Friday, 22 July 2011

bad ass attributes

This month's RPG Blog Carnival (hosted by Nevermet Press) is about badass RPGs (which includes the Bad Ass RPG).  Bad ass is one of those "you'll know it when you see it" neologisms like va-va-voom defying simple classification.  So what makes something (even an RPG) bad ass?  Bad ass transcends a single value, it is a confluence of traits...
  • Uncommon.  The bad ass is a breed apart.  They need not be the Last (insert here) but they aren't your average John/Jane.  Whether by origin or experience, it shows.  The bad ass is exceptional whether superhuman, savant or someone who defeats twelve ninja at once.  Most RPGs are based on this premise (e.g. Exalted), even where characters are supposed to be 'ordinary' people (e.g. Dungeon Crawl Classics, Hell for Leather) but isolated by circumstance though superheroic RPGs (e.g. Mutants & Masterminds, Icons) are the poster-boy for this style of play.
  • Uncomplicated.  The bad ass has clarity of thought.  To a bad ass things are right or wrong (and wrong gets fixed).  Quite a few bad asses have a simple, direct approach to fixing what's wrong - it's a rare bad ass who gets cerebral (in itself bad ass).  To them there is no try, self-doubt rarely shows. RPGs that give characters clear objectives (e.g. Deathwatch) and agendas (e.g. Heroquest) enable bad ass play.  While shades of grey make for interesting stories, the bad ass often deconstructs these issues - to them, grey is made up of black and white.
  • Uncompromising.  The bad ass has clarity because of principles.  In addition, these principles are not swayed by others.  Arguably, you cannot have bad ass without the ass.  Overwhelming this with raw charisma, sympathetic traits or raw power eases this - for a time.  Eventually though something has to give... many bad asses have to reconcile this or face defeat.  Examples of RPGs dealing with uncompromising principles include Pendragon, Don't Rest Your Head and Mouse Guard.
Bringing the bad ass to your game means being a little bit different, knowing what you need with laser sharp focus and always moving towards the end goal.  Some players take the drive to be exceptional as a mandate to munchkin.  The element of chance also plays a part, particularly in systems where ability is dependent on successful dice rolls.  Point-based or bennie mechanics can shift the odds in the player's favour. Mechanics that assume levels of competence and game masters who awesome up their players or judiciously give chances to shine can mitigate this need.

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