A Question a Day #4 - Metaplot or No Metaplot?

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Marcus Bone
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A Question a Day #4 - Metaplot or No Metaplot?

Post by Marcus Bone » Sun Jul 09, 2017 8:31 pm

Metaplot is both a blessing and a curse to roleplaying games. On the one hand it drives the story forward, building on what has come before, while on the other it changes the world, often too much, too soon, that even the most fanatical of followers become lost...

What's your opinion on Metaplot? Does DC need one to build and grow an 'realistic' dystopian' future, or should it be seen as an agnostic point in time that allows for open play free of 'agenda'?
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Re: A Question a Day #4 - Metaplot or No Metaplot?

Post by ReHerakhte » Mon Jul 10, 2017 3:21 am

I'm one of those who believes in the Lester Smith answer when he was asked about the equipment list for DC - It's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it, as Lester said, those who don't want it can ignore it but those who want it will find it helpful. I think DC should have some sort of storyline in place so that the future of the DC world can be given some structure, those who want to run their own metaplot are going to do so no matter what is in the book and those who don't want one are going to ignore the one in the book.

I think that some sort of metaplot is necessary to give at least a minimal idea of the future of the gameworld, not necessarily the direction of the story, but specifically, where the gameworld should develop to (and in regards to publishers, it gives some idea of what material needs to be produced). Some groups are happy having a campaign that is basically "episode of the week" with no particular connection between all the episodes but I think even these sessions would need some overarching storyline for the progress of the gameworld, if for no other reason than just to allow continuity.

I must admit to running some campaigns (of various games and not just DC) in the past where I did not think of the future of the gameworld, mostly because the game producers already had some sort of timeline in place and it was easy to follow their direction - but that's a classic example of while the GM is not thinking about a metaplot, one was already in place. I've also recently come into contact with some games that are minimalist and have nothing much to offer other than the rules and some idea of what the game is about - everything else is left rather vague so that the GM can figure it all out, however some GMs don't do this and I have found these games to be less than satisfying because there is no apparent direction to the story and so I have been left with a sense of "What are we doing this for? Does anything we do actually make any difference?"

So for me, some sort of overarching storyline/metaplot is desirable and I prefer gameworlds that pay some sort of attention to it because as Lester said, those who don't want it can ignore it but as a GM I like to have a timeline I can build on. If that means I need to alter the game producer's metaplot then so be it but I want their metaplot so I can use it, if for nothing else, as a guideline and a framework to build my own metaplot on.
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Re: A Question a Day #4 - Metaplot or No Metaplot?

Post by Morthrai » Mon Jul 10, 2017 11:21 am

It's very much dependent on which way the GM and players want their game to go, so I totally agree about "It's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it". The thing abour Dark Conspiracy was that there wasn't actually a single over-arching conspiracy. Pretty much anything goes stylistically, from cryptids to 1950s flying saucer aliens to David Cronenberg-style exploding psychics, but no single backstory. That was yet another thing that was being worked on as part of the "Conspiracy Lives" worldbook, and I have to say that Norm's idea for what the biggest conspiracy of all consisted of was pretty damn clever! 8) :twisted:


As an aside, the more we go through these questions the more I realise that several of 3HG's upcoming projects were a lot closer to being ready than I was led to believe. Hopefully some new licensee might be interested in picking up the stuff I did...
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Re: A Question a Day #4 - Metaplot or No Metaplot?

Post by Linden » Mon Jul 10, 2017 9:35 pm

I don't really like metaplots and think "story arc" is one of the most offensive phrases in the English Language - carrying with it a whole load of portentous baggage dreamed up by mediocre script writers responsible for a raft of quite duff TV series. I prefer the approach of old UK shows like The Sweeney where most episodes were one offs but you'd have recurring characters which gave a sense of continuity.
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Re: A Question a Day #4 - Metaplot or No Metaplot?

Post by Morthrai » Tue Jul 11, 2017 11:14 am

Linden wrote:
Mon Jul 10, 2017 9:35 pm
I prefer the approach of old UK shows like The Sweeney where most episodes were one offs but you'd have recurring characters which gave a sense of continuity.
That's definitely one of the best ways :)
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Re: A Question a Day #4 - Metaplot or No Metaplot?

Post by ReHerakhte » Tue Jul 11, 2017 12:36 pm

I don't completely disagree with you Linden but I don't completely agree with you either, there's just as many episodic TV shows with no story arc that are just as crap. I think there's good and bad in both approaches. I tend to buy TV series I'm interested in on DVD and watch them in batches of 3-4 episodes at a time rather than watch them one episode a week on TV. For me, it becomes all too obvious when there is no real storyline going on and I find monster/spy/cop drama/action sequence/rescue/crime of the week type shows a little too "same-same" to be satisfying and I don't particularly want that replicated in a game.
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Re: A Question a Day #4 - Metaplot or No Metaplot?

Post by Linden » Wed Jul 12, 2017 6:46 am

I liked Breaking Bad - I thought that was a good example of a series that sustained its momentum through a continuing storyline (although the last series was perhaps one too many). Stuff like Dr Who where you have to wade through a couple of previous seasons' continuity to understand the current episode just leaves me cold though.
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Re: A Question a Day #4 - Metaplot or No Metaplot?

Post by ReHerakhte » Thu Jul 13, 2017 6:10 am

Ah okay, I think I better understand you now... so what we're talking about is, I think, more to do with how much use of story arc is done in a TV series rather than do they have one or not. A story arc over a season is long enough and short enough for me, when they start a story arc that needs you to be aware of things that happened two seasons ago, that's starting to strain the friendship specifically because a TV audience would have seen that season two years earlier - too damned long for people to remember the finer details.

That sort of conceit works if the audience binge watches a show after a couple of seasons have been released (which is pretty much what I do) but it's just jerking people around if they have to watch it on its TV release schedule over the course of several years.
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Re: A Question a Day #4 - Metaplot or No Metaplot?

Post by Linden » Fri Jul 14, 2017 10:13 am

I don't mind a story arc if it's done well, but my preference is for a show made up of individual episodes where you can just jump in at any point in the series, watch it and get up to speed with what it's about in the first five minutes or so. "Hustle" was a good modern example I thought.

I do think current TV drama has too much emphasis on overarching stories which seem to imbue programmes with a certain amount of self-importance that isn't really justified by the final pay off, assuming there is one. Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes were particular offenders in this regard. Not seen it, but I suspect Lost might be the same.
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