2017-07-17 Heroic Scenes

Some thoughts from a thread of mine on G+.

Is it possible to encourage awesome, heroic scenes in role-playing games? I don’t think so: either it is dangerous and the people play suicidal characters or it is not in which case it is empty embellishments. Role playing games don’t tell the same stories as video games and movies.

There is a classic blog post on Grognardia talking about “story” being something that appears in retrospective. Newer thoughts on ad-ventures and stories emerging through adversity on the False Machine blog.

What are “heroic” scenes? Something worth a medal for heroes? +Adam McConnaughey proposed the definition given by the Carnegie Hero Fund:

Excellent stuff! I was mostly thinking of Ben Milton's post, to be honest. He says “landing the killing blow on a giant doesn’t count. Spending several rounds climbing him, cracking open his skull with a hammer and then cooking his brain with a fireball does.” That got me thinking about Fate and the like, where you can spend points to do awesome-sounding things, rerolling tests or adding bonuses, but I always had the feeling that the deed to be heroic, it had to be dangerous. Thus, “voluntarily risks their own life, knowingly, [t]o an extraordinary degree” is exactly what’s missing in systems where failure can be patched over. That’s where I’m coming from: either your characters are going to die a lot, or their deeds aren’t heroic.

Or, to take Fate and similar games for a positive spin: the entertaining part about the game for the people at the table is not that you can succeed when it really matters; it’s that you actually want to fail every now and then.

And that’s where my disconnect with a lot of other people comes from, I suspect. I’ve played Barbarians of Lemuria and “crazy heroics” is a weird way of putting it. Mayyybe? A strange action movie, for sure. At certain points dozens of mooks are being killed left and right. But there was never a last stand, a suicidal last charge, and I rarely feared for my character. That’s why “heroic” never really covered it, for me.

See also: 2012-02-28 I don't like Bennies.

Is there a way to encourage awesome, heroic scenes in role-playing games? My vague feelings are that we just need strict rules for dangerous play, like classic D&D or Traveller, and some way for sacrifice to not only have meaning right now but also have meaning to the player in future sessions. That’s how they would want to make that sacrifice. Personally I think Ian’s bonus for the next character doesn’t go far enough. But if we’re running a domain game, a clan game, an entourage game, the players continue playing characers that benefited from the sacrifice and it would mean something to the player.

Sadly, D&D domain games or retainers sacrificing themselves for main characters doesn’t quite get me there and I don’t know the missing link to the next level.

If you have any ideas, I’m all ears!

My takeaway from the discussion on G+:

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