What Are We Risking?

by Sir Bedivere

Chris has made a comment to the effect that if the player characters can’t get killed, there is no point in the game. I take this to mean that risking something makes the game meaningful, and I agree. However, these characters are inventions no more real than Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; how could it possibly matter if one dies? After all, if one is killed, we just roll up another. So, what exactly is it that we’re risking by making our characters genuinely mortal? Is there, in fact, any risk?

Some may say “No,” and those folks can stop here and go find something more interesting to read. I, on the other hand, think there are two ways to say “Yes.” But I’m only going to offer one here: What we risk is our own emotional involvement with the character and the game world: The more we are involved with the character, the more we risk.

This presents us with a dilemma: We need to be attached to a character to really be risking anything, but since Basic Fantasy is fairly lethal, it doesn’t make sense to create a character we are immediately attached to. Other games require a player to spend some time coming up with a somewhat detailed background, and that’s one way to develop player involvement in a character. The BF player shouldn’t do that; his character can die in the first encounter, and all that time will be wasted. If some attachment is necessary to care, a little detachment goes a long way to keeping the game fun.

I think the answer to the dilemma, quite naturally, goes back to something Chris said in the post, Special Snowflake Syndrome, “Player characters don’t begin as special snowflakes, all unique. They become that way by being played.”

Very existentialist for a role-playing game, and very right. We care little about our first level character because we hardly know him, but by fifth level he’s an old friend; we’ve been through a lot together.

Still, I want to care about that first level character, just a little, just enough to be risking something when he steps into that first musty, subterranean hallway. So, I answer one simple question about any new character I create: Why is he there? That usually results in a few sentences that tell me a lot about how to play the character, and which also give me a good base from which the PC can grow organically. That much, fifteen minutes maybe, is enough of an investment for me to be risking something.

What about you?

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