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© 1998-2001 Dru
All rights reserved.
Living on the Edge
Combat veterans who
come back from war often have a hard time readapting to civilian life.
They've too often seen and done terrible things during their time in combat.
They're often jumpy and accustomed to violence. Some of them cannot kill
anymore; some of them are all too used to killing. Some of them just want
to forget; some of them do all they can to cling to their memories. Some
of them finally learn to adapt; some of them never fit back in again.
In most roleplaying
games, adventurers are like such veterans. Whether in fantasy or science-fiction
games, whether human or inhuman, adventurers fight enormous odds, see
blood-chilling sights, and perhaps even do extremely questionable things
themselves. Can an adventurer who has seen companions die around her (even
if they are resurrected later) ever forget wading through their blood
or slipping on their entrails as she fights onward? Can an adventurer
who has gunned his way through an enemy stronghold or lost a limb to a
frag grenade (even if it is replaced later) ever forget the sight of bodies
blown backwards or shredding under explosive rounds, or blood gushing
from the stump where his arm or leg had once been?
The question of how
adventuring affects adventurers from an emotional and psychological point
of view has wider gaming implications. After
all, if adventurers tend to become a little paranoid after a few years
of adventuring, then society is likely to regard them with suspicion and
unease, never certain what these hair-trigger killers-for-hire are going
to do next. Note that the roleplaying aspect is different from the game-mechanics
aspect. Some games build in die rolls that must be made when a character
is confronted with something awful—horror, sanity, guts, cool—but
the effect is usually immediate and short-term. The question is, how do
those awful events affect the character in the long term?
... they're always casting detection spells on anyone who knocks on
the door and wearing their armor and weapons to the supermarket and
hitting the deck whenever a loose shutter bangs against a window in
the wind. Try to shake an adventurer awake and like as not he'll grab
you around the throat and near strangle you death before he realizes
who you are; invite an adventurer over to dinner and she'll surreptiously
switch all the plates and goblets around just in case one of them's
been poisoned. Surprise an adventurer and you'll find yourself staring
down the muzzle of a blaster, and did you hear about that adventurer
who accidentally killed his kid when the child leaped out of the shadows
to play "monster" with Daddy one night?
... they never take "no" for an answer. If they suspect you
of something, they'll make your life miserable, asking questions and
snooping through your belongings and grilling all your companions until
they find what they're looking for. They mock authority, jeering at
local mayors or kings and flaunting their own power with no regard for
tradition or law. In fact, most of them think the local laws don't apply
to them ... or else they think that they ARE the law, and keep getting
in the way of honest soldiers and police officers trying to do their
jobs. Adventurers make insurance rates skyrocket whenever they get into
another bar brawl and they can bust the local economy by dumping a dragon's
horde into the marketplace.
Not everyone wants
to roleplay the horror of battle; some people just want to play True Heroes
who never get bloody or have nightmares or smell ruptured bowels on the
battlefield. But others—especially those playing in gritter genres—
might want to add this extra level of realism to their roleplaying.
A GM can easily leverage
this concept into interesting game scenarios. If an adventurer is recognized
as an adventurer (and in most games, the number of magic items or weapons
or cyberware possessed by the adventurer gives his or her profession away
pretty quickly), then people might start backing away, closing and locking
their doors, acting painfully polite, and quietly alerting the local authorities.
Adventurers might find themselves shunned by honest, law-abiding folk
... and even by most small-time criminals! They might find themselves
scrutinized by nervous authorities who could either harrass them outright
or just dog their heels, watching and waiting.
Such scenarios are in
direct contrast to the fun part of having a reputation—being courted
by the media and surrounded by admiring hero-worshippers. In fact, the
two effects might occur simultaneously. Imagine a scene where a nervous
mother drags her hero-worshipping child away from the adventurers, quietly
scolding him for risking his life by hanging around with such a bad element!
Players can use this
concept to enhance their roleplaying. How does the character react to
the horrible things he or she has experienced? Does she get nightmares?
Does he use alcohol or drugs, or rely on faith and meditation, to try
to drive the memories away? Does he develop phobias as a result of a particularly
terrible event? Does she take extra precautions to keep herself and her
loved ones safe? For hard-core roleplayers, imagining how a character
would react to his or her adventuring experiences in the long run can
add interesting complexity to that character's personality and habits
... and, of course, it will give the GM a few more ways to manipulate
the character in the future.....
originally written February 15, 1999
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