Monday, February 8, 2010

Metaplot and Setting Advancement

The short version: I hate them, as I hate Hell, and all Montagues.

The not-as-short version:

I recently came down on campaigns where there is a set ending toward which the players are gently (or not so gently) guided. On a related subject are games where the setting"develops" through updates found in the splatbooks. No, White Wolf isn't the only company guilty of this; Dream Pod 9 did it with Tribe 8, TSR did it with Dark Sun, and so on.

I despise metaplot for a number of reasons. Firstly, metaplot tends to become "the story of a bunch of  badass NPCs that your players might, if they are lucky, get to watch.. They are Luke Skywalker, and you are Red-4 or Rebel Commando #3 or whatever. While I no longer gravitate towards "hero with a capital H" style gaming, neither am I satisfied to play a game where the only important things that are happening are instigated or shaped by NPCs.

Secondly, metaplot tends to waste valuable page count in books. Yes, I can ignore the meteplot, but this renders many parts of many books useless. Maybe I'm interested in the revised mechanics of the new setting book, but I want to use the old setting before the Big Evil Guy was killed off and a bunch of shit was arbitrarily changed... and I can certainly do that, but I'm also paying for that material that I don't want. (This, in recent times and certainly going forward, will preclude me from buying "revised" settings.)

Thirdly, and perhaps this is just me being persnickity, but almost every metaplot I've ever seen has dropped the ball in some way at or near the end. The ending is illogical, poorly thought out, etc. Metaplots also tend to advance the setting in ways I find uninteresting. I freely admit that point three might just be my general bias towards metaplots.

I do have one notable exception to my general metaplot hate:

 In Nomine, the Revelations campaign. The actions that characters take can actually influence the setting in ways that are not contradicted. For instance, the players have the chance to save an Archangel from spiraling into a fall from grace, and the book presents write-ups on the Archangel redeemed and the Demon Prince he becomes if he should fall. The players have the chance to confirm/prevent the ascension of another, more minor, Demon Prince as well. Finally, the players can prevent Armageddon, or they can usher it in. (Though on the flip side, it is *very* difficult to cause Armageddon as opposed to stopping it... difficult, though not impossible) No further campaigns were ever released for In Nomine, so changes to the setting were never contradicted. (Really, if you think about it, what campaign could have possibly topped the aversion of Armageddon?)

Even when I was into games with more story/narrative focused bent, I never like metaplots... back then, the reason was mainly due to the fact that I wanted to tell my own stories. Now, I want a game that drops a setting in my lap and lets me run and play. Give me more options, I might buy them... give me a great module, I might drop it in, but don't fuck around with the setting in ways that make me have to ignore/reconcile the published world vs. the one I've carved from it. (See also: my gripe about Deadlands and its totally fucking UNVINCIBLE* pet NPCs that they  straight up ask you not to kill so as not to muck around with their publishing plans.)

*Yes, unvincible, which is way less vincible than invincible. Don't believe me? Look up the stats for Stone and Raven and Reverend Grimm. Seriously. Why bother with the long, atrocious stat blocks when they could just save space and print You lose! Good DAY, sir! after the descriptions.

Oh, and Elminster can suck it. So can Drizz'zzt'ttt or whatever the hell his name is.


  1. "Elminster can suck it." would have made a catchy title.

  2. One of your students spike your apple today, teach? ;) :D

    Well, Ryan, if I read you correctly, you want someone to do the work of creating a setting, and of creating a sub-setting/adventures, but you don't want them to actually advance the timeline. Am I correct in my understanding?

    Greyhawk = yes
    Greyhawk Wars = no

    Grey-box Forgotten Realms = yes
    Everything afterwards = no

    Wilderlands of High Fantasy = yes
    Blackmoor (set in a remote section of the WoHF) with its Rain of Fire and subsequent Thonian Empire and everything after that = no


  3. TS- You are more or less correct in your reading. Give me a setting, and end the official timeline where the campaigns are to begin.

    I did think of a second exception to setting advancement hate: Shadowrun... the prevalence of wireless internet in today's world would make the Shadowrun future very hard to swallow as it was previously portrayed; creating hackers who don't have to plug in to something is ok by me. :)

  4. Okay. :)

    So, would Urutsk having four distinct eras be a deal breaker for you?

  5. TS- That's a little different. I assume that the eras are sufficiently far apart that there is little chance of the players spanning eras, ja?

    Here's a theoretical example of what I hate:

    Okay, you're in the Golden Kingdom and the capital is the City of Shulz which is ruled by a crazy evil magic-user named Grantz. The races are humans, elves, dwarves, and rat-men and the character classes are warrior, alchemist, and sneak. The year is AB 471.
    Now, in the next book we release, the City of Shulz is burned down and all rat-men are destroyed by a magical curse and you can't play them anymore. Then we release a revised core book and the year is 474 and elves have made a pact with darkness so now the races are humans, evildark elves, and dwarves. There are no rat-men left except the Last Rat-Man who is a superpowerful NPC. Also, alchemy is now theurgy and the class is different.

    While somewhat flippant, I think you get what I mean, ja?

  6. Wow, that sounds like Scarred Lands as it might have been published by Games Workshop. lol.

    No. You are correct in that the discrete Eras are sufficiently /different in tone/ as well as years that each would present an entirely different feel, level of tech, and different political structure, and in the Winter Era, even takes places in space/other worlds.

    Now technically, one could play characters like the Brothers Grimm in the recent film, and find themselves straddling a new Era, and so forth, as the version I am working on now (Early Autumn) starts around 400 with the war between the Hierophantic Church and the Guild Council, and ends at 777 with the foundation of the Resth Clan Confederacy and essentially the early Industrial Age.
    --Late Autumn (777 - 11xx) is the rise of Power Blocs, World Wars, Transnationalism, Space Exploration, Supers, Cybernetics, and stuff like that.

    My reasons for starting in Autumn would be apparent by the time I have completed Winter, and then I'd want to write Spring and Summer for completeness.
    --I'd say more, but don't want to ruin it. :)

    Cool discussion, and BTW, I agree that the whole sort of scenario you presented being rather icky, cheap and tacky, and downright naughty of publishers.

    Sorry if I came across bitchy.
    --I'm my own worst enemy. :-\

    Happy gaming! :D

    (I'm looking at the original FF for terrible monsters with which to consternate my new-school players). :D

  7. TS, I don't believe you have ever come off as anything remotely close to bitchy, which is no mean feat considering that this is the internet. ;)

    No, the way you have set up the eras of Urutsk sounds perfectly fine, especially since the Eras are set down from the beginning and not an ongoing metaplot.

    Also, it is late (for me these days, that is) and my brain is not decoding "the original FF." Where are you getting these consternating monsters? (I love consternating monsters!)

  8. Yeee! Thanks. :D

    Oh, sorry: (FF) = Fiend Folio

    * Apparition = %0% chance Death & Rise as another Apparition

    * Assassin Bug = Death from larvae eating their way out of you unless magick that doesn't exist in my setting (save 10% of the .01% of the population) is used to expel them before that time.

    * Astral Searcher = Death that may actually fool the rest of the party, as the AS has re-written itself over the mind/soul of the victim.

    =---> Happy Referee <---=


  9. Every time I go to the LGS, I check the used bins for a copy of the Folio. Perhaps, on my limited budget, I can acquire one from ABE or a similar wonderful site.

    ...on the other hand, OSRIC seems to have some monsters that I do no think are in the AD&D1 Monster Manual. I wonder if it already incorporates some of the FF. Hmm.

  10. Let me know if you do find one.
    --I'll be on the lookout for one for you, and I'll inform you if I do.

    Best, :)