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Артемий Семенов
Артемий Семенов's picture
Metaplot characters: hopes and fears

Thing I loved in L5R and hated in 7th Sea are metaplot characters: 

In L5R you had few long-dead heroes and distant world-scale BBEG likeSeven Thunders or Iuchiban, but no NPCs largely considered "canon" to have in your game. GMs have freedom to sculpt Crab daimyo's personality according to their campaign and players didn't have any expectations beforehand.

 

In 7th Sea 1st ed there were TONS of currently active Heroes and Villains with Thea-wide plans, and you couldn't do anything on larger scale than rat extermination without being noticed and interacted by one of them. As for GM, I have no problem with declaring that there is no Leon Alexander, Theo Villanova is a peaceful shutoff and current eisenfurst of Freiburg is third generation after the founder, and noone cares to remember his name.

But as a player I have to face same boring-when-you-meet them 3rd time guys and largely the same global picture.

 

I hope that in 2nd ed setting most NPCs are guys that can be excluded without reforming third of the setting's global politics, so that i will be able to meat some big guy without reading on his wife's lapdog stats during previous campaign ran by me.

I'm fine with few named rougly-shaped NPCs. I'm fine with using sample characters. But amount of metaplot charaters in 1e was killing me even more than amount of knacks. And I hope that 2e will do to metaplot characters the same they did to amount of skills.

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Jacob
Jacob's picture

I get what you are saying, but I liked the big name NPCs. Villanova had us scared. Posen impressed us a lot. Elaine is central to all things Avalonian. By all means chuck these NPCs out in your campaigns, but I think a lot of people would miss them if they were gone. 

Silver Rapier
Silver Rapier's picture

I like using the given NPCs myself. They make for good inspiration for other ones. And 7th Sea without the Vodacce princes or the Vendel League is just not 7th Sea for me. They're my favorite nations with my favorite NPCs.

Joachim Deneuve...
Joachim Deneuve du Surlign's picture

Something I noticed with the QS was that some of the sample PCs fell into the category that I would normally have expected to be a metaplot NPC: Prince Alexsy, heir to the Sarmatian Commonwealth; his Fiancée, daughter of one of the Vodacce Princes etc.  I wonder whether PCs are going to be expected to be higher-powered in this edition.

Morgan Wolfe
Morgan Wolfe's picture

I don't think the fiancee was the daughter of a prince, given some of the things said about her father. I think she was probably more of a niece, or cousin with a remove or two.

Ah, here it is: "Domenica and Ennio’s father, the Count Vespucci..."

But yeah, we always play where the NPCs are there to be part of the story, one way or another.

Morgan Wolfe
aka Capt. Doña Sir Kestrel of Avalon http://silver-gateway.com/7sea/

Jacob
Jacob's picture

To quote the Kickstarter:

"You don’t start off digging through old dungeons hoping to find a copper piece or two. No! You are trusted knight, a loyal bodyguard, or even… an adventuring queen herself."

So playing high ranking PCs is to be encouraged!

True Iskander
True Iskander's picture
That sounds like fun. However! I might also homebrew stats for starting out as a lower-powered character. Maybe I'm just conditioned, but I like starting as a lowly squire or adept and working your way up.
BluSponge
BluSponge's picture

I think this is going to be dependent on what character advancement looks like. Starting with a high powered character doesn't mean you can't start out low and work your way up in the context of the setting.

I'm fine with having a bevy of established villains, heroes and scoundrels. It's just when the setting timeline lurches forward irrespective of the players actions that I have issues.  I might consider changing terms a bit. Hero NPCs might be better suited as Allies or Patrons. Thus, they don't compete with the PCs but rather help them accomplish their goals and create new opportunities for them.

 

Salty Dog
Salty Dog's picture

To a certain extent I agree with you because there were so many GMNPC characters with the potential to overshadow PCs. Many of them were famous heroes so they had the danger of making players seem unimportant in comparison. It was really up to the GM to try to manage this aspect of the game.

Overall, though, I'd rather have more characters and just cut some of them out than have fewer GMNPCs.

Also, a lot of backers pledged at a level that allows them to include characters in the sourcebooks. With this in mind, I think it is highly unlikely that 7th Sea 2e will have less GMNPCs than the previous version of the game.

Артемий Семенов
Артемий Семенов's picture

GMNPCs can be different: there are ones that are present by default and ones that are absent in setting by default. 

I prefer second type: they leave more space for creating PCs. Its harder to be an adventuring queen and her friends when queen herself with name, stats and story and 20 persons that are connected to her are already hardcoded in the setting. But its easy both inserting AQ as GMNPC and playing her if you have Sample Powerful Avalonese Noble #5

Salamanca
Salamanca's picture
The nice part about having these characters is when you do have one arrive, Players notice it. When a Villanova or Verdugo walk I'm the room, your players know stuff just got more dangerous for them. Yes, there is the danger of overuse leading to apathy as well as long shadows. But a good GM can use those shadows to let the players work out of the spotlight at a grand ball or set themselves up with a good Ally for later. The trick is to let them be fluid in terms of your campaign and use the rest as background news from areas you are not involved in. My players manipulated the Freiburg campaign to drastically change canon and that's great. But they also almost abandoned the plotline to chase rumors drifting out of Montaigne when the revolt happened because of their ties to established NPCs there. If you don't need the NPCs, that's great but grabbing one in a pinch certainly is a time saver too.
Morgan Wolfe
Morgan Wolfe's picture

Salamanca said: "When a Villanova or Verdugo walk in the room, your players know stuff just got more dangerous for them." (hope you don't mind my fixing what looked like a typo rather than propagate it)

Case in point: Giovanni Villanova's entrance (and the other NPC's exit) in Arrow of Heaven (Erebus Cross pt. 3). I still love the description: "At mention of his name, the (location redacted in case of spoilers) empties of other customers."

'Nuff said. devil

Morgan Wolfe
aka Capt. Doña Sir Kestrel of Avalon http://silver-gateway.com/7sea/

Nathan Henderson
Nathan Henderson's picture

Problem is you can't do a game of international politics and court intrigue without various "movers and shakers" on the field.  So as far as I'm concerned, tons of cool NPCs aren't a problem.  Where things become dangerously "metaplot"-wise is when the timeline moves forwards and those characters are changing the world on their own without the PCs' impact.  That's why I'm not a fan of gamelines having moving time frames.  Just erichen the setting's starting "now" and its history to draw on, but let the events at individual tables alter the world rather than a moving timeline do the altering, because that's either going to railroad games, OR make future books less useful to games that weren't railroaded by the metaplot.

Morgan Wolfe
Morgan Wolfe's picture

Yeah, I remember having to work out "OK, we already did Cabora, but now the meta-plot did something else with it at a different time, so from here out we need to look at the stuff in the new books and see what fits, what we can make fit, and what we have to toss out." :-(

I like the way Exalted handled it (since IIRC the World(s) of Darkness were burned by meta-plot issues, too). They laid the groundwork, left some very important elements open (who is the Scarlet Empress, really, and what really happened to her?), and then in Return of the Scarlet Empress they did a whole book of "Here are some ways you can advance this one big plot element, but none of them are canon."

Morgan Wolfe
aka Capt. Doña Sir Kestrel of Avalon http://silver-gateway.com/7sea/

True Iskander
True Iskander's picture
That sounds cool. Where it starts to get tricky is something like Pathfinder, which has had such a massive amount of content that it's starting to get a little frustrating that the core setting hasn't advanced. It's been almost ten years now, and part of me hopes they eventually decide to answer some mysteries, even if it risks invalidating some adventures.
Tilly Bomas
Tilly Bomas's picture

I like meta-plot as a guideline.  I don't see it as invalidating PC's, as so much of "this is what the world looks like WITHOUT PC interference".  So, the world isn't static in one spot, but actualy has a timeline that a GM can use.  Then PC's can change it based on actions, such as, perhaps they STOP the Montaign Revolution, or they finally Drive out the Occuptaion.  Perhaps they learn of the Montaingne invasion of Ussura before it happens, and alert Matushka... or gather resources together to Hire Pirates to attack the army ships and sink them before they arrive.  

One game we were playing, actually took place almost entierly in the Midnight Arcipalago, and we were sailing West.... about the same time Cordoba was going to raise, meaning we weren't going to get stopped by that barrier.  The GM was coming up with new things for the New World we were going to encounter, when the group broke up.... but without the Meta-Plot, and keeping the world static, while he COULD have ignored the barrier and did that anyway, it doesn't have the same effect as timelines lining up, and it happening 'by chance' so that we were one of the first to discover that the path west was now open.  It was also going to lead us to Cathay (where my character was from), and my FWJ of Betrothal that my character knew NOTHING about (since he had been away from home for almost 2 years at that point).  Was lining up to be epic.

So I liked 7th Sea for the fact that it DOES have people that are out in the world, doing good and evil.  The PC's aren't the ONLY ones that shake up the world, but just some of many.  Finding like minded people, and foiling evil ones, stopping the evil from spreading, THOSE are things I enjoy most about 7th sea (even played a Villian game once, was kinda fun :P )  But what drew me to want to play L5R so much WAS that it had a meta-plot, and it wasn't just a small group of people that arbitraly decided where it goes, but was a community thing of sorts (card game.).  I never been part of the RPGA or the PFS, so I have no idea how much influence 'sanctioned games' really have on the lore persay, if any.  But worlds need to move and evolve as time goes on.  

Salamanca
Salamanca's picture
These last several posts really hit the mark on how to use metaplot. The GM needs to ignore anything published that conflicts with his game in terms of what the players have changed. Then, the GM needs to embrace the changes outside the player's radius of control. Sometimes these changes help the players in ways like dropping a barrier. Sometimes they hinder the group by replacing a ruler that supported them. (And keep in mind, the GM decides how big that radius is. If keeping a ruler or barrier in place helps your plot, it stays ). Metaplot is just a shortcut for GMs that don't want to spend time building those details.
Morgan Wolfe
Morgan Wolfe's picture

My husband just mentioned one of the worst meta-plot screws he remembers: Horizon: Stronghold of Hope for Mage: The Ascension.

In this $15 (at the time) book, a whole sub-realm was laid out, where the mages had gotten a clue and set up a place where they didn't have to worry about Sleepers.

Four years later, they released an official novel for Mage Revised that blew up Horizon. So, if you were trying to follow the meta-plot, there went an entire sourcebook.

We're both glad game companies, and the gaming community, doesn't seem interested in Big Official Meta-Plots anymore.

Morgan Wolfe
aka Capt. Doña Sir Kestrel of Avalon http://silver-gateway.com/7sea/

Tilly Bomas
Tilly Bomas's picture

Except, I like big Meta-Plots.  I also enjoy when it is the community of players that can sorta dictate Meta-Plot, as opposed to just some arbitrary person.  I mean, confusing Meta-Plot I ever had to deal with was when I was playing Star Wars.  The EU was so vast and contradictory, that I used what I wanted and what I didn't.  Now it is going to have an offical canon, and again Meta Plot helps with the story outside the players.  In the example you gave, if you started post that timeline, then yes, most of the book was probably useless.  Perhaps some people from it survived, so unique abilities or some such survived, but the realm was gone.  If you started towards the begining of said timeline, perhaps Horizon doesn't have to blow up.  The group has the oppertunity to stop it, if they discover the plot or reason for it's destruction.  If they don;t, then ya.. a whole sorcebook is gone.  People who play to Unify Eisen are essentally getting rid of the Eisen Sourcebook... 

I like Meta-plot, because I liike offical timelines.  IN my own worlds that I make for DND and such, I have a Meta-Plot that goes on, events that happen years after the 'start' of my campaign.  If the players do something that interfears with it, so be it.. that event might change, or might be different, or might not happen at all... but if the players don't, then it shows the world moves, that their are people good and bad out there doing things, and that time actually has a meaning.  One thing that really drives me crazy in allot of modern RPG's (Like Skyrim, for example), is that Time doesn't mean anything..... the great Dragon isn't going to eat the world ever, even if I never do anything about it and spend the next 5 in game years ignoring him.  A child was kidnapped by bandits... so in three years, he is still there, with the same bandits, waiting.... 

Sure, having timed events means that sometimes, your forced into situtaions.  But you could ignore it, and accept the consiquences of said action becasue your busy doing something else.  I wish more RPG's had more sense of Urgency...

Doctor
Doctor's picture

White Wolf was special though, and provides an object lesson in not hiring authors who hate each other personally.

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

True Iskander
True Iskander's picture

Huh, didn't know there was drama back in oWoD times.

Doctor
Doctor's picture

I am not going to name names or pick at old wounds but if you look at the oWoD books, pay attention to which writers blow up large portions of other writer's work. A pattern may emerge. That said, many writers were lovely people and only wanted to put out good product.

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Joachim Deneuve...
Joachim Deneuve du Surlign's picture

There was the Hyper Intelligence Technologies, Mark IV in Mage.

Entirely innocuous until you realise that one of the authors was called Mark, and if you make it an acronym it's called HIT Mark.

Doctor
Doctor's picture

In the end, I don't think 7th Sea is possible without at least a few high-power, metaplot style NPCs, mostly because these characters explain how things became as they are and indicate the possible future absent PC intervention. It is important that what made 7th Sea so rich and vivid a world is partially the number of pieces already in play. The clockwork of the political setting was, for the most part, settled, which in turn allowed the players to understand and influence events without having to conquor kingdoms. 

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Salamanca
Salamanca's picture
Plus, every so often, you get that one player that wants to use "Come Hither" on every major NPC on the planet and has the stats to make a go of it. Wait, that was my PC. And the original goal was to end the Castillian invasion by seducing ALL of Leon's daughters to argue for a return of the nation. Plus everybody loves a good villian so why not load the field.
Adam Coleman
Adam Coleman's picture

I kinda think that depends when in L5Rs history you were looking. There were a lot fo currenty active cahracters during teh 1st Edition Clan War timeline. The Seven Thunders were already decided - though could of course be miodified for your game - and all the daimyo were well-developed and their plans and schemes well documented for the GM to work with, or not, as fitted their campaign.

I personally like it when a game gives me a nice stable of current NPCs who are active in the world to use. If I like the character and their palce in the metaplot I can include them, but if not, I also have the option to change or repalce them whilst also knowing how their removal from the setting will affect the awider metaplot ebcause scheme X or plan Y won't happen as dictated by the metaplot.

Morgan Wolfe
Morgan Wolfe's picture

And of course there's the old adage that if you stat it, some players will want to try to kill it.

So if you don't want the PCs to try to kill someone/something, don't give them/it stats. :-)

Morgan Wolfe
aka Capt. Doña Sir Kestrel of Avalon http://silver-gateway.com/7sea/

Bradley
Bradley's picture

But I want my ruler to be killable. I just don't expect my players to be the ones to decide to do it, but that just means they are either labeled criminals and are on the run, have the regicide title following them and making all other rulers concerned for their own safety while the player charracters are around and generally have a very interesting storyline for these characters.

I mean, sure I was planning on someone else killing that king and the player characters getting the blame for it, but now the possible plot line of the characters clearing their names is gone and their attempts to do so is creating a massive web of lies.

Doctor
Doctor's picture

I don't think that is off the table at all, in fact, I think that the NPCs which surround the rulers of a given nation actually provide the solutions to many of the problems caused by killing the king. Also, if you're talking about killing the king, why are you really worried about Setting NPC's at all? You've already made the decision to deviate from canon, just run with it. Create or modify the NPCs as needed. I suppose I only view "Canon NPCs" as a concern if you're worried about remaining "canon."

 

While I don't think you'll see the kind of oWoD vs nWoD departure from metaplot, I also don't think that the Canon NPCs are going to be locked into any course of action or a set direction. If, and it's a big "if" JWP does anything to push metaplot, you've got at least 1.5 years before you need to worry about it. Who is going to have time to write about the Montaigne Revolution with the release schedule as it is? I imagine that JWP will be able to sell plenty of books just defining the world (with 7th Sea: The East waiting in the wings as well); I don't think they are going to need to return to locations for "updates" for a long, long time. John Wick is not without flaws (*coughmasscombatcough*) but one thing he doesn't do is write himself into a corner, and my guess is  the adventures that come with all these books will all be designed in such a way as to advance storylines without deciding global events. Or maybe they will but the results won't be assumed in the next book. In the end, I just don't see the course of future history to be set. 

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Salamanca
Salamanca's picture
Stats on NPCs are a sometimes thing. Leader of the swordsman's Guild? That needs stats because the players deserve to know they had a fair fight. (Overmatched, but fair). The O'Bannon... Better without them. His supernatural aspect should define him as more or less unkillable outside of very specific circumstances. As a GM, you can always decide to let the players do in an NPC if it suits you and no player will object. But prevent them from killing an NPC they know has a specific stat level and you will never hear the end of it. (In their eyes you will have cheated them) As for that effect on metaplot, I don't care. Once it's in my game, I just expect to adjust future information.
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