Monday, March 24, 2008

Two Sandwiches Short of a Picnic

Every time I play an RPG, I’m stuck with the same thought. Are Heroes amazingly naïve, or just totally stupid?

The way we see heroes is, in many ways, very similar to the was we see Pirates. Say ‘Pirate’ to someone and they’ll instantly start thinking of epic sea-battles, the romance, the freedom, wearing a hat with a big feather in it and being totally free.

In other words, we’ve gotten so used to the romanticized, movie versions of pirates we’ve all kinda forgot that pirates were little more than sea-borne rapists, murderers and thieves. Imagine a group of guys breaking into your house, stealing your stuff, raping your wives and daughters and then killing you. Bad thing, right?

Now put that same guy on a boat in the 1500’s and he’s instant transformed into something to aspire to.

It’s the same with Heroes. We’ve gotten so used to the fantasy-hero conventions, that we completely miss that very little of it actually makes sense…and that the average hero must be a couple sandwiches short of a picnic.

For example, what usually happens is that at around the age of 18, the heroes village gets burned down and the kindly blacksmith tells the Hero that his real father was a King, that he was rescued from the burning rubble as a baby…and wouldn’t you just know it, those bandits that just burned down the village are the same people who killed his father. Oh, and they also happened to recover dear old dad’s sword…so run along and restore justice and freedom to the world.

My response to hearing that story would be “Sod off”.

Sure, my dad might have been a king, I might have his sword, but I’ve lived the past 18 years in blissful ignorance and had a nice quiet life as a swineherd. Putting that sword in my hands would be like giving it to any other swineherd…crown-shaped birthmark or not. When I’ve had zero fighting experience, as much combat training as is needed in the pig-husbandry industry and have never even held a sword before…does it matter who my dad is?

But no, the hero always takes the sword and heads out on lots of life threatening adventures, to avenge someone he’s never actually met…you know, instead of just moving his pigs and mud hut a few miles away and carrying on with his life.

Secondly, the ‘Wise Master’ tends not to be very wise at all. You know, I have absolutely zero tactical training, but sending a ‘swineherd prince’ alone to battle the forces of evil doesn’t seem like that great a move to me. Sure, the dude’s dad was a King and he’s got the sword and birthmark…but the forces of darkness have a very large, very trained and above all, very experienced army.

Plus, he’s usually the guy who trains the hero to fight. If you’re a powerful sorcerer or powerful warrior…doesn’t it make more sense for you to fight the big bad guy…instead of the naïve farmboy who’s never held a sword before?

The other big thing that strikes me is just how absolutely, completely and totally useless ‘the people’ are. I mean, these are the people that the hero ultimately risks his life to save, and the question I have to ask is…why?

I mean, in one game, I walked into a village that was starving and dying because a group of bandits had set up camp on the only road into or out of the village. Everyone was moaning and complaining and crying ‘woe is me!’ and ‘who will save us?’

This town had a population of a couple hundred. How many bandits where there? Ten.

Ok, so my job is to save a village full of people who are too cowardly or stupid to realize that 20 to 1 odds in their favor might mean they could handle the situation themselves. I mean, come on! I don’t care how brave of a bandit you are…if you see two hundred people heading towards you with torches and pitch forks…you’re going to leg it immediately.

So that’s the role of the Hero. To battle ultimate evil without any experience or training, in order to save a bunch of people who refuse to help themselves, while being guided by a guy who’s a hundred times more qualified to handle things than you are.


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