Thursday, August 05, 2010

In Which The Warlock Has a Showdown with Destiny...

In my recent defense of John Wick's "Play Dirty", I mentioned the idea of the "heroic destiny"--the premise that, given a character in a role-playing game, said character should be challenged with great tribulation so that they can evolve, meet that challenge, and emerge with a sense of victory.

It's been my experience that, while this is a great (and admirable!) aim, it's very hard to achieve at times. There are a lot of victories in gaming that tend to feel hollow or empty. Players can come away from many combats saying "Oh, I guess I'm down a healing surge or two" (or, insert other HP-tracking method here), with other encounters following suit. Players are often expected to succeed, one way or another, with actual setbacks coming few and far between.

Back at Wittenberg, when I was still an undergrad, one of my fellow Dirty GM's--Callon, by name--really managed to flip this on its head. I had been playing Maxwell Craedon, a 6'6" mountain of a Fighter/Paladin, but more so...I (as a player) had been trying to play Maxwell as a Lawful Good character. That's definitely a difficult thing for me!

Session after session, game after game, Callon managed to challenge my assumptions in-game about good and evil, law and freedom. What's more, he didn't pull any punches in doing so. The villains he created were unabashedly evil and unafraid to take advantage of both player and character hang-ups and weaknesses.

The resolution of Maxwell's quest--a search for The Dark Tower, straight out of Stephen King's storied septuplet--was made all the sweeter for these tribulations. Maxwell became an exarch of his deity, acting as a force for justice across the planes.

It's been a long while since I had found such a fitting end--a heroic destiny--for a character in game. Much of that's been due to the fact that I've been GMing most of the games I've been involved in over the past few years, but even when playing, games either devolved into a series of continual speed-bumps or were so drenched in failure that mere survival was considered victory (Pyramid of Shadows, anyone?!). Luckily for me, another GM has managed to pull off the 'heroic end' particularly well.

Kat--another devotee of John Wick's--has been running her weekly Marrakesh games with a decidedly schizophrenic group. My ranger-mariner, Ishmael, had all but turned into a terrorist, destroying Narbonne warehouses and the like in an attempt to drive them from Marrakesh. After a disastrous encounter with other members of the native resistance, Ishmael was all but set on a suicide mission to destroy two Narbonne warships in the Marrakeshi harbor. His background had sat idle for many sessions, with little resolution of his mysterious shipwreck or the reappearance of his comrades. Ishmael's party was starkly divided over his actions...

But at the end, all was tied together. In a short session with Colt's swordmage, Sayyid, Ishmael found himself back aboard a ghostly, corrupted version of the Fleur de Tempete, fighting his old crew-members and drifting between alternate realities. This culminated in a massive sea battle as two versions of the Fleur de Tempete drifted together, each fighting the kraken that would send it to its doom.

By the end, Ishmael had found redemption. He had saved his crew and avoided the curse that his captain had laid over the ship. And more, he did so by relying on his comrades--Sayyid proved invaluable in stopping the captain. As the alternate realities merged, Ishmael disappeared into the void, ready for a new adventure.

That, friends and neighbors, was a heroic end. After challenge after massive challenge, I (both in-game and out) felt satisfied. That, above all, was the essence of El Willy's "big win". Here's for more games like it!

And now? Well, continuing in Kat's campaign means bringing in a new character: the tiefling summoner Sular Etani Mahalesh. Expect a character background up next week. Plus, we're heading out for our one-day survey of GenCon on Sunday--and, with it, Keith Baker's Eberron game!--so expect some observations and pics from there in our next entry.

Game on, brothers and sisters!

1 comment:

  1. Thunderforge11:02 PM

    Great post! I think that the nature of the challenge largely depends on the setting though. Indiana Jones is going to be challenged differently than a librarian who is starting to see some Lovecraftian mythos stuff. Moreover, I think that it depends on the nature of the game system too. White Wolf games are all about delving into the issues of humanity and the challenge to overcome the struggle within. Superhero games rarely go beyond whether or not to reveal your secret identity to the woman you love and instead the challenge is to save all that you hold dear by stopping the unstoppable villain.

    But I think it's still possible to do that in any game. Give the pulp hero some snakes, the (apparent) death of the woman he loves, and a struggle to win his father's acceptance. Give the mythos hero (or victim) a few strange happenings to try to make sense of in their life. They don't all have to be deep and profound, but I think that it's the struggle that really makes a character memorable.