Monday, June 6, 2011

Player Monday: Today we speak of MURDER!

For today's Player Monday post, I want to take a few minutes to discuss the concept of... MURDER. I'm inspired to write on the topic after having seen X-Men First Class yesterday afternoon. While the movie does a great job of exploring prejudice on many levels, there's also a strong conflict between Magneto and Professor X about whether it's right to kill your enemy (or an existential threat of enemy like Sebastian Shaw - the film's main villain). This got me thinking about the greater debate between superheroes and vigilantes in comic books. Both types of heroes tend to do some good, but they differ in their level of brutality and willingness to end a human life. Think Batman versus Wolverine. Batman has a line he won't cross - killing criminals. Wolverine won't let killing someone get in the way of doing the right thing.

Applying this debate to our own characters, at least in my anecdotal experience, I'm surprised by how often I meet Wolverines and how incredibly rare the Batmen are. D&D characters tend to have no problem at all killing off the baddies (ESPECIALLY if they're not human). Consider that this is the quintessential "Hack n Slash" game and it just adds to the effect. I don't play a lot of supers games, but in Icons I know we run across mostly Batmen, but again these are games where we're doing our best to imitate classic four color superheroes. These guys don't kill.

Why do we almost always kill our enemies or anyone who might stand even a minor threat down the road? Are we afraid that if we leave a tool like a particularly nasty NPC alive after our encounter that the GM will wring his hands in glee and use him to make our characters' lives more difficult down the road? Maybe it's such a learned, assumed habit at this point in the hobby that an adventure doesn't feel complete unless the evil baron gets his just desserts in the end. I know when I play characters that don't want to kill his enemies or when I see other people play characters like that, they're almost always the Paladin or similiar holy, Lawful Good class that is motivated more by what he thinks he should do rather than what I think my character actually would do.

So I'm going to propose a challenge, and I'm going to try to take this one on myself at some point. Try playing a character other than a holy shield of the Lord Most High who doesn't want to kill his enemies because of a perfectly legitimate reason. After all, Atheists aren't known to go out and mass murder individuals just because they don't believe in a god. You have to take the code seriously, but the rationale, the foundations of the "no killing" code don't have to have anything to do with being a good little two-shoes. Nobody considers Batman to be a wuss because he doesn't kill - he's the bad ass Dark Knight we all know and love. Still, he doesn't kill his enemies. Maybe he thinks he's better than that, maybe he doesn't want to sink to their level, or maybe he just is arrogant enough to think he can think his way out of every problem rather than taking the easy way out with the permanent solution (apologies for the phrasing, but it's accurate here).

The challenge itself should be rewarding enough for your own character, but it should be even better as far as the effect on the rest of the group and the story. Be the one unwilling to land the killing blow and make one of the other characters the killer if they really want the bad guy to die.  Don't forget that leaving behind a big bad NPC alive but in the gripes of rage and despair over his plot being foiled by the likes of you(!) can also add tons to a long story. Recurring villains are great because you build up a real hate for the guy or gal. Of course there's also the shock and genuine entertainment value of being the guy who never kills through out an entire game finally deciding that someone bad enough has finally earned the right to be killed by him and doing it in a quiet, decisive action. There's a lot of potential here, and I'd love to hear about what other people think regarding "the code" of Batman. Or maybe all you've seen and know are Wolverines. That's alright too.

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