Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Murdering Empire with the Anti-Canon

I swear this is what mine looked like when I got it in 1980

Do you remember when Queen Amidala was supposed to be a clone!?

    The Handmaidens that surrounded her weren’t dressed to be her body doubles - They are all the Queen, and one was dressed to sit on the throne.  Meanwhile, the servant girl gossiping with the cook belowstairs? The Queen.  The naive looking lady-in-waiting you’re trying to bribe? The Queen. The pilot running toward the destroyed royal barge and the crumpled figure at the edge of the wreak?  Both the Queen.

    Most politicians and nobles in the galaxy were actually clones.  Like we’d see twenty-two years later in the Foundation series, having a genetic dynasty of clones was stagnating the Republic.  

    Then they tried to clone Jedi, starting with OB (old Ben) One.


    If you don’t remember this version of the prequels and subsequent Clone Wars, that’s understandable.  To the best of my knowledge, they only appeared in spoken form around a gaming table in 2002, and in the conversations that followed.  

I wish I could say that I encouraged this kind of creativity more than I did.  The truth is, I would get so emotionally involved in the settings I was making (or using) that I’d railroad players along what turned out to be rather boring adventures.  I'd remember my earlier experiences as a GM and feeling like that at any moment the whole session would go off the rails and devolve into a handful of private conversations instead of a collective role-play experience.  That had happened too often in the old days as my drinking got worse, and now that I was sober-

I thought I knew better. I thought that I needed more control.  

So I was GM-ing like a tyrannical asshole. Especially when playing with my wife Debra in the early part of our marriage. Most of the Clone Queen stuff was her ideas. With the benefit of hindsight I realize that what was happening could have been influenced by Debra and I just having had our first child, my just starting back to college, and the overwhelming feelings involved.  Well, that and my being a narcissist and desperately trying to grab the attention from my new child.  If I had articulated and communicated some of that, had I been able to- 

Debra and I don’t play anymore. 

Anti Canon

I read Luca Rejec’s post on the Anti Canon a few weeks ago.  When Luca describes the frustration of trying to run a campaign in The Forgotten Realms or on The Discworld, the frustration of not being able to “to improvise, innovate, or imagine.”, I remembered The Queen’s Clones.  I remembered how some of my favorite lore in Star Wars appeared at game tables in the mid- to late nineties from groups of friends riffing off the canon lore and making up stuff to fill the blank spots on the map.  As much as I like having new Star Wars movies and TV series - more hours of Star Wars have been filmed or drawn in the last ten years than the preceding thirty - It’s getting too…close.  There’s less and less room for my imagination as canon continues to cover more and more space in the Official Timeline. It’s happening to Star Trek as well and I feel like some of the hashtag-not-my-star-wars-star-trek-insert-IP-here diatribes that fill the internet are a response when they aren't racist/sexist whining. 

These thoughts about anti canon are half the inspiration for Murdering Empire.  The other half involves David Gerrold’s Space Skimmer.


Space Skimmer

I have a lot of time for David Gerrold.  He invented the Tribble! And also has written some of the most evocative prose on science fiction I’ve ever read.  Sometimes, his non-fiction about sci-fi worldbuilding is more evocative than his narratives.  But in Space Skimmer, all of this comes together in a handful of paragraphs that describe an empire, a history, a universe that has haunted me ever since.

I could describe it to you in a brief summary but it would have none of that exquisite flavor, and would also miss the point.  Instead, perhaps a quote:

News travelled via the Empire Mercantile Fleets, synthesized as Oracle tabs. Or via independent traders, synthesized as rumor. It leapfrogged from planet to planet, not according to any kind of system, but by the degree of mercantile importance in which any planet was held by its immediate neighbors. 

Every event was the center of a core of spreading ripples—unevenly growing concentric circles of reaction; like batons, the Oracle tabs were passed from ship to ship, from fleet to fleet, from planet to planet, passed and duplicated and passed again; taking ten, twenty or thirty years to work their way across the Empire. By the time any part of the human race received news from its opposite side, it was no longer news, but history. 

The Empire’s communications were the best possible, but they weren’t good enough. 

Control depends upon communication. Weak communications means weak control, eventually no control at all. 

-Gerrold, David. Space Skimmer


That is what inspires me from this novel. The empire was gone and no one knew why.  That’s what matters.

Baking-in Anti Canon

 As we discussed last week, the reasons for the Empire's disappearance are unknown and perhaps unknowable.  The reasons people believe tell us more about them than what happened.

The information gathered at the time of the Empire’s demise, by the people that were there, are not necessarily any more accurate than hindsight and speculation centuries after the fact.  Why should it be? If the agents of Empire knew why it was collapsing, they would have done something about it, wouldn't they? 

That’s the context of this new project.  Not having a firm history and not knowing which of the old stories are fact or opinion is organic and natural to a post-collapse society.  This lets anti canon be baked into the system and implied setting of the game.  This is important to me and what I want the game to be about: no one knows or can know what happened to the Empire  - Including the GM.  

Here are my thoughts so far on how to nurture that idea:

  • Players are able to fill in the setting and lore details about their characters’ homeworlds, species, local color/customs, etc.  

  • The GM is able to fill in the setting details and lore about NPCs, adventure information, and they arbitrate the rules.

  • The GM’s opinion of the background setting and lore does not have to be considered more true than the Players’.

  • As the Game’s Designer, I present to you the basic rules for running the game, an outline of the setting’s central premise and then I support help the rules and premise with more content.

  • As the Game’s Designer, my opinion of the background setting and lore is the least important.

The last point is important to me as well on a personal level. I do not want to tell other people they’re playing the game wrong.

To that end, The work I’m doing on the setting will be…not so much brief as it will be unverified, contradictory, and above all random.

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