Thursday, January 13, 2011

Abashed the Devil Stood...Playing Bad Guys

It's been a busy night. After the shock and anger of finding our home invaded and the majority of our wealth stolen, we acted quickly. Some would say we acted impulsively, I prefer to think that we took the initiative, and struck while the iron was hot. With the dust of the road and the stink of Stymos still on our clothes, we set about finding the men responsible. Now here we are. After a night of violence we have our man, or one of them at least. Lashed to a chair in the back room of the chandlery, his wife dead, his children sold into slavery, we make it clear to him that if he talks, his death will be swift. If he remains silent, well, let's just say that the Coranan Lia Kavair can extend an interrogation session as long as it takes. He talks, the words come out in a rush. All the while he is staring wide-eyed at the rendering vat Kezner uses to make tallow, and knows full well how this will end. 
That, Gentle Readers, is how a typical Harn session plays out. Well, perhaps not a typical session. We may have overreacted to the B&E, and the thing with the teamster and the rendering vat is as ugly as the game ever was, but you'll have that from time to time in a game that's equal parts The Godfather and Rome. Our characters are, well, let's not split hairs here kids, we are reprehensible human beings. We are a murderer's row of confidence men, killers, muggers, pushers, liars, and all around bad people. Honestly, that's the fun though. Playing bad guys is fun, I'm not gonna lie. There's something delicious about pretending to be Michael Corleone (or Tom Hagen in my character's case) or Billy Batts or Henry Hill or, hell, any real or imaginary gangster, killer, highwayman, or scoundrel from the last few hundred years that, while perhaps not more fun, is at least a different kind of fun than playing the usual knight-in-shining-armor character we all usually play.

Having said that, if you take a good hard gander at the characters we usually play, just how heroic are they? Paladins and priests aside, and even those two archetypes are suspect, we generally play people who kill. For money. For a living. Now, that may not be evil per se, but it's certainly morally ambiguous. Oh sure, there's the idea of the vigilante and the anti-hero as being actually heroic, Harry Callahan and Paul Kersey and Han Solo taught us that. There's also the idea that a man backed into a corner must make a stand or that you'd do anything to protect your stuff/family/land from invasion or that revenge is, in fact, a perfectly valid reason to go on a killing spree. Gamers seem to shy away from bad guy games, at least a good portion of them do. Why? 

Oh, I know there's a thousand thousand reasons why, that was mostly rhetorical. It's true that a lot of times a bad guy game just isn't as satisfying as a run-of-the-mill heroic type game. Sometimes players don't get it, and by it I mean the tone and feel of a true bad guy game. There's a certain percentage of the population who equate "bad guys", especially in games with, god forbid, alignments, with crazy people. Apparently for some, playing a morally ambiguous or downright reprehensible character means that you're a goddamn sociopath or psychopath who broods, doesn't play well with others, and answers every question or faces every obstacle with the old ultra-violence. Sometimes the GM doesn't get it. Inexperienced GM's, or those with a general misunderstanding of the human condition, can make a hack-job out of a bad guy game as quick as everything. They tend to just throw everything depraved they can think of into a big pot and dump it on the table. I know, tonight I'll have the players blow up a bus full of nuns and orphans and puppies, and they'll do it because they're evil!

Playing morally ambiguous/bad guy characters doesn't mean unfettered murder and unchecked psychotic rages all the time any more than playing in a good guy game does. Motivations are different (sometimes), and for sure the methods can be different (how many good guys do you know that would render a man in a tallow vat?), but they're honestly not that different. I guess what I'm saying is, even if it's out of your comfort zone, and especially if it's out of your comfort zone, everyone should play in a bad guy game at least once. It's pretty fun, and it makes a good premise for a one-off or short campaign to clean the palate after a longer, more upright campaign.

PS: I want to hear about all y'alls experiences with playing bad guy games. I want to hear the good and bad. Lay it on me.


A.L. said...

I suppose probably the closest to a "bad guy" (not a psychopath, but bad guy) I've played in recent games has to be William Hydesmythe III. He was the third son of one of the richest and highest ranked noble families in the British Empire in an alternate history Steam Punk game a friend of mine ran.

I made him to be fun, interesting, and a bit of an adrenaline junky. The other players were terrified of what might happen should he become 'bored', as that usually resulted in everything being dropped and the airship moved across the globe. However, none of this really prepared people for what happened when the group went back home to jolly old London.

See, William's older brother thought that William was trying to muscle in and take over the role of heir. So, he sent a message to William by having one of the crew beaten and left in an opium den. Buying back our newly opium addicted crew member was expensive, but the hello was received. To say hello back, William abducted his brother's right hand man and mistress. The right hand man was merely beaten and crippled before being left in that same opium den. The woman was treated the same, but with specific intent to make her less attractive so it would be harder to work off the debt to the opium house.

Then, William bribed the guards, and moseyed in to his brother's bedroom while his brother was asleep to talk business. The meeting ended with William jumping out of a tower onto another airship, his brother's house burning to the ground behind him.

An over-reaction? Maybe. But the scariest thing about William was what he'd do if you messed with what he considered his. Sadly, the game ended shortly after, so we didn't get to see how deep the rabbit hole went. But it was a fun, if terrifying, few game sessions for the rest of the table.

A.L. said...

On a totally separate note (hence new comment). I've found one of the big problems about the Bad Guy game, is that by nature the players need to be a lot more pro-active in a bad guy game than a good guy game. In a Good Guy game it is easy. Someone is being bad over there, go stop him. In a Bad Guy game, you have to present the opportunities, but the players are the ones who need to set up the situations.

Some groups, and some players, just aren't up for that. Which can make them harder to pull off. At least, in my experience.

Lonnie said...

The link above is to a PBP game where I play a Fallen Cosmo-Knight (Vincent). While he waivers on the fence of good and evil, I do try to keep him 'more evil' than anything. However, he's the most fun I've had in a game in a long time, playing or GMing.

Vincent is a complicated man. I created him to be this moral rollercoaster and act as a catalyst to other players. In playing him so far, he's physically killed two players, and not in the 'bloodthirsty frenzy, "I'm gonna kill you!" way' either.

He's personally my favorite character now. I think one of the reasons why I love him so much is that he is the villain ina sea of heroes. I came at him with a tactical/stealth motif in mind, so it helps to keep the 'heroes' from getting him as well. The more I think about it, he's more neutral with a leaning towards 'eliminating' problems, however he has to. His real strength comes with him not relying on anyone, so any potential partners are also potential shields/tools/etc. However, his real weakness is his wife/daughter.

In the current story now, his daughter has been infected by a magic plague attack on the planet she is on, and Vincent is off to save them. However, if you follow the link and read the seventh post down, you'll see a very lengthy and detailed post. It was only this evil character who I keep upheld with a 'unbeatable' tone where I was able to write such a great way at 'evil with a heart' or 'evil with a purpose'.

That's where I think 'Evil Games' go wrong. There's no purpose, goal, or reason outside of 'Being Evil'.

"Why'd you kill him?"

"Because we're evil!"

That mentaility ruins the game. Just like with Good Guys, play your Bad Guys with THOUGHTS and EMOTIONS. Always makes things better. And as a reactive GM, the better you feed me, the better the game gets. I'm sure this will hold true with most.

Paul said...

I guess you rendered justice to him.