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Author Topic: Kirt's Standard Rant #1: Metaplots  (Read 18458 times)
John Kim
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« Reply #75 on: August 15, 2003, 04:21:22 PM »

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


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

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

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

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

I mean, if you were to read the metaplot aloud during the session instead of playing, then sure, it would be silly.  But my take on it is that it is intended to be consumed outside of session time.  Thus, it is background for the in-play story of the PCs.  The difference is that rather than being just maps and encyclopedia entries, the background is full of conflict and character, and changes over time.  OK, maybe you don't like that style of background, but I don't see that it is invalid.
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- John
kamikaze
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« Reply #76 on: August 16, 2003, 07:40:08 PM »

Quote from: John Kim

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


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

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

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

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

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

Quote from: John Kim

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

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


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

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

I tend to run games where the PCs are major figures in the part of the world they care about, and pay little attention to areas they're not involved in (if they're supernatural investigators, they don't need blow-by-blow political news unless a doppleganger's replaced the Presidential candidate).  But even in low-level games, at least the events happening in the world are *my* invention, and the players can get involved in a meaningful manner.
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John Kim
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« Reply #77 on: August 16, 2003, 11:35:47 PM »

Quote from: kamikaze
Quote from: John Kim
  Consider the case of playing in the Marvel universe -- whether using any of the three official systems or some other system.  Given this, I think the parallel is pretty much spot-on.  Divis Mal is to the Aberrant setting exactly as Dr. Doom is to the Marvel setting.  
The Marvel RPGs aren't comic books, either.  The licensed property doesn't change the situation.

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

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

I can speak directly to the case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I have been a player in a BtVS campaign (currently on hold) which was going on while the 7th season was playing.  I experienced no frustration at seeing BtVS episodes, despite the fact that it was NPC Buffy saving the world.  Now, I am sure that there are people who would feel frustration at this situation.  But I don't agree that it is universal.
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- John
kamikaze
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« Reply #78 on: August 17, 2003, 03:58:26 AM »

Quote from: John Kim
Quote from: kamikaze
The Marvel RPGs aren't comic books, either.  The licensed property doesn't change the situation.
In a Marvel setting, the NPC Dr. Doom having weekly fights with the NPC Fantasic Four which are essential to the background would be a massive
distraction, and deeply frustrating to the players.  


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


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

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

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

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

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

Quote from: John Kim

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


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

Be serious, John.  You know better than this.
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John Kim
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« Reply #79 on: August 17, 2003, 10:51:38 PM »

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seems to me that you are making the same assumption about Buffy here: that if the metaplot events are in the same universe, that they have to be center-stage of the roleplaying.  I don't see anything in the Aberrant books I have that requires this.  The PCs can be outstanding heroes who have their own adventures, while the actions of metaplot NPCs are less important background.
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- John
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #80 on: August 18, 2003, 06:04:12 AM »

Quote
The difference seems to be that you think that if the Buffy series is in the same universe, then it must be the primary subject of our sessions (i.e. the GM force-feeding us summaries)


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

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

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

Mike
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