5703 in-depth character profiles from comics, games, movies

FAQ – Beyond emergent and gisted profiles

Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

In the previous article we discussed 2 simple approaches — the emergent history profile and the gisted profile — to deal with characters existing in multiple versions.

Since you’re still reading, we can mention further approaches.

Chronological retconned profiles

This is the default. The profile is done in chronological order, and sliced into multiple articles if there’s too much material. All retcons  known at the time of writing are worked back in.

A “chronconned” profile is attractive, in that it presents a definitive version of the character with all the info. It is the approach used in official sourcebooks. However :

  • As soon as there’s an additional major retcon, it becomes obsolete.
  • Since we go for detailed profiles, it can induce eye-glazing complexity for retcons-heavy characters. For instance the Black Widow (Natalia Romanova) (1927-1965)’s or the Sandman (Dr. Garrett Sanford)’s profiles require a focused reader.
  • Our lack of manpower means that we are dependant on outside appearances lists to place the flashbacks/retcons in chronological order. And *their* lack of manpower means that such lists often aren’t current (just like we can’t keep our thousands of profiles current at all times).
  • The official and Wikia profiles already do a broadly similar job.

Thus, when tackling characters with a massive body of appearances, an “emergent history” profile is often preferable to a “chronological retconned” profile.

Authorial approach

“Emergent history” and “chronological retconned” serialized profiles tell the versions of the characters apart by using time. With a little bit of luck decades will roughly align, so you get things like Black Widow (1970s version) and Black Widow (1980s version).

If not we can simply go for something such as Spoiler (part 1) and Spoiler (part 2), or Saturn Girl (Silver Age), or any other chronological-but-not-decade-based delineation.

So that’s simple, which is nice. But of course, the material doesn’t always deign to work that way.

Another approach is thus based on the author. So for instance Black Panther (T’Challa) (Christopher Priest take), Amanda Waller (Ostrander/Yale take) or Typhoid (Ann Nocenti take). Of course, this usually makes sense if the author is closely associated with the characters and had a specific way of writing them.

If there are people on the Internet claiming that the take is the ONLY ONE TRUE VERSION, then it’s a good sign for our purposes.

In practice, there’s a penumbra . For instance :

  • How to handle the appearances in books written by others but appearing during the same period as those written by our chosen author. Integrate or ignore ?
  • Versions of the character that are almost like the one by our chosen author, if you squint a bit.
  • How to recap the events preceding the arrival of our chosen author (if they’re not already handled by another profile).

This means judgement calls, that have to be explained in the profile. A common approach is “such and such appearances are covered here, but aspects that do not fully align with our chosen author’s take are de-emphasised”.

Thus the authorial approach is a deliberately biased one. Within this specific sort of profile, it’s the chosen author’s way or the highway.

Tangled states approach

The exact characterisation and capabilities of characters vary all the time. Usually it can be rationalized as the general randomness of life – such as changing moods, or in RPG terms an unusually high or low dice roll when conducting an action.

Often we can rationalize things through No-Prize Hypotheses  and/or technical descriptions of the capabilities (say, the Marginal Limitation in DC Heroes to explain why characters inexplicably fail to use an useful ability of theirs). We’ll seldom hesitate to go long on the No-Prize hypotheses, such as with Deathbird (or technical mechanisms as with Mister Hyde), because it’s fun.

But in some cases it just makes no damn sense. In these cases we’ll simply offer distinct game stats blocks and/or Personality sections in the writeup. One example is the Woman in Red, whose competence varies dramatically from issue to issue. Batroc the Leaper is another, though we have a No-Prize Hypothesis to help.

These are called “tangled states” because there’s no clean way to tell them apart. Batroc could be an impressive opponent in one story and a walkover in the next, and there’s no clear way to separate and organize these takes on the character.

Sample character approach

See our video games profiles FAQ article for this one. It is used when there’s no fleshed-out, canonical version of the Player Character  in a video game but we need one (often to present the plot and setting in an engaging manner).

Iconic approach

So yeah, that one was used but once. We came up with an exciting way of handling the DC Heroes technical aspects of Green Lanterns, and a Hal Jordan profile would showcase this, except that nobody had the time to research decades of Jordan appearances.

The iconic profile is just like a gisted profile, but with conflating the recollections about the character from more people.

We take the official DCH writeup. We take the DCA writeup, if there is a good one. We combine the DCH and DCA entries using somewhat involved calculations designed during the prototyping of the OMACS project. We tweak using feedback from DCH players about the official DCH entry. We tweak using feedback from DCA players  about the DCA entry.

The Worgmeister does some tuning and adds special sections. We work the CBR forums  to get articulate fan descriptions of the characterisation. We read biographies, then crank out our own take.

Thus that one entry (so far) was more an aggregation and curation job, though its impetus was a breakthrough original technical idea about power rings and willpower.


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