Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Do Heroes Have To Be Boring?

One of the common thoughts behind writing is that heroes are boring, it's the villain that makes them interesting. This is said in a lot of ways - usually to just to avoid calling people's favorite characters boring - but the idea is that villains are inherently more interesting, and part of that stems from the dichotomy of how heroes and villains work. Heroes are reactionary. Villains are pro-active. The villain has a goal, a motivation, and by god they're going to do it. The Hero on the other hand is, more or less, standing up for the status quo. Without a villain a hero has nothing to do, and thus it is through their villains that heroes become interesting.

Mainstream Examples
Think about it, all the drama that defines Peter Parker and makes us think of him as the everyman is because of his drive to stop 'bad guys' from doing things. Without that he goes from being a hero that never gives up and always gets back up to a super genius with amazing powers. Hell, even in his story without villains he would have become a pro-wrestler and leveraged that into celebrity.

Without the villains of Gothman, Batman is just another rich guy turned businessman. Maybe he follows his father into medicine instead.

It's there in a lot of stories. The villain acts. The hero reacts. But does it have to be that way?

The Answer
Short answer? No. Long answer, RPGs changes the paradigm enough that it is definitely no.

What is your traditional RPG set up? The heroes go into a dungeon (a bad guy's home) and defeat the bad guy, making the area around them safer. Now the motivation for going in might be reactionary (goblins stole the innkeeper's son, the Prince needs to be rescued, etc.) It could also be completely mercenary on the PCs parts (they want the money. They want the stronghold. Etc.)

The nature of RPGs is for a story about a group of adventurers that go around and do things. This frees the PCs up to be the pro-active ones, which means they can put the world into a reactionary place to them. The PCs act. The world reacts.

Other Subversions
This isn't 100% unique to RPGs. Rebellion stories fit into this as well. Why? Because rebellion stories are stories where the status quo is wrong, and so the heroes are the ones trying to disrupt it while the villains try to maintain it. Consider Star Wars, the Rebels make a move - they steal the plans for a new military item made by the government - and the Empire reacts. A New Hope is ultimately a story that starts after the Rebels kick off the action and is all about the Rebellion getting the plans they stole back to base, and then attempting to destroy the super weapon.

Heist movies, and quite a few movies where the 'heroes' are criminals, also subvert this.

A Matter of Perspective
The catch in both of these cases is that the subversion happens because we flip the script and from a different perspective you are just telling the story from the point of view of the bad guy - who just happens to be the one to win here. From the view point of a lot of people in the Empire the Rebels are the bad guys. You could easily - with very little tweaking to action - run a game based off Star Wars where the good guys are the Empire.

The point to all this being that 'interesting' or 'not being boring' stems from the character's ability and desire to act on their world and try to change it. This is something that can happen in your table top games. You just need PCs with goals and motivations they can work towards, and a GM willing to enable them to do that. Let the PCs drive the action. Let them act, and have the world react to them. See what interesting NPCs you get out of it, and use those NPCs to further help your players define their heroes.

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