Monday, August 25, 2008

Shades of Grey

In the past, I have been THAT roleplayer. Every character I played was a goodie-goodie two shoes who always fought on the side of the angels and never once strayed into dodgy territory. Indeed, every game I played in during my youth was very black and white, good vs evil and you knew damned well which side you were fighting ... and lets just say you didn't get the cool uniforms and classic sinister goatees!

Recently a number of the games I have played in and ran have deviated from this sort of game massively. The playtest of Hot War I ran essentially had three neo-facists dispensing justice to a terrified community. Cold City was a hot bed of potential nastiness and indeed, the one surviving character ended up being possessed by the spirit of Adolf Hitler. None of the characters appeared to be particularly nice people to me. Even Pendragon - that bastion of honour and chivalry - was tainted with some inter-character assassination attempts, a virtual cuckolding, the massacre of innocents, a bloody vendetta that wiped out an entire tribe and more random violence than you could shake a stick at.

And of course, the crowning glory of this is our current D&D 4e campaign where (most of us) are about as 'shades of grey' as you can get. My character is a paladin, but bless this new system in that it has removed that stupid 'lawful good' restriction. He is an absolute single-minded weapon of mass destruction. Born as a slave, raised by tieflings, used as a handservant, sex toy and bodyguard until he was freed, he is a scarred and wounded psyche in a brutal world. Our campaign is very Conan-esque sword and sorcery with demons, sacrifices, slave girls, deserts and all the trappings of a nasty nasty world. Its fucking fantastic!

We're all thirty-something gamers and I think its fair to say that at our age you have been brought up in gaming in one of two schools; you either thrived on the carnage of unabashed intra-player conflict or you were taught that this is BadWrongFun and should never happen. I am certainly of the second school and I still think that the random PC-killing I saw in my youth is totally counterproductive. However intra-character conflict is absolutely essential and indeed drives some of the most memorable parts of our games. These conflicts absolutely do not have to come to physical conflict but they can and should strain the relationships between the characters.

Even if we look back at the relationships between the characters in the classic RPG 'bible' - Lord of the Rings - we see conflict between everyone and Boromir, Gimli and Legolas (which is obviously resolved!), Frodo and the Fellowship etc. Star Wars? Luke and Han? Leia and Han? Han and Londo? C3P0 and R2D2? Even Luke and Yoda are at each others throats at times. Star Trek? Spock and McCoy? Worf and Pickard at times?

Of course, the real trick is that the driving force behind 'shades of grey' characters is a far more complex set of drivers than 'do good' (or indeed 'do evil'). The characters are more complex, less predictable and generally more intriguing. You can never quite be sure whats going to happen. Thats a good thing. It keeps you thinking at the table rather than simply falling into tried and tested character reactions.

I like Shades of Grey. Indeed, I wonder whether I could really go back to the White Hat role again and have the same level of impact? Who knows!


Fandomlife said...

I think you could go back to the White Hat role again. You see, while I have no problems with Shades of Grey, and it's fine with me, I don't hold to the apposite of White Hats = No Conflict.

This is a mistake a lot of gamers make.

Not saying you are making it, but I'm looking at your returning to the white hat question.

In the Buffy game, my character was essentially the Slayer analogue, and essentially a White Hat, but that doesn't mean they don't make mistakes, or make wrong decisions, just that they won't intentionally make 'wrong, evil, etc' ones. But that doesn't mean there internal issues won't cause them to fail against their own high standards.

Now, a true White Hat might never fall into such problems, might never leave a man behind, might never kill a single civilian, whatever, but by and large those characters are a myth - a few exceptions aside.

Aragorn is a white hat in almost every sense of the word, he even resists the ring, but he's not perfect.

Fandomlife said...

I like the overall tone of the game because the characters just feel more badass. I know that's a slightly childish thing, but it's fun nonetheless!