Friday, December 23, 2011

Heroes need a World!

I responded to the I need a Hero post over at Tower of the Archmage, and it got me thinking about heroism in RPGs. The Archmage laments "It’s rare to find big damn heroes in classic Dungeons and Dragons. The entire game is designed around tomb robbers. Occasionally players will take on “altruistic” causes, but this usually involves their being able to keep a percentage of treasure that they find (aka loot)."

While it is common enough to have a world that needs heroes, my thought is that the real problem is that heroes need a world. That is, if participants want more heroism in their games, the game world should reward heroism. But before rewarding heroism, the game world should provide opportunity for heroism.

I think part of the problem with heroism in fantasy RPGs is that the worlds themselves tend to be anti-heroic. Compare lets say, Medieval France, in which the Arthurian tales of chivalry captivated the imagination of the people, with something like Mad Max. When adventuring becomes more about sheer survival than it does about being a champion of the people, opportunity for heroism can be limited. A world in which warbands of orcs control the wastelands is one that suggests survivalism more than heroism. However, a world that is densely populated with lots of farmland, small villages, and quaint hamlets offers opportunity for characters to right small wrongs; to be involved with the day to day affairs of the people who could really use a hero.

I think one of the reasons Pendragon plays as more heroic isn't so much the system, but the trend for most of the challenges to be about other humans, rather than monsters. Arthurian England is fairly heavily populated compared to the average fantasy game world. It contrasts to the "points of light" style of setting, with small pockets of civilization in a vast wilderness. You sort of have to go off the beaten path in order to find yourself in a wilderness.

When the adventurers are more likely to run into people than they are monsters, opportunity for heroism increase. After all, heroism is about aiding people who are in need. When their opponents are more often people, rather than monsters, opportunities for honor and courtesy increase. Adventures can become about things other than killing and looting and tomb robbing.

Once the opportunity for heroism is presented, then one can ask "What is the reward for heroism?". Aside from a warm and fuzzy feeling, the game world should react to heroes in a positive way. Fame should precede the heroes in all but the most isolated places. Small rewards should be presented in nearly every village and town. The world should be a more friendly place to heroes.

From a mechanic standpoint, experience should be rewarded for acts of heroism. Ignore body counts, gold pieces, and similar means of figuring experience. Award experience for acts of honor, selflessness, courage, courtesy, and diplomacy. You don't need a specific system to do this. You just need to decide to do it.

Of course, if you are looking for more of a Road Warrior type of feel to your game, ignore everything I just wrote.

1 comment:

  1. Back in October or 2008, we had a similar discussion in the Canonfire! Forums. The subject was; “How Populated are the Realms?”

    In my comments on the subject, I quoted from the book: "1066 The Year of the Conquest," pages 12-19. This is the year that William the Conqueror invaded England. It refers to the village of Horstede, which existed at that time and was only a few miles from where Willam landed. Reprinted here:

    "A village was surrounded by a fence, and its land by another outer fence. Beyond that were miles and miles of primeval forest and heath, empty and wild . . . For ordinary people, to see the nearest town might be the event of a year or even a lifetime, and to meet a stranger was a nine days wonder. If a traveler approached the village, he blew a horn before he crossed the outer fence to show he was coming openly. . . .

    "Within his own village, an Englishman knew everybody and almost every tree and animal. . . . But he had no conception of a map, no mental image of the shape of the country as it might be seen from hundreds of miles above, or of the relative positions of places in it. . . . He lived in a world that had his own village as its center. . . .

    "Conversely, the news of the outside world that came into the village was vague, brought by pedlars, or filtering down from mouth to mouth from the house of the Lord, or rumored at the occasional district meetings. . . .

    "the Thane, whose name was Ulfer . . . was the only man in the village likely to travel far . . . he had to appear and share judgment of crimes and disputes in the hundred court, which met once a month, and perhaps in the shire court which heard more serious cases twice a year. . . .

    "Horstede was less isolated than many of the villages of England . . . Horstede people could reach the outside world without much trouble if they wanted to. But isolation, imposed on most villages by distance, was also an attitude of mind. There was no reason for them to go to Lewes (12 miles away), except on an annual expedition to sell the produce they could spare; no reason ever for them to cross the river to the Roman road (2 miles distant). No doubt when they did go to town they felt out of place and a little apprehensive, like any country people, and were glad to get home again. . . .

    "There was one link that joined Horstede to the social system of England, but it was not the town, it was 'the hundred.' Though rule at the top was autocratic, the English of that age were great committee men. Horstede, and any other village, organized its own affairs at a village meeting, a moot, and if they had a problem they could not solve they took it to the hundred moot. Above that was the shire moot, and above all the witena gemot, the embryo parliment which advised the King. . . .

    "One senior citizen of Horstede would therefore ride out once a month, . . . to attend the hundred moot."

    It must be remembered that all of this was taking place approximately 500 years after the supposed King Arthur – who historians now believe was based upon a real Saxon (minor) king.

    In our own history, people did not travel very far from their place of birth their entire lives. And the village did not receive all the "latest" news; usually distorted, somewhat. In short, the population was rather “thin.”

    In my game world, the population is just as “thin” as it was during the time of William the Conqueror. That's the type of setting I like. Makes for better “hero” settings. After all, the people in these remote places spend much of their time wondering just “who” is going to rescue them from the Orcs? After all, they're not “fighter,” they're just . . . farmers!

    And so . . . along comes a hero. The proverbial “knight in shining armor.”

    Who receives the “hero's welcome” he so richly deserves.