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The Problems with Lore

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Senior Member


So, this started out as a response in I just realized why Trundle needed a lore change (http://na.leagueoflegends.com/board/showthread.php?t=3307295), but, I came to realize it's really best suited as its own thread.

I've been thinking long and hard on this subject, trying to figure out the best way to put words to the topic so as best to explain what I think the problems are, and I think I've come as close as I'm gonna get. Please forgive this post. It's going to be long, and rambly, weaving from topic to topic because I have difficulty staying as focused as I'd like, but I really tried to pinpoint the problems with the lore.

The lore for LoL is constantly contradictory. Not necessarily in details (though as retcons are used more and more, this also becomes the case), but in theme and objective. The direction the story is attempting to go in, the goal the creative team seems to be trying to accomplish is being fiercely opposed. Not by players though, but by the actual game itself. The result of this is perhaps the greatest actual problem with the game's lore

League of Legends lore is perpetually stagnant.

There's a large number of reasons why League of Legends lore is trapped in a state of non-action, but I'd like to start by giving the perfect example first.

Unresolvable Conflicts
Probably the worst plot thread in the game is that of Warwick and Soraka (or Kha'Zix and Rengar, who's story is equally problematic but at least better written).

Warwick and Soraka's story, specifically from Warwick's end of it, will never go anywhere. It is a moment frozen forever in time that can not proceed to any possible conclusion. The game simply will not allow it. As currently written, Warwick has only one goal, one singular motivation. He needs Soraka dead. Furthermore, he's on a clock, as he needs to do so before he loses his humanity completely, which means no time for diversions or secondary plots. His story is entirely dependent on killing Soraka and taking her heart, and it can't go anywhere else until he does so, or until he's killed first.

Except he can't kill her, and he'll never be able to. Likewise, he can not be killed. Why? Because if Soraka dies, how will we summon her to play in-game? Much as I wouldn't be surprised if Morello wants to, Riot is never going to delete Soraka from the game, or any other champion for that matter. The playerbase's wrath would be absolute, and from a gameplay standpoint they'd have nothing to gain. No, every champion added is here to stay. As a result, any conflict where the primary driving force is a desire to kill another champion can never be resolved. Any storyline focused on such a conflict is bound to be static, unchanging. Because champion survival is assured and the conflict is unresolvable, all tension, all suspense, all intrigue is lost. It becomes meaningless, and that story becomes boring as a result. Who can invest themself in such a story knowing nothing will ever come of it? Ther very best you could hope for is a saturday morning cartoon plot, where the villains make some big scheme and the good guys foil it in the end, creating a rote, formulaic plot. And there's some value in that kind of storyline, it can be entertaining, but somehow I highly doubt it's actually Riot's intention to create that kind of plot. They seem to be aiming too big in broad strokes for that to be their objective.

So is a conflict based story impossible within League of Legends? No, of course not, it's an entire game predicated on conflict afterall. It is simply a conflict where death of one participant or another is the sole objective that's invalidated by the rules of the game. As such, a much better example of a working conflict is Jarvan IV vs. Swain.

Now, make no mistake, Jarvan and Swain would just love to kill one another, but that is not their sole objective. It's not the only driving force of their conflict. Because Jarvan and Swain are more than just two guys who really hate one another. They're representatives of their respective factions. Not just that, they're leaders of their respective factions. They have multiple ways to win against one another. Theirs is not just a struggle to vanquish each other, it's a fight for dominance over the whole (or most of) Valoran. It's the entirety of Demacia vs. the entirety of Noxus. It's factional. Not only that, but since not every conflict between them will be life and death, there's room for defeat on one side that doesn't instantly end the plot, allowing it to continue into multiple stories.

And I'm not saying every conflict needs to be factional either. There's room for conflict between individuals, with no factional bias involved. But again, that conflict can't be built upon a single-minded goal of death, because that's a story that can't ever be resolved. There needs to be room for rivalries and feuds that aren't to the bitter end.

So, you might say that only a handful of champions have such focused storylines, but I was only using Warwick/Soraka as the purest example of a story that can not progress. Certainly, there are more of them, and more reasons than just death-focused narratives.

Let's take a look at what's happening in the lore right now. Riot's making a big push on Freljord. Lots of new skins, new/rewritten lores, a new Freljord themed map. This is the most attention we've seen paid to Freljord in how long? Probably since Sejuani was first added as a champion over a year ago. So tell me... Just how much has Freljord's storyline moved since we last checked in on it?

It has not moved at all. Not one inch. Everyone is still in a state of tension, preparing for upcoming war. Ashe is still the largest power in the region, Sejuani is still striving to start a conflict with her, and Lissandra is still allied with her. Oh yes, we learned some new details about some of the characters involved. But the actual plot? It hasn't budged. Nothing's actually changed. It's static. Even when Sejuani WAS added last january, her addition didn't actually move the plot. Freljord's pretty much the same as it was when the Journal of Justice last touched upon it, ironically in a story about the trolls starting to cause trouble.

Really, the only truly new thing happening is the revelation of Lissandra's evil nature, and that reveal is only available to us, the players. Even Quinn, though she knows of the threat of the Ice Witch, has no evidence connecting her to Lissandra, only suspicions. And so it falls on us the players to do... Absolutely nothing. Because we are 100% passive in this story.

Which brings me to the next problem.

The lore asks players be passive in an interactive medium

We, as players, are 100% passive in the plot of LoL. We are observers, watchers, readers. We do not participate. This despite the fact that League of Legends is a video game, and video games are an interactive medium. Even traditional RPGs with their grandiose plotlines, the old school kind like Final Fantasy before moral choices became a thing, still required players to actually progress through the game in order to continue them. There was still some level of interaction. But in League, there is none. Not only that, but Riot is actively trying to put as much distance between the players and the plot as possible.

In League of Legends, who do you play as? What is the player in this setting? The player is a summoner. You are not your champion, rather, you summon a champion to fight on your behalf and take control of them. But you, the player, are still playing as a summoner of the league. And by their own admission, Riot is trying to steer the plot away from the league, and onto the champions themselves, because the league's setting is not especially conductive to a character driven narrative.

And this is true! It really is not the best setting for a character driven narrative... So why is that what we're getting? Or, I should say, why is that what they want to give us, because we're not getting a character driven narrative either. We're hardly getting a narrative at all.

League of Legends is a sport, not just an e-sport in the real world, but even within its own fictionalized setting. A competition between two factions summoning champions to fight for them to resolve differences, with spectators from all over the continent watching it as entertainment/leisure activity. Even real world sports have stories. They wouldn't be made so often into movies if they didn't. Struggles of the underdog to claim the top spot, conflicts and rivalries between teammates or opposing players. And true, sports do have some stand out characters, the star players. But would you really say a sport has a character driven narrative?

Let's look at some other e-sport games. Like Starcraft. Starcraft has a plot, and a really big one, with a lot of emphasis on characters and interactions between them. But all of that is relegated to the single-player portion of the campaign. The multiplayer has none. Or hell, let's just even look at other multiplayer games. True that most multiplayer modes don't have plots other than travelling through the singleplayer campaign with a co-op partner, but a few of them do. Mass Effect 3's multiplayer made each player a participant, a soldier fighting on behalf of the war effort against the Reapers. But again, the big narratives were in singleplayer. But you could argue those multiplayer games don't have actual characters in them. Well, what about Team Fortress? Certainly it has a wild cast of eclectic characters, each with defined personalities, but it still doesn't have a plot that's driven by them.

And that's because a character driven narrative simply doesn't work in a multiplayer game. Even Riot is tacitly admitting this by trying to distance the plot from the league.

But though they can try, they can't completely separate the story they're trying to craft from the game that it's attached to, and this is where things circle back around and lead to the lore being stagnant. Because again, a video game is an interactive medium, and the lore that they're creating demands that we be passive observers, better suited to a movie, a tv/webshow, a book, a comic... anything really, except for a video game. And indeed, Riot is still creating a video game, we can see all their efforts put towards this with constant updates to the game.

But the plot never moves. Because it can't. We have no way of interacting with it, we can't push it forward, and Riot isn't making movies/shows/books/comics/whatever, they're making a video game. They're crafting this wonderful, huge story... And they have absolutely no way to give it to us. They've crafted a story for another medium than the one that they have, and so the result is a story that has no way to move forward, on any plot threat. Every so often we get a nudge here and there, but, the times when the story has been at it's best for the game, when it's really fit the League as best as it can, is when it focuses on the big picture stuff. Things like Kalamandra, or Noxus vs. Ionia, where the factional conflicts are the focus and champions are relegated to bit parts. Nothing more than a colourful cast of backup characters to add some spice and fireworks.

It's been explained that many older champions have lores that are too insulated, their story arcs completed, and as such they no longer fit into the ideal for this new character driven narrative being pursued. But for the type of story that actually fits the game? They were perfect! Because they were left free to be attached to virtually any conflict, they could fit into almost any game. Somebody like old Trundle, who had finally found a place where he belonged within the League, was unattached and free to be summoned to play any role that was needed amidst larger, more faction based storylines.

But, on this point, let me diverge a bit from the topic at hand, to say how utterly insulted I am at the notion that a completed story arc means a character has nowhere to go.

On characters with 'complete' arcs

Specifically, I am referring to this post by RiorRunaan:

Quick comment: I'll have more coming on this soon enough, but yes, this is generally in line with some of the trouble we ran into with Trundle's old story. It felt complete--it was a full arc, any tie we could make between it and what we wanted to do with Trundle as a frost troll felt very arbitrary and band-aid plot point rather than meaningful development. Lots of our older champions actually face this problem... their plot arcs are more or less closed off, their motivations limited, their stories more or less one-directional. We want to keep conflict alive, we want to keep the relationships between champions dynamic, contentious, and dramatic. A lot of the updates you're seeing now are made with that in mind.

A commonly overlooked aspect of writing, is that the best way to write a character is to treat them like a human being, like an actual person. And actual people do not just go through one character arc their whole lives. In a planned story with a beginning, middle, and end, yes, it is common that a character will go through one arc, because there's only enough time to go through so much, and the story is often an exploration of their development throughout. But what about a story with no ending in sight? Then it is common, nay, it should be expected that a character will go through multiple stages of development. That there will be multiple character arcs for them. Because nobody today is the same person as they were 5 years ago, and no one was the same then as they were 5 years before that.

The idea that because Trundle had gone through a completed arc (which is debatable, because there was still some room for more exploration there) means there was no where else you could have taken him, that is offensive to me. It's like telling me that, should I ever achieve my life's goal (to be a professional writer, amusingly enough), that the story of my life is over. If you did that, I'd tell you to **** right the hell off. If there are absolutely no more stories you could possibly have told about Trundle, if there is no way at all that you could have connected him to other characters or factions, then you simply aren't trying hard enough.

Besides, as I detailed earlier with when discussing Soraka and Warwick, which should be noted were a pair of relatively recent lore rewrites made after this course change towards a character driven narrative began, newly reworked champions are not necessarily any more open. Their conflicts are alive in name only, because in truth they're dead on arrival, incapable of progress.

The problems with the lore don't stop there either. There are several other issues that crop up by trying to apply a storyline that's more champion focused to LoL, such as the sheer number of champions. There's over a hundred, and more coming constantly. How do you tell stories about all of them? How do you give that many characters equal share in a story without turning it into a convoluted mess (just look to DC or Marvel comics, especially when they get into huge company wide crossover stories, to see how much of an incomprehensible slog this can be). If you don't give them equal share, how do you decide who gets the limelight, and do you risk alienating the fans who wanted to see other champions get the focus?

What to do about it

So then what's the solution? If the lore is broken for the game, how do you fix it? There is, really, only three solutions I can see, though I'd love to learn about others that perhaps I just can't think of.

The first is to change the direction of the lore to one that actually suits the game. The problem with this is that Riot does not seem to actually have any interest in doing so. They've established all these champions, they (supposedly) have a ton of stories about them that they want to tell, they don't seem to want to go back the direction that they came. Especially since, after all the effort and time they've taken to start pushing things in this direction, backing down now would probably be rather embarassing.

So then option two is to find a new medium, either one more befitting the passive storytelling methods that Riot has thus far preferred, or at least one better suited to a character-oriented storyline such as a single-player game. And while I'm certain there are those at Riot who would love to do this, it does have its own problems. Namely, it would be a collossal investment in dangerous, uncharted waters, potentially diverting development focus away from the gameplay aspect of League, which I can't imagine they would ever want to do.

A third option, and, at this point, honestly what looks to be the closest thing to a true solution, is to just separate the two entities entirely. Come out and say 'League of Legends has no storyline. All this plot applies to the fictional world of Valoran, but the game League is plotless, using characters from our fictional world but having no relation whatsoever storywise'. Though even this is really little more than a bandaid solution. While it solves the problem of League and the plot being fundamentally incompatible, and frees the plot to progress a bit more freely and create any type of conflict without worry of how it would interfere with gameplay, there would still remain the issue that there is currently no real medium with which to tell all these stories that they (allegedly) have planned out to tell us.

At the very least though, it might get people to stop asking why new champions bother to join the League. If I may be excused for taking on a combative tone for a moment; Riot, why do you think people keep asking this question on such a regular basis? Like clockwork, whenever a new champion arrives, or an old one has a lore rewrite, there are multiple people who will ask why they joined the league. Why is this? It goes back to what I said before. We, the players, do not play as champions. We play as the summoners who control the champions. And we want to know how the story relates to us personally. It's not that we're not interested in the champion's own adventures, but we're playing in an interactive medium, and we want to know what impact our interactions are having on it.

So there you go. Honestly, that's not even every problem with the current lore. I haven't even touched on the problematic prevalence of retcons (enemy to consistent, coherent plotlines everywhere), but I think I went over the heart of the problem. Feel free to post, comment. I hope perhaps some Reds will even see this and pass it along.

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...I'm just going to be honest here, I didn't read any of this, yet I did give it an up vote because...I don't really know...

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Junior Member


What you say probably is true;the problem is that lore for all champions is kinda static;but imo there are some way to develop it.
One is just develop the lore forum in a way that all lore-add are grouped and organized;while the lore of the champion keep to be more or less the same in game if u wish to know more ,about the league and the champion you like to play, you can just read stories in the forum.For example i liked the Quinn's report eventhough don't say more about the champion itself help to give the point of view of demacia about Frejlord.
What i mean is just to make the lore and the game 2 different things.While you can play the game without making too much questions cause the game is about team composition/teamplay and there are games where you see play for example ashe and sejuani together when you know that actually shouldn't happen.So just make a section for the lore only ;cause i really like the discussions about it ^^.

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Senior Member


Holy **** an intelligent Trundle argument that has actually swayed me into their thinking. I 100% agree with you on how the story is forced to be static. +1

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Senior Member



You've got my upvotes.

I'd like to throw in a fourth option for what could be done next, rather than this chaos. How about we actually, you know, act as the League and solve conflicts.
We've seen from the Noxus-Ionia match that champions do not need a specific faction to take part in large conflicts. Heck, half the champions weren't even from Noxus or Ionia. But it still made sense in the world, and nobody really questioned it.
The best part was, there was real impact in the lore from the game.
Why the hell was this not banked on? There could be countless menial conflicts mixed into real world-changing ones. I think players would enjoy either case. Or perhaps there might be a semi-annual in-house tournament, simply to work as a profitable event for the League and any participating City-States. Like you pointed out, it is treated as a sport, after all.

There are several ways that we could participate in the story. The problem is, Riot seems to hate the idea of it. We, as summoners, are slowly being removed from the equation. So what the heck are we supposed to do after that...? Sit and listen and play with our toys?

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Someone had a link to an Article that was an interview with Kitae. In it she said games with tournament style lore are bad lore wise.

Found it:

This scares me because if this ball keeps rolling who knows what they WON'T retcon...

The problem isn't new lore it's the removal of the old lore to make a new lore that doesn't fit the game. Honestly I think the kind of story that works in the game is two kinds, political conflict and intrigue, and internal conflict and relationships.

Also the new champs suck lore wise, like every one from Nautalis on. So many broody, i'm gonna getcha back champs that are cardboard cutouts or enigmas.

But really I think all they have to do is care about their story and not treat readers like they are stupid. With this whole Lissandra/Trundle fiasco I have learned two things.

1. Morrelo doesn't care about the story.

2. Kitae likes to treat us like we are stupid.

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Lead Designer


First let me say, thank you for a well thought out articulate post. You obviously put a lot of thought into it.

So your two major concerns seem to be.

  • Conflicts are set up but are never resolved
  • Players don't advance the story while they play the game

Resolving Conflict

I'll agree we haven't resolved many conflicts. I'd say we're in the stage of story telling where we are more revealing our characters and our world, and the conflicts within. Look at Freljord for example - we're just now revealing the full nature of the Freljord.

This is an exciting period in our storytelling. For example, I recently saw a thread asking for more information on the Shadow Isles. There is still a lot of mystery in this faction to be revealed.

But longer term I agree we need to both explore and resolve conflict. Let me use Soraka vs Warwick as an example.

Exploring their conflict would involve telling stories involving them both they help us better understand them as characters. This could include a more detailed exploration of their origin, or stories in which Warwick attempts to hunt Soraka as examples. Most comic book stories are of this sort (two characters are in conflict, and an encounter occurs involving but not resolving that conflict).

But resolving conflict is important as well. There are numerous ways we could resolve their conflict without killing Soraka:
  • Warwick could find another form of cure (what if Soraka used her powers to cure him?)
  • Warwick could dramatially slow his decent into bestiality
  • Warwick could kill Soraka, but she could then be reborn via the power of the stars
I'm not saying we're going to do any of those, but these are examples.

The bigger question is - how will we tell all these stories? We've experimented in the past with Judgements, the JoJ, and now Quinn's journals. These are all valid storytelling medium, but we need something bigger to explore the stories of Runeterra.

So how will you tell stories?

We're still working on that but we are considering all avenues. This includes novels, comic books, video. We're still in the very early stage, but we want to bring stories to players in mediums beyond bios and forum posts with images.

But what about advancing the storyline through playing League of Legends?

So we actually do this a little. I'll give Kha'zix and Rengar's quest as an example. When that quest activates, and a player wins the quest, they are in a sense resolving their conflict. Not in a permanent way. Not in an IP affecting way. But to the players in the game at that moment it is a story-significant moment.

Similarly if Twisted Fate and Graves face off, it becomes a story significant event. The difference is we don't support that in game right now, but we'd like to do more support for these kinds of events in the future, without compromising the core multiplayer experience.

BUT I am not trying to overstate the significance here. This isn't the same level of player-involved story exploration and momentum you can achieve in a single player RPG. So what is the solution?

Well one solution would be producing a single player RPG set in the League of Legends universe that allows for deeper story exploration. This is not a teaser, but this is possible, and it's something I'd like to see happen.

So in conclusion ....

We are looking to advance the story of League of Legends. We're considering many options, including traditional story telling mediums, and other games.

The stories of Runeterra are being introduced through the League of Legends, but they will be fully explored outside of the game.

We're going to continue to work hard to bring you stories within League of Legends through bios, faction events, and careful in-game story integration like the specters in Twisted Treeline.

And we will continue to build a foundation on which we can tell great stories. This includes establishing compelling characters with strong motivations, relationships, and conflict that set up the potential for future storytelling.

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Senior Member



So how will you tell stories?

We're still working on that but we are considering all avenues. This includes novels, comic books, video. We're still in the very early stage, but we want to bring stories to players in mediums beyond bios and forum posts with images.

Kitae, I really appreciate your whole reply, and as a fan of the lore, I'm down with good things being developed over time. That said, it feels like we've been hearing this particular "we're in the early stage of developing lore delivery methods" for over a year now(I don't want to dig up the old post but I know we had several).

The recent forum posts on quinn's exploration and zac's creation have been a really refreshing change, but compared to the olden days, when we were getting that level of content every week with the JoJ and then more on top of that with judgements and whatnot, it still feels kind of skimpy.

Any insight as to what sort of ideas you guys have been working on for the last year/year and a half? Were there big employment shakeups in the lore department employment or something?

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Senior Member


Thanks for the post Kitae. I just want to let you guys know that any games, books, comics, etc. that you release in relation to LoL, I will buy the hell out of. I really love the story in this game, even if it isn't always...consistent. Retcons and reboots suck, but have to happen sometimes to further a story.

But seriously. Runeterra RPG. Do. This. Please.

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Junior Member



So how will you tell stories?

We're still working on that but we are considering all avenues. This includes novels, comic books, video. We're still in the very early stage, but we want to bring stories to players in mediums beyond bios and forum posts with images.

But what about advancing the storyline through playing League of Legends?

It may seem kind of obvious, but i see a lot of potential in this through skins.
Bring out new skins that work to track a characters progression, or story development. (They could even become the new default skin, and the old default skin becomes one you can buy?)

As for giving the players more control, I think hosting events like the noxus vs ionia thing was a great example, but perhaps execute them on a larger scale that let potentially *everyone* get involved.

You can track match stats right? Well falling back on the same example again:

New patch declares the Sorka vs Warrick battle is on!
In that time all victories involving those two are tracked, and at the end of the time whoever has the most wins is considered to have won the event, the story progressing in their favour.
Some new skins, new items, reworks or whatever else then get released in accordance with this.

and thus the players them self have just played an active role in progressing the LoL story!