I suspect LRP needs less bastards. I mostly blame Game of Thrones for this. With it’s “You know nothing Jon Snow”, it’s clear that a generation of new LRPers are being raised believing that illegitimacy is the key requirement for a cool character. It’ll be like Drizzt Dourden all over again, mark my words. There are lots of cool characters to play in LRP but playing an unfortunate child born out of wedlock hardened by the brutal unfairness of the way people judge you… it doesn’t work in LRP (literally no-one will judge you) and it’s just a bit boring. What you *do* at events is interesting, your backstory is not.
So yeah… Jon Snow is the *worst* character in Game of Thrones, I can’t think of much that would improve GoT, but redacting Jon Snow would be my one edit. Why would anyone want to be a bastard like Jon Snow… when you can be a real bastard like Tywin Lannister. Tywin Lannister is cool. And you know who else is cool? Olenna Tyrell is a real bastard – and she’s cool. They should give *her* Jon Snow’s airtime. And so should our hobby…
Conflict is the lifeblood of many LRPs. There may be some LRPs where the primary focus is experiencing mundane life – but most of us LRP for the drama and the excitement of conflict. For that to happen you need antagonists, you need people to be in conflict with.
A lot of LRPs solve that problem by providing convenient NPCs. In what we might call traditional early 90s style LRPs the NPCs wear a t-shirt that says “VILLAIN”, they usually want to destroy the world and in case that’s not enough they will often say things like “Muhaha”. Cackling is *always* fun, but it’s the narrative equivalent of realizing you’ve left your flies undone at an interview. There’s no way back once you’ve cackled, you might as well run with it because you’re not getting the job.
Post the 90s, all the cool kids wanted PvP games. We wanted villains that seemed credible, realistic, detailed, rounded, believable. Often the easiest way to get that was to put players in opposition with players. For that to work however, you desperately need people prepared to play bastards. Not the illegitimate kind, but the sort of characters that wont get a look-in on Sesame Street. Selfish characters, ambitious characters, hateful characters (as in characters full of hate), characters that hold a grudge.
And that turns out to be surprisingly difficult. All human beings, to a greater or lesser extent, have an instinctive desire to be liked. We want to be popular – it’s the nature of social creatures. The gains derived from being a bastard such as power, wealth, status are illusionary in LRP – but the sense of being unpopular and disliked is real. Jack Gleeson only got to pretend to lord it over the inhabitants of Westeros – but the hate mail he got for playing Joffrey was real. It’s hard to be a bastard.
Imagine Game of Thrones with all the bastards removed. You can keep wet Jon Snow and honourable Sean Bean but most of the rest of them are gone. The Lannisters, the Boltons, the Tyrells, the Greyjoys, the Baratheons… all gone. There wouldn’t be a war for the Iron Throne because there wouldn’t be a war. Everyone would get together in Kings Landing, discuss it like rational people, and it would be a wrap in 2 hours. There would be a power-sharing arrangement coupled with devolution of power to the regions and a new law banning prejudice against illegitimate children. It’s a better outcome but it is not a better story. We need less bastards in real life – but we need more of them in our literature… and we need more of them in our games.
Some people say they LRP for escapism and so they want to play shining noble virtuous knights when they LRP. Your LRP is not my LRP but that makes no sense to me. I try to be a good person in real life… real life needs more good people. My escapism is being an evil, murderous, treacherous, lying, cheating scumbag. My go-to character is Grima Wormtongue – he’s my favourite starting point for a LRP character. But people should play the things they want to play – we don’t need *everyone* to be a bastard – we just need more than we’ve got right now.
I think the interesting thing about being a bastard in LRP is the potential for blowback – for people to assume you’re a bastard in real life. I’ve never personally had received that, but I have seen it happen to other people. I think this can happen for a few reasons.
1) You are actually an asshat in real life. If you want to play a bastard in LRP to make the game more dramatic, more exciting and thereby more enjoyable for everyone – cool. If you want to play a bastard in LRP because you like seeing people cry when their character is killed, you like the sense of power you get by lording it over people and making them unhappy, or you want to get the highest bodycount you can – then you’re not roleplaying a bastard – you just taking advantage or LRP so you don’t have to pretend to be a decent human being anymore.
Obviously that position is a massive caricature, real people are much more nuanced than that and there is a wide range of different reasons to play a bastard in LRP. The point is simply that if you want to play a bastard in a game – and you don’t want other participants to think you’re a bastard in real life – then you want to look at how you play the game and think about whether the kind of interactions you’re going to be the antagonist in are going to be fun for everyone else.
Making game is an incredibly subjective concept, but if you’re even thinking about it – and how you might do it – then you’re off to the right start. There are easy tricks thoughs, like focus your bastarding efforts on the players who seem to be enjoying it the most – don’t go after the easy victims – go after the hard targets.
2) Nobody knows you out of game. I’ve met a fair few LRPers who have said “Her character is such a bastard – but I met her last week at the game fair and she’s actually lovely”. No… really? Turns out she was roleplaying… Those of us who like to play bastards in LRP… well most of us don’t like to pass around a chalice of blood from our sacrificial victims in real life. Strange huh.
It would be great if the hobby could start from the basis that people are not their character. We all know that that is the basis we are *supposed* to start from. I don’t know anyone in LRP who doesn’t understand the social contract that “my character is not me” – we just don’t stick to it. The bleed is inevitable and continuous in LRP. Groups that build power blocks are accused of ruining the game, players whose characters provoke conflict are accused of being troublemakers. This is a major reason why playing a bastard can be difficult out-of-character.
I think over time we’re getting better – slowly. Picking games with well advertized social rules helps. Don’t play a bastard in a game in which that is clearly unacceptable (lots of games don’t want PvP conflict, it’s not what they are about). But contrarywise when you have a game like Empire where PvP political conflict is explictly encouraged (albeit with discouragement for PvP physical conflict), then we need to rally round our bastards and lionise them as pillars of the community. It is socially expected that NPCs be villainous – we need to applaud the PCs who do the same in games where that is the social contract.
3) Your character is a bit thin. As a character, I have arranged to have my own children murdered by my enemies to fabricate a cassus belli to get my nation to go to war against them. It didn’t work but it is still one of my proudest moments. But it only made sense because I was playing a Skaven who (a) had seen everyone around him cared about children deeply and (b) had so many children he didn’t care about them one whit.
It’s harder than it seems to play a character who is a well rounded, believable, credible bastard. Cackling and seeking to destroy the world will not cut the mustard here. Cthulhu is not a bastard – nor are his cultists. There’s nothing remotely human about Cthulhu or his aims – there isn’t meant to be – but by extension there is nothing credibly human about his minions. They are just mental. Cthulhu is an element of narrative horror – it is not political PvP. Bastards need to be convincing, credible characters – they need to feel believable.
Spike from Buffy doesn’t want to destroy the world. “The truth is, I _like_ this world. You’ve got…dog racing, Manchester united.” Spike is a bastard – and that’s why Spike is cool. You can be as cool as Spike…
So the next time someone in a LRP game asks you to be reasonable, to compromise, to be fair, to be nice… be like Zammo from Grange Hill – “Just say No”.