9 Ways to Justify Changes in the Lore

I love the lore behind imaginary places, people, objects, games, worlds, and stories! And I’m not alone. Far from it, drawing people into these imaginary places is what drives the huge popularity of the great IPs of our time. Middle Earth, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Twilight, James Bond, Superman, Sherlock Holmes, Sandman, Harry Potter, Warhammer. And so on.

They were stories first of course, or games, or comics, but to fans it’s all about the lore. About the imaginary history and the internal consistence, and even bout the places and events that are only ever visited ‘off camera’.

Now, MMOs, comics, and TV series have a unique challenge with respect to their lore, because it will change and grow over time. Sometimes in a long running series, it’s difficult for creators to keep track of every single aspect of the IPs history – and fans love to catch them out on it. This is especially true when it becomes more and more obvious that when the series began, the creators hadn’t yet decided how it would end.

And both TV series and games have reasons for wanting to insert new elements or directions into their lore. For a TV series, maybe the series needs to come to a neat ending (Battlestar Galactica), or a new show runner wants to take a different direction (Doctor Who), or one of the script writers just had a really cool idea that everyone likes. In games, developers also want to be responsive to what players want, and shifts in game design. Or maybe they just want to drop in a new race of space aliens because they look cool. Or in other words, there are good reasons for wanting to twist the lore into pretzels; to improve gameplay, or to improve a dramatic arc, for example.

As fans, we’d like to think this never happened, or at least that we would never notice. And in great novels, the chances are that the author will be able to go back and adjust the lore to fit the story if s/he needs to do it before publication. But in ongoing TV series, comics, or games, that isn’t an option.

It’s a familiar dilemma to pen and paper GMs also. You think of a great idea for next week’s scenario. But how can you make it fit into the game world?

Here are a few suggestions for game designers. Next time you need to do something crazy in game for gameplay reasons, try one of these excuses to sell it to the players.

1. A Wizard Did It

A time honored D&D favourite justification. This can explain just about anything you ever want to do in a fantasy setting. And as a bonus, can cover up any failure on the part of the GM to remember some minute background detail that was mentioned in passing three years ago. Players will ALWAYS remember this sort of thing.

For example: ”Why is there a black monolith in the middle of this desert? There’s no black rock around here.” “A wizard did it.”

If you get bored of wizards or are working in a different genre try these alternatives:

  • an ancient god/ civilisation did it
  • ultra high tech did it
  • black ops/ secret government labs did it
  • you have no idea what did it  (Oo, a mystery! As a bonus, if you are lazy you can listen to players discuss their ideas and then use the one that sounds coolest.)

2. A MAD Wizard Did it

Like #1, but when the thing in question is obviously pointless, contradicts current lore, or even acts against the creator’s best interests. You can even combine 1 with 2 if players ask particularly awkward questions:

Why is Bob riding a sparkly pony!

A wizard did it.

But all wizards are afraid of stars, you told us that last week.

Uh … a MAD wizard did it.

Sometimes you can even explain that the wizard in #1 later went mad and was responsible for #2.

3. Gotterdammerung

Everything goes up in flames for no reason. But it’s ok because it’s SYMBOLIC. Bonus points if you can work in a thematic colour scheme, weather effects, and NPC names.

“Do you think Mr Justifiablehomicide wants to be our friend?”

4. Crisis on Infinite Azeroths

It’s … a crossover!

5. The Hudson Hawk Defence

Also known as ‘the totally bullshit explanation’. Just state your highly implausible explanation with a straight face and see if anyone buys it.

You’re supposed to be all cracked up at the bottom of the hill.

Air bags!Can you fucking believe it?

You’re supposed to be blown upinto fiery chunks of flesh.

Sprinkler system set up in the back.
Can you fucking believe it?

Yeah! ……. That’s probably what happened.
— Hudson Hawk

6. I woke up, and it was all a dream

Made famous by Dallas, this explanation allows you to reset the lore to any time in the past that you wish.

7. Take the blue pill, Neo

Haha, bait and switch. Everything the players thought they knew turns out to be wrong.  In The Matrix, this was because the entire world known by the protagonist was just a VR simulation.

But a similar explanation can be used to justify why the players’ allies are actually their enemies or any of their assumptions (which were encouraged strongly by the game, story, or TV series) were completely incorrect.

Players will typically accept this once, but will then choose the blue pill and try to stick with the original assumptions because those are why they liked the game in the first place anyway.

8. Break the fourth wall

I’ve got to stay here, but there’s no reason why you folks shouldn’t go out into the lobby until this thing blows over.

– Groucho, Horse Feathers

We don’t see this often in MMOs but occasionally an in-game narrator or tutorial will explain game mechanics to the player. A similar scheme can be used to try to explain lore changes that were made for gameplay reasons.

9. Blame Christopher Tolkein

Blame any changes on the vagaries of the IP’s current owner.

Christopher Tolkein and the Tolkein Estate can take the flak for Middle Earth based games, Games Workshop can shoulder the blame for changes in Warhammer, and so on.

13 thoughts on “9 Ways to Justify Changes in the Lore

    • That’s definitely one reason why you might want to change the lore — adding awesome new cool stuff for players to do and see is one of the ways to tweak the gameplay.

      I’m assuming you’d want to make a rough attempt at explaining it other than (or as well as) ‘because it’s cool.’

      But cool is really important because it affects how the new lore gets added. Blue space goats? OK. Blue space goats CRASHING THEIR INTERDIMENSIONAL SHIP ONTO AZEROTH? Cool!!!

      And players will be much more likely to accept any type of explanation if the new lore thing grabs their attention by being cool. Having said that, I think some IPs can get away with ‘because it’s cool, ok?’ better than others.

    • Actually they are Calamari-Goats …

      Spinks, did I ever mention, you have a strange sense of humor?

      Its a very round up presentation of all current excuses for misconceptions.
      Thanks for also bringing back some memorable moments of Pen & Paper times, by the way, anybody knew “In nomine Satanis”? *Hach* The black humor…

      I love history, that’s probably a reason that I have problems accepting full Fantasy Worlds, where magic tears down all known boundaries.

      Lore changes separate the good Storyteller from the bad. It’s like in a good book, with a dramatic change at the end. A good narrator will have given hints for the change, but the plot kept you away from recognising. While a bad narrator will just come up with the change like dragging a white bunny out of a hat.

      A good plot usually has many side stories, that can be used to introduce changes, without appearing like dead ends.

      • I LOVE In Nomine Satanis.

        I used to write supplements for the American version, but those of us on the team who could read French used to envy Croc and Siroz so much because they could get away with just about anything. I have particularly fond memories of the french scenario where player angels get sent back in time to make sure that Jesus gets crucified.

        And I agree about the storytelling. A great storyteller can turn a new plot element/ change in the lore into an amazing new story arc. Although I’ve listed these excuses in a very tongue in cheek way, every single one of them can be awesome when done well.

      • Now everything becomes clearer.

        I was actually surprised when I recognised that it was a french game (and therefore not published in english), because of it’s deep sympathy for British humor.
        I really commiserate you, the us version had some severe changes. The books nearly made me learn french again, until they translated the rulebooks into German. Which I hadn’t expected at all.

  1. Ah, this brings back happy memories of the days when if I couldn’t thin of a good story for the week’s adventure I’d just have the PCs captured by Yorick the Mad and forced to escape from another of his insane strongholds.
    Portals to alternative universes are always a good way to introduce type 4 changes.

    • I totally didn’t have Yorick the Mad in min^D^D^D^D^D … ok, that’s exactly what I was thinking of 😉 But damn, it was fun.

      You can probably also combine #4 with #6 to have a temporary crossover to an alternate universe and then have everyone’s mind wiped to forget it happened.

  2. Time Travel makes a particularly good ‘Its magic’ responce. Crossing over into ‘and it was all a dream’ as the current Dr Who show seems about to launch on…dont like that the Daleks invaded earth…well they didnt. Not in this timeline anyhoo.

    Another version of Time Travel is the old fashioned Fast Forward. I still cackle about the look on my players faces when they realised they’re x-files/delta green campaign was simply the old Mountains of Maddness game they had just played fast forwarded a few generations and that the corpse stealing bad dudes were in fact their old semi-imortal PC’s still saving the world one brain at a time……

  3. Pingback: /AFK – What the What? Edition « Bio Break

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