At some point, the adventures are done and heroes are no longer needed. Maybe they’ve killed all the dragons or saved the world from demonic machines or chased away the last horde of goblins from civilized lands. But the sun rises above the world and it’s the quietest day since the dawn of time…
Regardless of the RPG system, on how much emphasis is placed on the emotional side of playing the characters of players, every character – if they don’t die prematurely – becomes a veteran. Worn, tired, crazy from simply seeing the horrors they faced. And even if there’s still a lot to fix in the world, there’s always a new generation of heroes.
The new heroes may be less experienced, but more efficient, more enthusiastic (naïve?) than the generation before. This is their time. And though they may sometimes come across traces of older heroes (perhaps they see modest words carved on the beam of the burned temple, “Conan was here”), but for them it will be ancient history even if it was just 10 or 20 years ago.
Wait a minute! Twenty years? Well, yes. The life of RPG heroes is a set of adventures, dozens campaigns. It’s a miracle if they manage to find time for a normal meal (and I mean: meal other than by the campfire or in the inn in the middle of nowhere). Years of dirty work are not helpful when you try to build normal relationships or even live a normal life.
Not many heroes even think about retirement. Most don’t have grandiose plans like opening a tavern one day… And family? In most cases, if one exists – it’s dysfunctional. One of my player’s characters had a wife and a child but has not seen them for 15 years! He spent those years in glorious secret service for the king of Aquilonia. Most of the players – usually in their 20s like their characters – don’t even think about living a “normal, boring life” or having a family of their own with kids, diapers, pets, etc.
Love? Of course, but more like romance. Responsibility? Why? The whole world is counting on them! Many of them may want to have children. But when the hero’s career comes to an end, sometimes it is too late to start a “normal” life.
Why? Because with the sum of experience, trauma, and battles, there’s an increased sense of being out of touch with the rest (maybe most) of a peaceful society. Many ex-heroes can’t find a place for themselves in an ordinary existence. And then there’s the other part of the problem. They can’t quite fit back into society, but they also don’t want to adventure any more because of age or injury. And in that situation another ”quest” emerges. How do they deal with the remnants of the life they left behind when they became adventurers?
My player’s character came back home, but his house was empty. He heard that his wife chose another, more normal guy. What about his child? His teenage daughter also left. Some say she decided to live in a convent. So now the ex-hero wonders: was it really worth it? He weighs a life with a family against his glorious service. And once again: was it worth it? Once he believed in ”the cause”. And now?
Today he feels guilty for his family misfortune. He has killed many enemies of the state and now he understands that many of them also had families and knows he is responsible for their suffering. He feels unimaginable pain and frustration. His life is a mess. What does he do next? Should he look for his daughter? Or maybe he should win the forgiveness of families of his victims. But his victims multiply and he weighs the worth of his life again.
Similar stories can be multiplied indefinitely. Even after a decisive battle to save the world, there comes another morning when you look at your face in the mirror asking yourself: what next? This is not an imaginary problem in the terra incognita of role-playing games. These are true stories. How many times have we heard about the great athletes who after retirement (like RPG characters at the age of thirtysomething) fell into oblivion. No longer training every day. No longer feeding on the enthusiasm of cheering spectators. They disappear from the imagination of the crowds. This is a quieter life. Life without a colors. And colors come back only when the ex-hero seek for help in glass of an alcohol, reliving the “good old days.”
We hear about veterans coming back from war, of the strong man who is afraid to hug his newborn child. Not because lack of love, but because he constantly sees blood on his hands. He is terrified at a ”welcome home” party when the champagne cork pops, because it brings back memories and the sounds of battle.
Sailors face similar issues. Long years of sailing punctuated by short moments spent with family and the repeated pain of separation. When the time comes, he sits in his armchair in front of the fireplace. His kids all grown up and away from home. And then the ”hated” sound of waves comes back. But now it sounds like the sweetest music. What to do? Where is his real home?
I ask my players all these questions: before and after making decisions. Is it worth it? Will it be worth it? Was it worth it? What is/will be your impact on the world, family, friends, ordinary people? Most of my players have characters who are quite mature. They are retired from the heroic life. Very often they have no more strength for adventures. And if they have to run one more adventure, they have different approach to this.
Those are adventures when they fight not to save the world, but to save themselves. And usually there are some strong links to their past involved. Maybe old enemies become allies this time? Maybe – very unpleasant thought – they were right in the past. Maybe we were supporting the wrong side of the conflict? In fact in this kind of adventures we are playing with “new” characters, “new” people. People who have their value system turned upside down. They are different characters: they are aware of their sins, flaws, mistakes… How they will act now?
PS. This way of playing requires a lot of flexibility, engagement and maturity not only from the GM, but also from the players. Forget about a black and white world. Do not afraid to ask: are we still the good guys? Because maybe you never were…
If you can read Polish, be sure to check out AncientScroll.pl for other articles and adventures. But if you’re like me and you only read/write English and bad English, be sure to support Robert’s IndieGoGo project to get his many adventures and ideas translated to English!
A big thank you goes out to Robert for offering this great guest post to the readers of Game Knight Reviews. I wish him the best of luck!
Are you interested in guest posting on Game Knight Reviews? I’d love to talk to you if you are! Drop me a line at the Contact page and let’s chat!
- AncientScroll.pl goes English (stargazersworld.com)
- RPG Blog Carnival: Memorable Characters Inspired From Real Life from Dungeon’s Master (dungeonsmaster.com)
- Emulation & Beyond: More Thoughts on RPGs & Video Games from Age of Ravens (ageofravens.blogspot.com)
- News from Around the Net: 28-OCT-2011 (gameknightreviews.com)