Tuesday, January 12, 2016

No Game for Heroes

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.

All good.

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.

But heroes?

Not exactly.

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.


  1. I usually play the Good character, but not this time.
    Mo is very much like Conan: you own what you can keep. If we were playing a full campaign he'd be a problem in town, and most likely camp outside the walls unless the party needed him for muscle. I'd play it as the clash between tribal "common goods" vs. civilized private property. He wouldn't murder people for their stuff in town, but he'd be baffled why they were so angry that he "borrowed" their horse/delving tools/artifact that opens the dungeon, etc.

    If the church in Steriksberg has something that we need to explore Felltower and they won't let us use it, he would probably steal it after practicing his "sleeper hold."

    1. That's a good guy for this kind of game.

      As for the Church, town is safe unless you mess it up. We might use that explanation for how you acquire things, though.

  2. Excellent post. The Lost City is really more or less like the Vikings' raid on Lindisfarne in 793 CE...e.g., "we took this stuff from them because they couldn't stop us." Cold Fens was a little more "heroic." Both are tons of fun.

    1. A little more heroic? You threw coins at watery murder nymphs and stole everything but the doors. You'd have stolen the doors except they were too hard to get into the boats!

    2. Oh right. But we WERE trying to eliminate a great evil on behalf of the church. So, heroic on purpose if not deeds?

    3. The ends justify the means?...

  3. Potential new quirk: "Thinks all of his slaying and looting is heroic (regardless of any real resemblance to heroism)."

  4. I do not feel slammed at all! When I read that sentence I thought the caveat was because of how infrequently I play.

    Ironically, I think that I might help tip the "offensive mindset" a bit more if I showed up more often. Well, and if I stopped loving support characters.

  5. I've been thinking a lot about alignment, and good vs evil PCs, recently.

    There's a lot of historical situations where actions like the PCs take here would be considered to be behaving entirely appropriately.

    E.g. Crusaders in the holy lands, conquistadors in Latin America etc

    They might be judged by history, but their actions would be typical.

    Only at least your PCs aren't enslaving populations and decimating populations.

    I have a feeling most players with a lawful good Paladin PC would have no problem subject to confirmation from their deity ruthlessly attacking, looting, enslaving and evicting the evil 'insert race' from their eminent domain.

    1. Ofcourse if a GM wants it to be clear that the PCs are heroic just have in game the dungeon to be declared full or heretics, a recently captured good city, the PCs own keep that they are recovering, the Dungeon is a rescue mission, that there are no sentient living monsters just demons and constructs etc in an abandoned city etc

      You can remove all ambiguity for players.

    2. Oh sure. But like I said to my player below, it's not about that. I'm not casting a moral judgment on the game - I made it about "kill the monsters, get the loot." It's not hard to make it about good and evil, right and wrong, etc. and either add or remove ambiguity about actions to complicate or simplify. I'm just noting that "Now is the time for heroes" might not be the best phrase to describe the actual style of this particular game.

  6. Not to absolve the PCs, but yes, might has made right for much of human history and humans are terribly capable of justifying atrocities. "We had to wipe out those orc camps before they attacked us." and so on. Parley? They'll come back when they are healed!
    We've bargained before- the orcs, the "behir". We tried with the trolls, too. We might have survived the Mungo fight if we'd said that we were about to find lots of loot and would give it ALL to him (and then somehow cheated him of a piece of it. How smart could he be?).
    Knowing us, we will probably ally with the Six Fingers of Death Snake Cult to wipe out the orcs before we backstab them.

    1. I never said you guys don't negotiate, only that this game isn't really about heroism and Good vs. Evil. It's about loot.


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