Answers about editorial policies and usage. The meat of the FAQ —you want to read this is you‘re a regular writeups.org reader. It also discusses some aspects of game stats that are about ranking characters in general, rather than technical details.
Last modified: 26th of August, 2012.
All items can be clicked to go straight to the corresponding answer.
- 1/ Writeups.org as a community site with multiple authors
- 2/ How do the version numbers in the writeups (v1, v1.2, v2 ) work?
- 3/ What is the basic research methodology?
- 4/ How much research does a writeup involve?
- 5/ When does made-up stuff have to be used in writeups?
- 6/ What is this “No-Prize‘ thing?
- 7/ What about the “DC Universe history” section at the end of many writeups?
- 8/ How do you handle the Roman numerals for names shared by multiple characters?
- 9/ How do you deal with Marvel and DC‘s 10-year timelines?
- 10/ How do you deal with DC‘s continuity reboots?
- 11/ Speaking of which, can you remind us which were the pre-Crisis Earths?
- 12/ What do you mean by “pre-Crisis scale” and “post-Crisis scale”?
- 13/ What do you consider to be maximum human capabilities?
- 14/ Shouldn‘t Marvel characters lift less than 100 tons?
- 15/ Why are many major DC Comics characters missing from writeups.org?
- 16/ What are the spelling and punctuation usages?
- 17/ Writeups not passing quality control
- 18/ How can one one comment on an entry or signal a mistake?
- 19/ Why aren‘t the entries hyperlinked with each other?
- 20/ What is the publication workflow?
- 21/ How are the stats done for the MMO articles?
- 99/ Managing individual continuity, and what constitutes a ’version‘ of a character
1/ Writeups.org as a community site with multiple authors
An important part of a writeups.org entry is the line listing the author(s). The volunteers contributing articles pay a lot of attention to aligning with each other in terms of game stats, tone, choice of illustrations, level of detail, etc. — but these are soft, implicit best practices rather than mandatory requirements.
There is a clear writeups.org voice in the way the stats, texts and illustrations are done by the various authors, but keep in mind that :
- Varied folks have their own preferences about how to do things.
- Individual authors evolve and progress along the years, and there are articles out there that were written circa 1998 or so, when we were new at this. Today these would be done very differently, even by the same person.
The second point is addressed by reworking older entries whenever possible, but there will always be older entries on writeups.org that we would now do very differently. The content accrues over many years.
2/ How do the version numbers in the writeups (v1, v1.2, v2 ) work?
Our versioning system grew organically, and is best explained through examples:
- A v0.1 (the “v” stands for “version”) writeup means a early beta and should not be considered reliable. Many comments and much work are necessary to improve it.
- v0.5 is more solid, but still considered a beta. The higher the number, the more confident the writer is.
- v0.8 or v0.9 indicate a pretty solid writeup, but the author is aware of some deficiencies. For instance, they couldn‘t research some of the issues where the character appears.
- v1 is a solidly researched writeup, and the author feels that it‘s about good.
- v1.1 is a v1 writeup that has had significant modifications due to comments and/or further research and thinking.
- v1.1.1 would be a v1.1 writeup which has had minor modifications (a few typos fixed, some sentences made clearer, minor corrections in history, etc.) though we often don‘t bother versioning in these cases.
- v1.2 is a v1.1 which was further improved - and so on.
- v2 is a writeup for which there were previous versions, but which was redone from the ground up. Usually, those were completely re-researched, rethought and rewritten.
- v3 or v4 can happen for favourite characters who were repeatedly rewritten from scratch to align with the rising standards of quality.
The versioning system evolved over the years, so there are some entries whose version number doesn‘t match the current versioning system. Those are adjusted whenever we stumble upon them.
More recent writeups often include, at the very end, the date when the entry was completed or revised. This can help readers understand why, say, some recent events are not reflected in the entry. It‘s also helpful for us when we get around to upgrading the entry, to see when the previous round of research ended.
3/ What is the basic research methodology?
It‘s primary source-based.
In our context, “primary source” means the actual events in the actual comic book, film, book, game, manga, etc. from which the character is drawn. Anything that happens there is direct material for the writeup.
This contrasts with “secondary sources” such as narrative captions, off-screen narrations, comments by other characters in the story, sourcebooks, interviews with editors or writers, Who‘s Who and OHOTMU entries, etc.. Material in the secondary sources can be used, but with skepticism.
For instance, comic book characters will often be claimed to be the best in the world at what they do, while the actual skill levels they display are not that exceptional. The phrase “Olympic-level athlete” has also been used for characters who obviously aren‘t. And there is interpretation - for instance Captain America will often have a thought bubble about his opponent du jour being a very good fighter even when the action itself shows Cap completely dominating the fight. This is presumably because Cap is such a nice guy and appreciates the skill of his opponents compared to the baseline, not compared to Captain America.
In other words we apply the tired adage - “show, don‘t tell” - and concentrate on the things that happened rather than what was said, alleged, speculated, etc.
Tertiary sources are writeups done for other game systems, fan articles, or material such as Wiki entries. They can be used as a checklist, but are not considered to be trusted material.
What Ifs, Elseworlds, fan fiction, etc. are not a viable source and do not normally inform the writeup. Unless it‘s a writeup about an Elseworld or a fan fiction, of course.
The general approach is a sort of lightweight scholarly research, concerned with facts, observations and analysis rather than opinion, preconceived notions and feelings about how things should be.
Some older writeups still have editorial bits, but these are normally eliminated when the entry gets revised. Likewise some very old writeups date back to a time where the source hierarchy wasn‘t clearly established, and - for instance - treat the stats of the character in another game system as a primary source.
4/ How much research does a writeup involve?
In the 1990s, many writeups were assembled from memory and after re-reading key stories and old notes by people knowledgeable about the character. They were then debated with other knowledgeable (or simply curious) list members. Published writeups for other game systems (especially TSR‘s classic Marvel Super Heroes Advanced Game) were also used as a source. Most of the writeups we did that way were roughly comparable to the quality of writeups in commercial RPG supplements from the 1980s and 1990s.
Standards have considerably risen since. Since the mid-2000s the preferred level of research for a finalised writeups.org entry has been “*every* appearance of the character has been studied”. Which is why you often see writeups that specify which version of the character, or which era of the character, is being described. If the author could not read every appearance, this will be signaled by at least a low version number, and quite probably a note about which bits couldn‘t be researched — not every writeups.org contributor can have thousands of comics in their library.
Generally you, the reader, are dealing with somebody who‘s read everything there was to read. Of course that doesn‘t mean infallibility, and there are many old writeups on the site that were done using less stringent standards. Those are reworked whenever we can. This is also why version numbers and notes about what we couldn‘t research are important.
This level of research is only possible thanks to the people running comic book character appearances indice. Our recommended links section includes links to the sites we use to track down appearances.
5/ When does made-up stuff have to be used in writeups?
All speculation is clearly noted in the entries — you may already have noted an endless array of “seemingly”, “appeared to”, “presumably”, “in this hypothesis”, “one possible explanation is”, “it is probable that”, “one assumes that”, “our No-Prize Hypothesis is” and so on and so forth in entries. Generally we stick to the facts, and the hypotheses appear when the facts are incoherent or undocumented.
However, there are cases where it is not possible to note the speculative nature of the material in a writeup. This chiefly occurs when it comes to the technical data and other numbers. Specifically:
- Characters who are never seen doing any significant Character Interaction, but still have to have an INF and AUR score. They will get APs based on educated guesses and (mostly) stats for roughly similar Characters, but it is not an “authoritative” INF and AUR score based on analysis. Or Characters who never punch or lift anything, but have to have STR APs, etc.
- Rituals that are clearly performed and can be described in game terms, but for which no name is ever provided - we have to call them something. Ditto for many Gadgets
- especially handguns and other weapons waved around and occasionally used, but not clearly defined or drawn. Since we have to have Ammo scores, EVs, R# and the like in our DC Heroes stats, some writeups include a best guess as to which make and kind of weapon it is, based on drawings and knowledge of the character‘s modus operandi and background. So a Character with what vaguely looks like a .45 might be written up with a cut-and-paste “generic .45 pistol”, might be written up with a Colt M1911 (as the most reasonable but still generic guess), might be written up with a Colt .45 Argentine Modelo 29 (because at one point we clearly see the markings on the slide) or might be written up with a Kimber .45 1911 MCSOCOM because, while we never clearly see any detail about the gun, it would make sense for a character with this background to pack this specific type of .45.
- Characters who do not have an official height and weight will be given one based on how they compare to the characters around them (especially those who have official heights and weights). We are deliberately gauging these values on a “comic book height/weight scale” — see this article for more about super-heroes heights and weights.
- In many cases we can accurately “rank” APs, and authoritatively say that Bob is a better pilot than Charlie by two APs. But there are numerous cases where there is no material to benchmark against, leading to decisions such as “she‘s obviously intended to be a highly professional and talented pilot but we never see her doing anything special because she doesn‘t have to so I guess Vehicles (Air): 05”, which is not an authoritative statement that she‘s a better helo jockey than Bob at 04 but significantly less skilled than Charlie with Vehicle (Air): 07. It‘s just an educated placeholder value.
- Powers clearly demonstrated, but with little or even no data to determine APs (say, a Character occasionally lighting himself on fire though pyrokinesis, but who never touches or is touched by anything in this state - he will also receive “reasonable” APs of Flame Being based on precedents)
6/ What is this “No-Prize” thing?
You can check the full history of the expression “No-Prize” by clicking on the link.
“Our suggested No-Prize hypothesis” is a shorthand that signals content that is not canon, but is an economical explanation for incoherences in the continuity. For instance, the character Deathbird has a randomly fluctuating power level without any explanation or acknowledgement about it - our No-Prize-winning material, clearly signalled as such, suggests an explanation for this power fluctuation and thus what might be happening “behind the scenes”.
“No-Prize Hypotheses” are meant to use as little original material as possible, to stick with the observed facts, and to be constructive. Despite the Marvel-centric name, they are used in all contexts.
Not every No-Prize hypothesis is called this ; more often we use a more basic turn of phrase such “one possible explanation would be” or “it is probable, but not demonstrated, that”.
7/ What about the “DC Universe history” section at the end of many writeups?
With our DC Heroes RPG roots, it was also assumed in the 1990s that the default gaming universe was the DC Universe.
When community members started talking more about non-DC characters, they added suggestions about using the character in RPG campaigns - and thus, back then, the DC Universe. Since it can often be an amusing exercise, both to write and to read, that tradition has continued. Well, except for entries where nothing special comes to mind.
Many entries have variants on this, such as Marvel Universe History sections for non-Marvel characters.
8/ How do you handle the Roman numerals for names shared by multiple characters?
We don‘t anymore, just like our colleagues over at the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. With the numerous parallel universes, continuity reboots, stealth reboots, incessant retcons, etc. this is unmanageable even for people who don‘t mind keeping track of details.
It is still used for characters who have no other useable identifiers, but we‘ve aligned with Marvel practices. So we have Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze) instead of Ghost Rider I (or II, or III — or a lot more because there were many Ghost Riders before Blaze. Dozens, as was learned in 2010).
Some older entries still have Roman numerals, but those are eliminated when the entry gets upgraded.
9/ How do you deal with Marvel and DC‘s 10-year sliding timelines?
Both Marvel and DC have an editorial policy where the dawn of the age of super-heroes (the Fantastic Four‘s clandestine space flight and the appearance of Superman in Metropolis, respectively) is forever ten-to-twelve years ago. Everything that is in continuity happened during this time span. This policy is stronger at Marvel than at DC, due to the constant reboots of the DC continuity (as of this writing, DC has an undocumented five-year timeline).
Thus, when reading Marvel stories in 2001, we were to assume that events setting the modern Marvel Universe in motion, such as the fateful Fantastic Four flight or the death of Uncle Ben, occurred around 1991 ; all Spider-Man and Fantastic Four stories since had taken place between 1991 and 2001. And when reading stories in 2012, we have to assume that the trigger events took place in 2002, and that everything since occurred between 2002 and 2012.
The writeups.org crew is pretty much forced to ignore this - our articles describe what happened in a detailed manner and often include some explanations about the context. For tales that are tied to historical events — the Cold War, the Viêt Nam invasion, the 1970s inflation crisis, the S&L crash, German reunification, etc. etc. — this means that the story we describe has become impossible due to the time shift.
Obviously, we can‘t make things up to have the story fit the year in which it‘s now supposed to have taken place. Especially since these explanations would be obsolete a few years later as the sliding timeline keeps on slippin‘, slippin‘ into the future.
Since we can‘t conform to the ten-year sliding scale of the two main super-heroes universes, we‘ve gone the other way and have a “events are presumed to have happened per publication date” policy. This is chiefly visible in large, detailed writeups about characters who have been around for a long while, but stating in which year an event happens avoids a lot of circonvolutions when writing.
To help Game Masters using this approach in their campaigns, some writeups.org articles discuss “per date of publication” timelines extensively. Examples include the “Cold War Suicide Squad” entry, the Crazy Quilt entry, the first Carol Danvers entry, the Alpha Flight entry, or the first Black Widow (Natalia Romanova) entry. When Marvel proposes timelines that reconcile long-lived characters with a sliding timeline, we include an explanation about it (the aforementioned Black Widow entry being a prime example).
See also the Leòn Genetic Sequence article about a way to handle the main problem associated with a “date of publication” timeline — unageing characters.
10/ How do you deal with DC‘s continuity reboots?
As of this writing the 2012 reboot is too recent to have resulted in policy. This version of the DCU is still unclear and we have yet to write anything about it.
In most cases, our DC Universe writeups cover a given iteration of the character - for instance the pre-Crisis Earth 2 version of the Huntress, or the post-Zero Hour version of Saturn Girl. There are a few ’trans-reboots‘ writeups left around, covering the character both pre- and post-Crisis, but these are no longer supported by our editorial preferences
except when the character has very few pre- and/or post-Crisis appearance *and* no seeming contradiction between the two eras. In this case, since doing two nearly identical and sketchy writeups would not be very interesting, the character is often treated as one entity. For a detailed example of this see the entry for the Question (Ditko take).
In the case of characters existing right at the juncture of a reboot, there will be clarifying material in the writeup (see for instance the entry for the second Fury (Lyta Hall) or the early, original Black Lightning entry).
11/ Speaking of which, can you remind us which were the pre-Crisis Earths?
It has been a quarter-century since the Crisis on Infinite Earths and that‘s time enough to forget some basics. As a refresher for those reading our pre-Crisis entries :
- “Earth-2” is the Golden Age DC continuity. It covers the books that were published in the late 1930s, the 1940s and the early 1950s before the super-hero genre in comic books collapsed. DC switched in the late 1950s to new, more sci-fi inspired versions of the characters, but the old-school stories were later revealed to still exist on a parallel Earth — Earth-2.
On Earth-2, characters continued to age and time went by. Thus, for instance, the Golden Age Batman has retired, married and had a now-adult daughter, and there was a whole new generation of young heroes emerging in the 1980s.
- “Earth-1” is the Silver Age DC continuity, starting with the 1956 revival of the Flash. It is the ’main‘ DC Earth, where most of the stories from 1956 to 1985 take place — unless they are specifically depicted as taking place on Earth-2. The Earth-1 Flash discovers the Earth-2 Flash in 1961, and from then on the two realities will regularly deal with each other - for instance during the annual team-up between the Earth-1 JLA and the Earth-2 JSA.
Earth-1 exists in a sort of eternal present, where the characters usually do not age and time passes in a very selective fashion, as per the standard super-hero comic book convention.
- Earth-3, Earth-4, Earth-S, Earth-X, etc. were various parallel Earths, often corresponding to the smaller publishers DC bought. They are sometimes referred by publisher (“Charlton Earth”, “Quality Earth”, “Fawcett Earth”, etc.) for greater clarity.
- “New Earth”, also called Post-Crisis DC Universe, is the world that replaces the pre-Crisis parallel Earths in 1986. It sort of resembles a revised, modernised Earth-1 whose past sort of resembles Earth-2, but those are but broad guidelines.
New Earth‘s timeline was altered on several occasions (Zero Hour, Trinity, the Legion of Super-Heroes reboots in the far future, Infinite Crisis, etc.). In the late 1990s, the concept of Hypertime was proposed to solve continuity issues, but sort-of-abandoned over time. In 2006 a new vision of the architecture of the universe was proposed in 52, with 52 parallel timelines — many of which were evocative of the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Multiverse. This wasn‘t quite used and disappeared in 2011 with Flashpoint.
12/ What do you mean by “pre-Crisis scale” and “post-Crisis scale”?
During the late Silver Age - or Bronze Age - DC editorial felt that power levels had gotten over the top and made it difficult for readers to relate to the characters. In 1985, the Crisis on Infinite Earths thus deflated power levels for many DC Universe superhumans. The post-Crisis Superman no longer could juggle planets, and everything was aligned to match.
This was especially visible in the numbers used by Mayfair Games authors - the numbers in the second edition of the game (1989, post-Crisis) are much smaller than those in the first edition (1985, immediately pre-Crisis). The iconic number is Superman‘s strength going from 50 to 25, which in DC Heroes terms means a thirty-million-fold difference. Almost all the super-powerful characters were aligned on Superman‘s scores in the second edition rules, marking a Great Compression of power levels as characters in the DC Universe do not normally exceed Superman‘s might. The impact diminishes as one approaches street-level characters.
Hence the “pre-Crisis scale” and the “post-Crisis scale”.
An important trick is that, when we write pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths characters, we will normally do so on a post-Crisis scale, which will be specified in the writeup. The main reason is that nobody we know plays DC Heroes First Edition, and most people don‘t even have access to Mayfair‘s first edition stats. A pre-Crisis scale writeup would thus be useless to the majority of readers (since they have nobody to compare those to) and look bizarre to boot.
13/ What do you consider to be maximum human capabilities?
We don‘t. The odds of having a human being who is categorically stronger than Batman at his peak are minuscule, but such persons do exist. And it‘s entirely possible that there exists a guy who‘s categorically stronger than *this* guy. We assume a normal distribution - and the right-hand tail of the distribution may extend really far, though that concerns vanishingly few persons.
Furthermore, the genre of the stories plays a role - some martial arts stories have humans performing manifestly superhuman feats, and some Golden Age and Silver Age stories had non-powered mystery men performing obviously impossible feats.
“Maximum” human levels can be handled by checking the scores of characters that are absolute top dogs in their trade(s), such as Batman, Captain America, Lex Luthor, Dr. Strange, Dr. Doom, Batgirl III (Cassandra Cain), Hal Jordan, Shang Chi, Lady Shiva, Green Arrow, Deadshot, etc. for reference.
14/ Shouldn‘t Marvel characters lift less than 100 tons?
In the 1980s, Marvel published wonderful sourcebooks. These featured an editorial edict that the top value for powerhouses such as Thor or Hercules would be 100 tons (12 APs in DC Heroes, 12 Ranks in DC Adventures). Apparently it was felt that having people lift more would stretch suspension of disbelief. If true this is very comparable to the contemporary decision at DC to reduce power levels after the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
However, in the actual comics, many characters routinely lift more than 100 tons - the earliest famous example being Sasquatch stopping and throwing back a DC10 while it was attempting to take off, or ripping hundreds of tons of rock out of Tundra. Since our methodology is based on observed facts and we have a handy tool to estimate superhumans strengths - the Attribute Points of DC Heroes - the 100 tons rule is basically ignored in favor of what‘s actually on the page.
Marvel stories continued to mostly ignore the 100 tons “limit” (sometimes because writers or artists had no clear notion of what very large objects weigh), and even sourcebooks ended up using a vague “class 100” notion that no longer refers to tons. Inter-companies crossovers also all depicted a similar strength scale between the Marvel Universe, DC Universe and other fictional universes — without the Marvel characters being vastly less strong than DC‘s high-strength characters.
15/ Why are many major DC Comics characters missing from writeups.org?
Generally, the profiles in DC Heroes and DC Adventures are considered to be just fine. Plus, these stats serve as much as benchmarks as they serve as character stats, so they are immovable. Writeups about specific versions/era of the character do pop up on writeups.org, though.
Another aspect is that writing up major characters takes a wee bit of time. Consider the amount of material in just one short era of Wonder Woman, or of a C-lister such as the Black Widow (though she‘s more of a B-lister nowadays). We can‘t commit to such massive efforts with any regularity.
16/ What are the spelling and punctuation usages?
Nearly half the entries on writeups.org are written in British English, usually by our European contributors. This may be surprising to those who are not exposed to the language.
Many entries, usually by our French contributors, also use typographical rules from France (which is not quite what is called “French punctuation” in English-speaking countries). Those feature more whitespace around punctuation. Which, as it happens, is a good thing when reading on a screen. Most quotes on the site have been laid out using the French rules, since that‘s where punctuation conveying tone is particularly important and should be clearly seen even by people with older and/or smaller screens.
17/ Writeups not passing quality control
Not everything that gets run on the community discussion space can be published, especially things that were done years ago in times of laxer quality standards.
There is, however, a grey area of capsule writeups (the author couldn‘t or wouldn‘t do a full writeup), stats recovered from hard to find material and reposted on the list (Dragon Magazine articles, uncommon Mayfair material ), writeups which are but slightly updated official stats with a Who‘s Who profile, interesting but very old things, etc. Some such content did end up on writeups.org since it was eventually considered that it was better to do with it than do without it. Version numbers are generally super-low, and there‘s often a comment indicating the flimsy nature of the material.
Most such entries will be completely redone in time, so the information is not just preserved but integrated into an actual article. But by “in time” we mean “over a decade or more”.
In 2012, we‘ve started a text file archiving material of interest but not publishable as-is — Unpublished on WORG. However this is a low-priority project and the update are done at a slow pace.
18/ How can one one comment on an entry or signal a mistake?
Just hit the community discussion space. There‘s a minimal registration to cut down on spam, but past that there are no constraints - you can tick the box to never receive any e-mail from the group. And the Yahoo! Groups web interface has a notion of threading, so you can just read the posts about your post.
Comments, contributions, remarks, suggestions, etc. are always welcome unless one is unpleasant about it.
If the subject of the remark is DC Adventures/Mutants & Masterminds-centric, please hit our DCA discussion space instead.
19/ Why aren‘t the entries hyperlinked with each other?
Because after publishing a new entry we‘d have to go through every entry that might mention the character to edit in a link. We can‘t do that due to our pathetically limited resources (you can donate, though), and an automatic system would have issues - for instance think about an automatic search-and-replaces procedures for the Thing or Flash, or what happens after a writeup is split in two because it was too long.
20/ What is the publication workflow?
Entries are published on the Yahoo! community group using a standard format. Over the following week or so there‘ll be comments - though we have too few active participants to ensure a solid level of commenting, and are looking for good commenters.
Entries will get grabbed for web publication about seven weeks later, though it depends a lot on the webmaster‘s workload. Entries that are not to the format, require the webmaster to prepare illustrations from scratch or look unfinished risk getting skipped, and if that happens enough times may never get published as they disappear in the past.
Once published, entries can still be hit by two good things. Community members noticing a problem will post on the Yahoo! group using the tag “WORG Patrol” - the most common source of error is a DC Heroes Initiative score off by a few points, as the stats kept evolving as the research was going on and the writer forgot to check the addition one last time. The other good thing is an entry getting rewritten because the author feels that he can now do a better job of it, and decides to rewrite an old thing rather than create a new one.
21/ How are the stats done for the MMO articles?
We occasionally adapt player characters, non-player characters and monsters from Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs, MMOs for short) such as World of Warcraft or Everquest. In terms of game stats these are a bit peculiar, for four reasons:
- Those MMOs with a levelling mechanic usually have massive power differentials, such as fighters who can hit thousands of time harder than others or withstand thousands of time the punishment for no physically explainable reason. These power levels can have some in-game coherence, but seen from outside MMO logic they are peculiar.
- A related issue is power creep over the game‘s lifespan. Small random wildlife in recent areas can easily be much more powerful than the big bads in the game five or six years ago, to challenge the current level of powers the player characters have achieved.
- MMO-specific genre conventions to allow for a playable environment, such as infinitely-respawning opponents, very small and sparsely-populated worlds, a certain static nature to reality, diverse areas in close proximity with each other to facilitate travel, etc. Like most media genre conventions, those have some internal coherence but are problematic when viewed from another frame of reference.
- The emphasis of most such games on individual pieces of equipment (“loot”) each providing a minor power boost. These do not fit well with the paradigm of the game systems we use at writeups.org.
With all these constraints, the game stats for MMO entities on writeups.org are completely divorced from the in-game numbers — which is something we'd never do in another context, given the site‘s emphasis on faithfully representing the characters. Essentially we have to imagine these characters and monsters if they were in a story without the MMORPG tropes listed above - for instance a novel or comic book - and give them the stats they would have there, based on stock stats for soldiers and the like.
Likewise the non-game-stats descriptions discreetly omit the MMO logic such as people infinitely respawning after a short time. It presents places, organisations, events, etc. as if they were taking place in a fantasy world not constrained by MMO-isms. The articles generally have an emphasis on presenting the world and how it works… minus the pure game logic.
99/ Managing individual continuity, and what constitutes a ’version‘ of a character
This is question #99 so as to keep it out of the way — it‘s a complex subject that is only interesting for folks who spend a lot of time working on comic book characters.
Fictional characters in a massively shared universe are not one character per se. They‘re more like a mathematical set that includes a number of takes and versions about the character concept. The 2012 DCnU Catwoman is not Brubaker‘s early 2000s Catwoman is not the 1970s Earth-Two Catwoman and isn‘t the obscure cold-blooded killer version of Catwoman - or 1950s flight attendant Catwoman. Yet these are all part of the “Catwoman” set. And outside this set there are versions of Catwoman who aren‘t in continuity (such as Elseworld comics) or exist as more or less faithful versions of the character in other medium (in the video game Batman: Arkham City), in various TV series and films from Julie Newmar to Anne Hathaway, etc.)
Making a decision about what‘s in the set is what determines the scope of any given profile. Assessing which are different versions can be trivial, but some points can be hard to navigate :
When documenting a character, there‘s usually a number of “fractures” marking changes in the character and/or their continuity. The trick is to define whether they are significant. Examples:
- Global continuity breaks. Those usually occur at DC - Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, Flashpoint (somewhat unexpectedly), etc. Reality is explicitly rewritten with the past, present and future now all being different. Usually, this means different versions of the character even if there‘s a lot of shared ground.
- Retcons and retellings. An example of the first is our first entry for Carol Danvers - a character who only existed in flashbacks set before her first actual appearance, and who presents marked differences from the vintage character. An example of the second is one of our Black Lightning (Jefferson Pierce) entries, which covers a thoroughly modernised retelling of his origin where roughly comparable events happen in a different context - and the character matches his modernised milieu.
- Individual reboots, softboots and other variants. The character is redefined, but the rest of reality is usually unchanged. A “reboot” is usually an explicit reinvention of the character, is often triggered by an in-universe event (for instance a time travel adventure) and may retroactively affect the character‘s past, origin, etc. A “softboot” (short for “soft reboot”) usually means that various aspects of the character‘s past, characterisation, milieu, etc. have been tweaked without much of an in-universe reason - things are simply a bit different now.
The Legion of Super-Heroes famously underwent several reboots, as did Hawkman. Stating in Trinity that Wonder Woman had debuted at roughly the same time as Superman and Batman rather than years later was a softboot. Whereas the numerous little changes in Batwoman between 52 and Elegy are what is occasionally called a “stealthboot”.
- Continuity conflicts and stealthboots (short for “stealthy reboot”). A story introduces elements that no longer work with previously-known information. This may be accidental ; this may be deliberate ignorance of previous continuity efforts. Both the Marvel and DC Universe officially exist in a state of never-ending stealthboot since the age of super-heroes is perpetually supposed to have begun about 10 or 12 years ago.
This means that all published stories didn‘t occur as chronicled - since for instance a story written in 1979 would now occur circa 2006, which is a very different environment. It has also become more common for the last 10 or 15 years to have a sort of Schrödinger‘s continuity where nobody knows whether a past event has happened (and how) until it is referenced and this may be contradicted the next month.
That one is more subtle - the character can be considered a separate entity from its previous state without any continuity break. Examples:
- Changes in voice. The events themselves are not altered but the characterisation, tone and “voice” of the stories change noticeably, to the point where different Personality sections (and even different stats, particularly social and mystical scores) may be required. This is often the result of a change of writer.
- Power creep. Role-players have a tendency to consider that all fictional characters gain experience and develop their capabilities over time. While this is obviously not true in many genres, there‘s some truth to that for comic-book characters - especially those with superhuman powers, since there‘s a sort of slow power creep in the main super-heroes universes. This is a combination of having the characters perform more impressive feats than the last time (which means that their recurring opponents will often increase in power to match) and subconsciously aligning characters on a powerful exemplar (for instance having all speedsters perform some Flash-like feats, or all ice manipulators do the same tricks as Iceman).
- General evolution of skills, powers, equipment that are a result of the story.
Generally, past two or three notes such as “before this point, her AUR was 04”, “this piece of equipment only appears after this point”, “after the incident, Bob is a changed man”, etc. one may start thinking about whether we‘re still dealing with the same version of the character, stricto sensu. This might suggest a breakpoint to present the information in a clearer way and in shorter writeups.
Another, more pragmatic element in the length of the writeup. Over the years there was an evolution of the expected degree of detail and completeness in entries. This resulted in increasingly longer writeups, until this became a problem and breaking the entries into smaller writeups became necessary.
Given the existence of the fractures noted above, selecting one or more such fractures as breakpoints to produce shorter, sequential entries is an obvious choice. In practice this seldom works out cleanly, with the two typical situations being:
- Characters with multiple fractures yet very little material. A strict approach, where the various versions of the character are treated as distinct characters (for instance a pre-Crisis version and a post-Crisis version) would result in minuscule writeups or no writeup at all due to lack of material. In many cases, we will produce a writeup that covers the various versions as if nothing had happened - because there‘s little observable difference between the “before” and “after” states.
For instance, many minor DC villains with a reasonable number of appearances spread over 40+ years are described across the Crisis on Infinite Earths, various Golden and Silver Age continuity conflicts, Zero Hour, Earth-1 and Earth-2 versions as just one version of the character. This is not the technically correct approach, but pragmatically it is what works — as long as there are continuity notes pointing out the issues and which shortcuts were taken. Sportsmaster is an example.
- Characters with tonnes of material with no obvious, strong fractures - or with fractures that are not conductive to entries of an appropriate length. In those cases entry length wins - the profile is divided in units of an appropriate length, with some of the cut-off points being somewhat arbitrary. The series of Spitfire (Jacqueline Falsworth) writeups includes both strong and weak cut-off points. In some cases we end up stuck with a large writeup since there‘s no fracture, even arbitrary, like with the first Typhoid Mary entry or the Wonder Woman (Gail Simone take) one.