Canon Doubt and Uncertainty

Back when I was writing for tabletop RPGs, I worked for a while on In Nomine which is a game where you get to play an angel (or demon) in  a real world setting. The french game on which it was based was (brilliant) pure black comedy but the english version was more open to interpretation.

I know some people ran comedy games, some Christian groups ran fairly straightline ‘you are an angel of the lord’ games (one of the active posters on the mailing list for awhile was a pastor), and contrarians ran ‘lucifer was right all along!!!’ games. Some people ran it in historical settings, others ran it in futuristic ones. It was a flexible game. But this meant that the writers had to be careful with adding to the in game lore to keep all of these options open to players. Questions such as ‘What is God?’ really needed to be left to individual GMs and groups to work with, if they wanted to deal with it at all.

So the line editor had a list of “canon doubt and uncertainty” which was published to players. It was a way of saying, “We will never officially answer these questions, they’re all yours and we will never contradict what your group decides.” ie. in the official game canon, the answers to these questions will always be uncertain.

Are there any lore issues in games you play that you’d rather the writers never answered? Or do you prefer to have an awkward answer, or one that doesn’t seem to fit, rather than no answer at all?

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9 thoughts on “Canon Doubt and Uncertainty

  1. Explaining how the magic trick works invariably ruins the ‘magic’ part. The most infamous case is probably “The Force = midichlorians”, but there are many other sad examples of this.

    P.S. In Nomine was brilliant.

  2. I think one big issue with MMOs is that it’s so hard to have something not be there. In writing and movies, you can essentially just “not point the camera in that direction” to keep something hidden. In a traditional game, you can just not have part of the world available. In an MMO, that feels a lot more artificial when part of the world is obviously missing. A lot of great storytelling happens when there are holes and you have to fill them in with your imagination.

    And, to echo Ephemeron, In Nomine was awesome. Now you have even more of my respect. :)

  3. I think there’s a big difference in this regard between PnP RPGs on one side, and mass media on the other. In a movie, TV show, book, or whatever, you fundamentally have one party telling a story to another. Computer games are, ideally, somewhat more flexible, but the flexibility is akin to that of a Lone Wolf book – your choices are limited to those the writer thought of.

    But in a PnP RPG, the job of the publisher is generally not to tell the consumer a story. It’s providing consumers the resources they want/need to tell stories themselves. The stories are, to a far greater degree, owned by the players.

    I think when it comes to traditional storytelling, the consumer doesn’t really have a leg to stand on when it comes to not wanting revelations. For some WoW examples, I can speculate all I want about what happened to Bolvar Fordragon after the Wrathgate, or what Nozdormu’s relation to the Infinite Dragonflight is, but it’s up to Blizzard to answer. But for PnP RPGs, I think it’s good for creators to leave some stuff unanswered. Not everything, but the way Steve Jackson Games did it with In Nomine’s “canon uncertainties” seem to be a good way to handle it. Similarly, I doubt Wizards of the Coast will ever reveal the true cause of the creation of the Mournland in the Eberron setting (especially now that they’re taking a publish-and-abandon approach to settings).

  4. There is and was no proper reason why Alliance and Horde are so often at war yet still work together very often on the other hand, too.

    I think Cataclysm is their chance to set up a convincing background for a real conflict. The attempts to create a conflict where there was so much love in the air were rather miserable.

    So yeah, either just ignore open questions if you only have a shitty answer, or start making sense.

  5. That’s actually the cool way, Kring. Let players pick their friends and enemies themelseves. It has become nearly extinct by now in contemporary MMOs.

  6. I’m a big fan of canon-uncertainty. Something I’ve always found upsetting in fandom-in-general is the unwillingness of people to accept the idea that some things simply don’t have or need a canon answer.

    In WoW I’m not sure. There’s nothing I’m sufficiently invested in to really want the mystery preserved. I felt that Arthas was somewhat lessened by the increased focus on his character in Wrath (and the Lich King was massively lessened by the writing out of Ner’zul).

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