The Forge Archives

Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: xiombarg on July 28, 2003, 12:37:31 PM



Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: xiombarg on July 28, 2003, 12:37:31 PM
Recent events (http://www.rpgnews.com/article.php?sid=2583) have gotten me thinking (http://www.livejournal.com/users/xiombarg/319163.html)...

I've voiced this before, and it's perhaps more relevant to "traditional" RPG publishers who are overly-reliant on the three-tier system, but I think it has relevance to indie publishers who might be tempted to emulate "the big guys".

If you are considering having a metaplot in your game, reconsider.

First, a definition: A metaplot, for the purposes of this rant, is an onging "story" that is played out in a game world over the course of several supplements, which makes serious changes to the game world in question.

Frankly, metaplots appeal more to people who aren't going to play the game, but either through a collector's urge or due to a novel-reader's desire to "see how the story ends" will (in theory) buy the supplements.

I say "in theory" because while this has worked quite well for some people (http://www.white-wolf.com), and worked okay for others (http://www.peginc.com), chances are it won't work at all, and you could have spent your time on something better. (More on that in a minute.)

You have to ask yourself: Do I want my game to be played, or collected?

Because, if you're going to have supplements at all, why have metaplot supplements when you could be doing something else?

And that's an important consideration: Do you need supplements at all? Consider that the need for supplements is usually more driven by the three-tier system and it's constant, hungry demand for "new product" than by any need of the fans of the game. Consider that you can do quite well by having a complete game, in one book, that is sold direct to consumers over the Internet.

Given, however, that you are going to have supplements at all, why metaplot supplements? There are any number of things you could produce instead:

* Rules expansions
* Lists of NPCs
* Further exploration of the setting as it currently exists, rather than "as it changes"
* "Adventures"/Plot Seeds
* More detailed advice on running the game

The advantage of all these sorts of supplements is that anyone can use these supplements. Metaplot supplements, on the other hand, benefit only those who wish to follow the metaplot. On top of this, when integrating new players into a game, or when starting a new game, the existance of an officially-published metaplot means that extra time is going to have to be spent saying what the GM does and doesn't use. This is true of any supplement, but it's more egregiously true for metaplot supplements -- it's not just a matter of house rules or what happened in the campaign, but now it's a matter of outlining what didn't happen in the campaign, regarding the metaplot. Why create that sort of hassle for your customers?

If, despite all this, you still want to do a metaplot supplement, be sure to do it right.

First, make sure that the PCs can have an effect on the metaplot, and on the game world. If they can't -- if the metaplot rolls over them, no matter what -- this is frustrating and deprotagonizing. Unless utter helplessness is a major theme of your game, don't do it.

Second, go the In Nomine route. Create "Canon Areas of Doubt and Uncertainty". That is, create areas that you explicitly tell everyone (in print) that are not going to be affected by supplements -- and the metaplot. This way, GMs that are interested in the metaplot can run a game, mucking around in those areas, and know that what they're doing isn't going to be invalidated by a subsequent supplement. "Though this is a game about angels, we will never have a supplement that explains the true Nature of God in our universe." "There will never be a supplement on the Inconnu." "The metaplot will never affect the Duchy of Fnord, except insomuch as it affects the whole world. But rest assured that the Duke will always stay in power, even in the roughest times."

This also prevents people who want to be "in line" with the metaplot from waiting for a particular supplement before doing a particular thing with their game. The fault for this annoying form of game paralysis is mainly in the fanboy in question, but for crissakes, let's not encourage it, eh?

Third, provide support for those who don't want to follow the metaplot. It takes a little more effort, but it's be greatly appreciated it. If a customer doesn't like the idea of the World of Kool being invaded by hot pink cockroaches from outer space, at least put in a footnote about what direction the world heads if the hot pink cockroaches DON'T show up.

Hell, consider having several alternative metaplots, which can be switched between depending on what the PCs do -- this links into my first point about doing metaplots right.

Fourth, connected to the second part: If you say you're not going to do something, don't do it. No one likes someone without integrity. If you say you're not going to do a Gehenna supplement, don't do one. Luckily, assuming you stick to the creator-owned ethic, this is easier than if you sold your work to a company, which can then renege on any promises you made once the work is assigned to the "new team", or else your plans can be mis-interpreted by others (http://www.montecook.com/review.html).

And, since this is a rant, let me leave you with a final comment, though it's been said a thousand times before: "If I wanted to read a novel, I'd buy one." The advantage to an RPG is the story is NOT set in stone. Even in an Illusionist game the PCs can have an effect on Color.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Lxndr on July 28, 2003, 01:09:03 PM
I'd like to add something to this (yay for the rant).  In general, I agree with what is being said.  However:

Part of "Doing the Meta-Plot Right" is, in my opinion, NOT stuffing important rules clarifications/expansions or interesting non-plot-related setting exploration into ONLY a metaplot supplement.  To use the example above, I don't want to have to buy "Invasion of the Hot Pink Cockroaches from Outer Space" to get those spacecraft rules for the World of Kool.

On the other hand I'm someone who LIKES non-narrative fiction (i.e. the kind of stuff you'd get by reading setting/metaplot information), so if you want to do some metaplot, I don't have any objections, as long as you do it right.  Go right ahead!  Multiple metaplots would be fun too!  And if you don't do the "PCs can have an effect on the metaplot" route, make sure that there's enough interesting stuff happening that ISN'T metaplot related.

Just please, please, keep the metaplot out of the rules supplements, and keep important/useful rules out of the metaplot.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: jdagna on July 28, 2003, 04:11:42 PM
You know, it may be a little unfair to blame the three-tier system or corporate greed for supplement production.  I had more than a few dissapointed fans this year at GenCon and Origins because all I had was the finalized version of the book.  Supplements do generate money for the publisher, but they also satisfy some consumers' desires - a win-win situation for both.  And the people who don't want supplements don't have to buy them.

Which isn't to say that I totally disagree with you, but I wouldn't make any of those rules absolutes.  Every player/GM has different tastes.  Some really like reacting to a changing world and don't give a rip whether they can stop or affect that change.  Additionally, it seems fairly obvious to me that people who don't like to do that can either ignore metaplot supplements or change them.  

So... why have metaplot supplements when you could be doing something else?

Because at least some people like metaplot supplements, and dislike the something else (or at least like it less).  You can't make everyone happy.  

Me for example - I dislike metaplot supplements, and I also avoid adventure supplements and lists of NPCs (two of the items you listed as being better uses of time).  I do like supplements that explore the existing world instead of changing it.  This probably explains why I liked Palladium's Robotech supplements better than their Rifts ones, and why I'll regularly play Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play but not Vampire.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: John Kim on July 28, 2003, 04:59:01 PM
Quote from: jdagna
Me for example - I dislike metaplot supplements, and I also avoid adventure supplements and lists of NPCs (two of the items you listed as being better uses of time).  I do like supplements that explore the existing world instead of changing it.  This probably explains why I liked Palladium's Robotech supplements better than their Rifts ones, and why I'll regularly play Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play but not Vampire.

Hmm.  In general, I have rarely bought into supplement lines at all.  However, that said, I can see potential value of metaplot.  It seems to me that metaplot and adventure supplements can be dropped into an ongoing campaign more easily.  If a supplement details a new area or topic in the world, then there are two possibilities.  (1) the PCs haven't explored that area and I would have to lead them to do so, or (2) the PCs have explored that area and the supplement may contradict what I have improvised about it.  In contrast, a metaplot supplement deals with change to known elements.  If I already have X as an NPC, then I can make a change to her and it will be directly usable in the campaign.  

I guess one factor is that my campaigns rarely have much wandering.  Thus, expansion supplements have the problem of either (1) I need a ton of them at the start, if they are small areas that the campaign spans; or (2) I just don't need them.  Nothing wrong with (2) in some sense, but game companies like to sell things, and I like to have neat material for play.  

The trick, of course, is flexibility -- but that is always the trick, isn't it.  I don't get adventures mostly because they suck, I find.  However, if there were less sucky adventures I would get them.  For example, I buy Call of Cthulhu adventures even though I'm not into horror gaming simply because they are high quality.  I won't pay any money for adventure ideas: I have plenty of those.  But CoC adventures come with maps, player handouts, and other details which make them much more useful in-game.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: xiombarg on July 28, 2003, 05:02:17 PM
Quote from: Lxndr
Just please, please, keep the metaplot out of the rules supplements, and keep important/useful rules out of the metaplot.
I wholeheartedly agree with this -- I meant to mention this. Consider it part of the rant. ;-D

Quote from: jdagna
Supplements do generate money for the publisher, but they also satisfy some consumers' desires - a win-win situation for both. And the people who don't want supplements don't have to buy them.
I DID say that my comments applied, to some extent, to ALL supplements.

Supplements can be a win-win, but I think people want them because they've been conditioned to want them. Perhaps I'm a crusty old gamer, but I remember when you were supposed to be able to get everything in one package. People played for years with one rulebook.

That's why I say consider why you're doing it, not "don't do it." It's just if you're doing it for greed, perhaps you should reconsider. You ain't going to make a lot of money with RPGs. If you want to do a supplement, make sure it's a labor of love.

Quote
Me for example - I dislike metaplot supplements, and I also avoid adventure supplements and lists of NPCs (two of the items you listed as being better uses of time). I do like supplements that explore the existing world instead of changing it. This probably explains why I liked Palladium's Robotech supplements better than their Rifts ones, and why I'll regularly play Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play but not Vampire.
Actually, I don't like adventures either -- but that's another rant.

The reason I think metaplot stuff is different is it's so tough to do well, so much so that I want to make sure people know what they're getting into before they try. The same goes for adventures, actually, but that's another rant, as I said.

A NPC book -- whether you personally like it or not -- is easy to do well. A metaplot supplement, even for people who like metaplots, is tougher to do well.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Hardpoint on July 28, 2003, 11:15:04 PM
I'm kind of on both sides of the fence here. While I like the metaplot from a reader standpoint, as sometimes the metaplot stuff is interesting storytelling. There is also the danger that said storytelling locks players into a certain thinking and way of doing things.

This was especially true when we tried to play Dragonlance, the GM and many of the players were so locked to the books that no one was able to free themselves enough to see what kind of different story we could do, thus it died quickly.

L5R's metaplot worked well for the card game, at least at first, as it gave a sense of an end (of sorts) to a traditionally endless stream of crap to buy (being the CCG market staple). WOD ending only means a re-imagining of the WoD. THere will be another one, only different, with a new metaplot.

With the game I'm doing, Realms of Wonder, I plan to do supplements, but only because I want to see other people's take on expanding my world and to really delve into some of the minutae that has come up in the campaigns I have run during the many years of playtesting I've done. While not as rigid a metaplot as say WoD, I do have one, which is that the campaigns I run are the "canon" for the world. However, I have no grandiose plan which will culminate in a psuedo world ending. I don't run often enough to do anything like, plus I agree, it's cheesy marketing BS. The supplements I plan to release are expansions of the various regions of the world, but is just that, expanded material from the main rulebook, which includes a fair amount of information on the world as it is. The sourcebooks are designed to flesh out the various lands and peoples a little deeper. This is the type of supplements I've always appreciated as a GM and my group as well.

As far as rules expansions I plan to keep those to a minimum, adding them where they are appropriate and always having them be optional, as they should be. The intention is to create a game that only needs the core book, but having the additional supplemental material is nice to have. Any "future" expansions, as in where the world is going, will be far enough in the fictional future as to create an entirely new setting using the same basis.

I'm from the win-win standpoint on supplements, but I also don't much care for adventures, preferring adventure hooks included in the various supplements simply intended to trigger your own brain's deliciously devious GMing prowess. The idea is to empower you, not hold your hand. Only reason I see to do prebuilt adventures is to provide a controlled environment with which to experience a taste of the rules, which is how we are doing our freebie version of the game. We will be providing 4 adventures that include pregenerated characters in somewhat rules-lite editions of the character sheet with pleasant layout and art and an adventure designed around those Heroes. The idea is to show what the game is about, but not to give away so much that you don't need to ever buy the full game.

And there's no way you could say that I'm not doing my game as a labor of love. I know there's no money in RPG publishing, not buy a house kind a money anyway. I only want to produce a game that people can enjoy and is one I will run for the remainder of my gaming days, as it is truly the game I enjoy running the most of any I've played in my 20 years of gaming. If I sold only copies to my playtesters and family, I'd be happy as a clam just to hold that book in my hands and be able to say, "I wrote that". This is why I bust my ass on all levels of production to see it done right.


Title: Standard Gloranthan Thread Hijack (sgth)
Post by: pete_darby on July 29, 2003, 12:42:30 AM
Greg Stafford wrote pretty much the whole metaplot for Hero Wars in King Of Sartar...

...but characterised it as the attempts of a scholar several centuries later (after a period of universal illiteracy) to determine what happened during the Hero Wars from a diverse collection of historical, mythic and folkloric sources.

So Gloranthans can very easily find out kind of what happens... but "through a glass, darkly."

And Greg has explicitly stated that large chunks of KoS are just plain wrong... but he's not sure which bits yet...

And, as ever, Your Glorantha Will Vary.


Title: Re: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: kamikaze on July 29, 2003, 04:21:06 AM
The point that's always bugged me about metaplots is that it's "Let me tell you about my character", except from the game developer.

Thus my little diatribe, Why I Hate Your Metaplot (http://kuoi.asui.uidaho.edu/~kamikaze/documents/metaplot.html)

But White Wolf isn't going to stop making WoD books, or even change them much.  They're just making another PR push on their metaplot so they can print new editions of the rules which incorporate the metaplot so far.

The WW business model is based on selling new core rulebooks every few years, as well as the endless train of supplements, which then become obsolete and have to be replaced.  This is just more of the same.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Valamir on July 29, 2003, 05:41:39 AM
For my upcoming, soon to go into open playtest, Robot's & Rapiers game, Mike Holmes hit upon a interesting approach to metaplot that I intend to use.

Basically this game has several local regions only one of which is detailed in the core book with a couple of others touched upon.  Other areas will be detailed in supplements.  Each supplement will have its own "metaplot" type of thing going on relative to itself, but the game assumes that the clock does not start ticking on those events until the GM buys the supplement and decides to begin to incorporate the new region into his own campaign.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: xiombarg on July 29, 2003, 06:48:33 AM
Whew! Good stuff, people, I'll reply to this all at once:

Pete and Ralph give two additional ways, in my opinion, to "do metaplot right". Bravo to that --if we see more metaplot work in RPGs, I hope we see more metaplot work like Hero Wars or Robots and Rapiers.

Mark, your mini-rant makes an excellent addition to my own, in the "how to do metaplots right" section. The way I'd phrase it is thus: "When doing a metaplot, don't use it to showcase your favorite important NPCs. This is just like when an obnoxious stranger insists on telling you about his cool character from a previous campaign, only ten times worse. Don't do it. By all means, have important NPCs if you need them, but don't make them the utter focus -- the utter focus should be the PCs."

In other works, I completely agree. ;-D

Hardpoint, I think you accidentally hit the nail on the head when you said:

Quote
While I like the metaplot from a reader standpoint...

That's the problem with most metaplots. They're for reading, not for playing. I want to encourage designers to put out supplements that are designed to be used rather than read and put on the shelf.

Your Dragonlance example is the sort of "fanboy paralysis" that I talk about, and that's only ONE of the problems with metaplots.

Metaplot in a card game is another thing than metaplots in RPGs. You don't have the same flexibility and the same player-focus in a card game that you have in an RPG. It's apples and oranges. I actually think a metaplot is a real neat thing to have in a CCG.

As for your plans for your own game: looks good to me, not that you need my approval or anything. The point of the rant is not to say "all metaplots are bad" but to say "if you're doing a metaplot, consider why, and if you do it at all, do it right". The idea of empowering the players and the GMs is the thing I want to drive home: Too many metaplots seem hellbent on disempowering the people who play the game.

Everyone: Just trying to nip some potential drift in the bud, here. While I linked to the WW metaplot (mostly as an example of a bad metaplot) and my rant regarding it on my LJ, I mainly want to, in the context of the rant, talk about metaplots in general, not the White Wolf metaplot in particular, except perhaps as an example. If you want to go into the White Wolf metaplot, start a new thread or post on my Livejournal about it. (No one seemed to be drifting too hard this way but I thought I'd mention it anyway.)


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 29, 2003, 07:14:39 AM
Hello,

Regarding the Glorantha issue, I want to point out that the changes and history of the setting were disclosed as public knowledge, for purposes of informed play by everyone at the table. They were also not released in sequential, step-by-step publication, but rather as a single overview.

This is rather different from the more common approach, in which a new publication "hits" the GM, who then "hits" the players with the revelations and changes and so forth, in a time-linear fashion.

I tend to refer to the former as "changing setting" as distinct from "metaplot."

Best,
Ron


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: xiombarg on July 29, 2003, 08:15:08 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
I tend to refer to the former as "changing setting" as distinct from "metaplot."
Hmmm, it might qualify as metaplot under my definition, but your point is well-taken. One could view "setting change" as a form of "supplement that's better to do than a metaplot supplement"...


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: John Kim on July 29, 2003, 09:23:01 AM
Quote from: xiombarg
  The point of the rant is not to say "all metaplots are bad" but to say "if you're doing a metaplot, consider why, and if you do it at all, do it right". The idea of empowering the players and the GMs is the thing I want to drive home: Too many metaplots seem hellbent on disempowering the people who play the game.  

OK, I'm not really familiar with published metaplots -- the closest I've come is a bit of Aberrant, I think, but I only have two supplements.  What about the metaplots makes them disempowering?  Is it just that it is change to the game-world which the players don't control?  How would you make an empowering meta-plot?  

On the one hand, I was irked by the fixed-future view of Aberrant.  I certainly wouldn't want pre-determined future in my campaign.  On the other hand, it seemed like a decent base from which to vary.  That is, if they tried to present it in a tree of branching possibilities, then you wouldn't get very far and it wouldn't be very coherent.  If they presented the background in fixed-time form (i.e. here's what everything is like in 2010), then it would all be less and less useful as time passed in the campaign.  And, of course, the fixed-future problem is also true to some degree of any historical or timelined world.

Maybe it is mainly a matter of attitude.  i.e. Some thoughtful advice on how to adapt or vary from the metaplot would be good.  Then again, maybe not.  Thoughts?


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Valamir on July 29, 2003, 09:30:22 AM
Metaplot is only a problem if:

A) you believe that all officially published material on a game world is canon...and

B) having your actual game play be canonical is a priority (or at least preferred).


My personal preference is "Wind up the setting to a critical juncture where crazy interesting intense and powerful things are on the verge of happening...then press go and let the players take it from there without another written word on the matter".


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: xiombarg on July 29, 2003, 09:40:57 AM
Quote from: Valamir
My personal preference is "Wind up the setting to a critical juncture where crazy interesting intense and powerful things are on the verge of happening...then press go and let the players take it from there without another written word on the matter".
That is my personal preference as well. It's sort of the point of the rant, really. I'd rather people reconsider doing metaplot supplements than do them at all. My stuff about "good metaplots" is pretty much advice on how to make them less annoying and more useful to those who aren't interested in them.

Perhaps I'm being too nice in the rant, but I wanted to include the possiblity that a metaplot can not be the annoying mess it usually is in most games that have one. And just so people don't think I'm just hitting on White Wolf, I'm thinking "Deadlands" here.

And even if you're not interested in canon a "bad" metaplot is often problematic because they often stuff in generic stuff you might actually want, like the spacecraft rules for the World of Kool.

Quote from: John Kim
Maybe it is mainly a matter of attitude. i.e. Some thoughtful advice on how to adapt or vary from the metaplot would be good.
This is exactly my point. Most metaplots aren't thoughtful at all -- it's a big railroad. Of course, you can disregard it, but then you have to tell every new player what you're NOT doing...


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Hardpoint on July 29, 2003, 10:52:06 AM
Quote from: Valamir
"Wind up the setting to a critical juncture where crazy interesting intense and powerful things are on the verge of happening...then press go and let the players take it from there without another written word on the matter".


This is precisely the method I'm working with in Realms of Wonder. I present a timeline of "how we got here" and then set the players into a world where there's all sorts of potential dangers, both political and idealogical. One of 2 supplements I'd like to do would merely expand on those tensions a bit and the other would be set 1000 years later, thereby completely revising the game world setting, but not changing the mechanics of the game.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Todd Bogenrief on July 29, 2003, 10:53:50 AM
I can understand what you are saying about metaplot, as it has been a problem in a lot of games I have played before.  Everything is going along well, and then *bam*, a player comes over with this great new supplement he picked up and wants you to change your world.  

The worst cases, though, are what you described as "paralysis" I seem to see a lot in a game with both a big metaplot and a well established setting.  Usually a couple of the players will be intimitely familiar with the setting and one won't. The guy that doesn't know all the metaplot and history of the world can't ever seem to make the character he wants to make because the other guys are all saying things like, "Well, an elf would never do that in this world, you need to read page X of book Y before you can play an elf!"

So is just metaplot the problem, or is it setting as well?  Or am I mixing up terms?


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Mike Holmes on July 29, 2003, 12:59:28 PM
Well, that is another danger of metaplot, but it's also a danger of any setting detail, and not limited to metaplot. Further, good players will share knowledge, and help make the game accessible. So I'd not call this a strike against metaplot. But it doesn't hurt to remember to make your setting as accessible as possible in general terms.

Mike


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Valamir on July 29, 2003, 01:05:12 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
But it doesn't hurt to remember to make your setting as accessible as possible in general terms.

Mike


I suspect this idea is largely responsible for the ocean of "setting by analogy" games out there.

"These guys are like vikings, and those guys are like Comanche".  While often boring and annoying, they do help everyone immediately click to the major imagery and tropes.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Mike Holmes on July 29, 2003, 01:49:14 PM
Quote from: Valamir

I suspect this idea is largely responsible for the ocean of "setting by analogy" games out there.

"These guys are like vikings, and those guys are like Comanche".  While often boring and annoying, they do help everyone immediately click to the major imagery and tropes.

Exactly. What's really boring is not having any reference points at all, and not feeling able then to make any decisions.

We've all seen this I bet:

Player: I don't know what a Snozzaerd Troubador would do in a royal court.
GM: Well, he'd probably flip the King off.
Player: Oh, OK. I flip the King off.

I mean, unless you have some idea of what range of actions are reasonable, you can't portray a character at all, really, and certainly can't make reliable decisions.

Especially if the GM does this:

Player: My Troubador then flips off the Queen.
GM: Oh, no, a Snozzaerd Troubador would never do that to a female.

Now the player is even more gunshy about trying to infer what the culture is like.

Either you have to have an accessible culture for the player, or you have to allow them to define it in play. This latter is absolutely what you have to do for a player playing a very alien character. Just allow them to say anything they like about the culture, especially if it's alien. That means they're doing a good job. "corrections" will only stifle creativity. In any case, a good player can make up more info about a sentient alien species so fast that they can outstrip the kewlness of the entire sourcebook in one session.

But to get back on topic, Metaplot is like this as well in that you have to allow players to either know the Metaplot so they can plan with it, or they have to have the ability to change it (barring extrememly Participationist players who would, should they exist, would demand Metaplot I'd think).

Mike


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: John Kim on July 29, 2003, 02:25:59 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
But to get back on topic, Metaplot is like this as well in that you have to allow players to either know the Metaplot so they can plan with it, or they have to have the ability to change it (barring extrememly Participationist players who would, should they exist, would demand Metaplot I'd think).

I'm not sure I follow this.  I am thinking of a "metaplot" as a series of game-world events which are detailed in published supplements.  It seems like you are conflating a "metaplot" in published supplements with the plot of the campaign.  Even in a Participationist campaign, I would think that these two would be distinct.  The GM will come up with a plot involving the PCs, as opposed to the metaplot which doesn't involve them.

The degree to which players need to be able to change it depends on how central the metaplot is to the plot of the campaign.  I have run a few games with unalterable events -- notably historical campaigns.  However, I just made sure that the defined history didn't narrowly constrain player choice and consequences.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on July 29, 2003, 10:50:14 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
Quote from: Valamir

I suspect this idea is largely responsible for the ocean of "setting by analogy" games out there.

"These guys are like vikings, and those guys are like Comanche".  While often boring and annoying, they do help everyone immediately click to the major imagery and tropes.

Exactly. What's really boring is not having any reference points at all, and not feeling able then to make any decisions.

I've been thinging about this, and this sub-topic can easily be brought back to the main topic, so stay with me.

Now, consider just how meaningful a reference point is to many where the only vikings they know are Elmer Fudd in "What's Opera Doc?" (Kill the wabbit...) and Comanches are a Hollywood stereotype that more closely resemble the Cheyene although still not really. The problem is such references are a short hand for someone who has never learned to read, if you follow me.  Such things are built on assumptions. Assumptions about what people would know about either vikings or Camanches which may or may not be true. It depends on what margin for error you are willing to deal with. How fine a detail and contridiction you can handle.

Lately I have abbandomed my idea of just being able to sit down and just play. Prep time is vital. One cannot hope to play the game without first reading the book. Damn the precident of learning through playing. An actor does not perform without first learning their lines and a roleplayer cannot without first learning what is expected of them.

Metaplots are a means to this end as any other tool is.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: contracycle on July 30, 2003, 12:01:47 AM
I disagree that a player can make an alien species more interestring than a developed one at the table.  In fact I think thais is badly wrong; by taking the prep time to design something I can introduce complexity and subtleties that would likely not be drawn in a broad brush sketch done as one of many things at the table.

But I do agreet that there is a tension between pre-design and play.  If stuff thats built is not used, there was no point in building it, and so that mandates direction.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Hardpoint on July 30, 2003, 12:03:18 AM
I think that the point was that Metaplots such as the one WOD was/is using are such that there is a restrictive quality to them. The point of the rant was to bring to our attention, the indie gamemakers, the notion that such a metaplot device can be annoying to some GMs.

The point of the rant is to hopefully get us to create games that have more of the players' needs in mind. I agree on this front, but I think that a balance of setting, metaplot, and openness is needed. In the game I'm making, there is a little metaplot (very little the more I think of it), a lot of "backstory" to set up the world and setting, but leaving a tremendous amount of "where do you want to go from here" mentality. This empowers the players to create their own tales, yet giving them a wealth of history to draw those ideas and tales from.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: xiombarg on July 30, 2003, 07:19:02 AM
Marcus, amen.

As for the sub-discussion about setting detail, I can only agree with Mike and others: This isn't a problem with metaplot per se so much as a problem with a very setting-rich game, requiring prep time to deal with.

(On that tangent, I think this not only leads to the "setting by analogy" thing, but also is why we have so many of what I call "modern plus" settings, the most successful of which is the World of Darkness -- settings that are "just like" the modern day, but with something else added behind the scenes, usually something supernatural, a sort of "secret history" game. "It's like the modern day, plus vampires." Perhaps we should split this into a thread about extensive setting detail?)

What IS a more metaplot-specific issue is when a new metaplot supplement changes everything you thought you knew about a particular setting detail, even as it stood before the supplement came out or before that "moment" in the metaplot. This links into Alexander's ideas about not including important info only in a metaplot supplement: If the secret of why the Pink Men can see in the dark is because they interbred with the Hot Pink Cockroaches From Outer Space, this shouldn't only show up in the "Hot Pink Invasion" supplement. This becomes particularly problematic when a new player shows up wanting to play a Pink Man -- if the game uses a different explaination about the Pink Men than is in the metaplot, this has to be explained before the newcomer can play, and might just dampen his enthusiasm for a bit. At the very least, some planning needs to go on here -- the core rulebook should mention there's probably going to be a supplement on the secret of the Pink Men so those who care won't go there.

(Of course, the latter approach, used too much, can get annoying as well. Pinnacle did this with the Deadlands games -- they would often put things like "don't kill this NPC off, we have plans for him." They were so annoying about this that one poster on the Hell on Earth mailing list used to call it the "Always Drink Your Ovaltine" factor, as it was repeated so often, like that tag line for Ovaltine was back in the day. "Don't touch this part of this setting... and always drink your Ovaltine!" This is particularly annoying when you're told not to mess with something and the published story later turns out to be lame (http://www.livejournal.com/users/xiombarg/172497.html).)


Title: follow-up thought
Post by: xiombarg on July 30, 2003, 10:54:17 AM
A parallel discussion to this one (http://www.livejournal.com/community/roleplayers/477361.html) was instigated by me on LJ, and one of the posters (http://www.livejournal.com/users/blackmanxy/) there brought up an excellent point, which I tend to agree with:

Quote
The inherent problem in a metaplot change as opposed to a poor or unpopular GM decision is that at least the GM is operating from a position where he can (theoretically) see what the players want. If he does something that his players don't like, he's either not paying attention or he's more interested in what he wants from the game than what they want. About such a GM, we are likely to say at best that he should find a different group, at worst that he just sucks. Well. Except for the "GMs word is law" fools who don't realize that a GM has nothing to run with no players.

However, an RPG writer has no knowledge of any group of players but his own, and the unspoken assumption is that he is under no obligation to cater to any such group. In truth, I'm somewhat inclined to agree with this. After all, you can only cater to so many people before your work is just pandering to the least common denominator. But why, then, should we allow someone who has no interest in how our games run, no knowledge of why we play or what we want to play, decide what happens to our characters?

This, I think, is the kicker for me when it comes to metaplot. It's one thing for the creator of the game to say what kind of game one should be playing when one runs his game -- that's his job. It's another for him to tell you what should happen in your game, even if you've been playing it "correctly"...

And, of course, outside the indie world, there's the issue where the people telling you what should happen in the game through metaplot aren't always the same people whose vision created the game in the first place...


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Mike Holmes on July 30, 2003, 11:52:25 AM
Quote
The degree to which players need to be able to change it depends on how central the metaplot is to the plot of the campaign.
This is an important point, yes John.

Playing "under" the metaplot, as Ron would call it, is not really at all problematic. It's only when a GM wants to run with the metaplot that the needs I stated arise.

My favorite example of such a metaplot is the one in Shadow World. It's compelling, interesting, and damnit if I don't want to embroil my characters in it directly. Each time I've done it, however, new material has come out, and it's never even remotely compatible with what's occured in my game world (in the latest a huge magical accident has dramatically shifted the balance of power towards an armageddon, which wouldn't work with where my characters were at).

Now, if I'd had it all to start, I could have played around or under it, whatever, appropriately.

The ironic thing is that what's really annoying about most metaplots is that they're good. Like any supplement we want to use that material. But the presentation makes it such that, unless you wait for the last supplement (is it safe to play WOD now?), then you risk making later supplements less usable.

So, I think a warning is fine. Not a "don't do it", but like Kirt says, "do it carefully, do it well". That's all.


On the subject of aliens, I've rarely seen a player (other than crazies like myself) dedicated enough to do an alien well by the book, or with the dedication to play through the lack of human emotion that such play entails. That said, sure, when you have that player, then go with the "pre-written" stuff.

But why not give the player directorial control over that material. I mean it's the player's thing that he's doing it, and I can't see where the other players are going to object (unless they're all the same alien type in which case I'd give it to them by consensus). The point is that it's all a characterization. You'd allow the player to determine the personality of their human character, right? How are the alien's traits not also under the same sort of mandate in terms of SOD and such?

So, even if the player can't make up as much as the book in a session, let them read up on what exists, and then add to that in terms of interperetation. That's what I do, and it seems much more productive than trying to be the autority myself. I mean if I as GM reserve the right to interperet, then the species will be limited by only my input. Why not have more?

Mike


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: John Kim on July 30, 2003, 01:58:49 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
  My favorite example of such a metaplot is the one in Shadow World. It's compelling, interesting, and damnit if I don't want to embroil my characters in it directly. Each time I've done it, however, new material has come out, and it's never even remotely compatible with what's occured in my game world (in the latest a huge magical accident has dramatically shifted the balance of power towards an armageddon, which wouldn't work with where my characters were at).

Now, if I'd had it all to start, I could have played around or under it, whatever, appropriately.

The ironic thing is that what's really annoying about most metaplots is that they're good. Like any supplement we want to use that material. But the presentation makes it such that, unless you wait for the last supplement (is it safe to play WOD now?), then you risk making later supplements less usable.

I think this is always true to some degree.  If you are writing a game, not all of the material will appear instantaneously.  Thus, someone will start GMing a campaign without knowing what is in future supplements.  It will always be true that later supplements may not be very usable for a particular campaign.  Future supplements might detail world areas far from where your campaign is, or unused character types, and so forth.

I guess my point is that it doesn't seem that tragic if some supplements are less usable.  Even if a meta-plot is entirely known in advance, your players may stray from it or alter it.  Of course, if there is a simple fix, then that should be done.  However, I would guess that the fixes have consequences.  

One approach would be to define the meta-plot in broad terms in advance, so there are no major surprises for the GM.  However, this may be excessively restrictive to the writer.  i.e. What sounded like a good idea in rough terms might not work out well when you try to write it in detail.  Alternatively, the writers might later come up with a really cool idea for where to take the story.  

However, I'm not sure if this is true.  If there is a simple fix, what are the good meta-plots as opposed to the bad ones like Shadow World?  Are they just as compelling and interesting?


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Valamir on July 31, 2003, 07:50:03 AM
In the world of Metaplot nonsense there are several contenders for the crown of most annoying, obnoxious, intrusive, ruined my campaign game line.  Deadlands is near the top of any ballot for the title.

Shane's latest article, however, has me excited.  VERY excited.  Excited enough to think I might want to revisit the Wierd West.

Deadlands Rebooted (http://www.peginc.com/ShootingBlind/DeadlandsReboot.htm)

The whole metaplot...complete, beginning to end, in one core book (using Savage Worlds rules) so you can play anywhere in the time line you like.  With similiar treatment for Hell on Earth and Lost Colonies planned.

I like it.  ALOT.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: xiombarg on July 31, 2003, 08:09:16 AM
Wow! That's really cool, Ralph.

See, that's a lot closer to the "setting change" supplement Ron talks about. And, yes, Pinnacle's metaplot inspired my rant as much as White Wolf's did. It's good to see Pinnacle can, perhaps, learn from its mistakes.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Mike Holmes on July 31, 2003, 09:38:58 AM
Good points as always John. I have no answer, unfortunately, as to a simple fix. I think that's Kirt's point; it's not easy, and "done right" is rare.

OTOH, I can completely get into the action, like Pinnacle is taking, of presenting the entire metaplot at once. This may have it's own problems for the designers, but it's of great benefit to the GM, IMO, and FWIW.

Mike


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: M. J. Young on August 01, 2003, 09:33:06 PM
O.K., any game I've ever played that had a metaplot, I didn't use it or recognize it, so I've mostly stayed out of this discussion. But I just had a thought.

Herein lies the problem.

1) The gradual release of metaplot in volume after volume over time means that the referee can't foresee what is going to happen in the world well enough to prepare for it, and can't know how to handle situations when the player start becoming involved with characters and issues at that level.

I can really relate to this. I was a very frustrated referee when Unearthed Arcana came out, and I realized I had to redo massive segments of the populations of entire cosmopolitan cities, because they didn't have any cavaliers in them. Having the world change when the change is unanticipated is frustrating, usually because it means there were thing happening of which someone should have been aware before this moment.

2) Companies need to sell books to stay in business.

Obviously I understand this one, too. (Has anyone here grabbed a copy of the novel, Verse Three, Chapter One, yet? There's an example.) So being able to publish metaplot updates periodically means having something new for your core market; not being able to do so means you have to find something else to sell.

O.K., this was my thought.

Could a company create the full metaplot all at once, in advance, and expand and expound it into a series of volumes, all of which were published simultaneously? Make it clear that M1 is the start of the backstory of the game world, and that people should start with that and move to M2 when they're ready. It's the same number of books to sell, players can get them when they need them and far enough in advance that they can be prepared for surprises, and no one feels as much as if they're being controlled.

I know it's not a perfect solution for everyone; but it answers a lot of the problems on both sides.

--M. J. Young


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: xiombarg on August 02, 2003, 06:04:41 AM
Quote from: M. J. Young
Could a company create the full metaplot all at once, in advance, and expand and expound it into a series of volumes, all of which were published simultaneously? Make it clear that M1 is the start of the backstory of the game world, and that people should start with that and move to M2 when they're ready. It's the same number of books to sell, players can get them when they need them and far enough in advance that they can be prepared for surprises, and no one feels as much as if they're being controlled.
Indeed, this is an excellent solition, and was at least mentioned in passing my in original rant -- plus, it's what Pinnacle is (belatedly) doing, as others have recently mentioned.

It's part of the "allowing the GM to plan" part of things I was talking about, and I wish more companies would do it.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: talysman on August 02, 2003, 08:39:08 AM
hi folks... just got back from a trip to Boston/Providence, so I've missed a lot. I hope it's not too late to contribute to these discussions.

I've thought a little about the metaplot problem. I, too, don't like them, although I think there's an approach or two to metaplot that isn't too bad. as pretty much everyone else has made clear, the problem with a metaplot is that they essentially add one or more unseen players -- the metaplot designers -- who never interact with the players and have the power to trump the GM.

or, at least, that is the way it is perceived, by those who wish to take the "official products" as canon. whcih, unfortunately, is precisely the customer attitude that game publishers need in order to sell the most suppliments.

there are a couple odd little assumptions I've noticed in the "mainstream" rpg world, assumptions which existed long before the first metaplots appeared, but upon which metaplots depend:

 -- everyone who plays a given game/setting (not just the players sitting at a given table) shares a single setting;
 -- everyone sharing a setting should play the same way with the same rules and all the same background details;
 -- if changes need to be made, everuone needs to make the same changes at the same times, which means any changes should be official changes only.

the underlying rationale for these assumptions seems to be that a player who moves to a different area should be able to join an entirely new group, use the same character, and never have to learn any new setting details or house rules. there are even sections in old D&D books that describe how GMs should incorporate experienced players from another playgroup into an existing campaign.

now, obviously, no one has ever played in complete accordance with these assumptions, aside from narrow exceptions like sanctioned tournaments. almost everyone plays with one or more house rules. most GMs, if they are using published settings, de-emphasize or eliminate setting details they are not interested in. and even when GMs try to remain true to a published setting, they sometimes interpret geographic and cultural details differently. (everyone seems to agree that fantasy dwarves are somewhat teutonic, culturally, but are they dour and mostly humorless miners, or rowdy, boisterous craftsmen?)

still, a large number of people seem to think these assumptions are important to the game, which is why we see things like officially-off-limits areas for individual GM development or the infinite outer planes of AD&D 1e's Manual of the Planes -- inifinite so that there would be room enough for each individual GM's interpretation to co-exist in the "same" plane. why should this even matter? why not a finite plane of indefinite size with general information about the plane, which each GM could customize? why did The Fantasy Trip: In The Labyrinth describe Cidri as a planet many hundreds of times larger than Earth? (the book specifically states that again, this is so there is room enough for each GM's campaign area.)

I think metaplot was a development of this idea. by getting everyone to agree that the official metaplot trumps individual player's concepts of the shared world, the publishers not only guarantee the sale of more setting books, but also act as a control mechanism to keep the many local copies of the game world from becoming too unique and "clashing" with other interpretations of the world, so the theoretical travelling players will not have to create new characters or learn a new setting/batch of house rules.

of course, you can tell from my tone that I don't think very highly of these assumptions. still, as I said, I can see a use for metaplot outside of this set of assumptions...

Quote from: M. J. Young
Could a company create the full metaplot all at once, in advance, and expand and expound it into a series of volumes, all of which were published simultaneously? Make it clear that M1 is the start of the backstory of the game world, and that people should start with that and move to M2 when they're ready. It's the same number of books to sell, players can get them when they need them and far enough in advance that they can be prepared for surprises, and no one feels as much as if they're being controlled.


my own idea of a good metaplot is, in a sense, this approach. I think "metaplot" should not actually be used to govern the backstory.

the easy example would be a post=apocalyptic setting. in a sense, a post-apocalyptic world is the end-product of a metaplot: a bunch of stuff happened and now the world is a wasteland with radioactive areas and mutants and biker gangs. the metaplot is all over and done with.

another example would be playing in a published fantasy setting like Middle Earth before the War of the Ring or the Young Kingdoms after the fall of Melnibone but before the end of the world. the plot of the books determines the backstory of the world and also describes the tensions that currently exist (the climax of the books are either what could happen or what will happen in a few years.) if the players really want to be part of the metaplot, that's an option, but really the metaplot is only there to define the setting.

in this approach, future metaplot suppliments really do redefine the world. you could publish a series of suppliments that describe the world at 20-year intervals, so that a play group can decide which setting appeals to them; this would be no different than SJGames publishing worldbooks for the roaring '20s, the '30s pulp era, WWII, and the '50s. to me, that's an acceptable non-intrusive use of metaplot.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: xiombarg on August 02, 2003, 06:50:43 PM
That's some excellent data on the historical reasons for metaplots there...

Regardless, some of you might want to check out the parallel discussion on Livejournal (http://www.livejournal.com/community/roleplayers/477361.html?view=3749041).

Most notable are the comments by "eyebeams", who claims to be a White Wolf freelancer. They're as dismissive of everyone's concerns -- and, Hell, the whole indie movement -- as one might expect, but he adds one element to the problem with metaplots that we haven't considered: A problem for writers. That is, even if a single campaign can disregard metaplot, writers for a setting cannot -- contraining their creativity.

Of course, this only happens in situations like the "big companies" have where you have freelance writers writing for a line, which explains why we didn't think of it -- but it's certainly something a designer should consider if he wants other people to ever write for his or her game.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: AnyaTheBlue on August 02, 2003, 09:09:48 PM
The fundamental problem I personally have with metaplots is that they are adventures masquerading as setting details.

Adventures that are happening to characters that don't belong to my players.  

D&D in all it's incarnations vaguely defines certain setting details (ie, spell names, allowed classes, races), but generally doesn't provide anything else in it's core rules.  Traveller is similar, although over time the Imperium grew into a game-destroying metaplot.  But the Imperium that has outlasted this metaplot is purely setting.

This divorce of rules and setting was common in early RPGs, and is far less so nowadays, aside from excplicitly universal systems a la GURPS or HERO.  Of course, back then games were mostly based around a Genre, whereas now they seem to be more based around an explicit Setting (although there are definite exceptions, such as All Flesh Must be Eaten and Terra Primate).

The trick, to me, seems to be balance.  The elements to balance are setting detail, metaplot, rules-reflected details, and adventures.

Setting detail constrains players by limiting what they can do with certain types of characters because there is written background that they need to be consistent with.  All settings have this problem to some degree.  Many get around it as a problem by using licensed properties, or otherwise familiar tropes (a la 'Space Patrol', 'These Guys are like Vikings', 'Everybody knows how Vampires behave').

Rules-reflected details are like D&D Classes, Call of Cthulhu's Sanity rules, and Classic Traveller's career paths & ship design systems.  If you use the rules, you get these elements to hang whatever other creativity you want off of them.

Metaplot and Adventure are the things that the industry has the most trouble with.

Metaplot is Adventure that happens to non-characters, but affects the setting in some fashion.  Adventure is just adventure happening to the PCs.

If you make up your setting entirely, well, you don't have a problem, unless the rules-reflected details interfere with what you want to do.  If you make your own adventures out of whole cloth, then you don't have to worry too much, either.  If your setting is your own, well, then you again don't have to worry about backstory & metaplot, except insofar as you end up doing the same thing to your players as an external designer might.

But the Metaplot problem is more invasive.  In the Old Days, published Adventures involved a map and things to kill.  Then you took their Stuff.  It may have existed in Greyhawk somewhere, but it was entirely feasable to take the whole thing and plop it into Glarko Prime or wherever you were gaming.  Orcs on Glarko Prime and Greyhawk were pretty much the same, so no real damage was done to the adventure.

If the Adventure isn't self contained enough, or doesn't happen in someplace well defined externally, like Chicago, well, you start to have problems.  And these only get worse when the Adventure depends on lots of characters that have nothing to do with your players, or setting details that don't work with your take on your own setting, or are under the external control of a developer Elsewhere.

To me, the best balance of this I've seen is
The Traveller Adventure.  Several of the extended Call of Cthulhu campaigns have been equally good in this regard, however.  The adventure, it's metaplot, and the setting are self contained.  It contains sections that need to happen in order, at specific locations, but provides reasonable rationales for doing so.  It has plenty of room for individual travel and speculation, beyond what the scripted metaplot has.  The actions of the characters are integral to the overall storyline.

And if you don't buy it, it has NO EFFECT ON YOUR GAME EVER.  And if you do, well, you can plop it in whenever you want.

Anyway, that's my two cents.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Hardpoint on August 03, 2003, 01:33:58 AM
So how would you suggest a game designer were to progress? Say you want a game to be based in a setting, but the idea is to say "here's how we got here" and the rest is open ended.

This is the approach many recent games have taken, Cyberpunk 2020 did this originally (but then created a metaplot book which doesnt necessarily have to be used if you don't really want to); games like Babylon Project and Star Wars are locked into their metaplots by nature of being a license (unless you take the Knights of the Old Republic/Tales of the Jedi approach and set your game outside the license timeline).

My feeling is that is a good way to (note I don't claim it to be the best) to balance both the setting richness and GM friendliness that makes for a successful gaming recipe. I honestly don't know another way to do it, unless you completely go without a setting, a la GURPS or HERO.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Hardpoint on August 03, 2003, 01:41:29 AM
Just remembered the worst example of Metaplot...

A game from Pacesetter (makers of Chill) called Sandman wherein you didn't know your real identity. The point of the game was basically one big campaign to find out who you were and what happened to you. The problem was, EVEN THE GM DIDN'T KNOW THE TRUTH in the core rules. Even worse, there was some sort of contest to figure it all out and they went belly up without ever having divulged the answer (far as I know anyway).

If anyone knows the deal with this game, I'd love to find out as I played it once (the first adventure on the train). A cool idea for a game, but failed because of the adherence to the metaplot (and the company's finances).


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: AnyaTheBlue on August 03, 2003, 10:43:00 AM
Quote from: Hardpoint
So how would you suggest a game designer were to progress? Say you want a game to be based in a setting, but the idea is to say "here's how we got here" and the rest is open ended.

This is the approach many recent games have taken, Cyberpunk 2020 did this originally (but then created a metaplot book which doesnt necessarily have to be used if you don't really want to); games like Babylon Project and Star Wars are locked into their metaplots by nature of being a license (unless you take the Knights of the Old Republic/Tales of the Jedi approach and set your game outside the license timeline).

My feeling is that is a good way to (note I don't claim it to be the best) to balance both the setting richness and GM friendliness that makes for a successful gaming recipe. I honestly don't know another way to do it, unless you completely go without a setting, a la GURPS or HERO.


It's pretty simple, really.

Here's the critical part of your overall question, I think:

Quote from: Hardpoint
So how would you suggest a game designer were to progress? Say you want a game to be based in a setting...


Ask yourself why you want a game based in a setting.

Everything you specify in terms of setting, metaplot, or even rules, is a limitation of some sort on the players of your game.

Some games attempt to model a genre, not a setting.  D&D of all flavors falls into this category.  Yes, it provides a set of stock races, classes, spells, and monsters that sort of define a meta-setting.  But there is no built in assumption that you are gaming in the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk.  Back when I was playing D&D, far more of the games I was in had homebrew settings than not.

D&D is a sketchpad with some rough edges filled in, but you get to provide the rest of the detail yourself (or you can buy products that do it for you if you so choose).

WW WoD & Aeonverse or Pinnacle's Deadlands has the other end of the stick.  They have a fully complete painting, and you get to add some figures into the background.

Think about this:  D&D is a game.  Greyhawk is a setting.

The Storyteller rules are a game.  The WoD is a setting, the Aeonverse is a setting, Exalted is a setting.

Basic Role Playing is a game.  Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest, and Stormbringer are settings.

Can you imagine if there was a metaplot in the boardgame Clue?  Once you'd played a single time, you'd know "who did it" and you'd never play again.

Another way to look at it is this.  Let's say you come up with a great and clever idea involving some big magic item.  Let's call it the Holy Grail.  You have two choices before you.  You can take the Metaplot route:  "Okay, in 908 NPC Sir Galahad finds the Holy Grail.  This is a signal that Aurthur's reign will soon end, and how it ends will show up in the next sourcebook!  Stay tuned!".  You can take the Adventure route instead:  "This campaign book is about the character's quest for the Holy Grail."

Obviously, I'm biased.  But the thing is, everything that is in a metaplot could have been turned into an adventure of some sort for player characters instead of off-screen NPCs.

On the other hand, obviously games based on Star Trek, Star Wars, and other properties can be excellent games despite this overarching metaplot implicit in the setting.  But notice something else -- EVERYBODY KNOWS THE METAPLOT.  It is inconceivable to me that you would run into even one gamer who didn't know at least some of the details of the Star Wars metaplot.  And, too, if he didn't know them, he'd certainly know where to go to find them out.  It's not a secret to either the GM or the players.  By not keeping any secrets, the gamers can easily avoid the metaplot.  They know enough about it to know what bits of the setting are attached to it, and they can easily avoid the places, the characters, and the events described therein.  If stuff was secret, that wouldn't be possible, and results in stuff like the Pinnacle "Boise Horror" or the fact that Greg Stafford keeps 'Gregging' everybody in Glorantha.

Anyway, this is obviously just my opinion of Metaplot.  Obviously, somebody somewhere likes it, or it wouldn't sell.  But I don't think it's good game design.  I look at it as bad setting design more than anything.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: eyebeams on August 11, 2003, 12:14:51 AM
Most notable are the comments by "eyebeams", who claims to be a White Wolf freelancer. They're as dismissive of everyone's concerns -- and, Hell, the whole indie movement -- as one might expect,

I'm something of a fan of TRoS, actually.

Come now. If you're going to slag me somewhere else, at the very least cite what I actually said for those who aren't up to poring through the whole thing.

Am I (and are current professionals in my circle) dismissive of the Indie thing? No, but the fact is that games that pay for people's livelihoods need to be planned differently than games that just need to recoup their costs.  People who put food on the table with games can't take the advice you're giving, X. Serial product sales aren't there to support hookers n' coke, folks -- they provide ramen and rent (which really should be the name of a game, eh?:-). To get that means that there has to be a steady stream of products. Metaplot provides on source for this. Otherwise, you have the system mastery approach (as used in D20), where we see variations on a system whose complications are such that most players find buying books much more in their comfort zone than developing their own mechanics.

(You might say that adventures are a third option, but the fact is that adventures are really only consistent sellers for D20 games; they're calculated to underperform for the sake of stimulating play for everybody else.)

As for metaplots, they usually have three main functions:

1) Community building.
2) Examples of stories.

(Remember what I said about adventures? Metaplot lets us present story seeds in a way that doesn't risk the book's success, either by presenting them as continuity or by attached an adventure to continuity.)

3) They introduce new elements within the context of the established setting.

For a a large number of gamers, they accomplish all of these things, to a greater or lesser degree. What is lacking, really, is a solid set of guidelines for applying metaplots -- something due to be rectified in two upcoming products I'm aware of, but a concern nonetheless.

Metaplots cannot tell you how to run your game or how your game's history unfolds, and it has never been the intent of anybody I've worked for to set things up that way. They do assume a style of play where the GM takes ownership of their game's setting and makes necessary changes.

I have to admit that I have limited sympathy for people who won't take change of the setting and make it their own. The exception is for games where the "canon" is the whole reason for play: Games like LotR and Star Wars, where players have universal expectations about what's happening.

but he adds one element to the problem with metaplots that we haven't considered: A problem for writers. That is, even if a single campaign can disregard metaplot, writers for a setting cannot -- contraining their creativity.

Not exactly. Sometimes it's a constraint and sometimes it isn't. Sometimes such constraints are useful. Some of the writing I'm most proud of came from interpreting the available body of work.

The problem isn't something as ethereal as the gossamer creative spirit being crushed under an oppressive metaplot. The problem is much more prosaic: You need to have a fuckload of books and study them constantly. Having to stay consistent is a concern, but it would be a concern with any game's setting. This is just as true of setting breadth (you wouldn't rewrite hunks of Glorantha for print, unless you were Greg Stafford) as it is of continuity. All games will get this "bigness" problem over time, unless they just sell the core -- and that's not an option for any commercially viable line.

Of course, this only happens in situations like the "big companies" have where you have freelance writers writing for a line, which explains why we didn't think of it -- but it's certainly something a designer should consider if he wants other people to ever write for his or her game.

Uh, no. It's a matter of how it affects the logistics of actually writing books. As such, it applies to individuals as well, assuming that they accrue enough material.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: eyebeams on August 11, 2003, 12:17:33 AM
The fundamental problem I personally have with metaplots is that they are adventures masquerading as setting details.

Adventures that are happening to characters that don't belong to my players.


Why don't you have them happen to your players instead, then? I really am interested: What's the psychological barrier here that keeps some people from just using the story arc as the adventure model it's designed to be?


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Green on August 11, 2003, 05:20:20 AM
eyebeams> A quick answer to your question regarding why individual groups don't alter the metaplots to the PCs.  I think it's because there is nothing in the "official" product that says how PC-level characters can get in on the action.  It'd be getting on the Titanic after it hit the iceburg.

On that thought, I think it'd be interesting if metaplots were designed with PC level characters in mind.  Instead of tying everything up neatly, just put out some situations and then give ideas to GMs and players on how to become involved.  Give a basic set-up, but leave the specifics to indiv idual games.  Let's consider Vampire, for instance.  Instead of saying "The Prince of Charlotte, NC was diablerized by his trusted Sheriff," have things set up like this:

1.  The Prince is dead.  
2.  Recently Anarchs have been encroaching on the city
3.  The Toreador and Brujah elders were not too fond of the Prince, but supported her anyway because they thought she could be made into their puppet.
4.  Rumor has it that one of the city's Kindred is an infiltrator for the Sabbat, who wish to take over as well.


Everyone has their own take on the matter, and everyone has a stake (no pun intended) in what happens, which should be made clear.  Instead of a string of events, have a basic set-up and many paths that could be taken.  In the Charlotte murder mystery example, the PCs themselves could be the culprits, and the story could focus on their attempts to get away with it.  Describe in general the ramification of one turn of events.  For the above example, let players and GMs understand how things would change if the Toreador Primogen is blamed for the murder.  Make it clear what the NPCs want, why they want it, what keeps them from getting it, and how they plan on going about achieving their goals.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Lxndr on August 11, 2003, 06:00:51 AM
Doesn't the Tribe 8 metaplot (as an example) specifically imvolve player characters?  Isn't the majority of its metaplot a set of adventures that take the players from the opening days of Vimary to fifteen years later at Capal, after Vimary burns?  

Or am I misinterpreting what little I've seen of the game?


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Mike Holmes on August 11, 2003, 09:55:21 AM
No, you're not mis-interpereting. But it's one of the worst offenders in the bad metaplot arena (which is too bad as the rest is pretty neat). Specifically because the PCs are involved directly in the metaplot. The problem is that they are involved in a way that doesn't allow them to choose to do anything.

Basically, the way the action of the game is described, the players are meant to come along with the metaplot, and simply be there to observe it unfold. There are, in fact, points at which the material describes the plot, and mentions that the players should be nearby and involved in something (though often it does not say what), so that they can have the evolving plot described to them as it happens.

The particular example I'm thinking of involves the players being along on the attack on a Z'bri fortress in which we find out the answer to the big metaplot secret about Joshua (?), IIRC. Of course, it's not the players that confront the Z'bri, it's one of the Fatimas that does this and finds out. IIRC, the PCs are supposed to be simply involved in the raging battle of smaller powers outside or something.

Just reading these materials made me wonder how I'd present it. I mean it looks like you're supposed to say, "You charge with the Fatima to the gates, and engage the troops. She goes inside. You hold them off for a while, until the Fatima emerges yet again. Then the bad guys flee. Then she spills the beans on the secret."

I can't see where I'm supposed to ask the players for their actions. This isn't even Participationism, because the playersa aren't even allowed to Participate. It's out and out storytelling. So how it qualifies as an RPG, I don't know. Certainly I can make up some "underbelly" for the players to be playing in, but then the supplement isn't helping me much, is it?

Mike


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: xiombarg on August 11, 2003, 12:01:05 PM
Welcome back to the Forge, Malcolm. I say "back" because I notice the old Mage thread back in '02 that you responded to.

Quote from: eyebeams
Come now. If you're going to slag me somewhere else, at the very least cite what I actually said for those who aren't up to poring through the whole thing.
We sort of assume that people who are interested are willing to do their homework here.

I'm not going to go into the rest of the stuff regarding your feelings on Indie games because it's off-topic for this thread. If you want to create a thread regarding "pro vs. indie relations", feel free, tho you already know my opinion from LJ -- I think the distinction you make between "pro" and "amateur/indie" is so thin as to be meaningless. But, as I said, we're veering off-topic here -- the Forge is a lot more focused than LJ.

However, if you want me to summarize your argument from LJ, I think I can:

In essence, it comes down to your assertion that metaplots must be good because they sell. My problem with this assertion is threefold:

* Sales have nothing to do with quality.
* Even if I believed that sales indicated quality, I dispute the fact that they sell because you have no hard numbers to back this up. Hell, I can give two examples of heavily-metaplotted games that aren't going quite so well nowadays: Deadlands and, as others mentioned in this thread, Tribe 8.
* And even if I concede all the points above, and believe that sales matter and indicate quality, it still proves nothing, because we have no way of knowing why the "metaplot" supplements in question were purchased -- they could have been bought for reasons other than the metaplot, such as art or extra rules. Sales of White Wolf metaplot-oriented books at GenCon arguably have more to do with marketing than actual content.

Quote
As for metaplots, they usually have three main functions:

1) Community building.
2) Examples of stories.

(Remember what I said about adventures? Metaplot lets us present story seeds in a way that doesn't risk the book's success, either by presenting them as continuity or by attached an adventure to continuity.)

3) They introduce new elements within the context of the established setting.

For a a large number of gamers, they accomplish all of these things, to a greater or lesser degree. What is lacking, really, is a solid set of guidelines for applying metaplots -- something due to be rectified in two upcoming products I'm aware of, but a concern nonetheless.
The irony here, is, that this is where we agree, something which seems to have gotten lost in your assertions about sales on LiveJournal.

That is, I agree that guidelines for applying metaplots are lacking in most metaplots, which is why I keep saying -- over and over again -- that I am not against metaplots per se, but that I am against BAD metaplots. Not including guidelines for how a metaplot should work is an example of something a "bad" metaplot would do.

The only thing I disagree with above is the "community building" thing. In my experience, metaplots don't build community -- they fracture it. At its most basic level, there's those who want to remain within "canon" and those who don't, and then there several sub-groups within each of those categories, depending on how one feels about certain elements of the metaplot, such as, to use Vampire as an example, the difference between those who ignore the death of Ravnos and those who don't allow Camarilla Malkavians to have Dementation -- different levels of respect for "canon".

I have experienced this in Traveller, in several White Wolf games, and with regard to Deadlands -- and that's just off the top of my head. Now, IIRC, you response to this on LiveJournal was "some people are jerks", to which I say: It's a problem even when people are polite about it. I've never dealt with a rude Deadlands player, but the factions and the friction happen nonetheless.

Quote
Metaplots cannot tell you how to run your game or how your game's history unfolds, and it has never been the intent of anybody I've worked for to set things up that way. They do assume a style of play where the GM takes ownership of their game's setting and makes necessary changes.
And what's that old saying about what happens when you assume things? See, once again, this is the difference between good and bad metaplot. Don't assume too much.

And as for the intent of anybody that you're worked for, I think one thing that also slipped through the cracks on LiveJournal is that while the recent White Wolf "Time of Judgement" sparked my thoughts, my thoughts actually come from years of experience and rumination inspired by several metaplots I've dealt with, such as the Virus plot in Traveller, the Tribe 8 metaplot, and the Deadlands metaplot, to name a few.

The fact of the matter is, White Wolf aside, there are bad metaplots out there that DO tell you how to run your game. Seriously. Ever read any Deadlands stuff? I own Deadlands supplements (Hell on Earth supplements, specifically) that explicitly say things like "don't kill this NPC, we have plans for him later."

(This is actually good in some ways -- you know not to kill that NPC if you don't want to keep up with the metaplot. It's bad in that there is no consideration that you might do something different -- in fact, the text seems to try to argue you out of it.)

See, you seem to make the implicit assumption that all my points are about the White Wolf metaplot, and that all metaplots resemble the ones you've worked on. They aren't and they don't. In some ways,White Wolf got things right. In other ways, they didn't.

(This speaks to the other problem I was having with you on LiveJournal -- you seem to think your experience holds for all games and gamers, and this simply isn't the case.)

Quote
I have to admit that I have limited sympathy for people who won't take change of the setting and make it their own. The exception is for games where the "canon" is the whole reason for play: Games like LotR and Star Wars, where players have universal expectations about what's happening.
Well, I think all I can say is I have more sympathy, and that disregarding canon isn't as easy as you claim, because it becomes a big social issue.

Quote
The problem isn't something as ethereal as the gossamer creative spirit being crushed under an oppressive metaplot. The problem is much more prosaic: You need to have a fuckload of books and study them constantly. Having to stay consistent is a concern, but it would be a concern with any game's setting. This is just as true of setting breadth (you wouldn't rewrite hunks of Glorantha for print, unless you were Greg Stafford) as it is of continuity. All games will get this "bigness" problem over time, unless they just sell the core -- and that's not an option for any commercially viable line.
This I can agree with -- that is, that "bigness" becomes a problem. So we can add this to the list of the problems with metaplot.

That said, I disgaree about the non-viability of selling just a core rulebook, or selling supplements that aren't metaplot. However, this is off-topic for this thread. If you want to argue about the commercial viability of only selling a core rulebook and/or a metaplotless game, feel free to start another thread -- I'll happily participate.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: eyebeams on August 12, 2003, 08:54:28 AM
I'm not going to go into the rest of the stuff regarding your feelings on Indie games because it's off-topic for this thread. If you want to create a thread regarding "pro vs. indie relations", feel free, tho you already know my opinion from LJ -- I think the distinction you make between "pro" and "amateur/indie" is so thin as to be meaningless.

Then you shouldn;t have gone into it in the fisrt place.

In essence, it comes down to your assertion that metaplots must be good because they sell.

No, that wasn't it. My assertion is that people find metaplots valuable and attractive and that sales show that they do so on a consistent basis.

* Sales have nothing to do with quality.

Quality per se has nothing to do with my argument. It's utility. Metaplots have utility for lots of players.

* Even if I believed that sales indicated quality, I dispute the fact that they sell because you have no hard numbers to back this up.

You can find Ken Hite's annual bredown of industry sales in his Out of the Box column, as I mentioned before. White Wolf has about 20% to a quarter of the market. This is common knowledge.

Hell, I can give two examples of heavily-metaplotted games that aren't going quite so well nowadays: Deadlands and, as others mentioned in this thread, Tribe 8.

Tribe8 was never going to be a mainstream success. Deadlands *was* a mainstream success; it catapulted PEG to the top 5 until the Cybergames fiasco a few years back.

* And even if I concede all the points above, and believe that sales matter and indicate quality, it still proves nothing, because we have no way of knowing why the "metaplot" supplements in question were purchased -- they could have been bought for reasons other than the metaplot, such as art or extra rules.

I'm pretty sure lots of folks buy books for the metaplot. If metaplots were so problematic, they would break a purchasing decision and not be ignorable (which is what you originally claimed by citing another thread here), but they don't. They seem to either do no harm or enhance value for most gamers.

Sales of White Wolf metaplot-oriented books at GenCon arguably have more to do with marketing than actual content.

As I said before, one book that sold out rapidly (Manifesto) had no promotion at Gen Con, was 9 months old and was pure metaplot. There were probably others, but I kept my eyes on that one because that's a book where a few folks trotted out the complaints you're on about now. Apparently, around a hundred or so people begged to differ.

That is, I agree that guidelines for applying metaplots are lacking in most metaplots, which is why I keep saying -- over and over again -- that I am not against metaplots per se, but that I am against BAD metaplots. Not including guidelines for how a metaplot should work is an example of something a "bad" metaplot would do.

I think metaplots could be improved with guidelines, but even without them people seem to have no problem applying common sense and the needs of their game -- a given in all RPG play. This given doesn;t mafail to apply to metaplots.

The only thing I disagree with above is the "community building" thing. In my experience, metaplots don't build community -- they fracture it.

Then I would say that your experience isn't representative.

At its most basic level, there's those who want to remain within "canon" and those who don't, and then there several sub-groups within each of those categories, depending on how one feels about certain elements of the metaplot, such as, to use Vampire as an example, the difference between those who ignore the death of Ravnos and those who don't allow Camarilla Malkavians to have Dementation -- different levels of respect for "canon".

But these people still talk to each other. That's what communities do.

I have experienced this in Traveller, in several White Wolf games, and with regard to Deadlands -- and that's just off the top of my head. Now, IIRC, you response to this on LiveJournal was "some people are jerks", to which I say: It's a problem even when people are polite about it. I've never dealt with a rude Deadlands player, but the factions and the friction happen nonetheless.

I've never seen the friction fail to happen when it comes to any RPG fanbase of any size whatsoever. GURPS people just argue about different things.

And what's that old saying about what happens when you assume things? See, once again, this is the difference between good and bad metaplot. Don't assume too much.

I think it's reasonable to assume that people will play take wonership of what heppens in play and adjust things accordingly.

The fact of the matter is, White Wolf aside, there are bad metaplots out there that DO tell you how to run your game. Seriously. Ever read any Deadlands stuff? I own Deadlands supplements (Hell on Earth supplements, specifically) that explicitly say things like "don't kill this NPC, we have plans for him later."

They're letting you know ahead of time that the NPC is a part of the storyline. What real, play-impacting concern is keeping you from killing him and slotting a different NPC or PC into the role?

See, you seem to make the implicit assumption that all my points are about the White Wolf metaplot, and that all metaplots resemble the ones you've worked on. They aren't and they don't. In some ways,White Wolf got things right. In other ways, they didn't.

You defined what you want instea of what you see right now, and that basically includes most published metaplots. WW's is illustrative of why metaplots are written the way they are, but this stuff can apply to most others.

(This speaks to the other problem I was having with you on LiveJournal -- you seem to think your experience holds for all games and gamers, and this simply isn't the case.)

I believe my statements are more representative of how gamers use metaplots than yours, because of both broad and anecdotal information.

Well, I think all I can say is I have more sympathy, and that disregarding canon isn't as easy as you claim, because it becomes a big social issue.

Why? Have you really lost friends and games over this, and if so, do you really think such extreme reactions are braodly representative of anything. If you do, why?

This I can agree with -- that is, that "bigness" becomes a problem. So we can add this to the list of the problems with metaplot.

"Bigness" is a function of the number of things that comprise one element of a game, and as my statement obviously intends, does not apply to metaplots alone.

That said, I disgaree about the non-viability of selling just a core rulebook, or selling supplements that aren't metaplot. However, this is off-topic for this thread. If you want to argue about the commercial viability of only selling a core rulebook and/or a metaplotless game, feel free to start another thread -- I'll happily participate.

You've made it clea that you don't think that feeding and housing the creator is a valid yardstick for success, so we just aren't going to see eye to eye, because I write stuff that feeds and houses me.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 12, 2003, 09:00:05 AM
Hello,

Everyone please refrain from line-by-line replies in this thread. See the Forge Etiquette sticky in Site Discussion if necessary.

Disagreement is OK; getting mad and snippy at one another is not. That's a warning, not an accusation.

Best,
Ron


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: AnyaTheBlue on August 12, 2003, 11:36:47 AM
Quote from: eyebeams
The fundamental problem I personally have with metaplots is that they are adventures masquerading as setting details.

Adventures that are happening to characters that don't belong to my players.


Why don't you have them happen to your players instead, then? I really am interested: What's the psychological barrier here that keeps some people from just using the story arc as the adventure model it's designed to be?


I think the fact that you see it as a 'psychological barrier' is telling.  What psychological barrier do you have that keeps you from seeing how unwelcome and constraining a metaplot can be?

There are lots of factors that apply.  Here are some of them:

1) It requires MORE work than either using an adventure written to be used as an adventure, or writing a new adventure from whole cloth.

2) There are some players who will cry bloody murder that you aren't following Cannon.  No, this hasn't ended any friendships, but it has ruined gaming sessions for me (and others).

3) I don't have any players or established NPCs who fit into any of the available roles the metaplot assumes.

4) It lacks useful details about how the NPCs involved in them are interacting with PCs who have been swapped into a role that interacts with them, and the PC does something different than the scripted NPC who was there previously (see my point #1 above).

5) I find the metaplot uninteresting, while at the same time liking the overall setting and mechanics.

Does any of that help or make sense?  My criticism of metaplot is completely unconnected to whether or not metaplot makes a saleable product and to what target market it increases saleability.  I am a hobbyist.  I am heavily biased against metaplots, but heavily interested in well-crafted settings and systems.

The target market point is probably the crux of this whole discussion.  You and Xiomberg are probably both completely correct in your observations and experiences, even though they seem completely opposite.  But those observations and experiences are with entirely different demographic slices of the gamer market.  Yours are probably slanted towards a group which reacts to metaplot exactly as you have described.  Xiomberg's experiences sound like they closely mirror my own, and are largely metaplot-hostile.  If you could figure out how to make both groups happy simultaneously, you might have a bigger market.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Valamir on August 12, 2003, 12:00:59 PM
Malcolm, I gotta say that I think your idea about inserting the PCs into the metaplot instead of the stock NPCs is a great fix for the metaplot problem.

But to suggest as you have that that's the way its SUPPOSED to be.  That the meta plots were DESIGNED for that is rather disingenuous.  There is no possible way that I'll ever believe that dozens of prolonged lengthy metaplots have been carefully spooled out over the last decade and all of the writers just happen to forget to mention that the NPCs are meant only as place holders.  Such a scenario is so highly improbable that it doesn't hold any credibility with me.

Most of the NPCs in these metaplots are not designed to be place holders.  This is obvious because they are so specific that virtually no group would have a combination of characters capable of trading places with the NPCs in either abilities or background.  If the metaplot was truly meant as adventure ideas for PCs it would not be written as a meta plot.  

See Pendragon for book after book on how to design an extended story arc AROUND PCs right.  Lots of background on what the NPCs are doing.  Lots of plot hooks that can be mixed and matched as appropriate to the party.  Lots of suggestions on how to substitute a PC for Lancelot, or to insert them into canonical adventure in a way that matters.  Pendragon is a great example of what you're talking about.  WOD style metaplots...not so much.


I also find the idea that meta plot leads to community to be highly questionable.  All of my experience points to metaplot building walls.  Walls between "we're pure canon and you're not" players and "canon? this is roleplaying, we're making our own story here" players.  Not to mention the "the metaplot is broken so we're fixing it in our version of the world...but you didn't fix it in yours, so I'm never playing in your world, cuz it sucks if you don't fix this".

I've witnessed this first hand in L5R, 7th Sea, and Deadlands both in online groups and in "rival" groups at game stores.  I witnessed one group of L5R players nearly come to blows...literally...with another group because the 2nd group had killed off some fan favorite canonical NPC and was therefor playing "wrong".

Now granted this represents some fundamental disfunction at the group level.  But there are at least as many examples of meta plots causing community conflict as there are of metaplots building community.  

I myself have found the metaplot of 7th to be so egregiously stupid and vapid that after suffering through the first several splatbooks I said no more...these guys are hack wannabe novelists.  They suck as writers and could never get a real publishing house to publish one of their books, so they suckered an RPG company with low standards to print their drek instead.

A good metaplot can be a great asset to a game line, well done and well executed.

Problem is, most metaplots are not good.  They are not well done and they are not well executed.  Most metaplots are nothing but the bastard love children of horrible fan fic and vanity press.  This truth tends to tarnish the whole concept of metaplots for RPGs.

I don't think the *concept* of a metaplot is a horrible thing.  Just the execution of most of them.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on August 12, 2003, 12:45:16 PM
Two things I'd toss out there as problematic for metaplots - one, what would help a set of metaplot books to be useful to play groups is NOT always the same as what helps the metaplot books be profitable for the company.  E.g., holding secrets for later books will, to a certain point, boost sales, but can often make the material harder for a play group to use (depending on the nature of the secrets and the style/manner in which they are concealed/revealed).  This conflict can be managed well, or not, but my experience (which is NOT particularly broad, mostly 7th Sea, Tribe 8, and a little Deadlands and Werewolf) is that mostly it's "not."

The second thing: I've seen several RPG writters acknowledge publically, and several more admit privately, that one reason unexpected stuff shows up in metaplot books is because that part of things just hadn't been invented yet.  Now, I won't pretend it's EASY to outline a metaplot in appropriate detail, but frankly - if they haven't even made a serious effort at that level of organization, I think they are doing themselves and their customers a disservice.  Not because what they end up producing is dreck - it might be, or not, and folks can and do obviously finds uses for it in either case.  No, I think they are doing a disservice because the impact of doing that (difficult, perhaps, and certainly not insignificant) up-front work would, IMO, be HUGE.

Then again, I'm not likely to become a big metaplot book customer, and I never was a huge one in the past, so I'm not sure what my opinion here is worth . . .

Gordon


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: xiombarg on August 12, 2003, 01:55:20 PM
[Off-topic aside: Malcolm, if you have any problem with the way I've handled myself here or elsewhere -- that is, if you have any sort of personal issue with me -- please feel free to take it up with me via Private Message or email. It's not on-topic for this thread. I'm hoping to keep this politer than LiveJournal because I actually have an interest in what you have to say.]

Malcolm, I think Ralph and Anya covered most of what I was going to say, and I'm interested in what you have to say in response to them.

As for your supposed hard numbers -- you're basing this all on the idea that White Wolf has 20% of the market? Um, I own TONS of White Wolf material that has little or no metaplot content, and so it returns to my original point that White Wolf's sales don't prove that those books are being purchased because of the metaplot. (And, as for your GenCon examples, two datapoints don't indicate a trend.) Your only response to that idea is this:

Quote
I'm pretty sure lots of folks buy books for the metaplot. If metaplots were so problematic, they would break a purchasing decision and not be ignorable (which is what you originally claimed by citing another thread here), but they don't. They seem to either do no harm or enhance value for most gamers.


"Pretty sure"? I don't want to risk descending into the flame war that happened on LiveJournal, but this ain't exactly the overwhelming evidence that you've claimed to have -- and I still don't see why your experience trumps everyone else on this thread.

I don't deny that you've had good experiences with a metaplot, or that anyone has. It's just that a lot of people haven't.

Now, along those lines, I don't deny Anya is right -- some people DO like metaplot. However, it does not change the fact that most metaplots are problematic at best, and could certainly be written for better usability, which is a succinct way of putting the point of my original rant.

Now, Malcom, you assert that my claim is that metaplots hurt sales. Not at all! I think BAD metaplots hurt sales, just like any sort of bad material hurts sales, but that isn't the issue.

See, it isn't about sales. It's about usablility. Other types supplements are easier to write and more easy to use than metaplots. Therefore, in my rant, I invite designers to reconsider doing metaplots at all, but if they do choose to do metaplots, I encourage them to design them for greater usability, especially for people whose experiences have been different than yours -- and, I think there is more than enough evidence on this thread and elsewhere that your experience does not hold for everyone.

Even if you're interested in supporting yourself exclusively through your RPG writing and are utterly convinced that you MUST do a metaplot because "metaplots sell", all I'm saying is that one should consider writing the metaplot so it's more useable in an actual game.

I don't understand how you can object so strongly to that.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 12, 2003, 02:46:27 PM
Hi Kirt,

In support of your point, I'd like to add the following concepts.

1. A "sale" is not always a sale. The three-tier system permits a publisher to move many more books to distributors' warehouses than actually touch the fingers or are actually bought by end-users. Unsurprisely, reported sales figures

2. No role-playing publisher has demonstrably profited from the sustained "periodical" model of supplement publishing, whether for splatbooks or metaplot chapters. Ryan Dancey accurately calls it the "treadmill," and I specifically cite White Wolf and TSR (several times) for suffering badly from employing this strategy. Why these two companies are held up as flagships of success in the so-called industry has to do with brief subcultural fads, not with their publication models.

In other words, I think the commonly perceived notion that "metaplot sells" is inaccurate: an illusion sustained simultaneously among consumers and among retailers in an extremely negative relationship, to the detriment of both as well as to the publishers.

Walls of books on the retailer's shelf do not necessarily indicate profit for anyone. In most cases, they indicate debt.

Best,
Ron


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: eyebeams on August 12, 2003, 10:24:34 PM
To respond to Ron:

1. Consumer sales may have a delayed impact, but they do always have an impact. Before the late 90s, some games were artificially bouyed, but that was by the sales of games from the same company. Once that ends, there's really no avoiding the impact of consumer slaes. case in point: Wraith.

Some companies do, on the other hand, still do this, if only for nostalgic reasons. Case in point: Caosium's RPGs and their relationship to its fiction.

In any event, it's stretching it a bit to claim that end sales and distribution are so different as to be inapplicable to the discussion at hand.

2. Publishers benefit from the so-called treadmill all the time -- so much so that WotC is eagerly climbing back on it. Monte Cook (who's the molst informed person who'd talk about it to the public) seems reasonably confident that 3.5 exists to spark another product cycle, and WotC's reexamining of class books and stated intent to wholly revise some books is indicative of this.

The difference between this and the serial publishing habits of the mid-90s is the repositioning of books as "sub-core" material to stave off the drop in sales. Because RPG consumers are a relatively static group now (they don't replace their numbers the way they used to), eventually the number of people who own a book is going to reach criitical mass. The sub-core appraoch broadens the number of people in this group that will buy these books.

If Ryan Dancey is right about something, it's the fact that RPG purchasers and players are two different things. Traditional serial supplements are, crassly, an attempt to keep the active buyer in a group buying books -- and it works. It may not work for companies that have printruns of under 2000 or so a supplement (such companies are much more vulnerable to fluctuations in the consumker base; 5 guys not buy out of 200 is a bigger deal than 5 guys not buying out of 10,000), but it does apply to more successful companies.

I don't think you can ascribe WotC and WW's positions at this point to brief fads, given that the DnD brand is creeping up on 30 and the WoD is over a decade old.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: eyebeams on August 12, 2003, 10:46:11 PM
Xiombarg, to condense my replies somewhat:

1) I think slaes are a rough measure of whether people have found metaplots to be useful. People do in fact buy books with metaplot. They are useful.

2) Your rant defines "bad metaplot" broadly. Off the top of my head, the only one I can see would meet your criteria is the old Heavy Gear metaplot, which was in the format you stated you liked (updates unconnected to the basic setting or other expansions). DP9 apppears to have killed that, which tells you how viable it was.

But people are buying and using what you hate *all the time* -- more people, I wager, than the entire community+lurkers here (or at RPG.net, for that mattter).

3) Do you really, honestly believe that people are buying these books for the art, despite your assertion that the actual content is destructive? People may buy them for added systems, but in many cases, these systems only exist to support the metaplot (Time of Thin Blood).

If metaplots have an obvious bad effect you state, people wouldn't buy books with them. They do speak to usability. I don;t claim that you go out and say that they hurt sales. I claim that for your argument to make any sense, they *must* hurt sales. This is the oytcome that fits with the substance of your argument.

If you need further evidence of their community building and utility as a story element, then you can peruse the communities that talk about it. These communities are often argumentative, but not much more so than for other games. Y'see, people don't have to get along to constitute a community.

By "Pretty sure," I mean "really, really sure." I can only repeat that the raw data and specific examples are ther for public consumption, some of them overwhelmingly so.

4) I've already talked about how metaplots could be improved. These points are not compatible with yours, unless you wish to alter your initial statement. Your suggested alternatives have  been tried and failed to work well (like DP9's HG metaplot, or TSR's split between several settings).

5) How exactly can metaplots be problematic in spite of people liking them? This seems nonsensical to me.

Despite some people's personal preferences, it turns out that there is rhyme and reason to why metaplots work the way they do. If you objection is on personal aesthetic ground, that's valid -- but it does not necessarily have merit as a general statement.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: eyebeams on August 12, 2003, 10:49:34 PM
You can definitely overdo that aspect of things. I think the benchmark for this is when it omits fundamntals of the setting. Brave New World apparently had this issue, as did earlier editions of Trinity.

On the other hand, it does at times work as a legitimate device, usually when it involves the outcome of surrent game history rather than a setting basic.

Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
Two things I'd toss out there as problematic for metaplots - one, what would help a set of metaplot books to be useful to play groups is NOT always the same as what helps the metaplot books be profitable for the company.  E.g., holding secrets for later books will, to a certain point, boost sales, but can often make the material harder for a play group to use (depending on the nature of the secrets and the style/manner in which they are concealed/revealed).  This conflict can be managed well, or not, but my experience (which is NOT particularly broad, mostly 7th Sea, Tribe 8, and a little Deadlands and Werewolf) is that mostly it's "not."

The second thing: I've seen several RPG writters acknowledge publically, and several more admit privately, that one reason unexpected stuff shows up in metaplot books is because that part of things just hadn't been invented yet.  Now, I won't pretend it's EASY to outline a metaplot in appropriate detail, but frankly - if they haven't even made a serious effort at that level of organization, I think they are doing themselves and their customers a disservice.  Not because what they end up producing is dreck - it might be, or not, and folks can and do obviously finds uses for it in either case.  No, I think they are doing a disservice because the impact of doing that (difficult, perhaps, and certainly not insignificant) up-front work would, IMO, be HUGE.

Then again, I'm not likely to become a big metaplot book customer, and I never was a huge one in the past, so I'm not sure what my opinion here is worth . . .

Gordon


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: eyebeams on August 12, 2003, 11:07:36 PM
Valamir and Anya:

As far as my experience as someone who actually works with metaplot, I can only think of two incidences where metaplot was designed with no thought for playability or the concept of the NPC as an exemplar for the PC. One of these hasn't been a going concern for roughly 5-6 years. The other one was actual fiction that was only adopted as metaplot after fans were fairly excited about it.

Since most metaplot material is written by freelancers, it sure as hell isn't vanity publishing or "frustrated novelists." That's really an ad hominem broadside, not a valid poiint.

When a signature character is fulfilling a PC role in a way a PC never could (and thus, you couldn't use an an example to spark play) then it isn't necessarily well written. But that's a mattter of technique, not form. When I write up cabals and Mage NPCs, they're there to demonstrate the breadth of concept you can get out of something, and provide an example that allows folks to plug in their own tools. Plus, of course, you can shoot at them. It they come up again, just toss in somebody new.

It really is that simple.

At times, this is ambiguous. I'm going to make a risky statement here, and one that will no doubt offend certain sensibilities:

It's supposed to be that way.

Remember how I've said that we assume that players take ownership of their games? This means that we don't dictate the precise function of a plotline or character for them either. We have lots of ways it can be interpreted, though, and a specific sequence of events. Experience has shown that for many, many players, it's much easier to provide a specific story arc for folks to adjust than vague story suggestions with a hardwired set of interpretations.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: AnyaTheBlue on August 12, 2003, 11:10:40 PM
Quote from: eyebeams
To respond to Ron:
2. Publishers benefit from the so-called treadmill all the time -- so much so that WotC is eagerly climbing back on it. Monte Cook (who's the molst informed person who'd talk about it to the public) seems reasonably confident that 3.5 exists to spark another product cycle, and WotC's reexamining of class books and stated intent to wholly revise some books is indicative of this.
[snip]
Traditional serial supplements are, crassly, an attempt to keep the active buyer in a group buying books -- and it works.
[snip]
I don't think you can ascribe WotC and WW's positions at this point to brief fads, given that the DnD brand is creeping up on 30 and the WoD is over a decade old.


(Offtopic:  I'm not sure if editing your post, as above, constitutes the 'point by point' sniping disallowed by the Forge social contract.  If so, I appologize in advance)

Okay, so Wizards is attempting to crassly 'milk the cow' of the existing fanbase by releasing DnD 3.5.  Is this going to work?  For how long?  Why are they doing it?  Because they have market research that tells them it works, or because they have anecdotal wisdom that 'Metaplot Sells'?

You ascribe this sort of publishing treadmill as a reaction to the current marketplace, where there is little or no replacement of purchasers in the hobby.  Why has that happened?

Is it a reaction, or a cause?  I don't know, but I'm curious if you have data one way or the other stronger than anecdotal.  The only other industry I'm familiar with which has a similar demographics issue is the comic book industry.  And they now seem to perceive their treadmill rather differently than they did in the 80s when they were busy shooting themselves in the foot by focussing on the existing core market instead of focussing on bringing in and appealing to a larger group of people through innovation.

Part of what irks me about Metaplot/serial publishing stuff is that the crassness of it is obvious and insulting.  Sometimes the non-metaplot stuff is strong enough to be a benefit even if it comes with a 'metaplot surcharge'.  More often than not, it makes me avoid games with a heavy metaplot element altogether.

People keep saying that metaplot sells.  Well, it doesn't sell to me.  It doesn't sound like it sells to Xiombarg, either.  So who does it sell to?  And why?  And how useful is it to them, really?

Everybody's doing it and Wizards is doing it, so they must see some value in it, therefore it has a real benefit are not proof or hard numbers.  It's more speculation, with no more real validity than anything I've offered as my opinions on the subject.

Just like everything else, Metaplot is not a universal good, nor is it a universal evil.  But in my experience it is done poorly far more often than it is done well.  And many of the companies that seem successful while simultaneously focussing heavliy on metaplot are companies that don't get much, if any, of my business.  How many like me are out there?  You have no firm idea.  You may know how much you sell, but you don't know how much you don't sell.

As for brief fads:

Age doesn't imply robustness.  Pre-d20/DnD3E, how much D&D was being played?  How respected was the D&D Brand?  D&D peaked in the mid-to-late 80s, and lots of gamers gravitated away from it to other games because it wasn't giving them the experience they wanted.  That's how the game industry came to be, after all -- people trying to innovate beyond the rigid structure of D&D.  D&D was where you started, more often than not, as opposed to where you ended up.

In the 90s, Vampire caught on with the goth crowd.  This was a terrific boon, and seems to have honestly expanded the gaming market.  How many of those gamers remained gamers?  How many of them bought non-WoD products from WW?  I don't know.  How many Goths still play Vampire?  Heck, are there still Goths in the same way, or have the high school and college kids moved on to Japanese Anime subculture?

Call of Cthulhu is an older game than Vampire.  So are Gamma World and Traveller.  Are they as commercially successful as White Wolf's lines are?  Does their age equate to an equal or greater non-fad-ness as the WoD?

Think about this -- the simple fact that the hobby has stopped growing and replacing its members is an indication that Role Playing Games as we know them may be a fad.  If they weren't, they'd still be bringing more new people in than are leaving.

I'm not trying to say that you are wrong, eyebeams.  I'm trying to say that I think your opinions are only one view of the market, and not a complete one.  I agree that there is a market segment exactly as you describe.  I think there is another that is very different, and your attitude seems to be that it's either non-existent or unimportant.

Being someone who is both existent and who falls into this other group of the market, I have a (hopefully understandable) problem with that viewpoint.  And, as a freelancer who is trying to support a family, wouldn't you like to be selling things to me?


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: AnyaTheBlue on August 12, 2003, 11:30:06 PM
Quote from: eyebeams
Valamir and Anya:

As far as my experience as someone who actually works with metaplot, I can only think of two incidences where metaplot was designed with no thought for playability or the concept of the NPC as an exemplar for the PC.
[snip]

Remember how I've said that we assume that players take ownership of their games? This means that we don't dictate the precise function of a plotline or character for them either. We have lots of ways it can be interpreted, though, and a specific sequence of events. Experience has shown that for many, many players, it's much easier to provide a specific story arc for folks to adjust than vague story suggestions with a hardwired set of interpretations.


Sigh.

Two words: Divis Mal.  How would you have replaced him with a different NPC (or PC)?  How would you have replaced him with a different NPC who had a different agenda?

All of the details you ascribe to the gaming public, I'm sure, applies to the share of the gaming public who avidly purchase metaplot heavy WW products regularly.

How much market share is that?  I think you said somewhere in the 20-25% of the gaming market.  What about the other 75-80%?  Would you like to sell to them?  Does metaplot work with them as a selling point?

75% is definitely bigger than 25%, so I guess I have to question your assertions that people like them.  Perhaps only 25% of the people like them?

Finally (yes, I do eventually shut up :) ), you think sales is a rough measure that metaplot sells.  That's patently false.  If the books had no rules, but only metaplot info in them, well, then you could make that argument.  But if you have a mix of material in the book, then you don't know why people bought it.  You could just as easily say that it's putting rules expansions and NPC stats in there that sells, as opposed to the metaplot.

D&D3E core books has no metaplot, yet they seem to have sold well.

As always, all IMHO.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: contracycle on August 13, 2003, 12:06:01 AM
I agree that sales cannot be used to draw the conclusion that a book's content has approval in any *particular* way.  Consumers are not clones who all make the same purchasing decision; you cannot assert that consumers made a particular decision that supports your point, becuase you do NOT know.

There are many potential motivations for the purchase: collectors completeness, defending yourself against rules citations in material you don't own, expanded locations and history, expanded mechanics.  The proerty is a brand and consumer identification with a brand is quite complex.

It simply is not the case that you can easily and comfortably claim that metaplot works have sufficient approval *as metaplot works* to be viable.  I think the fact that the pool of players is not refreshing indicates a severe pathology and should provoke much questioning of the extant model.And the consistency of peoples reports negative experiences cannot be disregarded either: I know people who have not contact with internet gaming culture and yet produced a carbon copy of the charge against WOD that the metaplot made them feel like tourists.  It's not just some internet meme floating about or sour grapes.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: eyebeams on August 13, 2003, 07:35:47 AM
(Double post- moderator please remove, since it won't seem to let me do it)


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: eyebeams on August 13, 2003, 07:36:39 AM
Anya:

1) If you feel oppressed by Divis Mal you should likewise feel oppressed by Doctor Doom, since all supers settings are basically defined by signature characters.

That said, it's actually pretty damn easy to replace him with another NPC. The degree of his involvement in the history of the setting is obscure enough to allow this, and it isn't as if Teragen isn't inspired by stuff like Magneto's ubermutant ideology and such. You could put your favorite NPC at the head of Teragen any time you want and have Mal do something else, of exclude him completely.

Actual comics books have demonstrated this principle in action quite well.

2) Serial releases are like Churchill's quip about Western democracy: It's the worst system except for all the others. Most counterexamples are either not tenable as actual businesses or, frnakly, people just have a false impression of how successful they are. Fpr instance, CoC is often touted as a one book success, when Chaosium supports it through fiction releases, has still drifted in and out of bankruptcy and has had the dubious honour of being on the HWA's shitlist for not paying writers. I don't know if alleged bad business practices are somehow an indicator of superior artistic purity -- and frankly, I don't want to find out.

3) Vampire and DnD have had continuous releases throughout their histories ad have survived downturns that affected the entire industry without their parent companies collapsing. This is not true for any counterexample you mention except for CoC, and we've already covered that. In Gamma World's case, it's been a dead line for more than 10 years, and is only coming back because an arm of a cynical metaplot-whoring company bothered to license it. Funny, that. Age does imply robustness is the properties involved have actually been making money all that time -- and Vampire and DnD have.

I do believe it's stretching it to sat that decade+ and nearly 30 year old lines are "faddishness." At the very least, it doesn't match any commonly accepted definition of fad.

4) People with your tastes don't drive 75% of marketshare. Let's say 50% of game consumers just play some form of DnD; a large hunk of them play in a canned setting like Greyhawk or the Realms, both of which were developed with big hunks of metaplot. Making that an even quarter of gamers, that's 12.5% right there.

White Wolf gets most of it's money from Vampire and Exalted. Let'sroughly estimate it makes abot half of it's money from the WoD (it probably really makes more than half from the WoD, but there you go). That's another 12.5%

So that's 25% deliberately slinging the numbers low. Let's add Rifts sales to that (just over half of Palladium's share -- 5%, because it has a metaplot too. Now it's 30%. Deadlands and In Nomine maybe bump us up to 33% -- a full third of the RPG industry now has to do with dreaded metaplot.

And this is leaving 37.5% to just DnD core and sub-core sales. Added together metaplot and straight DnD make up nearly 70% of the market. DnD doesn't follow the same rules as the rest of the industry, and no game can really emulate the tactics it uses.

If I just wanted to make mad dough, I'd produce metaplot-driven D20 supplements. In all honesty, I probably wouldn't produce games you appaer to be interested in playing -- or if I did, I wouldn't turn around and claim that I'm appealing to the silent masses. It just isn't true. Now I *do* like games that don't fit the above categories, but that's because I'm not in it for just the money -- like most people who work in the industry.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: eyebeams on August 13, 2003, 07:56:13 AM
Contracycle:

1) If consistent sales that make up the second largest concentration of products aside from straight DnD is not somehow persuasive (and to be honest, I think it's very, very silly to say that it isn't when the numbers are so large), then there is no way any position about metaplot can be proved in any fashion whatsoever.

This means Xiombarg's rant is equally meaningless -- actually wait -- moreso, since it advocates things that we know don't correlate with good sales and thus, can't be practiced anyway.

Yeah, my crass commercialism is no doubt insulting to the principles to which many people here ascribe. It's also the only coherent, non-anecdotal data about what large numbers of gamers are doing that exists -- period. That's the hand you've been dealt.

The fact is that people have bought many different products with metaplots conistently, including those which have had little in common besides possession of a metaplot. It seems to be a common element in successful games that aren't DnD.

2) The lack of new gamers is a problem for all games, not just metaplot oriented ones. It strikes me as odd that you refuse to consider about a decade's worth of consistent sales as indicating anything about what gamers want, but are quick to ascribe this problem with the industry to particular factors.

The only exception I can think of is actually MET LARP, which is probably among the most metaplot and setting adherent from of gaming -- and also disproves an assertion that metaplot is generally destructive. I didn't bring it up however, because my information there is second and third hand.

3) I never claimed that everybody liked metaplot. This is neither plausible nor desireable. I can't stand HERO; Steve Long has no obligation to change his game for me, nor can my preference be universalized into something about what gamers really want.

That's a hint worth taking, really.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: AnyaTheBlue on August 13, 2003, 08:40:40 AM
Malcom,

I think we probably agree -- metaplot isn't for everyone.  I also don't think that I represent 75% of the gaming market -- not by a long shot.  I'm a niche, and I know it.  But my experience with metaplot driven products does not bear out your defense of them.

I think some of your assertions about how a good metaplot makes for a good supplement are in fact wrong, and I think the numbers and evidence you are using aren't really supportable.

There was a recent thread on RPG.net about Deadlands "The Boise Horror".  I don't own any Deadlands stuff, but I read it anyway.  Everybody in the thread owned the supplements in which the metaplot was laid out, and most people played through it.  And they all didn't like the metaplot and complained about it.

These are your 25-30% market share.  They all bought the metaplot supplements, yet all of them complained about how lame it was, and wished it either had been different, or not there at all.

Sales can reflect that people like something about your product.  They can't reflect that they like something as specific as 'metaplot' or 'art'.

If you read through my post carefully, you would notice that I referred to all of gaming as a fad.  I think it's going to be a historical fad, much as wargaming was.  I think it is a problem of the industry as a whole, and I really don't think that metaplot is the solution.  I see it as one of many problems, actually.  An explication of them should probably go in another thread.

The Divis Mal/Dr. Doom/Magneto parallels are good, but not accurate.

What if I want to play Aberrant without the Terragen at all?  I can of course do this, but now the utility of most of the Aberrant supplements drops to (or near) zero.

The Chaosium example was a counter-example.  Simple age does not give you a mandate or indication of great success.  Chaosium has been in continuous publication for longer than WoD, but doesn't have as much commercial success as White Wolf has.  

I'm not pretending I'm most gamers.  But I am a gamer.  These metaplot issues are real, and they are real for a significant part of the gaming market.  You are free to ignore them or find them inconsequential.  But that doesn't mean they aren't there.

I personally think that Metaplot is best when:

1) Everybody knows what it is

2) It's self-contained, either in a series of supplements (ie, the Giants/Drow/Queen of the Demonweb pits cycle), or a single supplement (Most Chaosium campaigns, The Traveller Adventure, etc.).

3) It doesn't dictate specific world-changing events or, if it does, it involves the characters, and is something that's easy to ignore if you don't play through the events.

Examples of this are Star Wars, Star Trek, LotR, etc., The Traveller Adventure, any of a number of Call of Cthulhu supplements, and the like.

I think most of the metaplots that are attached to hot games, currently, are not examples of good metaplot design.  Obviously, those who wrote and published them, and many who bought them, disagree with me.

I think we (as a hobby/industry) can do better, but only if we acknowledge that the current approach isn't perfect, and we try and figure out how to improve it.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: xiombarg on August 13, 2003, 09:37:30 AM
Malcolm, the problem here is you don't actually have the numbers to support your claims. We don't know, without some sort of study, why people are buying things.

I'll ask you up front: Do you honestly believe that you know what RPG consumers are thinking? Have you developed some sort of mind-reading device? I apologize for the sarcasm, but I can't understand how you can be so sure. Hell, I'm not sure your employers are that sure of themselves. Have you asked them?

And that brings up another point: Even if everything you say is 100% accurate, it only holds for current RPG consumers -- as Anya points out, not a growing demographic. So, while you may consider my ideas as "commercially unviable", I'm not so sure -- I don't think they've all been tried at once, and with the level of care I advocate.

You're fond of Ken Hite -- so am I. Check out his GenCon "Out of the Box" where he says he doesn't see a "next big thing" for RPGs at the moment. This should tell you something.

Fact of the matter is, even if you're right, why stick with the "tried and true" methods when it just leaves you squabbling over scraps of an already-dwindling market?

No, I don't genuinely believe people are buying stuff just for art. My point is we don't know because we have no data on the subject, so your dogmatic belief that you know what the gaming public wants doesn't hold water. Are you sure people aren't bying Vampire because they think vampires are cool and not for the metaplot? And I think Ron's points about how the three-tier system generates "sales" that don't exist are meaningful as well, in terms of throwing doubt on your claims.

Plus, the RPG market is highly volitile. Relying on the precious little data we have of past sales isn't likely to help you in the future. CCG glut, anyone?

Also, you seem to want to reduce all of the ideas people are putting forth to their most absurd levels. If you look back in this thread, you'll see that I don't oppose supplements in general, which can certainly supply the "treadmill" with grist if that what you want to do. More on that in a minute.

Quote from: eyebeams
2) Serial releases are like Churchill's quip about Western democracy: It's the worst system except for all the others. Most counterexamples are either not tenable as actual businesses or, frnakly, people just have a false impression of how successful they are. Fpr instance, CoC is often touted as a one book success, when Chaosium supports it through fiction releases, has still drifted in and out of bankruptcy and has had the dubious honour of being on the HWA's shitlist for not paying writers. I don't know if alleged bad business practices are somehow an indicator of superior artistic purity -- and frankly, I don't want to find out.
Okay, allow me to repeat myself: I'm not opposed to supplements. I'm opposed to bad metaplots.

However, there is some meat to your objection: You've claimed here and elsewhere that the ideas I put forth in my rant aren't commercially viable. You give Dream Pod 9 as an example. How do you know that their supposed problems derive from, say, the way they handle metaplot and not, say, from putting too much money into bad metaplots (Tribe 8) or the fact that the mecha genre isn't as popular as it used to be? Again, I apologize for the sarcasm, but: Is this your mind-reading device again?

I think there is plenty of evidence that non-metaplot supplements sell. Unlike most metaplot supplements, there plenty of examples of supplements with no metaplot content whatsoever (as oppposed to supplements that are just metaplot and nothing else, which are rare).

You are dismissive of GURPS in your posts on LiveJournal, but the fact of the matter is, GURPS supplements combine quality and quantity, and have no metaplot content. Steve Jackson Games is solvent, pays its freelancers on time, and has a good reputation. Think what you like about GURPS, but its technique has withheld the test of time. Hell, several GURPS supplements have been enough in demand that they've gone through multiple editions.

In fact, while we're talking about SJG, let's talk about one of my favorite games: In Nomine. While I cite "canon doubt and uncertainty" as a good thing that comes from the In Nomine metaplot, it's actually the only good thing about the In Nomine's metaplot. Add In Nomine to the list of games where the metaplot divides rather than unites the community -- the "Revelations Cycles" has caused misunderstanding and problems galore both on the Internet and in actual play. And it's notable that "canon doubt and uncertainty" came about as a direct result of fan backlash against the "Revelation Cycle", and that non-metaplot supplements like the Demonic Player's Guide have sold much better than any of the metaplot supplements. I know this because the line editor for In Nomine has said as much on its mailing list -- look it up for yourself. Plus, if you want demographics about metaplot: The majority of people who bought the "Revelations Cycle" bought it to get rules supplements, not for the metaplot, and you can also see this on the mailing list.

Also, you claim that D&D has a metaplot, and, frankly, I ain't seeing it. I've collected Greyhawk stuff since D&D 1st Edition. No metaplot there at all -- the setting does not evolve or change over time. They expand the setting, but they don't change it -- and I've said elsewhere on this thread that I have no problem with the idea of expanding a setting. I have a problem with incremental changes to the setting that invalidate previous stuff -- and even then, I don't consider it a problem if you do things right.

The closest Greyhawk has come to a metaplot is slight changes in the setting in the 3rd edition D&D version, and to claim that Greyhawk's sales are driven entirely by the setting changes is, honestly, dubious at best.

Similarly, in the Forgotten Realms, there is the Shades plot and the Time of Troubles... and then there's everything else. There are TONS of Realms supplements that are expansions of the setting, but don't change the setting -- non-metaplot supplements. These supplements sold quite well. Do you honestly believe the Shades metaplot drove the sales for the 3e Forgotten Realms sourcebook, rather than the desire to see the FR statted for the new rules? Did the majority of gamers you talked to honestly say: "I've gotta get the new FR book to find out about the Shades plot!"

And this doesn't even begin to cover the many, many non-metaplot D&D rules supplements -- Psionics Handbook, Dieties & Demigods, Savage Species, the class books like Sword and Fist, Manual of the Planes -- this list goes on and on. Those supplements have sold quite well. What I say three times is true: I am not opposed to supplements, I'm opposed to bad metaplot supplements.

And while I'm repeating myself, I want to say that while I agree with Ron about the three-tier "treadmill", whether or not supplements in general are a good idea is off-topic for this thread. If people want to start a thread on that subject, feel free -- I'll even participate. However, for the purposes of my rant, I assume that the game author intends to create supplements of some sort -- the only issue is whether they should do metaplot supplements, and, if so, how said metaplot supplements should be done.

So, you claim that what I suggest is "commercially unviable" and my answer is "not for GURPS, and not for D&D".


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: contracycle on August 13, 2003, 09:43:13 AM
Quote from: eyebeams

Yeah, my crass commercialism is no doubt insulting to the principles to which many people here ascribe. It's also the only coherent, non-anecdotal data about what large numbers of gamers are doing that exists -- period. That's the hand you've been dealt.


Foul ball.  In first instance, I have no objection to "crass commercialism" - just the other day I was defending criticism someones game idea on the basis that people can get intop real financial difficulty trying to publish a lemon.  I fully accept your need to not just produce but keep up production over time - that is not the issue at all.  What I criticised was the *current* model.

As for non-anecodtal data... the problem is that your use of the data is not even anecodtal, it is projection and speculation.  Its a guess as to WHAT motivated a decision when all you have data about is that a decision was made.  There is no capacity to return a book once you've coughed up for it, so you are substantially shielded from consumer rejection.  Almost any reason could be cited for why a given product sells merely on the number of sales.  If you had a customer survey or something to that effect indicating how this ranked as a priority for WOD customers, I'd be more sympathetic to the case.  Otherwise I could just as easily claim that the sales are evidence of the power of the Vampiric trope and that too would be pretty much an uncontestable claim.

Quote
2) The lack of new gamers is a problem for all games, not just metaplot oriented ones. It strikes me as odd that you refuse to consider about a decade's worth of consistent sales as indicating anything about what gamers want, but are quick to ascribe this problem with the industry to particular factors.


No not at all:  I've never said "metaplot is killing RPG" in any way; I've only suggested that the comiplaints connot be rejected as trivial carping and that consistent sales *despite* complaints cannot be used to decry the complaints themselves.

Now as I've said, I don't think metaplot as a vehicle for continued sales is a particularly good model.  I don't think "just setting" works as a model because requires a continually expanding customer base.  What I think will work is expansions and scenario writing, with the caveat that I don't think a seriously viable methodology for scenario writing exists at the moment.  Some sort of model for RPG's continued sales is required, but I don't think the metaplot is it.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: M. J. Young on August 13, 2003, 08:55:53 PM
Quote from: contracycle
If you had a customer survey or something to that effect indicating how this ranked as a priority for WOD customers, I'd be more sympathetic to the case.

I've been staying out of this because we don't do metaplots; we do universes, and independent fiction. Besides, we're not really so big or successful, so what we do isn't much of an example.

This call for a survey isn't exactly met, but I note that the current RPGnet front page survey actually is about World of Darkness metaplot.

RPGnet is certainly a skewed audience. It is first of all Internet users, and secondly gamers who are interested enough in gaming to visit gamer web sites. (It may surprise you to know that there are a lot of gamers out there who are on the web but never even thought to look for stuff about games; I get mail from them sometimes when they stumble on me through other interests, such as Bible or time travel.) I'd wager also that a lot of the D&D traffic is siphoned off to EnWorld, and a fair amount of those who are involved in indie games represented here don't go there. So we've got an audience that's serious gamers, a bit light on D&D and Indie members, and that probably means a bit heavy on World of Darkness people (unless there's a really popular WoD site of which I am blissfully unaware?).


The question is posed,
Quote
White Wolf made their big announcement, the Time of Judgement, at GenCon. What are your thoughts?

These answers appear to be favorable to metaplot:
  • Hell yeah! I've been waiting for this.
  • Hmm...could be interesting.[/list:u]They represent as of this moment 40% of all respondents.
    These would appear to be negative responses to the metaplot:
    • Aw, crap. They'll screw everything up.
    • About time. I hate that stuff.[/list:u]They constitute 12% of the responses.
      These are all relatively neutral responses:
      • Don't care.
      • White what?
      • Does it mean there will be fewer scary LARPers?
      • Will they bring back Changeling?[/list:u]This looks like 45%; it doesn't add up to 100%, but that's probably due to rounding on the results tabulations.

        Assuming that a large portion of those who don't care don't play any World of Darkness games, that suggests that a significant proportion of those who do and who are serious enough about gaming to frequent RPGnet think the metaplot is important or valuable.

        I didn't vote. I versed into a V:tM game years ago and joined the hunters, but don't think that's really a fair way to judge anything about the game, as I never read the books and certainly didn't come in contact with the metaplot. However, my impression is that 2163 responses is high for surveys on the site, so a lot of people voted.

        I don't know that they all like what the metaplot does or how it works. I also don't know whether reading complaints on a mailing list tells much of anything (as an Internet writer, I can assure you that you're far more likely to hear from someone who disagrees with you than from someone who agrees, except in those rare cases in which you are writing in defense of a position that is strongly opposed in most places, in which case those who agree will write to thank you). Some people like to complain about whatever they can find, and most don't bother to thank you for what they like even while they're complaining.

        So it appears that Malcolm may be right: most World of Darkness players think that the metaplot matters and is important and is being done at least reasonably well overall.

        Of course, maybe someone stuffed the ballot box at RPGnet.

        --M. J. Young


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: xiombarg on August 14, 2003, 05:37:08 AM
M.J., I don't deny that Malcolm may be right about WoD players. The problem is he seems to think that the preferences of WoD players hold for all roleplayers, accross the industry, and this simply isn't the case -- hence my D&D example, which, even at the height of White Wolf's popularity during the early 90s, was still a better-selling game (again, assuming you think sales are the only important thing).

And I think Anya's point about potential new roleplayers is very salient here -- why pander to a minority (albiet, perhaps a majority of your current fanbase, but a minority of roleplayers overall) when you could be going elsewhere?


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: James Holloway on August 14, 2003, 06:56:42 AM
Quote from: xiombarg
-- why pander to a minority (albiet, perhaps a majority of your current fanbase, but a minority of roleplayers overall) when you could be going elsewhere?

Because I suspect that, even if it isn't true in WW's case, a lot of gaming companies skate pretty close to the line. Any initiative on the company's part that deviates a lot from the earlier successes of the line and can't guarantee that it'll make its way into the hands of people to whom it might appeal but who don't generally pay attention to the line is a disaster waiting to happen. You could make a Vampire supplement (maybe) that would appeal to all those people who don't like Vampire, but as long as it says "Vampire" on the cover, I suspect they wouldn't be likely to buy it. It's not going to come to their attention. In fact, the people likely to buy it are going to be the people who buy everything that comes out for Vampire. They're going to carp about it, but they'll likely buy the next one anyway.

Or to put it another way: the metaplots and so forth that WW have been doing have worked for them, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the line. And of course other factors (this writer is good, that writer is bad, this book came out at the same time as that other book, etc.) are in play too -- probably to a much greater extent than metaplot-or-not.

So WW knows there are X players out there who like the totality of features of their products -- including metaplot -- where X is enough to keep them going along producing games they like. Abandoning an aspect of their settings that a) has been proven to sell and b) they enjoy doing seems like a sucker's game.

Now, me, I'm off in the grey area of aesthetic preference. I don't like the VtM or MtA metaplots, and I stopped buying stuff for those games. If I ever want to run 'em again, I figure I have the core books and some dice and away we go. So here's me, one guy, who got turned off by the metaplots. But not necessarily metaplots in general. Just the WW ones, which I don't dig.

Hell, Unknown Armies has a teeny wee metaplot (I guess -- it doesn't have an overarching plot, but stuff goes on) and while I complain about the time devoted to sig characters I think the game's the bestest thing ever. But obviously most people don't agree with me.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: xiombarg on August 14, 2003, 09:14:58 AM
James, I think we're starting to veer off-topic here, but I'm not so sure that taking the advice of my rant -- i.e. writing metaplot better -- would hurt White Wolf's sales. In fact, I'm not convinced metaplot aids White Wolf's sales (http://www.livejournal.com/users/eyebeams/92678.html?replyto=286214).

That said, it's immaterial. The rant isn't about White Wolf, it's about metaplots in general, and the advice stands as good general advice. Perhaps White Wolf has captured the market for people who like metaplot whether or not it's good or bad, but if that's true, there's even less reason for others to write metaplot material. And I'm not sure White Wolf is going to lose money writing non-metaplot stuff -- their non-metaplot D20 stuff sells quite well.

Your talk about being turned off my White Wolf's metapot only underlines my point: There are good metaplots and bad metaplots. While White Wolf has done some things right, they've done a lot wrong -- but this thread isn't about White Wolf. (If somone wants to persue this subject further, email me or start a thread elsewhere...)


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: James Holloway on August 14, 2003, 11:11:14 AM
Quote from: xiombarg
James, I think we're starting to veer off-topic here, but I'm not so sure that taking the advice of my rant -- i.e. writing metaplot better -- would hurt White Wolf's sales.


Right, right.

Sorry, I'll swing back in the direction of the topic. "Metaplot" makes me thing "White Wolf" because I don't play Deadlands or L5R or anything with a metaplot.

A possible coincidence there.

So, I think that the problem there is that there's a gap between the book ("metaplot as published") and the play experience of the game. So somewhere between what Freelancer Fred is writing about how this supplement's going to reveal at long last the true nature of the Faceless Men and what Paula Player is experiencing as her character battles the Faceless Men on the twisty streets of Setting City (well, it alliterates if you say it out loud), something is going wrong such that for some (not all, but enough that this is a well-worn debate that Malcolm, for example, is much tired of) players or GMs, metaplots are frustrating and difficult.

One thing that I didn't see a lot of back when I was playing games with metaplots was any discussion of:

a) how the GM was intended (or, if you don't like intended, suggested) to implement the metaplot, and perhaps more importantly

b) how it could be made relevant to the players. That is to say, assuming that the players are not emotionally invested in the lives of Caestus Pax and Divis Mal or whoever, what issues does Twist X in the metaplot raise that would make for interesting gaming? For some things, I suspect this would be easier to explain then others, but obviously Fred thought that revealing that the Faceless Men were, in fact, working for the Reptoids all along was interesting in some way or he'd never have written it. So let's have Fred give us a hand incorporating what it is about the revelation that pumps his nads.

edit: oh yeah, no html.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: xiombarg on August 14, 2003, 11:52:59 AM
James, amen to that. It was a genuine surprise to me when I found out that, say, White Wolf consider signature characters "placeholders for PCs".

You make an excellent point. A lot of metaplots look like an instance of play, and so it seems to imply your game should be about that thing -- and what happens when it isn't?

You might be interested in one of the daughter threads to this one (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?p=79635), if you haven't looked already.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: M. J. Young on August 14, 2003, 09:29:12 PM
Quote from: xiombarg
M.J.,....hence my D&D example, which, even at the height of White Wolf's popularity during the early 90s, was still a better-selling game (again, assuming you think sales are the only important thing).

No, I wouldn't ever be caught saying that commercial success demonstrated quality. After all, I think the best game written has not met with the commercial success we all hoped....

However, I recall reading some years back (on the Game Industry Underground list perhaps?) that just before Wizards bought them, TSR had a year after which it publicly announced that White Wolf had out-sold them that year. Now, one year might not be sufficient, but in this industry, that's saying something--no one else has ever done it, unless you count sales of Magic: the Gathering.

--M. J. Young


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: John Kim on August 14, 2003, 10:16:11 PM
Quote from: xiombarg
  It was a genuine surprise to me when I found out that, say, White Wolf consider signature characters "placeholders for PCs".

You make an excellent point. A lot of metaplots look like an instance of play, and so it seems to imply your game should be about that thing -- and what happens when it isn't?  

Interesting.  In my limited experience, I always saw metaplots as background in the same way that the Star Trek episodes are background to a Star Trek game, or The Lord of the Rings is background for a Tolkien-based RPG.  I would never want to run an adventure where the PCs were substituted for the lead characters of the source material.  However, I would use them to as vital context for the rest of play.  

For example, one of my favorite adventures in my Star Trek campaign was when the PCs came to the planet Neural -- which was where Kirk had armed the hill tribe with flintlocks to balance aid which the Klingons had given to their village-dwelling enemies.  The episode revolved around the continuing consequences of that choice.  

I haven't run Aberrant, but I was intrigued by its premise and I considered trying to run a campaign but never got enough interest.  If I were to run my own game, I wouldn't want to substitute PCs for signature character.  Instead, I would want to create my own points of interest which are parallel to the described plots.  Overall, I like the feeling that the PCs are not the only points of interest in the world.  What they do is important, but there are things which go on outside of them.  In contrast to Aberrant, some settings seem flat to me because nothing in particular is going on.  As GM I could do this myself, but it is excessive work for me to write up interesting things going on in the world outside of the PCs while running my campaign.  

On the other hand, I definitely liked the suggestions of another poster that the metaplot be strictly bounded with an overview given so that the scope of it is known.  For example -- I could know that if I am in China in August 2009, I'm not going to overlap any metaplot.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Kurosawa on August 15, 2003, 01:22:59 PM
I believe I know why I disagree with Malcolm's point, as interpreted here:

'Because of the sales of games containing metaplot, metaplot is therefore an element of games that attracts players, rather than being something that they purchase the game in spite of.'

It took a good friend of mine to point this out, but Malcolm's argument hinges on a fallacy.  Cum hoc, ergo propter hoc.  Sales and metaplot occuring together do not automatically indicate that because of metaplot, therefore sales.  Rather, there is likely a different causal factor that follow this pattern:

'Because of unknown element X, therefore sales, in spite of or encouraged by metaplot.'

I applaud MJ Young for posting the information about the polls.  I'm of the mind that it will most likely be only in feedback circuits like that of the polls that we'll really find out how most gamers feel about metaplot.

In other news, I'm a first time (I believe, could be wrong) poster, long time reader.  Hello all.

Alexander
- "The Henchman"


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: kamikaze on August 15, 2003, 03:36:05 PM
Quote from: eyebeams
1) If you feel oppressed by Divis Mal you should likewise feel oppressed by Doctor Doom, since all supers settings are basically defined by signature characters.

That said, it's actually pretty damn easy to replace him with another NPC. The degree of his involvement in the history of the setting is obscure enough to allow this, and it isn't as if Teragen isn't inspired by stuff like Magneto's ubermutant ideology and such. You could put your favorite NPC at the head of Teragen any time you want and have Mal do something else, of exclude him completely.

Actual comics books have demonstrated this principle in action quite well.


That's an obvious fallacy.  Comic books are not role-playing games.  Comic books are static, written fiction; they come out in monthly issues, but the individual reader can have no effect on the storyline (just like a metaplot!).  RPGs are all about the individual player.

In a superhero RPG, there are indeed signature characters: the PCs.  The big heroes who have their own series are all PCs.  They should not be NPCs, unless you're doing a _Damage Control_ or _Human Defense Corps_ or _Stormwatch: Team Achilles_ game of "We have to clean up after those damned heroes" or "We're not f---ing superheroes.  We kill f---ing superheroes."

Big-time villains are occasionally good choices for pregen NPCs (what would Champions be without Foxbat?), but really, villains are defined by the heroes who oppose them.  Magneto does not exist without the X-Men as a contrast.  Galactus does not exist without the Fantastic Four.

If you do have pregen NPCs, and they have specific plans, that's fine material for an adventure that works out what happens when the PCs, who are the only characters who will ever matter to the players, oppose the villain and either succeed or fail.  Describing the consequences of success or failure are fine.  You can't rely on those consequences either way in any other supplement, though, because the players may not have played it, and probably made significant changes.

Metaplots step way over that line.  What they do is create an uber-NPC "villain", and an uber-NPC "hero", have them fight, and tell the players what happened to the writer's characters.  This is BORING.  Nobody cares what happens to the writer's characters.  Nobody.  Do you think there's a single person in the world who will excitedly tell anyone else about the time Cestus Pax got smacked down by Divis Mal?  Not a chance.

If it was "Divis Mal vs. the PCs", that could lead to a good story, but it's not really exciting.  It's filler material for when the Judge doesn't have time to work up his own adventure.

I've bought every supplement for Aberrant, because I like the system, I got most of the books half-price, and I found ways to adapt much of the material into real adventures for the PCs.  I did not buy them for the metaplot, and I wouldn't have bought most of those at full price, because they're only half-written.  And Aberrant, Trinity, and Exalted are the only games WW's ever produced with anything even vaguely like plot-changing adventures.  Nothing in WoD is that loose; nothing in WoD is that much like a real RPG.

I couldn't just swap out the metaplot characters, though, it's preposterous to claim that anyone could, and nobody has ever made the claim that they could before you; that sure ain't WW's intent.  The personalities and plots of the metaplot NPCs are essential to having the same outcome; change them out for a PC, and there's absolutely no support for dealing with different outcomes.  Please produce an actual citation from WW, specifically addressing that, or make a retraction of your claim.

I'm at least one data point that says "people don't buy metaplot-infested books for the metaplot, but at most grudgingly in spite of the metaplot".  I can go to my gaming group, or go hang out at my FLGS and find many more, because I've had this discussion with them plenty of times, too.

I have met people who liked metaplots, though.  Every single one was either a frustrated novelist turned metaplot writer for a game company, or someone who didn't get the chance to play anymore, but just bought the books "because someday I'll have time for it again".  It's non-gaming for non-gamers.

(Standard disclaimer: I'm picking on WW examples in this post--you can apply much of this to Deadlands, Tribe 8, or TORG, too, but WW is the #2 company in the hobby and the one with the most noticeable metaplot infection.)


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: John Kim on August 15, 2003, 04:21:22 PM
Quote from: kamikaze
Quote from: eyebeams
1) If you feel oppressed by Divis Mal you should likewise feel oppressed by Doctor Doom, since all supers settings are basically defined by signature characters.


That's an obvious fallacy.  Comic books are not role-playing games.  Comic books are static, written fiction; they come out in monthly issues, but the individual reader can have no effect on the storyline (just like a metaplot!).  RPGs are all about the individual player.

I'm not sure how the original statement was intended, but consider the case of playing in the Marvel universe -- whether using any of the three official systems or some other system.  Given this, I think the parallel is pretty much spot-on.  Divis Mal is to the Aberrant setting exactly as Dr. Doom is to the Marvel setting.  

Quote from: kamikaze
  Metaplots step way over that line.  What they do is create an uber-NPC "villain", and an uber-NPC "hero", have them fight, and tell the players what happened to the writer's characters.  This is BORING.  Nobody cares what happens to the writer's characters.  
...
I have met people who liked metaplots, though.  Every single one was either a frustrated novelist turned metaplot writer for a game company, or someone who didn't get the chance to play anymore, but just bought the books "because someday I'll have time for it again".  It's non-gaming for non-gamers.  

Hmmm.  Well, OK, I plead guilty to not having actually run Aberrant.  Still, it seemed interesting to me to run exactly because there was lots of stuff going on.  I like a world where there is a lot of conflict besides just what the PCs are doing.  I like having NPC heroes who fight NPC villians.  I haven't run a campaign with an RPG-specific metaplot, but I have run Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and some other games which have their own signature characters and conflicts.  

I mean, if you were to read the metaplot aloud during the session instead of playing, then sure, it would be silly.  But my take on it is that it is intended to be consumed outside of session time.  Thus, it is background for the in-play story of the PCs.  The difference is that rather than being just maps and encyclopedia entries, the background is full of conflict and character, and changes over time.  OK, maybe you don't like that style of background, but I don't see that it is invalid.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: kamikaze on August 16, 2003, 07:40:08 PM
Quote from: John Kim

I'm not sure how the original statement was intended, but consider the case of playing in the Marvel universe -- whether using any of the three official systems or some other system.  Given this, I think the parallel is pretty much spot-on.  Divis Mal is to the Aberrant setting exactly as Dr. Doom is to the Marvel setting.  


The Marvel RPGs aren't comic books, either.  The licensed property doesn't change the situation.

In a Marvel setting, the NPC Dr. Doom having weekly fights with the NPC Fantasic Four which are essential to the background would be a massive distraction, and deeply frustrating to the players.

You can't just "swap out" the FF for the PC group, though, because the group dynamic of the FF (Reed's pompous sermonizing, Johnny's hot-headedness, Ben's common sense, and Susan's wallflower support of Reed) and their powers are going to be completely different from the PC group.  So if you drop Doom's plots on the PCs, they're going to get resolved in a totally different manner, and deathtraps that work against the FF need to be completely replaced for each group.

Even if you let the players play the FF (which was very rarely done in the old TSR MSH games I played; we did a few one-shots as published characters, but never wanted to play them in campaigns), the players will make different choices, and "ruin" the backstory.

If the publisher is committed to a metaplot, that's the end of usefulness of those supplements.  If the publisher prints them as a "moment in time" and writes adventures to be flexible, then using those official characters can work.  That's how the old MSH game worked; I only played the SAGA-based Marvel game once, and the new Marvel game is by all reports so terrible that nobody wants to touch it, so I don't know what they did.

Quote from: John Kim

Hmmm.  Well, OK, I plead guilty to not having actually run Aberrant.  Still, it seemed interesting to me to run exactly because there was lots of stuff going on.  I like a world where there is a lot of conflict besides just what the PCs are doing.  I like having NPC heroes who fight NPC villians.  I haven't run a campaign with an RPG-specific metaplot, but I have run Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and some other games which have their own signature characters and conflicts.  

I mean, if you were to read the metaplot aloud during the session instead of playing, then sure, it would be silly.  But my take on it is that it is intended to be consumed outside of session time.  Thus, it is background for the in-play story of the PCs.  The difference is that rather than being just maps and encyclopedia entries, the background is full of conflict and character, and changes over time.  OK, maybe you don't like that style of background, but I don't see that it is invalid.


Having background events is plotting, which is very different from what happens in metaplot books.  The "metaplot" is a plot that's imposed by the writer.  Your own plots are generally made up on the fly (or you toss out a lot of material that is no longer possible), and can take the PCs' actions into account.  By definition, a metaplot cannot (TORG being the one almost exception, with the polls deciding which way things went, so the majority of participating groups got at least some of their events made official, and the multiple-reality nature of the setting left the others legitimate even if non-mainstream).

The Judge is a player, just like everyone else in the group.  The writer is not.

I tend to run games where the PCs are major figures in the part of the world they care about, and pay little attention to areas they're not involved in (if they're supernatural investigators, they don't need blow-by-blow political news unless a doppleganger's replaced the Presidential candidate).  But even in low-level games, at least the events happening in the world are *my* invention, and the players can get involved in a meaningful manner.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: John Kim on August 16, 2003, 11:35:47 PM
Quote from: kamikaze
Quote from: John Kim
  Consider the case of playing in the Marvel universe -- whether using any of the three official systems or some other system.  Given this, I think the parallel is pretty much spot-on.  Divis Mal is to the Aberrant setting exactly as Dr. Doom is to the Marvel setting.  
The Marvel RPGs aren't comic books, either.  The licensed property doesn't change the situation.

In a Marvel setting, the NPC Dr. Doom having weekly fights with the NPC Fantasic Four which are essential to the background would be a massive distraction, and deeply frustrating to the players.  

But the Marvel universe does have weekly fights of all sorts of heroes and villians with each other, published in a huge series of comics titles.  So your assertion is that the players of a campaign set in the Marvel universe would find it deeply frustrating to read Marvel comics.  I don't really know about this, but I am pretty skeptical of your claim.  

I can speak directly to the case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I have been a player in a BtVS campaign (currently on hold) which was going on while the 7th season was playing.  I experienced no frustration at seeing BtVS episodes, despite the fact that it was NPC Buffy saving the world.  Now, I am sure that there are people who would feel frustration at this situation.  But I don't agree that it is universal.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: kamikaze on August 17, 2003, 03:58:26 AM
Quote from: John Kim
Quote from: kamikaze
The Marvel RPGs aren't comic books, either.  The licensed property doesn't change the situation.
In a Marvel setting, the NPC Dr. Doom having weekly fights with the NPC Fantasic Four which are essential to the background would be a massive
distraction, and deeply frustrating to the players.  


But the Marvel universe does have weekly fights of all sorts of heroes and villians with each other, published in a huge series of comics titles.  So your assertion is that the players of a campaign set in the Marvel universe would find it deeply frustrating to read Marvel comics.  I don't really know about this, but I am pretty skeptical of your claim.  


You're still confusing a static written medium with a role-playing game.  I don't know about you, but they're pretty different for me.

The current monthly events in Marvel comics don't have the slightest effect on an ongoing MSH RPG campaign, unless the Judge feels like adapting those events in a way that's appropriate to the campaign.

And even in comics, what other heroes and villains are doing in other series is almost never brought up; the only heroes who matter are the stars of the current series, and the only world-threatening villains are the ones the stars of the current series deal with.  There's usually one or two cross-over or team-up comics a year, where two writers collaborate, or one just "borrows" the characters of another comic, but the events of those are rarely kept in continuity.

Consider a comic book where the protagonists are normal schlubs going to work, to the dentist, whatever, but every other page is a newspaper section reporting about the real heroes, offstage, doing cool stuff.  Just summarizing the events of other, cooler comic books where stuff really happens.  That's what playing in the Aberrant metaplot by the book is like.  Except the writing and characterization of the Aberrant NPCs are not as good (Marvel's writing was pretty good back when I played MSH, but it's the bottom of the barrel these days, with rare exceptions in their MAX line).

RPGs are not a static written medium, they're a dynamic medium formed in play.  Metaplots are an attempt to impose a static written structure on RPGs, and are therefore inherently doomed to failure.  Simple as that.

Quote from: John Kim

I can speak directly to the case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I have been a player in a BtVS campaign (currently on hold) which was going on while the 7th season was playing.  I experienced no frustration at seeing BtVS episodes, despite the fact that it was NPC Buffy saving the world.  Now, I am sure that there are people who would feel frustration at this situation.  But I don't agree that it is universal.


Did the Judge in your game force-feed you episode summaries in the game?  Did the events you saw that week affect your game at all?  If not, then of course it's not frustrating to watch the TV show, because it's a totally separate medium, a totally separate universe, a totally separate set of events.  I really doubt you're playing mundanes in Poughkeepsie while Buffy kicks ass and saves the world in your game world.

Be serious, John.  You know better than this.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: John Kim on August 17, 2003, 10:51:38 PM
Quote from: kamikaze
Quote from: John Kim
  I have been a player in a BtVS campaign (currently on hold) which was going on while the 7th season was playing.  I experienced no frustration at seeing BtVS episodes, despite the fact that it was NPC Buffy saving the world.  Now, I am sure that there are people who would feel frustration at this situation.  But I don't agree that it is universal.  

Did the Judge in your game force-feed you episode summaries in the game?  Did the events you saw that week affect your game at all?  If not, then of course it's not frustrating to watch the TV show, because it's a totally separate medium, a totally separate universe, a totally separate set of events.  I really doubt you're playing mundanes in Poughkeepsie while Buffy kicks ass and saves the world in your game world.  

No, it's the same universe.  Some BtVS games set themselves in an explicitly alternate timeline, but like many ours does not.  As you suggest, we have our adventures in a different place (Silicon Valley) while Buffy kicks ass in Sunnydale.  We would regularly say things like "Well, at least we're not in Sunnydale" during play.  Right now the campaign is on hiatus, but I expect that the end of Season 7 will have repercussions for when it starts up again.  

However, we have our own adventures which are interesting in their own right.  After all, the Angel series and the Buffy series share the same universe.  We see our campaign as another offshoot series: where our PCs are fighting evil in Silicon Valley (as opposed to Sunnydale or L.A.).   There hasn't been any direct crossover of characters with the TV series yet, though I wouldn't rule it out.  Nevertheless I think that the Buffy series is extremely important for our campaign.  

The difference seems to be that you think that if the Buffy series is in the same universe, then it must be the primary subject of our sessions (i.e. the GM force-feeding us summaries).  But I don't see any reason for that.  We pretty much all like Buffy, that's why we chose it as an RPG.  So we follow the series separately from the play.  Thus, it doesn't eat up play time talking about what Buffy did, but the common knowledge makes for handy points of reference.  

Quote from: kamikaze
  Consider a comic book where the protagonists are normal schlubs going to work, to the dentist, whatever, but every other page is a newspaper section reporting about the real heroes, offstage, doing cool stuff.  Just summarizing the events of other, cooler comic books where stuff really happens.  That's what playing in the Aberrant metaplot by the book is like.  Except the writing and characterization of the Aberrant NPCs are not as good (Marvel's writing was pretty good back when I played MSH, but it's the bottom of the barrel these days, with rare exceptions in their MAX line).  

It seems to me that you are making the same assumption about Buffy here: that if the metaplot events are in the same universe, that they have to be center-stage of the roleplaying.  I don't see anything in the Aberrant books I have that requires this.  The PCs can be outstanding heroes who have their own adventures, while the actions of metaplot NPCs are less important background.


Title: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots
Post by: Mike Holmes on August 18, 2003, 06:04:12 AM
Quote
The difference seems to be that you think that if the Buffy series is in the same universe, then it must be the primary subject of our sessions (i.e. the GM force-feeding us summaries)


No, what he thinks is that if a supplement is published under the assumption that the plot included in it will be the primary subject of play, and that plot is all about the NPCs, then that's untennable. That's what bad metaplot is all about. It's written such that the players are expected to go to Sunnydale, see Buffy kick ass, maybe perform some additional role to account for their being there, but generally to see Buffy's story unfold.

Now, I also have no idea about this Mage NPC that's been brought up. But I can definitely (in fact have above) point out metaplots that are written this way. In which the actions of some NPC are so engrained into the supplementary material that to fail to include that characters actions in play means that other supplements become pointless. They lose their context, and then have little value.

Again, this doesn't make the universe impossible to use or anything. It just means that the supplementary material focused on this character becomes difficult to use to good effect.

Mike