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Author Topic: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots  (Read 18222 times)
eyebeams
Member

Posts: 93


« Reply #60 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.
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Malcolm Sheppard
eyebeams
Member

Posts: 93


« Reply #61 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.
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Malcolm Sheppard
AnyaTheBlue
Member

Posts: 187


« Reply #62 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.
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Dana Johnson
Note that I'm heavily medicated and something of a flake.  Please take anything I say with a grain of salt.
xiombarg
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Posts: 1183


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« Reply #63 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".
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
contracycle
Member

Posts: 2807


« Reply #64 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.
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M. J. Young
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Posts: 2198


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« Reply #65 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
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        xiombarg
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        « Reply #66 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?
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        love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
        Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
        James Holloway
        Member

        Posts: 372


        « Reply #67 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.
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        xiombarg
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        « Reply #68 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.

        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...)
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        love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
        Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
        James Holloway
        Member

        Posts: 372


        « Reply #69 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.
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        xiombarg
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        « Reply #70 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, if you haven't looked already.
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        love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
        Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
        M. J. Young
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        « Reply #71 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
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        John Kim
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        « Reply #72 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.
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        - John
        Kurosawa
        Registree

        Posts: 2


        « Reply #73 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"
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        kamikaze
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        Posts: 41


        WWW
        « Reply #74 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.)
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