The Metaplot


  • Pitcrew

    What exactly is one, in your learned opinion? Is it necessary? Desirable? What makes a good one? A bad one?

    alt text

    Has The Metatronplot been mad fun for you as often as it has screwed you up when you were trying to RP something that interested you more?



  • @il-volpe said in The Metaplot:

    as it has screwed you up when you were trying to RP something that interested you more?

    This complaint genuinely baffles me. Not targetted at you, but I've seen other people make similar complaints over the years.

    "I just want to play X, not be forced to deal with Y, ugh!"

    Okay...go do your thing in the corner if you can find other people interested in it?

    The problem arises when people expect the entire game around them to cater to the thing they want to do, and they get mad when it doesn't.

    Now, aside from that.

    I don't think anybody can flat out say metaplot is good or bad. There's plenty of bad ways to implement it. There's also plenty of good ways to do it and wind up with it not mattering.

    And now on to a tangent.

    Now the idea of a metaplot is, I think, generally to get players involved in the game and give them a reason to be doing things.

    The problem here is metaplot doesn't really matter in that regard in my experience. Once upon a time, it might have served the purpose of being the lure to draw people to a game and get them interested in it, but those days appear to be 100% past us, IMO.

    Giving players things to fight over (titles, territory) or having a culture where they can kill each other (thus fuelling the need to do a bunch of BaRP scenes and 'make allies') seem to be the two most important things to getting players "involved" and interested in "doing stuff".

    Metaplot alone doesn't do the trick. Unless you are willing to invest a metric fuckton of time into running 3+ event-type scenes regularly a week. And even that might not do the trick. Because without 'titles' or something "on the line" to reward players for playing a game, they just will do absolutely nothing between your metaplot scenes and eventually lose interest in them, regardless of how amazing an ST you may or may not be.



  • @Tempest said in The Metaplot:

    as it has screwed you up when you were trying to RP something that interested you more?
    This complaint genuinely baffles me. Not targetted at you, but I've seen other people make similar complaints over the years.

    "I just want to play X, not be forced to deal with Y, ugh!"

    Okay...go do your thing in the corner if you can find other people interested in it?

    The problem arises when people expect the entire game around them to cater to the thing they want to do, and they get mad when it doesn't.

    No, the problem is when staff makes a metaplot so intrusive you can't escape it. And, indeed, when you try to escape it or avoid it they go out of their way to make sure that the plot follows you around.

    Example from a pathological MU*: Castle Marrach. There was once a metaplot on that. (It withered on the vine for many reasons, but in my time there it was active. If you want to call what was happening "action".) At one point in the metaplot, the consort of the queen (whose name I've forgotten because it doesn't fucking matter), who was somewhat of a weather mage, got into a foul mood and it got reflected in the weather. Players were expected to jump through the hoops to find out why Lord Foulweather (not his real name, duh!) was upset and do something to soothe him. Since, however, most people didn't even really know Lord Foulweather existed, and those who knew he existed knew next to nothing about him besides that, this plot was met with a joint, loud yawn from everybody except the five players who routinely got plot bones handed to them to gnaw on. (And who were actually in a position IC where they could even go to where plot-fu was happening.) The rest just ignored the occasional weather emits.

    This pissed off the staff. So they ramped up the weather emits. People still ignored them.

    This pissed off the staff even more so they ramped up the weather emits more and added code that made it hard to move around anything that was outdoors (the wind would push you back, or a snow flurry would disorient you and send you to the wrong exit, or exits would be impassable because of piled-up snow, etc.). People still tried to ignore this.

    This brought staff to the brink of insanity and they actually had some people FREEZE TO DEATH (this wasn't the huge handicap it would be in other games--basically it was a day of no RP) after being trapped out-of-doors.

    All this to force a plot nobody wanted anything to do with.

    When metaplots reach this level of disruption, I think "I want to play X and not be forced to deal with Y" is a perfectly valid reaction, don't you think?



  • I think just rephrasing the question makes it self answering. When someone asks what a metaplot is, and it's defined as, 'overarching storyline that binds together events in the official continuity', then I think it just becomes, 'do you need an official continuity?' And the answer to that is, 'I want to run a sandbox where people make their own fun' and one is unimportant or, 'I want all the stories bound together' and one can be very important. I think the metaplot question almost can't be separated from, 'do you want a sandbox or an interconnected world?'

    Sandbox is used as a perjorative and I think that's stupid and mostly just done by people that would never really be able to run a non-sandbox themselves for any length of time. It's really just the kind of game you want to have and the energy you're willing to invest into having it.



  • @WTFE

    I've never seen anything remotely close to that in regards to metaplot on a MUSH. Maybe I've just been lucky.

    On a MUD, sure. On Firan, probably.

    Metaplot on a MUSH is, in my experience, pretty easy to ignore, if it even exists in the first place.

    That staff behavior honestly sounds almost exactly like some run-ins I had with various MUD staffers over the years. Like. Exactly.

    MUD staff is definitely prone to "OMG YOU WILL PARTICIPATE IN THIS STORY I WROTE (AND IS ENTIRELY SCRIPTED ALREADY) AND ACKNOWLEDGE IT IS THE BEST THING EVER OR ELSE THERE WILL BE ACTUAL MECHANICAL SETBACKS FOR YOU AND THE ENTIRE GAME". I've never seen anything remotely like that on a MUSH, unless you count Firan (I wouldn't).

    Makes me wonder, did this Castle Marrach staff hide behind anonymity? IE no record of who they played and they generally wouldn't even say which staffer was making decisions or doing things in-game that affected players?


  • Admin

    @WTFE said in The Metaplot:

    No, the problem is when staff makes a metaplot so intrusive you can't escape it. And, indeed, when you try to escape it or avoid it they go out of their way to make sure that the plot follows you around.

    I think a big problem we often make here is that we mistake a general concept with its worst implementations .In other words, that we look at the way staff at a specific game we played did a thing and extrapolate from that that the thing is always bad.

    In terms of the metaplot in particular it shouldn't be something you want to escape. It ought to be the reason you are there in the first place!

    Let me give an example. Let's say you make a post-apocalyptic game where characters are desperately trying to survive, barely able to stay one step ahead from annihilation using low-tech tools and trading with other survivors for basic necessities; you bust your ass to stack the odds so that they can be overcome and want to put the emphasis on character relationships and growth.

    Then I come in and I want to do my thing; I want to bring back civilisation in a year or less. I toss +jobs at you with wikipedia links about making solar panels and try to build mech suits and use drones strikes to defeat my enemies; I mean that's definitely great, and it could be awesome for a game, but as long as you make it clear what game you are trying to play then what am I doing in it? Is it fair that I complain your metaplot sucks? It doesn't suck... it's just not what I like, and it's not your fault I tried to turn your MU* into following my vision.


  • Pitcrew

    @WTFE said in The Metaplot:

    No, the problem is when staff makes a metaplot so intrusive you can't escape it. And, indeed, when you try to escape it or avoid it they go out of their way to make sure that the plot follows you around.

    Example from a pathological MU*: Castle Marrach. There was once a metaplot on that. (It withered on the vine for many reasons, but in my time there it was active. If you want to call what was happening "action".) At one point in the metaplot, the consort of the queen (whose name I've forgotten because it doesn't fucking matter), who was somewhat of a weather mage, got into a foul mood and it got reflected in the weather. Players were expected to jump through the hoops to find out why Lord Foulweather (not his real name, duh!) was upset and do something to soothe him. Since, however, most people didn't even really know Lord Foulweather existed, and those who knew he existed knew next to nothing about him besides that, this plot was met with a joint, loud yawn from everybody except the five players who routinely got plot bones handed to them to gnaw on. (And who were actually in a position IC where they could even go to where plot-fu was happening.) The rest just ignored the occasional weather emits.

    This is actually my problem with metaplot, in how they're most often used to describe happenings on a game - they're inaccessible. They usually deal with high-end powers and politics that only a few get to interact with on a meaningful level. It's not really fun sitting on the sidelines and watching the same 5-10 chars do all the things. This is why I'm not really fond of hierarchical power structures on games, because everything naturally flows upwards and very few things flow back down again.

    I'm all for creating a continuous and interconnected world where players actions matter, however I believe that plot should be driven from the ground up, and derive from how players interact with the world and complications set in front of them, rather than the top down.



  • @Tempest said in The Metaplot:

    Makes me wonder, did this Castle Marrach staff hide behind anonymity? IE no record of who they played and they generally wouldn't even say which staffer was making decisions or doing things in-game that affected players?

    They tried. They failed because they were incredibly bad at it. It typically took about four days, tops, for it to be really clear which player had just been elevated into a new staff bit.

    @Arkandel said in The Metaplot:

    I think a big problem is we often make here is that we mistake a general concept with its worst implementations .In other words, that we look at the way staff at a specific game we played did a thing and extrapolate from that that the thing is always bad.

    Hope for the best. Plan for the worst.

    I don't think metaplot is always bad, just for the record. I was specifically addressing a case where it's pretty obvious that it's perfectly legitimate to say that you don't want to play something but are being forced into it.

    In terms of the metaplot in particular it shouldn't be something you want to escape. It ought to be the reason you are there in the first place!

    Yeah, "should" is a tricky word that way. The problem is that a lot of metaplots are designed by people who can't plot worth shit and who don't play well with others (as in, their plots don't change if people impact them).

    Then I come in and I want to do my thing; I want to bring back civilisation in a year or less. I toss +jobs at you with wikipedia links about making solar panels and try to build mech suits and use drones strikes to defeat my enemies; I mean that's definitely great, and it could be awesome for a game, but as long as you make it clear what game you are trying to play then what am I doing in it? Is it fair that I complain your metaplot sucks? It doesn't suck... it's just not what I like, and it's not your fault I tried to turn your MU* into following my vision.

    That would be the opposing extreme, yes. Both extremes suck. But staffers who don't recognize that people like this exist are heading for burn-out if they don't prepare for this. Hope for the best. Plan for the worst.

    @Lisse24 said in The Metaplot:

    This is actually my problem with metaplot, in how they're most often used to describe happenings on a game - they're inaccessible.

    That would be the example of "people who can't plot worth shit" I mentioned above. ;)


  • Politics

    @Tempest said in The Metaplot:

    The problem arises when people expect the entire game around them to cater to the thing they want to do, and they get mad when it doesn't.

    Nah, this is the real problem, @WTFE.

    I'm playing on two games where the Metaplot is all-encompassing and inescapable, and no one seems particularly perturbed by that. Sure, the setting revolves around the Metaplot, but that's just good implementation. You couldn't escape The Descent's metaplot, and you're not escaping BSG: Unification's metaplot.

    Not alive, at least.



  • @Ganymede said in The Metaplot:

    @Tempest said in The Metaplot:

    The problem arises when people expect the entire game around them to cater to the thing they want to do, and they get mad when it doesn't.

    Nah, this is the real problem, @WTFE.

    I'm playing on two games where the Metaplot is all-encompassing and inescapable, and no one seems particularly perturbed by that. Sure, the setting revolves around the Metaplot, but that's just good implementation. You couldn't escape The Descent's metaplot, and you're not escaping BSG: Unification's metaplot.

    Not alive, at least.

    Tightly-themed games are tightly themed. This is not a surprise. I don't know what The Descent is, but BSG is a very narrow environment whose entirety is impacted by anything that happens to it. When you sign up for such a game you (should) know what you're getting yourself into.

    Marrach, on the other hand, was advertised as a "grand stage" (their term, not mine!) in which you were supposedly able to play out "your story" (again, their wording). Indeed all over the fucking place they tell you that you're on your own for making stories; that while yes there are "StoryPlotters" (their term, not mine, I emphasize) that you are responsible for your own fun.

    And then they threw shit like the storm "plot" at the player base. Something you increasingly couldn't escape even though a) nobody wanted any part of it (modulo some staff-pals), b) even if you did want a part in it, you couldn't get one, and c) even if you could get one, that part would basically be "audience".

    Again, I think it's perfectly fair to look at that situation and say "ugh, the metaplot sucks".



  • My problem with metaplots is that they are generally geared towards combat types. I don't really do fighters so, often I just sit out the majority of game plots. Same with PrPs.


  • Politics

    @WTFE said in The Metaplot:

    Again, I think it's perfectly fair to look at that situation and say "ugh, the metaplot sucks".

    It's always fair to say "the metaplot sucks," but the problem addressed was why the metaplot sucks.

    When you have a theme or setting that is loose and, for lack of a better term, "a grand stage," then you will have players scrambling to be the star performer. You get the situation in Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author. But even on a "grand stage," you can have a metaplot, but one has to realize that one must be really tight in setting before it can go off.

    So, I think the main problem is the players trying to be the divas. The other problem is the staff having no idea of what makes for, or how to write, a great story.



  • @Ganymede said in The Metaplot:

    So, I think the main problem is the players trying to be the divas. The other problem is the staff having no idea of what makes for, or how to write, a great story.

    Nobody in the Marrach plot wanted to be divas. They wanted to play a game the way it was supposedly meant to be played and to not be bothered by a plot they had no ability to access, even, not to mention actually PARTICIPATE in.

    Seriously, I'm not exaggerating here. Fully 90% of the player base wasn't even allowed in the half of the setting that would have all the actual plot-fu. The entirety of their participation, if they chose to get involved, would be to sit on the sidelines and ooh and ah while their social betters--the same social betters as always--did the actual plot. At best they might get some crumbs of activity like "deliver this scroll that I could far more efficiently deliver myself but I'm going to 'involve' you because I'm so magnanimous" (with no ability to actually read the scroll, or to pass it off to someone else instead, or, you know, to do anything except that one thing or nothing).


    …edited to add…

    I'm struggling with trying to get across just how dysfunctional the staff were at Marrach. And I think I have the perfect example. When the mass exodus began, and while Skotos still laboured under the delusion that they could actually make the game profitable, the actual paid staffers started doing interviews of "randomly" selected (protip: it probably wasn't random) players on the grid. One person who got such an interview was asked what it was he was looking for in a plot that would make him satisfied. His answer was (paraphrased because this was too many years ago for me to directly quote): "I want to have the chance to make a visible contribution to the resolution of a plot."

    The staff went ape-shit on this guy in the game's BBS. They filed off his name, but in that way that made it clear who they were talking about. Then they shamed him as a "prima donna" who "could never be happy if he wasn't the centre of attention". Basically the desire to be seen doing something that contributes to a plot--note that resolves it, not that is instrumental to it, but just fucking contributes to it!--was anathema to these turds. They really did believe that the goal of most players should be to just sit and watch.

    This is how dysfunctional a game we're talking about.



  • @Lisse24 said in The Metaplot:

    I'm all for creating a continuous and interconnected world where players actions matter, however I believe that plot should be driven from the ground up, and derive from how players interact with the world and complications set in front of them, rather than the top down.

    Yeah I agree and I intentionally structured things that way when I designed it but plot is always going to go to the most proactive players that are put in a lot of effort to get involved. Like if you reach out aggressively to the more passive players that effort can be seen as intrusive and unwelcome so it pretty much has to be that way, just presented as an option to involvement if they show interest. The, 'I'm not going to do any work whatsoever and just complain I'm not being involved' is pretty pervasive, in part because there's a lot of good hearted people that will reach out to the complainers even if their complaints have no merit at all. I personally think enabling that behavior is a pretty bad idea, since it taxes the more proactive people that create for the game.


  • Politics

    @WTFE said in The Metaplot:

    Nobody in the Marrach plot wanted to be divas. They wanted to play a game the way it was supposedly meant to be played and to not be bothered by a plot they had no ability to access, even, not to mention actually PARTICIPATE in.

    Maybe I'm not understanding. What do you mean by playing "a game the way it was supposedly meant to be played"?



  • I define metaplot pretty loosely. An over-arching story that broadly involves the whole game. I do think it needs continuity (continuity overall separates a sandbox game from a game that wants to tie its stories together more, I think). Apart from that, it can be anything. Now, metaplot does not mean it's necessarily INTERESTING metaplot for a particular player (people are interested in different things, and not all metaplot is well-done).

    I try to at least interact with bigger plots on a game, and I don't do particularly well on sandboxes where stories don't have any connectivity. I've never been "screwed" by metaplot. I'm pretty good at curating my fun and involving myself in what I want to play and not involving myself in things I'm meh on, even when those things are metaplot. I feel like if staff's actively screwing over players that's its own Bad ST problem and I'm likely just gone if it's bad enough.



  • @Ganymede said in The Metaplot:

    @WTFE said in The Metaplot:

    Nobody in the Marrach plot wanted to be divas. They wanted to play a game the way it was supposedly meant to be played and to not be bothered by a plot they had no ability to access, even, not to mention actually PARTICIPATE in.

    Maybe I'm not understanding. What do you mean by playing "a game the way it was supposedly meant to be played"?

    Marrach was advertised as a "grand stage" in which you played out "your story" and in which you were responsible for your own fun and made your own plots with the guidance and assistance of the "StoryPlotters". They had other grades of game in their nomenclature (none of which ever saw the light of day because, well, Marrach sucked so badly they never got the customers) in which you were meant to be integrated into a tightly-plotted story.

    Marrach did have an overarching plot, but this plot was extremely general and could be largely ignored for most practical purposes. It could be treated as window dressing effectively.

    And again, I stress, this is how the game was sold. Indeed when people complained that there was nothing to do, staff explicitly pointed to this and said "you're meant to make your own fun".

    And then out of the blue they force a "weather plot" in which you had no choice but to participate in or get harassed, even though 90% of the people playing couldn't actually participate even if they wanted to. Basically "participation" in this metaplot was forced, but also defined as "watching and applauding" and until the usual suspects actually figured out whatever it was that was making Lord Foulweather fart in the wind or whatever you had no choice but to deal with the annoyances of the "plot".


  • Politics

    @WTFE said in The Metaplot:

    And again, I stress, this is how the game was sold. Indeed when people complained that there was nothing to do, staff explicitly pointed to this and said "you're meant to make your own fun".

    Ah, okay. I get it now.

    The idea of requiring your players to make their own fun, and then presenting a metaplot seems counter-intuitive.

    So, I'll chalk this up to "fucking incompetence staff-side."


  • Coder

    Forcing people into metaplot goes both ways I think.

    I mean, on the one hand you've got @WTFE's horror story about Marrach, where you're trying to browbeat players with a completely superfluous metaplot that they don't care about and can't impact even if they did. That's just idiotic.

    But on the other hand, you've got something like @Arkandel's example about a post-apoc game. If your metaplot is "grimdark survival" and you've got people playing happy house and rebuilding society, I think it's fine to smack them down with zombies or raiders or coded illness or whatever till they are playing more in theme. Sure, you might lose players over it. But the alternative is to lose the players who actually want to play the original theme.

    I prefer a happy middle ground, which I strive for on BSGU. The metaplot is there. It's pretty pervasive. But you're never forced to participate in a mission or give a crap about what's going on around you. You could do 100% of your scenes as the BSG equivalent of BarRP in the rec room and I really don't care.


  • Pitcrew

    In my mind, metaplot is (or at least should be) the stories created by Staff and Players that other Players pick up on, woven together into a cohesive whole with the direction of Staff.

    I think that it's important that these stories start not just with Staff (the top-down metaplot approach mentioned by @Lisse24), but with Players themselves. I also think that it's important that Staff be as flexible as possible with how these stories progress to allow Players to have significant impact on the outcome without breaking theme (as @Arkandel mentioned). The stories should allow for physical, social, or mental outcomes (so that players like @icanbeyourmuse and the many others who don't play combat characters can get involved), and should provide hooks to new stories with their endings.

    In my opinion, it is the stories ending with additional hooks that turns them from stories into metaplot, because I believe that metaplot should be ongoing, the spine that ties all the stories on the game together, and that can't happen if there's an end to it.


  • Pitcrew

    I have no problem with the concept of a metaplot.

    But on a pragmatic level, I think most of the time it is not implemented well, for a variety of reasons unique to each MU*, with a few exceptions (like smaller tightly themed games--run by organized and talented people. By no means does smaller or tightly themed mean that the metaplot doesn't suck. There's a lot of moving parts.)

    *Staff turnover with no staff documentation--especially AWOL staff who don't leave any notes for incoming.

    *Staff burnout--which leads to the above OR the natural inclination to run primarily for those they enjoy the most/who are the the most doggedly annoying or in their face (to shut them up) while directing their anger to people who "don't do anything" but who in fact have multiple months of +jobs and the like ignored/unanswered or who can't make the very limited time slots.

    *Many times the same people who are great at administration (or who are willing to step up into that role) are not necessarily great STs by default, either in scenes or providing non-scene snippets (ic clues, job responses, ect.)

    I don't really count player response to metaplot here, because I'm not sure it's that important. You'll always have some people respond, no matter how crappy the storytelling or how great it is. And I don't think, if you're going to roll out a metaplot, it's a great excuse to use--simply because I can think of at least 4-5 MUSHes I've been part of where staff used "players aren't responding to me" to deflect from the real issue--burnout and/or disinterest in STing for people. There were many players waiting on unanswered jobs (or mails), who would try to attend everything they could, ect--but obviously weren't reacting the way they were supposed to to the ST's "obvious" clues (protip--if "nobody" is getting what you want out of the scene the problem may be your clues aren't as "obvious" as you think!).

    Metaplot is a bitch to keep track of and keep relevant. You have to have a plan. I've staffed many places and really most of the time there IS no documentation or pragmatic controls to keep track of the plan. It's not fun, it's paperwork, but not having anything leads to a lot of problems once the new shiny has worn off.

    The last time I participated and really chased a metaplot on a large multiple-sphere inclusive metaplot where the people involved were not good documentarians led to me being IC penalized and screamed at ooc by a staffer for my "lack of response" over many months--until I started forwarding the many unanswered @mails I'd sent to her (this was in the era prior to +jobs) showing that I had tried weekly at first and then checked in monthly, despite no response, for over a RL year. After that, with the exception of TR's apoc-plot (which I was very judicious through whom I participated and had a lot of fun as a result), I've been extremely EXTREMELY reluctant to get involved in anything if I don't get a response. What happened to me is not at all uncommon. Usually the people who have been trying to do things in the face of staff burnout, who wait patiently and just keep paddling, tend to ultimately be the receivers of staff lashing out because of their frustrations/burnout/overwhelmedness--and usually in the context of public staff complaining of lack of player response to it.

    I think if you can't be bothered to set up documentation rules and follow them for metaplot, staffside, and you are not a one-person show, then probably you should think twice about weaving in a metaplot. Sure you can blame the players, but ultimately they have no control if the implementation is half-assed, declines over time, and becomes confused and byzantine because of so much turnover with nobody keeping track of what's been done/what the direction is/what's left to do.


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