I did a post last week talking about disliking pages and pages of back story from my players in my current Swords and Sorcery OSR style game and how I handle (in general) back story in other games.
I got some good comments and feedback via Google+ and comments on the blog.
My post even got a post reaction from two fellow bloggers (The Rhetorical Gamer, and Role | Playing). I was pretty flattered by that. I read through their reactions and I’ll admit it, their right. However so am I. Different ways of handling things, preferences, and fun is what makes this hobby fun and diverse.
I do want to state that I’m not opposed to back story from my players, which some people seemed to take as what I was saying, I’m just not in favor of pages of back story.
I am a big fan of show, don’t tell mentality. If you want to give me, as I said in the last post, a few pieces of fluff to build upon in game that’s awesome! I just don’t need family trees and histories and etc, especially if it isn’t something that isn’t going to come up and occur in game.
The other morning it dawned on me that Star Wars Episodes IV-VI are an excellent example of my preferred play-style (again you may disagree, which is totally jake with me).
A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away..
Let’s treat Star Wars Episode IV as if it was an actual game session that we were watching. The GM has told the players to roll some dice and create a character. They have a few minutes to get a handle on them and then it’s go time. When everyone is ready….
Boom!! Opening Crawl begins! This is the GM telling us what is going on in the game setting/session.
When you look at Episode IV there is only one character who really has any back story that filters in and that is Luke, but again it all happens on screen and the players (if this was a game) are experiencing it as they play.
You don’t know that Leia is adopted until the third movie….
You don’t know how Han and Chewie ended up together…
You don’t know how Vader got in the suit…
You don’t know who created C3PO and R2D2…
None of that background is as important as what is currently happening to the characters at that moment, sure it may come up as blurbs here and there and add flavor, but is quick and built on.
As you progress through the V and VI, small bits of “back story” flit in but again are small things that a player could jot down, but not huge walls of text.
Lando adds to Han’s back story through play. He’s a new player that is thrown into the game and is asked to connect his character with one of the others. It is easiest, given both character’s personalities to link them into a shady deal in the past, but again it’s never mentioned. All you know is that somehow Han fucked over Lando.
Please don’t point out what is explained in the Extended Universe (I read the books and some of the comics, so I know), comics, back of toys, etc. If we take the info given to us only through the lens of EP IV-VI movies, things become completely different than with all the superfluous information from the extended sources.
Episodes I-III are crap (from this example’s point of view and not the myriad of OTHER reasons- see video below for that) because they are basically the back story that DIDN’T to be told. They aren’t interesting and really didn’t add anything to the game play at hand.
If you want deep and complicated back story as a player or a GM, more power to you and there is nothing wrong with that.
I just don’t desire overly complicated and convoluted back story in my games. Every so often I get a wild hair up my butt and ask for it. Again I’ll state that if a player WANTS to do it, I never tell them no. Let the writer beware.
I just look forward to the stories that are emergent in play and not what is on paper.
Absolutely feel free to disagree or agree with what I’ve said. I look forward, as always, to the discussion.