Written by Andrew Facemire.
After a period where I was in a malaise as a host of my long-running chat-based RPG, Excalibur, I began to realize that, for a variety of reasons, many of the plot-threads I was expecting players to work with were, to them, what many of the “legacy” storylines I inherited were to me when I came aboard almost ten years ago. As a tiny bit of expository backstory: Excalibur was already a well established game and crew when I was brought on board to help out, having launched in the Fall of 1992. As you can imagine, I inherited a game with a number of what I will call “legacy” storylines and plot devices — from as simple as a rich, Corinthian leather captain’s chair to a complex arc plot set in the Gamma Quadrant in the years following the Dominion War.
This isn’t a completely unique phenomena to any writer not working in a truly original universe, though I think the problem sometimes becomes more acute in role playing because you’re constrained even more than someone at say, Marvel, writing in an established universe with established characters. The writers for Spiderman are many ways more free to reimagine — at will — the universe their characters are working in, while we in the role playing universe have to work within the universe other people are creating for us. On top of that, even as ‘showrunner’ you’re only one part of the writing team telling the story. It’s your job as, we’ll say the lead writer, to help focus and direct them. You may not get to ultimately decide what your crew does with the monster of the week, but you have a tremendous amount of control over the world in which they make those decisions. The nature of role-playing, thus creates a lot of what I call legacy content. Legacy content, to be clear, isn’t a bad thing. I am actually rather fond of it because I think having that kind of richness to a game makes the role playing experience more fun.
In my own games, including Excalibur, I’ve actively built legacy content designing long-running plot arcs whose threads are weaved into the plot structure of the individual “episodes.” I’ve done that in different ways over the years as well. Early, the plots focused around the return of an ancient enemy of the Dominion and the signs that, within the Dominion, not everything was peachy. Later, the plot thread was more directly part of our episodes as we fought a war, and finally, once the war was over, the overplot has been more of a theme that binds plots together. (I will also be the first to tell you, that I haven’t always succeeded in doing that, either.) That strategy — having long running plot threads weaved through stories — is only one way that legacy content is created. Even in more episodic games where there is very little connection between individual plots , you will still create legacy content it just looks different. Running gags, NPC’s, NPC’s who are also running gags, etcetera can all become points of frustrations for new players.
Imagine you’re a brand new player who’s new not only to a particular game, but also to the genre how interested are you going to be in having to learn not only all the ins and outs of that genre, but also the somewhat convoluted (they always are) history of a game?
For my own part, I’ve tried to make that history — at least the part I am directly responsible for — accessible with a series of plot summaries, primers and basic outline of the general story available on my game’s forums; but even then the very casual player or a newbie might not want to read through several pages of information to have a grasp of what’s going on. (As an aside, Wiki’s can be very helpful, but a lot of work and I feel like the typical game isn’t going to produce enough to justify it.)
As a writer — moving away from older legacy content is hard. Even if the content wasn’t our total creation, it becomes ours. It’s familiar. It’s what we know. For the health of the game though, you have to be willing, at some point, to start moving beyond that legacy content so that new players can start reshaping the world they’re playing in as well.
I am working on refocusing my game away from dependence on these legacy plots while still keeping them intact. I feel that, on some level, I can’t simply hit the reset button on nearly a decade of work by numerous individuals. On the front end, this is going to require us to do some “wrap” up work for long-running plot threads that — to be realistic — are only important to a handful of people on the crew; on the back end, especially with a crew that is growing, it will allow these new players to help shape the next generation of plotlines.
So, what are some idea you have for dealing with legacy content?