Thoughts on Heroic Fiction

Played a game tonight over at Chicagoland Games. It’s one that Ron Edwards is working on, and since I don’t know what is public knowledge, I won’t say too much other than it was a lot of fun and it was the first role playing game I’ve experienced that uses cards rather than dice.

It did also bring into focus some things I had been pondering over the last week. I enjoy heroic fiction. Stories that interest me tend to have a protagonist that is doing some sort of great deed that typically involves violence. Exceptions to both do occur but there is a definite trend within my interests.

Extending this into role playing games, I am starting to understand why I really enjoy games like D&D, Star Wars and Serenity. There is a visceral excitement to portraying a character who is action oriented and fighting for a cause. The traditional method of doing this in a game was to make a character, kill a bunch of goblins and save the townsfolk. That can be a lot of fun if played at the right time and in the right place.

Does a story need to follow a hero in order to tell heroic fiction? Rather, does a player need to get in the head of a hero to tell a heroic fiction?

I’ve often seen the Doctor Who RPG and shaken my head at it because the only character sheet I’ve ever seen for the game is for The Doctor and that seems wrong to me on two levels. First, The Doctor is obviously more intelligent, wiser, and plain better than all of his companions and this creates a power differential between players. [Caveat: I haven’t read the rules or played the game, so I don’t know how or if this is addressed in the design.] Secondly, the best Doctor Who stories are the ones that explore the effect that The Doctor has on other people. His actions are important, yes, but they are important in the way that a hurricane is important to Florida.

If I were to design a Doctor Who RPG, players would control people that The Doctor encounters – either companions or the denizens of the week. The Doctor would be a narrative device, his actions either prompting or reacting to some disaster. I think this set up could make for a really interesting game that lets people tell heroic fiction. Of course, this isn’t limited to Doctor Who. One could easily imagine a game the explores the common folk’s brush with greatness in which the hero is a wizard or some other great and powerful being. Narrative control would bounce between players such that they describe the transformative experience of encountering the hero. Anyway, seems like a neat game concept to ponder.

About PK

PK Sullivan is a game designer and writer living in Chicago.
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