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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 143 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: The Dread Metaplot  (Read 15122 times)
Rich Ranallo
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« Reply #15 on: April 24, 2002, 12:41:55 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

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


What I'm shooting for is to present history, then a "sketch" of the metaplot, so that the GM (at least) knows where we're going with this whole thing.  The supplemental material will then "zoom in" on these major events and show them in detail.  The details can be used or forgotten by the GM, at his whim, and he can plot out his own events, already knwoing what the beginning and ending points are without buying a supplement.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #16 on: April 24, 2002, 12:55:12 PM »

Hi Rich,

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

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

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

Best,
Ron
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contracycle
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« Reply #17 on: April 25, 2002, 12:36:19 AM »

I agree with Lances points in general; more specifically and sarcastically, I think all this boo-hooing about the big bad metaplot is so much lazy whingeing.

What, we assert the right to create chgaracters, events, places but we're too stupid to work around a ladder of events through time?  Are we restricted to being ONLY in those places actually described in the product, or do we wirte them ourtselves?  We write them ourselves obviously.  Why give a flying if there is or is not a meta plot - its a fixed point to navigate around, not run aground on.  To me, its a the anti-Metaplot brigade who want to be spoon fed, don't want to create, or adapt, or frankly think.  Rant over.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #18 on: April 25, 2002, 05:11:37 AM »

Hi Gareth,

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

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

Please be more rigorous.

Best,
Ron
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xiombarg
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« Reply #19 on: April 25, 2002, 05:32:51 AM »

Quote from: contracycle
navigate around, not run aground on.  To me, its a the anti-Metaplot brigade who want to be spoon fed, don't want to create, or adapt, or frankly think.  Rant over.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So a good metaplot, at least as far as I'm concerned, would be flexible and take into account the PCs may change things without de-protagonizing them (perhaps even considering the possibility the PCs can fill the shoes of major NPCs, without requiring them to do so), laden with plot hooks (rather than destroying them by hosing whole sections of the setting), and gradual, stopping after a bit, so things don't get too gooooofy. See, I'm not opposed to metaplots, per se, but to the way they've been handled in commercial RPGs so far; I can't think of a single metaplot I've been terribly happy with.
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #20 on: April 25, 2002, 06:28:17 AM »

Idiotic Notion # 4784:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The trick is no one can tell anyone else how to make their game. Few will listen anyway. It is the author's job to know when to stop short of complete and thus keep there game useful.
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xiombarg
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« Reply #21 on: April 25, 2002, 07:45:21 AM »

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

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

This concept of yours has some interesting resonance with this thread and several related threads in the Alyria forum, I think...
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #22 on: April 25, 2002, 09:41:38 AM »

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

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


Interesting. We've gotten off-topic for this thread, but your addition has bearing in the One Page RPG thread since the one page RPGs give basically a bear set of mechanics, sometimes just the idea of mechanics, and little else.  As in most things the extremes at either end are best avoided.
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contracycle
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« Reply #23 on: April 26, 2002, 12:12:16 AM »

Quote from: xiombarg

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


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

Quote

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


This is a superb example of the problem.  What, just becuase your game is set in the SW universe the ONLY story you can tell is of jumped up farmboy vs the evil empire?  SW is so full of hooks, implications, enigmatic references that I simply do not understand the "problem" as you describe it.  You can manipulate time; you can manipulate place.  You describe the places they talk about but never show, like Kessel say.  There is absolutely no need whatsoever to feel even remotely bound by those particular events - this problem is IMO totally imaginary.
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Rich Ranallo
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« Reply #24 on: April 26, 2002, 12:16:58 AM »

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


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

As for the metaplot issue (to be remotely on-topic), I just see it as another dimension of setting.  You can have a book detail different game locations in space, why not in time?  I play Deadlands (boo, hiss, I know), but I don't feel obligated to run my game in the Great Maze, Back East, Mexico and Canada all at once, just because they're in the books.  Why should I feel obligated to play in 1876, 1877, and 1878 all at once?
I do think that the original idea that PEG had for metplot advancement was the best I'd seen.  Unfortunately, they stopped it after the first book.  There was a book that was solely dedicated to bringing the setting "up to date," from 1876 to 1877.  No one bought that book and complained about the metaplotness of it, because it had the metaplot on the cover; you knew what you were getting into.  If a GM wanted to run without the metaplot, he just didn't have to buy that book.  Seemed to make sense to me...
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xiombarg
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« Reply #25 on: April 26, 2002, 05:32:53 AM »

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

Um, Gareth, notice I've never used the term "dynamic setting" in any of my posts and instead use terms like "metaplot done right". So, for me, "metaplot" is not equivalent to "what I don't like". No offense, but I think my post made my perspective pretty clear, and you're doing me a disservice by reducing my point of view to this.
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contracycle
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« Reply #26 on: April 26, 2002, 11:13:25 AM »

Fair point well made, my apologies.
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greyorm
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« Reply #27 on: May 01, 2002, 08:19:04 AM »

Valamir wrote:
Quote
The reason I can't stand Deadlands and 7th Sea style metaplots is because basically they are bait and switch tactics at work. You THINK you're getting this cool RPG setting...but what you're really getting is a poorly written novel delivered in installments each of which costs 2-4 times more than a paperback.


Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm uninterested to say the least.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I am carefully putting on my "ignoring-rants-or-sneering-as-responses" hat so you know where I stand regarding to any response of that sort, and that should you care to do so, a polite discussion on the issue is available.
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contracycle
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« Reply #28 on: May 02, 2002, 12:12:12 AM »

Uh - well in past "debates", the issue was "decided" without IMO as serious challenge to the counter-argument.  So some folk have a tendency to say "we've discussed this before" or "see the well discussed critiques of metap[lot in prior threads".  Metaplot has not, IMO, been adequately critiqued, and I'm afraid I consider calling the matter closed on that basis rather dishonest, or perhaps self serving.
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AndyGuest
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« Reply #29 on: May 02, 2002, 03:05:47 AM »

To chime in on where metaplots go wrong...

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

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

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

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