What even is 'Metaplot'?


  • Pitcrew

    This question is not asked out of pure ditziness, but because I've started wondering if there are dozens of definitions and applications instead of the word 'metaplot' referring to a common experience or understanding we internet text game geeks share.

    So what is 'metaplot' and is it the same or different or sometimes each as 'staff run plot' or 'PvE plot'?

    Definitions are always exciting but specific examples are too. Tell me the metaplot of any game that you all remember from the golden age or a recent one or whichever.


  • Pitcrew

    It is different; I'll let someone else define it.

    Metaplots affect the world and the theme shifts as a result. A good metaplot kicks things off but is also finite: when it ends, so does the game. Unless, of course, it is limited to a sphere or faction or some other way in its scope.


  • Pitcrew

    A metaplot is a game story arc that happens in the background and ties most (not all, but most) of the rest of the plots together. It is what is used to generate plots, not the plots themselves.


  • Coder

    I think this thread exists somewhere else, but here's my take.

    In RPGs, it has one of two meanings:

    • The over-reaching situation that defines the players' world, even if it's not within their grasp to directly effect. It will define a lot of their world. For instance, a nuclear explosion happens in the land of the dead and suddenly it's more risky to go into and out of the Umbra.
    • The over-reaching plot that players are part of, usually one that they are expected to 'solve' or directly involve themselves in. Whether this is spread out over time as a chronicle, or something as insipid and non-optional like a blizzard "weather plot".

    It can be both or a combination of either. I prefer the first definition, which is what RPG authors tend to use, but we mostly see it defined as the latter.


    edit: Found it. I like this kind of discussion, but if anyone wants to read up on what was said before: http://musoapbox.net/topic/1776/the-metaplot


  • Pitcrew

    I felt like I'd seen it before but was not sure. I'll give that thread a look too.

    In the meantime, I'd be super happy if anyone wanted to toss in some examples:

    1. Examples of metaplots
      2)Examples of plots that are associated with metaplots but not metaplots themselves.
    2. Examples of other types of plots that are appropriate for a game with metaplot

    Ty ty


  • Coder

    @Gingerlily said in What even is 'Metaplot'?:

    1. Examples of other types of plots that are appropriate for a game with metaplot

    Any plot is appropriate for a game with metaplot. No plot should live in a vacuum so if a game has a metaplot of the "state-of-the-world" variety then the plot should be influenced by this, but the plot can also be what happened when we went out on Thursday Night that I can't remember because magic was involved.

    Take a TV show with a plot arc, and there's an episode or a situation that barely touched on that plot arc if at all. That's always okay.


  • Pitcrew

    @Thenomain said in What even is 'Metaplot'?:

    @Gingerlily said in What even is 'Metaplot'?:

    1. Examples of other types of plots that are appropriate for a game with metaplot

    Any plot is appropriate for a game with metaplot. No plot should live in a vacuum so if a game has a metaplot of the "state-of-the-world" variety then the plot should be influenced by this, but the plot can also be what happened when we went out on Thursday Night that I can't remember because magic was involved.

    Take a TV show with a plot arc, and there's an episode or a situation that barely touched on that plot arc if at all. That's always okay.

    Or there's tons of them because show writers can't keep focus after a few seasons but I follow you!



  • @Gingerlily said in What even is 'Metaplot'?:

    I felt like I'd seen it before but was not sure. I'll give that thread a look too.

    It exists here.

    http://musoapbox.net/topic/1776/the-metaplot?page=1

    I have the same thoughts I had there.
    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).


  • Coder

    @Gingerlily said in What even is 'Metaplot'?:

    Or there's tons of them because show writers can't keep focus after a few seasons but I follow you!

    I just thought of a more concrete example:

    BSG: "33" was directly about the metaplot of "Cylons trying to kill all Humans (part one: What Do the Cylons Want?)", while most of the Presidency stuff wasn't. A lot if not all of BSG was either metaplot or directly caused or affected by the metaplot.

    Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: Almost nothing of this series wasn't metaplot, and the characters did affect it come the end but each in their own smaller way, and there were times where they took a break from it because d'yamn.

    I'd almost consider the events of Brotherhood to be a chronicle more than a metaplot, because it has a very distinct storyline and IMO metaplots do not.

    Avatar: The Last Airbender: See above. The metaplot is stronger here, for me, because everything even in the fluff episodes is affected by "And Then The Fire Nation Attacked". It does have an ending, but the ending is far from a simple 'the end'. The effects continue, but the world has changed.

    Korra I don't think has a global metaplot. It has some smaller ones, such as Asami Sato's struggling with her father and inheriting a large corporation, but IMO that's the metaplot of the "and then this happens, solve it" variety. A character arc.

    BSG was not as tightly structured as FMA:B or A:TLA, but I see its metaplot just as strongly.

    --

    edit because I just found an older thread on metaplot: http://musoapbox.net/topic/662/let-s-talk-metaplot

    In there I said:

    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.

    I like this. I'm going to stick to this. It's a nice curtain, one I can really get my claws into.

    This is not the only definition, because there is no definition. This is my preferred definition.


  • Pitcrew

    @Gingerlily said in What even is 'Metaplot'?:

    I felt like I'd seen it before but was not sure. I'll give that thread a look too.

    In the meantime, I'd be super happy if anyone wanted to toss in some examples:

    1. Examples of metaplots
      2)Examples of plots that are associated with metaplots but not metaplots themselves.
    2. Examples of other types of plots that are appropriate for a game with metaplot

    Ty ty

    You see them a lot in TV shows. Take Buffy, for example. Each season has a Big Bad who is trying to do something Big and Bad. Many of the episodes (but not all) deal with some aspect of the shenanigans caused by the Big Bad on the way to achieving their goal.

    I've run a couple of games that have recycled this format. Big Bad has goals opposed to our heroes. They attack city X or steal macguffin Y or otherwise cause chaos in search of this goal. We thwart them. On one game, we were mutant superspies, so there were lots of other plots that weren't related to that particular Big Bad. On the other, we were mercenaries - again, lots of potential for being hired for jobs not related to our nemesis.

    Sometimes it can also be a mystery. Lost's 'Why are we stuck on this island?'. The plots then revolve around trying to solve it, uncovering clues, getting into trouble trying to uncover clues. That sort of thing.

    Meta plots are really great for keeping story moving and for creating fun, interesting recurring antagonists. They can be a lot of work to run and maintain, especially if you place a lot of importance on letting players affect outcomes and shape the game.


  • Pitcrew

    @Thenomain said in What even is 'Metaplot'?:

    Korra I don't think has a global metaplot. It has some smaller ones, such as Asami Sato's struggling with her father and inheriting a large corporation, but IMO that's the metaplot of the "and then this happens, solve it" variety. A character arc.

    I think that would be the resolution of the alignment of the spirit and physical worlds, as well as the power dynamic of benders vs. non-benders.


  • Coder

    @Cupcake said in What even is 'Metaplot'?:

    @Thenomain said in What even is 'Metaplot'?:

    Korra I don't think has a global metaplot. It has some smaller ones, such as Asami Sato's struggling with her father and inheriting a large corporation, but IMO that's the metaplot of the "and then this happens, solve it" variety. A character arc.

    I think that would be the resolution of the alignment of the spirit and physical worlds, as well as the power dynamic of benders vs. non-benders.

    The former was something that happened, absolutely a plot or a "plot arc" that is my second definition of metaplot. It was a metaplot in the same way as the testing of the nuclear bomb was a metaplot; it may have created larger situations, tho, such as the flash-return of the Airbenders. (Which was unexpected and so, so cool.)

    The power dynamic between benders and non-benders I had forgotten about; the first season was about this situation but it's very clearly a thing that is a heavy pressure on the world that the characters are constantly working around. So yes, IMO, it's a metaplot.


  • Pitcrew

    @Gingerlily I feel like The X-Files is a great example here.

    • The metaplot of The X-Files is, loosely stated, the efforts of a small cabal of FBI agents to uncover the truth about extraterrestrial influence on Earth, and, where that influence would have negative effects on humanity, to prevent or at least minimize its effects.

    • Episodes that advance that overarching plotline are associated with the metaplot, but are not, themselves, metaplots. For instance, when Mulder finds out about a truck carrying a dead alien (in "E.B.E.") and attempts to track it down and obtain evidence, that is not itself a metaplot, but it's a part of the overall story of uncovering alien influence.

    It's worth adding: there can be more than one metaplot going on at a time. One metaplot can be a sublevel of another, or they can be totally independent. Mulder's search for the fate of his sister is a sub-metaplot of the alien metaplot. Some episodes deal with both -- if Samantha's disappearance is involved, then by extension the alien search is also involved, but the reverse isn't necessarily true. An episode might deal only with the alien part, and while his sister may be referenced or mentioned, his search isn't part of those particular episodes.

    • Any episode that doesn't involve the alien "thing" (for lack of a better word) is neither part of the overall metaplot, nor itself a metaplot (generally), but can still be perfectly appropriate. When Mulder and Scully search for cryptids in the Pine Barrens, that has nothing to do with aliens, but it's still fine because the series has established that they investigate all sorts of paranormal cases, rather than just alien cases.

  • Pitcrew

    First, my asshole--I mean opinion--on what a metaplot is: The spine of the game, the over-arching story that draws players through the world. Many (but not all) plots will either feed into it or extend from it.

    Second, examples. From an actual game!

    In The Fifth World, the metaplot was that there were beings (Hostiles) from another planet in the same solar system that were attacking the inner planets where the PCs lived. It was war. How do you fight them?

    There were a couple of parallel and related mini-metaplots that weren't directly tied in as well: a councilor maneuvering for power and a crisis of faith within the Church.

    Many of the other plots were tied to one, two, or all three of these story spines, ranging from semi-random skirmishes with Hostiles that we tried to tie into the results of the larger war effort to grand battles that decided the fate of whole swathes of territory. There were plots started by players that involved a group of Hostile worshipers that tied into both the overall war effort and the Church's problems, there were investigations into the role of some of the Church members who were acting sketchy, there were scenes providing opportunities for people to get involved in the power grab by the councilor, there were dreams that magic users were getting that were driving them to organize together to figure out what was coming... but everything tied back to the war effort.

    That's what made the war effort the metaplot, and everything else limbs or bones depending on that story spine.



  • I see metaplot as the plot elements addressing the issues that a particular plot is inspired by. Nice and simple definition.


  • Coder

    @Chet said in What even is 'Metaplot'?:

    I see metaplot as the plot elements addressing the issues that a particular plot is inspired by. Nice and simple definition.

    Yet, to me, I've never seen it used that way.

    A metaplot is not a plot in that you usually don't do anything about it specifically.

    The metaplot is the plot happening in the world around you; you might do plots that it spawns, but it, itself, is not touchable as a PC.

    Its the ongoing, large story that's bigger then an individual PC.

    In OWOD Vampire, the metaplot was the Jyhad and the eventual rise of the Antediluvians.
    In OWOD Mage, the metaplot was the Ascension War.

    Etc.

    Now, a game can have its own metaplot below (or combining) this game-wide metaplot, sure. There doesn't have to be a single metaplot.

    The point is the metaplot is the high level story of the world moving.

    On a smaller scale, on the scale of PCs in a city or region, that metaplot will spawn plots that you deal with. These might affect the metaplot, but indirectly. That's why its meta.


  • Pitcrew

    @ixokai said in What even is 'Metaplot'?:

    A metaplot is not a plot in that you usually don't do anything about it specifically.

    The metaplot is the plot happening in the world around you; you might do plots that it spawns, but it, itself, is not touchable as a PC.

    I think this depends on the scale of your game, to some extent. And the positioning of your PCs and your plot. If your metaplot is a war, for example, and your PCs are a team of well-trained soldiers, they can (and SHOULD) absolutely affect its outcome.

    If your metaplot is a team of shadowy people trying to redirect the shape of the world, and your PCs are the mutant super team who encounters them and foils their plans, you are absolutely affecting the outcome and direction of the metaplot.

    I've run metaplots that were bigger than these - politics moving in the background, huge social changes sweeping the country. Sometimes they are necessary to ground your PCs. But they're also the plots people complained about all the time, because they had no means by which to affect their outcome.

    In my opinion, a metaplot should be something players can and do affect, and larger, untouchable stuff should be kept to a minimum as much as possible.


  • Admin

    @Tat said in What even is 'Metaplot'?:

    You see them a lot in TV shows. Take Buffy, for example. Each season has a Big Bad who is trying to do something Big and Bad. Many of the episodes (but not all) deal with some aspect of the shenanigans caused by the Big Bad on the way to achieving their goal.

    And that is correct, but notice TV shows also do it more intelligently than that (or do these days, after they've had some time to evolve their methods). For instance how much fun would Buffy have been if the entire run was about that one Big Bad? What if we had, I dunno, seven seasons of The Master plaguing the gang? That wouldn't stay fresh for too long, right?

    Metaplot to me is an overall narrative. It's a hook to give characters something to work toward and to keep them busy, but it can't be all there is to do and it still needs to be renewed once in a while. Gaming encourages niches (or, rather, gamers are very protective of their niches) so after some time there is a lot of entrenchment going on; a certain kind of player nabs all the positions of Organizer and don't appreciate competition, others pick Tasks to do and don't want others treading on their territory, and so on - if this is allowed to happen for too long without mixing it up then metaplot can actually work against your game by turning newbies and OOC disconnected players into sidekicks. That's nearly always a very bad idea.

    I think my favorite kind of metaplot is non-binding. For example I loved Gehenna in oWoD because it wasn't... clear what the fuck it was. So the Antideluvians are coming back... maybe? How about Caine? We had all these tidbits of information but they were either tainted (were that Elder's memories corrupted by someone?) or just unreliable (half-destroyed texts written thousand of years ago by priests on some serious drugs) and most of it was just guesswork. It was quite possible characters weren't even going to ever see the Final Nights be resolved, that they were fighting just against a specter, an idea of what that could entail, and that would be perfectly fine because... how do you fight an idea?

    Anyway, yeah. Good metaplot is great, but it's not an automatic solution. You still need to know what problem you are solving, and how.


  • Pitcrew

    @Arkandel said in What even is 'Metaplot'?:

    And that is correct, but notice TV shows also do it more intelligently than that (or do these days, after they've had some time to evolve their methods). For instance how much fun would Buffy have been if the entire run was about that one Big Bad? What if we had, I dunno, seven seasons of The Master plaguing the gang? That wouldn't stay fresh for too long, right?

    Yes, you're totally right. A good metaplot knows when to end. If it doesn't have a beginning, middle, and end, then in my book it's not a plot - it's just your setting. And it's probably one of those things people are talking about that players can't affect much.

    The length of a metaplot is often quite long - perhaps even years. Some games have experimented with (and I think had luck with) the idea of seasons, to help with metaplot staleness. But at some point things do have to /change/.


  • Coder

    I like a lot of the definitions earlier, particularly @Arkandel's mention of "overall narrative" and @Seraphim73's description of metaplot as the "spine" of the game.

    It's also good to note that a game (and a TV show) can have more than one metaplot. As @Thenomain mentioned, the "presidential stuff" in BSG wasn't really related to the war metaplot, but it was a different metaplot about the rebuilding of society (including the government) post-apocalypse. That touched a lot of episodes.

    Firefly is another show that had multiple metaplots: the "hands of blue" Alliance/River thing was a big one, but there was also a running subplot about keeping the ship afloat, and another about the lingering effects of the Unification war, etc.

    Some MUSH examples...

    • Babylon 5 MUSH essentially just reimagined the metaplots from the show (coming of the Shadows, leading to the Shadow War, the Earth/B5 political strife and independence, the Narn/Centauri war, etc.)

    • Sweetwater Crossing's first metaplot was about a range war between two neighboring ranches. The second was about a railroad baron trying to come take over the town.

    • The various BSG games have all had war-driven metaplots, though BSG:Pacifica also had a big metaplot about military/civilian tensions.


Log in to reply
 

Looks like your connection to MU Soapbox was lost, please wait while we try to reconnect.