publisher in existence - is that we can just ignore it if we want.  Many of us do - it's just words on paper.  Strip it out and suddenly we claim ownership of the game.  But my suspicion is that there are many, many people out there who aren't comfortable discarding huge chunks of text, as if by doing so, they aren't playing the game "right".   And frankly, I can kind of see where they're coming from...if the metapot was there to be ignored, why bother including it in the first place?

So there you have it.  Hope it was helpful.

- Scott


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 24, 2002, 05:35:23 AM
Hey,

As some of the previous threads have shown, people mean different things by the term. Gareth, please correct me if I'm wrong, but your usage and mine differ significantly. What you call "metaplot," I tend to call "plot about large-scale events," or even "changing setting." Both of which I love. What I call "metaplot" might be thought of as a mandate, "Now we all must play this way," usually as a published phenomenon.

So Rich, I'm most curious about exactly what you mean by the term. Contrast ... say, the role of published metaplot in Mage, vs. the role of published metaplot in Hero Wars, vs. the role of published metaplot in Pendragon. I tend to use the term only for the first category. The second seems to me like "plot about large-scale events" (for purposes of honing Narrativist Premise) and the third seems to me like "changing setting" (canonically). The key to Hero Wars as opposed to Mage is that the players know all about it - it's not a matter of the GM channelling the information to them, like a funnel between game authors and players. Pendragon tends to be in-between in this regard (there's even a text passage which uses the funnel or channel metaphor, at one point).

Oh, and yes, this is a Theory topic. Movin' it on ...

Best,
Ron


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: amiel on April 24, 2002, 08:33:08 AM
Ron Edwards:
Quote
Contrast ... say, the role of published metaplot in Mage, vs. the role of published metaplot in Hero Wars, vs. the role of published metaplot in Pendragon. I tend to use the term only for the first category. The second seems to me like "plot about large-scale events" (for purposes of honing Narrativist Premise) and the third seems to me like "changing setting" (canonically). The key to Hero Wars as opposed to Mage is that the players know all about it - it's not a matter of the GM channelling the information to them, like a funnel between game authors and players. Pendragon tends to be in-between in this regard (there's even a text passage which uses the funnel or channel metaphor, at one point).

I don't even have a problem with having information funneled to me(funneling information to players), if it's there in front of me from go(the GM has it in front of her).
What bothers me about White Wolf (Seventh Sea, et al) metaplot is the spoon fed version. Over the Edge metaplot, love it to death. Is it all known by players? Generally not. Is it the GM's decision on how to spoon feed it to players? yes!
This thought, of course, goes into the "who trusts who" category. What I hate about most metaplot is the "wait 'til our next chapter" phenomenon. As moosey put it, you have to keep the players from doing anything too protagonizing, they might screw up "the story".


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: Clay on April 24, 2002, 08:56:32 AM
My own take is that Metaplot doesn't become a problem until the players are forced to directly interact with it. For instance, in 7th Sea, I don't find the metaplot terribly offensive, because the published material tends to present a snapshot of the metaplot.  Here's what the world looks like right now, do your worst. There do seem to be a large number of potential metaplot hooks for the players and GM, but nothing seems to indicate that you have to handle them a certain way.

Deadlands I felt pushed the metaplot into the players face.  The supplements were peopled with characters that would directly involve the players, and they didn't provide a lot of flexibility as to how the players responded. One certain monumental badass character kept showing up, no matter how many times his remains were scattered to kingdom come, because he was crucial to the metaplot.  If you wanted to make use of the published supplements you had to make sure you avoided conflict with him or consistently lost.

So for somebody looking to produce a game with metaplot, I think that my hope is that they choose to leave options open for the players.  Closing off the future seems to be what causes a problem for me.


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: xiombarg on April 24, 2002, 09:22:38 AM
Quote from: Clay
Deadlands I felt pushed the metaplot into the players face.  The supplements were peopled with characters that would directly involve the players, and they didn't provide a lot of flexibility as to how the players responded. One certain monumental badass character kept showing up, no matter how many times his remains were scattered to kingdom come, because he was crucial to the metaplot.  If you wanted to make use of the published supplements you had to make sure you avoided conflict with him or consistently lost.


What makes Deadlands particularly egregious in this respect is while blocking your abiliity to change the setting, they don't even tell the GM why they're doing it that way. It's usually just "we have plans for this character, so no stats for him, so you can't kill him yet".

And this is the sort of thing I hate in metaplots. Changes that straightjacket the GM, especially if it makes future supplements incompatible with your game if you do things differently. "Well, we have this really neat supplement... that we can't use because we disregarded the metaplot. Hmmm."


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on April 24, 2002, 09:25:21 AM
Quote
Tools
Thirty spokes meet at a nave;
Because of the hole we may use the wheel.
Clay is moulded into a vessel;
Because of the hollow we may use the cup.
Walls are built around a hearth;
Because of the doors we may use the house.
Thus tools come from what exists,
But use from what does not.


The problem anyone who has with metapots is when there is nothing left for the players to do. This will happen, there is nothing you can do about it. Pop psychologist might cite that RPG players play because of a sense of helplessness or reduced self-worth and they play characters for a sense of enpowerment and such things deliberately counteract the reason these people play.

Well, whatever. I don't really care for pop psychology.

But the trick is to write your metaplot to give your world that dynamic while at the same time leaving much of it unwritten so that the players can have an effect.  It is the empty space that defines use. If there is no empty space, then you don't have a dynamic RPG world necessarily but a novel or a fantasy history.

Personal thingie:

I've been toying with such an idea for a superhero game.  I would lay out the career of a single hero for whom the game is named. The metaplot would layout the character's complete history from a child hero during WWII to a dark future where the hero becomes grim and mostly cybernetic. By focusing on a single hero like this, I map out a lengthy timeline but, since I'm focused on one hero, there is plenty of room for the PCs to do things. (Beside, I also avoid a common pitfall in super hero RPGs: lists of heroes. Like you need heroes. Pftui! You need villians, doggonit!)

TBH doing this is a personal thing. Like most art forms, you can't just follow instructions for how to put it together and expect it to come out good. You'll have to decide how to lay out your dynamic world yourself. Just keep in mind that there are supposed to be players interacting with this and the more you write, the more doors you close.


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: joshua neff on April 24, 2002, 09:28:58 AM
Quote
(Beside, I also avoid a common pitfall in super hero RPGs: lists of heroes. Like you need heroes. Pftui! You need villians, doggonit!)


A-frickin'-men!


Title: Hooold on Thar!
Post by: Le Joueur on April 24, 2002, 09:31:40 AM
Quote from: joshua neff
Quote
(Beside, I also avoid a common pitfall in super hero RPGs: lists of heroes. Like you need heroes. Pftui! You need villians, doggonit!)

A-frickin'-men!

And how am I supposed to play my favorite villain?  Or who comes after my wife's character because she was framed?  Hmm?

I think the common error is not presenting what they're for.

Fang Langford


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: Valamir on April 24, 2002, 09:32:03 AM
The reason I can't stand Deadlands and 7th Sea style metaplots is because basically they are bait and switch tactics at work.  You THINK you're getting this cool RPG setting...but what you're really getting is a poorly written novel delivered in installments each of which costs 2-4 times more than a paperback.

Much better would be for these would be novelists to write a Deadlands trilogy or a 7th Sea decology and THEN set the RPG into that world at some point in its history and say...there you are, play in this sandbox however you want.

Instead the metaplot is delivered via the vehicle of an RPG book.  Why is this especially bad?  Well beyond the extra cost and annoying effects on trying to GM a campaign against a moving target, it just flat out promotes poor writing.  

RPG metaplots are basically TONS of exposition of the sort that would make an intolerably boring, intolerably long novel, but which some wannabe writer feels compelled to share.

IMO if they can't put all of that stuff in a novel and make the novel an exciting breathtaking page turner, then they're not a good enough author for me to want to read their stuff anyway.

RPG metaplots are basically a peculiar form of vanity publishing where a guy who isn't anywhere near good enough to get his book published as a novel is able to drone endlessly on within the pages of an RPG supplement.


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on April 24, 2002, 09:51:56 AM
Quote from: Valamir
RPG metaplots are basically TONS of exposition of the sort that would make an intolerably boring, intolerably long novel, but which some wannabe writer feels compelled to share.

IMO if they can't put all of that stuff in a novel and make the novel an exciting breathtaking page turner, then they're not a good enough author for me to want to read their stuff anyway.

RPG metaplots are basically a peculiar form of vanity publishing where a guy who isn't anywhere near good enough to get his book published as a novel is able to drone endlessly on within the pages of an RPG supplement.


The Similarian?

Sorry to go off-topic there, guys, but I couldn't help making the connection. To most people who gripe to me about how dull LotR is, I simply say that Tolkien wasn't writing a novel but creating a history of a fantasy world.  The similarity is too deep to miss.  Anyone have an idea what we can do with this now?


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: Rich Ranallo on April 24, 2002, 10:42:48 AM
OK, so this mostly reinforces what I already figured.
To elaborate on what I meant by "metaplot," I meant pretty much all setting material that varies based on time and not geography.  I realize that, within that definition, a few different types of plots exist, and I mainly wanted to ifnd out if there was a type of metaplot that was acceptible by a large number of people.
I was intending to tie this into game design when I originally posted to the Design forum, and I hope I don't get blasted for it now that the thread's been moved...
The metaplot in Starchildren is basically a flashback.  The setting material is all written from the perspective of people looking back at how terrible the world was "back then" (In 2073).  What this means is that GMs will already know all the major events that happen in the storyline (including how it "ends"), without names or characters attached.  The adventures we publish will deal with these events, so that PC groups can participate, but GMs can just as easily ignore them or say that those events happened without the group's involvement if he wishes.
Hopefully, this means that no one will feel walled in by information left unsaid, because all the really important stuff is there (though not covered as much in-depth as the supplements will).  GMs will be able to even make their own scenarios about those events and not have to worry about them meshing with later-published material.


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 24, 2002, 10:57:27 AM
Hey Rich,

Seems to me, then, that you're not using "metaplot" except in the sense that the setting is changing in a coherent way, much as in Hero Wars.

To clarify that comparison, Glorantha is the setting, and it's a very magical, very god-heavy fantasy world. Everyone knows that "time began" literally sixteen centuries ago, and that before that, the world was an even more magical, mystical place. So they think of the world as mundane, now. However, we, the players, know that the Hero Wars in the 1600s put an end to Glorantha as we know it, and that the gods and magical powers are going to be reduced to abstractions, receding even further from "reality." Certain events in the Hero Wars are fixed (in 1625, a dragon does eat a whole ton of Lunars, and later, a guy named Argrath becomes the new God-guy, etc), but they are public as far as gamers are concerned, and are not fed to them as a kind of secret pact between publishers and GMs.

The great thing about playing Hero Wars is that the characters, at first believing that they are merely emulating and worshipping the gods in the context of the wars, actually end up redefining and shaping the actual ethical issues at stake, remaking the gods, so to speak. In other words, the changing setting is still just backdrop, changes and all, for the key decisions of the player-characters.

Is that something like what you have in mind?

Best,
Ron


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: Lance D. Allen on April 24, 2002, 11:46:46 AM
This reminds me of Star Wars, and the way my friend chose to run it. (I'll do my best to keep this from being a rambling anecdote this time, and stick to the point)

Everyone knows all about the metaplot. Luke and Vader, Leia and Han, Wookiees Ewoks and the Rebel Alliance. Yadda Yadda, Yoda, Yadda. When I was asked if I wanted to play, I didn't want to play all of that, because it seemed stupid to me. What if some die roll I made got Luke killed in the attack on the Deathstar? Or some such. But instead, we played in the Pronoxis Sector (don't look for it, my friend made it up) with the events of the movies being things we heard about, rather than experienced. We had our own epic struggle with the minions of the Dark Side, and left Luke to his. The way it was played, we neither screwed up the metaplot, nor did it screw with us. It was good.

I suppose that brings me to the point. SW Metaplot is mostly already written, either in the movies, or in the ensuing novels. It's not an ongoing thing, unless you decide to play in the era of SWE1 and SWE2. You don't have to worry about major events suddenly changing... Even if you are playing in the SWE1-2 era, you basically know what's going to happen. Everything else is details. Metaplot that makes the setting interesting is good, even when it populates the world with various NPCs. When, however, it deviates in more than details from what the players are playing, it suddenly becomes... bad. (Anyone ever play it out that Dunklezahn was elected and became president, only to discover, after you'd been running it with him alive, that he'd been assassinated?)


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: Rich Ranallo on April 24, 2002, 12:41:55 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards

Seems to me, then, that you're not using "metaplot" except in the sense that the setting is changing in a coherent way, much as in Hero Wars.
<SNIP>
Is that something like what you have in mind?


What I'm shooting for is to present history, then a "sketch" of the metaplot, so that the GM (at least) knows where we're going with this whole thing.  The supplemental material will then "zoom in" on these major events and show them in detail.  The details can be used or forgotten by the GM, at his whim, and he can plot out his own events, already knwoing what the beginning and ending points are without buying a supplement.


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 24, 2002, 12:55:12 PM
Hi Rich,

For what it's worth, I don't think that approach will garner any significant objection from most folks here. Comments on the thread about the limits that some metaplots have imposed on actual players/GMs have been very clear, so avoiding those pitfalls will be the key. But a coherently-changing, even predestined setting-framework for play is a fine thing when it's done well.

By the way, for those who don't know, Starchildren is ... so cool, that knowing "what to do" as a player is totally intuitive, even if it's not laid out for you in black and white. It's a grim grey world, and glamrock comes to save it. Go!

I just saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch this weekend, by the way, and the song "The Origin of Love" is totally, totally for Starchildren. You have no idea how much I want to play this game.

Best,
Ron


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: contracycle on April 25, 2002, 12:36:19 AM
I agree with Lances points in general; more specifically and sarcastically, I think all this boo-hooing about the big bad metaplot is so much lazy whingeing.

What, we assert the right to create chgaracters, events, places but we're too stupid to work around a ladder of events through time?  Are we restricted to being ONLY in those places actually described in the product, or do we wirte them ourtselves?  We write them ourselves obviously.  Why give a flying if there is or is not a meta plot - its a fixed point to navigate around, not run aground on.  To me, its a the anti-Metaplot brigade who want to be spoon fed, don't want to create, or adapt, or frankly think.  Rant over.


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 25, 2002, 05:11:37 AM
Hi Gareth,

I am frustrated by your post because I think you are ignoring the respect I gave your viewpoint in my previous post, and misrepresenting - and disrespecting - the point I made.

I'm not going to bother to repeat myself, as the post is available above. I'll only say that you are failing to see that you and I use "metaplot" for different things, and that you are protesting and ranting against a viewpoint that does not exist.

Please be more rigorous.

Best,
Ron


Title: Counter-Rant (long)
Post by: xiombarg on April 25, 2002, 05:32:51 AM
Quote from: contracycle
navigate around, not run aground on.  To me, its a the anti-Metaplot brigade who want to be spoon fed, don't want to create, or adapt, or frankly think.  Rant over.


Bah, Gareth. Some of us create, adapt, and think better with other ideas to "bounce off of", rather than creating from whole cloth. All good authors steal. The problem is if you deviate from the metaplot, you've pretty much cut yourself off from a major source of ideas from the company that wrote the setting. While is the game authors had concentrated on describing the setting rather than writing a novel in installments, this wouldn't be a problem.

Example: In the Changeling game I'm running, I created the school the characters are going to, fifty-sum odd NPCs, outlined certain nearby anomolies in the Dreaming (such as The Pyramids of West Virginia), and have set up several ongoing issues for the PCs to deal with (evil sleeping Wyrm creature affecting the dreaming, a sleeping demon affecting the nearby Dreaming, Mannikin spies, a local Changeling that's secretly engaging in the highly illegal/immoral practice of Rhaposdy, among others) of which they're currently dealing with one. The game is set in West Virginia, which there is little published information on in any White Wolf supplement, let alone Changeling. So I would like to believe I'm hardly asking to be spoon-fed, here.

However, I wanted to use some of the material from Denziens of the Dreaming book, but that book depends on the metaplot: All of the Nightmare kith from that book are supposed to have come out when the Technocracy used a spiritual nuke to try to kill the anteduluvian Ravnos in the Vampire line, an event in the WoD metaplot I considered so abyssmally stooooopid that I patently refused to use it. So, I adapted: I decided the real life disaster of 9/11 (rather than the goooofy White Wolf one) had triggered the Nightmare energy that opened the trods for these kith.

The point of my long anecote, however, is it was annoying I had to do this. Sure, it didn't take much effort for me to do this, but in order to adapt the book to my vision of the world, I had to ignore an entire kith (for reasons too compicated to go into here) and large swaths of text that related to the metaplot, thus cutting me off from a potential set of plot hooks. Sure, that was my choice, but I much prefer to have a non-metaplot book like Nobles, The Shining Host where I know that I can mine everything for ideas, even if I don't end up using most of them. And this is despite the fact that Nobles, The Shining Host is written for 1st Edition Changleling, and therefore needs some adapting for my 2nd Editon game. Such a non-metaplot supplement, in my opinion, is a better value for my money, which is part of my problem with most game lines with a heavy metaplot: If you ignore the metaplot, you're getting less value from the supplements.

At least the White Wolf metaplot generally tells you exactly what's going on, so you have a good idea of what you're hacking out if you ignore portions of the metaplot. Pinnacle is worse. Since the Deadlands supplements tend to give out hardly any information on the metaplot at all, even to GMs, it's tough to know how many supplements/how much material you're going to be jettisoning if you allow the PCs to kill certain NPCs or ignore other aspects of the metaplot.

And, while I know it was a rant, no offense, but I think it's a bit disingenuous to accuse people who dislike metaplots, as they've generally been implemented in mainstream RPGs, of wanting to be spoon-fed. I don't think it's unreasonable for a GM to want to be able to use a supplement with neat ideas in it with a minimal amount of adaptation; it's hard enough to be a GM as it is, and accusing a GM of being lazy just because they want some value out of the supplements they buy seems a little odd to me.

Now, I'm not saying that metaplots can't be done right. I think, for example, from the perspective of being able to ignore/adapt/work around the metaplot, White Wolf does a better job than Pinnacle, even to the point of, in some cases, giving statistics for how things "used to be" in case you don't want to roll with the changes introduced by the metaplot. (This is especially interesting when you consider while I think White Wolf handled its metaplot better than Pinnacle, from a "story" or "novel-in-installments" sort of perspective I like the Pinnacle metaplot better.)

Ideally, if you're going to have a metaplot, the best thing to do is to plot it kinda like Babylon 5: Make it so the metaplot can adapt to "changes in actors" and to the PC's actions, without making it seem like the PCs can't change anything. Include conditionals. "If the PCs have already killed the Baron of Zwieback, then the Count of Gorlond takes his place, but this means that the orcs will be less well-trained, though their weapons will be in better condition." I've seen this done to good effect in adventures, and I think it can be a good trick to use in setting up a metaplot. That way, instead of straightjacketing the GM and the PCs, you provide all sorts of options for them. (A good example of provoding options rather than straightjacketing is in another metaplot I hated for purely story reason, for the In Nomine line: Even though in "canon" the Archangel Khalid is tempted but does not Fall, there are statistics given for a Fallen version of Khalid in case things go that way in a particular campaign.)

As an aside, when looking back on the the three metaplots I've mentioned, from White Wolf, SJG (In Nomine), and Pinnacle, and considering the metaplot for 7th Sea as well, I realize there's another reason I hate most commercially-produced metaplots: Most of them are terrible stories. Even the best ones are random, filled with gratuitously "grand" yet gooooofy events, and are generally less laden with good plot hooks than your average detailed setting supplement with no metaplot data. Also, they don't know where to stop: If White Wolf had stopped with the changes to the Vampire setting that appear in the 3rd Edition rulebook and the guides to the Sabbat and the Camarilla, I would have been much more content; no spiritually-charged nukes and plenty of plot hooks.

So a good metaplot, at least as far as I'm concerned, would be flexible and take into account the PCs may change things without de-protagonizing them (perhaps even considering the possibility the PCs can fill the shoes of major NPCs, without requiring them to do so), laden with plot hooks (rather than destroying them by hosing whole sections of the setting), and gradual, stopping after a bit, so things don't get too gooooofy. See, I'm not opposed to metaplots, per se, but to the way they've been handled in commercial RPGs so far; I can't think of a single metaplot I've been terribly happy with.


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on April 25, 2002, 06:28:17 AM
Idiotic Notion # 4784:

What seems to me to be a sticking point for metaplots or the dynamic world or whatever is that doing this appears to be attempting to create a great big on-line world that everyone plays in. Perhaps more like Wizards' Living campaigns. The idea being that everyone is playing in the same world.

Obviously, this isn't true. If my group puts something in a room, a group in Nova Scotia cannot find that object in that room unless I tell them about it, right?

An RPG in play always become something personal to the players and something not easily shared, especially to other players of the same game.

Actually, what metaplot seems to be attempting to do is try to make a universally shared experience for all players of the game. Not unlike what the Star Wars movies do for the Star Wars RPG. Whatever the various group do in their games may vary wildly, but it can be safely assumed that they've all seen the movies.

But, the problem is simliar. Star Wars already has its heroes. Luke killed the emperor (well, Vader did it, but it was because of Luke he turned on his master) Player characters really can't do that. Well, they could but then you'd be straying from the cannon which would beg the question why bother playing a game with such a cannon in the first place.

I have another problem with metaplots in they are a symptom of one of the big assumptions of RPG design. That setting or World is one of the three legs an RPG stands on. This is not to say that some games don't stand on their world, but it is possible to have a fully functional RPG without a specified world and something else, situation perhaps, take the place of that third leg.

This whole metaplot this is a symptom of the bulking up of RPGs that some of us don't see as a good idea. Like the inclusion of rules for every conceivable situation with pages and pages of charts and character creation process that provides a full, detailed history and perfectly mapped out psychology as well as any and all conceivable abilities, metaplot is the bulking up of the setting.

For some reason, I'm reminded of Scott McLoud's Understanding Comics where the artist & the writer decide to join forces. Both work at their particular artform until they develop sufficiently and finally decide to join hands, but find that they are on opposite ends of McLoud's triangle thingie. (I'm afraid you'll have to read that book to get what I'm saying here)

This all goes back to that quote I had posted earlier. If use is defined by what does not exist then what is the use of the fully fleshed-out world? If use is defined by what does not exist then what is the use of the completely developed character? In the truly complete RPG, the act of playing is redundant and unnecessary.

The trick is no one can tell anyone else how to make their game. Few will listen anyway. It is the author's job to know when to stop short of complete and thus keep there game useful.


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: xiombarg on April 25, 2002, 07:45:21 AM
Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
The trick is no one can tell anyone else how to make their game. Few will listen anyway. It is the author's job to know when to stop short of complete and thus keep there game useful.

While still providing enough information that the game can be played...

This concept of yours has some interesting resonance with this thread (http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1944) and several related threads in the Alyria forum (http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=9), I think...


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on April 25, 2002, 09:41:38 AM
Quote from: xiombarg
Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
The trick is no one can tell anyone else how to make their game. Few will listen anyway. It is the author's job to know when to stop short of complete and thus keep there game useful.

While still providing enough information that the game can be played...


Interesting. We've gotten off-topic for this thread, but your addition has bearing in the One Page RPG thread since the one page RPGs give basically a bear set of mechanics, sometimes just the idea of mechanics, and little else.  As in most things the extremes at either end are best avoided.


Title: Re: Counter-Rant (long)
Post by: contracycle on April 26, 2002, 12:12:16 AM
Quote from: xiombarg

However, I wanted to use some of the material from Denziens of the Dreaming book, but that book depends on the metaplot: All of the Nightmare kith from that book are supposed to have come out when the Technocracy used a spiritual nuke to try to kill the anteduluvian Ravnos in the Vampire line, an event in the WoD metaplot I considered so abyssmally stooooopid that I patently refused to use it. So, I adapted: I decided the real life disaster of 9/11 (rather than the goooofy White Wolf one) had triggered the Nightmare energy that opened the trods for these kith.


Why is this "metaplot" (bad) rather than dynamic setting (neutral)?It seems to me "metaplot" = "what I don't like".

Quote

But, the problem is simliar. Star Wars already has its heroes. Luke killed the emperor (well, Vader did it, but it was because of Luke he turned on his master) Player characters really can't do that. Well, they could but then you'd be straying from the cannon which would beg the question why bother playing a game with such a cannon in the first place.


This is a superb example of the problem.  What, just becuase your game is set in the SW universe the ONLY story you can tell is of jumped up farmboy vs the evil empire?  SW is so full of hooks, implications, enigmatic references that I simply do not understand the "problem" as you describe it.  You can manipulate time; you can manipulate place.  You describe the places they talk about but never show, like Kessel say.  There is absolutely no need whatsoever to feel even remotely bound by those particular events - this problem is IMO totally imaginary.


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: Rich Ranallo on April 26, 2002, 12:16:58 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
I just saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch this weekend, by the way, and the song "The Origin of Love" is totally, totally for Starchildren. You have no idea how much I want to play this game.


Thanks.  It's incredibly encouraging to hear that...out of all the people who've said that they can't wait to buy or read the game, you're like the second who's said he wanted to play it.
This is its own issue, and I'll deal with that in a new thread shortly...

As for the metaplot issue (to be remotely on-topic), I just see it as another dimension of setting.  You can have a book detail different game locations in space, why not in time?  I play Deadlands (boo, hiss, I know), but I don't feel obligated to run my game in the Great Maze, Back East, Mexico and Canada all at once, just because they're in the books.  Why should I feel obligated to play in 1876, 1877, and 1878 all at once?
I do think that the original idea that PEG had for metplot advancement was the best I'd seen.  Unfortunately, they stopped it after the first book.  There was a book that was solely dedicated to bringing the setting "up to date," from 1876 to 1877.  No one bought that book and complained about the metaplotness of it, because it had the metaplot on the cover; you knew what you were getting into.  If a GM wanted to run without the metaplot, he just didn't have to buy that book.  Seemed to make sense to me...


Title: Re: Counter-Rant (long)
Post by: xiombarg on April 26, 2002, 05:32:53 AM
Quote from: contracycle
Why is this "metaplot" (bad) rather than dynamic setting (neutral)?It seems to me "metaplot" = "what I don't like".

Um, Gareth, notice I've never used the term "dynamic setting" in any of my posts and instead use terms like "metaplot done right". So, for me, "metaplot" is not equivalent to "what I don't like". No offense, but I think my post made my perspective pretty clear, and you're doing me a disservice by reducing my point of view to this.


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: contracycle on April 26, 2002, 11:13:25 AM
Fair point well made, my apologies.


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: greyorm on May 01, 2002, 08:19:04 AM
Valamir wrote:
Quote
The reason I can't stand Deadlands and 7th Sea style metaplots is because basically they are bait and switch tactics at work. You THINK you're getting this cool RPG setting...but what you're really getting is a poorly written novel delivered in installments each of which costs 2-4 times more than a paperback.


Amen.

The two metaplots of this type I have direct experience with are Immortal and all of the core worlds produced by TSR/WotC (notably DarkSun and the Forgotten Realms).

Thanks to these I have grown to utterly despise the 90's-style metaplot: that is, the force-feeding of material to the consumer base and demanding -- through the publication of later products which hinge upon the alterations made to the setting by the metaplot's events -- that such a storyline be followed or risk making new material useless to the consumer.

A primary example of such is the Dark Sun campaign setting, where a number of world-shattering/altering events "unfolded" during the life-cycle of the product line.
Any Dark Sun supplement published after these events made extensive reference to them, and in a number of cases this resulted in the material being so significantly altered that it was useless to any who did not wish to or had not/could not make the same changes to their campaign world.

This, of course, leads to the gamer either not purchasing further supplements, or choosing to wait until the line dies to utilize the material, when they will be able to structure the material in reverse order of publication so as to utilize it within their game to effect. Regardless, it's bad business anyway you look at it.

A specific example of this in the Dark Sun setting hinges on the sorcerer-kings and their rule of a number of city-states in the first publication for the setting (the main setting material).

As typical, each city-state and ruler is given the generalized, quick, guidebook treatment utilized in most such setting material. However, later supplements then assumed the events constructed after the publication of the main setting material as their base, wherein certain of the sorcerer-kings have been slain and their city-states fallen into chaos or altered significantly from the (limited) material of the first publication.

Ostensibly, the purpose of expanded setting material is to be used by GMs and players to flesh out and understand the locales and setting of the main material.  In cases like this, however, the later material is dated to specific events, making large sections (sometimes whole supplements) useless to anyone seeking to utilize them for information on the setting presented in the main material.

To further the specific example, a significant portion of the guide book published for the city-state of Tyr was completely useless to anyone whose game was set during the period presented in the main rule book (prior to the fall of the sorcerer-kings).

The purchaser is being penalized for having set their game during the time in which the sorcerer-kings reigned, even though that is the period which is specified by the main setting material!!

There can be nothing more frustrating to a consumer than to desire more information on the generalized aspects of a setting and receive such in a form that is useless to them because of changes due to the metaplot!

Such also occurs in Immortal and should be listed as a cardinal sin of publishing: Precedence produced a splatbook for a group of Immortals, then promptly proceeded to eradicate the entire group, making 90% of the setting material and information in the book useless in all further supplements.

(In fact, they did this with two groups, but the other book contained more salvageable material than the first; the second group not suffering from eradication, instead being altered/absorbed into a new group more-or-less whole.)

Leading me to further despise metaplots, I've been following Immortal since it came out back in '94, nearly a decade, yet, even as a GM, I still have no idea what is "really" going on or what a majority of the items, places and beings referenced in the main text are or are capable of.

Despite this lack of oftentimes vital information from the publisher, the Immortal world continues to move on and "unfold" in all sorts of supposedly dynamic glory, a metaplot which is endlessly supported and revealed.

I'm uninterested to say the least.

For example, after nearly a decade, I've no idea what the Darkle really is or what it does or why it is important (just that it exits and powerful people want it).
Result: useless to my game except as pure, never-to-be-encountered flavor.

I've no idea what the Droves are capable of or even stats for them! Nor any idea why they are the bad guys, as there is no information on their beliefs, their goals, their structure, etc., yet these are supposed to be the main opposition in the game!
Result: I can't use them as enemies in my game, and end up missing out on one of the main reasons to play.

I've no idea of the structure, nature, goals, home, secrets or capabilities of each Pride and (worse yet) each Calling.
Result: neither I nor my players know how such a character should behave, what their capabilites are, what the important differences between them are, the politics between groups, etc.

I know nothing about the Maelstorm, Talos and the Labyrinth, the nature of the Crucible, Sheol, the Sunedrion or the Dominions other than a small amount of descriptive text that tries its hardest to (deliberately) remain vague and mysterious.
Result: I cannot use any of these places in my game, despite that they are main areas of play or knowledge for some of the various groups.

While I could continue the list of central items that suffer from this lack of information, that should suffice to give an idea of the structure I am discussing. The above forces one of two solutions: to either wait to get the material (and thus wait to play) or develop the material oneself.

If one develops the ideas independently, fleshing them out for their own games and thus later invalidates any official material which details them in the future (without extensive rewrites of one or the other).

If one avoids using them altogether, it results in a game much different than the creators intended and makes the majority of the presented material useless, as the supposed reasons for play are actually cast aside!

For those who persevere through it all and continue to run games, making up that which is currently unrevealed, their setting becomes so distant from that of the canon setting that supplements become useless.
In the end, one wonders why they would bother purchasing later setting material, as the main impetus to do so has vanished (the information made available already having been detailed by the group).

Most RPG groups are not willing to just wait around to game, nor dish out money for supplements that would require them to retroactively rewrite their world and stories to match "canon" (often extensively). Thus in the end, these practices cost the company money and aggravate the players/consumers.

So you can easily see why I despise metaplots (though to hear some indviduals, I do so because I am apparently simply some uncreative, spoon-fed whacko).

Concrete facts are necessary to an RPG, mystery destroys RPGs (not in play, but in development); a baseline is necessary for supplements, changing the baseline destroys the value of all products linked to it, unless the product is specifically created to ignore or alter the baseline (if all/most products alter/ignore the baseline, there is none).

Both players and especially GMs need to have all relevant information, or be able to assume that when the information is produced, it will be of use to anyone with the main setting material

Information necessary to a successful RPG are basic goals, nature and such of groups the characters belong to; powers and extents thereof; the abilities and nature/beliefs of enemies and items; the results of certain actions; and good descriptions of important locations and settings.

And BTW, if you are stratching your head and wondering what any of the above items from Immortal actually are, don't worry: the metaplot made knowing that useless as half of it no longer exists and the rest has been significantly altered from the original material.

In fact, the company position is that everything presented in the main material was what everyone THOUGHT was true and was being revealed as false during the unfolding of the game's storyline.

Ahh, the metaplot; ie, that thing the writers have blatantly thrust to the forefront as the "plot" of the game which can not be deviated from, yet the extent of which has never been released by the writers of the game.

Unfortunately, this sort of "big-mystery" metaploting forces the GM into the same sort of uncertainty as a player, sometimes ruining his ability to run the game, more often ruining the company's profits.
And without extensive hole-filling from the group it also leads to the inevitable question, "Yeah, but what do I DO with it?"

Thus I caution all game developers: a number of companies tend to treat themselves as an uber-gamemeister and their consumers as a collection of players, with the traditional GM/player split in regards to knowledge of the world.

Players are always encouraged to seperate character knowledge from player knowledge, yet some gaming companies take this to the level of enforcing this seperation by producing nothing for the players to have to seperate.

However, this leaves potential GMs out in the cold as well and reduces the reasons to purchase the product. These companies forget or do not realize that they are producing a game for their customers' enjoyment. In order for the customer to enjoy the game, they must be able to play it.

More simply, if I wanted a pre-plotted excursion through time and I wanted a mystery along with it, I'd buy a novel.  But as a GM I've no desire for the same through the medium of game supplements. I can create the adventures on my own and thus the mystery, but I need to be have the tools to do so or there is no reason to buy the product.

Immortal has sacrificed all this to maintain "a mystery" and in doing so has made itself unplayable until the product's life cycle is complete.
And though the D&D worlds are better in some respects, they just as bad in others. Dynamism has its place, but outside the baseline that must be established.

Rich (nice to see you here, BTW!), your method of handling it, the "flashback" is great.  As players and GMs we know what's going to eventually happen so we can't be upset by it, as well, you'll be more easily able to avoid the mistakes listed above with StarChildren.

Finally, Gareth...how to put this...

I really wish you would avoid constantly making sneering, insulting generalizations about the invalidity of other's beliefs and reasonings with the most disrespectful attitude possible displayed whenever you hold a contrary opinion or belief. It would make it far more worthwhile to enter into debate with you if you would do so. (It also gets old. Fast.)

Now I am carefully putting on my "ignoring-rants-or-sneering-as-responses" hat so you know where I stand regarding to any response of that sort, and that should you care to do so, a polite discussion on the issue is available.


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: contracycle on May 02, 2002, 12:12:12 AM
Uh - well in past "debates", the issue was "decided" without IMO as serious challenge to the counter-argument.  So some folk have a tendency to say "we've discussed this before" or "see the well discussed critiques of metap[lot in prior threads".  Metaplot has not, IMO, been adequately critiqued, and I'm afraid I consider calling the matter closed on that basis rather dishonest, or perhaps self serving.


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: AndyGuest on May 02, 2002, 03:05:47 AM
To chime in on where metaplots go wrong...

Generally I like metaplots, I like to see settings evolve and don't mind the work involved in ignoring events I don't like.

That said, I think a recurring problem in the metaplots I've seen isn't just that we were never told up front the direction of the metaplot but also that the direction of the metaplot changes as developers change. The metaplot for Vampire isn't a ten year story arc that M R.H came up with ten years ago, it's the result of numerous line developers, writers, freelancers and god knows who else. I guess there's a good chance each one wanted to do something big, to stamp their mark upon the game.

What would be nice is to get a general overview of the metaplot in the core book and then have the blanks and details filled in along the way.

Mind you what I'd like to see is a core rulebook then a series of books detailing different metaplots that head away from the core. For example take vampire. I'd like to see one book detailing the events that occur after the antedeluvians rise, another detailing what happens when Blade appears on the scene, another when the vampires announce themselves to mortals and take up prominent positions, etc. Incredibly unfeasible as far as commercial ventures go but I'd like it none the less ;-)


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: Mike Holmes on May 02, 2002, 06:19:38 AM
Quote from: contracycle
Uh - well in past "debates", the issue was "decided" without IMO as serious challenge to the counter-argument.  So some folk have a tendency to say "we've discussed this before" or "see the well discussed critiques of metap[lot in prior threads".  Metaplot has not, IMO, been adequately critiqued, and I'm afraid I consider calling the matter closed on that basis rather dishonest, or perhaps self serving.


Um, you just did it again. You insulted the person that you were responding to instead of arguing, saying that they are being "rather dishonest, or perhaps self serving." Raven wasn't saying that the topic is closed, just that he's refusing to respond to any posts that aren't polite. Which is not unreasonable. Instead of saying that these players "want to be spoon-fed", you might have said that they simply "prefer their materials to be presented in a way that makes it less difficult to use". This says the same thing without insulting the people who you are arguing with.

I agree with many of your points, and think that you potentially have a good argument. But you are presenting it poorly, IMO. The term for such attacks is Ad Hominems, and they are considered one of the classic logical fallacies. Attack the argument, not the one who makes the argument.

Mike


Title: The Dread Metaplot
Post by: xiombarg on May 02, 2002, 09:47:04 AM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
I agree with many of your points, and think that you potentially have a good argument. But you are presenting it poorly, IMO. The term for such attacks is Ad Hominems, and they are considered one of the classic logical fallacies. Attack the argument, not the one who makes the argument.


I think we're drifting a bit off-topic here. Regardless, Mike, if you agree with Gareth's points, perhaps you could re-present his argument in a non-pejorative way, perhaps adding points of your own? I think that would be a very positive contribution to this thread.