Retconning is often a last resort, but there’s at least one situation where it’s a great first choice: When a player’s character is boring, un-fun, or didn’t turn out as expected.
In that situation, retconning can allow you to maintain continuity while ensuring that that player has fun at the same time.
This was a new experience for me, and it’s going to require a bit of setup to explain. Bear with me, though — I promise not to tell you about my character’s shoe size, star sign, favorite kind of chutney or embarassing personal problems.
Last night, my group picked our next game (we used a weighted list, a variant on method #2 for choosing your next game — how nerdy is that?), and we settled on Stargate SG-4. This campaign, run by Don Mappin, had been put on indefinite hold last year, and although it made the #6 spot on my top 10 list of all-time favorite campaigns, I wasn’t at all excited about getting back into it.
Why not? Because I didn’t like my character.
When I designed him, I made a huge mistake: I wrote a crappy background. Or rather, an okay background that didn’t leave the GM anything to work with — and didn’t tell us much about my character. Since this was a character-driven game, that didn’t work out so well. He was often fun to play, but never felt tied to the world or the storyline.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot about writing PC backgrounds — especially for games with lots of character drama. Writing TT has been a big factor in that, as has simply learning from experience. I wanted to put that knowledge to use, and continue the game with a different character. My old one would fade away, exiting stage left, and my new one would come in.
Problem was, this didn’t work for the storyline. Our GM wanted at least some continuity from the old SG team to the new iteration, my PC was the group’s leader and we’d already lost one member (a player who stopped gaming with us). I could see where he was coming from — I just didn’t want to play a boring PC.
Don’s solution was simple, but brilliant. If you’re familiar with Stargate, the movie, and Stargate SG-1, the TV show, you know that Jack O’Neill was a very different character in the movie than he was in the show. In a nutshell, that’s what Don suggested: My old PC had developed in some fun ways during play, but everything else about him was a blank slate — so why not rebuild him from scratch?
And last night, that’s exactly what we did. I kept some of the more important — and enjoyable — character elements, and scrapped the rest. We worked together as a group to build a background laden with hooks, baggage and other juicy tidbits for Don to work with, and voila! I’m excited about playing again.
There’s enough that’s the same that he’ll be able to take on his old role in the party, and more than enough that’s different that I’ll enjoy playing him much more this time around. I’ve never overhauled a character like this before, but I’m very pleased with how it worked out. If you run into a similar situation in your game, Don’s solution might work equally well for you.
I’ve known players who’ve made new iterations of old characters for new games, but I don’t know anyone who’s done this kind of retconning — rebuilt a PC for the same game (I’m sure you’re out there, though). Have you ever done this in one of your campaigns?