Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Reboot and Its Application

Like a lot of other people, I caught Star Trek: Into Darkness over the weekend. My capsule review: If you liked the first one as you watched it you will probably like this one as you watch it. If you liked the first one, you probably also experienced an increasing irritation with it the more you thought about it in the hours and days that followed. I suspect that will be you experience with this one.

Anyway, I don't want to talk about Into Darkness so much as the application of things like changes continuity in one way or another in rpg settings. Certainly, there are examples of retcons and reboots in published rpg settings; I'm more interested in what people do in their own homemade settings.

I suspect mild retcons are pretty common in long running campaigns. A little change in some aspect of setting when the GM gets a better idea never really hurt anybody--particularly if the PCs haven't even directly interacted with it yet. If they have, it gets a little trickier, but if G+ posts are any indication, settings are sort of continuous works in progress, even well after play starts.

I don't know about anybody else, but I've engaged in wholesale rebooting of one setting for much of my D&D career. The world of Arn (that I started this blog discussing) has elements that go back to junior high, though its gone through 3 map changes, place name changes (and sometimes back again), and conceptual shifts from vaguely backgrounded generic D&D world, detailed pastiche of Leiber, Howard, and Burroughs, synthesis of those S&S elements with whatever historical period I was interested in at the moment (from Ancient Rome to the 16th Century), and so on.

All of these permutations could be seen as just cannibalizing old ideas for economy of imagination, except that some of the same characters and background elements have been consistent pretty much the whole time--though their presentations have changed. The founders of one of the main cities in the world(s), have gone from actual PCs, to historical personages, to likely mythological characters.

Not only does this sort of thing save work, but I think it can allow for some of the depth of background that comes from a long-running campaign without actually having run a continuous campaign for all that time.


Tim Shorts said...

I haven't watched the new Star Treks and to be honest the original series is the only one I can stomach.

As for rebooting campaigns its something I have a little experience doing. I don't think I've ever had a campaign world. Mine have always been areas in the past. But lately I've been combining them, through past games and past stories I've written. It can be a dangerous proposition, a little tweaking and adding can enhance a campaign, but if it is retooled too much it loses that original energy and gets muddled. This is something I've been battling with, I think an idea is great, but it doesn't quite fit into the campaign and if I force it then the whole suffers. Like William Falkner said, "In writing, you must kill all your darlings."

I'm stacking my darlings like cord wood these days.

Francis Lee said...

It is a prime example of re-booting the franchise and for the best in my opinion but it's not subtle!

JimShelley said...

While I can't speak on the idea of retooling a long standing rpg setting, I have been known to retool story concepts over years. I think your statement about such retooling of an old idea allowing a creator to bring a greater depth to a concept is very true. Several times, I've come back to an older concept with that exact goal in mind.

Ray Rousell said...

I'm really looking forward to the film, hopefully I'll be watching it in the next few days...fingers crossed. I've got no problems with reboots, some work some don't.

Zak S said...

I think your point about campaigns is solid: one rich, evolving, re-usable campaign idea beats a succession of ones you're only half-interested in that you came up with just because you started a new game.

Trey said...

@Zak S - Yeah, it's too easy to flit from idea to idea and just have a collection of elevator pitches and one-off games.

@Tim - If I read you correctly, that's an interesting idea. Rather than the simple "top down" or "start small and build out" it sounds like you've "seeded" several ideas in a creative space, and let them sort of grow and intersect each other.

@Fran - Subtlety doesn't seem to be in JJ's vocabulary.

@Ray - And some (like this one) are a mixed bag, I think.

@Jim - I think I've worked on some of those ideas with you. ;)

Joshua Dyal said...

I've had the same (or at least a similar) thought when I realized that I kept re-using certain setting elements over and over again. I originally started a wiki to catalog these "modular setting elements" so I could have enough detail to pull them off the shelf without having to remember what they were or make up new details all the time.

Of course, then I ended up just grafting those modular elements into another long-running campaign idea, so the whole thing came full circle. I'm on I think Mk. IV (?) of that setting, if I'm a little fast and loose in terms of what I consider a full Mk. version of the setting. I like to think I've settled on one that I'll use forever, but realistically that's probably not true.

I do have a setting that seems remarkably porous, though--it's perfectly capable of cannibalizing both past ideas of mine, and anyone else's, absorbing their essences, spitting out the detritous like an owl pellet, and being a richer setting for the affair.

On another note, not sure why you're unsatisfied with the new Star Wars continuity? I presume that's true if you're a big Star Trek fan--I always hovered on the edge of fandom, more irked by the concept, but still drawn to it anyway because, hey, science fiction. The reboot was (to me) the best thing that ever happened to Star Trek--the only things that annoyed me were the time travel business (pet peeve of mine; I hate time travel paradox stories) and all of the gratuitous wink and gun fan service references to the older material, which got to be distracting after a while.

Trey said...

@Joshua Dyal - "Modular elements." I like that.

As to Abrams Trek. I have no problem with the new continuity per se, and I am a big Star Trek fan, but I don't think that's the source of most of my complaints, as I've heard them echoed by people who are not ST fans nor really science fiction fans even.

The first film (enjoyable as it was) was marred by plot holes and logic flaws. To name a few: Nero just hangs out for 25 yrs (this bit was cut though, to be fair)? Spock is the only person in all of galactic civilization that can deliver the red matter to save Romulus? Really? one guy? Isolated, lonely Delta Vega is so close to Vulcan that it explodes hugely in the sky? Scotty and old Spock both just happen to be there? Where Kirk is marooned? And how is marooning responsible 23rd century behavior? There are no mid-level officers to take command of anything between the Captain and junior crew? And so on.

The new one makes a bit more sense (a bit: Why does Marcus give Kirk 72 torpedoes? Did he really think he would fire all 72 to kill one guy? Does no other superman-sickle have magic blood but Khan? Does Starfleet have absolutely no oversight by any civilian government or they just do what they want or their own?) but it wants to use too many elements from Wrath of Khan to no purpose (Why is Carol Marcus in this?) and tries to still resonant bits that are only meaningful if at all because of fanservice (KHAN!!!) and can just as easily serve to pull you out of the movie.