So we began our game of BASH this past weekend, and I think that it went pretty well, overall.
What I really wanted to do was create a fairly open world superhero game which was based on my own, personal, academic and political interests (social movements, corporate malfeasance, journalism, partisanship, post 9/11 paranoia, etc). BASH seemed like an idea system because it’s very rules light when compared to most superhero games, which read like airplane instructions. What I wanted was a simple mechanic which could almost disappear as the characters explored the world and the characters.
I told my players that I wanted them to play a grittier sort of superhero. Some of my inspirations for the game are Brian K. Vaughn’s brilliant Ex Machina, the great videogame Infamous, various Batman stories, and various Alan Moore projects. This, to me, meant that they didn’t necessarily have to call themselves “(insert something here) man” and wear capes. I would have been perfectly happy if they just had regular names and no costumes. They rose to the challenge. They created a group of super heroes with names which are more like nicknames than superhero names (“Pockets” because he wears a big coat, “Doctor” because he’s a scientist, etc.), none of whom wear costumes, all of whom have complicated backstories.
Oh yeah. And Scott’s playing a dog. A literal dog. Who can’t talk.
This all got me thinking: what makes for a good hero to play, or just a good hero in general? Certainly, comic books have moved from 2-dimensional do-gooder type characters to more nuanced characters. Does this make them more interesting?
BASH suggests that all characters must have a “mental malfunction” which is the reason they fight crime (i.e. Batman’s parents were killed. HIS PARENTS WERE KILLED!!!!!!). So is it true that heroes are more interesting, or realistic, or whatever, when they have some kind of quirk which demonstrates that they’re as flawed as the rest of us?
Personally, I tend to think that, yes, heroes are more interesting when there’s something wrong with them. People are more interesting when there’s something wrong with them, so it stands to reason that the same would go for heroic type folks, right? Having said that, what makes a good “mental malfunction,” in BASH’s terms? I’d imagine that a very small percentage of the population has had someone close to them die under mysterious circumstances, but I’d put money on the table that over 50% of RPG characters are currently dealing with some kind of ridiculously tragic death (Batman’s parents were killed. HIS… PARENTS… WERE…. KILLED!!!!!).
What are some other possibilities? It occurred to me that I like to play people driven by some kind of intense zealotry. That’s a nice little thing to drive someone. Next time I make a player character, though, I might flip it around. How about a heroic character who is recovering from some kind of unsavory ideology? I think I might enjoy playing someone who just got out of a cult, who just gave up on being a white supremacist, or who is attempting to deal with their own tendency towards misogyny, because they realized that these ideologies or groups were somehow intellectually and morally bankrupt. Rather than being driven by revenge, hatred, power, etc., they could be driven by penance.
I think as our world has changed, our understanding of heroes have changed. When we were fighting Nazis in WWII, Captain America made sense. He was the ultimate good to fight the ultimate evil. Evil, however, has become more complex. Most criminals are not Adolph Hitler, they’re people who are victims of an unequal society or paper pushers who go to work everyday in a culture of greed and corruption and are just trying to keep up.
The Nazi war crimes trials showed the world, to borrow Hannah Arendt’s phrase, “the banality of evil.” When we live in a world where evil is understood to be everyday, doesn’t it stand to reason that flawed heroes would be the most interesting to play?