Friday, November 20, 2015

On Being a Hero

In the last blog post I discussed Flaws and why they are important to characters and character development in RPGs. I then went on to list ten example flaws that you can use on NPCs or Player Characters. As this is a blog tailored more towards DMs, the list wasn't necessarily populated with only flaws that would be a good idea to pick as a player character.

A lot of comments seemed to think many of the flaws would be a bad choice for a player to pick, as they can slow down the game or cause major problems. Other comments thought some of them were bad because they were flaws that you wouldn't think would belong to a hero. Flaws that would likely prevent a character from picking up the mantle of a dangerous adventurer. Lastly, others thought that the flaws were fairly generic. This last one I will concede, I hadn't thought very creative flaws would be best for that blog post, but I will try to think of some for this one.

Flaws That Interrupt The Game

It is my opinion that anything that can interrupt a game is more the fault of the player and dungeon master, than that of the character. I will use the Lazy flaw from my last blog post to explain, although I think this applies for any character aspect that doesn't lend itself well to going with the flow of the group and DM.

A lazy character might not want to hike ten miles to save the princess, or will insist on sleeping until noon before starting the day's adventuring. This can cause conflict between the characters who want to just get things going, and the players who just want to move the story forwards. Some would argue that a lazy character would cause the game to constantly grind to a halt, as the rest of the players have to convince and motivate them to move forward with the party. I agree that something like this is possible, and maybe even likely, depending on the skill of the player. However, a skilled player knows when to throw a fuss for role-playing purposes, and when to move the game forward. A skilled Master of Dungeons knows when to let a conflict take place, and where to insert a hand-waved time-lapse, that allows the characters to stay true to themselves, while keeping the game fun.

Skilled players and DMs still need to control the game to ensure that it doesn't turn into "convince Player 3 to join the game simulator", but it isn't as hard as you might think, and can be easily accomplished with some Out-of-Character communication.

Characters that slow the progress of the party can be a source of story and role-playing opportunity, not just a hindrance. Someone who sleeps late may cause the party to miss the last passenger barge out of a port, causing them to pay a seedy smuggler to transport them. A character that complains about a long travel might find himself left alone in the comfortable tavern, that suddenly seems less of a welcoming, safe environment now that he is all alone with bags full of treasure. 

As you can see, characters that you might assume would only create a boring game, can be a source of conflict, drama, and story. This brings me to my next point....

Flaws that Create a "Bad Hero"

Some readers after the last post made an argument that was close to: "Why would a character with Flaw x become a hero?" This applied to a few of the flaws, but was most relevant to the Easily Scared flaw. Heroes are impossibly powerful beings who travel the world going on adventures and saving the world, why would a coward become such a thing, when the life of a farmer or butler would be so much better suited to them?

Luckily, we can turn to fiction to find all sorts of Unlikely Heroes. Dungeons and dragons is largely based on the work of Tolkien, so I think a great example would be Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo was easily scared by many of the monsters and situations he encountered on his adventure, but he kept going and adventuring. By the end of his adventure he was quite the hero, and no one would have expected it at the beginning. He was no Conan the Barbarian, but the entire story is set up to show the reader that heroes can come from even the most unlikely of people.

No one is saying that players should create a character that runs from every single encounter and never participates in the game. Even incredibly scared people realize when it is important to fight. The players, as well as the Dungeon Master can move the story forward and create real drama around a character that isn't particularly well-suited for the life of a hero.

I'm tired of seeing the same Drizzt clones in all of my games. Create a character that isn't very impressive and see where the story goes. It might be a little bit of work, and might be different from what you're used to, but I think the rewards will greatly make up for it. 

Of course you may still disagree with me, please leave a comment on FacebookTwitter, and Google Plus, telling me how wrong I am (or how right), or leave a comment on Reddit.

And since I promised earlier, here are some flaws that are a little more creative than the ones I posted yesterday:

  1. Doesn't believe in magic - This skeptic knows that there are hucksters around every corner, and has learned not to believe their eyes. Never believing that any of the magic they see around them is anything more than a clever trick.
  2. Multiple Personality Disorder  - Through a magical accident they have absorbed one or more other consciousnesses into their own. They find it very difficult to make a decision, or to relate to people. Some personalities may or may not remember what the others experience.
  3. Literal - They come from a culture with no metaphors. They take everything anyone says at face value, having a very difficult time understanding hyperbole and metaphor.
  4. Superstitious - This character has a plethora of rules to follow to prevent bad luck. Always knock three times on your helmet before a fight or the enemy will do it with their weapon, stab each fallen enemy in the throat after a battle where you've sustained damage or the wound won't heal, don't step on a crack or you'll break your mothers back.

Master of Dungeons has recently put out a deck of cards containing 32 Non-Combat Magical Items, inspired by the ten or so that have been posted on this blog. They are available here at DriveThruRPG. They are on sale for $5.99 for one more day and it would go a long way to supporting an independent blog. I'll be able to create much more content if I can raise some funds from this, maybe even hire an artist.