One of our players* quotes a friend of his saying, "Now is the time for heroes."
I was thinking about our last session. The PCs found what seemed to be a temple and someone else's treasure. So they took it. There wasn't even a split second of discussion about right or wrong, let's try to be friends, maybe we should leave this, this isn't what we came for, etc. Not a moment. The only question was, can a sack that says it can hold 40 pounds of loot really hold 20 pounds of lapis lazuli chunks and almost 7 pounds of silver? Can skeletons with their bony hands really pick up coins and stones quickly?**
Is this really a time for heroes?
My previous campaign really needed heroes. The player characters may or may not have intended to be heroes, but they accidentally unleashed an evil artifact on the world. Or more specifically, helped an evil wizard get an evil artifact to unleash on the world. Oops. The campaign became about trying to stop him. (Spoilers - it didn't work out so well.) That wasn't really an accident. Right from the start I told the players there was a big plot out there and they'd have a chance to grab a hold of a handle on it and get into it. They did, and they did.
Being a greedy, money-focused, loot-focused adventurer who seeks personal aggrandizement was possible, but it did need to reigned in. The fate of the world was at stake. You could be saving it for the money but you needed to want to save it or you didn't fit in. If your guy had a choice between "loot" and "undermining the enemy" and you would choose loot, well, wrong game for your guy. The players, at least, had to buy into the central conceit of the game - saving the world.
My DF game is very different.
This is no game for heroes.
It's not a Capital-G Good verses Capital-E Evil game. It's not a Capital-L Law versus Capital-C Chaos game, either.
It's just a romp through monster-infested whatevers (tunnels, swamps, jungles and lost cities) in search of loot. It dispenses with the larger world concerns in favor of the smaller concerns of survival. It in fact ignores the larger world except in the bits where that directly impinges on you going into dangerous areas to seek out loot.
The characters are centered around that.
This isn't to say you couldn't run a paladin-like character, full of shining goodness, honor, and decency. You could easily be in this for the saving of lost souls and honorably cleansing the world of evil. You just would need to be equally interested in seizing loot to make that cleansing happen. You'd have to be comfortable in the company of tough men and women mostly interested in wealth in the here-and-now and less in the big conflict.
This isn't to say that greed, ruthlessness, and other unpleasant social traits aren't a problem, either. They're a huge problem if your greed causes you to kick down one more door or rob something you can't survive robbing. Or if your ruthlessness causes you to exterminate some foes root and branch only to find you've cleared the way for worse foes they were helping hold off. This is the game for less-than-moral characters but just as much as morality is a set of handcuffs on your actions, lack of morality is a set of pitfalls around you. If you're so nasty that you can't be trusted, or the church won't bring you back from the dead, or that surface dweller and subterranean monster alike regard you as better dead than alive, you've got your own set of limitations.
But all in all, this isn't a game for heroes. It's not really a time to be bold, forward looking, self-sacrificing paragons worthy of sagas. It's a time for you as a character to be pragmatic, risk-taking but not risk-seeking, cautious but not cowardly, and opportunistic. It's a chance for you as a player to enjoy the simplicity of a game of tradeoffs between "must risk my life for gold!" and "must not risk my life too much for gold." It's weighing the risks versus the rewards. And then making a new character when you push a little too hard on the risks.
It's more like a time for Vikings. At least in the general (superficial?) historical sense - sword in one hand, trade scales in the other, eyes on the horizon. Loot where that's the best route, trade where it's not, explore with the goal of more loot and more profit. Whoever goes home with the most loot and the best stories told about them wins. Ideally, you go to the afterlife on a pile of loot and people (the players) tell stories about you (well, your paper man) for years to come.
That's what my current game is about.
Maybe the next one will be Good versus Evil again, or Order versus Chaos. You never know. But that time isn't right now.
* This post is inspired by, but not intended to slam, my player.
** No, and no. Size matters, and I figure bones need skin and muscle to hold small rounded things and dime-sized coins.