The Expanse: Questions of Canon

The Expanse series of novels details major characters and events that establish the setting where The Expanse Roleplaying Game takes place. Much of this is described in the core book, but when you’re writing an adventure, how much of the “canon” of the setting should affect what you’re writing and, if it does, does it matter if you change it? When designing your game, you’ll be faced with deciding how much the existing Expanse setting and series affects your story. The following are some techniques to use when dealing with it:

Art by Victor Leza Moreno

  • Inspiration: You can use the existing canon as a springboard for your own storyline. Use of existing characters and events gives you a healthy pool of stories, personalities, and ideas from which to create a foundation for a great campaign. This also creates an immediate level of recognition for you and players familiar with The Expanse series. The trade-off is that you are bound to those portions of the canon you incorporate into your game. For example, if you decide to use Miller as a major NPC in your game, you are limited to a certain periods of time where that would be possible, and you have to be aware of Miller’s ultimate fate (and the fact that your players may know it as well) unless you choose to change things. If you do, you might find it messes with the players’ expectations. That can be a good thing or a jarring and unpleasant experience.
  • Flexible Canon: You can use canonical elements in your game, such as the setting or past events, but choose to change some things that might conflict with your planned storyline and allow the player characters to significantly alter canon through their actions. All of the major components can remain prevalent, such as the major factions and locations, but with tweaks in the events that follow. What if there were more survivors of the Canterbury? What if the player characters were the ones hired to track down Julie Mao—or were hired in addition to Star Helix and Miller? What if your story involved the crew of the Rocinante as major NPCs? The “flexible canon” approach is generally the one we have taken with the Expanse RPG: Things are as described from the books, at least initially, but the potential exists for the player characters to change things. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be much tension or excitement for their story, would there?
  • Ignore Canon: You can bypass canon altogether, or base your story around events with little to no effect on existing canon. The Expanse setting is vast and you could tailor stories and events that barely even touch the established canon outlined in the fiction. An entire campaign could focus on a crisis on one of the many different stations, or center your story on an exploration crew traversing the outer planets.

Whatever you decide, make sure if your players are aware of existing canon, they are also aware of any important changes you make to avoid confusion and clashes of expectation. In addition, if you do alter major events, be aware of the chain-reaction it may have on other events and characters down the road.

Steve Kenson has been an RPG author and designer since 1995 and has worked on numerous book and games, including Mutants & Masterminds, Freedom City, and Blue Rose for Green Ronin Publishing. He has written nine RPG tie-in novels and also runs his own imprint, Ad Infinitum Adventures, which publishes material for Icons Superpowered Roleplaying. Steve maintains a website and blog at www.stevekenson.com.