A Metaplot, broadly speaking, happens when there are multiple independent works coexisting in TheVerse that aren't just {{sequel}}s and {{prequel}}s or supplementary expansions of a single primary story, and there exists a StoryArc for TheVerse itself that impacts the plots of those separate works.

The term originates from {{Tabletop RPG}}s, where it refers to the tendency popular in the 1990s for RPG companies to insert an overarching story incrementally advancing the timeline of the setting into the supplements for the RPG, with the aim of encouraging people to buy every supplement to follow along. In this case, it is the campaigns of individual {{Game Master}}s that are the "independent works." This idea was popular for a time, but caused a number of problems that made metaplots as controversial as they are (though despite fan outcry, many of the biggest games still have active metaplots).

First, Game Masters might not want to incorporate the plot twists, revelations and events of the metaplot into their campaigns. Suppose a GM was using [[NamesToRunAwayFromReallyFast Baron von Skullfist]], head of MurderInc, as the Big Bad of his campaign, but ''Murder Incorporated: The Complete Guide'' had the Baron make a HeelFaceTurn and be replaced by his subordinate, Captain Killfoot, who in the GM's campaign had already been revealed as a ReverseMole. Obviously, this new supplement couldn't be used as is, and the GM would have to declare his campaign world an AlternateUniverse and do additional work to adapt the supplement's material to the campaign. Worse, as the metaplot continued, each future supplement from the point where the GM's campaign diverged would progressively become less and less useful to that campaign.

Second, the metaplot and its characters, often featured in the setting's [[ExpandedUniverse tie-in novels]], would tend to [[SpotlightStealingSquad overshadow the player characters]], particularly in the hands of a bad GM who would use the metaplot characters as {{deus ex machina}}s and [[{{Railroading}} refused to contemplate allowing the players to change the course]] of the metaplot. This got so bad in some cases that more than one game released adventure modules that primarily consisted of the players watching the [[{{GMPC}} non-player characters]] advance or resolve the metaplot.

Third, the use of metaplot encouraged [[{{Metagame}} metagaming]]. If the GM utilized the metaplot - as some [=GMs=] and players felt was desirable or even required to play the game "correctly" - players could become aware of the future course of the campaign and much theoretically "secret" knowledge just by reading the supplements, possibly even unintentionally if a supplement on their character type happens to be set late in the metaplot.

These issues are fairly unique to Tabletop [=RPGs=], where the "independent works" are indeed completely independent and not subject to any editorial control.

There's a final problem with metaplots, though, that crops up even outside of games: A lengthy metaplot can become a barrier to entry for new readers. Although early on it encourages players to buy every book in order to keep up with what's happening in the setting, if someone tries to pick it up later on they can find themselves faced with ArchivePanic just to catch up, compounded by the fact that early books may even be out of print. The combined weight of all this metaplot can also end up seeming silly or irrelevant to new players or readers when consumed all at once rather than bit-by-bit, especially in serial works where the FleetingDemographicRule or some degree StatusQuoIsGod are in effect -- these can result in a silly-seeming metaplot consisting of nearly-identical events occurring over and over or with things constantly happening and then getting undone by a later RetCon. In extreme cases, this can require a ContinuityReboot to let new readers join in without having to read huge amounts of convoluted backstory.

Not to be confused with ''{{Medabots}}''.

See also RedSkiesCrossover.
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!!Examples

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[[folder:Anime and Manga]]

* In-universe example in ''LightNovel/SwordArtOnline''. While we don't get too much detail, it seems that there was a metaplot intended for the game, with one player (chosen due to having the fastest reaction times and marked by [[spoiler:the [[DualWielding Dual Swords skill]]]]) acting as TheHero, who will eventually defeat the Demon King on the 100th floor, played by [[spoiler:the man who designed the death trap in the first place, Kayaba Akihiko himself]]. This got derailed when TheHero [[spoiler:realized who Kayaba was 25 floors early]].
* Also an InUniverse example in ''LightNovel/LogHorizon'', though this is something only few character are aware of. In Kanami's spinoff, it's revealed that [[spoiler:there are the Ancients, powerful Heroic [=NPCs=] of the Elder Tale. However, they have been sealed by Genius, extremely powerful monsters and borderline-EldritchAbomination, which are ''aware'' of the MMORPG nature of Elder Tale. Kanami manages to free one of the sealed Ancient, Elias Hackblade]].

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[[folder: Comic Books ]]

* Both major ComicBook publishers currently have a metaplot in their universes: TheDCU, with the run-up to ''Comicbook/FinalCrisis'', and the MarvelUniverse, with the new status quo after ''ComicBook/CivilWar'' and the buildup toward a Skrull Secret Invasion.
** DC followed ''Final Crisis'' with ''Comicbook/BlackestNight / Comicbook/BrightestDay'' then rebooting with Flashpoint and the The Comicbook/{{New 52}}. On the other hand, Marvel's Secret Invasion has led directly into World War Hulk, then the ''Comicbook/DarkReign'' plot, followed by ''Siege'', ''Fear Itself'', ''Avengers Vs. X-Men'', ''Age of Ultron'', and ''Infinity''.


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[[folder: Film ]]

* The ''MarvelCinematicUniverse'' is building this up, featuring various beings developing into superheroes with their own storylines while being recruited into SHIELD's Avengers team.

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[[folder: Literature ]]

* Many of Creator/StephenKing's books are heavily implied to take place in the same {{multiverse}}, although individually they have little to do with one another. The overarching plot is dealt with in ''Franchise/TheDarkTower'' series, his magnum opus.
* Literature/{{Discworld}}.
** The early books lack a metaplot.
** Possibly the first one comes when ''Discworld/MovingPictures'' features a cameo by [[ThoseTwoGuys Fred and Nobby]], thereby establishing that the growth of the City Watch is not something that is confined to the Watch novels.
** From ''Discworld/TheFifthElephant'', most of the novels reflect the Disc's "semi-industrial revolution" in one way or another; either directly or obliquely (the clacks and the newspaper don't get mentioned in ''Discworld/AHatFullOfSky'', for example, but we've gone from the Make-Things-Bigger-Device being a new invention in Ankh-Morpork (as shown in ''Discworld/{{Jingo}}'') to a village witch casually using telescopes as a metaphor).

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[[folder: Live Action TV ]]

* ''Series/BuffyTheVampireSlayer'' and ''Series/{{Angel}}'' created a sort of metaplot when they ran concurrently and occasionally events in one series affected the other.
* ''Stargate'' and ''Series/StargateAtlantis'' both had events which affected each program, first the search for Zero Point Modules to power the gate to Atlantis (and Earth Spaceships), then the Ori and Wraith and their attempts to invade the Milky Way.

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[[folder: Tabletop Games ]]

* ''MageKnight'' used its metaplot to try to bridge players from the first version of the game to MK 2.0. It was a spectacular failure. They then used the metaplot to phase out a subfaction whose abilities were too powerful. This development was mostly ignored.

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[[folder: Tabletop RPG ]]

* ''TabletopGame/{{Deadlands}}'' has an extensive metaplot as revealed in published adventures such as ''Fortress O' Fear'' and ''Dead Presidents.'' Later versions of the game publish summaries on the assumption that these stories played out exactly as planned. The three core game settings, ''Deadlands, Hell On Earth,'' and ''Lost Colony'' form a lengthy and chronological trilogy. This is part of the reason all of the major villains have PlotArmor.
** Unlike many of these examples, however, the metaplot was designed purely to have three divergent genres in the same setting (WildWest, AfterTheEnd, and HumanAliens) and featuring a handful of the same characters. Barring time travel, the three settings do not directly interact, and the metaplot serves primarily as backstory and suggested inspiration.
* Many ''DungeonsAndDragons'' settings have had metaplots. ''{{Dragonlance}}'' in particular had a strong metaplot, and has in fact become primarily a setting for novels with an RPG attached over the years. Notably, ''Forgotten Realms'', ''The Known World''/''{{Mystara}}'', ''{{Greyhawk}}'', ''{{Ravenloft}}'', ''Dark Sun'', and ''Planescape'' all had CrisisCrossover-style supplements that dramatically shook up the status quo of the setting (the Time of Troubles, Wrath of the Immortals, the Greyhawk Wars, the Grand Conjunction, the Prism Pentad novels and modules, and Faction War, respectively).
** ''{{Planescape}}'' had a metaplot that was more confusing than it needed to be, particularly given that there was ''no way'' the player characters could ever learn what was really happening (something even [[LampshadeHanging pointed out]] in ''Faction War'').
** ''{{Birthright}}'' is possibly the only setting of its vintage that didn't have a metaplot, largely because the players were intended to be rulers of nations and therefore controlled what would normally be the metaplot.
** ''ForgottenRealms'' got another jump forward in the metaplot--a full century--as an update to 4th Edition's "points of light" design theory.
** While ''{{Eberron}}'' is an aversion, for a time it looked like it would fall into this trope for 4th Edition, before fan outcry brought about an AuthorsSavingThrow.
** ''DarkSun'' had a metaplot in the first series of novels that completely revised the campaign setting. This was reversed in the 4th Edition revamp.
* The OldWorldOfDarkness is (in)famous for its metaplot.
** Metaplot is conspicuous in its absence, however, from the NewWorldOfDarkness. The creators were quite open about this being done to avoid the issues listed above. This did not stop many fans of the old metaplot from complaining, "Then they could just ignore the metaplot!", not fully comprehending the first reason listed above. That said, though, it isn't ''completely'' absent, just a little more subtle - the games, while modular, reference each other at times. ''TabletopGame/HunterTheVigil'' in particular has a system in place for faking other supernaturals, but has a number of jump-in points for the other game lines - one of the Compacts is being manipulated by the main villains from ''TabletopGame/MageTheAwakening'', Task Force: VALKYRIE captured a group of Daksha from the same game during WorldWarII, and so forth.
*** In an unfortunate example of [[RealLifeWritesThePlot Real Life Writes The Metaplot]], ''[[VampireTheRequiem City of the Damned: New Orleans]]'' is unusable as a result of Hurricane Katrina decimating the city, and the clanbooks mention that the local vampire society is in shambles. A troupe can ignore these events, of course, but that approach [[FridgeLogic opens a whole new]] [[SuspensionOfDisbelief can of worms]].
** ''TabletopGame/{{Exalted}}'', from the same company, has no metaplot because it's ''expected'' that the players would derail it at some point. Especially since the entire ''point'' of Solar Exalts is that they have power because they're willing to use it in spectacular, stunt-assisted fashion that would utterly dismember the metaplot for a game like ''HeavyGear''.
*** No longer ''entirely'' true. They did post a single scenario book detailing the events surrounding the Return of the Scarlet Empress, partly because the Infernals were [[SpotlightStealingSquad the current shiny green star of the development team]] and the dev team wanted to do something cool with them. However, it's not necessary to be able to use the setting, and it's mostly used as an idea mine and as the source for certain Charms related to the nature of the [[EldritchAbomination Yozis]].
** Also from WhiteWolf was the TabletopGame/TrinityUniverse, which had a pretty epic metaplot covering three games along the same timeline, with the pulp Adventure!, the superhero {{Deconstruction}} Aberrant and the {{Cyberpunk}}/SpaceOpera Trinity. While it was good story and only had two characters that were likely to dominate the [=PCs=], it was irritating to know that your Adventure! team was unlikely to have much effect on a world heading for the other games.
*** Aberrant was kind of a transitional phase between the metaplot-era OldWorldOfDarkness and the completely wild TabletopGame/{{Exalted}}. It ''had'' a metaplot, but the designers also acknowledged that the [=PCs=] were essentially guaranteed to screw it up and made sure to give plenty of examples of PC-level characters doing just that.
* ''LegendOfTheFiveRings'' is notable both for still having a metaplot, and for that metaplot being partially based on the outcomes of tournaments for the [[CardGames collectible card game]].
** This has led to an ongoing BrokenBase issue with fans who only or primarily play the RPG, as the RPG follows and is considered supplemental to the cardgame's storyline. While the recent 4th edition of the RPG attempted to avert this by not tying it to a specific timeline, it also includes [[TokenEvilTeammate the Spider Clan]], [[NegativeContinuity a very recent addition to the TCG's storyline.]] The Spider's inclusion is so recent, in fact, that [[PlotTumor their role in the empire's already been rewritten once, and is still yet to be fully defined.]]
** Metaplot and ExecutiveMeddling forcing the departure of the original writer led to the untimely demise of spinoff LegendOfTheBurningSands. Originally intended to feature only cameos of [=L5R=] characters and parallels to [=L5R's=] own plotlines, LBS instead had two major [=L5R=] clans present in the setting, several [=L5R=] characters as major players, and a plot that meandered due to the ExecutiveMeddling forcing major alterations from the original storyline. While the story eventually shaped up to be arguably better than its parent game, the above killed it so badly that it was ten years before it was resurrected as an RPG. Even then, it's still tied closely to [=L5R's=] metaplot.
** Metaplot however, killed its sister game - [[SeventhSea 7th Sea]]. The players had very few things to do, and all the important characters in the settings were effectively immortal.
*** It also was a setting full of [[PlanetOfHats national archetypes]], most of whom pointedly did not like each other and had only limited means of mobility (ships and one nation's limited teleportation ability). Metaplot did get as far as the FrenchRevolution, but the RPG and card game lines were canceled just before the discovery of the new world. Frustratingly, some details had already been released, such as a [[BigBad Moctezuma]] {{Expy}} as a lich.
* ''TabletopGame/{{Torg}}'' (no relation to ''Webcomic/SluggyFreelance'') was built around user-generated metaplot. Game Masters were asked to send in questionnaires about published adventures they ran, and to report in a general way how well their heroes were doing in various areas of the game world, and the data were compiled and processed to produce an overall state-of-the-Earth report which the authors would then use to shape their subsequent products.
* ''{{Traveller}}'' incorporated its Fifth Frontier War metaplot into years of fiction, adventures, supplements, miniatures and even a boardgame.
** Then they [[BrokenBase broke the base]] by having the Emperor assassinated and slowly burned down the campaign setting over the second edition of the game.
* Tabletop miniatures game ''TabletopGame/{{Warhammer 40000}}'' has something of a metaplot, but it is somewhat subverted in that [[StatusQuoIsGod nothing ever changes too much]], for similar reasons to those listed here. However, they still like to claim that the next planned event will have a drastic effect on the game world to get players interested, but then it doesn't.
** May be justified, or at least explained, by the scope and brutality of the setting. In most universes having a hundred billion people die would be a galaxy-wide tragedy rather than a statistical blip.
*** This is accurate up to a point: many such metaplot events are battles over places "crucial" to the Imperium and other in-game factions, but if a faction loses or wins (say, if Abaddon's Black Crusade overran and completely destroyed Cadia for instance) the factions would still be unchanged and Cadians would likely still be playable, even considering their planet had been destroyed.
* ''BattleTech'', on the other hand, has a metaplot that encompasses roughly a century or so of game time since the game was created, and has seen several irrevocable changes to the setting. [[TheyChangedItNowItSucks Some people have not liked some of the changes,]] but their method for dealing with it is to [[BrokenBase simply not play in those time periods]].
* Subverted in ''{{Ironclaw}}''. The first published adventure ''and'' the first tie-in novel deal with the murder of the High King and most of his family, and the search for the sole surviving heir. It became the common touchpoint for almost every campaign using the official setting -- but ''every campaign resolved it differently'', with far-reaching impact on the rest of the political situation. (It also immediately established ''Ironclaw'' as a game where beginning characters ''can be kingmakers''.)
* Subverted by the kooky ''OverTheEdge''--the final pages of the game's GM manual revealed that the characters in the RPG were, in fact, '''characters in an RPG'''.
* As battles rage in the backstory of the ''IronKingdoms'', borders get re-drawn and [[CharacterDevelopment characters develop]]. To be given official rules in either WARMACHINE or HORDES is also to be given PlotArmor though, leaving the most active movers and shakers free to continue moving and shaking without fatal consequences.
* ''HeavyGear'' is very up-front about the game's metaplot. Each sourcebook has a date which indicates where in the story the book is, not to mention entire books ''solely'' dedicated to detailing the events and mysteries of the metaplot.
* ''TabletopGame/{{Shadowrun}}'' could be considered to have a metaplot because the game universe continually moves forward with new events, big and small. The game was generally good about never letting [=NPCs=] be the ones doing things. [=NPCs=] are often the impetus behind things happening (as is normal for the setting), but the players are almost always the one actually ''doing'' things. This is acknowledged many times when it's noted that an "anonymous group of runners" did something that greatly affected the overall story and setting.
** Conversely, ''TabletopGame/{{Cyberpunk}} 2020'' played it the other way - when the metaplot was advanced, all important plot events were done by a group of chracters based on the original writing team's player chracters, and led by one who was a pretty obvious SelfInsert of the game's chief writer; in essence, the [=NPCs=] were the centre of the plot, and the Player Characters were just along for the ride.
* In licensed [=RPGs=] that draw upon "outside" works of fiction for their background and -story, the original story canon quite naturally serves as this. How much of a constraint that proves to be is largely a function of how much room said canon leaves for new ''original'' characters to shine just as much as the "official" protagonists; comicbook superhero universes like the creations of [[Creator/MarvelComics Marvel]] and [[Creator/DCComics DC]] are usually all but designed to allow the easy addition of new faces as desired and something like the ''Franchise/StarTrek'' universe always has room for at least one more Starfleet vessel whose crew have their own episodic adventures just like those of the various ''Enterprise''s, but it's rather harder to meaningfully insert player characters into settings where the canon {{Chosen One}}s are already supposed to be doing all the ''truly'' plot-relevant heavy lifting.
* German RPG ''TheDarkEye'' had a Metaplot since its development. For the first 15 years, the Metaplot hasn't moved the world forward. People vanished, or found new opportunities, a few organisations perished or formed themselves. The world however didn't change fundamentally. But after 15 years something new came along: an old evil raised his head and the world didn't look the same. Now every few years, parts of the setting change, but later adventures are often playable without incorporating these changes.

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[[folder: Video Games ]]

* ''CityOfHeroes'' has something of a metaplot, in that the comics and its free expansions advance the timeline of the setting, changing the game world to match. In this case, the "independent works" would be the stories created by each character's experiences.
** Most other [=MMORPGs=] can be said to have a metaplot in this sense, as well.
** The writers of ''CityOfHeroes'' are, on the other hand, pretty bad about letting the players actually accomplish anything. To date, the city of Paragon (where the game for heroes takes place) has been subjected to repeated alien invasions, is home to a literal war zone, and has a number of areas currently closed off due to being very hazardous. [[PerpetuallyStatic However, no amount of player activity will allow players to prevent another alien invasion, win the war, or make a particular zone less hazardous.]] While StatusQuoIsGod, it certainly lends a certain amount of futility to the overall experience of being a hero: no matter what you do, nothing you do matters.
*** [[ReedRichardsIsUseless Just like the comics, then?]]
*** One thing you might have overlooked is the recent Faultline changes. Due to little interest in the zone they changed it from a Hazard zone to a City zone, essentially taking an area of Paragon that was very hazardous and making it less hazardous. Not any particular hero's fix, but an accomplishment from an in-universe perspective. In addition the regular invasions were fought off, leading to sporadic ones in the current edition.
* Most of {{Creator/Bungie}}'s games all seem to relate to the same underlying themes; possibly taking place in the same universe, or related universes. The ties are particularly strong between ''PathwaysIntoDarkness'', ''VideoGame/{{Marathon}}'' and ''VideoGame/{{Halo}}''. It should be noted that ''Pathways Into Darkness'' and ''Marathon'' are already confirmed as taking place in a SharedUniverse.

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[[folder: Web Original ]]

* The ''GlobalGuardiansPBEMUniverse'' had two overarching [[MetaPlot meta-plots]] during its twelve year history. The first was the slow assimilation of nonhuman intelligences (aliens, sentient apes, and sentient machines) into normal human society. The second was the effects of advancing technology on normal human society.

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