Recently I had an opportunity to watch The Last Samurai on television and came to an interesting conclusion… Though we often focus on the loud and flashy aspects of gaming, such as combat, magic, and monsters, there are other moments in-between that we should also focus on. Character relationships, both within the party and outside, as well as the player’s relationship with their own characters.
There’s a scene where Tom Cruise‘s character (Algren) speaks with Lord Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) and they are discussing the lives of warriors and the way of Bushido. The “Warrior’s Way” in that exchange was described as “living in each breath” as you can’t predict your own death. Live each day like it could be your last.
Far too often we use PCs as a disposable resource. Some games even make that part of the process like the DCC RPG “funnel” approach to low level characters. Make a bunch, send them through the meat grinder, and see who survives.
There’s nothing wrong with that approach. Sometimes you want that “survival of the fittest” feel to a campaign. And sometimes you’re just going through the motions waiting for the next character, the next adventure, the next campaign.
However… Some of my favorite moments of roleplaying over the last 30 years have involved tiny things. The death of a pair of characters dying side by side after many adventures together. The sudden decision to step where others fear to tread based on a die roll. The philosophical discussion between an escaped slave and a current slave about some decisions leading us all on strange paths to discovery. The discovery of the rules to the “Game of Life” by an insane vampire trying to find his way in the world.
In the current campaigns I’m playing in, I enjoy the camaraderie at the table but somehow miss the deeper roleplaying moments in the quiet between the chaos. We go through a lot of battles, which can be fun but eventually gets tiresome no matter how creative the battles may be. But it’s those quiet moments that add depth to the roleplaying experience. And that, for me at least, seem to increase my enjoyment of the loud moments… almost as though riding the wave from peak to trough.
I suspect that it’s the journey between those highs and lows that emphasizes the important moments. And I wish that there were more of them these days.