It’s been a while since our analysis of the slow slide of tabletop gaming from the inspirational tales of overcoming great odds and beating back the tide of evil to the current roleplaying culture which emphasizes the intellectually bankrupt notion of moral equivalency. That analysis used the subject of the perennial fantasy mooks, the orcs, to illustrate how progressives have pushed the general culture of RPGs away from the fun and optimistic victory of good over evil (which progressives hate) towards a more dour and pessimistic attitude where everything is relative and gray and dour and you never really know who to root for because everything is just like, your opinion, man.
Make Heroic Worlds
If you’re a GM who crafts his own worlds, take your inspiration from the old masters like Tolkien and Burroughs and Howard where good man fight the good fight, win the girl, and score the keys to the kingdom. Games in this mold are inspirational, optimistic, and memorable. The questions aren’t about who is right or wrong, that’s as obvious in these games as it is in the real world, but about how to do right and stop the wrong. Your players deal with enough gray areas in their real lives – give them a chance to slay some metaphorical dragons at the table and you won’t hear any complaints.
Speaking of the real world, don’t succumb to the idea that your game can’t be gritty and realistic if it includes people who really are the good guys who do the right thing or villains who aren’t simply misunderstood. The real world itself includes millions of decent, upstanding people who consistently do the right thing, as well as despicable sociopaths one fluffy cat and a billion dollar industry away from being a cartoon super-villain. So if you want your make believe world to be realistic, it should have paragons of virtue and villainy. These days all too many people take the wrong lessons from HBO’s latest long form snuff film, Game of Thrones. While the show (and novels) serves as wonderful inspiration when it comes to setting up political fights in your game, it is also deeply nihilistic and pessimistic. In that series anyone with a half developed sense of decency is destined for the chopping block in short order – literally in some cases. Fine in small doses, but don’t let it color your view of the real world. There’s some real gaming treasure buried in the muck and mire that George Arrrarrrgh Martin wallows in for thousands of pages, but once you get those nuggets, get out of the mud. The real world can be a messy place, your games don’t have to be.
Make Heroic Characters
What about all of the players out there? They have to take the world as it is presented. They don’t get to decide if the world is one of black and white or shades of grey. How do they up the optimism and fight for good over evil? That’s even easier to do because you only have to worry about your own character. Make that character be the hero that you want to be. That’s all you have to do.
There’s a great lyric by David Crosby in his song, Hero. It goes,:
And the reason that she loved him
Was the reason I loved him too
And he never wondered what was right or wrong
He just knew, he just knew
That’s the sort of character you should be playing.
It doesn’t matter what game you play. Whatever game you’re playing, be it fantasy, science-fiction, horror, post-apocalypse, even (gag) story games, you get to decide what sort of character you’re going to run. Make that character a hero.
Obnoxious GMs seeking to teach you a lesson might throw moral quandary after moral quandary at your character. Refuse to play that game. These characters are just carbon on paper (or electrons floating on a screen if you’re into the on-line scene), so don’t be afraid to do the right thing even if it means your character’s death. Heck, don’t be afraid to do the right thing especially when it means your character’s death. Those sorts of heroic sacrifices in the face of certain doom are the tales that you’ll remember long after you’ve forgotten the compromised hero that betrayed his ideals for short term gain.
Maybe RPGs exert a heavy influence on the character of those who play them, and maybe they don’t. As with athletics the smart money is that they reveal character more than they build it. That said, why take the risk? When you’ve got a chance to sit back and practice being the Good Guy, and damn the consequences, take it. Maybe it helps reinforce your own innate sense of right and wrong, and maybe your own character will inspire you in your own life.
That’s a risk that even the most conservative gambler should be willing to take.