Last night we had a murder just down the way from our house. It's not the first one I've had happen nearby but as the police cars streaked by with their blue lights flashing it got me to thinking about prison breaks in role-playing games. As a player I've broken out of more jails, prisons, torture chambers, dungeons, and internment camps then I care to remember and then I'm always running for my life; but as I turned on the scanner to listen to the police I found myself wondering why I had never been on the other end of things.
I mean I understand why I'm normally on the other end of things. Running from the law is terrifying and it raises the tension in ways that chasing someone can hardly hope to do if you watch modern films. You can't trust anyone and you can't rest until you get far enough away from them that there's not possible way they can get to you. In role-playing games that means you just have to press hard enough until you break out into some wild country where only God can get you (and even then He would be hard pressed to find you). So once you break out and get away you're relatively safe unless your Game Master decides to send a bounty hunter after you. Years can pass in the game without a worry of harassment from the law, but the specter of the bounty hunter is always there. The other side of the equation, though, has it's own tension and fear. Fear that the murderer will kill again and fear that what they do next will be far worse than what's come before. And if they get away? Then you have to start figuring out where they went. You have to search for clues and race against the clock hoping that you won't be too late.
Why haven't I ever been on the side of law; hunting for the bad guys and dragging them back to stand trial for their crimes?
After talking with a few of my old Game Masters I kept getting the same answer: because it's more exciting to be chased. Only I don't think it is. In a role-playing game it's very hard to create the excitement of racing away from the law like some Medieval Jason Bourne. Which is why those sort of escapes generally play out like a game of dramatic chess. Only without the drama. Or the fun. Still I see it over and over again as I read blogs and talk to my friends: we're always on the run. Our enemies pursue us and we talk about the dramatic tension that builds but so often it's a muted tension that fails to deliver the experience we hoped for. Yet the other side is hard, or so I'm told. I think it can be done, and done well, and I aim to prove it.