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© 1998-2001 Dru Pagliassotti
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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?

Those adventurers ... 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?

Those adventurers ... 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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