RPGs: How Not to Play Batman
This came up on an episode of the Faculty Meetings (either 107 or 108) from The RPG Academy recently and I wanted to talk about it in somewhat different terms than they did. The idea they were tossing about was how you can play vulnerable characters. They did a really good job of talking about it and how characters who aren’t basically Batman make for more interesting role play and stories. I wanted to touch on this some as well, but also in a broader sense.
Why Not to Play Batman
Everyone kind of wants to play that Batman character. He has a strong moral code (that is the part people will most often ignore), he’s an expert fighter, and he is super smart. In real life he has a mysterious playboy life style and women flock to him. And in RPG’s, people want to play that charismatic character who is smart and great at combat, but there are some issues with that.
First, it’s hard to tell a story around that. If everyone is awesome, especially a whole party, there’s not going to be a challenge that is too hard for them ever. Everything seems kind of paltry when you don’t have to spend time putting clues together because the PC’s are just smart enough to go take on figure it out right away. And it’s almost worse if there’s a single player who is awesome at everything. The fighter is the tank in your party, but you have a rogue that can evade so much damage and deal more damage, they might as well be the tank and striker all rolled into one. Or maybe it’s a Bard/Rogue combo so they can heal, they can cast spells, they can tank, they can strike, they can really do whatever they want. What’s the point of the rest of the party even?
How Not to Play Batman
This is where the thoughts of The RPG Academy really comes in. They talked mainly about character flaws that really influence the game. For example, in Dungeons and Flagons, our D&D Actual Play, Tate has a drinking problem, doesn’t really get him into too much trouble, but I keep track of when he says he’s been drinking, and the difficulty of a check is higher when he’s been drinking. He’s less apt to notice stuff around him, and if he’s been drinking a lot, he’s going to distract his fellow adventurers as well. One great way not to be Batman is to have those character flaws. And sure, you might say, Batman has character flaws, which he does, but that’s not how people generally see him. Having a character flaw doesn’t just have to be something like a drinking problem, it could be being naive to the world, which FInja is sometimes.
The next thing I’d say is try not to be good at everything. For example, Tate is kind of character that is pretty good at everything. He can talk to people and either tell them the truth to get them to believe him or lie to their face. It doesn’t really matter which. Tate in some ways is almost too powerful at most skills. Nimrose on the other hand has issues with talking to people. But she has some great fighting and acrobatic skills, she is stealthy, and nimble. So when she plays, she wants to play into those traits, because she’s going to do better. Batman is generally good at everything, need something fixed, go to Batman, need money, go to Batman, need a detective, it’s Batman, need to knock heads together, call Batman. So, to not play Batman, don’t let your character specialize in everything, let each player have a spot to shine. Tate is the talker, Nimrose is the sneaker, and Finja is the healer and kind person. And we’ve had fun situations where Nimrose has had to be the talker and things haven’t worked as expected.
Finally, one thing that I like about not playing Batman and why I say, don’t play Batman, is that it gives a chance for your character to really grow. If they are good at everything, they can learn new mechanics but really won’t ever get better than they are now. When a character has a flaw or a weakness, they can have that ah-ha moment of character development in the game where maybe Tate puts down the bottle. Maybe Finja becomes more hardened to the world at some point in time when something bad happens. And if you are the player, this really allows you to take narrative control of your character. The DM might try and make you have that ah-ha moment where your character becomes more world wise, but only you get to pick when and how that happens.
Where/What/When Not to Play Batman
Alright, I got nothing left except to wrap up. Playing Batman can seem like it would be fun, and it might be for you for a little bit. But if you’re Batman character is overshadowing everyone else and other people aren’t having fun, then you are going to stop having fun as well, because the game will stop. There are points and time to pull out a Batman character, like with a one shot where you’re just playing against a huge bad guy for one session, but if you are playing a campaign, don’t be Batman.
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