Wednesday, January 13, 2010
When losers are winners
Another sticky point that has arisen time and time again in my gaming experience is the subject of how "weak" characters can be when they are generated by a random-based game system. Many of my players who have gotten so used to generating characters in point-build games systems (such as Gurps) or "balanced" game systems which produce epic characters from the get-go (such as D&D 4e) seem to bothered by the randomness of the Mutant Future generation system. The very possibility of being stuck with a character having less than average attribute scores and debilitating random mutations seems to bother some people. They see this as being "burdened" by an inferior character.
This is evident in a request I received from one of my current regular Mutant Future players. While he plays a most suitable Pure Strain Human, he once asked me if I could initiate a houserule allowing for point allocations to generate character stats instead of the usual die roll method (and its attendant risks). The risk of getting a Strength attribute of 5, it appears, grates on his sensibilities.
Me, I see this as a challenge to one's role-playing and gaming skills, rather than a burden. Then again, they say I have rather strange role playing game habits. I have this fascination for the struggle of the underdog; of the everyman-turned-reluctant-hero who bucks the odds without a sure guarantee of survival (much less of success). I always had a soft spot for characters who, at first glance, appear "inferior" due to lower-than-expected die rolls during character generation. It isn't for a reason that I am a fan of the old DC comics series of an intrepid team of four heroes in World War II called the Losers, particularly the ones drawn by Jack Kirby.
Musing all of this was triggered by a post in Planet Algol which essentially captures how I feel about the whole thing:
"Loser characters are hilarious, usually the awesome players in my campaign play their ability-score deficient character to the freaking hilt! Jeryk's jackass antics had a couple of us helpless with laughter. With the lowered emphasis on ability score in AD&D, it really doesn't make it a huge handicap in most instances, and it seems like the characters with ability scores that are a genuine liability play smarter as a result and those characters tend to be survivors as well as having a lot of heart."
Reading this post also led me to another similar point from Jeff's Gameblog which I find just as appropos:
"For the EPT game I wanted the kind of freaks you'd see in an actual campaign, so I generated a bunch of stats randomly by using the random number generator in the spreadsheet. This resulted in a couple kickass PCs, some decent ones, several mediocre characters and quite a few complete losers. This is completely acceptable to me, as every campaign that uses random chargen will show a similar distribution."
Even non-random game systems such as Gurps can lend itself readily to this type of gaming. Curiously, the relative "weakening" effect brought about by a random throw of a dice during character generation may also be "self-inflicted" (a term I use for want of a better one). This is suggested by Nikolas here, wherein he says:
"Voluntary Disadvantages adds another dimension to RPGs and attempts to create an incentive for layers to voluntarily bring up their disadvantages in appropriate situations to enhance the game's experience."
To me, whether or not it comes as a result of random chance, or a voluntary decision, the willingness to accept the challenges of playing what others would dismiss as a Loser connotes the presence of guts and chutzpah in a player. Something I'd do myself and respect in others.
Maybe I'm just a bit tired a not a bit sick of running games starring a group of epic-story, star-crossed, lavishly equipped, superstars romping through the world in search of fame and fortune. Instead, I crave dozens of eclectic groups of misfits just bucking the odds and going out there to raise some hell. Bring 'em on- bring on the Losers!