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Role-Playing and Canonical Characters

A discussion in a freeform (PBIM, PBeM, and LARP) club I lately joined has recently grown into a full-scale argument thread in its mailing list. This is due primarily to a motion to put a moratorium on "canonical" characters (from the authorized books and films of the genre) and to put the existing ones into phased retirement.

Right from the start, people formed or professed some strong opinions for or against this motion, and it came to light that the pure LARP aspect of the club, centered in a half-day event at an annual SF convention, was a point of contention.1 To some it was just a game, one among many, and (while fun) less significant than the interactive dynamism of the group. To others it was the prize ox that had been gored by the movement to thin some of the ties to canon and strike off in more original directions. This debate fell into some disarray when a member of the latter persuasion became particularly incensed and pugnacious, but rather than talk about that, I thought I'd focus on a few of the points raised by ldymlissa (here) and masteralida (here) in their LJs.



  • (24 Mar 2004) The focus of the club was originally themed role-playing but was very much anchored to a small set of annual conventions. This focus has long since bifurcated into "year-round RP" versus the kind of "event-oriented" RP that is associated with the conventions. phawkwood, one of the very longstanding members of the group, pointed me to a history page that dates this divergence back to at least 1991.

  • (24 Mar 2004) It seems to me, as a newcomer, that much of what makes the online aspect of the group productive and fun is that it emphasizes originality and a mesh between fresh, player-created player characters (PCs) and non-player characters (NPCs) within a sliding canon that is revealed through the fandom's films and books as they come out. I think there is great value in originality in any RP group, but especially an unofficial fan-based RP group. Of course, in any such gathering the emphasis will range from character fandom to affinity for canon to wanting to totally strike out for new ground with minimal concessions to timeline, locales, and technology. The latter is what I would call "genre fandom" (or genre RP) and it's one of the reasons I personally came to the group.

  • (25 Mar 2004) deire presented a rationale for the 3-year waiting period before a member could request to play a canonical character. Paraphrased, it was that canonical characters have greater impact and impose a greater downside risk of tying up storylines that centered around them. To this I would add that, IMO, this is a minimal, mandatory trait. Whether through inadvertent neglect or willingness only to RP with select groups, such a club as a whole can start to fragment. FWIW (and for full disclosure): I have no aspirations to play a canon character even after I'm eligible, though this seemed interesting to me when I first joined.
  • (25 Mar 2004) For my part (just MHO), it's well worth while to maintain ties to canonical genre SF, as queenmidalah and ldymlissa have indicated. This can and has been done with a bare modiicum of attention to detail vis-a-vis technology, worlds, artifacts, and "ambience" (local color, relatives of canon chars come slumming, etc.). OTOH, some world-buildng has gone beyond this bare modicum into rich detail, which is more often than not conducive to good role-playing, IMO.

  • (26 Mar 2004) A lot of this stems from a reluctance to craft worlds and people them with an interesting backdrop of characters (the so-called "cast of billions"). Here is where I trot out J.R.R. Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories". To paraphrase Ganelon in Zelazny's The Guns of Avalon: "a new generation of people is in the land, but it is the same world".

  • (26 Mar 2004) I agree that the issues and discussion surrounding the motion to eliminate book and film characters from role-play (whether within the pure LARP games or elsewhere in the club) pose the broader question of its function. While I am too new to the club to offer a qualified opinion, I also concur that originality and creativity are hallmarks of any successful RP club. Clearly this club is a viable one, as attested to by its longevity (25 years in continuous operation). The question is whether the investment of time, according to the ability and interests of each player, is to be credited with this. Or is it solely (even primarily) the the genre that draws players? Speaking only for myself - and I consider myself as enthusiastic a fan of the genre as most of present admirable company: I think that what people get out of any club is proportional to the time and effort they put into it. This includes producing "products" (RP stories, a rich and detailed history, timelines, painstakingly crafted worlds, etc.) and it certainly served as more of an attraction to me when I joined two months ago.




1 Initially there was some consternation over whether the motion should be tabled until the convention. I voted in favor of earliy discussion and an early vote. gwyneth_syeira said it well, that clearing the air can be done effectively online (netwise; "offline" with respect to the convention). Having at least one discussion session, perhaps more as technology and discussions call for it, is conducive enough to expression of basic opinions and rationales that I personally see it as better than tabling discussion. Rather than a rush to a decision, it allows for a more leisurely period of consideration in the comfort of members' own homes. In this case, it also admits more thorough reflection on rationales and tradeoffs regarding the proposed moratorium.</i>

--
Banazîr

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
oxbastetxo
Mar. 31st, 2004 06:21 am (UTC)
Couple points of clarification....
It's not a 1/2 day LARP at a convention. It's a 4 to 5 day straight LARP at a convention. ;-)

Also there is a 3 year waiting period to play a canon character, not 2. ;-)

Smile!
banazir
Mar. 31st, 2004 07:47 am (UTC)
Re: Couple points of clarification....
It's not a 1/2 day LARP at a convention.
It's a 4 to 5 day straight LARP at a convention. ;-)

Well, I meant strictly the BB alone, but how long is that?

Also there is a 3 year waiting period to play a canon character, not 2. ;-)
Ah, yes - thanks for the correction; will edit.

--
Banazir
oxbastetxo
Mar. 31st, 2004 08:12 am (UTC)
Re: Couple points of clarification....
The Blaster Battle itself is just an aspect of the weekend. The Blaster Battle is a 3 hour engagement, but the whole weekend is the LARP. There are several major LARP functions that weekend..Cantina Dance which is most of Friday night, Skirmish which is 2 1/2 hours on Saturday, then the Jedi Council Meeting, Force Users Battle, Imperial Throne room which is Saturday night, and the Blaster Battle which is 3 hours on Sunday, but the LARP is generally in play starting Thursday through Monday and for some into Tuesday.

Smile!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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