Let's Talk Metaplot


  • Tutorialist

    Hullo.

    I'd like to talk metaplot. I'd like to have a constructive conversation about what works and what does not work. I hear alot of people go: "Well I'm not playing there if they're is/is not a metaplot". But rarely do I get a good "why" they are for/against it. So what has worked and what has not worked?

    Please keep it to things like:

    • "I felt that The Reach's metaplot did not work because every sphere had a piece they had to give out, but if a sphere was inactive or understaffed that meant that part of the plot was inaccessible."

    • "I felt that Haunted-Memories lack of metaplot meant there was no cohesive overall story."

    • "I liked that Star Trek: Gamma One's metaplots had open or open-ish events that anyone could sign up to, on a pretty regular basis. This made the metaplot or main plots seem openly accessible to everyone."

    • "I liked that @EmmahSue kept track of results for The Reach's metaplot, this made me feel like no one's effort was going to be overlooked."

    etc. Tell me what you liked/didn't like and why, but please do not name call, or insult anyone and their STing.


  • Pitcrew

    In general I am for meta-plots, even once that I am not a fan of from a story perspective make the game seem like a whole. MUSHes especially ones of moderate or greater size can fracture to small games pretty easily and while some of that is a good thing it quickly can turn a game into a collection of sandboxes that share a grid rather then a whole game.
    When done well they can give you a reason to stretch beyond your normal play group and give a common history that can help with the the getting to know you RP when meeting a new character.
    The big down sides for them are tat with staff turnover a lot of time they end up never being resolved or just left to linger without much movement.


  • Pitcrew

    I have only played one one game that, TO MY KNOWLEDGE, had a major gamewide Metaplot, and that was The Reach.

    What worked:

    • Staffers, primarily @EmmahSue, worked tirelessly to try and keep momentum and logical cohesion.
    • Most spheres seemed to have something important to do, or at least I know werewolf did
    • A ton of background was written and held to.

    What, I feel, did NOT work:

    • It could be difficult to get involved, at least for me, and at least in some spheres.
    • There was a lot of misinformation between what was initially told to players and what Roanoke changed some things to

    What I didn't like, personally:

    • I disliked the entire overall theme of the metaplot, but I am a big anti-lovecraft guy
    • I didn't like the way The Reach did families, thematically or mechanically.


  • Do you want this limited to only WoD games or can we list games that had metaplot outside those genres?


  • Pitcrew

    I feel like metaplots are successful when:

    • They are short lived. The story is over and done within six months or less.

    • The game population is small. I'm talking 50 PCs or less.

    • There is a total common understanding of the goals, aims, and story from start to finish from all levels of staff from plot runners to scene STs.

    • The overall story needs to have some flexibility so that if a key PC with really important information dies in character, idles out due to RL, or leaves the game for OOC reasons that nothing hinges on one person or group.

    • PC actions may completely alter the course of things and staff should let this happen, even if it results in mass PC death. Staff are up front about this, remind PCs this could really, really happen, and there will be no Deus Ex-Machinas if they really cock it up. Put another way: no rails to save feelings.


  • Pitcrew

    Generally I'm indifferent to metaplot, because it's rarely done well over the long term. I feel like ES's apocalypse plot was a rare exception to this (perhaps because she seemed to avoid the pitfalls I've seen in almost every other metaplot situation I have personally seen over the years).

    • Lack of continuity of staff/STs:
      This isn't overcomeable, but #Mushlife being what it is, long term staff, especially ST staff, tends to be a rarity rather than the rule. I suppose this could be a good thing if you don't enjoy the ST style of the current team, but as someone who does think that the ST tends to have a voice in any scene and it can really help bring out the best in the PCs, if you have someone who is very good at drawing in new/reticent people and keeping the scenery chewers and wanting to do 5 things in every turn people heeled, and they are suddenly switched for someone who isn't good at that sort of management (or who is actively hostile to newbies or chewers rather than being able to deal with it) then that can make things go south. Or vice versa, if an excellent one comes in.

    *Narrowing of metaplot availability:
    Players are affected by #MUSHlife as well. Sometimes because STs and staff take this personally, they will only give the plotstuff to people who are "proven" to them personally. Or they become over-reliant on the 'old people who deserve good things'. So the metaplot largely becomes a dinosaur thing. I do think a combination of this is why metaplot stuff has a high danger of becoming a ST alt/friends action/all other spectate type of deal over time. It does not mean anyone's evil. I think it's a natural tendency, and one that makes people kind of assume that unless they're part of that circle it's not worth their while to try to break into the plot (and IME usually they're quite correct on that front). I think that while in theory it should be that PCs will help with posting/opening up things to others/keeping people informed IME that's extremely unreliable. It's going to frankly fall to staff primarily to be sure that the plot remains open to all if that's what they want.

    *Extremely Poor Recordkeeping:
    If one person alone "has everything in their head" and "can't possibly lay it out for others", I don't get involved. It's not worth it. Those folks tend to be wonderful STs and plot people while they're active, but they also burn out like whoa. And then everyone's left with a mess. I think the ideal is for (staffside) there to be all running plot information organized on a forum or trello or what have you, complete with all logs and most importantly a page/entry that has a running summary that is updated every month with where it is now. In addition to indexing, who is tagged into what, ect. I am convinced though that having a running summary of metaplot status that is regularly updated is key tp keeping it moving. That alone on many places could be a staffer position (because not every ST is good about keeping good concise summaries, ect.).

    I'm actually greatly in favor of regular wiki "plot summary thus far" pages for the mush as a whole too--complete to links to logs. That also allows incoming PCs to get up to speed and to kind of see what's been done before, so they don't have to deal with dinosaurs looking down their noses and squashing them by saying "Well, we already TRIED that you fucking noob, go away!" I do think that may anger some old PCs that think that that may give some info to people who didn't "earn" it, but at the same time, it helps prevent the final problem that I've seen:

    *PC Entitlement/Ownership:
    Especially on very long term plots, you can have a huge problem of cockblocking/bottlenecking. Sometimes that's because of poor staff management/chaos/continuity issues, but sometimes it's very much a "I was here first, so eat it bitch" attitude on the part of players with longevity. Or it is a very overt We Know Our Alts/Friends So We're the Stars. (I saw this mostly on oWoD games. But people being people, I'm sure it still happens! If it is a game run mostly by friends for friends then that's fine, but I think it would be kinder to disclose it and just own it rather than telling others they're not "trying hard enough" or "doing it right". If it's not, and staff is frustrated at the same olds responding and/or picking up pieces and then hoarding, then it's good to have a strategy in place (or even to say overtly) that a staff goal is continual entry and pivotal things done by newcomers and oldcomers, and staff will help that along if necessary. That's also being fair to the people who are used to the concept that the longest running PCs are entitled to the most information/screentime. Because that is not an unreasonable assumption on some places, it seems only fair to warn them of that.


  • Coder

    Haunted Memories' Changeling sphere had a metaplot that lasted from its creation to its demise, which is measured in years. This was the metaplot:

    The previous Freehold died literally overnight. The old leaders of the old freehold scattered to the four winds, almost forgotten as legend but still around. Each one of the old leaders had an idea about what happened, but were either corrupt or refused to talk about what happened. What happened was that the highest level of government were (or became) Loyalists and betrayed the Freehold.

    Nobody knew this coming into the game. It was both the set-up and the sword hanging over everyone's head. From time to time, the old guard would show their head and make something happen. Few PCs knew which NPCs were on which side, and fewer still would say anything.

    It was fun and it worked because:

    • It was straight-forward.
    • It was truly meta; it wasn't plot pretending to be metaplot. The metaplot could be the cause of plot, but was itself not a plot.
    • It was not pre-ordained, so doing nothing would not hinder it and doing something unexpected would not hinder it.
    • Its focus was big enough that it couldn't be changed overnight.
    • It was limited to the Changeling sphere. Not through staff enforcement, but because what it was. This means everyone in the Changeling sphere was a part of it. It was theirs, and I think players appreciated the sphere cohesion it brought.

    It didn't hurt that the metaplot was everywhere, from the history to the mystery to the places to even the player characters. It was Fucking Meta.

    Some RPG rulebooks might call it a "campaign", but without a goal in mind I don't think it would fit. There were multiple campaigns beneath that metaplot. Some even had something directly to do with the metaplot. Two at the end were paramount in ending it. (Both of the Chessmen plots, for those keeping score at home. The Jeder/Chessmen campaigns and the War On Arcadia, which finished it.)


  • Tutorialist

    The list so far:

    What Worked:

    • Someone kept records really well.
    • Most spheres/factions had something important to do.
    • Pre-written background info.
    • Short lived (6-months-ish)
    • Small game focused.
    • Everyone understood the goals and aims of the story on all levels.
    • Flexible / Not Predetermined outcomes.
    • PC actions have some affect.
    • Straight-forward.
    • Is not a plot itself, can cause plots, but is not a plot.
    • Had a large focus that couldn't be changed over night.
    • For specific sphere/faction: Was limited to that sphere/faction because of what the focus was, not through staff fiat.

    What has not worked so far:

    • Misinformation being told to players and/or information being changed by STs later on.
    • Continuity issues can happen.
    • Ease of Access problems
    • Bad record keeping.
    • Plot-Hogging.

    @Bobotron said:

    Do you want this limited to only WoD games or can we list games that had metaplot outside those genres?

    Yes, please!



  • I really liked @tragedyjones's idea on Reno for 'Seasons' -- a staff-run broad-ranging plot that was planned to run around six months. While they tended to be sphere-based, they weren't other-sphere-exclusionary, which was useful; I could easily see the concept being opened up to broader plots.

    The short term factor is helpful in that it isn't the "whole story" of the game: it's a big story in the game, but it isn't the only one and there are room for others thereafter. That means people who don't or can't get involved with, say, Season 1, can hop in on Season 2, etc. Edit: Also, and more importantly? Once "The Big Plot" is over, it can feel like the game has come to an end. If that's the design and intention, cool -- but if not, it can leave people floundering.

    One of the things that has been off-putting to me about metaplots is the idea that it is the core story of the game: singular, in many cases. Realistically, I think a game (and its potential for longevity) are served better by something like the above: shorter-term, broad-ranging plots that can run their course with another picking up thereafter.

    The other big bonus with this approach is that you can have multiple people running them, for instance: Season 1 is coordinated and headed up/run by Storyteller A and their team, while Storyteller B and their team work something up for Season 2 that has a different feel and focus and will have the potential to draw in a different core of players. This way, even if you have a few 'plot hogs', one story is set to start at the end of the last or with some overlap in one direction or the other. That gives the Season 2 interest group, if they're following the few teaser plot threads thrown out that aren't part of Season 1's plot, a potential jump on involvement while the 'stars' of Season 1 are still busy being spotlight hogs. (Some people do this on purpose, some don't, it's hard to avoid either way, and staggering stuff a bit like this can help avoid them always being at the center of absolutely everything.)



  • @Cobaltasaurus said:

    @Bobotron said:

    Do you want this limited to only WoD games or can we list games that had metaplot outside those genres?

    Yes, please!

    This answer is ambiguous. It can be responding to either part of the 'or' statement. :) That said, since Star Trek was used as an example, I'm guessing that this goes beyond WoD.

    However, I would also like to point out two things, which I'll elaborate more on later, but summarized:

    1. Metaplot isn't 'a big ass plot.' What I like to call 'The Inigo Montoya': You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    2. I personally feel that the use of gamewide plot is both unreasonable and untenable in nearly every situation.

    So, first thing's first. I often hear people talking about 'Metaplot' as some giant gamewide plot that's supposed to be taking place, and it makes me wince. Think of most of the stories that you've ever read, or most of the roleplaying games that you've played on a tabletop. How often does the behind-the-scenes things that help to shape the world actually come to the forefront in a really obvious way? Almost never. Typically, this is done by either a) piecing things together after the fact, or b ) presented as having already been pieced together when the current storyline is occurring. The metaplot of a thing is not the current plot that is ongoing in the larger world, in most instances, so much as it is the plot structure within which all these other stories are told.

    And that, to me, is what staff should really be tracking. It's the changes within the world that affect the rest of the stories that happen within it. It's the metamorphosis of the known structure of the game setting. And these are things that happen almost exclusively off-screen, not something that players are going to directly interact with at every stage of its advancement. Pieces of this thing appear scattered throughout random smaller plots, which in turn help to flavor the game world, and progress or failure in those things then goes on to further change the world, which then affects what sort of plots can be told within it, because the structure has changed. The metaplot is not there to be 'solved' anymore than physics is. It's there to help determine what is possible within the game you're playing.

    And when you're tracking those things, the changes need to be communicated clearly and effectively to the playerbase so that they can take action on it within the plots they choose to run for themselves. Or not. Maybe they like the changes. Maybe they don't. It's almost guaranteed that two different players will have different takes on it, and that's okay. That is what staff is there to help adjudicate who can make what changes with the efforts that they have, and provide them the information that they need in order to help facilitate those changes that they want to see. That should be their primary duty, full stop. Running smaller plots is good, but staff's main function should be a mixture of administrator and information broker, with players and player ST's taking a much larger part in the plots that get run in the game world.

    I prefer to use the term 'Gamewide Plot' for the things that people normally call metaplot for this very reason. Which brings me to the second point -- Gamewide Plot is not a reasonable sort of plot to try and have, in nearly every situation, especially if we're talking World of Darkness.

    The main problems with it are twofold.

    1. It is far, far too big, to the point of offering serious problems within the game world that you're running.

    2. It's often done completely backwards.

    Running a plot of that size on any game with 50+ characters (not players -- characters)while expecting any characters involved with it to have a reasonable chance of affecting the course of the plot itself requires an incomprehensible amount of documentation, oversight, cross-communication, etc. And that is how staffers burn out, and burn out hard. Players each have their own things going on, and as long as they're all focused on their own piece of the pie, everything can run along smoothly. But when you put out one piece of pie and tell every player that it's there for the taking, you start to run into serious issues.

    Let's take, for example, Demon. Demon is a game that a lot of people have been talking about lately, and personally, it's one of the biggest pains in the ass to try and adjudicate out of any game line ever period full stop. If you're familiar with their power Legend, or any of its multiple variants, then you already see what's coming here, but for those of you who aren't, try this thought experiment. Each player has the ability to change one minor 'truth' of the situation that they're in to reflect how they need the world to be in order to move forward -- and each of these things is, in turn, fundamentally true, even in instances where they would normally conflict. This doesn't even have to be anything major -- they can be relatively small things, such as ties they have to local people. But they can change reality in very minor ways to better suit their situation. Which is do-able for one, two, ten players. But then you get fifteen. And twenty. And not only them, you have the players who are affected by this power, as well, the non-demons. Now you're looking at 20 demons each having this ability which can affect 50+ players, and you haven't even gotten past this one minor plot point.

    That is what almost universally ends up happening in gamewide plots. Players do things which could easily affect other players, through mundane might or magic, and you end up with an exceedingly complex nightmare of things to try and unravel. If you don't have that, then you end up with something worse -- conflicts along the way which you then have to try and resolve in a fair way to those who are working toward the same, similar, conflicting, or opposite goals.

    It's too big. It's so big, in fact, that anything that's done with it in really obvious ways should not only be obvious to the players, but to every NPC around them, which is often detrimental in any sort of gameline that you're playing, whether it be WoD or Heroes. Normal people noticing stuff means that it's so very, very far out there that not only should your PC characters be doing things to it, your NPCs and probably a few foreign and neighboring NPCs should have taken notice as well and come to poke at it.

    What should normally happen to allow for more sustainability is to establish your game world, its location, timeline, quirks, etc, and then establish where your PCs are within that game world, and then just build up from there. Track things that happen in the background, yes, but more importantly, track what PCs are doing so you can see how it changes the world that they're playing in, and then report the current state of the world. Rinse. Repeat. Too often, it's handed down from the top down, which is the wrong way to go about it -- this is what is happening, and you can all be a part of it. Except, oh, you're... well, not in a very good spot to see that, so let me try and change it. Which then complicates you, over here. So I have to change this thing, which conflicts with this other thing that I already told Group Y, but leaving that in will exclude Group X...

    Thus, why I think Gamewide Plot is unreasonable on games with more than, say, 5-7 characters.



  • I am neither for nor opposed to metaplots in a game. I just avoid them if present. My reasons why:

    1. Lack of opportunity. My time zone makes it very hard to sync up with me. When metaplot pieces have fallen in my lap in the past the result was disastrous because I couldn't hook up with the right people ever to move things along. I became the stumbling block that prevented the plot from moving onward (quite involuntarily, I might add!).
    2. Lack of interest. Most of the metaplots I've seen make me yawn. They're either so vague as to be meaningless in terms of actual game play and/or contribution or they're so tightly on rails that I may as well be a remote keyboard for whoever is running them.
    3. Avoiding the wrong crowd. I can't help but notice that all the people WORA was originally established to call out and mock tend to flock to metaplots. They're like the gathering ground of the degraded. cough Custodius! cough
    4. Avoiding staff. For the longest time after being burned on Skotos I avoided any and all staff interaction like plague. Indeed even now, except on the smaller, intimate games, I still feel a little on edge when talking to a known staffer. Metaplots by their very nature involve staff and while I'm no longer as virulently anti-staff as I used to be, I still am a bit skittish.

  • Admin

    Metaplot is a tool, like many. Its success or failure hinges both on being used properly, and it won't work at all if it's simply left there on some wiki pages abandoned but 'available'. Alas, it doesn't work like that.

    My thoughts:

    • Games without metaplot are too sandbox-y for my tastes. There's no direction or theme, people just do things which are forgotten because they're forgettable.

    • Metaplot yields are based on investment. You can't just write stuff and expect that to be enough, you need to get your players to buy in. Its whole point is that the world you built has a point and a payoff, so they need to see and feel their actions deliver results.

    • Like any other game element, metaplot needs to be easy to access, hard to master. If it is dependent on reading and memorizing a small novel's worth of text people won't do it (good luck even getting them to remember your NPCs' names). If it's too shallow or predictable they'll mock it just to make themselves seem smart.

    • It can't be too restrictive. Players need to feel this is there for them, not that they are there for it. It's supposed to give them something to play with and draw story hooks from, then enrich. It may be your baby but if you want it to be theirs as well you need to let it evolve as they do.

    • Don't bite more than you can chew. This is really important, IMHO. If you start a massive story you're soooo excited about but you have two storytellers total including yourself and they also need to handle jobs, policies, etc then it won't go anywhere. Scale to your ability to keep things going.

    • Make it fun. You need to be entertained as much as your players. Burning out is a lose/lose proposition.


  • Pitcrew

    This feedback from everyone is super helpful; I'm glad this topic came up for sure.

    My working definition for a metaplot is the overarching plot of the game -- much like a season plot on television. Most of the other plots/side quests should be tied in in some way. It's essentially a way to tie together the story of a game.

    I define it because I'm curious, do other people view it differently?


  • Coder

    MST3king this one. Sorry about the mess.

    @Arkandel said:

    • Games without metaplot are too sandbox-y for my tastes. There's no direction or theme, people just do things which are forgotten because they're forgettable.

    GM rule #1 from Apocalypse World: Barf Forth Apocolyptica. I agree with you here, but there are other ways to keep everyone soaked in theme. The easiest is to soak everyone in theme.

    • Metaplot yields are based on investment. You can't just write stuff and expect that to be enough, you need to get your players to buy in.

    See Above. You don't need them to "buy in" if they are soaking in it. c.f., fish and water.

    ... so they need to see and feel their actions deliver results.

    Isn't this true of any game, ever? A game where you can't see and feel your actions is a bloody boring game. If you don't agree, let's play some of that card game known as "War".

    • Don't bite more than you can chew. This is really important, IMHO. If you start a massive story

    Okay, stop here. Now you're talking about plot. Not metaplot, but plot.

    • Make it fun.

    Your "metaplot" will probably be indistinguishable from "the game", so we can take this vague and subjective statement into something more actionable with something: Make it part of the game.


  • Pitcrew

    @Sunny I define metaplot as episodic, as well. It would be ideal if it was the overarching story of a game but I think the ideal and the application fall apart.

    A serious, long term metaplot requires a lot of static factors which for most games is the french kiss of death for a serious, long term undertaking. It has to be so adaptable that it can withstand shifts in player population, the exit of PCs who might know important things, the loss of staff, the overall enthusiasm for a game to exist because games don't do anything but change.

    And lets not even get into the biggest plot killer of them all: Plot Runner/Staff Exhaustion.

    Over time a lot of very long metaplots have gotten into a corner where the staff running it get worn out by the demands and expectations and diva moments and freakouts of players participating. Sometimes players completely miss incredibly salient details and spend four hours of your life in running a scene where they stay fixated on the wrong thing and will not be gently or jarringly pushed towards the missed detail. A couple times is annoying but couple that with weeks or months of players refusing to roll with things and pushing back on a lot of fine details? A lot of staff understandably throw up their hands and say 'fuck it'.

    So I think serialized or episodic metaplot works best. You get a taste. You get a rest. Taste. Rest. Etc.



  • @AmishRakeFight said:

    Over time a lot of very long metaplots have gotten into a corner where the staff running it get worn out by the demands and expectations and diva moments and freakouts of players participating. Sometimes players completely miss incredibly salient details and spend four hours of your life in running a scene where they stay fixated on the wrong thing and will not be gently or jarringly pushed towards the missed detail. A couple times is annoying but couple that with weeks or months of players refusing to roll with things and pushing back on a lot of fine details? A lot of staff understandably throw up their hands and say 'fuck it'.

    I like the episodic approach best as well -- since it can be handled by teams swapping out or even a 'guest season ST' to guide it, to help prevent burnout; you just need a head person or people who people check in with on the whole -- but you hit on something really important here that others have touched on as well:

    Plot, meta or otherwise, should provide people with things to do, not something that someone must do.

    The former creates a range of evolving options and increasing amounts of story; the latter tends to result in dead ends of any number of kinds.


  • Coder

    @Sunny
    I think we can safely use Wikipedia for this, because there's probably no solid answer to it. So might as well go for a rough approximation.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaplot

    "The metaplot is the overarching storyline that binds together events in the official continuity of a published role-playing game campaign setting. Major official story events that change the world, or simply move important non-player characters from one place to another, are part of the metaplot for a game."

    Huh.

    The most important thing I notice here is that the definition is exclusive to RPGs. My computer's online-dictionary-lookup service (er, might as well be Google) has no other answer for it. This puts us in the interesting situation where it is anything we want.

    This is going to be interesting.

    I'm going to stick (loosely, like a cat to the curtains) to my earlier statement that metaplot is what drives the world, or that corner of the world, or what drives the direction of the plots. A metaplot itself is not a plot, and touching it directly would be like walking to the horizon. You can get there, but it takes dedication and when you get there you've discovered something else.


  • Tutorialist

    Here are my general thoughts:

    We have some people saying "metaplot isn't feasible on a large game", and then some people saying, "a game without a metaplot isn't interesting". So do we want all small games? I don't think that's what we want. But more specifically, I think metaplots work when there is someone who is active around telling a story. Or someone who keeps picking it back up after it goes quiet for a while.

    For example: The Gamewide plots for Star Trek Gamma One were kept actively running by either Halmar or Rapier. Events were being run on a regular basis and things we're being pushed and guided by staff (I always felt Rapier was a little bit too railroady, but when the game had a large player base that player base was pretty actively RPing with folks).

    Or: The Changeling metaplot on HM was not one that was constantly being run. It was picked up by different staffers here and there. Wagner ran it at times. Sarajevo ran it at other points. As well as, um, I forgot his name by R2's staffbit. (I think it was R2, its kind of blurry at this point).

    The one key point that I am pretty sure both of these share is: Documentation. For all that Raper@STGO was very controlling I know he had a lot plot notes written down, and was able to refer back to them. (I doubt he ever shared them very much, but the documentation was there). And there is no way that the Changeling Metaplot on HM continued to exist without documentation from folks. (@Ganymede were you guys good about documentation?)

    So my thoughts on a metaplot success:

    • It requires documentation. Actually document things. Somewhere that new and old staff can get to and communicate.
    • It requires communication -- all staff (involved with running it, and prolly the admit folk too) need to understand exactly what the goals/aims are.
    • It requires guidance -- either in the form of things happening every so often, or staff actively pushing the plot toward folks.
    • PC actions must matter. In the early days of the TR plot I went back and forth: On the one hand my character (Autumn Dunlin) was quite clearly one of the "stars" of the story/movie that was The Reach-- on the other hand I felt at times what my character had done didn't actually matter (after Autumn killed Jeremiah Dunlan, suddenly he had all this unregistered and illegal weaponry that the family never knew about and were now having to deal with).

    My Thoughts Are Torn Here:

    • Any PC needs to be able to get into the metaplot -- otherwise what is the point?
    • However ... people need to feel like their part in the plot is special. Could someone else do it? Maybe? Is it a matter of only they can do it? Or they got their first? People need to feel like their actions matter, or they are special in some way.
    • The metaplot cannot hinge on one person/faction/family/clan/etc, that family/person/clan/whatever could go inactive, or they could not want a part of the plot. If this happens the plot needs to continue on somehow. Which conflicts with the above.

    So here's my question:

    How do you make the metaplot open to any PC? Not contingent upon one PC? And at the same time make PCs feel like they have a special part in the metaplot?


  • Pitcrew

    @Cobaltasaurus said:

    How do you make the metaplot open to any PC? Not contingent upon one PC? And at the same time make PCs feel like they have a special part in the metaplot?

    I know that in games where there was a metaplot, I've often felt like the actual PCs involved didn't matter. It often felt more like the staff just needed someone to stand here and do this at this particular time, and it could have been ANYONE. This is partially, I think, because the metaplot was...too plotted, and often very oriented in the past. "This really cool stuff all happened a long time ago, and the job of the PCs is to uncover it at Dramatic Moments, not to /change/ anything." A consequence of the attempt to coordinate 50+ characters, I think.

    To specifically address your question - what about front-loading things and being willing to step outside the linear plot box (which doesn't work all that well for long-term MU* plots anyway). Basically, ask every player upfront if they want their PC to be a part of the metaplot. Some people are not going to want to be. But for those that do, their character gets Something Special that's related to the plot. Or, preferably, PLOTS. Make those plots a lot more If...Then... than MU* plots often are. Something like:

    Setting: Brass City By Night

    Long Term Plot 1: Descendants of an ancient coven are being drawn, all unaware, back to places of power where their ancestors sealed away horrors from the material world. When the descendants enter those places of power, monsters will be unleashed to stalk the city, and must be destroyed or resealed.
    How many PCs directly affected?: Up to 13.
    What PCs do: By virtue of their blood, the PC Descendants are living keys that will automatically unseal the prisons of certain horrors. However, their blood also gives them the power to rebind those horrors, although it will take three, five, or seven of them working in conjunction to do so. PCs who start chargen with, or acquire during play, Occult of *** or more get an automatic Int+Occult roll to know (at chargen) or stumble across their heritage and the connection to the Horrors. All players will be informed of the particular site or sites that will trigger an event for their PC, and that this will be a dangerous event. It's their choice whether their PC seeks that out or not. Rituals to reseal the horrors will be teamwork actions of Presence+Occult, extended, requiring 5 successes + a number of successes equal to how many weeks the Horror has been free, with each roll taking five minutes. While the horror's minions attempt to murder them, of course. Horrors are ephemeral beings and have banes and bans that can be researched to make it easier to lure them to a suitable sealing place and keep them there during the ritual.
    Places of Power, the Seals, and the Horrors: (1) An intricately inlaid tile seal in the front hall of the first Brass City Police Station. It holds Marik, Lord of Chains. Passive effect: while Marik is bound in the Police Station, rolls to resist the impulse to act violently there are at a -2. Be sure to put up frequent news posts about Yet Another Accusation of Police Brutality at least every two weeks, and that cop and criminal PCs know about the penalty. Give them a Beat for playing out a scene where they indulge the impulse to be violent and it hurts them professionally or personally. (PC: Jane Doe. Let Jane know that when she enters the police station, she needs to call for staff. When Marik's seal breaks, Jane will receive a +2 bonus on all attempts to break or open locks while he's free. Once free, Marik will trigger a panic, and flee into the nearest weak-willed host - his priority will be to create an enslaved cult, and eliminate the Descendents as he can identify them. He has a 2 dice pool to start with to identify them, but it grows by 1 every week as he becomes more familiar with the modern world and gathers followers. See Cultist character sheet and Marik character sheet for powers and other stats.), (2) The Old Hanging Tree in Center Park. It holds Cassandra, the Soul-Stealer. Blah blah blah...

    Long-Term Plot #2: The God-Machine is attempting to use certain people to bring certain pieces of far-flung infrastructure together, hoping to piece together a bit of itself for one of its infinitely complex, mad experiments. When the pieces meet one another, they join, which has direct effects both on their couriers, and gradually, on the whole city. However, the person who possesses the WHOLE piece of Infrastructure could have unprecedented power...at the cost of giving over their soul to the Machine.
    PCs Directly Affected: up to 6.
    What PCs do: PCs start the game out with a gift, heirloom, or stolen item (as appropriate to PC background) that resembles a piece of character-appropriate jewelry or accessory. It is, however, distinctive, and the character has a +1 to a certain skill as long as they have it in their possession (and gains the Bereft Condition if it is not in their possession, gaining a Beat if they take negative personal or professional consequences because they are trying to reclaim it). PCs also know a list of people who, should they meet them in a scene, Something Will Happen - in this case, the two items that each carry will attempt to fling themselves at each other, and will bind together, creating something new. The new item (see the list of proto-Infrastructures) can only be held by ONE PC, but will have boosted bonuses for having it in their possession. Not having the item still subjects the PC to the Bereft Condition (which fades after a week, provided the PC does not gain a Beat from pursuing the object). Once completed, the bearer gains a significant occult ability (powered by Willpower). HOWEVER, the bearer no longer generates Willpower normally, and if the bearer runs out of Willpower, it is as if they are affected by the Soulless condition until they find another of the city's pieces of Infrastructure and 'recharge'...or until they destroy the item, or it is taken from them (at which point they gain the Bereft condition instead). (This item, if not destroyed, may also be used as a Significant Item in later plots.)
    List of PCs and Items: PC1 - silver choker (+1 Crafts), blah blah blah.

    So on and so forth - you can have varying levels of staff involvement, or (as with the items) staff can serve mostly as "kick off" points, while PCs can do most of the actual "plotting" themselves, once they figure out that there's Something Special. You can hold off introducing the "last pieces" of a plot you don't want to "fire" just yet by adjusting the rate of people with specific Special Backgrounds hitting the grid, and you can always introduce another plot that deals with 6-10 people as the game grows, without damaging the specialness of the earlier PCs.


  • Pitcrew

    @Cobaltasaurus said:

    How do you make the metaplot open to any PC? Not contingent upon one PC? And at the same time make PCs feel like they have a special part in the metaplot?

    Have the metaplot be like the elevator pitch for a continuing TV series, maybe. You're not a writer or a director or even the producer for a particular season (although you'll probably wear all those hats at one point or another); you're more like the studio head who says, "I want to do a show about ordinary people getting superhuman powers, and how they deal with the way the world and their lives change as a result of that."

    So you provide a framework that your sphere leads and plot creators can use to tell compelling stories in each individual "episode" and "season" that are all connected to one another, but don't necessarily intersect directly. You don't worry about the specific plot elements or antagonists that're going to be involved (except to lay down general guidelines about what the limits are); you leave that to the people who're doing the writing or directing or producing, and just worry about whether what they come up with fits in at a high level. They, in turn, can worry about crafting plots that're specific to the players and characters they have to work with, rather than feeling like they have to fit a square peg in a round hole.

    After all, you don't really know what you're going to have to work with. Staff and players are going to come and go, and often at (from your perspective) inconvenient times, so you might as well build in as much flexibility as you can stand. That way when one of your producers comes to you and says, "Zachary Quinto is doing fantastic work as a brooding psychopathic killer," you don't have to tell him "Well, great, but he's still going to die at the end of the first season, or everything falls apart."