Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Legend of the Five Rings: The End of an Era

             On September 11, Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) announced that they had purchased the license for Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) from Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG).  For fans of the L5R card game, this was apocalyptic news.  The L5R CCG had been in production since 1995 and had built an enormous and devoted following thanks to its multiple clans – with which players would strongly identify – and its emphasis on a storyline that the players could affect through tournament play. 
            Two more products remain to be released for AEG’s version of L5R, Evil Portents the final expansion for the CCG and the Atlas of Rokugan for the RPG.  AEG’s sale of its L5R licenses represents a massive change to the gaming landscape.  The L5R CCG has remained unchanged since its release 20 years ago, even when it was owned by Wizards of the Coast (WotC).  However, the end of AEG’s production of the L5R RPG is of greater importance. 
            AEG has been producing RPG products since 1997, and over the course of the last few years, AEG has cut back on the development of RPG products.  L5R was the last RPG license that they were developing.  Now, L5R is gone, too.  Once they were a strong competitor in the RPG market with a large slate of great RPGs:  L5R, Brave New World, 7th Sea, and Spycraft.  They also produced licensed RPGs for Farscape and Stargate SG-1.  They even released a number of supplements during the D20 open license glut in the early 2000’s including the World’s Largest Dungeon and World’s Largest City supplements.

            FFG’s purchase of L5R is not the first time that the license has changed hands.  Shortly after it was first published, Five Rings Publishing Group took over the production and development of L5R as a joint venture of AEG and their publishing partner ISOMEDIA.  In 1997, Five Rings Publishing Group became a subsidiary of WotC until 1998 when WotC subsumed Five Rings Publishing Group completely. 
            The addition of L5R had an enormous effect on D&D 3.0.  Rokugan became the default setting for D&D’s Oriental Adventures campaign replacing Kara-Tur in the Forgotten Realms.  Under WotC’s stewardship, the L5R CCG’s mechanics and emphasis on story remained the same.  However, AEG re-acquired the property in 2001, and WotC released the Japanese themed Magic:  The Gathering Kamigawa block.  One might guess that once WotC sold L5R, they were stuck with a large amount of art for the game that they then re-purposed for Magic:  The Gathering.  (This is purely conjecture on my part but the sale of L5R in 2001 and the release of the Kamigawa block in 2004 certainly points to that as a possibility.  Perhaps someone with better understanding of Magic:  The Gathering’s history will correct me if I’m wrong.)

            L5R has had a tumultuous existence not even counting WotC’s purchase and sale back to AEG.  While owned by WotC, the original five interlocking rings logo used on the back of the CCG’s cards and on the covers of their RPG books was the focus of a lawsuit by the International Olympic Committee.  The IOC claimed that the interlocking rings infringed on their trademark and the settlement required that L5R change its logo.  They choose to use five coins instead.   The change occurred when WotC released the Spirit Wars expansion in 2000.  The change to the card backs forced players to sleeve their decks with opaque-backed card sleeves to avoid cheating.  WotC included sleeves in the starter decks for Spirit Wars as an apology to upset fans who didn’t want to spend extra money on card sleeves. 
            WotC’s ownership of the L5R RPG also led to the production of many L5R RPG 2nd Edition books which included the rules for both the D20 system and L5R’a original D10 system.  Both companies hoped to keep fans of the L5R RPG happy whether they preferred the new D20 system or AEG’s system.  Soon after AEG reacquired the license they released the third edition of L5R returning it to its D10 roots in 2005. 
            The L5R CCG, which many loved including myself, is no more.  FFG has announced that they will update the rules and begin releasing the game as a Living Card Game similar to Star Wars:  The Card Game and Warhammer Conquest.  In and of itself, this transition from random booster packs to pre-packaged expansions is exciting.  FFG has proven that this style of game is extraordinarily successful.  They have also shown that they are excellent stewards for licensed products.  Role playing games such as Star Wars: Edge of Empire, Star Wars:  Age of Rebellion, Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, miniatures games like Star Wars Armada, X-Wing, and board games like Battlestar Galatica and Eldritch Horror are all excellently designed and managed properties.  Star Wars:  Edge of Empire is the best Star Wars RPGs since West End Games Star Wars, Revised system.

            Although many fans of L5R are sad today that AEG and FFG have decided to end a game with 20 years of history, FFG is undoubtedly the best stewards for this license moving forward.  Yet, AEG no longer makes RPGs which is a great loss to the tabletop RPG hobby.  The mechanics developed for L5R’s RPG remain excellent and were great for representing the culture of a fantasy Far East medieval civilization.  These mechanics allowed players to create a variety of characters that could be sneaky, deadly ninjas, katana-wielding duelists, powerful magic-using shugenja or sharp-tongued courtiers.  All were equally playable and viable within the system.  The back story of Rokugan, the setting for L5R, was so well developed – both deep and broad – that game masters had an endless supply of eras in which to set their game, NPCs to introduce, and story hooks for adventures. 
            As sad as fans are about this change, no other company is better suited to restart and redevelop L5R as both a Living Card Game and an RPG.  FFG has scheduled the re-release of the L5R CCG for GenCon 2017.  Currently, they have not made an announcement regarding the re-release of the RPG.  However, FFG should consider keeping the current L5R RPG as it is and release an updated and improved edition without significantly changing the rules.  Unlike when FFG acquired the license for the Star Wars RPG from WotC, L5R does not need a completely new system.  Regardless of whether or not FFG changes the system, a new L5R RPG developed by FFG will be a must buy. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Report from GenCon 2015

Cardhalla, where attendees have built impressive structures from donated cards
             I have been to a lot of conventions and even worked for one, but I have never had a better time than I had this past weekend at GenCon.  GenCon’s motto “The Best Four Days in Gaming” is not hype; it is truth!  I hadn’t attended a convention in several years, and although I had attended Gen Con previously, I really didn’t do everything that I could have to make it the best experience. 
            I would like to start by thanking the entire GenCon staff for running such a great convention.  I know from experience that behind the scenes of any convention is chaos, but the mark of a great convention is that the con-goers never see that chaos.  I can’t say what the GenCon staff did or didn’t do.  All I can say is that I never felt their presence, and everything ran smoothly.  That in itself is an impressive feat for a convention of 60,000 plus attendees. 
A wonderful balloon artist built this over 4 days of the convention
            Next, I would like to personally thank the medical staff in the first aid room in the Indianapolis Convention Center.  My girlfriend had an asthma attack on Saturday afternoon, and they were not only quick to help, but very friendly and experienced.  They treated her quickly and professionally.  I don’t remember your names, but thank you very much for everything you did!
            The city of Indianapolis was amazing, too!  Everyone was friendly and you could really tell how excited the city was to have GenCon.  The hotel staff at the Cambria where I stayed were so nice and outgoing.  They asked about the convention, and although they are further out from the convention than some might prefer, I cannot recommend them more highly!  Everyone restaurant in the city was re-themed for the convention as well.  We ate dinner at the Colts Grille and they had hung banners for various games and given new names to their menu items paying homage to a variety of games, comic book characters, etc.   Not to mention they gave us free, Indiana Colts themed dice. 
            GenCon was not all fun though.  As many of you know, I am a freelance writer, and I spent many hours wandering the Exhibitor’s Hall meeting game developers and handing out as many business cards as I could.  I met other writers as well, including The Gentleman Gamer, with whom I had lunch alongside Neal Price, the developer of Scion.  I attended many panels on freelancing and learned a lot, made some new contacts, and really got a better sense of the path to being a better writer. 
I bought a ton of d8's.  I always need them when I play wizards.
            Of course, I attended the Onyx PathPublishing events!  And in a case of burying the lede, they announced Vampire:  The Masquerade 4th Edition!  Rather than being an homage to earlier editions of VtM like V20, this new version will update the mechanics and world much like Mage 20 updated that game.  Not much else is known about this edition, yet, but I will be keeping up with new information as it is announced.
            On the subject of Onyx Path Publishing, I would like to say that I have never met a nice group of people.  My girlfriend raved about how friendly and open you were.  She’s even talking about running a Werewolf:  The Apocalypse game in the future.  Your excitement for your game lines and the friendliness of your staff is both infectious and inspiring.  I always felt welcome at your booth, and I stopped by every day to meet someone new or just say hi to Eddy Webb or Neal Price.  (Btw, Neal, I’m really sorry I missed you Scion panel!)
Fantasy Age is a new RPG by Green Ronin and Baby Bestiary is an art book. 
            Other than the Onyx Path seminars, I attended several freelance writing seminars including Paizo’s and two lead by third party publishes like John Ling, Jr. from Frog God Games and Wolfgang Baur from Kobold Press among others.  I learned a lot about what it takes to be a freelance writer and especially how important it was to always have a business card on hand. 
            But GenCon wasn’t all work.  I played in the new D&D Adventurer’sLeague season adventure Harried in Hillsfar.  Our DM was great!  He kept the action rolling as we moved through the corridors of a strange temple.  
            I also played a new board game, Compounded, by Dice Hate Me Games.  It was so good that my girlfriend immediately bought the base game and I bought the expansion.  In Compounded, the players randomly draw elements and try to complete a variety of chemicals.  It’s a great game for anyone who enjoys science.  I think it’d be a great game for high school chemistry classes.  I highly recommend this one!
What is a convention without buying some old AD&D 2E books?
             Shopping took up a great deal of our time at GenCon.  My girlfriend bought a lot of art prints.  All of them are gorgeous.  I bought a ton of RPG books and new dice.  I wanted to get a copy of FFG’s new Star Wars RPG Force & Destiny, but the line was just too long.  I did get the new Green Ronin RPG Fantasy Age, and I can’t wait to read through that. 
            Of course, I bought plenty of older stuff, too, including a copy of Blue Rose.  I also found an old VtM module by Atlas Games called Blood Nativity and a copy of New Orleans by Night.  I had to control myself in the Exhibitor’s Hall.  The temptation to buy just everything was too great.  I limited myself to those items I knew that I would use in upcoming campaigns. 
            I also got a chance to meet my favorite podcasters, Kevin, Brady, and Dustin from UnderDiscussion.  They put on a great seminar for people interested in starting a podcast.  My girlfriend and I were able to chat with Brady and Kevin for a while after the panel too.  That was definitely a highlight of the convention for me. 
And of course, my White Wolf swag!
            The biggest surprise of the convention was sharing a bus ride with Richard Lee Byers, author of the Year of the Rogue Dragons Forgotten Realms book series (amongst many, many other fantasy books).  We had a great conversation on the bus ride back to our hotels.  I guess not staying in a downtown hotel closer to the convention really paid off!  I’m sad to say that I haven’t read any of Richard Lee Byer’s books, but I will. 
            That shuttle ride is also how my girlfriend and I made two new friends from California.  You know who you are!  I had a great time playing Compounded with you guys.  I look forward to seeing you at GenCon next year!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

GenCon 2000 and GenCon 2015

I’m planning my first trip to GenCon since 2000, and a lot of things have changed in 15 years.  GenCon has grown much larger, more expensive, and even changed cities.  I’ve changed as well.  I have different priorities now, and maybe I’ve matured a little too.  Maybe. 

            My first trip to GenCon was a spur of the moment decision.  I’d just graduated college, and I’d just quit my first post-college job.  I didn’t have much going on, and when some of my friends said that they were going to GenCon, I decided to use some of the money I’d received as a graduation present to go to GenCon.  Those were much different times, and I was obviously an irresponsible twenty-something.  I was playing RPGs, but I was much more interested in TCGs, especially Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) and Decipher’sStar Wars CCG.
All of my friends played L5R, and of course, that meant I played as well.  I was never as invested into the game as my friends.  I’d already spent way too much money on Star Wars CCG, and after I became disillusioned with that game, other TCGs had lost their luster.  My closest friends, however, wanted to go to GenCon to compete in the L5R World Championship tournament.  The mechanics of L5R were different enough from Magic or Star Wars that I was interested too, but I refused to invest heavily into another TCG.  Nevertheless, I was able to build a “competitive” deck thanks to help from my much more competition-oriented friends. Those quotation marks are important as you'll find out soon enough.   
At that time, GenCon was located in Milwaukee, WI, and I remember dreading that long drive from Alabama.  My friends and I really didn’t have any plans for the convention other than playing in the L5R World Championship.  This was GenCon 2000, however, and it was a pretty big year for RPGs.  Wizards of the Coast had just released Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, and they had recently purchased the rights to L5R TCG and RPG from Alderac Entertainment.  WotC would use that license to create their a new version of Oriental Adventures based on L5R’s Rokugan setting. 
At that time I wasn’t playing D&D, and I really didn’t consider playing RPGs to be my “primary hobby” even though I bought a ton of books.  I was mostly playing L5R's tabletop RPG and of course, Vampire:  The Masquerade.  I was spending far more money on comic books and TCGs.  I just wasn’t interested in playing RPGs at GenCon or doing much that involved roleplaying.  In hindsight, it’s a shame, especially, because I really couldn’t have done much else at GenCon because I was playing in the L5R tournament. 

The L5R World Championship at GenCon 2000 was a two day affair.  L5R was probably at the height of its popularity in 2000, and the number of people who entered that tournament was astounding.  I’d never seen a tournament so large, and it was probably only rivaled in size by Magic the Gathering’s Pro Tour Qualifiers. With that many people competing, the tournament took the entire day just to determine who would make the cut for Sunday.  Most TCG tournaments are not single or double elimination; instead they use the Swiss Format A single round usually takes between 45 minutes and 1 hour to complete and with that many competitors playing in the tournament, the tournament lasted nearly 8 hours, if not more, due to the nature of the tournament format. 
I would like to say that I did exceptionally well in the tournament or at least made a good showing, but that’d be a lie.  My first round match is most likely the fastest tournament loss in the L5R's history.  In Magic the Gathering and some other TCGs, winning on the first time or even the second turn isn’t uncommon.  In L5R, winning on the second turn is nearly impossible due to the mechanics of the game.  For those of you who are familiar with L5R, you’ll be astonished to hear that I lost on my opponent's second turn.  A series of province destroying events and very fortunate draw helped my opponent destroy me before I got to take my second turn.  I’d add more details, but I don’t want to bore my audience with the rules, card descriptions, and interactions that led to my greatest defeat.  Even fifteen years later, that loss still hurts! If you're interested in the details let me know and I'll write a full version of that loss.  
My only souvenir from that GenCon was an L5R t-shirt that Wizards of the Coast gave out at one of their events.  The t-shirt is something of a collector’s item as it has both the revised L5R logo with the coins (after the Olympics claimed trademark on any design that incorporated 5 interlocking rings) and the WotC logo.  For a free t-shirt it’s held up well, and I’ll probably be wearing it at GenCon. WotC would later sell the rights to L5R back to AEG a few  years later.  
It’s 2015, and I’m going to GenCon again.  I can’t even begin to explain how excited I am to be able to go.  So much has changed for me!  I’ve grown up, as strange as that is to admit.  I’ve given up collecting comics and playing TCGs, and my bank account is most thankful for that!  This trip to GenCon is far better planned, and I’ve got so many things to do while I’m there. 
My priorities have changed so much!  RPGs are more than a hobby for me.  I’ve been working on this blog for several years now. Although my updates have been sporadic, I enjoy writing about my gaming experiences and reviewing Classic World of Darkness books.  I’ve also started working as a freelancer for Onyx Path Publishing.  GenCon is more than just a vacation and a chance to game.  Now, it’s an opportunity to further my goals as a writer and network with other freelancers and game developers.  More importantly, GenCon is where I can play new games, meet podcasters, bloggers, and other freelancers.  My girlfriend and I are huge fans of the Underdiscussion Podcast, and we’ve been looking forward to meeting them at GenCon for a while.  My girlfriend even has one of their t-shirts that she won in a contest that she wants them to sign. 
I’m not going to GenCon to just play in one tournament; instead, I’m going to explore the variety of offerings available.  But I haven’t left L5R behind either.  The only RPG game that I’ve signed up for so far is an L5R RPG game.  I’ve never had a chance to play the 4th Edition version, and GenCon is the perfect opportunity to try out a new system.  I’ll also be looking for pickup games and pretty much any kind of demos for new games.  My girlfriend is coming with me, and she is just as excited as I am.  We’ve been talking about this trip for nearly two years now.  It’s a perfect year for us to visit GenCon too, Tony DiTerlizzi is the Artist Guest of Honor this year and we are both huge fans of his artwork, especially his work on the Planescape campaign setting. I've been a fan of DiTerlizzi's work since I played the Blood Wars TCG way back in 1994 before I'd ever played one session of an RPG.  

Not everything has gone perfectly.  Event registration, which was this past Sunday, was a nightmare.  When my girlfriend submitted my wish list on Sunday, the system didn’t process it correctly, and we had to sit down later that night to work through our events again.  Every time we tried to build a wish list and submit our events, the system lost our order.  It wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened, but the frustration and anxiety caused by the website’s problems made the event registration process a lot more painful than it should have been.  I wasn’t too thrilled that I had to pay to attend some events, especially after paying $80.00 per badge. 

Once my girlfriend and I registered for our events, the excitement returned.  Maybe it was easier back in the day when I could just go to a convention with no more thought than whose floor I was sleeping on.  I’ve changed too much and have too many responsibilities to be able to go to a convention at a moment’s notice.  Yet, the planning and buildup to the convention has added to my excitement.  I’ve picked out the events that I want to try.  I’m going to meet with both my colleagues and many of the people in the RPG industry that I’ve admired.  I’ve changed and my expectations for GenCon have changed as well, and other than the event registration system, I think both GenCon and I have changed for the better.  

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Day Late and an Article Short

I'm sorry to say that I won't be offering a new and insightful article or review this week.  Things have been a little busy here.  But I will offer some news that might be of interest to you.

I finished reading Evermeet:  The Isle of Elves by Elaine Cunningham.  It was a tremendous novel that gave a full history of the Elves of Forgotten Realms and turned Evermeet from a ideal, pastoral land of happy Elves into a wonderful place to set adventures that involve intrigue and deception.  I highly recommend this one (along with any other novel by Elaine Cunningham) to fans of fantasy fiction or Forgotten Realms fans. 

I also finished reading Tribebook:  White Howlers.  Jess Hartley has done a great job of not only exploring this extinct tribe but creating an entire campaign setting within a relatively small Tribebook.  Another highly recommended book!  And yes, I will have a full review of this one in the near future. 

As many of you know I'm working as a freelance writer for The Onyx Path so I dedicate most of my time to working on that project.  I'll give you all full details of the project when it's published. 

Finally, I'm hoping to have a full and spoilerific review of Hoard of the Dragon Queen ready for next week.  I just finished running it for my D&D group, and I feel this one deserves a thorough review, not only as a book but as an adventure that has been run to fruition.  There is a big difference between reading an adventure and running it. 

Well, that's it for this week.  See you in two weeks, or maybe sooner if I finish up something early.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Can the Players Kill Luke Skywalker? Or The Evils of Metaplot

Tap for pain!
Metaplot.  Does any word draw more condemnation and frustration from the players of World of Darkness games than “metaplot?”  The mere mention of some of the metaplot from the Classic World of Darkness game line draws bile laced gagging from even the most fanatical of fans.  Decreed from on high by the almighty writers and developers of the system, metaplot is the unchangeable grand plot that infiltrates every book, every argument, and every game.  It is immutable, it is sacrosanct, and it is despised.  But why?  Both Star Wars and The Forgotten Realms campaign setting have an existing metaplot that does not bedevil gamers like the metaplot of Vampire:  The Masquerade or Werewolf:  The Apocalypse.  Is there something to be learned from those worlds, where metaplot is known as canon which can be applied to the World of Darkness?  More importantly, is having a metaplot anathema to a good game?  Is the metaplot only a hindrance to Storytellers and players or can it be used to add more depth to a game? 

            What is Metaplot?  A working definition of metaplot might be “the ongoing story in the published materials of a role playing game that creates and moves forward a story that changes elements of the setting and system or explains changes in the mechanics of the game.”  On its face, that definition is neutral, but the first issue of metaplot is that it lacks player agency.  The changes occur regardless of the efforts of the players and perhaps even happen despite the players’ efforts to change those events.  The metaplot is the “Word of God” demanding changes that may or may not be asked for by the players.  The metaplot explains changes to the setting, the inclusion of new options, the removal of other options, changes to well-known and loved character types and updates to the game system.  
            Critics and fans of Vampire:  The Masquerade often regard it as the biggest offender in terms of metaplot interference.  When Vampire:  The Masquerade changed from Second Edition to Revised Edition, a number of changes occurred.  Most notably an Assamite Methuselah, Ur-Shulgi, awakened from Topor and removed the curse that Tremere had afflicted upon the Children of Haqim.  Ur-Shulgi also decreed that Assamites must give up their devotion to other gods and worship only Haqim.  Long associated with the Middle East and Islam, Ur-Shulgi’s decree shocked many Assamites and created a rift in the clan.  Those loyal to Haqim and Ur-Shulgi killed those who refused to set aside their religious beliefs whether Islamic, Christian, or other.  Those who survived the purge fled to Europe and the Americas.  As Gehenna approached, the fleeing Assamites attempted to make peace with Camarilla and join its ranks.         
            The Tremere are at the heart of another metaplot change.  Tremere-antitribu, who had left behind their clan to join the Sabbat, were all inexplicably destroyed one evening.  During a ritual in which nearly every member of the Sabbat Tremere were in attendance, some force destroyed them all.  No one is sure exactly what happened, only that no more Tremere-antitribu exist.  That event must have been a shock to Tremere-antitribu players at the time.  Suddenly, their characters were gone and nothing could be done about it. 
            The most egregious metaplot changes came from Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand which described another faction of vampires known as the Tal’mahe’Ra or True Hand.  Suddenly the Tzimisce discipline Vicissitude was an extraplanar disease that infected the entire clan and slowly took over the bodies of the Tzimisice and other users of Vicissitude.  The True Hand was dedicated to defeating this other worldly menace and save the world.  Vicissitude no longer worked like other Disciplines and now had special rules that changed not only the cost for learning the Discipline but threatened players with the loss of their characters if they progressed in the Discipline. 
            Metaplot in and of itself is not a bad thing.  Many of the best RPGs have a metaplot to some degree.  Star Wars undoubtedly has the strictest metaplot.  Better known as the canon and released in a series of RPG supplements, books, movies, and TV shows, the Star Wars canon (or Extended Universe) sought to fill in every space of that distant galaxy.  West End Games, Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics and dozens of writers have sought to define every aspect of Star Wars for good and ill.  Simple mistakes in the wording of a script have turned into entire novels, such as when Han states that the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.  Rather than letting a simple screw up slip by, writers defined the Kessel Run as a trip near a group of black holes known as the Maw Cluster.  Traveling closer to the Maw Cluster would decrease the travel time of a ship from Kessel to its destination but with the added risk of the starship becoming trapped in the gravitational pull of the black holes and being destroyed.  Later readers would learn that the Maw Cluster hid an Imperial Research installation where the engineers built and tested a prototype of the Death Star.  Later, some of these elements were retconned by the Prequels.  Role playing supplements had to offer stats and information on these regions or create new regions themselves such as the Corporate Sector which started as an element of a novel, “Han Solo at Star’s End,” which led to a West End Games supplement entitled “Han Solo and the Corporate Sector Sourcebook” that built on the information from the novel. 
Heroes of the Realms
            The Forgotten Realms has undergone a variety of changes as Dungeons & Dragons has changed editions.  Unlike Vampire:  The Masquerade, the change in edition created a change in the setting.  When Dungeons & Dragons transitioned from 3.5 to 4th Edition, the developers changed the magic system and included both Dragonborn and Tieflings as player races in the Player’s Handbook.   Although Forgotten Realms was not the core campaign setting of 4th Edition, it was the campaign setting for Organized Play requiring the developers to explain how the magic system changed and the introduction of two new races into the setting.  Dragonborn were an incredibly popular race from the Eberron campaign setting, and due to their popularity and the popularity of Eberron, they were included in the Player’s Handbook (Update:  Dragonborn orignally appeared in Race of the Dragon and later were included in Eberron  I need to learn more about Eberron).  Introducing them into the Forgotten Realms required a bit more work though, The Spell Plague.   The Spell Plague and the death of Mystra reshaped the Weave, the source of magic in the Realms, and the merging of Abeir, Toril’s twin planet and Toril (Toril is the name of the planet on which Faerun is located.  Fareurn is the continent which is the primary setting for the Forgotten Realms.) brought with it the Dragonborn.  The Spell Plague changed entire regions, made magic items non functional, and brought the Dragonborn whose kingdom replaced the kingdom of Unther. 
            When Dungeons & Dragons changed editions once again, once more the Realms changed.  This event known as The Sundering explained how the magic system changed once again and of course, kept the popular Dragonborn in the setting.  A series of novels about the Realms explained the events of The Sundering in detail, much like previous shifts in editions, such as the Time of Troubles. 
            Another example of the developers pushed forward a metaplot can be found in D&D 3.0 and the novel series, The War of the Spider Queen and its accompanying adventure.  In this series of novels, Lolth, Goddess of the Drow, has effectively disappeared and her clerics, the leaders of the chaotic and evil Drow society, no longer receive spells from her.  Seeking answers to this dilemma and hoping to solve it before an uprising overthrows the priestess who lead the city, a group of Drow travel the Underdark, to the surface world, and eventually to the Demon Web Pits hoping to uncover the mystery behind Lolth’s disappearance.  Lolth has attained enough power finally to create her own realm separate from the Abyss, and she has cocooned herself at the center of the Demon Web Pits to complete her transformation not caring that her worshippers and priestesses suffer in her absence.  In the end, Lolth completes her transformation and creates her own plane which changes the cosmology of the Forgotten Realms.  
Cover to Dissolution from the War of the Spider Queen novel series
            If that whirl of information has left any readers confused, then the biggest problem with metaplot has become apparent:  information overload.  Only the most dedicated fans of a setting would be able to track the minutiae of those changes.  These game lines and settings have been growing and expanding for decades.  Star Wars released in 1977, for example, and novels began pouring out soon after and the damn finally broke in the 1990s with the release of “Heir to the Empire.”  Systems and universes soon bloated with all this material.  And when Vampire:  The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition released, the developers promised a metaplot neutral game, meaning that players could pick and choose which elements of the metaplot they wanted to use and could ignore the rest. 
            Most experienced roleplayers already realize that the best way to deal with elements of a system or supplement that they don’t like is to modify it or ignore it.  That’s the solution that the developers of Vampire:  The Masquerade concluded as they revamped the game for its new release.  Of course, ignoring the metaplot was a pre-requisite for publishing the new edition as White Wolf had decreed that the entire Classic World of Darkness game line had ended with the publication of their end of the world books, Gehenna, the Apocalypse, etc.   
            Can a metaplot be completely ignored?  Or more specifically, can the players kill Luke Skywalker?  It’s an evocative question, and the kneejerk reaction of most players is going to be “No, absolutely not!”  Luke Skywalker is the lynchpin of Star Wars canon.  He destroyed the Death Star.  He redeemed Darth Vader and brought about the downfall of the Empire.  He brought back the Jedi Order. Luke Skywalker is Star Wars.   He has plot armor that no player character should be able to penetrate; yet, by acknowledging Luke Skywalker’s importance in the events of the original trilogy and the Extended Universe, the game master has decided that a metaplot exists and that players lack any agency in interacting with that storyline. 
Father/son elevator rides don't get more awkward!
            Luke Skywalker and his exploits are the reason why most Star Wars roleplaying games take place in distant corners of the galaxy.  The game master pushes the events of the original trilogy into the background and lays out new storylines that run tangentially to canonical events.  Player characters may interact with important figures like Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, or Leia Organa.  They are much more likely to be given their orders by secondary figures like Mon Mothma and Admiral Piett.  Nevertheless, the players are hamstrung from the outset of the campaign because they are not the most important figures in the greater plot of Star Wars.  Luke Skywalker and his father Anakin are. 
            With that in mind, can players kill Drizzit Do’Urden?  Elminster Chosen of Mystra?  Can players stop the Spell Plague?  Do Dragonborn exist in Forgotten Realms?  Are the Assamites knocking at the doors of the Ivory Tower begging admittance to the Camarilla?   Each of these questions carries the same weight of metaplot as “Can the players kill Luke Skywalker?”  How many times have game masters, dungeon masters, and storytellers defended the metaplot from the brilliant and cunning plans of players? 
            My own experiences are entirely anecdotal, and I cannot speak for all roleplayers.  I have found that players enjoy re-writing the metaplot, making their own mark on a story considered inviolate.  It was a hard learned lesson and left many players completely disenchanted with me as game master.   I heard their criticism, but wasn’t preserving the story of Luke Skywalker more important?  I started roleplaying by running West End Games Star Wars Revised system and immediately railroaded players through events during the Battle of Hoth.  I couldn’t imagine a scenario where the players could actually affect the outcome of that momentous battle.  Just taking part in the battle should be exciting enough for the players, right? 
Who wouldn't want Leia in Cmdr. Shepherd's armor?
            Fast forward over a decade and I’m still running Star Wars although at this point it’s Wizards of the Coast’s Star Wars Saga Edition.   I finally learned my lesson in the last session of the campaign.  The players had been chasing after a rogue Jedi named Kensa Starwind who had become a kind of Old Republic Colonel Kurtz and saw through the false veneer of the Clone War.  She had realized that everything was the doings of Chancellor Palaptine, but the Jedi Council had sent the players to stop her.   My original idea was that the player characters would confront Kensa Starwind and stop her from murdering the “innocent” Chancellor only to be double-crossed by him.  Of course, that meant the players would have to put aside all out of character knowledge.  Instead of fighting Kensa, the player characters talked to her and believed her!  Together with Kensa, the players defeated Palpatine and Anakin/Darth Vader in an epic battle in the Chancellor’s office forever changing galactic history.  I don’t think that I have ever seen players happier or feeling more triumphant than when they thought they had saved the galaxy from the evils of the Empire.
            As the session ended, I added a quick epilogue for each character that showed how they had changed the universe.  It was altogether bleak.  Rather than transforming into the Empire, the Old Republic fractured into a myriad of small and warring states.  The remaining Jedi fought to maintain peace and bring the parts back together.  One of the players whose character had fallen to the Dark Side became a warlord of a region only to be double crossed by his apprentice.   Others had equally dark or heroic outcomes depending on their individual characters.  And this epilogue should have become the prologue for the next campaign that I ran! 

            The lesson that I learned from this campaign was not that I should allow players to do whatever they wanted.  Instead, I finally understood the purpose of metaplot.  Metaplot is not something that must be adhered to with the religious fervor of an extremist or ignored and discarded like an empty soda can.  Metaplot is a river that once the game begins players redirect its course by adding and subtracting elements.   The players’ influence can be subtle or dramatic depending on how their actions in the course of a campaign.  The challenge to storytellers is not to allow players to alter the course of the story to create a utopian state.  Change requires sacrifice and not all change is positive.  Those with the best intentions, such as the group that killed the Palpatine and stopped the rise of the Empire, may not create the best outcomes.  The unforeseen consequences of the players’ changes should lead to new opportunities for adventures and new stories.   Players, as well, must keep out of character knowledge separate and distinct otherwise roleplaying games can devolve into an endless series of killing off the key figures of a setting or random acts for the sake of being random. 
            Turning back to Vampire:  The Masquerade, many roleplayers have lamented the plots and setting updates that players cannot change.  The events happen in distant lands and involve powerful beings that the average player character just cannot fight against.  What can a Neonate in Atlanta do to stop Ur-Shulgi?  What can a San Francisco Anarch do to stop the destruction of the Tremere-antitribu?  Yet, the rise of Ur-Shulgi and the Assamite schism offers players a chance to affect the metaplot in new and vital ways.  Camarilla players can offer their voices in support of the Assamites joining the Camarilla or turn away the dangerous assassins.  Anarchs and Sabbat players can offer other options to those Assamite fleeing Ur-Shulgi.   Certainly, the Assamite-antitribu will be happy to welcome their old brothers into the Sabbat.  And who is to say that Ur-Shulgi actually speaks for Haqim or that this Methuselah cannot be killed?  
Paint a target on that guy's head!
            As for the Tremere-antitribu, why should the metaplot stand in the way of a player’s fun?  A surviving Tremere-antitribu is no less farfetched than surviving Salubri or Cappodoccians and offers many more story opportunities for both the player and storyteller.  As the last remaining member of his or her clan, the Tremere-antitribu would be desperate to hide from whatever power destroyed their clan and simultaneously seek to re-establish that clan by Embracing new members.  The Tremere-antitribu survivor is now the leader of that clan with new and potentially overwhelming responsibilities. 
            Both of these hypothetical scenarios assume that the storyteller and players agree to use the metaplot as written.  That doesn’t have to be the case either.  Ur-Shulgi does not have to rise from Torpor.  The Tremere-antitribu don’t have to be destroyed.   And none of the material in Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand needs to show up in anyone’s campaign. 
            Metaplot should not be the driving force of anyone’s campaign.  Rather, it is one more tool in a storyteller’s toolbox and in the players’ toolboxes to help them create the stories that they want to tell together.  And that book with the terrible metaplot about Tzimisce diseases and vampires traveling to the Deep Umbra is not the final arbiter of whether or not that information should appear in your campaign.  It is your book!  And like John Wick says, you can tear out pages and take a black sharpie to the pages and passages you hate and delete them forever.  It’s your book.   You bought it.  Use it how you like!             
            So, can your player characters kill Luke Skywalker?