Thursday, February 12, 2015

Murderer On the Loose


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.

13 comments:

  1. Well ... I just ran an eight-session wilderness and dungeon-crawl where the PCs decided to hunt down some bandits with bounties on their heads for murder. Sure, they had their own motivations, too, and they did cozy up to a devil ... *cough* ... helpful extraplanar agent ... during their chase, but in the end, they came down squarely on the side of the Law (and the Inquisition, too, if I'm being honest).

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    1. Wild. How did the deal with the devil go? Was he just a broker or was there some more permanent damage done to them?

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  2. Couldn't disagree more.

    I love playing the hero. I love stopping the bad guys, protecting the innocent from the scum of the Earth (the world, the galaxy, the multiverse), and saving the day.

    I want to match wits with the mad genius, and win.

    It's one of many reasons traditional D&D, and similar murderhobo games don't interest me in the slightest.

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    1. Am I misunderstanding here?

      You've always played characters on the wrong side of the law. I've always played characters on the right side. I usually play the law.

      I don't find being chased fun. I find hunting down leads, finding clues, and chasing the crooks fun.

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    2. Actually I didn't mean that I was on the wrong side of the law only - although you're not the first person to suggest that I'm always on the wrong side of the law - that the reason why my GMs have made me get chased was because it is a modern trope where the hero is on the run as opposed to having the bad guys on the run.

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    3. I see. Without an example or frame of reference I assumed you meant the typical D&D 'hero', who in my mind is a lawless, murderous cur.

      That isn't fair I know, but it is the default image that occurs to me.

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    4. I refuse to acknowledge your incredibly reasonable thoughts on Dungeons & Dragons in relation to my own game style and will instead pretend that you have no idea what you are talking about as I put my fingers in my ears and loudly scream, "Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah . . ."

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  3. I think certain genres "traditionally" lend themselves to one or the other. Currently, I'm writing an adventure for my Supers game where the PC's are a team of untried heroes who are forced to track down a group of unrelated escaped supervillains. I think the dramatic tension from being hunted is often just fear manifesting itself. Being the pursuer can have just as much dramatic tension, but it has to be played right.

    Does that make any sense? I dunno. I may need more coffee.

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  4. I think being the pursuer can be just as fun as the chased. My wife's PC spent two sessions as an auxillary city guard patrolling the scummy neighborhood at the city docks. Between Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, NCIS & the various CSIs, it was easy to come up with interesting stuff to happen for those two sessions. Lots of tracking down leads, looking at clues & interviewing suspects. She still has old clues that warrant investigation but she got sidetracked once she landed the cushy gig working for an elderly noblewoman even though one of those old clues could be the key to unraveling the mystery behind the nightmares that plague the old woman.

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    1. Miss Marple is the shit, sir. She is everything right with Agatha Christie and anyone who doesn't recognize is a fool.

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