I really don’t get the opportunity to talk about role-playing much these days, I just have no time and the places I once went to chat I no longer go, so it was great to talk to some people who are old school gamers recently and we got to talk about the kinds of characters that we prefer. By far, I like the anti-hero, which I define as a character who does good without intending to do good. They do it in spite of themselves. So here’s my reason for liking the anti-heroes in RPGs.
Some might remember I used to write quite a bit about an old character of mine named Joe Orokamono. Joe is the epitome of the anti-hero, at least as far as I’m concerned. He’s certainly not a hero by any stretch of the imagination. He doesn’t care if people live or die, he had his own goals and plans and if the mission of the party agrees with his plans, he’ll play along, at least as long as it suits him to do so. When it stops being beneficial, he might not play along anymore, he might even oppose the mission of the party if it gets in his way. He isn’t someone that you can count on, the reason anyone wants him around is he’s ridiculously competent at what he does and the survival chances of the party goes up dramatically when he’s around. Of course, if you get on his bad side, the reverse is true, he makes as dangerous an enemy as he makes a valuable friend.
Of course, I got some disagreement on this. As far as my discussion partners were concerned, you can’t be an anti-hero if you don’t intentionally do good and that, as far as I’m concerned, is a hero, not an anti-hero. I mean, take old-school Wolverine or most incarnations of Punisher. These guys aren’t out there to do good, they have their own agenda and tag along with others, at least in the case of Wolverine, to further their own goals. It wasn’t the until Wolverine got to know the X-Men that he actually cared about them as individuals. Wolverine wasn’t a good team player, at least not until he became ridiculously popular and they started sticking him on every team in the Marvel universe, where he got neutered into ‘ol Uncle Wolvie, that he largely lost his anti-hero status.
Joe is the same way. With very few exceptions, he doesn’t care about anyone. He has his own agenda and woe to anyone who gets in his way. If you are useful to him, he will use you, be it your skills or your resources or your knowledge, he’s your best friend, albeit not particularly friendly. If not, he’s in the wind.
That’s the kind of character I like and can identify with. I don’t get the stereotypical hero, who is good for the sake of being good, there is no nuance, no mystery, just Dudley Do-Right out to save the day and I find that boring as hell. In fact, while I haven’t had the opportunity to sit down and play an RPG in years, even back then, the typical hero stereotype was pretty passe. Nobody wanted to be the Paladin because nobody wanted to be good all the time. I’m hearing that today, even though Paladins and the like are still around, most people play them as good, only in the service of their deities or toward their particular group, not just generally good toward absolutely everyone and everything, climbing trees to rescue kittens, etc. It’s boring, just like being evil for the sake of evil, mustache-twirling horrible villains that just like to hurt people because it’s fun. A little goes a long way.
I also find that playing that kind of all-good or all-bad character is horribly unrealistic, nobody ever acts that way in the real world. Everyone has their own goals and their own agendas, nobody is dedicated to doing good because it’s good or evil because it’s evil. In D&D terms, I think most people are closer to true neutral. Joe is the epitome of true neutral. He’s not concerned with being a hero. He’s not concerned with being a villain. He just tends to end up doing what others might consider good as a consequence of other things he is already doing. It’s not really accidental as inconsequential. It doesn’t matter to him, so long as he’s getting what he wants out of the deal. I think that’s the best way for a character to be and the most natural way to play one. YMMV.