Why Did Legacy Work?

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    Why Did Legacy Work?​


    Legacy of Iwaku was one of the first mass-participation roleplays attempted on the Iwaku Forum. Though many argue that the story moved downhill after the midpoint, the roleplay's success can be measured by the fact that, after 2 years and 5 months, Legacy retained 9 original cast members and reached conclusion in its 13th chapter.

    In this article, we'll look at the 10 ingredients that made Legacy one of the most successful online roleplays on the internet.





    1. A Simple Premise
    All great movies have a great log-line. Frodo must take the Ring to Mordor! Murtough gets a psychotic new partner! The crew of the Nostromo pick up an alien!. Having a complex and intellectual idea is fine if you're among friends, but if you want to capture people's attention before they walk away, you need to do it in less than 15 words. You might be a literary genius, but the audience is NOT going to wait around for you to prove it.

    Legacy's premise was just 4 words: Noah's Ark in Space. And in those 4 words the audience had everything they needed to know. They knew it was in space, so it would involve all the opportunities of the Science Fiction genre. They knew there was some kind of ship, which would form the central location. They knew there would be a visionary Noah-figure at the helm. And they knew that whoever the crew were, they would be survivors of some terrible disaster seeking refuge.

    The log-line or premise needs to capture the 'human' story - the emotional drive at the heart of the roleplay. To invert a well-known phrase, a word paints a million pictures. With a good premise, you can get the audience thinking about all the possible characters, emotions, moral dilemmas and passions that could take place. "Noah's Ark in Space" instantly gets you thinking about the motivations of the 'Noah' character, the plight of the passengers, the tenacity of the crew who keep the ship going, the heartache of those who have lost loved ones, and the hope of the survivors for finding a sanctuary.

    Pretty good for 4 words. Hollywood would be proud.




    2. The Little Bear's Playground
    This is perhaps the most essential ingredient of any communal roleplay, or indeed any long-running franchise. You need a setting that is not too big and not too small, but just right, like the Little Bear's porridge.

    By setting Legacy on a SPACESHIP, the characters had both the comfort of clear boundaries and enough freedom to provide them plot opportunities. Too large a setting would have made them feel their actions were unimportant, or they simply would have been intimidated by the scale of the story. And too small a setting would have been suffocating, with players feeling they had to constantly react to everything that happened.

    With a "Little Bear's" setting, characters could choose whether they were close enough to get involved in events, or if they had enough privavy to start up their own events. And with a spaceship setting, the cliches did most of the work: we knew there was a bridge where important things could happen, a medical bay where costs could be counted, a bar where you could unwind, a hangar bay where you could organise missions, and any number of dark corridors and chambers for secret meetings. The result was a bountiful but limited arena for the players to operate in. Not too hot, not too cold.




    3. The Palonis Paradox
    This is a phrase I've coined to describe a great (and essential) contradiction of roleplaying. The 'Palonis Paradox' is where the GM offers total freedom to the players, and in return the players offer total control to the GM.

    By making Palonis the moderator for character sheets in Legacy, an important culture was established. Because he was not the GM, no one suspected him of megolamania, so he was free to unload his scorn and cynicism upon any character sheets that were deemed unsatisfactory. His extreme negativity not only pointed out the faults of inexperienced or arrogant players, but it also provoked ARGUMENTS.

    And this was a very useful thing. Arguments ensured that other players got involved, wading in to defend Palonis and further insult the offending party. The overall result was that the players created amongst themselves unspoken rules about who was and wasn't "Legacy material". The GM himself played no part in this - it happened in complete isolation from him. A singular common sense was established, which governed behaviour for the entire roleplay. There was an unspoken Legacy Code, and this led to great camaraderie among the core players.

    If this behaviour had been imposed by the GM, people would have rebelled against it. So God bless Palonis for bringing coincidental order to deliberate chaos!




    4. Episodic Resurrection
    If Legacy had been a single ongoing story, it would have died long ago. "Episodic Resurrection" is a way to create the illusion of new beginnings while maintaining the overall franchise.

    By breaking Legacy into short and definite episodes, players had a chance to 'start again' with each chapter and inject fresh energy into the story. Whether it served to pass time, change character direction, develop backstory or simply allow a character to lay low for a while, the Episode Format has always been effective at breaking long-running stories into manageable installments.

    In Legacy, chapters were kept brief and punchy, each one running like a minature adventure with its own arc. In many cases, each chapter was also focussed around a specific character, which helped people establish what roles they were playing, as well as allowing them a moment in the spotlight.

    Readers are hard-wired to look for cycles. They want stories to build and then conclude at a clear rhythm. Stringing out a part of the story for too long just makes them feel uncomfortable. With episodes, you can build and collapse smaller pockets of tension, while keeping the over-arching storyline. With each chapter in Legacy, more was lost and more was at stake - a crescendo of adventures that built nicely to the climax.




    5. Monster in the Cupboard
    Of course, the Episode Format fails if it resolves too much at once. If the audience sees the heroes constantly overcoming every threat, then all tension will evaporate from the story. In order to keep the excitement level, a shadow needs to be cast over everything that happens, so that each victory is a false and fleeting one. This is the 'Monster in the Cupboard', the 'Big Bad', the ongoing threat that hangs over the story.

    Near the end of Chapter Two, Legacy's monster was introduced. References were made to a second ship - a demonic opposite of the Legacy crewed by demons. And at the opening of Chapter Three this monster struck when a trusted member of the crew betrayed the survivors and sent them into a deathtrap. This was a violent wake-up call and a truly dramatic entrance for the Torment, which would become the ship of villains hunting the Legacy through the rest of the story.

    From the time of Shakespeare, foreshadowing is one of the greatest literary tools at a writer's disposal. By dropping hints of the greater evil, the audience's imaginations will be working overtime to create suspense and anticipation, and this will have them hanging on your every word.




    6. ISAFics
    A highly controversial part of the Legacy setup was the inclusion of the ISAF - a band of resourceful warriors controlled exclusively by a single player. Many resented this army and actively petitioned for their culling. But in reality, the ISAF helped achieve one of the most difficult effects in writing: the sense of a world.

    The world of a story needs to be populated, otherwise it appears that the characters are simply existing in suspension, with nothing else going on around them. This is the difference between seeing a pair of actors on an empty stage and seeing the same actors in a film filled with extras. The sense that there is something else going on and the sense that there are masses who can be affected by events, is crucial to an audience's interest and suspension of disbelief.

    This is why many stories have a tavern scene. And this is the same reason why the ISAF worked. With Ryker providing frequent slice-of-life posts from the various soldiers of the ISAF, we were given a sense of there being a real COMMUNITY aboard the Legacy. They were the "little men" affected by the decisions from up top, and they were the ones who were shown dealing with the little details of the story, like supply problems, sexual tension, the black market, keeping in shape, fighting on the front lines, etc.

    These are the kinds of things that main characters cannot include (because that would make their posts boring, as well as distract from their emotional journeys). ISAFics is the art of painting backdrops and filling in the gaps. It brings the world to life and creates the sense that there is more happening outside of the ego-trips of the main protagonists.




    7. The Boss Bags
    Like punchbags, Boss-Bags are a very useful tool for a writer. They allow the heroes to strike out at a single embodiement of their conflict. Putting a human face on the obstacles can open up a whole range of plots, from vendettas to acts of forgiveness. Human relationships are always more powerful than any other kind, and providing a miniature boss in each chapter allows a character to bring out their big guns, both emotional and literally.

    The first ever "boss" was in the Epic of Gilgamesh. It was a man-scorpion that Gilgamesh had to get past in order to enter a mountain. Replacing the scorpion with a rockslide or molten river would be nowhere near as powerful. With a boss, you have a human intellect opposing the hero's - one personality set against another. After all, one of the reasons an audience reads a story is to come to conclusions about their own lives - which parts of themselves they should overcome, what kind of person they should strive to be, etc. By using a Boss, we show a fundamental conflict between a good personality and a bad personality. And this is one of the staples of exciting storytelling.

    In Legacy, great effort was made to produce vendettas. There were a range of mini-bosses, from torturing necromancers to mad angels, giant slugs to femme fatales. These bosses would strike out at certain characters in order to anger and torture them. They provoked key moments of change in the character arcs of the heroes. And, most importantly, they became things to defeat at the end of those character arcs. By slaying a boss, it was clear that a character had triumphed over both the enemy and themselves.




    8. Shit Happens
    In a mass roleplay, or any roleplay, people will drop out. Players will vanish or lose interest, and this will leave you with a panoply of characters standing around doing nothing. With the "Shit Happens" ingredient, you have a ready-made way to get rid of these people, rather than having to NPC them to the point of tedium.

    In Legacy, there was a major supply of Shit. Rift Storms could strike at any time. The hull could breach. Anyone could turn out to be an agent of the Torment, and almost every chapter ended in a life-threatening situation. As such, we were able to dispose of a huge number of inactive characters in a way that was not only dramatic, but a way that reinforced the overall tension and threat of the storyline.

    Regardless of what people may argue, killing characters off is always preferable to writing them out in some clumsy way. If a character "escapes" the story, then it weakens the victory of those characters who do make it through to the end.




    9. The Narrator
    While the Episode Format reinforces the energy, the Monster in the Cupboard reinforces the tension, and the Boss-Bags reinforce the emotion of the story, you still need something to reinforce the premise. The Log-line can easily get lost amongst all the subplots and coincidentals.

    This is where a Narrator is useful - someone who constantly reminds everyone of the greater stakes. In Legacy, the Noah character was the Angel Lamord, who served as a tool of plot exposition and continual thematic reinforcement. His inner-conflict was the anchor by which the other character's could choose their emotions. With Lamord being sad, other characters could choose to be angry (Daryl), stoic (Ryker), cynical (MAC), despairing (Aimi) and so forth. These emotions contrasted nicely with Lamord's baseline and really distinguished the other characters. Everyone adopting the same sadness as Lamord would have made for a very dull roleplay.

    The Narrator is someone to "bounce off" - someone who drives both the actions and the reactions of the story. Think of him as the heart of the roleplay, pumping the blood.




    10. The Asshole Factor
    The final seasoning to the above recipe. None of the techniques above will work unless you apply a dose of ASSHOLE to the equation.

    Because sometimes, no matter how skillful a GM you are, things will happen that are beyond your control. Real life will get in the way, people will fall out, internet connections will be lost, and players will get writer's block. A good story cannot be achieved unless you are willing to drag people kicking and screaming to the next plot point.

    I'm talking about hijacking, spamming people on IM, harassing players, dropping plot-bombs, guilt-tripping and slaughtering the unworthy. Some people may dream of a world where these things aren't necessary, but with roleplays you are essentially dealing with a limitless number of chaotic possibilities, and a firm hand is needed.

    Legacy has been built upon a mammoth heap of crushed egos, massacred characters, hijacked plotlines, bullying and intimidation. But at the same time, this has allowed those loyal to the story to soar upon incredible flights of fancy and create truly memorable characters. And now, at the end, those who are still there have a story to call their own.

    And in my opinion, this is far better than having a string of failed roleplays and half-finished character sheets to your name.

     
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