The Gassy Gnoll: Heroes Great and Small (RPG Blog Carnival, Heroes Living & Dead)

The Gassy Gnoll is going to ask a tough question today… What is a hero? The term gets thrown around willy nilly all the time, but how do you actually decide who’s a hero and who isn’t? That’s a question worth pondering for in-game labels as well as in the real world. (Thanks go to Runeslinger for suggesting this great topic for the December RPG Blog Carnival.)

For instance, I like American Football. Maybe not as much as when I was neck-deep playing fantasy football with some friends, but I still enjoy watching good NFL games on Sundays like many other folks. That said, I don’t know that I would ever consider a football player or any other sports star (past or present) to be a hero or role model. I know kids who idolize Michael Vick as an amazing quarterback and athlete despite the fact that he was convicted of and served time for being part of a dog fighting ring.

Why should Vick be a hero to anybody? I respect him for having done his 23-month sentence in prison, but that doesn’t make up for supporting and encouraging a brutal game where animals were knowingly sent to their deaths. He got caught doing something cruel, unthinkable, and illegal, was convicted, and did his time. Many people do the time for their crimes and are not publicly lauded for having done it.

On the other end of the spectrum are long-time players like John Elway, who had a very successful career as quarterback for the Denver Broncos and transitioned after retirement to life as a businessman. Now he’s back in the office at Broncos Headquarters helping to run the team. I don’t recall any major controversies surrounding his life beyond some rumored affairs,
a divorce, and new wife. Does that make him a hero? I don’t think so. (And no, I don’t consider Tim Tebow a “hero” either – so don’t ask. 🙂 )

Even important political figures like John F. Kennedy are a bit suspect as heroes. They’re flawed people just like the rest of us, yet have better publicists to document the times they manage to avert disaster or get into awkward personal situations. Kennedy served in the military with honor and negotiated the U.S. out of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which are both great properties to aspire to – being honorable in battle and cool under pressure. That didn’t stop him from having multiple affairs during his marriage to Jackie… Is a hero for one and a villain for the other? I can’t say.

Google defines a hero as “A person, typically a man, who is admired for courage or noble qualities.” Though a bit misogynistic, by that definition JFK definitely would be described as a “hero” by many people. Sports figures, politicians, military men and women, first responders, those engaged in humanitarian causes or missionary work – any of these and hundreds of other types of people might be described as heroes through their actions. Really I guess that’s what pushes some people into that heroic category – having the courage to hold to their convictions even under the worst conditions.

By now you’re wondering when in the heck I’m going to bring this back to heroes in gaming… So let’s do that.

John F. Kennedy quotation

Image by L.C.Nøttaasen via Flickr

Not every player character is going to be a hero. Due to the nature of gaming, every PC should have the potential to become a hero. But that’s up to the actions the player chooses for that character.

In a recent campaign, there were NPCs in the world that I respected more for their actions than I did some of the PCs. In that same campaign I played an anti-hero as an anti-establishment rogue more interested in freeing slaves and stopping slave markets between adventures than doing anything thieves would normally do like breaking & entering, robbery, picking pockets, and so on. He might have been considered a hero to some of the slaves he helped escape their bonds, but to the rest of the world and his friends he was tilting at windmills and causing trouble.

One of the NPCs, a slave and ex-gladiator, quietly served as a moral compass to my character through his actions even as he did his best to goad my character into thinking deeply about his actions and the result of those actions in the larger mosaic. We had some deep conversations I remember fondly. It was that NPC’s quiet moral certainty about his position in life, repenting for mistakes made earlier, that made him a hero in my mind.

English: President Kennedy meets with Soviet F...

Honestly I suspect that being a hero is more about holding to what you believe to be right even when the world says otherwise and being accountable for your actions. That mindset works in the real world as much as it does in any campaign world.

What makes a hero in your campaign? Is it your PC? What can you do to be more heroic?

The biggest thing to remember is to find what motivates your character and stick to that. Is it love? Money? Some event in their past? Use that as the moral center by which you can judge other decisions. Even when those decisions are hard and maybe go counter to the rest of the party, try to stay in character.

Good luck.

And just remember that not everyone needs to be a hero.

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7 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: Heroes Great and Small (RPG Blog Carnival, Heroes Living & Dead)

  • Thanks for participating!
    Excellent points both on and off the table~

  • For me a hero is someone who does good deeds for selfless reasons; whereas an anti-hero does the same deeds but for more selfish reasons. There’s more to it than that, of course, but it’s a good starting point.
    Simon Forster recently posted…Design: character creation, ability scoresMy Profile

  • forged

    A hero to me is a person who stands up to do the right thing regardless of the personal sacrifice involved or the lack of a reward beyond doing the right thing. Obviously there are semantics involved as to what makes it the “right thing”.

    In my mind, the “right thing” is standing up for a person who can’t defend themselves and/or helping a person out purely for the sake that they need help. Your mileage might vary though.

    In the NPC’s case that Brian mentioned, Cassius did something in his past he deeply regret (ironically he was following orders while doing it) and viewed his punishment (being made a slave) as not enough. This regret colored everything he believed in and he was determined to never do something so morally bankrupt/questionable ever again. Because of that, he made the perfect foil to Brian’s character (DC).

    While his actions (post-punishment) do fall perfectly inline with my definition of a hero, I don’t think Cassius ever realized that he qualified — but he couldn’t get past his guilt. (Other people in the campaign world did realize it … including DC. Actions do tend to speak loudly.)

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