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How do you do it? Personally, I enjoy working with canon and then jumping off to create my own canon for that character. I do know some people that completely disregard the canon entirely and just do whatever the hell they want, but lets see what the playground likes to do for there character creation.
As the title says: Do you work withe canon? Around it? Against it? Or any combination of the 3? If so, do you study for your role?
I like working with canon. Especially when I get to blow stuff up with big canon.
But seriously, what canon are you talking about? D&D? Some other IP or setting? Or just general "canon for whatever setting the campaign happens to be in"?
Personally, as a GM, I am fond of telling the players, "This is what is known about the setting. You can't directly contradict that, but there's an exception to every rule. Also, feel free to suggest things you would like added to the setting, and I will probably go along with them."
I spent an hour on the edge of dreams,
I walked between the worlds,
and when I woke I never knew
to which side I had fallen
I like to use canon but inevitably one or two of my players will correct something I didn't get right or that I want to change. I also get the whole, "Dwarven is Dwarven (language), its the same if you're in FR or Eberron."
There generally is no canon to work off of. There is a setting to fit within, but I play my own characters that don't have a canon form, so that doesn't need to be worried about. On account of how it's my character, canon is pretty much whatever they end up actually doing and whatever they end up actually being; on account of how nobody else is ever going to play them it never ends up being a concern.
Fudge Assistant in the Playground.
I rarely use published settings for stuff (I prefer to homebrew my own) but when I do, I prefer to stick to what the books say. I don't necessarily mind changes, but it depends on the reasons behind the changes.
Good reason: I don't like the Spellplague and I am retconing it so that it never happened.
Another good reason: Eberron's Tiamat is a very poor explanation for why dragons don't just take over the world (though it is better than the "They're just too lazy and content to sit on their piles of gold to even try" that most settings use), and I think I have a much better alternative explanation.
Bad reason: One of my players wants to be a Tiefling and Tiefling's don't exist? Let's just add this huge additional continent with a Tiefling empire that he comes from...
Even worse reason: My players know this setting inside and out! Time to switch things up so I can catch 'em off guard!
For instance, settings like the Warhammer 40k universe or Tolkien's Middle Earth are very friendly about allowing players to expand on the canon and still remain true to it. On the other hand, if you wanted to play a historical setting, adding to the canon might be less fun than going against it and taking your direction toward historical fiction.
I don't expect you to agree with what I say, but at least defend to the death my right to say it!
I never use published settings if I can help it. Making a new one is half the fun for a DM. But for something like a Star Wars RPG or the Dresden Files RPG, I just claim Alternate Universe. Everything's the same except when it isn't.
Case in point: I want to run a Homebrewed Star Wars RPG later this year. I dislike much of the Prequels and I don't want the players to run amok in the middle of the movies because they will immediately try to screw with stuff (kill Vader, steal the Millennium Falcon, punch Yoda in the face, etc), and that breaks immersion. So, I just assume the campaign starts sometime after the Force Unleashed 1 Darkside Ending. That ending (and the extra missions it unlocks) changes so many things about the setting that the players don't feel like following the movies or deliberately breaking from the movies, since now nothing is the same, and yet it's still very familiar.
I prefer to work around or against. When using predetermined settings, the problem with trying to stick to canon is that PCs can and will do things to completely disrupt any existing notions. There's also the fact that I am not omniscient, so I'm bound to forget things, make mistakes, and screw up the canon on my own.
I'm going to be running a Star Wars campaign soon. It's set in the Republic Era, because I'm only really familiar with that and the Rise of the Empire from the movies. Our group's other GM has set games in the Old Republic, but my interest in the setting really begins and ends with the movies.
However, I KNOW the players are going to disrupt things. They'll be following a parallel story to episodes IV to VI. I've flat out stated: "You can affect events from the movie. You can change the course of history. You can end up killing Vader yourselves - but don't count on it." I guess that's an example of working against canon.
As for working around it, I have an idea for a "Legacies" Justice League game, where it's set 50 years or so in the future. The original League is retired, dead, lost, or otherwise out of the picture. In fact, most current heroes are (though there are a few still hanging around). The PCs would be the new Justice League, each taking over the role of a previous member, but not necessarily in the same way. The Superman analogue could be a guy in a powersuit, for instance. The Batman analogue could be an actual metahuman with bat powers. And so on.
How about leaving the canon alone?
Really, unless it is a campaign setting written specifically to serve as backdrop for a game, such as Eberron, you have no business messing around with a canon established by an author as their brainchild. In some cases the two might be intertwined, like Forgotten Realms and the exploits of the drow ranger who shall remain unnamed, but even then, why would your characters rely on said drow to have a meaningful storyline. At best, it indicates laziness on the part of players, GM, or even authors, since this would expand to cover fanfic/art. At worst, there are some things better kept within the confines of your mind.
Divinely masterful avatar by Ceika. The Four Voices of Esto.
Song of my soul, my voice is dead, die thou, unsung, as tears unshed.
I like using constraints to encourage creativity. Canon is a pretty useful constraint in my opinion. If I can't make an idea work within canon I'll save that idea for a different campaign.
As a GM I have to allow some break from canon or else I spend too much time on research. The best example was my Westeros game. It took place after Game of Thrones, mostly during book 2. Everything from book 1 remained true to canon. After the players were inserted into the world I allowed things to change.
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