In the GM’s Journal we will discuss all things role playing. From tips for running a successful table to reviews of various systems, you’ll find it here.
In most campaign settings, the players’ characters are… different. There is something that sets them apart from the rest of the world. They have special skills, magical aptitude, special equipment, or even boons granted to them by the gods. But why have they been given these special gifts? I would argue that the player characters are destined for something greater. They are destined to be heroes. If this is to be their destiny, let’s take a look at what it means to be a hero.
Right now the media is saturated with heroes. You can find them in cinema, board games, literature, video games, and especially roleplaying games. We as a culture have a fascination with heroes. Humans have told stories about heroes going all the way back to Beowulf and Gilgamesh.
But what does it mean to be a hero? Most traditional definitions focus on the physical attributes of the character, their legendary courage, or the laurels they’ve earned. I believe there is something more. I believe that heroes shine when the going gets tough. When all the lights go out, the hero is the ever-burning torch in the darkness. The difference between a mundane person and a hero is that a hero never gives up. Even in the face of defeat, the hero staggers back up, wipes the blood and sweat from their brow and continues to fight the good fight. They soldier on even when all hope seems lost. They continue to persevere when the normal man or woman would have thrown in the towel and gone home. If fate wills it, they are willing to lose everything, even their lives, for what they believe in. I believe that we all have an innate desire to follow the heroic tradition.
Now then, our task as game masters is to facilitate this desire to be heroes, to follow the tradition of telling heroic tales. We must give the players something to fight for: a banner to carry, innocents to protect, or a quest to fulfil. We must give them the opportunity to use their special gifts in a meaningful way. The players need something more important than new equipment or XP. They need a reason to be a hero. The key to getting the players involved is to find out what the characters value and giving them a reason to protect it. Alternatively, give the players an intolerable injustice to stand against. Sometimes an entire campaign can spring from a single cause!
In the not too distant past, I ran a campaign for a group of friends. In this campaign I created a particularly abhorrent NPC who was known only as “The Duke”. Admittedly, the Duke was only designed to be a one-shot villain. The players, however, decided that this guy was going down. Despite my best efforts to direct them elsewhere, the players wouldn’t let his injustices stand. From then on their mission was to remove him from power. The rest of the campaign was built around evading his agents, gaining allies, and ultimately confronting the villain. Ultimately they succeeded, but it cost them dearly. They lost many friends, and made many enemies. The lesson that we can take from this is that when the players set their mind to a quest, they can prove themselves heroes. With a party full of heroes, legendary campaigns can unfold before you.
As Game Masters we must keep in mind that the player characters are special. Not just anyone can slay a dragon, quell an uprising, or bring balance to the force. Characters must be given the chance to use their gifts to make their world a better place. The only thing a player needs to rise to the challenge of being a hero is the opportunity.
Give your players the chance to fulfill their destiny.
Let them be heroes!
Karington Hess is a lifelong gamer whose passions for hospitality and all things game-related led him to Ravenwood Castle, where he served as an Innkeeper before joining The Malted Meeple. When not pouring beers, crafting milkshakes, or teaching boardgames, Karington can be found behind the DM’s screen, weaving intricate stories for his fellow gamers.