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Storyboard: Different points of view

Eliot Lefebvre

There are blanks spots in the lore.

This is not news to anyone who has been reading this column for a while. I've talked about dealing with the lore twice, both times pointing out that there are spaces for you to drive your character. Sometimes it's comfortable, and sometimes it's like wedging a needle into your gums and trying to kill a dental nerve at the root. But whether or not it has parallels to my recent dental surgery, there are places in the lore where you sort of have to just fill in the blanks.

Unfortunately, this creates major issues when you intend to interact with another player, which is something that will be happening roughly all the time in roleplaying. So you might very well come up with an answer for something that isn't just different from everyone else's answer, but you might wind up with an answer that's outright mutually incompatible with someone else's. And while you sometimes can take comfort in the fact that the lore will eventually steamroll both of you, sometimes it's just the two of you trying to deal with a part of your fictional world that is now being disbelieved by someone else.

So what can be done? If you and another player have a wildly differing view of the game, sometimes you can just avoid one another, but the player in question might well be someone you like. Heck, the player in question might be someone whom you love to roleplay with in every other fashion. Avoiding them forever just because you have a mild difference of opinion on a blank part of the lore is problematic to say the least.

Since we've established that the method of "pretending nothing ever happened" isn't viable, let's look at some other solutions.

There's no elephant in the room, it's probably just Milhouse.Solution 1: What elephant?

There was an arc in Something Positive that ended with a rather simple revelation: If an author you like disagrees with your views on gay marriage, don't ask him to marry you. You're not going to convince him, and he's not going to convince you, so focus your interactions on things that aren't going to cause a pointless screaming argument.

The fact of the matter is that there is deep wisdom in this approach. There are certain elements of lore that you might disagree on with another player, but if they're not vital to play, it can be best to just let it lie and not talk about it. This obviously won't work if your point of disagreement is something vital to the fabric of a character's backstory, but if you both have different ideas about how certain fine points of Star Wars: The Old Republic work... well, you can probably just shrug and move on.

Solution 2: We're both sort of wrong

The easiest way to demonstrate this is going to be with concrete examples, so let's just make one up. Let's say that you're under the belief in World of Warcraft that the various battlefield factions from the original game represent small sub-branches of the overarching Horde or Alliance, while I believe that these factions are distinct entities who are simply allied with the Horde or the Alliance. Let's further say that for whatever reason, this is very important for our future character interactions.

Obviously, this can't simply be ignored. But we can write the whole thing off as both of us being equally ignorant. If we sit down and talk about it, we can come to some sort of mutually satisfying conclusion. For example, we could agree that the battlefield factions consider themselves to be separate entities (which I espoused), but the major factions do not consider them as such (which you espouse), and there's always a little friction as a result.

This approach obviously has the bonus of your both being partly right. It also gives the opportunity for further roleplaying -- if I were playing a Stormpike partisan in the above example, suddenly I'd have a new angle for drama. However, the problem is that when you introduce a third person, suddenly you're right back to square one. You have to come up with another explanation that makes everyone happy.

What does a Cardassian do in Starfleet?  Whatever he wants.Solution 3: The person with the most relevance wins

Sometimes, you're going to disagree with someone on a point of lore, but you're also going to have to acknowledge something that almost no one likes: There are times when the other person just needs this piece of lore more than you do. If your stance on lore is that no Cardassian would ever join the Federation in Star Trek Online and you're roleplaying with a Cardassian captain, well, caving is the only real option.

This is one of the many times when good roleplaying requires you to put other people ahead of yourself. Sure, you probably have good reasons for why you believe that the Cardassians just wouldn't be welcome, but that isn't going to cripple your character. Telling the Cardassian that he isn't actually a Cardassian will. That is far worse than having to adjust your own interpretation a little bit to allow his presence.

Of course, this also works in reverse, and other players should occasionally be willing to let you have something that's more important. This is what I like to think of as a necessary and important concession to other people that you shouldn't expect. "Being the bigger person" is not always commensurate with "receiving reciprocal treatment."

So which works best?

It all depends on circumstance. Given the choice, I tend to err on the side of letting the whole thing slide under the radar, but there are times when that just isn't functional. All three of the above definitely work, and working out a consensus or letting the point go to the other person can often introduce some interesting new roleplaying wrinkles.

Use the comments below or email ( to let me know what you thought about this column. Next week, I'm taking on one of the most frequently made statements about roleplaying and talking about why it's complete and utter hogwash.

Every Friday, Eliot Lefebvre fills a column up with excellent advice on investing money, writing award-winning novels, and being elected to public office. Then he removes all of that, and you're left with Storyboard, which focuses on roleplaying in MMOs. It won't help you get elected, but it will help you pretend you did.

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