“What do you do with stories that happen between games?”
I hear this conversation a lot in various iterations, among various larp campaigns. The debate over whether or not to honor between-game character growth or to restrict everything to the time between game-on and game-off is perennial and (for me) tiresome and pointless. Enthusiastic players are going to be telling each other their stories between games, and hashing things out anyway, and that’s GOOD. Momentum = campaign cohesion = Good Thing. Artificially restricting between-game churn out of some sense of “we’re adults, damnit. put away the game when you go home” seems misplaced to me – we’re adults playing make believe, be it in hotels, homes or the woods. Drawing that line for somebody else is … presumptuous.
If the momentum -> campain cohesion -> hurray is a good thing, and we’re starting from the understanding that it’s going to happen anyway, why not look at it objectively and help it be the most constructive and useful thing possible.
I break Game Canon into three types of canon. World Canon – Things We All Might Know. Story Canon – You Had To Be There. Character Canon – It Doesn’t Affect You, so why would you care?
World Canon is the domain of the game masters. The people responsible for building the world and tying your game mechanics to the stage you play on? This is their job. Players should not be building World Canon between each other without GM buy-in, ever. This includes between games. See the note on Character Canon for the one exception.
Story Canon is the collaborative fiction that has the potential to affect everybody. Plot Canon is another way to think of it, but not every moment that changes your social ecosystem in-game is plot driven. Sometimes they happen in reaction to plot, and sometimes they’re because a player has gotten crafty, motivated or emotional, and Things Happen. These things, this shared history? This is Story Canon.
Character Canon are the stories you tell together – or to yourself – that affect neither World Canon nor Story Canon. In some ways, Character Canon is more immediate and feels more urgent for players than either of the other two, because they get to really explore the things that happen around the time periods covered by game sessions.
There are some rules for responsibly writing Character Canon. You cannot demand that your fan fic shapes the world around you. You cannot change physics, time, recorded history, etc. You’re stuck with what World Canon and Story Canon have already told us, to the SPIRIT of the telling, not just the letter of the telling. The World Canon exception here is that in general, I think it’s harmless to tell stories about “that time I got stuck in a great big ravine and had to be fished out by a team of oxen with a long rope” even if you don’t know for SURE there’s a great big ravine somewhere. Right? No harm is done to the World Canon unless it has been established or is about to be established that the water table is 5 feet below ground level throughout the entire landmass you occupy and you’re floating on a giant ocean of plot points. You’ll know if there’s some chance that you’re about to try treading in the realm of determining or changing physics – don’t do that. Additionally, you cannot force Character Canon upon another player. You do not get to tell the story of their past, or dictate their future – that’s NOT your domain.
Do you want to collaborate on character histories, family ties, mutual experiences with known anonymous villains like a single witch hunter, or a pack of generic raiders or marauding MegaRats? Go for it! because the more you know about your character and how she thinks about the world, the richer the fiction you tell with your cohorts during game will be.
A dear friend once leaned over to me, as my players were changing my expectations of the world they play in, and said “It’s not canon until you tell them. Ride it out and see what they write – it’s going to be more amazing than what any one person could ever compose.” and true to his word, the story they shaped was worthy of becoming World Canon. Because I give my players agency and encourage them to establish PLENTY of Character Canon, their varied backgrounds, approaches and reactions make the game richer.