Metaplot and World In Motion

I started this at theRPGsite as well, but curious what peoples thoughts are here. What separates metaplot from world-in-motion in your mind? And is there a way to do metaplot well without having it lead to tomes of must-have supplements?

Comments

  • Metaplot is a list of events that will occur. Period. Players aren't able to change the course of events for whatever reason. The GM might even employ hard-stop or coercive force to make sure players don't foil the metaplot.

    World-in-Motion is a list of events that are happening right now. Players react to them and change the course of events going forward. Then the GM updates the world in motion to account for the player actions and create new events for players to react to.

    (I'd never heard the term "World-in-Motion" before, so I stake no particular claim to authority about what it means.)

    Metaplot works best when the players are on board. Make it clear what is changeable and what is not. "You are soldiers in WWII. You cannot change the outcome of major events of the War as they're known to history, but you should use them as background for what your characters do."
  • Are you familiar with Vampire the Masquerade and Vampire the Requiem? The first was heavy on metaplot, to the extent that a lot of published material moved the overall official setting story forward. In other words, no matter what your characters did, it didn't change a iota of the future of the world. It was scripted, and your characters could do nothing about it (if you followed the official supplements). The same will happen if you already planed the overall, unchangeable future sequence of events for your fictional world.

    As for Vampire the Requiem, there was no metaplot. Supplements didn't change the setting story/plot in any way. You had background story and that was it.

    Like Adam, I don't know what World-in-Motion is, but I'm going on a limb and assume that it is a list of present and *potential* future events. These are composed of two different things: stuff that is happening right now and stuff that will happen if the players do nothing about it or that affects it somehow.

    Hope that's useful.
  • Hmm. In my mind, meta plot is one or more overarching vectors of story and conflict. (I like vector as it has a direction and a magnitude, as well as its how things spread). This could be something like a building series of environmental changes, or cultural change, or specific large plots characters are acting on in a direct way, such as subverting a government agency. It will spin off many events, both in the background and for the players to react to. The players characters will be able to participate and affect some portion of this ongoing series of events. Metapolot also acts as an organizer for the creation of past events, people and groups, and something to hang themes off of.

    World in motion sounds like all the things going on, be they directly related to the metaplots, tangential, or unrelated.



  • edited March 2017
    Metaplot is one of those terms that have somewhat different connotations, just like sandbox, but in the past it has been used basically in the way I and Adam mentioned above. Here's how the old Forge glossary defined it circa early 2000s:

    Metaplot: This term is used in several different ways. (1) A sequence of large-scale changes in setting and actions of NPCs which stimulate conflicts, especially when planned to occur well in advance of play; (2) a version of # 1 generated through publications and expected to be implemented by customers in their games, usually through the agency of the GM, which override players' degree of choice regarding their characters' role, which is to say, which require significant use of Force, usually by the GM.
  • The less Force perceived by the players when using metaplot, the better it works. The more it feels like an arbitrary imposition that makes players input irrelevant, the worse it will work. Seems like the point of using metaplot was well stablished on the Forge days: "large-scale changes in setting and actions of NPCs which stimulate conflicts" says a good deal about it.

    The choice of using one above the other depends of things like personal taste, how good the metaplot actually is at sparking new conflicts instead of turning previous ones irrelevant, if players are either proactive or reactive and the scale of the bet they like to have on the game.

    One of my players loves to have really big stakes, like setting-wide scale ones. Also everyone in my group loves the chance to influence the outcome, so either I subtly railroad a lot (which I stopped doing at some point years ago) or prep only for the next session incorporating consequences of whatever happened before. I'm trying to get used to fronts, which are all about world-in-motion as stated. They seem to work better for our group.
  • There was one gaming supplement that used what I consider metaplot to the point where:

    -- In combat sequences, the GM was told which NPCs WOULD live, die, or be captured No. Matter. What.
    -- PCs weren't allowed to chose their own course of action. That is, they're told first, "You screwed this thing up." Then, "No, don't even try to fix it." Then, "Okay, time to try to fix it." Then, "Nope, we have decided we don't want it fixed." Then, "Okay, sneak into a dangerous situation and don't even try to change it -- your job is to Bear Witness to History."

    Now, the issue I have here isn't that there's metaplot, but that there's an utter lack of PC -- and GM -- agency. This often accompanies metaplot, but not always.

    My Dracula Dossier game has metaplot. I've said up front:
    Okay, these are the four legs, and Dracula will escape in the first three, no matter what, though the PCs may think they've killed him.
    I'm planning to run "The Carmilla Sanction" after the second leg, so Carmilla will survive until then. After that? Well, that depends on you.
    Also, history is more or less as it was in our world, as modified by previous games I've run with some of the PCs.

    A gray area between this and World In Motion (if I understand the term correctly) for me is:
    If the PCs do not intervene, here's how things will play out. [Insert detailed list covering anything from the next hour of game time to the next millennia, depending on your game.]

    E.g., Masks of Nyarlathotep is all about stopping a Big Cultist Plan. I have a "this is what happens if it isn't stopped" section.

    E.g., the PCs are bringing back plague medication. I have a chart for how many people die over the next few months, and use whichever section corresponds to how long the PCs actually took.

    Pure World In Motion is me making notes between sessions, saying:

    Hm.... so, this PC told this NPC this, which means the NPC things this other thing, and will do X.
    This NPC has no idea the PCs robbed him, so will blame the housekeeper.
    The teind to Hell wasn't paid, which means that Hell will do this, but these folks will be grateful to the PCs and might help.
    Okay, this section about how the NPCs will do X is right out. That's clearly never going to happen.

    Fate of Cthulhu is doing some very, very interesting things blurring the lines here.
  • edited March 2017
    I generally agree with what you said, Lisa, but in some of your examples it seems to me that you're talking about a scripted scenario. In that case it's just that, a scripted plot, not a metaplot. A metaplot is always of a larger scale, both geographically and temporally. WarriorMonk is right, it's like fronts (but scripted and immutable) in AW, DW, etc. It's the events in the world around the characters, not their specific situation (their specific situation is of course part of that greater whole and influenced by it).

    Or maybe I just misunderstood you?
  • I have never heard of any "official" definitions of those terms, but my guess would pretty much what people have been saying in this thread.

    I think, though, that there is a lot of "blurred territory" between a totally separate "metaplot" which the players can't influence, which will happen no matter what, and general events happening around them.

    There are two axes here, I think:

    * How much ability the PCs/players have to change the outcome of things.

    Can you prevent World War II? No? Ok, does that mean you can kill Hitler, but the war will still happen?

    So, which parts are set in stone and which are up for grabs? Lisa outlines some up-front limitations quite nicely in games she's played, in her post, above. (I am very much in favour of communicating such limitations to the players; it makes play a lot more likely to succeed!)

    * How often (and at what remove from actual play) are these "events" being generated or written?

    If the entire six-month "plot" is written before the group even gets together to play, that's a high degree of removal. If the GM is writing the "next session's" events each week, that's much closer. If the GM is generating "background events" after each scene or encounter, that's *really* close.

    You can now imagine various possibilities in the space described by those two axes!

    (I suppose the second axis could be broken into two factors: "how often", and "at what degree of remove", but I don't think for most people's purposes that would be necessary.)

    For instance, it would be interesting to have a person you can call up on the phone every 15 minutes during your game to ask them to tell us what's happening in the world, and then use that information to inform the game. ("Any news from the Western Front?" "Any new tweets from the White House?") It would be quite a different RPG experience!
  • edited March 2017
    There's an interesting distinction between games having a single metaplot, explicitly about specific places, times and entities, and games with a more abstract set of metagame assumptions and expectations and story development patterns. Usually there's a mix of both.

    Call of Cthulhu has a very open-ended explicit metaplot: by chance, the 1920s and 1930s are the heyday of alien gods and deranged cultists. The ample catalogue of eldritch stuff is both a ready to use toybox and described in such detail that inventing other content in the same vein is rather easy (and encouraged in the interest of mystery and unpredictability).
    Over the course of a campaign less horrible monsters (e.g. ghouls, Deep Ones) are likely to be featured as an initial warm-up and prestigious and/or apocalyptic situations (e.g. a visit to R'lyeh or a manifestation of Azathoth or Yog-Sothoth) as a final climax, but it's only common sense and tradition.

    Impositions are common in CoC adventures, but they don't serve metaplot preservation: for example, the purpose of the heavy-handed (and literal) railroading in Horror on the Orient Express consists of reasonable metagame goals that are unlikely to imply friction between GM and players: making the investigators rush through all the episodes, without skipping any or going back or pausing; progressively raising the stakes and increasing danger; allowing for partial failure; really defeating the cultists only at the end.
    But as others have noted, this is the plot of a single adventure; from the outside, HotOE is just another instance of saving the world from cultists despite the stars being right.

    It fits well in CoC campaign patterns like starting from scratch after failing too miserably, keeping the same continuity with new characters as old ones die or retire, and challenging surviving veteran investigators with nastier cultists and manifestations in case of success. "They lived happily ever after" is rarely a seriously considered option in Call of Cthulhu.

    On the other hand Cyberpunk 2013, later Cyberpunk 2020 after seven years of metaplot, combines a very rich and very generic "world in motion" in which there is a constant influx of newtech, evil corporate plots, ambitious punks, natural and unnatural disasters, shady jobs, and other opportunities for trouble and adventure with such a strong affection for the official instance of this kind of stuff (Night City, Arasaka corp., even NPCs like Johnny Silverhand and Rache Bartmoss) that after the highly detailed Third Corporate War the metaplot diverges between Cybergeneration and Cyberpunk V3 in completely incompatible ways.

    I find the depth of background material of the official Cyberpunk 2013/2020/V3 setting an effective and almost necessary way to organize a game with an unusually complex setting and minimize absurdity; details are important and they have to be coherent and justified. Every campaign of Cyberpunk 2020 should be as detailed as the official setting, so it makes sense to adapt large pieces from it.

  • There's an interesting distinction between games having a single metaplot, explicitly about specific places, times and entities, and games with a more abstract set of metagame assumptions and expectations and story development patterns. Usually there's a mix of both.

    Call of Cthulhu has a very open-ended explicit metaplot: by chance, the 1920s and 1930s are the heyday of alien gods and deranged cultists. The ample catalogue of eldritch stuff is both a ready to use toybox and described in such detail that inventing other content in the same vein is rather easy (and encouraged in the interest of mystery and unpredictability).
    Over the course of a campaign less horrible monsters (e.g. ghouls, Deep Ones) are likely to be featured as an initial warm-up and prestigious and/or apocalyptic situations (e.g. a visit to R'lyeh or a manifestation of Azathoth or Yog-Sothoth) as a final climax, but it's only common sense and tradition.
    I agree with everything you said, with one exception. I wouldn't call the above metaplot. What you described is just setting/background for CoC. There is no overall "official" plot development for events in the fictional game world. I think perhaps one problem here is that we need to clarify what is plot and what is background story. The latter is just part of the setting and what happened up to the point the players start playing. The former, on the other hand, is unchangeable story elements that occur after play has started (hence, the plot of the story that is being played), but which are more than just events in a scenario for the players; they actually are part of the wider fictional game world. I'd say that unless you make it official at your table that the events in Lovecraft's stories are going to occur in the fictional game world (at which point that will be considered metaplot), than CoC doesn't have any metaplot to speak of.

    Admittedly, it seems to me that people use the metaplot concept in different ways. Lisa's post, as well as yours, seem to imply so. Personally, I've never seen it used in any other context than what I mentioned in my previous posts, which happens to be also the definition in the old Forge glossary. Perhaps the use of the word has changed and expanded in the last 15 years? Dunno.

  • edited March 2017
    I just remembered that CoC actually has a timeline of events based on the stories Lovecraft and others? If one officially decides that those events will occur in the shared fictional world at the table (regardless of player involvement), than that does count as metaplot, of course. Not sure if that was what you meant, lorenzogatti?
  • edited March 2017
    double post

  • It occurs to me that - while I'm used to seeing the term "metaplot" (very rarely) used in the Forge sense linked to above - Lorenzo's interpretation hints at a more "intuitive" definition of the term:

    Some generic form of plot which underlies the actual plot of your given game/story.

    For instance, you might argue that the "metaplot" of D&D is the hero's journey, where adventurers leave their home/country/place, enter a distant and otherwordly subterranean nightmare world, face terrible trials, and eventually return home victorious, transformed. (Even in very deadly D&D games, chances are that *some* of the characters will survive and succeed, eventually.) This would be THE archetypical D&D story, even while many particular D&D "plots" might diverge from this.

    The "metaplot" of a game designed around emulating tragedy might be entirely different, in contrast.

    Similarly, the "metaplot" of a romantic comedy would always end in a wedding between the romantic leads, a Call of Cthulhu metaplot might require a descent into madness, and so on.

    Some games or styles of play rely heavily on such a "metaplot", while others do not.

    An example of a game with a very overt "metaplot" in this sense would be My Life with Master: every time you play, you are creating variations on a basic plot.
  • Hey Brendan,

    Not sure if you were asking for impressions of the terms themselves, or for opinions on established definitions that some of us don't know.

    Based on the similarities in your and my gaming histories, I'm guessing that I know what you mean. I could be wrong, though! To me, "world in motion" means that after the starting conditions of the world have been established at the outset of play, the setting's internal, causal logic drives it forward, with the GM applying that as per their most intuitive/objective judgment. As for "metaplot", to me that means a plot for NPCs and/or factions and/or the world itself, which may be a tiny or huge part of what the player characters encounter (depending on group & GM), but will most definitely proceed forward during play.

    If we're on the same page with that, then I'd say the main thing separating the two in concept is GM approach and in practice is GM emphasis. A GM who gave equal time and attention to both (a) iterating the world forward by causal logic and (b) progressing their own metaplot would effectively cover both bases, I'd say. I don't know how many GMs would do this, though -- it seems to me that these two approaches require two different kinds of thinking, and most GMs prefer one over the other.

    As for metaplot supplements, I actually have no experience with those, aside from a few short adventures that didn't last long enough to even tease the campaigns they were written for. My metaplot experience is all GM-authored. I've run some such games with success, and played in a few others. I'd say the keys to doing it well in those games were (a) working the player characters into the NPCs' core machinations, and (b) providing enough interaction between the PCs and the metaplot elements for the players to invest in such elements. When the players love this NPC/faction and hate that NPC/faction, playing through that faction war is way more fun than when the players view it impersonally.
  • Call of Cthulhu has a very open-ended explicit metaplot: by chance, the 1920s and 1930s are the heyday of alien gods and deranged cultists.
    In this case the difference between mere background and a very weak and vague metaplot is that while both are anchored to a specific time and place and guided by metagame concerns, the metaplot constrains the future instead of being a starting point in the past: it is expected that, whatever successes the investigators achieve, the stars remain right, with monsters and cultists appearing out of nowhere, feeding an ongoing campaign of CoC adventures with a wealth of new, unrelated threats and not only with the survivors and unfinished business (the "world in motion") of previous adventures. The investigators cannot end the Mythos menace, as would be fair in a game without a metaplot: they can only do their best to deal with it.

    When actually playing games with excessively explicit and constraining official metaplots, typical GMs treat such material as an example of a good story, adapt it partially and write their own metaplot for their own campaign taking into account variety, player experience and tastes, character power level, etc.
    It goes unnoticed because it's common and because a custom metaplot fits well both the game's fiction and player expectations, while blind obedience to overly detailed metaplots in published material is almost a strawman concept because it would be clearly worse than using good judgement and often stupid.

    Imagine a fixed timeline of CoC adventures, in which investigators have the opportunity of realistically allowing the end of the world because even the most elaborate rituals are shorter than their accidental stay in hospital, of dealing with dead people and destroyed places, and so on. For example, putting together two famous Lovecraft stories in which any well-meaning PCs could easily replace the original characters, Miskatonic University is unlikely to organize expeditions to Antarctica (or anywhere else) for a very long time after enterprising folks manage to lure both Whateley brothers into the library for a showdown.
  • Hey Brendan,

    Not sure if you were asking for impressions of the terms themselves, or for opinions on established definitions that some of us don't know.
    My main interest was in getting a better reading on how people distinguish these two ideas.
  • Gotcha. Was the response here similar to on theRPGsite, or very different?
  • What separates metaplot from world-in-motion in your mind?
    To me, metaplot is about a publishing model, pushing the events of the world not based on the players' actions or what is interesting in the world but because the latest supplement said so.

    World-in-motion is when the world moves beyond the players' view or when the players' actions have an effect and make differences like a pebble in a pond. Stars Without Number's faction turn is a good example of this.

  • Gotcha. Was the response here similar to on theRPGsite, or very different?
    I think reducing the responses on either forum could potentially be misleading. Instead, I'd encourage people to check out the responses there to see for themselves.
  • Would you provide a link?
  • edited March 2017
    Found it! Looks to me like there's a significant overlap between here and there, and also some nicely unique input in both places.
  • Thanks, Dave! Interesting stuff.
Sign In or Register to comment.