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Anaximander

Breaking Universes

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I am in a debate with a friend.  I like playing games like Star Wars, Star Trek, and other franchised universes.  I like playing and running those universes because they are pre-built and recognizable, but I also like to play around and twist stories to my own liking.  I see no problem, but my friend has the feeling that changing too much and it will no longer be that universe.  To some degree, I think he is right, but to what degree?  How much can you change Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, or whatever before it stops being what it and becomes it is.  I personally think that is a personal opinion and in roleplaying games it should come down to group consensus regardless of opinions of the original creators like Roddenberry and Lucas.  My friend is a little more legalistic about canon.  I've studied writing, but none of my studies covered roleplaying games or LARPing in canonical universes, and I would like to get more opinions on how much can canon be changed before the fictional universe it describes ceases to exist.

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I think the biggest barrier to most Sci-Fi games is having rules all the players understand.  Not game mechanics, but universe rules like

Are there Transporters?

If so, can we just beam explosives over to enemy ships?

Why Not?

Do we have FTL?

can we rig captured ships do FTL rams into the big enemy stations?

Why Not?

 

Sci Fi covers a *lot* of ground and you need everyone in the group to be on the same page for the game to work.  Most established universes have rules about what actions do and don't work, and they are very different from universe to universe.  Without a common consensus on how this universe works you get players expecting Firefly and getting Chronicles of Riddick.  Then people are unhappy because they aren't playing the game they expected too.  Or worse, a player who made a Babylon 5 style military guy, a player who made a Starship Troopers military guy and a player who made a Battlestar Galactica military guy all showing up for a Stargate Universe campaign.  Now the party doesn't even gel.

 

If you just declare "we are playing Star Trek Next Gen" and then enforce the rules of that setting onto the game you avoid lots of weird arguments.  Making impassioned speeches works, because it's TNG.  No, you can't beam the side of the Klingon antimatter container out into space and make them explode.  Why?  Because they never do so you can't.  You solve your problems with klingons by appealing to their Honor or by arming Photon Torpedoes, you don't release Nanite Bombs from a shuttle you converted into a fighter even though they totally have Nanites because of episode XX.

 

Or do that.  But then the whole game becomes about the players and the GM out-gambiting each other by exploring the poorly thought through implications of most popular Sci-Fi Franchises.

RPGs are a communal experience and need to be experienced and enjoyed by the players.  Without good rules about tone and what's possible in universe things get really frustrating.  If you obey the rules of a universe everyone is familiar with you will be fine, if you homebrew a universe or jumble one up you end up with players who either are confused or have to read 40 pages of campaign notes before they make characters.

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1 hour ago, Anaximander said:

I am in a debate with a friend.  I like playing games like Star Wars, Star Trek, and other franchised universes.  I like playing and running those universes because they are pre-built and recognizable, but I also like to play around and twist stories to my own liking.  I see no problem, but my friend has the feeling that changing too much and it will no longer be that universe.  To some degree, I think he is right, but to what degree?  How much can you change Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, or whatever before it stops being what it and becomes it is.  I personally think that is a personal opinion and in roleplaying games it should come down to group consensus regardless of opinions of the original creators like Roddenberry and Lucas.  My friend is a little more legalistic about canon.  I've studied writing, but none of my studies covered roleplaying games or LARPing in canonical universes, and I would like to get more opinions on how much can canon be changed before the fictional universe it describes ceases to exist.

 

Given how much Star Trek, Star Wars, Marvel, and DC have changed their own universes I don't think there is any real harm in using any of them, or all of them combined, for your own campaign.  Lets say you're going to set one in the DC Universe, but which one?  One based on Batman/Superman/Justice League Animated series, or the DC Extended Universe, or the Dark Night, etc.  For Star Trek what time period would you be playing, the original series, the Next Generation/DS9/Voyager, Discovery, or the Kelvan timelines?    

 

Of  course if you're doing an Agents of SHIELD campaign I recommend using the Horror Hero campaign book.

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Lots of us want to game in custom Sci-Fi settings.  Most of us just don't have the patience to actually communicate the setting to players or have players invested enough to digest our world info.

Fun Fact: The Expanse started out as a RPG universe that the author was trying to get made into an MMO.  Someone pointed out that the game notes he had written to get players oriented were more extensive than most novels he had read and actually werent painful to read through.  So the author got a writing partner & converted his setting into published novels.

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I use pre-built universes a lot, but I use them to suit my needs, and those of the players. My Middle-earth game, for example, isn't Tolkien's vision of his world. Neither would my Star Wars universe be what Lucas envisioned. Nothing like canon, but as long as it suits my needs, it works.

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This is offered _only_ as an opinion:

 

I think canon is stupid. 

 

As pointed out above, too many people change or violate their own, all the time. 

 

Figure out the "must not violate" laws- social and physics- for your game. 

 

Decide what key elements of the setting you want to keep.  Do what you want after that.  It's your game. 

 

I have found that most players in borrowed-universe games base their complaints on things like "Picard would never do that!" 

 

Avoid that by not letting them be any of the famous characters (a compulsion I never understood anyway).  Your reply is, of course, Star fleet has at least two other captains, at least one of whom is not Picard.  Maybe it's the sort of thing he would do. 

 

Just my two cents worth

 

(remember to decide what bits of physics are inviolable and remember that this comes from a GM who outlawed ship-mounted weapons only to have his players calculate the flight path of their opponents as both ships approached C, then they chucked a suitcase full of brass bookends out the airlock....) 

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Smuggling.   Primarily, brass and other soft dense metals were valuable in lost of places, moreso than they are today.  This was because of the massive fuel expenditure to lift them out of the gravity well from places where they were more common.  The brass was being used as camoflauge for the lead and the gold that were actually being smuggled. 

 

Ornamental brass was kept intact to explain why someone might be willing to invest in shipping it. 

 

Thus, suitcase full of brass bookends.  Seems a great way to deal with unarmed patrol ships from that point on.... 

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Sailor Moon has some really cut and dry universal rules. Only women can be Sailor Senshi, othoe either gender can possess a star seed. Chaos is the ultimate big bad, and it's goals are the elimination of everything in the universe.

 

Sailor Moon can only have one daughter. 

 

What does this have to do with this thread? Nothing much.

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I really like a detailed universe canon as a frame for my own games. I change whatever I want, but I find having that thorough, consistent framework makes it easier to grasp how any change will affect the whole. OTOH when discussing features of a setting with someone not part of my own group, it helps a lot to have a common, recognized frame of reference. Like how I've approached Hero's Turakian Age on its own forum thread.

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16 hours ago, Jhamin said:

Or do that.  But then the whole game becomes about the players and the GM out-gambiting each other by exploring the poorly thought through implications of most popular Sci-Fi Franchises.

 

Sounds like a Lensmen game.

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Thank you, all for your responses!  I wanted to bring this debate to wider audience as it does poses some interesting thoughts and question.  I personally hold the view that canon should be relatively malleable while certain limits have to maintained with the limits being different from franchise to franchise and from individual to individual.  I personally do not think that there is a single objectively true side to take.  I also wanted to bring more minds into this because I can be opinionated, obstinate, and biased.  (I know what you're thinking.  How can anyone who uses an ancient Greek philosopher as a his avatar to could possibly be biased?  But, I'm afraid it's true.)  

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The way that I have always seen this is that one might start off in stated prebuilt universe but as the campaign progresses it will take on more aspects that were never intended to be in that universe, regardless of how hard one sticks to the universal core. This is why I will always say that I model my campaign after stated story but be willing (even encourage if not make intended) to way from the core and introduce things that were never intended to be there, like putting teleportation systems into Star Wars.

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13 hours ago, Duke Bushido said:

This is offered _only_ as an opinion:

 

I think canon is stupid. 

 

As pointed out above, too many people change or violate their own, all the time. 

 

Figure out the "must not violate" laws- social and physics- for your game. 

 

Decide what key elements of the setting you want to keep.  Do what you want after that.  It's your game. 

 

I have found that most players in borrowed-universe games base their complaints on things like "Picard would never do that!" 

 

Avoid that by not letting them be any of the famous characters (a compulsion I never understood anyway).  Your reply is, of course, Star fleet has at least two other captains, at least one of whom is not Picard.  Maybe it's the sort of thing he would do. 

 

Just my two cents worth

 

(remember to decide what bits of physics are inviolable and remember that this comes from a GM who outlawed ship-mounted weapons only to his players calculate the flight path of their opponents as both ships approached C, then chucked a suitcase full of brass bookends out the airlock....) 

 

I agree that canon is overrated at times, and that some folks get too attached to it. Forgotten Realms fans are among the worst offenders, from what I hear.

 

I haven't had too many problems with this, but if I did, I'd remind people that the only canon is what exists in the session. Everything else is negotiable.

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15 hours ago, steriaca said:

Sailor Moon has some really cut and dry universal rules. Only women can be Sailor Senshi, othoe either gender can possess a star seed. Chaos is the ultimate big bad, and it's goals are the elimination of everything in the universe.

 

Sailor Moon can only have one daughter. 

 

What does this have to do with this thread? Nothing much.

 

Actually there was suppose to be only one Slayer, but then Buffy changed the rules.

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What i find interesting is with Star Wars people cannon seems to be very fluid based on groups tastes. It’s as if there is a multiverse of Star Wars. So in one game you may like the WEG expanded stuff and you go with it. Another may like this form these books but not that. Classic movies may be cannon but ignore everything else (unless it’s cool!). The biggest thing is explain to the players that this is your version of the Universe.

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It seems to me that, since canon is already established "fact" in the universe, as long as Luke Skywalker still destroys the Death Star 1 and Pickard is still the arbiter of succession for Gowron, that Wookies are not featherless, flightless birds on the plains planet Goobldorf and Vulcans aren't short, little blue elephants that get angry at the drop of a hat, canon hasn't been broken.

 

However, that's as far as it goes. Because, once the game begins, by definition, cannon will always be changing because the actions of the players and the story the GM is trying to tell are going to be different from any canonical source. The only other case I see is that the GM is running a scenario that _is_ a canonical story and the players are doing _exactly_ the same things the characters did in the original source material. If that's the case, they might as well be reading a book.

 

So, I think that anytime players and GM's try to play in an established universe, such as Star Wars or Star Trek, they will necessarily be breaking canon. Perhaps not what has already occurred, but certainly what is and what will be. If someone doesn't want to do that, they shouldn't play in an established universe.

 

Just my $0.00 (it's not even worth $0.02)

 

Lee

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My current view on canon and stories in general has taken a recent twist.  I took some time to study concepts like The Hero's Journey and the Monomyth.  Terms I have heard but have never understood.  I still don't fully understand them but the more I study the more my interpretations of stories change, and for me, canon is about the hidden truths of the story and its window dressing.  

 

Also, the more I learn the more I want the players to have the opportunity of being the Big Danged Heroes of their story even if it means kicking Luke Skywalker, Captain Kirk, or Batman to the curb.  One example of what I want to do is run a Star Wars game using the Fantasy Flight Games system.  It would be set approximately in the time just before the events the first movie.  I would spend the early part of the game making sure that they and me are comfortable with the system and are invested in the stories and NPCs they interact with.  When I feel that everyone is comfortable and ready for a change, I would introduce a planet killer that may or may not be the Death Star, but instead of destroying Alderaan, I would destroy a planet the characters are emotionally invested in and killing of a few friends and even rivals in the process.  That way when they go after the planet killer it will be personal.  Also, the planet killer's Achilles' Heel will be designed around the strengths and weakness of the player characters rather than necessarily trying hit some poorly designed exhaust port.  In addition, if I introduce any of the main characters from the movies, books, and TV shows, I would try to stay true to their core values as I understand them, but I might change the events of their lives.  When all cases, I want to have my players be my guides on what direction I want the overall story to go.

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5 minutes ago, Anaximander said:

And, I would want to limit musical numbers to players who can actually sing.

 

Remember to provide plenty of drugs, as that was the key to listening to the music, and sadly in Carrie Fisher's case, performing it.

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One way to make the PCs the heroes in a well-known universe is to set the campaign in a different time or place. For example, the default setting in MERP was year 1640 of the Third Age. Why? Because aside from the Great Plague having just ended, not many details are included in this time period. That gave the module writers and the GM a lot of leeway to develop the setting as they saw fit. Alternatively, if the players want their characters to take part in the War of the Ring, the GM can have them fight Sauron's forces in the east, so the heroes can prevent Sauron from sending more troops to Gondor, Dale, and Lorien.

 

The same thing works for Star Wars. Maybe the Death Star wasn't the Empire's only super weapon. Palpatine may have ordered the construction of another weapon of mass destruction in a different part of the galaxy. After all, the Death Star could only be at one place at a time, and the Rebellion was scattered in different locations. This would give the PCs a chance to shine without overshadowing Luke and company.

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