Settings and Canon

  • So I'm idly curious to the people out there on MUsoapbox. I got an answer from another thread, but I'm idly curious.

    For those of you out there running games, or planning to run games, in established settings? What kind of allowances are you making (or not making) for players interfe?ring with, altering, or otherwise affecting the outcome of canon for the established settings.

    For the OWoD Vampire game I'm developing, Theatre of Shadows MUSH, one of my goals is to have a timeline of events that are planned to happen, likely leading to Gehenna by default, and give players the capability to interact with and affect the larger World of Darkness outside of the city in which the game is set. I feel like that will be something interesting to see and play through, both from a player perspective and an ST perspective.

    I'd love to hear from other people who are or have done such things.

  • I don't really have a set path for my place. I'm pretty willing to let players change the game with their actions as long as they are being reasonable about it and not expecting instant gratification.

    Mind.. I get grr fast but can generally be easily calmed down. Mind, I'll be sad if people join just to change the theme to their vision over trying out the theme and the likes I've set up.

  • Pitcrew

    I'm not a fan of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Alternate continuities are fine, but really if you have some kind of intrinsic opposition to the characters and events of a setting then you don't REALLY want to play in that setting.

    Your idea sounds good, by the way.

  • @The-Tree-of-Woe
    If the 'idea sounds good' thing was directed at me, thanks. I don't have an intrinsic opposition, but I can't think of anything that has been built (particularly for OWoD) with that goal of 'sure, you can alter the outcome of events by participation.' Eventually, things will become more wide-spread and people can interact with other, greater events (both adjusted to happen locally, as well as through downtime/out of town scenes for plots).

    So someone wants to become an Archon? Go for it. That Archon then has a goal to kill Regent Melinda Galbraith? Sweet, you can try. If that person actually is able to do so through plotlines and such? Then that's an alteration of events that affect the Sabbat going forward for the game.

    I'm hoping to have an open house sometime later this month (it's slow going because it's just me, but that's fine, it's allowed me to fine-tune some things and alter some of the setting, like being set after the Assamite Schism) for people to check things out.

  • Pitcrew

    On The Sea of Storms (wheel of time) we had an alternate timeline. The worlds own lore and storytelling supports that alternate timelines exist. We used this as a way to explain any variances from the established canon. We also set the game 50 years into the past (prior to the 1st book). This allow us to follow the canon as laid out by the books but empowering player agency.

    On Shadows of Isildur (Lord of the Ring) they had an agreement with the Tolkien Estate which required them to adhere to major canon. They actually approached this issue in 2 separate ways which I will convey in as much clarity as I can. The first method was they had a set timescale so that for every year that passed, 4 years passed in game, they also had major events which were beyond the scope for players to effect and smaller events which could be altered. They marched along through time opening new zones as they became part of the canon story, creating new clans, generating new plots, creating new items, and documentation. In the final years of Shadows of Isildur 2.0 they determined that the strict adherence to a set timeline was damaging the game. Staff were burning out at a prodigious rate and players were sometimes dissatisfied that their beloved city or clan was doomed to fall. This is where they decoupled themselves from a set rate of time and said that when the story progressed to a point that a major event happened. It would happen but that they weren't going to override all player agency. So if canon said all Gondorians were slaughtered and the outpost was lost in some major war. They might tweak it to say that a brave band of Gondorian soldiers were able to save the lives of many by allowing the others to retreat while they held the outpost until they were overrun. Essentially the same thing happens but the context is different and the result to PCs/NPCs is fundamentally different because player agency could affect the things players care about. Also unless that outpost was specifically mentioned again they could go retake it after the "scripted incident".

    EDIT - Personally I think setting the game within the canon of a story but not in the same physical location is a valid tactic. So for Name of the Wind (for example) setting the game in the University / Imre is fine. You could even have some appearance by book characters. But there's no reason you'd have to enable people to play outside that city/immediate area thus keeping them within the game world and potentially bumping into characters but prevent them from running off and slaying villians or something.

    Alternatively I think you can set a game at the end of a canon story depending on the ending. I think in a lot of cases players want to experience the world and setting more so than the events in a book they read about.

  • Pitcrew

    @The-Tree-of-Woe said:

    I'm not a fan of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Alternate continuities are fine, but really if you have some kind of intrinsic opposition to the characters and events of a setting then you don't REALLY want to play in that setting.

    Your idea sounds good, by the way.

    I, on the other hand, adore parallel realities, alternate continuities, etc. One of my favorite ideas for a Comic Book MU is basically the premise of "Exiles" except it's a much larger organization (and probably including DC, Marvel, and more). Allowing up to X versions of the same character, etc. I think it's fun to see what alterations and changes people can come up with.

  • Pitcrew

    For me personally, I don't really get RPing within the constraints of certain immovable events. I find it stifling and like I can't make a meaningful impact. I prefer games that start at the end of a given canon or, if they're in the middle of a canon, for them to simply become an AU driven by the players. For games I've staffed, that's generally how we've always done it.

  • For me it depends on the enormity of the event. Isn't it strange that we're more okay playing alt-history for the real world than alt-history for fictional worlds. We don't care who ended up saying "Ich Bin Ein Berliner," but god forbid if we don't get to see Serenity dive-bomb Persephone with a Reaver hot on their tail.

  • My game is set, partly, in today's world, today's Chicago. So, the day we open, we break from reality and start using in-game events to shape the game's Chicago, using the real world as reference where it fits in. The goal is to allow and encourage the player base to have an impact on the world in-game. Change it, alter it, sway it, do whatever. If we drastically alter from real-world, then so be it. I won't stop it.

    Part of the hoped allure of Shards is the 'what if' of a magic-laced real world.

  • Pitcrew

    My take.

    Player agency is paramount. To deny it takes away the element that I consider vital to making the game a fiction-generating game rather than a collaborative fiction project. If you're laying out plot-points and forcing characters to reach them, then you are not doing the work of a game-master. You've made the outline for a novel/short story and are then, like Tom Sawyer getting those kids to whitewash the fence, conning other people into doing part of the work for you.

    I have had fun getting together with people I RP with and deciding story outlines for events that were in our characters' personal histories, and then RPing them as flashbacks, but this was not the whole game. Nor was it the disingenuous act of a GM pretending that it's a game where I get to decide what my character does while actually refusing to allow me to have said character do what he wants.

    So, timelines. Okay, if somebody showed up on GoB and wrote a character who had killing the king as a goal, I'd tell them, naw, we're really trying not to break the canon timeline. If somebody approved suddenly expressed the desire to kill the king, I would say, huh? Why? Like almost all 'canon' characters, and any who were more than a mentioned name, the king is an NPC who isn't present, and odds of any PC developing a real motivation to bump him off via IC events is pretty slim. I'm not gonna let somebody break the world just 'cause they feel like fucking with the world. But if I, or player GMs (whose plots I oversee and am thus responsible for the consequences of) lay down a line of events that leads a PC's personal story into a situation where said PC is gonna try to kill the king, it's my frickin' responsibility as a game-master to give that PC a fair shake at it. The little axiom goes, "Don't say no, determine difficulty." And by funder, if that player comes up with a really clever plan and rolls well, he can bloody well succeed and then. O my god the game will be on an alternate timeline. Though actually, yes, I wouldn't treat that the same as I do most other PC actions, where the difficulty I determine actually gives the players good odds of success, and the plan has to be, not necessarily clever, just not terribly bad. (Feels challenging, but you're likely to succeed, vs. actually bloody hard to pull off.)

  • I think that if you're going to play a game set in an established universe then it should hold to the base theme. If you're playing World of Darkness, Vampires are vampires, Cruac kills your soul, Twilight is a thing, etc. I think that if you throw all that out, you're no longer playing World of Darkness and should make it very clear in your theme files. The reason I say that is because if you market yourself as World of Darkness but deny basic theme tenets and let people run all over them, that will eventually cause problems when someone apps in and thinks those theme tenets are set in stone. They will be confused why everyone is treating them as odd.

    So my take is that you need to be clear, but there's nothing inherently wrong with ignoring the source material.

  • Pitcrew

    True to the base theme, yep. Situations where no matter what players do, they cannot change a course of events, never never never, in spite of the fact that the characters are creatures that could, conceivably, change events, that's not cool.

    eg, I am running something set in San Francisco in 1906. The PCs cannot stop the earthquake from happening, because they are humans with the powers of humans in 1906 and it's just an earthquake, they can't even predict it. Okay. Same setting, but now I say that the earthquake is caused by the Eldrich Powers the PCs are fighting. They are superheroes, and can fight Eldrich Powers. I can set them up so that really, stopping the EPs is beyond them, but it is not okay for me to say hard-stop never-never-never.