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Author Topic: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots  (Read 18582 times)
Hardpoint
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« Reply #15 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.
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Todd Bogenrief
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« Reply #16 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?
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #17 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
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Valamir
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« Reply #18 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.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #19 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
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John Kim
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« Reply #20 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.
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #21 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.
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contracycle
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« Reply #22 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.
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Hardpoint
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« Reply #23 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.
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xiombarg
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« Reply #24 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.)
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
xiombarg
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« Reply #25 on: July 30, 2003, 10:54:17 AM »

A parallel discussion to this one was instigated by me on LJ, and one of the posters 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...
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #26 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
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John Kim
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« Reply #27 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?
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Valamir
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« Reply #28 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

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.
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xiombarg
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« Reply #29 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.
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
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