So here I am, writing again about roleplaying games in my own small, nerdy way. I am once again working on putting together a campaign for the Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) Roleplaying game, something I’ve done before. While I’m not (yet?) returning to that particular idea (who knows; it might go that way), the work does afford another opportunity for reflection and consideration.
Now, one of the things that the L5R property made much of, particularly in its earlier incarnations, was the player-driven nature of its storyline. From its origins as a collectible card game, it used player performance to drive the narrative represented in updates and new releases of cards and sets–and, eventually, the roleplaying game through which I was introduced to the property while still enmeshed in the mistake of thinking that I’d be a band director when I grew up. As I’ve played over the years, I’ve done as much as I could to remain abreast of the storyline and its developments, following even when the story reset itself as L5R switched hands. (Though I may be pilloried for it, I think the new version does some things much better than the older one–much better, in a few cases.)
Roleplaying games are, fundamentally, storytelling exercises, collaborative in ways that others aren’t (as Daniel Mackay asserts in The Fantasy Role-Playing Game: A New Performing Art), and such things do much to build community and fellowship, as Gary Alan Fine finds in several studies across decades. This is true for L5R perhaps more than other properties, given its explicit orientation. More importantly, though, it encourages motion beyond the “canon” of the game–it has to, really, since without the willingness to move beyond that canon, the players participating have decided limits on what they can be and can do. And while it may be the case that a lot of play-groups look for the gaps in the story that they can fill, it is also the case that cleaving to canon too closely means the surprise of a good story…isn’t.
Consequently, as I thought about setting up my own game, my own campaign, and got started working on it, I decided I’d…move away from things. It’s something of a fanfiction move, I suppose, or it seems to fit with that descriptor–I’ve not done a lot with fanfiction, as such, although I am aware of the (sensible) assertions that much classic Western literature is, itself, fanfiction. (The Arthuriana I study certainly fits the model, Malory having refined works that expanded on Geoffrey of Monmouth as he expanded substantially from Nennius and Gildas–and then add Spenser to the mix!) I’m taking my point of departure from before the climactic events of the “canon” in either older or newer (as of this writing, at least) L5R; the milieu-shaping event simply does not happen.
I am, as might be imagined, still in the process of development. I’m still working out how the setting will differ from the “standard” one–as it necessarily will, even before the players get to play in it. I have to know where they start to see where they can go, after all. I don’t know that I’m going to do the kind of thing I did in West of Rokugan, so many years ago; I don’t know if it’ll be needed or advisable. But it’s nice to have this kind of project again–among the many others I get to do.