Secret and Public Lore

Some of your game world’s story, or lore, is going to be hidden from the players, as it should be.  This gives them something to discover and be interested in, if such is their bent.  However, one can go too far in hiding the lore of the land, and ultimately overzealousness in concealing the story makes players give up on it altogether, especially if your lore is particularly stupid.

In order to maintain player interest in your lore, it must be available to them to some extent, in an easily accesible public form.  The best way to do this is to incorporate the lore into the game itself.  Posting the lore of your game on a web site or some other external medium as a sole form of information only serves to remove immersiveness from the game.  Most players won’t even bother to do this, as the lore has no direct impact on the play of the game.  For those who are actually interested in lore, it begs the question of why they would want to subscribe anyway, since they can simply read what they are interested in for free.  This point is particularly valid if the player has no direct impact on the story.  (See "Open Ended Storylines and Player Subplots" and "Multiple World Plot Development and Contingencies" for more about player impact.)

Therefore, the lore must have a very visible and obvious presence in the game world.  If a ruined city-type dungeon environment is named after a historical warlord who once inhabited it, there should be traces of his presence inside the dungeon.  There should be a nearby village full of people who can tell the players the story of the dungeon.  There should be a book about it in a library in the central city, among many other books dealing with similar tidbits.  If a town was founded/defended/whatever by a historical figure, place a statue of him in town with a little plaque explaining his deeds.  You might also do this for player characters who are particularly heroic on a per-server basis, bringing more of a sense of identity to that server.  Lore can also be important to questing, mage-oriented questing in particular.  Remember, the literary mage was typically more a repository of bizarre arcane information than a fireball factory.  All of these systems may seem a little heavy-handed, but sometimes you have to smack someone over the head with a book of lore to get them to notice, especially if they’ve been numbed by countless RPG’s where lore has no importance.

Ongoing lore, such as the plot of Asheron’s Call, also needs to get heavy publicity.  Any company-mandated event is probably something of such magnitude that most of the world should be aware of it, even if it doesn’t directly affect everyone.  Town criers, gossiping NPC bar patrons, and such can help ram the event down the throats of your sleepwalking player base, without requiring them to go to a web site for information.  The oral tradition can become part of your game world’s color and propogate lore, in the form of NPC storytellers who spin yarns about what happened several months ago.  You can even tailor these stories to the individual world, allowing player actions to be immortalized, giving them additional impact.  A compilation of current and recent lore can be compiled into a journal accessible in-game.  This can also be presented via a web site if you like, for the casual player who wants to check up on things while he’s goofing off at work.  Again, it does you no good if your lore for a past event consists of two horribly general paragraphs about what monsters came in for some mysterious purpose, buried deep inside an inscrutable and unnavigable maze of your publisher’s site.  If you want to use the web as a tool for game publicity and lore, try to get your own domain.

In regards to the use of secret lore, it’s really important to make sure you have it mapped out in as much detail as possible, and that it all makes sense.  This means a minimum of heretofore unexplained black boxes to validate events.  If you think of lore in levels of detail and availability, you want to make sure the clever player can infer the nature of the next level of detail by examining the level above it.  For instance, a general piece of knowledge is that the ancient empire of Sutannica was destroyed in a great battle.  If players find information in a library stating that Sutannica’s Field Marshal Brox was both brilliant and a champion of peasant rights, and another piece of information indicating that Sutannica’s nobility was especially harsh on the peasants, they might infer that Brox was a key figure in a rebellion that toppled the empire.  This may or may not be true, but when the players find the next level of detail that affirms or denies this, there should be enough supporting evidence in the preceding layer to make the truth make sense.  If it turns out Sutannica was destroyed because a random wizard who nobody knew about opened a gate and let 40 demons out who killed everyone, this is a cheesy black box.  It’s akin to having the Lone Ranger survive a train crash from the end of the previous episode by jumping off a freight car at the last second, revealed only at the beginning of the next episode.  It’s cheap and stupid, and player-detectives will throw up their hands in disgust and never care about lore from that point forward.

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