Canon in relation to RPG’s and MMORPG’s can be a very tricky subject and it can inspire rather heated debates among the player bases for various reasons. One of the main reasons is that there is sometimes considered to be several different types of canon. But first lets define what canon itself actually means within this kind of setting then we can look at the different subgroups that can fall under it when roleplaying long term in these kind of scenarios, for sake of this post I’m going to loosely dub them; Realm Canon, Guild Canon, and Head Canon.
More Articles in the Beyond the Basics Series:
- Beyond Basics: Loaded Lore – The Horde Part 1
- Beyond Basics: Loaded Lore – The Horde Part 2
- Beyond Basics: Roleplaying Bar Staff
- Beyond Basics: Balancing IC and OOC
- Beyond Basics: All Kinds of Canon
- Beyond Basics: Six Good Roleplay Habits
Canon is the officially accepted lore of a game or setting, and by lore we mean characters, names, settings and back stories. You might think all content produced in that case would be canon but there are some cases where that is not strictly true. To use World of Warcraft as an example Blizzard have made several games within the world that is Azeroth, there are the old RTS games, the table top RPG books and the MMORPG itself and all of these things have characters and story and lore. It came to the point were there was need for a distinction as with the Tabletop ROG books there were some differences in lore/races and classes to the MMORPG that was causing a stir in the roleplaying player base. I think the main one has always been the aging system and style of elves, the game claims one thing and the book another and wars have been fought over the matter until Blizzard pointed out with was ‘canon’. As it happens the RPG books and table top game is not strictly canon within the MMO setting. And since they announced that and filled in some other blanks with Blue Posts since then the problem is mostly settled and canon is usually accepted as the ruling force it is. However, there are other forms of canon that are inevitable when you have a lot of people creating characters and crafting stories within a setting over an extended period of time. So lets discuss those, as this is where the conflict usually happens.
1.a general law, rule, principle, or criterion by which something is judged.
2.a collection or list of sacred books or information that is accepted as genuine.
Realm Canon is an odd one as getting an entire realm of hundreds and hundreds of wildly different players to agree on anything is basically impossible. It usually have to be a majority accepted deal and even then it is tricky. Realm Canon is mostly used for big events in the content story. For example when Wrath of the Lich King was launched you could quest through Dragonblight and do Wrathgate as and when you felt like it, but it was an event that would have been very important to a lot of players in the RP community, so you will very often find topics on the realm for around the launch of new content setting a feasible date for that to occur. Which is useful because it gives people a chance to catch up and get to that point before/as it becomes relevant in the wider RP community, it gives people that might otherwise have been unsure the guidance to know when it is okay to talk about having happened IC. This also goes for things like Boss Deaths. When an expansion launches your guild might be going to land on the new world and adventure your way through it. So if you have to admit there and then that the end boss has already been defeated by the non-roleplaying raid guild on the server it could seriously damage motivations and makes all the potential story-lines on that continent redundant. So very often the end bosses will also have a accepted time of death on the realm that allowed the roleplaying community a chance to host their story-lines before they pass their use by date. This community system of etiquette is often called Realm Lore.
Realm Lore also cover big Realm-wide RP events, they only happen on your personal realm do they are not blizzard canon, but they are big events that occurred on your world so they become Realm Lore, because they happened. On Argent Dawn there was recently a Frozen Heart campaign up in Northrend that involved a huge number of guilds from both factions on our realm, and not that event and those stories are Realm Lore. You have to treat the concept with care however because it can be tricky. For example it would be very frowned upon if you were to set up an event to over run a town or village of the other faction. Because firstly you have no real way of displaying and holding that in-game and secondly that hinders people’s roleplay and makes their lives difficult and thirdly it breaks the Official Canon in which that town is not over run etc. When doing things that effect the Realm Lore it’s always wise to keep in mind that while it might involved a lot of people it won’t involve everyone and it shouldn’t be something that breaks official lore and/or makes roleplay harder for people.
Just like Realm Canon, Guild Canon is a story of events and known facts that have happened within the story-line of your guild. For example if your guild killed a dragon last week then this week it is known within your guild that you folks killed a dragon, it is Guild Lore. It is the progression of the story-line of that particular guild. Now other people and other guilds might not know that last week your guild was off killing a dragon and you have to respect that. You also have to respect that they might also have been off last week killing a dragon. And with that in mind it brings us to the main point of conflict with Guild Lore; over-sized claims. If your guild is claiming that they were the ones to kill the Lich King for example, they are probably going to find that doesn’t go down very well in the wider RP community. It’s overstepping your mark. Just like we talked about before with characters and trying to steer clear of personal affiliation with main lore character and/or personally defeating any bosses the same applies here. If your guild is a military guild and it makes sense for them to have been there in that fight then it’s best if you keep it vague and keep your involve to the fact that you were part of the force that took down the Lich King and note solely responsible. It allowed wiggle room for other guilds and players to also have been there. And one of the main points of crafting stories in roleplay is that you shouldn’t be taking away from someone else.
Remember as well that no one outside your guild will know your guild lore, so if your character got promoted to second in command of your guild that is great but outside the guild that information is invalid, so it would be bad form to run around trying to hold authority over others. Again it bears repeating, when crafting stories and ergo canon for your guild be aware of what that might taken away from others, don’t create Guild Canon that shuts other people out of involvement. For example, in my guild we run a tavern, that is part of our Guild Lore, but we don’t claim to own the building and/or have sole rights to run the tavern hours there as that would be shutting other people out and hindering RP not creating it. So we work on a system that allows us out events and lore but doesn’t get in the way of anyone else wanting to do similar.
The most controversial of all of them in Head canon, this is just personal stuff about the character and their world that you hold to be true even if it has little effect or hearing on the story at large. This is your personal character story and Canon. And the reason for the higher level of conflict is that people often take liberties with this one, giving their character rank, authority and victories he might not actually have achieved in-game or within the community. That is not to say rolling a character with a rank is bad, not at all. Just that enforcing that rank on people that are not involved and forewarned and willing might be overstepping your grounds with Head Canon. As it is personally invested traits in a personal character people can get antsy about it. My best advice would be to play it safe and be careful with how many merits, boons and gains you give a character, try not to make Jon Snow, tragically badass and handed everything on a silver platter. And again remember that other people are playing for the same fun as you are and you shouldn’t be doing anything that limits or hinders their roleplay at least not without their permission for story purposes.
How do you juggle the various levels of canon? Have you ever had any bad/good experiences with it?