Monday, December 28, 2015
I Think That We Can Think It Out Again
Is it all right to force an addiction on a player character? Is it all right if this addiction has been rolled randomly and has been supposedly taken up by the character prior to the campaign?
The player character's childhood is usually overlooked as something inconvenient. We know the character must be old enough to perform combat and act as an adult - naturally we want the character to be taken seriously by denizens of the world. Even if the character is only 15 to 17 years old, we suppose that people grew responsible earlier (speaking of fantasy campaigns here) and that it's okay for a 16-year-old to take on a quest directed by a duke or king. The youth part is dismissed.
But those are a lot of years before play and where some characters are concerned, not a lot of those years were spent with a very high intelligence (I don't want to get into an intelligence vs. wisdom argument here, so let's just assume I'm talking about whichever one makes you, the reader, happy). However old Bekkard the Bold is right now, at some point he was a 12-year-old training to be a fighter and in those years, he was offered ale, spirits, tobacco or harder things like opium. Being 12, he hasn't become a 1st level yet and this is way before the player took over the character - we must assume some decision was made at the time and we shouldn't always assume it's the one that works best for the player now.
Or should we? More than a few argue that all the characters must be heroes, as this is the point of the game. Addiction is a nefarious thing and the players shouldn't be saddled with such detriments - at least, not unless we're playing some sort of points system and we get to choose what we want to be sub-optimal.
My background generator ignores that - because it doesn't care what the player wants. It is presumed that the player has organized the various stats into their pigeon holes and that choosing to put a '9' under intelligence is a game-act and therefore has consequences. One of those may be (but not necessarily) that the character is addicted to opium.
Some will bristle at this - yet they will be quite accepting of a character having lost an eye, a character unable to ride a warhorse or one that is unable to swim. And naturally no player will complain about random results that increase saving throws, allow for the use of two weapons without penalties or provide a chance for going berserk in special circumstances. There are just some things that players would rather not have dirtying their hands and addiction is one of those.
Yet addiction makes for strong drama. Virtually every program series going right now turns again and again to addiction as a means of propelling forward characters and justifying bad behavior that conveniently undermines the story arc and keep the tale going for at least another season. Characters are addicted to killing (Dexter), power (House of Cards), selling (Mad Men), drinking (Mad Men), helplessly cheating on their wives (Mad Men again), a desperate need to quit their chosen destiny (Buffy), solve crimes (Sherlock) and sometimes just plain drugs (most shows). And because addiction is the writing gift that just keeps giving, even after the addicted person has kicked their habit, there's all the adjustment plots that are written about cravings and backsliding, followed by self-recrimination and the condemnation of others, all of it making wonderful opportunities for conflict, regret, remorse, self-flagellation and the ever-popular fuck it, let's just go all in.
Assuming that your characters can somehow accept the principle and see it as more than just time spent and cost paid, embracing an addiction as part of your character's behaviour can be every bit as fun as walking with a peg leg or finding ways to overcome your vow of poverty - or chastity, if that is your thing. It's really just a matter of getting beyond the hero straight-jacket and recognizing that depth and purpose can often evolve from misery, repetition and repentance.
Allow me to show my age (and enjoyment of musicals), so that I can present a profligate's thief's troubled efforts to choose a straight life by reviewing the situation: