When to retcon?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


If I make a bad call as a GM, I feel a strong temptation to halt the game, hash things out, and ask the party if they'd like a retcon. However, the last time I tried that, it left a bad taste in the group's collective narrative-continuity mouth.

Have you ever called for a retcon in your games? What lead to it, and do you still think it was the right call in retrospect?


I can't recall ever doing this in a game. I think I've been at least tempted to but never gave in to it. And I certainly wouldn't have suggested it out loud...lol


I try to let players know the result of uncertain actions ahead of time so we can hash it out before hand. I don't want players to be surprised by what their characters are doing, that's just bad controls at that point.
Ruling debates are focused on making the new rule for both PCs and NPCs and err on the side of not creating new strategies. With the Schrödinger's petrified cavalier example, I would have told the player that they'd seen stuff resting on the edge of the carpet left behind during previous teleports and that they'd need to move the cavalier.

As for actual retconning, I don't think I've ever done it. Though I have told the table I've forgotten something and asked if anyone remembers what actually happened.


My advice is to retcon only when all other options have failed to resolve the issue. Even after having a serious talk with your players and the group agreeing to it, just waving a hand and saying "that didn't really happen" is going to be dissatisfying at best. In most cases, there are better options available. I've gone through a lot of mental gymnastics to avoid retcons. If you really do believe it is the only way to resolve a problem, definitely talk it out with the group first. They might have ideas about the situation that you don't.

The only time I would say a retcon is 100% okay is if you're doing a one shot game and most of the party dies before the adventure gets going. If everyone dies within the first 10 minutes but wants to keep playing, it's fine to just wave a hand and say "you didn't die in the burning building, you actually found the hidden exit, what do you do next?" because that isn't going to mess with the narrative of a long running campaign.


No. I've never retconned anything beyond adding an extra piece of damage from a modifier that someone missed during their turn.


Trick the players into drawing from a deck every so often. Eventually, when the retcon happens, reveal they’ve been drawing from a modified Harrow Deck of Many Things that only has The Vision card. What just happened was a vision of what was going to happen, unless you want to completely change it, then it was the false vision of the future.

Done and done.

Silver Crusade

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DungeonmasterCal wrote:
I can't recall ever doing this in a game.

You can't recall... or did your GM retcon it?

*ominous music plays in the background*


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I basically only use it for X-card situations; “We’ll throw that out because it was triggering or otherwise uncomfortable.”


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Rysky wrote:
DungeonmasterCal wrote:
I can't recall ever doing this in a game.

You can't recall... or did your GM retcon it?

*ominous music plays in the background*

I'm the GM and now I'm in doubt...


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I've only ever retconned when I've made a significant rules mistake, such as (in 3.0) the fighter PC being subjected to Daze despite being 5th level. Which turned out to completely throw the fight, so we had to re-run it. A few hp either way might get added or subtracted if we missed some modifiers, but I generally wouldn't bother to change anything meaningful.


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I have a few times, but rarely for anything major. That said, the most recent time was also one of the most blatant I've ever done:

When my home game had to go on hiatus for a few months due to life changes among the group--including two players moving out of state for new jobs--we had just had a session the resulted in our first PC death. It was terribly inconvenient that the dead PC hadn't belonged to one of the departing players! So, when we finally got back to the game, I retconned which PC had died (with the absent player's permission, of course). We had already established that the druid they had been helping had reincarnated the dead PC, but we hadn't had the time to do any RP related to that, just some bookkeeping. The retcon let us have a more satisfying "outro" for that now-NPC, and saved the continuing PC from getting hosed by a suboptimal new race for her build.


I have done a few minor retcons here and there. I run mostly published adventures these days although I add some of my own content to flesh out minor things that I know my party is going to be interested in exploring and other things like that. I have had a couple times where something I added in in an earlier book conflicts with something I forgot was in a later book and if I can't adjust it behind the scenes to make sense I will talk to my party openly and let them know hey I need to tweak this or that because I messed up. Keep it short infrequent and be decisive when you do it and it doesn't mess up the narrative flow too much. In regards to the cavalier situation I probably would have left it at original call then spoken to the player. If they were really attached to that character as they weren't dead just calcified I would possibly create an opportunity for them to rescue said character though by no means would it be an easy task.


I have not GMed all that often. That said, I would not retcon for minor things unless they occurred in the last few minutes of the previous session. In general, I would admit the error, and come up with some way to make up any loss incurred. [Either by missed loot, spent magic items, or whatever.]

If there is a major change that needs to be accomidated, then I will consider retconning. This would include adding/removing a player to the group with thee retcon being that the added player was always there in back or that the lost player was called away from the party for reasons. As these kind of retcons occur at the beginning or end of a session, they don't interfere in the story nearly as much.

As to GM mistaken understanding of the rules, I have been a fan of the "for now this is the rule and I'll look it up before the next game' school. This promotes flow, reduces confusion and argument, and is easily accepted by all.

/cevah


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Quoth13 wrote:
I have had a couple times where something I added in in an earlier book conflicts with something I forgot was in a later book and if I can't adjust it behind the scenes to make sense I will talk to my party openly and let them know hey I need to tweak this or that because I messed up.

My buddy in an Exalted game does something he calls "rolling for paradox." Basically, if the players notice a plot hole and point it out, he has to roll a d10. On a 7-9 he gets one point of paradox, and on a 10 he gets two points of paradox. When he reaches ten points of paradox, he has to do something nice for his players (e.g. bonus treasure or a lucky break in the investigation).

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