WISH 58 asks about metaplots:
What do you think of metaplots (plots developed in the rules and supplements published by the game company)? Are they good, bad, or indifferent? Have you played in a game with a metaplot? What was your experience?
I don’t really like ‘em. They don’t stop me from buying a game, but I don’t have a whole lot of interest in them when you get right down to it, so space used on a metaplot is space I’d like to see used elsewhere.
Now, White Wolf hasn’t devoted a whole lot of space to metaplots in the last couple of years. Sure, there are 16 page sections about the metaplot, and Vampire Revised had a chunk of metaplot in it, but it’s not been outrageous. I do think people overreact to the scent of the metaplot.
But I also think that this overreaction needs to be taken into account when doing game design. You have to be aware that putting forth a metaplot will instantly flip a lot of people into a certain mode of thinking. Some people will be paralyzed, unable to diverge from the metaplot. A lot of people think they have to follow the metaplot.
Bad roleplaying, not to mention lack of creativity? Sure. But there’s no point in trying to pin blame on the consumer; it’s better to say “OK, how can that problem be fixed?” And of course the easy answer is “eschew the metaplot.” So, yeah, if I were running a game company I’d skip ‘em.
Mind you, if I were running a company that was selling a line of fiction in the form of gamebooks, I’d metaplot all the way to the bank. It’s interesting how many people buy sourcebooks not for gaming but to further their understanding of the game world. In one light, the Vampire line is a lengthy piece of fiction exposed in the form of game sourcebooks; the plot moves slowly, but it does move, and there is a semi-coherent narrative that will come to an end next spring.
So if you’re doing that on purpose, you’d pretty much want a metaplot. It’s a tactic which, consciously or unconsciously, has worked well for White Wolf for many years.