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Author Topic: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots  (Read 19005 times)
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #30 on: July 31, 2003, 09:38:58 AM »

Good points as always John. I have no answer, unfortunately, as to a simple fix. I think that's Kirt's point; it's not easy, and "done right" is rare.

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

Mike
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #31 on: August 01, 2003, 09:33:06 PM »

O.K., any game I've ever played that had a metaplot, I didn't use it or recognize it, so I've mostly stayed out of this discussion. But I just had a thought.

Herein lies the problem.

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

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

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

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

O.K., this was my thought.

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

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

--M. J. Young
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xiombarg
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« Reply #32 on: August 02, 2003, 06:04:41 AM »

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

It's part of the "allowing the GM to plan" part of things I was talking about, and I wish more companies would do it.
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
talysman
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« Reply #33 on: August 02, 2003, 08:39:08 AM »

hi folks... just got back from a trip to Boston/Providence, so I've missed a lot. I hope it's not too late to contribute to these discussions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

in this approach, future metaplot suppliments really do redefine the world. you could publish a series of suppliments that describe the world at 20-year intervals, so that a play group can decide which setting appeals to them; this would be no different than SJGames publishing worldbooks for the roaring '20s, the '30s pulp era, WWII, and the '50s. to me, that's an acceptable non-intrusive use of metaplot.
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John Laviolette
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xiombarg
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« Reply #34 on: August 02, 2003, 06:50:43 PM »

That's some excellent data on the historical reasons for metaplots there...

Regardless, some of you might want to check out the parallel discussion on Livejournal.

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

Of course, this only happens in situations like the "big companies" have where you have freelance writers writing for a line, which explains why we didn't think of it -- but it's certainly something a designer should consider if he wants other people to ever write for his or her game.
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
AnyaTheBlue
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« Reply #35 on: August 02, 2003, 09:09:48 PM »

The fundamental problem I personally have with metaplots is that they are adventures masquerading as setting details.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, that's my two cents.
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Dana Johnson
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Hardpoint
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« Reply #36 on: August 03, 2003, 01:33:58 AM »

So how would you suggest a game designer were to progress? Say you want a game to be based in a setting, but the idea is to say "here's how we got here" and the rest is open ended.

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

My feeling is that is a good way to (note I don't claim it to be the best) to balance both the setting richness and GM friendliness that makes for a successful gaming recipe. I honestly don't know another way to do it, unless you completely go without a setting, a la GURPS or HERO.
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Hardpoint
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« Reply #37 on: August 03, 2003, 01:41:29 AM »

Just remembered the worst example of Metaplot...

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

If anyone knows the deal with this game, I'd love to find out as I played it once (the first adventure on the train). A cool idea for a game, but failed because of the adherence to the metaplot (and the company's finances).
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AnyaTheBlue
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« Reply #38 on: August 03, 2003, 10:43:00 AM »

Quote from: Hardpoint
So how would you suggest a game designer were to progress? Say you want a game to be based in a setting, but the idea is to say "here's how we got here" and the rest is open ended.

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

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


It's pretty simple, really.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, this is obviously just my opinion of Metaplot.  Obviously, somebody somewhere likes it, or it wouldn't sell.  But I don't think it's good game design.  I look at it as bad setting design more than anything.
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Dana Johnson
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eyebeams
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« Reply #39 on: August 11, 2003, 12:14:51 AM »

Most notable are the comments by "eyebeams", who claims to be a White Wolf freelancer. They're as dismissive of everyone's concerns -- and, Hell, the whole indie movement -- as one might expect,

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

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

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

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

As for metaplots, they usually have three main functions:

1) Community building.
2) Examples of stories.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uh, no. It's a matter of how it affects the logistics of actually writing books. As such, it applies to individuals as well, assuming that they accrue enough material.
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Malcolm Sheppard
eyebeams
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« Reply #40 on: August 11, 2003, 12:17:33 AM »

The fundamental problem I personally have with metaplots is that they are adventures masquerading as setting details.

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


Why don't you have them happen to your players instead, then? I really am interested: What's the psychological barrier here that keeps some people from just using the story arc as the adventure model it's designed to be?
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Malcolm Sheppard
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« Reply #41 on: August 11, 2003, 05:20:20 AM »

eyebeams> A quick answer to your question regarding why individual groups don't alter the metaplots to the PCs.  I think it's because there is nothing in the "official" product that says how PC-level characters can get in on the action.  It'd be getting on the Titanic after it hit the iceburg.

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

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


Everyone has their own take on the matter, and everyone has a stake (no pun intended) in what happens, which should be made clear.  Instead of a string of events, have a basic set-up and many paths that could be taken.  In the Charlotte murder mystery example, the PCs themselves could be the culprits, and the story could focus on their attempts to get away with it.  Describe in general the ramification of one turn of events.  For the above example, let players and GMs understand how things would change if the Toreador Primogen is blamed for the murder.  Make it clear what the NPCs want, why they want it, what keeps them from getting it, and how they plan on going about achieving their goals.
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Lxndr
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« Reply #42 on: August 11, 2003, 06:00:51 AM »

Doesn't the Tribe 8 metaplot (as an example) specifically imvolve player characters?  Isn't the majority of its metaplot a set of adventures that take the players from the opening days of Vimary to fifteen years later at Capal, after Vimary burns?  

Or am I misinterpreting what little I've seen of the game?
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #43 on: August 11, 2003, 09:55:21 AM »

No, you're not mis-interpereting. But it's one of the worst offenders in the bad metaplot arena (which is too bad as the rest is pretty neat). Specifically because the PCs are involved directly in the metaplot. The problem is that they are involved in a way that doesn't allow them to choose to do anything.

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

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

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

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

Mike
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xiombarg
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« Reply #44 on: August 11, 2003, 12:01:05 PM »

Welcome back to the Forge, Malcolm. I say "back" because I notice the old Mage thread back in '02 that you responded to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Community building.
2) Examples of stories.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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