Here's something I've been thinking about the last couple days/weeks/hours (it just keeps popping into my head, yo):
Must the same RPG conventions be applied to ALL role-playing games?
The answer to this (as with most rhetorical questions) is "of course not," but I'm thinking of two very specific conventions with regard to "traditional" (read "not-experimental-nor-Indie") role-playing games. The two I'm thinking of are:
- character improvement over time
- character death
Whether you're looking at D&D (any edition) or Vampire the Masquerade or even Amber Diceless, you can see there are rules presented in each for A) improving one's character over time, and B) "dying" in the game (assuming your GM isn't going to fudge survival when your character's number is up).
These hoary conventions, the basic "win/loss" philosophy 'ported directly from the original D&D game to most every RPG ever since, are so standard that I wonder if that's not the first consideration most designers have when creating a new game. "What's the advancement/death mechanic going to be in THIS one?"
[by the way, I'm not covering a whole lot of new ground here...the Indie folks have already addressed this both in theory and in their games. However, I'm looking at it with regard to more traditional, i.e. Old School, traditional style RPG design]
But (and here's the thing I keep pondering) are they necessary for ALL RPG genres? That is, are they necessary conventions for games based on literary (or other) antecedents that don't normally have character death or improvement over time? And specifically here, I am talking about permanent character death. In any adventure serial (the basis for a multi-session RPG campaign), it is anthesis for the continuing story to have the principal characters die, right? How can you continue to sell the serial when the main character gets offed?
And I'm not just talking about comic books (though that's the first one that springs to mind)...look at space opera serials like Buck Rogers and Star Trek and Firefly. Sure, characters DO die (eventually) in the movies...but a movie is the RPG equivalent of a "one-off" adventure, meant to stand alone on its own merits. In the series, you don't see the main characters dying.
Would it be appropriate to have two different systems in place for an RPG? A one-off, no improvement, death-on-the-table version and an opposite number (serial, improvement over time, death-off-the-table)? Just a random thought.
Here's what I think: some genres (I realize that's a loaded term) are conducive to a high death count, even amongst PCs, including sword & sorcery fantasy (though perhaps not Hanna Barbarra He-Man fantasy...), post-apocalyptic, and the western genre. Also, any kind of mob/crime or war game (major characters die fairly often in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series, but to me that's a war story similar to Japanimation space serials rather than "space opera adventure").
Genres that are NOT conducive to character death include:
- Space Opera
- Anything that might be a WB show (witches, vampire hunters, etc)
- Super Spy (of the James Bond, Avengers, Mission Impossible TV series variety)
Genres that may or may not be conducive to character death:
- Pulp serial (modern day, like Lost, or early 20th century)
Genres that are pure RPG inventions like Shadow Run? I don't know, though probably death is okay (seeing as how they were invented with the standard RPG conventions in mind).
I've been told on more than one occasion that PC death "isn't fun," something with which I totally disagree. However, sometimes it is inappropriate depending on the genre one is seeking to emulate.
More on this later...as I said, it's something that keeps popping into my head lately.