December 9, 2002

Game Wish 24

Game Wish

Game Wish #24: Retcons

Do you think that retroactive continuity is a good or bad thing in games? Is it a valuable GM/player tool or a cheat? Are there appropriate places for using it? Inappropriate places? How have you successfully used it or seen it used in a game? How about unsuccessfully?

The question of retcons comes back to an idea of mine. The idea that, if a player does not witness or gain direct knowledge of an event in the game, that makes it a little less real, a little more malleable, a little more open to revision on my part. Consequently, I prefer to have PCs be involved in big events, to influence them, to put their imprimatur upon them, even if it is indirectly, by design of second-order actions. It makes the game more real for me. If I wanted a bunch of events that the players didn't influence, I'd be writing a novel.

So I do retcon, carefully but willingly, especially when it won't crimp another player's story. I absolutely refuse to invalidate what the players have done by retroactively changing what happened. I'm not talking about an immediate change, in say, a face to face game where heated tempers can lead to actions that are immediately "taken back". That's more GM adjundication than retconing.

Let me give you an example of how I retconned in Strange Bedfellows. When Jayson met the NPC Cyllene in Strange Bedfellows, I got one of those feelings as soon as they met. I think the GMs know what i mean when I had the sudden inspiration...the sudden realization that these characters have and must have met before. So, I decided that they had and developed a backstory in order to establish just where and when Jayson and Cyllene had met. The upshot was that the PC suddenly had a new link to a NPC, and aspects of other NPCs--mainly Jayson's mother Sand and her brother Delwin, came into focus, as I thought about and decided just how they had reacted to the first meeting. So I managed to enrich the game universe by a judicious change in the past of a NPC.

I admit, though, that I had been taking a page from retconning that a GM did to me. Marcus, back when he was in Rob Bergeron's Shadow War, wound up getting mixed up in a plot thanks to the GM retconning a short story I had written explaining how he had gotten his shapeshifting weapon. He did it with my approval, saying that Marcus had really had a relationship with a woman who later turned out (in the present) to be a Chaosian and a would-be pawn of Oberon. I didn't mind the retconning of Marcus' history, since it wound up making an even richer present, in effect.

Posted by Jvstin at December 9, 2002 11:34 PM