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Unreliable Narrator / Tabletop Games

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  • Nearly all of the background material for Warhammer 40,000 is told from possibly inaccurate histories and skewed propaganda pieces, making the exact nature of the setting dubious at best.
    • While all of the material is written from the perspective of some particular group, which naturally wants to make itself the most sympathetic, the Imperium takes a Nineteen Eighty-Four approach to the way it handles information.
    • This trope (along with Future Imperfect) was specifically invoked when the Horus Heresy novels were first released. When fans pointed out that events in the novels contradicted what was in the 40k backstory, GW outright said "the backstory is history filtered through ten thousand years. The novels are what really happened."
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    • Invoked again with the Tau, who were initially introduced as an Always Lawful Good faction after part of the player base complained that there was too much GRIMDARK in the setting. After another section of the player base complained that the Tau were ruining the GRIMDARK, information popped up about forced sterilizations, concentration camps, and various other traditionally evil acts on the part of the Tau. The kicker? In-Universe, all of said information comes from the Imperium's propaganda machine, putting the right to Alternate Character Interpretation squarely in the players' laps.''
    • Games Workshop once said that while all published material is canon, not all of it is true...
  • And like Warhammer 40,000 the regular Warhammer books are also written in an unreliable sort of way.
  • Much like the above Warhammer example, all of the material on BattleTech is written from an in-universe perspective, always of some particular person or organization. This goes for everything, even the technical readouts on new 'Mechs and such. ComStar was the original viewpoint group, but it has since branched out to every faction. Some of the earlier books had significant errors (people doing things before their stated date of birth, or 'Mechs being developed before the invention of Battlemechs, etc), and the in-universe perspective allowed them to chalk it up to different perspectives or deliberate propaganda. It also allowed them to Retcon things that they didn't want.
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  • Traveller Sourcebooks are kind of this way too, though far more reliable as it is a more mundane setting. There is enough leeway for a good gamemaster to go every which way.
  • Used as a justification for adventure hooks in Unknown Armies, in the form of rumours that may or may not be true as the GM decides. One example: "Bigfoot has a social security number".
  • Almost all source materials for games set in Greg Stafford's "Glorantha" (RuneQuest, HeroQuest, Dragon Pass, Nomad Gods) along with books (King of Sartar) are written in the style of Unreliable Narrators with no one absolute truth.
  • Large parts of Shadowrun supplements were written as posts on an online message board, and the authors were ever eager to point out that anything could be wrong, exaggerated, or invented.
  • All of the world background in White Wolf's Old World of Darkness is presented in this way. Each book. This is most notable in the splatbooks: each faction tells a different version of history in which their own faction is somehow older, smarter, and generally more awesome than all the others. Each game line had its own creation myths filtered through the interpretations and prejudices of whatever faction is the focus of the book you're reading and most are mutually exclusive.
    • The largest one: Demon: The Fallen. We never get the other viewpoint, and the viewpoint we do get is filtered through several millennia of resentment.
  • Many 2nd edition Dungeons & Dragons sourcebooks, and most notably the Planescape ones, are assigned specific narrators. (This also includes the Ravenloft Van Richten's Guides and a bunch of others.) Planescape had more unreliable narrators than others, considering the fact that at least one of them was certifiably insane by human standards...
    • In fact, the Splat book Faces of Evil: The Fiends had several oddball narrators presented as contributors, but by far the most interesting - and likely most unreliable - one was the blue slaad Xanxost who was... Who was a slaad. That was the best way the editor could describe Xanxost. Xanxost seemed to be less chaotic than most of its kind, being able to write complete sentences and follow a single train of thought for nearly an entire paragraph at times, but was distracted easily (mostly by its appetite), repeated itself often, and seemed to have trouble counting. (Xanxost appeared later to narrate the chapter on the Quasielemental Plane of Steam in the later book The Inner Planes, the editor of that book claiming it was recruited to pen the chapter because feedback to its commentary in the former book was overwhelmingly positive.)
    • An especially interesting example of this was the Netheril: Empire of Magic sourcebook that described said lost civilization in the Forgotten Realms. Except one particular archwizard of immense power was never mentioned in the entire book, despite being a prominent figure. That is, until you start to try to figure out who the narrator was...
  • Indie storytelling game The Adventures of Baron Munchausen makes every player into an unreliable narrator, and has specific mechanics governing how players can challenge the veracity of each others' tales.
  • The Deadlands source books are divided into two to three sections. The Posse Territory sections are for general use, and give about as much information as the world at large knows. No Man's Land is for information only certain people would know, like the existence of Harrowed or how Huckster magic works. Both of these sections are filled with untruths, ranging from simple misinformation to Blatant Lies. The Marshall's Only sections have the lowdown on how things really work. Part of the setting's mystique is having the inner workings of the Reckoning remain a mystery to the players. Then, to make it all even more interesting, several of the Marshalls Only sections are double-bluffs, leadinig metagaming players to think there's something sinister going on when in fact there isn't.
  • The first and early second edition sourcebooks of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG were all written from the subjective in-universe point of view of the clan or faction that was the primary focus of the book. This was done both for flavor and to give the GM the freedom to decide what was true and what wasn't in his campaign. This approach was eventually abandoned during the second edition because Wizards of the Coast thought it was too confusing for d20 players.
  • All of the character stats in the The Dresden Files RPG are treated this way, as extrapolations made by Billy, the RPG's writer and werewolf from Harry's "case files". He admits flatly that this heavily underestimates the power of a lot of important figures (like the White Council's senior members, the Denarians, Cowl, etc.), allowing the GM to make them as powerful as he or she desires. It also means that future books are not constrained to the metaphysics or stats laid out in the RPG.
  • Hoyle's Rules of Dragon Poker starts off with a fictional history of the game, in which the author offers two possible origins of the game, mocks both and ultimately chides the reader for not believing the more fantastic one when it turns out to be (allegedly) true. All this happens within about a page and a half.


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