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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 74 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Meta-plots, Railroading and Settings  (Read 8006 times)
Firbog
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Posts: 3


« on: December 06, 2001, 02:55:00 PM »

Since I am new to this forum, and not sure if these have been discussed in the way I am bout to ask questions, I hope that you all will humor me and let me know WHAT YOU WANT to see.
I have read through much of the Metaplot and Story Creation and have found that many players and GM's are bothered (and rightly so) by the plot settings or "meta-plot" that may come with settings.  
As a hopeful future RPG publisher I am concerned with the issue and since I completely see the community as the source of what makes up an RPG (both as a game and a company).

What are some of the major points that you all see as making a Setting?

Should a Timeline be included into these Supplements?

I am very interested in what you WANT to see within Settings and Setting Supplements.  

I have come to understand that Pre-generated Adventures (which are linear in fashion) are being less and less used and are in sense a waste of time and money for the community.  To that end, we have discovered a vast majority of players (like ourselves) would prefer to have in depth settings with indepth descriptions of unusual places with out the "Text Box" of what players see and is read by the GM.

If you all could please be so kind as to give your opinions so that we (RPG Designers) could serve you, I am sure that I and many others would be most appreciative.

Best to All
Levi
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Matt Machell
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« Reply #1 on: December 07, 2001, 07:31:00 AM »

Hey , there's a thread on Metaplot here:

http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?topic=886&forum=4

It's got some good discussion on the matter.

Matt
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Tor Erickson
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Posts: 134


« Reply #2 on: December 07, 2001, 08:25:00 AM »

Hi Levi,
 
In the Sorcerer game I'm running right now, I spent probably a full work week prepping for the first game.  I mean, somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 hours.  The amount of that time spent on setting was about 1-2 hours, and the most productive setting creation happened in about 1 minute as I thought, "hmm, I want to run a game set in the same time period as Easy Rawlins mysteries and set in the location of Angel Heart, the movie."   That was it.

Now, the setting has figured really prominently in the game: just about every single scene is affected or colored by the time period (1953) and the location (north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana).  But almost all of the setting creation and color comes from that initial idea, my ability to communicate it to the players, and their own vision of what Louisiana in 1953 is like.  For the most part we create as we go along, bringing into existence collapsing barns, tarpaper shacks, muddy alligator nests, old plantation mansions, and fields of tobacco as needed.

So, in answer to your question, of what would be useful in terms of published setting, perhaps you need to ask another question first: is setting really what people need?  Even before that, though, I think you need to ask, do I want to publish stuff that people will use and find useful, or do I want to publish simply with the desire to sell products?  If the latter, I think Ron might have a comment or two.

Now, that still leaves me with 38-39 hours of prep time for the game... which is  a lot, and if there were supplements out there to cut down on that effort, I'd probably be willing to give them a spin.  Still interested?

-tor
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #3 on: December 07, 2001, 10:35:00 AM »

Don't let the Narrativists get you down Firby. We Simulationists still like setting material plenty. Leastways, I do. Even the metaplot stuff I don't mind as much as some do. What most people would like designers to stay away from most is designing events in the game that make playing the game less about the characters and more about the world. If a player simply feels that he is being led around to world events that his character can have no control over, well, that can be disheartening.

Find a way to create a setting that makes the characters truly important (without just making them gods or something). Backdrop is great. Just don't create it in such a way as it will steal the players thunder. Make sense?

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: December 07, 2001, 10:39:00 AM »

Firbog,

One thing that confuses me about your post is that you seem to use "setting" and "supplement" as the same term ... and combine that as well, in some way, to "metaplot."

I think it might be helpful to back up a little. It sounds to me as if you are asking not so much about the content of supplements, as about a strategy of publishing overall. You might want to ask yourself if you WANT to publish supplements. You might ask yourself how many copies of the game you can reasonably expect to see in the hands of end-users after the first quarter of sales, and how much (or whether) you'd like to put into print after that.

The common plan of releasing supplements which are both (a) setting details and (b) metaplot continuance does NOT, ultimately, serve a given RPG well in terms of long-term sales. What it does do is MAYBE get your core book reordered from stores for about a year. That's a lot of "if's" to rely upon for success, and failure to meet one of those "if's" can cost you many thousands of dollars. And even this picture is changing.

Tor might have given a little bit of a false impression in his post ... I suggest that a commercially-released game "succeeds" if it (a) makes money and (b) CONTINUES to make money. The endless-supplement-treadmill has a very poor track record in reaching this goal.

I'm not sure if this is really helpful to you or not. Part of that is that I'm not sure about what you're asking. To stay with the most general interpretation of your question, a "supplement" can be any one of a dozen different game aids. What I'd want from a supplement will depend a lot on the game in question.

Best,
Ron
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Tor Erickson
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Posts: 134


« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2001, 12:20:00 PM »

Hi all,
 
I think what Firbog is asking is what kind of stuff people would like to see in (specifically) supplements.  Which is to say, what kind of things beyond the core rulebook would you buy?

My answer is (surprise!) things like Sorcerer's Soul and Sorcerer and Sword, where the material presented helps to run a game, design campaigns and scenarios, and overall provides information on how to run a specific kind of game within the boundaries of the core book.

So I think the question is, is what kind of supplements are useful, possible, and best selling?

-Tor
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Firbog
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« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2001, 12:43:00 PM »

Tor has it right...that is essentially what I am looking for from you all.  I am not entirely worried about publishing and sales, not yet anyway.

Thanks all
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jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« Reply #7 on: December 07, 2001, 01:35:00 PM »

I think, personally, I'd like to see more of something I think of as "Inverse" meta-plot.  Allow me to explain:

Most setting-heavy, meta-plot driven product lines follow this format: Core book contains rules, World History, sketchy overview of current events.  Then there's usually a line of sourcebooks that go in depth into those current events.  And then finally the metaplot sets in proper and the sourcebooks start covering details of events that somehow impact the world.  Then at some point a re-release of the core book is done where all the previous game material is regulated to the World History section and new customers are expected to start from that point and not worry about what has come before.  It's as if only CURRENT and UP COMING events actually matter.

As I've said in the past World War II is basically a metaplot.  But a lot of people pointed out a very good point.  We already know all the major events of World War II, so if I want to set the game in a small village in the south of France the day before during and the day after D-Day then that's perfectly fine.  Most of the players will know this up front.

What I find interesting is that rarely do product lines release sourcebooks that cover details of World History.  The World History in an RPG is usually just a method of describing the current situations and the attitudes that general people who populate the setting hold.  For example, in 7th Sea there was a big religious war in Eisen that has just ended in the current game year of 1768.  This is detailed ONLY to explain the CURRENT political situation in Eisen and to demonstarte the attitudes that Eisen people generally hold.  But what if I want to set my game in 1766 DURING the War of the Cross in Eisen.  Where is my War of the Cross sourcebook?

There seems to be the pervasive attitude among the Role-playing industry that if the players have knowledge of it, then it's wasted events.  Who wants to play in a world where they know what's coming.  Well, who wants to watch a movie about the Titanic?  Guess what, the boat sinks.  I'm sorry did I ruin it for you?

What I'd like to see is one of two things.  Either more soucebooks that cover known (Game) World History.  OR a core book that details at least the main events of the game's first year or two of meta-plot.  Then future sourcebooks can go into the details of the events but esencially up front in the core book we all know that "in October of Game World X's Year of the Y X faction leader will be killed leading to a anarchist revolt" or some such.

To SOME extent this is what's happening with WotC's Star Wars line.  There's the Rebellion Era sourcebook.  Anyone who's seen the movies or read some of the books knows what happens during the Rebellion Era.  Same thing with the New Jedi Order.  But even this falls short in that we're getting sourcebooks that detail planets like Tatooine and Naboo.  But man, where's my Alderon (sp?) sourcebook?  How cool would it be to run a star wars campaign called: The Last Days of Alderon?  All the players up front know the planet is doomed and the point of play is not to prevent the destruction of the planet or even to escape it.  It's just to tell a story about The Last Days of Alderon?  Much like the Titantic.

Hmmmm.. This is a bit ranty but I think the point is clear.

Jesse
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Firbog
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Posts: 3


« Reply #8 on: December 07, 2001, 06:10:00 PM »

Jesse,
Wow!!! That is one way that I had not really thought about.  So to put it in very easy terms: The World of OZ - A History:Detailing OZ History before the Death of the Wicked Witch.

Then a Second supplement: The World of OZ - Current events....

Am i understanding it like this?  If so, what do the rest of you all think?

Levi
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Manu
Member

Posts: 57


« Reply #9 on: December 08, 2001, 04:06:00 PM »

Hey all,

Traveller did something similar, actually: The first edition was based at the height of the Third Imperium, Megatraveller took place during the Rebellion era, Trav:New Era used the "Virus" setting (80 yrs after), Traveller 4 took place at the very beginning of the Imperium, and GURPS Traveller is an alternate Third Imperium. I heard the next edition from Marc Miller , T5, will take place in yet another era.

I personally love this approach; write an entire world(s) history- you can even have collective writing sessions with the players and GM-, discuss it with your players, and choose a setting at a set time; The Titanic and WWII examples are great, it's not because you know "the end of the story" , in its rough lines, that you can't have fun campaigning somewhere along the time axis. I wish more games used this approach; hopefully, the trend seems to take off (Hero Wars with the history of Dragon
Pass, Transhuman Space with the planned Transhuman Stars setting...)


Anyway, this was just to express my enthusiasm :smile:


Manu
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Manu
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: December 08, 2001, 08:20:00 PM »

Hello,

The last few posts have gone over some old ground, perhaps without knowing it.

Imagine a setting in which a number of events, past or present or future, are simply known to all the people involved in the role-playing. The course of play has little to do with determining these events but everything to do with "small stories" that happen within/during them.

This applies to canonical settings like Star Wars or Babylon 5 or the Young Kingdoms; it also applies to historicals, such as WWII or The Titanic or so on.

If you are considering these to be metaplot, you are not using this term the way I do (take that as you will). They are setting. If you read that to mean "only" setting, then you are missing the point. The point is that such a setting is providing a huge portion of the Premise as well as multiple hooks for character-level events.

In the post I have called this "underbelly" role-playing, in which the known set of events proceeds, known to us but less so to the characters (if at all), and the characters' story are ANOTHER story proceeding in parallel, with causal links to the first series of events going in both directions.

The best example in textual role-playing is the famous introductory adventure in the original Star Wars game - the characters are embroiled in a MacGuffin plot; they find it; at the end of the scenario they deliver the MacG to a little droid who goes "beep boop," and the players realize they've just permitted the events of the movie to occur.

The best fictional model is the work of Alexandre Dumas, in which the adventures, careers, and scheming of the musketeers are (a) caused to a great extent, (b) in parallel with, and (c) feeding back causally, on the historical events in France across the careers of Louis XIII and Louis XIV.

Underbelly role-playing is to my mind the way to transform a canonical and/or events-filled setting from metaplot-railroading into a great setting for a variety of types of play. To address just one of these types of play, Mike Holmes does an injustice in implying that narrativist-oriented players cannot make use of complex, event-filled settings. They can.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #11 on: December 10, 2001, 08:52:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-12-08 23:20, Ron Edwards wrote:
To address just one of these types of play, Mike Holmes does an injustice in implying that narrativist-oriented players cannot make use of complex, event-filled settings. They can.


Oh boy. Is there an emoticon for "tongue in cheek"? Guess I'll just have to stick with the winks more often.

Just trying to be encouraging, Ron. :smile:

Mike
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jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« Reply #12 on: December 10, 2001, 09:22:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-12-08 23:20, Ron Edwards wrote:

The best example in textual role-playing is the famous introductory adventure in the original Star Wars game - the characters are embroiled in a MacGuffin plot; they find it; at the end of the scenario they deliver the MacG to a little droid who goes "beep boop," and the players realize they've just permitted the events of the movie to occur.

The best fictional model is the work of Alexandre Dumas, in which the adventures, careers, and scheming of the musketeers are (a) caused to a great extent, (b) in parallel with, and (c) feeding back causally, on the historical events in France across the careers of Louis XIII and Louis XIV.


Oh boy, old ground or not, I think you just lost me.  Doesn't EITHER of the above cases illustrate EXACTLY the problem with meta-plots.  That is, the need to railroad players into specific actions in order to set must happen events into motion?  

I understand how this works in one direction.  Must happen setting events impacting the player's personal stories.  A boat strikes an iceburg and that impacts the player's personal romance.  No need for railroading because you're not taking any choices away from the players.  But I can't see how it works the other way WITHOUT railroading.  It seems to me that the minute you say the players MUST deliver the plans to R2D2 or the players MUST fail at attempting to prevent the assasination of the Duke of Buckingham, you're railroading.

Am I missing something?

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: December 10, 2001, 10:06:00 AM »

Jesse,

Yes, you are missing something. It is that "delivering the message to the droid" is not the conflict of the Star Wars scenario. It is that "preventing the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham" is not the conflict of The Three Musketeers. These things are outcomes, corollaries, and backdrops to the real conflicts, the real conflicts being  the things that concern the players emotionally and thus have engaged the characters into action.

In the case of the Star Wars scenario, the actual adventure is indeed mighty railroady. But that is not to the point. Regard the "message" and "droid" details as fixed items of the landscape, not as conflicts or questions which are resolved by player-character actions.

This is a subtle point. It is very easy to see these:
1) No railroading, no fixed background events, no planned stuff, totally open, protagonist freedom, etc.
2) Total railroading, complex setting, lots of planned events and "pseudo-protagonist" roles in those events.

But now I'm coming in and saying something else? That you can have the protagonist freedom of #1 and the structural integrity of #2? Sput! Sput!

It's not so bad. It's a new skill, which most role-players, in my opinion, are not well-disposed to understand at first. It's very easy, in fact, once you distinguish between setting events (which may be considered "weather" regardless of their actual nature, social or otherwise) and conflict resolutions (which are totally about protagonist decisions and themes and all that stuff). When that distinction is clear, then linking the two in causal ways in either direction, without losing the distinction between what they are, is a lot of fun.

Best,
Ron
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Ben Morgan
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« Reply #14 on: December 10, 2001, 04:07:00 PM »

Jesse Said:
Quote
Most setting-heavy, meta-plot driven product lines follow this format: Core book contains rules, World History, sketchy overview of current events. Then there's usually a line of sourcebooks that go in depth into those current events. And then finally the metaplot sets in proper and the sourcebooks start covering details of events that somehow impact the world. Then at some point a re-release of the core book is done where all the previous game material is regulated to the World History section and new customers are expected to start from that point and not worry about what has come before. It's as if only CURRENT and UP COMING events actually matter.


This is one of the (many) problems with Vampire. IMO, a game about ancient immortals should be designed with different time periods in mind, and the possibility of the story shifting from one period to another. After all, one of the niftiest things about Highlander is seeing Conner (or Duncan) in these different times, and how he's changed over the years. Obviously, you can do this with Vampire, but the system doesn't do much of anything to support it (which goes back to System Does Matter), and for the most part, neither do the sourcebooks. For a split second, it seemed like they were going to try and at least partially rectify that a bit with the release of Dark Ages, but unfortunately, they took it as an opportunity to release basically a whole new game with a minimal amount of effort as far as converting their existing material.

What I would have *liked* to have seen (as evidenced in the above paragraph) is a core book that dealt with the "technical" aspects of being a vampire in general (ie: which parts of the mythology are real, which ones aren't, and why they came to be), as well as a clear presentation of the core game mechanics, with perhaps the suggestion that modern day would be the "default" setting, but with the option to run a story set pretty much anywhere and "anywhen". Then, maybe a series of sourcebooks detailing a particular period in history, with attention to the place vampires occupied in it (ie: Vampires in Ancient Rome, Vampires in Victorian England, etc). Instead, what little legimate setting info (as in, not simply, as Ron puts it, fiction dressed up with game mechanics, usually almost completely divorced from actual historical events, such as the formation fo the Camarilla and the Sabbat, and when it's not, it annoyingly intrusive, ie: including Dracula in canon) we get is fragmented across a slew of Clanbooks and other dubiously orgamized supplements, and for the most part is deliberately contradictory. It becomes especially difficult to organize a game set in a particular time period if every sourcebook says something completely different about who was in charge at the time.

Firbog said:
Quote
So to put it in very easy terms: The World of OZ - A History:Detailing OZ History before the Death of the Wicked Witch.

Then a Second supplement: The World of OZ - Current events....

You're on the right track, but personally I would start with Oz the way it was before the death of the Wicked Witches, then work backwards from there (What was around before the Witches? Before the Wizard?). Give information useful to someone who wants to build a story set in one of those time periods. Jesse's got the right idea.

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"I cast a spell! I wanna cast... Magic... Missile!"  -- Galstaff, Sorcerer of Light
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