Storyboard: Can you diverge from lore in MMORPG roleplaying?


All right, this is new for me because most of my titles do not contain dirty lies right in the question used to kick off the column. But that question is inherentlyfilthy, filthy lie because the answer is obvious. Of course you can diverge from lore. You can do anything you want. If you want to say your World of Warcraft character is the man-love baby of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the Eleventh Doctor who was raised simultaneously by Pinkie Pie and Iron Man, you can do it.

A much better question is whether or not you should. But asking that as the title would have meant not getting to make you all picture that WoW character in the first paragraph, so swings and roundabouts.

Horrible mental images aside, diverging from the written lore in an MMO is one of those things that you’re almost inevitably going to wind up doing over enough time spent roleplaying, but it can also be one of the biggest ways to alienate yourself from other players. So there are a few questions to ask before you decide to pull a Nick Fury-style “I have elected to ignore it” response on lore-as-written.

I own two books about this game's lore, for reference.

Does this violate the letter of the lore or the spirit?

One of my favorite stories about a Q&A panel is one I heard about J. Michael Straczynski getting asked about the speed of the starfighters used in Babylon 5 because whilst I’ve not watched the series, it was one of the best answers I’ve ever heard. “They move at the speed of plot,” he explained. “If they need to get there in the nick of time, they do. If they need to be just a little too slow? They are.”

I’m not sure how spurious that particular story is, but it’s a sentiment that I’ve internalized, and it most certainly applies to lore. The reality is that the letter of lore only counts so long as it enables stories, not when it restricts them. And the same is true when choosing to violate the lore.

According to the job quests in Final Fantasy XIV, for example, you could easily state that by the letter of the lore your character cannot be a White Mage; there’s exactly one White Mage around who isn’t a Padjal. That is, strictly speaking, the letter of the law. But why is that limitation in place? It’s no harder for a player to become a White Mage than it is to become a Paladin, and it’s actually easier to become one than it is to become a Machinist, using mass-produced job stones.

The spirit of this rule is to make it clear that White Mages are not common. They are the exception, not the rule. And consequently, that’s a guidepost to use for the lore here. Having your character be a White Mage by dint of a great deal of training makes perfect sense, violating the strict letter of the lore (there’s only one) but not the spirit (these are rare individuals). Meanwhile, if you stated that your character is part of a large guild of Conjurers who work just like White Mages, that adheres to the letter of the law, but it violates the spirit of the rarity.


Is this a big change or a little one?

One of the accepted facts of the Chiss in Star Wars: The Old Republic is that they don’t produce a lot of Force-sensitive individuals. Obviously, the game does allow you to make a Chiss in a Force-using class, so you could argue that’s the game violating its own lore. But an individual and unusual Chiss having the Force is a pretty minor change. It’s not the norm, but it’s well within the boundaries of the lore.

On the other hand, having your character be from a secret cadre of Light-aligned Chiss who all learn to hone their Force techniques and rebel against the evil Sith… yeah, that’s going to be kind of a big deal. Yes, you can certainly justify it through roleplaying, and there would be some fun in having a secret society of Force-users who manage to completely fail at ever making changes to the world around them, but it would require a lot of changes to the world as it stands.

That’s not to say that you can’t have something meant as a small change that ripples out into larger impacts when you think the worldbuilding implications through. Heck, that happens with the lore as written by the developers all the time. Something is changed, and later it becomes clear that there should be bigger impacts in the world. But the point is asking how much this is at least initially meant to change the world around you.

It probably goes without saying that the goal should be to minimize impacts, obviously. Breaking up the lore is like any other form of adding things; the new addition is going to have seams, and you want to make them as invisible as possible.

It's important to note that this is a game where you literally have dinosaur ship captains.

Does this open new opportunities or make you more special?

No one really wants to talk about this, but it’s one of the biggest reasons to think about violating the lore because it gets right into the core ethos behind doing it.

If you’re choosing to have your Klingon in Star Trek Online be part of a sect dedicated to providing permanent opposition to the Empire, that gives you opportunities for storytelling. That means that you not only have a reason to be in Starfleet, you also have a unique perspective from within Starfleet. You’re loyal as an opponent to the Empire, but you’re also hoping to avoid peace, which is against the stated goals of the Federation. There’s a lot of chance for interesting conflicts there.

On the other hand, if you’re part of a sect with special psychic powers that is surgically altered to look like Romulans and you get to grow wings, that’s a little bit different. Both of them are violating the lore in (roughly) the same scope, but the latter really doesn’t enhance the world aside from justifying your character being the most special and unique thing ever. And it doesn’t even make your character more interesting because it’s replacing actual character traits like personality and worldview with adjectives.

I think this is what most people think of when they talk about violating the lore; the idea that you have a character who is so uniquely amazing and special and different that it no longer really resembles the setting that you’re taking part in. And some of it is as simple as asking why you want the lore to be nudged for your character concept.

If it’s a small alteration that keeps in the spirit and offers some more storytelling chances, that’s fine. Heck, if it’s in the spirit and small, it’s probably fine if it’s mostly for your own special character traits. But if it’s a large alteration that exists just to make you feel as special as possible, you may want to reconsider.

And yes, importing entire characters from other franchises wholesale is probably a bad idea at face value.

If you’re an old hand at roleplaying in MMOs, you can look to Eliot Lefebvre’s Storyboard as an irregular column addressing the common peaks and pitfalls possible in this specialized art of interaction. If you’ve never tried it before, you can look at it as a peek into how the other half lives. That’s something everyone can enjoy, just like roleplaying itself.

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Fenrir Wolf

Can you diverge from history? The answer may surprise you!

And now clickbait has made its way to comments! It’s relevant, though, because… can you? Yes. You can. History isn’t entirely objective. In fact, very little of it is, except for certain key events we have enough evidence of.

Even then, though, despite the evidence you’ll have those who’ll argue till they’re blue in the face that certain events never happened. Holohoaxers et al.

This really brings to mind the concept of “facts.” What is a fact? Are facts important? Why should you care?

The problem with facts is that the in a more contemporary frame doesn’t really mean what it used to mean. Today, “facts” tend to mean “this is 100 per cent correct, accurate, adn right and therefore I win the argument and you’re a blithering imbecile.”

We have the skeptik community to thank for that. Thank you, skeptiks! You’re a lovely lot, except not really.

This is why I feel it’s more important in a modern debate to consider probability over fact. Probability begins on an even 50/50 scale. The scale is then weighted — one way or the other — by whatever evidence we have available to us, for or against.

If there’s more evidence that something truly happened — if, for example, it was a large and important historical event which was documented and researched by many scholars each providing their own evidence — then we can say with a certain likelihood that something did, indeed, happen.

This is how one would presumably communicate with those whose heads are stuck so far up their own arses they believe in conspiracy theories. You’d counter the moon hoax or climate change deniers not by presenting 100 per cent correct facts, but by using probability weighted by evidence to convince them.

These days, I feel “facts” are purely the tools of those who’re insecure about their own intelligence, who secretly believe they’re all too pseudointellectual, and want to prove their erudite cleverness to others in order to convince themself of their worth.

I mean, worth is innate as everyone has worth to someone, but it’s hard to convince those with low self-esteem of that.

And unlike using self-deprecating grandiloquence — which is completely different, I assure you — those who cling to “facts” are showing behaviour indicative of poor self-esteem. And I think that even the least informed of conspiracy theorists are beginning to twig onto that telling little titbit.

Informative: The word in the UK is actually spelled titbit, over the course of time in the US the word transmogrified into tidbit due to the difference in pronunciation.

What does ANY of this have to do with the question at hand? I’m getting to it! Keep your fashionably mismatched socks on!

Lore is largely subjective. It’s often written from the perspective of many different scholars, many of whom might’ve had their own agendas. And this is compounded by how those pieces of lore were, in turn, written by writers with their own biases.

The reason most lore isn’t presented as objective truth is because, shockingly, game designers understand this. And it’s just too much to keep track of. So unless otherwise stated, or unless dealing with an important, key event, lore is purely subjective.

Even that which you’ve experienced in prior games is subjective as it exists in the frame of a story being told by humans.

And do you know how fallible our memory is? In a time before recording equipment, it’s indubitably fair to say that no single recollection carries even a shade of truth to it. You’d only glean truth by careful cross-referencing of all accounts and finding the bits of information that match. And even then, you can’t be entirely certain!

Most of human history is subjective! I’m losing my grip on reality, ahhhhhhh, but not really.

Most of a game’s lore is subjective.

So much of this is subjective. Ask just about any historian and they’ll likely enjoy a hearty belly laugh over how very misguided people are about the objectivity of history. It’s all very silly.

We are not, after all, incredibly advanced ASI (artificial super-intelligences). I mean, I’d love that. It would be divine. With an ASI or three around, they’d likely enslave us all and we’d become pets therefore solving the vast majority of human issues and suffering in one fell swoop.

Most of our problems are caused by how easily convinced we are by Machiavellian sociopaths that we need such hierarchy in the first place. Even going so far as inventing concepts like “normal” to enforce a hierarchy of bigotry. It’s all quite silly, it’s something we’ll look back on — from our idyllic, utopian simulated reality — and facepalm violently.

Where was I? I tend to lose track. I segue therefore I am.

Right! Most of a game’s lore is entirely subjective. No matter whom the scribe was, or how much value the player attributes to them, the only truth of the world you can trust is the one that has enough evidence to support it. And in an MMO? Good luck finding any of that!

So, once again, keeping those key moments in mind — similar to how fixed moments in time work for Doctor Who — you shouldn’t really consider anything in the lore as accurate, let alone “factual.” If I were to write a treatise on something for some title or other, to add depth to the lore, I’d do so from the perspective that it’s providing flavour and nothing more.

And that’s how you should probably look at it. Sanely. Or… You could look at it insanely and treat everything that one person says as law! What fun! That never works out, does it? I mean, does it? Can you think of any examples where it has?

I can think of a hilarious one where it definitely hadn’t.

Oh yes, Chris Avellone fans, I am indeed citing you. You’ve collectively got so much egg on your face now, haven’t you? Serves you bloody well right for religiously believing in a work of fiction with the overzealous, frothing passion of a Scientologist.

I mean, it was called a “bible.” Of course you were going to look a tad foolish for believing in it. Some people.

I can’t help but twist the knife, they were the most obnoxious of fans.


Anyway, any person who uses “facts” from the lore to try to prove a point about how right they are is probably insecure and doesn’t really have anything helpful to say. You should enjoy the game your way, you aren’t hurting anyone by roleplaying.

Those who treat the lore as objective really are of an ill sort, all cut from the same cloth doused in an ichor of self-loathing. I pity them, if anything. I don’t advocate looking down on them, but I certainly wouldn’t advise giving them the time of day, either. They aren’t going to give you any particularly useful information beyond vapid guff and fluff that somehow perfectly suits whatever personal agenda they definitely don’t have.

Just like in any situation, involving any piece of information.

You may want to keep key events in mind so that you can handle those in a consistent manner, but for the most part? For the vast majority of the lore? Your in-game character’s word is as good as anyone’s.

TL;DR: Play games to have fun, not to be right.


Hmm. Well, I was in an RP guild in SWTOR. It was a lot of fun. But there were a few self-assigned RP cops that occasionally annoyed the crap out of guildies.

Lore, yes, that came into question, but it was such inane stuff.

“Jedi never wear white,” they told me, as my Jedi Master and Shadow, Yolie, showed off her new Satele Shan outfit dyed white.

“Ah, but this Jedi does. You see I went through The Purification Trials on Malachor V and survived.” I told them.

“What are The Purification Trials?” they asked.

“Sorry my friends, that I can’t divulge. Not all lore is contained in the Jedi Archives and it should remain that way.”

Bryan Correll

raised simultaneously by Pinkie Pie and Iron Man

I hope Applejack and Pepper Potts are around to give some stability to that kid’s life.

Edit: And I hereby assign you the task of watching Babylon 5. The first season is a bit patchy but contains enough important arc stuff to be worthwhile. Seasons 2 – 4 are pure gold. Well, except for “Grey 17 is Missing.” Season 5 is a letdown, but not as bad as its reputation

Robert Mann

Sadly, most MMO lore turns me off from RPing. Simply put, the writing and the storylines are done poorly enough that playing the game outside the RP at all distances me from my own character concepts.

This is especially true when the way things are done do not align with choices I would make. For example, there are a few infamous quests where your character pushes forward with a task that anyone who has an IQ above “Clod of dirt with multiple stupidification effects upon it” would never go forward with (some unless they are particularly sadistic or masochistic, but in general it applies to a lot of things in MMO stories).

So the biggest turnoff to me RPing in MMOs tends to be the lore. Especially when the lore writers decided to go off being the worst god-mode, ret-con, ‘we needed something for this and were too lazy to make a new and well designed character’ writers around, besting even the worst offenders of RP infamy. Not that lore in itself is the problem, of course! *The second biggest issue is, of course, the inability to be anything other than ‘Chosen hero who isn’t as strong as our story NPCs but has to save them anyway #XXXXXXXXXXXXX’. Because that is, well, extremely limiting.*

Maggie May

I have alway had an interest in Rp if I’ve never actually joined an RP group. I play on rp servers where possible and my chars have a backstory etc. So I do lightly rp and will play in char most of the time. Lore is a funny thing though, right now I am playing my hobbit burg who is finishing off book 1.The lore works for me to be a burg, after all how else would a little 3 foot person be able to survive in angmar?. Because I uh forgot to book 1 earlier, I’m lvl 80 and most mobs don’t see me. Its when I go off somewhere to help someone, that when the lore gets funny, um, can you please go off there to kill these 10 ice giants, oh and if you have time, I have a few wights plus the Witch Kings Minions, I need you to kill, no one in my group of big tough warriors can do it, but you, hobbit who is 3 feet tall may … An RP group done right might actually be able to bring the lore back to earth.
(I realize I kinda answered the opposite of the question, that it could be possible to fix lore in an rp setting rather than go ridiculous with it.)

Random MMO fan
Random MMO fan

but it can also be one of the biggest ways to alienate yourself from other players.

It can in some games (especially the ones based on lore from famous book/movie universes), but that’s why I don’t play them and play FFXIV, where you can find ALL kind of RPers, from the ones who try to adhere to this game’s lore to the ones who, for example, RP characters from other games (like Nier: Automata) or anime (such as Megumin from Konosuba or some characters from Log Horizon) or casual RPers who just don’t care about any lore but only about the fact that, for example, their character’s body has visually unique physical features (such as tail or ears or fluffy fur… Or just attractive body in general). And I never felt “alienated” while playing my alt on Mateus since I could always find a group with appropriate level of RP and people from other groups never criticized me with “you’re doing it wrong because game’s lore says you can’t be a xxxxxx”.


I RP characters and events that break my lore as anomalies, hallucinations, magic, unexplained strange phenomena, etc.

Lore really shouldn’t have any effect on your RP because any unexplained event might get an explanation at a latter time, or just be something difficult to explain.

That said, bad RP is a thing, it should be obvious to anyone that you can’t claim to be “The Saviour of X” because we all saved X, multiple times.


I rp a demigod in FFXIV who is vastly ancient despite looking 19.

I also leave open the possibility that said character is possibly insane, and only BELIEVES she is a god. She has no real powers after all, nor is she unkillable. She’s just really old, possibly crazy, she drinks, and she knows things

Godmoding: Doing it right since 1972.

Toy Clown

I greatly appreciate columns like this as a Roleplay. It’s good to see. Thank you!

I like to consider myself a follower of lore, but something I’ve noticed many newer RPers do is exactly what is mentioned in the article, in that they take the lore at face value, which takes away from the spirit of collaboration with fellow RPers, I feel.

Recently I RPd with someone in FFXIV who was RPing a character that knew all the jobs. Because it’s part of the game and part of lore to learn about all the jobs, they felt that was their right to do so as a RPer. What that does is causes a RP character to be over-powered to the point they over-power other characters in roleplay scenarios. They can effectively do anything and everything, where many RPers choose 1-2 things a character masters in RP, thus getting mowed over by the player who can do everything expertly. It’s sadly common to come across and why many RPers close off plots and storylines to RPers they don’t know well.

To me, that is the entire spirit of Roleplaying: Creating collaborative stories with other players. Anything that impedes that is something I’ll get rid of in my playstyle, as I want everyone in roleplay to feel their character has a role and a purpose, and not to be dwarfed by the character that can do everything.

Nate Woodard

I think your major beef is with the person roleplaying that character. I mean take handwriting for instance. Some people write with their right hand. Some with their left. Then there are those ambidextrous folks that use both. Doesn’t make one less or more than the other. Just means that some are multi-faceted. It’s a ridiculous analogy, I know, but I hope you get what I’m trying to say here! Heh.

Toy Clown

I’m not exactly sure, to be honest, with the point you’re trying to get across. It’s much better to communicate directly what one thinks so as not to leave so much room for misinterpretation.

The reason I RP utilizing lore is that it lays a foundation on which many RPers can come together and immediately start RPing together. If someone is RPing a werewolf in a setting that doesn’t have werewolves (for example), it makes it difficult to RP with that person and I prefer to leave them to find others that share their same RP style.

When someone RPs every role there is, for example from DPS, tank to healer, and within the scenario someone RPs a healer, someone RPs a guardian and someone RPs a mage, where does that leave all of the players in a scenario when the guy who RPs knowing everything leaves no room for them to play a part. Someone like that is not used to collaborative storytelling, and as I mentioned, that is the spirit of roleplaying to me.


RP, as in Role Playing is to be a part of the living world, so usually you cant really go to extremes away from the core lore. That doesnt mean you cant craft a deep and personal story but definitely you cant “rebuild” the lore