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The metaplot (also, metastory[1]) is the overarching storyline that binds together events in the official continuity of a published role-playing game campaign setting, also defined as an "evolving history of a given fictional universe". Major official story events that change the world, or simply move important non-player characters from one place to another, are part of the metaplot for a game.[2][3][4][5] Metaplot information is usually included within gaming products such as rule books and modules as they are released. Major events in the metaplot are often used to explain changes in the rules in between versions of the games, as was the case with the Time of Judgment in White Wolf's World of Darkness[3][6] and the Time of Troubles and the Sundering for TSR's/Wizards of the Coast's Forgotten Realms.[6][7][2] Because of events like this, many gaming groups choose to ignore the metaplot for a game entirely.[citation needed]

Metaplot is often developed not just by the writers, but by teams - multiple writers, editors, publishers, graphic designers and even players. The concept is related to more than just role-playing sourcebooks, as much of the metaplot can come from other media, such as novels (for example, The Legend of Drizzt or the Dragonlance novels, representative of numerous Dungeons & Dragons fiction).[2][4][8] For the Forgotten Realms this was the case only after its inception, while it was part of the design from the start for the Dark Sun setting.[8][9] For campaign settings based on movies, TV shows or other pieces of fiction, the plot of those works usually functions as the metaplot,[10][better source needed] while for historical settings history itself may fill this role.[11]

Metaplot appears in settings of various genres like The Dark Eye,[12] Deadlands,[11] Dragonlance,[4] Fading Suns,[13] Legend of the Five Rings,[9] and Shadowrun.[3][14]


The metaplot is meant to "give the players a sense of immersion in a large and complex world as well as an aesthetic appreciation of the story they were witnessing" whenever their characters come into contact with it. The narrative tool of metaplot has been criticised for shifting the focus away from the player characters and making them "marginal rather than central figures".[3]

Role-playing game designer Jasmin Neitzel commented that metaplot could facilitate constructive interaction of players with a game setting within and beyond individual gaming groups, but could be a hindrance in getting beyond harmful stereotypes used in past products.[5]

Olaf Pajączkowski notes that the metaplot constraints reduce the freedom of writers, who have to respect the history and present events in the universe (as many books are set in the present), and they cannot "break the world". Pajączkowski gives an example of Elaine Cunningham's novel Reclamation which was cancelled because the metaplot evolved changing the world (a 100-year jump) making her book 'obsolete', and the publisher decided it's not worth finishing as it was no longer set in the "present" of the evolving Forgotten Realms universe.[2]


  1. ^ First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. MIT Press. 2004. p. 143. ISBN 978-0-262-23232-6. a metastory, primarily in the form of a predesigned story world and various plots within it
  2. ^ a b c d Pajączkowski, Olaf. "Artyzm czy robota na zlecenie? Wolność twórcza autorów książek osadzonych w światach RPG (na przykładzie powieści z cyklu Dragonlance i Forgotten Realms)" [Art or craft? Creative freedom of RPG writers (based on examples of Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms series of novels)]. In Dudziński, Robert; Wróblewska, Anna (eds.). Gry fabularne. Kultura – praktyki – konteksty (in Polish). Stowarzyszenie Badaczy Popkultury i Edukacji Popkulturowej Trickster. pp. 31–48. ISBN 978-83-64863-07-3.
  3. ^ a b c d White, William J.; Arjonata, Jonne; Hitchens, Michael; Peterson, John; Torner, Evan; Walton, Jonathan (2018). "Tabletop role-playing games". In Zagal, José P.; Deterding, Sebastian (eds.). Role-Playing Game Studies: Transmedia Foundations. Routledge. pp. 63–86. ISBN 9781138638907.
  4. ^ a b c Callaghan, Paul; Manhire, Bill, eds. (2006). Are Angels OK?: The Parallel Universes of New Zealand writers and scientists. Victoria University Press. p. 270. ISBN 978-0-86473-514-0.
  5. ^ a b Unterhuber, Tobias (2022). ""Ein Spiel für alle". Interview mit Jasmin Neitzel" ["A game for everyone". Interview with Jasmin Neitzel]. Zeitschrift für Fantastikforschung (in German). 10 (1). doi:10.16995/zff.9113. S2CID 251450885. Retrieved September 4, 2022.
  6. ^ a b Hillenbrand, Tom; Lischka, Konrad (2016). Drachenväter - Die Geschichte des Rollenspiels und die Geburt der virtuellen Welt [Dragon fathers - the history of the role-playing game and the birth of the virtual world] (in German). epubli. ISBN 9783741855580.
  7. ^ Bergman, Gregory; Lambert, Josh (2011). Geektionary. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4405-1114-1.
  8. ^ a b Di Filippo, Laurent (2017). "Les mondes d'Advanced Dungeons and Dragons au spectre du transmédia: l'exemple de Dark Sun". In Collard, Anne-Sophie; Collignon, Stéphane (eds.). Le transmédia, ses contours et ses enjeux (in French). Presses universitaires de Namur. pp. 54–55. ISBN 978-2-39029-102-2. Retrieved August 27, 2022.
  9. ^ a b Snow, Cason (2008). "Dragons in the stacks: an introduction to role‐playing games and their value to libraries". Collection Building. 27 (2): 63–70. doi:10.1108/01604950810870218.
  10. ^ Faricelli, Ryan (2015). On A Roll - Level Up Your RPG. Reel Fun Studios. p. 131. ISBN 978-1-312-90744-7.
  11. ^ a b Ward, Rachel Mizsei (2013). "Genre Mashing in the Role-Playing Game Deadlands: The Weird West, the Horror Steampunk Western". In Miller, Cynthia J.; Van Riper, Bowdoin (eds.). Undead in the West II: They Just Keep Coming. Scarecrow Press. p. 281. ISBN 978-0-8108-9264-4.
  12. ^ Unterhuber, Tobias (2020). ""Donecker, Stefan et al., Hg. Forschungsdrang & Rollenspiel. Motivgeschichtliche Betrachtungen zum Fantasy-Rollenspiel Das Schwarze Auge. Ulisses, 2019."". Review. Zeitschrift für Fantastikforschung (in German). 7 (2). doi:10.16995/zff.1942. S2CID 213302959. Retrieved September 1, 2022.
  13. ^ Schallegger, René (2012). Joyful Games of Meaning-Making: Role-playing Games and Postmodern Notions of Literature (PhD). Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt. pp. 224–225.
  14. ^ White, William J. (2020). Tabletop RPG Design in Theory and Practice at the Forge, 2001–2012 - Designs and Discussions. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 231. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-52819-5. ISBN 978-3-030-52818-8. S2CID 226616406.