View Full Version : Help me be more heroic!

2016-06-13, 02:50 PM
Recently I have had several people complain that I am not heroic or adventruous enough on either side of the DM screen.

I am having trouble trying to actually turn this into useful advice as I am not quite sure what these terms even mean.

In brief, how can I change the genre of my games to "heroic adventure", and how can I better play a heroic adventurer?

So, the three anecdotes that brought it to my attention:

1: as a DM mu current game has consisted of four adventures, the first exploring an old haunted castle, the second a pitched battle against barbarian pillagers, the third an overland journey with murder mystery elements and lots of random encounters with beasts and brigands, and exploring an ancient illithid fortress with lots of weird science and forgotten experiments left unattended.
I run the game witj a fairly having amount of descriptive text, but I also run a fairly crunch heavy game that often evolves more into combat as sport than combat is war.
In the last session I described a room and one of the players flat out ignored a treasure in it. When I asked him why he told me he wasnt paying attention to my descriptions anymore. After the session he told me that he hates "horror" games, he came here for an "action/adventure" game and couldnt bring himself to pay attention to a genre he doesnt like.

2: As a player we had a session where we were entering a dungeon. As the fighter and cleric in the front rank approached the door a tree which was partially blocking the entrance came to life and started beating on them in a surprise round. The DM called for onitiative, I won and assumed a battle was about to start and stayed in the book and put up a buff spell. The fighter and the cleric then ran into the dungeon, eating AoOs but otherwise ignoring the guardian. On the rogues turn the rogue hid and snuck past the tree. On the trees turn it moved into my path, readying an attack for when I approached.
I hung back, and explained to the rest of the party that I was a first level mafe without any ranged attack spells. I couldnt beat it in melee, and if I tried running past it it could easilly take me down in one hit and then kill me without any allies around to help. Furthermore, we were going to have to come out the way we came in, which means that as we crawl out of the tunnel single file the tree is going to get another round of free hits on us anyway.
The fighter and the cleric waited a few minutes then decided to abandon me and explored the rest of the dungeon by themselves. The rogue eventually came back and we managed to take down the tree after an extremely long boring combat.

After the session the DM gave me a severe tongue lashing for splitting the party and wasting so much time and "ruining his session by playing a coward". When I explained that I wasnt playing a coward, just someone with a rationale grasp of tactics and risk analysis the DM proclaimed "you arent supposed to be playing a rational person, you are supposed to be an adventurer, which means acting like a HERO!"

3: I had a long running player in a previous game. Whenever the party would get an NPC killed, either because they failed to save a hostage, caused or failed to prevent collateral damage, called a villains bluff, used an NPC as bait, or misread a situation and attacked the "wrong guy" he would get very upset and mopy and complain, often threatening to leave the game, and he literally had his PC commit suicide over it on multiple occasions. I recently had a conversation with him, and he told me that despite all the good deeds and great feats he and the other PCs accomplished throughout the campaign he never once "felt like a hero."

So now I am working on a new adventure for my campaign and am making a new PC for the other game (turns out 5e doesnt like non blaster wizards), and I need to figure out the concept of how to make someone feel like a hero, both to themself and to others, and how to make a games tone feel more heroic and more about adventurers having an adventure.


Honest Tiefling
2016-06-13, 03:04 PM
Get a white bull blessed by a priest and sacrifice it under the full moon to the god(s) of your choice. Because damn, how do you keep getting into these groups?

The first guy must surely know at this point your style and has chosen to ignore it instead of communication. This one has a chance of getting better. Sit them down out of the game and discuss what you both want and how to find a compromise. I think this might be less of an issue of 'heroism' then one of 'hopelessness' which can affect a lot of players and is a common theme in horror. Perhaps what they desire is a better sense of things getting better?

But please impress upon him that you are willing to listen, and that ignoring things in-game is not the way to go about things.

Second group? DM blamed YOU for the actions of others (since they abandoned you). Bail like no tomorrow. I feel as if I should point out that I do have a bias because I play casters, but if the system encourages squishy casters this should be a valid concern on the part of the character. Run away!

Third guy? Just...Politely inform him that your games are going to be run differently then you think he will enjoy. I mean people die even in cartoons. If he cannot handle it and you do not enjoy stories without that consequence, I suggest the two of you part amicably.

2016-06-13, 03:22 PM
1. The game sounded like it had action and adventure? Ask him what he means specifically, or what elements he liked earlier. It seems like a fairly heroic campaign.

2. Sounds like the party was not on the same page on what to do in this kind of situation. I don't think anyone was particularly at fault, and there is no need to be suicidal to be "heroic". Sounds like the group just needed to work together. This seems like a miscommunication, not a problem of being unheroic.

3. I can empathize with the existential crisis PC here, because I recently quit a game for this reason. They have lost hope and don't see the light in the darkness. They might think that there is nothing they can do to save the day. They only see the parts where they failed, not where they succeeded. They need to have some victories, not handed to them, but some where they do save the day and get a meaningful outcome out of it. That by their actions, they are shown how countless lives were saved, or the world was made better, or something like that. An NPC saying thanks and expressing gratitude goes a long way. When they can feel the evil leave the castle, or something like "the clouds lift and reveal the sun" is cheesy, but it lets them know that their actions matter. A celestial messanger comes in and says "let it known that (insert good deity here) has taken note of your actions, and the light they bring to this dark world blah blah blah".

For my standards of heroism in a game, you need two things.
1. Like a greek hero, the PC's should be above average. They don't need to be outright gods, but they need SOMETHING that separates them from the common rabble. This is usually satisfied by class levels and magic powers in a fantasy setting, but in most games just being a player puts one ahead of the lot. Reinforce this by ensuring there are a lot of weaker commoners around them. If there are high level casters running everything, then why are the PC's needed? They need to know that fighting off a few orcs is a big deal as that same orc band could sack a village with few losses and almost 100% fatality of the village. Also, remove any heroic NPC's, DMPC's, or other types that can invalidate the need for the players to be there.

2. Pandora's box was shut at the last minute, keeping in hope. Well, more the ability to see the future. If players don't think they can make a meaningful impact in the world and that it is all predestined, they won't want to play. They need to know they have the ability to make it better, that they have agency. If they fail too much, they might think it is just setup to be that way or blame themselves. Also, don't just do this and have it all get better without their action, that makes it even worse when they know it is like that with or without their existence. Start by giving them some challenges they can win, where they can see the impacts. When consequences are too dire it loses a heroic fantasy tone-they should always have a chance to continue on somehow. Players need to be challenged but always know that through their actions they can prevail, or that their actions matter. If a plot is too scripted or events programmed to happen are present and the players or characters figure this out, they could simply stop caring as they know they don't matter. Make actions have consequences and don't railroad(or at least let the players know) and always present choice.

Lvl 2 Expert
2016-06-13, 03:39 PM
I'm setting aside the whole reason why you want to play a game like this, and I'm just focusing on how to do it.

My approach would be: imagine you're in a PG-13 action B-movie. For the perfect example, find "The return of Swamp Thing" somewhere, although The Mummy works almost as well, and it definitely suffices to just think of a cheesy James Bond movie or Indiana Jones with the few semi-thoughtful moments cut out. (Oh, or episodes of the old Zorro TV series, or the best parts of the Transporter movies, or...)

There's four kinds of scenes that matter: chase scenes, fight scenes, shootouts and effect scenes.

Chase scenes can be on foot or in vehicles, as long as there are plenty of obstacles. This is already true in a movie, it goes double in an RPG. A chase is no fun unless something happens pretty much every turn. This turn the character gets to the end of the roof, the enemy is right behind them. They could try to jump to the next building, glide down the fire escape or just keep running and aim for that truck standing in front of the pillow factory, but they have to do something. Most players will at first be more willing to play the chasing party rather than the fleeing one, and they might just go and die messily if you present them with an overly dangerous enemy and an easy way out. So let them get used to the idea by having people run away from them. Have them split up too, give everyone their own thing to do for a few rounds.

Fight scenes and shootouts fit a game like D&D the best. But they're subtly different from each other. In a shootout you want room to maneuver. Give bonuses for good use of cover (which gets shot up the next turn), getting the high ground and attacking the enemy from behind. Make sure the enemy moves as well. Fight scenes (or: what happens when the fighter gets sick of the shootout) are often more "on the spot", but include hazards that can be used. One way to get them into play is to disarm the PC's on a semi-regular basis. They'll call you out for this at first, since they are used to playing D&D and that means being able to use their +2 flaming vorpal sword. But see if they can get the hang of improvising, hitting enemies with the +1 frying pan of dizziness and pushing them into the cauldron of why does anyone own that much acid.

Effect scenes are descriptions. If you like to give descriptions but your players think they're generally too long, save them for when things get really awesome. When your players push the dragon back into the dormant volcano inside the evil base, give them the explosion Michael Bay would give them. Make the whole thing rumble as they scram for the exit, and make the laser turrets fly when the thing goes off behind them.

And indeed, good people rarely die in squeaky clean action movies. Even the boss usually ends up captured, and the henchmen get mowed down, but it's bloodless and their corpses fall offscreen. In short: combat is awesome only. No grit, no realism, no stopping and thinking about what you're doing. Imagine you're in a military recruitment video, in year five of a very costly war. The only thought you want to inspire is "fighting is cool".

It's completely not what you've been doing, and you might not even enjoy it, but it can be a fun game style.

As a player, my advice is basically the same. Think of the most reckless and boneheaded thing to do and do it. There is a drone outside who just delivered poisonous centipedes to the senator? Jump through the glass. Jedi reflexes or not, the dice will catch you. 3.5 is designed in such a way that the DM can use multiple layers of safety net. First you get to try and grab the drone, then a nearby flagpole or window, then you get to try and stick your landing from the fall (maybe you can even steer your fall in midair, if you fasttalk well enough) and finally, if the DM is doing it right for this style of play, you get some sort of save for half falling damage. In the Star Wars movie I took this scene from, the character ends up getting caught in mid-air by the second character who only started running to a parked flying car after person one had already jumped. For the best effect, get as much gear that can blow up or set things in fire as possible. Electric shocks, loud noises, horrible creatures, they're all great. Some sort of tree guardian? Imagine how cool that would have looked while on fire. You can always decide whether to kill it or not ones you've admired the view.

If this post didn't sound like at least some sort of fun to you, don't try it. It's not your style.

2016-06-13, 03:46 PM
PG-13 action B-movie synopsis

There is an entire ttRPG system dedicated to this called Feng Shui (https://1d4chan.org/wiki/Feng_Shui). The entire game is played as an over the top exploitation of every action and Wuxia film trope turned up to 11. Epic gunfights in teahouses where people fly through lobster tanks, wall jump and spin kick tea kettles into enemies that knock them out, improvised food carts being used as weapons and cover that regardless of how many times it is shot never gets shot through. Guns have infinite ammo, everyone knows martial arts, the works.

Lvl 2 Expert
2016-06-13, 03:47 PM
Thanks for the tip, I might have to try that one.

2016-06-13, 05:07 PM
First guy wants descriptions that are more PG 13, I suppose.

Second DM wants you to act on the belief that player characters are immortal. Which they often are. Next time, discuss ahead of time what kind of game it is going to be.

Third guy wants to be a hero who is actually helping people - give him an opportunity to sacrifice his PC to save the NPC. Or even save the NPC while only taking a big risk that his PC will die. Or let him sacrifice a limb to save the NPC. As for situations where the other players do morally questionable things, encourage him to roleplay his PC's reaction.
If misreading a situation is possible, make it so that sticking to some set of principles (like "never attack an unarmed person" or such) can avoid it. If my estimation is correct, that guy will play a PC who will have principles, and will gladly sacrifice his PC's good looks, or right hand, et cetera, in order to save an NPC.

Your problem is that you try to play realistic, and many people don't want that in an rpg. They want things to be a little bit better than real life.

2016-06-13, 05:45 PM
This is more an issue of tone expectations. Not all games are or should be "Heroes!". Apparently, your DM in that game did expect that, which means he expects your characters to dash headlong into danger, swinging from chandeliers, etc. That being the case, I would expect him not to punish you or your character for acting in this manner, they'll fudge things to make sure you squeak by as long as you're acting like it's an action movie.

You are under no obligation to run your games this way, if this isn't the tone you want. Gritty realism is just as valid a tone for the game. You just need to have players that are agreeable to it, or explain the difference to them and try to convince them that it can be fun, too.

If you want things to be more "Heroes!", then I would use a system or optional rules that are more forgiving in terms of lethality. Increase mobility, decrease the effectiveness of OA's. Encourage players to try stunts, use the environment, and hand out bonuses or allow things to work if they would make a good cinematic scene or create narrative drama. Think cinematically more than tactically: what would happen in an action movie or an anime?

In your past scenario with the tree and the mage, what you should have done is said "Hey guys, wait!..." Then "dammit.", grit your teeth and run in there after them.

2016-06-13, 06:11 PM
Well I think there are some other issues but focusing on the main topic.

What hero?

No seriously what sort of hero are we talking about, without that there is not a lot to go on to try and be heroic.

Does the hero easily save the day or only do it with great sacrifice?
Is the hero strong or do they press on despite that they are weak?
Are they revered or despised by the people they save?
Are they physically strong, mentally strong or morally strong?
Do they win because they are "the hero" or because they actually put the work in?

These are just some examples. Now I arranged it so the one that seems to fix with your examples go first. Which brings the question why am I asking them at all. First confirmation, second I just want to highlight that "hero" doesn't mean just one thing. Are you even interested in playing the type of hero they want to play? If not you may have to negotiate.

For instance in the second story I would put the rogue as being the most heroic and the deserters as the least. Doing something stupid for no reason does not make you a hero. Doing something stupid for a good reason on the other hand might. But the GM seems to disagree.

2016-06-13, 06:26 PM
I run the game witj a fairly having amount of descriptive text,

This is the only thing I can see that I can criticize you for.

In my experience players eyes tend to gloss over when the dm gets too descriptive about the environment or about a specific object. My suggestion is only tell them what they need to know, and let their imaginations fill in the gaps. They donít need to know the texture of the walls unless itís important and they donít need to know every book on the wizardsí bookshelf; just the important one.

Like you, Iíve had players miss the obvious and get stuck because they lost interest in the middle of describing something. The other scenarios you mention seem to be quite normal adventurer actions and I wouldnít have a problem acting that way.

2016-06-13, 10:15 PM
Heroic Fantasy isn't about power, it is about stakes. Murdering critters in danky underground abodes for loot is as unheroic as it gets.

Heroic Fantasy is about defying the odds, ignoring your own safety for greater good even though it might cost you your life.

Heroism isn't measured by successes, heroism is when you still fight on when all hope is lost, when you refuse to quit the fight. It's not how many times you get knocked down that count, it's how many times you get back up.

Now the stakes don't have to be saving the world, it can be saving your grandmother for all I care, but there must be stakes.

Don't forget that if the heroes are assured of their success then it isn't that heroic to begin with. If failure is likely and real and the players understand this then success becomes much more sweeter.