You Either Die a Hero… Or Live Long Enough to Become the Villain

Something that has always confounded me about high level characters is how they are treated as awesome awe-inspiring heroes in many GM’s campaigns and pre-made settings.

I was thinking about this the other day and it dawned on me a completely different way to handle this.  Now my realization here is not novel and it may have been blogged about in the past and I just missed it..  Oh well.

In fantasy games, even old school games, the characters are just slightly a cut above your everyday-ho-hum-person.  They are brave, have skills that many people may not have, and are crazy enough to actually venture into the wilds and pit their mettle against things that would make most people piddle in their pants.

In many fantasy games I’ve played in or read about the highest character you tend to see is around level 5.  I think that this is to make the PC’s feel even more mighty when they are the same level as the captain of the guard or the king himself.  I think the other reason is that the world is extremely dangerous and your Average Joe has a hard enough time feeding himself and surviving toiling in the fields and dealing with bandits than anything else.

Think about it this way: The sight of a Goblin or two is scary.. The sight of an Orc is terrifying..  The sight of a Ogre is horrific.  Anything beyond that (to keep monsters fresh and not carbon-copy stat blocks) is like staring at something out of Cthulhu.  It is incomprehensible and can reduce people to jibbering idiots.

So what does that make PC’s?  They are the adventurers who do venture out and find themselves gaining power and tackling these horrors that gobble up people in the night and lay the bandits in the ground for disrupting the trade paths between villages, towns, and cities.

You Either Die a Hero…  Or Live Long Enough to Become the Villain

So we reach the meat of my thought process here..  The PC’s first find themselves lauded as heroes…  but eventually they are feared and despised for their power they have gained that sets them above the normal man…

Characters, especially in many of the older games get keeps and castles and followers starting around level 9-10?  Why?  Is it because the king has granted them a boon and gives them land, castle, and servants as a reward?  Or is it that the hero has attracted a few people who aren’t afraid of her and had to use her own resources to build a keep out on the boarder lands.

The heroes killed a dragon that has been plaguing the kings eastern most territory.  The heroes killed a dragon.  Something that many Average Joes look at with fear, awe, and possible even reverence.  Now the people are going to look at these heroes and beging to wonder what they are.  After all how could anything mortal or moral yield the power to kill a dragon?  Tensions will rise and eventually the heroes are turned into monsters that have entered congress with beasts of the deep.

What if the king needs the help of the heroes again?  He may turn to them in desperation, but there is true fear that he is making a deal with the devil here.  Sure the heroes might with whatever problem is now plaguing the kingdom, but do we really want to deal with people who can kill a dragon?!  Is it the lesser of two evils?  Will they set upon us next?!

I just think that this would be an interesting approach to handling PC’s at higher level.  They aren’t monsters and wouldn’t let a whole city die of something terrible, but they aren’t exactly welcome there either and they know it.


About wrathofzombie

I am a History major attending a community college until I can get more financial aid and attend a four year school. I am living in NJ with my girlfriend who is currently wrapping up on obtaining her PhD in Toxicology. I love Star Wars, Role-playing, video games, working out, reading, writing, and hanging with my girlfriend, dog (Perfect), and two kittens (Birch and Brambles). My main focus on this site will be my discussion of Role-playing games and ideas and hopefully contribute something worth a damn. View all posts by wrathofzombie

9 responses to “You Either Die a Hero… Or Live Long Enough to Become the Villain

  • morrisonmp

    This is pretty much the life cycle of the Jedi Order you are describing here. Look at the current storylines in the EU for example. The people love the Jedi, but also fear them. When politics spins that fear into something more tangible — heroes are cast out.

    And then when those heroes are needed again? Things are just that much harder.

    But I think a lot of the — we’re heroes(!) — thing comes from actual desire on the part of players to be seen that way. Also consider a lot of the stories that we look to for inspiration. I mean, St. George killed a dragon, right? He’s a Saint. 🙂

    Most heroes, and mythological figures, had flaws. Sometimes these flaws were what brought them low — but often, they were also seen as heroes even though they were so far above the “common man” of their time.

    When I game, I want to be the hero. It’s part of what makes gaming worth it for me. I love a little intrigue, but if I was constantly faced with the common man running from my PC because I was just as bad/scary as the monsters I defeated? That would kinda ruin the experience.

  • Anarkeith

    Great food for thought! In a more nuanced world (than typical black & white fantasy), high level pcs will surely have offended some folks by their choices…

  • >B

    I am reminded of this:

    “I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me.”
    — Patrick Rothfuss

  • seaofstarsrpg

    It is natural, given the D&D paradigm, that high level PCs will have enemies, people they have offended and those that they have frightened. They should also have allies, friends, and those that they have saved and inspired. High level characters become major players in the politics of a realm, even if they do not want to be, they are simply too powerful not to exert pressure on the other players of the political game, even if they do not intend to.

  • Swordgleam

    I like the idea, but I think you would definitely need buy-in from your players. And I have a hard time seeing a group that’s played a whole campaign as lauded heroes going for this.

    I do like the idea of starting out a game here. Sure, you start at a higher power level – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work, since everyone hates and/or fears you. But I suppose that’s what Exalted is about.

  • News from Around the Net: 16-SEP-11 (Sponsored by Escape Velocity Gaming) | Game Knight Reviews

    […] and stories grow of their exploits that they are feared by the populace more than revered? I think Wrath of Zombie is definitely onto something with this point of view… Think about it. Would you feel safe hiring someone to do a job who had killed a dragon? A […]

  • Emmett

    To add to this concept, my experience is that players tend to start out with noble ideas about their character but often end up pretty paranoid and very utilitarian in how they treat others. It may be justifiable considering how often they’re backstabbed but their behavior is usually pretty rough. We often forget that there used to be a lot of rules about how you did things. Sure people didn’t always follow them but THEY WERE THE BAD GUYS. Players break the rules of society left and right. They would be viewed as awful monsters.

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