Thursday, June 9, 2011

You're No Hero

"Tell me, Bronn. If I told you to kill a babe . . . an infant girl, say, still at her mother's breast . . . would you do it? Without question?"

"Without question? No." The sellsword rubbed thumb and forefinger together. "I'd ask how much."
--Bronn, A Game of Thrones

I just got done reading Tim's nut-kicking of LOTFP over at The Other Side blog, and the statement that he likes to play heroes got me thinking about the role of heroes in D&D.  In old school D&D, folks play heroes despite the system.

On said nut-kicking:  it's pretty entertaining, I don't agree with it, but it's a good read-through and the comments were interesting.

We're going to see a contrast between heroic vs non-heroic gaming come up more in old school discussions because of the hype generated by DCC RPG and their ad copy - "You're a reaver, a cutpurse, a heathen slayer, a tight-lipped warlock... you're no hero."  I would put forward this thesis;  games and gaming play styles ultimately emulate their inspirational sources, and the divide between old school and new school gaming has just as much to do with the difference between pre and post 1970's fantasy literature.

Pulp era fantasy featured rogues and ruffians and barbarians that smashed and tricked their way to temporary wealth, and this heavily influenced the original versions of D&D.  Since that time period, we've seen the massive popularity of Tolkien and a sea-change in fantasy that lead to one epic fantasy series after another, followed by the Grim-Dark antiheroes of the 1990's (looking at you, Lestat), and now the popularity of post-modern fantasists like George RR Martin, with their realpolitik grim and gritty approach to fantasy.

Gamers emulate their inspirational sources; D&D was birthed out of the pulp influences in Appendix N and rewards roguish looters, heroes need not apply.  Paladins and Rangers and good vs evil seem a little odd in AD&D 1E because the reward mechanism in the game didn't change, other than people just looted and pillaged "evil" humanoids and didn't worry about their consciences.

I mostly checked out during the Dragonlance and post-Dragonlance period of TSR, but looking back it seems that the heroic influences of mainstream fantasy infected the game, and the focus was on big quests and being heroes.  I'm not very knowledgeable about AD&D 2E, but I'm guessing it introduced alternative XP systems other than XP for gold to support heroic quest styles of play.  After all, Aragorn never stopped to loot Moria - though it would be funny to see the companions figuring out how to get wagon loads of mithril out of the mines.

We seem to be thankfully past the Grim-Dark anti-hero period of game play, but it raises some interesting questions for me about the OSR, the revival of old school dungeons & dragons, and the new emphasis Goodman is placing on the amoral pulp rogues of Appendix N.

Is it the zeitgeist of the time that's making the return to the roots more popular now?  Are there spiritual connections between the pulp "heroes" of old time fantasy that plays well to the violent post-modern fantasy influences we see nowadays?  Or is it because we grew up playing D&D in the 70's and 80's and when you're in your thirties and forties you get nostalgic?