Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Heroes Are MADE, Not Born

This post is in direct response to the inane set of comments over at Grognardia regarding D&D’s saving throw mechanic. Inane because Mr. Maliszewski is simply expressing his ideas, his interpretations of the game, and everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, no need to argue. And me, I’m doubly inane for commenting myself, as I have a blog of my own…and thus a ready forum for expressing my own opinion.

(*cue rant*)

Listen up, folks. Heroes are made, not born. What do I mean by that? Simply this: in Old School play, no one has a God given right to their character being a heroic protagonist, simply by dint of being a “player character.” No ifs, ands, or buts.

D&D provides rules that allow characters to take heroic actions (resist poison via saving throw, withstand damage via hit points), but it IN NO WAY GUARANTEES YOUR CHARACTER IS GOING TO BE A CAPITAL “H” HERO. So quit your whining already! If you think otherwise, you aren’t playing Old School…go play 4th edition, specifically made for whiners like you! If that’s not good enough, go play WoW where you can be cookie-cutter hero doing cookie-cutter quests and resurrecting at a “graveyard” every time you get stomped flat.

In Old School D&D, character death happens. Often mundane, more than sometimes humorous, character death is expected by the very nature of the game…your character is involved in a hazardous occupation. Your ACTIONS as a player will determine whether or not your character is remembered. The simple act of “rolling up” a new PC doesn’t mean anyone is going to give a shit about it.

This IS a generational issue. Gen Xers (like myself) don’t expect things to be handed to us unless we feel we’ve earned ‘em. Yes, we expect to be richly rewarded for paying our dues, but deep down we KNOW that something given (even the title of “Hero”) is a LOT less sweet than something fought for and hard won.

Generation Y types or “Millennials” are not like Gen X…they are looking for accolades and affirmation, they like competitions where “no one loses” (you know: the trend where every kid on the baseball team gets a trophy from “best baserunner” to “best sportsmanlike conduct” and there’s a graduation ceremony every other grade?). This is the goddamn coddled generation, which I realize is pejorative of me to write, but ignoring it doesn’t change it. Yeah…they ALL want to be heroes, right from the get-go.

People who equate playing older games with “playing old school” – probably a Millennial.

People who say “system doesn’t matter as long as you have a good GM” (meaning, “someone who doesn’t kill my character and lets me be a hero”) – probably a Millennial.

I find this frustrating. I am an anachronistic old bastard, and there are a ton more of the younger folks than me and my generation. And my style of play (i.e. Old School) doesn’t resonate the same or as often with those young folks. Some of ‘em like the idea of it, but they have a hard time embracing the idea that they are NOT a “very special snowflake.”

(yes, Fight Club is a Gen X movie)

Let me give you an example of a D&D hero from MY youth: Bladehawk. Played by my good friend Jocelyn, she played in many, many adventures with me (as DM) ACTIVELY TRYING TO KILL HER, and succeeded in thwarting me at pretty much every turn. I would create new adventures using devious traps and fighter-proof monsters (black pudding, anyone?) and she would find ways to avoid, out-smart or defeat them. She didn’t always “win” or solve the quest (see my posting regarding the Tomb of Horrors), but she ENDURED. That was why she became a legend in our campaign(s)…even after we scratched Bladehawk’s game world and started anew, every later campaign world always included her as a high level NPC floating around somewhere. Why? Because THROUGH PLAY she became a goddamn legendary hero. From a 1st level fighter with a Wisdom of 8 and a Strength between 13-15.

THAT is Old School play to me…I challenged the player…hell, I got mad that she kept surviving when other player characters would go down in flames. But she was smarter and tougher and luckier (save or die pal!) then the adventures she went on.

There are other PCs from my youth that became heroes, though I don’t think any will rival Bladehawk in my memory. But none of them were "born" (i.e. created from scratch)…they were MADE, tempered in the fire of a blistering campaign, with a mean little Napoleon of a DM.

I’m sorry that all you 2nd and 3rd and 4th edition players have to spend so much time creating characters. Sounds like a waste of valuable playing time to me.


  1. I'd have to point out I find the concept of someone claiming Gen X'ers are the generation that works for things unlike those whiney punk Millenials a bit humourous. See I remember Gen X'ers being the lazy do nothings who will never amount to anything and want everything handed to them on a silver platter. This is why were were "Gen X" (before X was for letter category and was another way of saying gen X, also called Gen 13 for awhile, were bad news).

    Now that Gen X'ers are replacing the baby boomers, its "Gen Y" who want everything handed to them. I have no doubt in 10 years Generation Y will be talking about how hard they had it in these lean times, working hard for anything in the great crash (real or imagined) and how Generation Z, the twitter Generation, want a free ride. I know this because I listened to my grandfather (the greatest Generation) berate my father for the laziness of the baby boomers and how they wanted everything handed to them.

  2. Oh, I don't think Gen Xers are "the generation that works for things." Gen Xers are a slacker generation with a (general) cynical distrust in our forbears and authority and a well-known apathy and tendency for under-achievement.

    Millennials, on the other hand, have a tendency towards a sense of "entitlement" that is not characteristic of Generation X.

    Anyway, all that is stereotype and generality...we are all individuals, ja? But I can't help but see a correlation between generational differences and the evolution of RPGs.

    Gen X is a bunch of late bloomers...if I'm not mistaken, most of the impetus behind the indie RPG movement is Gen X role-players finding their voices. And I wouldn't be surprised to find Gen X behind a lot of the retro-clone Old School movement as well.

  3. I would like the point out the obvious flaw in the logic.

    The Old school games were designed by baby boomers (for Baby Boomers). The 4th ed mindset of "Im a big damn hero" (and 4th ed itself) was created by Gen X. If you watch the trend of game design you notice that as gen X matured and more adults entered game design, the emphasis shifted to where it is now. 4th ed is the game that Gen X built (unless any older boomers or fresh out of college millenials are involved). You'd probably find a much larger proportion of indie developers (than big 3 developers) are members of the "millenials" just due to corporate culture

  4. I don't really buy the "Gen X" vs. "Gen Y" example, but I totally buy the playstyle/expectation examples.

    You want to be a hero? Make it to 8th level, pal.

    Kids these days.

  5. One of my favorite Gygax quotes (roughly paraphrased) is "character background is what happens between levels one and six".

  6. Z: Gen Xers may have designed later editions but (especially with 4th edition) I would argue they designed it for a MILLENNIAL target audience.

    Hey folks: this post was from Tuesday (which is a bit like posting in the dead of night for me). It's Wednesday now, and I'm feeling a bit more lighter and warm-fuzzy. I prefaced the whole thing with RANT; by which I mean, "take it with a grain of salt."

    That being said, I would love to someday compile statistical analysis of game designers and game play preferences based on birth data. The lines between generations, while present, are certainly fuzzy. I think some interesting data could be mined. But that's for another post...I ain't soliciting that info HERE.
    : )