November 26, 2013
Every Achilles has his heel.
A friend of mine said that as we were discussing the issue of the “Trench-coat McNinjas” on our way home from a recent game. The phrase “Trench-coat McNinja” comes from the book Danse Macabre for Vampire: The Requiem, a wonderful book filled with great player and Storyteller advice, not only for games of Vampire, but tabletop games in general. In one of its many articles, it discusses the character type it brilliantly calls the “Trench-coat McNinja.” Every game group has one, or more than one sometimes. These are your characters that hold to the idea that dark and mysterious is cool. They are untouchable, ultimate awesome, super-warriors that no one can touch, often looking like they just stepped out of one of the Matrix movies with their long coats, sunglasses no matter what time of day it is, and monotone style speech patterns. Not only are these characters often untouchable physically, dice allowing, but are always emotionally untouchable. Nothing gets to them. Ever. They could watch their own loved ones die in terrible, gruesome ways and maybe, maybe they would do something like shout out a dramatic “no,” but more likely they would just watch and stare, claiming they were letting their rage boil inside of them in order to fuel their vengeance, or something ridiculous like that.
In short, Trench-coat McNinjas are boring. Sure, they might sound exciting and fun to play, especially if you are into those 80s action movie style characters, but they really are not. Sure, they are often built extremely well mechanically. In a fight, you want them on your side. Outside of a fight, however, oftentimes they might as well not even exist. Therein lies the problem. Tabletop role-playing games are much akin to impromptu theater. The characters – the player characters that is – should all be interesting in some way beyond simply being able to fight. What defines a character should not be how well their numbers do against the numbers of the bad guys.
The actual expression “Trench-coat McNinja” comes from a stereotype that has sprung up around such characters. Namely the popularity of the idea of the shadowy warrior from Japanese history — though if you were to actually read up on them, you would find that ninja were not quite as incredible as we have romanticized them to be — and long coats popularized by both Westerns, as well as the previously mentioned Matrix movies.
My biggest problem with these Trench-coat McNinjas is their sheer stoicism. They do not respond to things like real people would. They respond to a rampaging dragon attack or a hoard of zombies in the same manner they do someone bumping into them on the street or parking a little too close to their car at the mall. Everything is the same, and they see every situation with the same grim, glaring eyes. Everything they encounter is something they must overcome in order to prove their… whatever it is they want to prove. Manliness? Level of awesomeness? I do not rightfully know
A good character is not defined by how many bad guys he can take on at once. A good character is defined by one thing: character. The more real a character seems, the more you feel like you can understand where a character is coming from, you can relate to them, the greater a character is. Sure, they might be having to deal with problems you will never have to deal with in your real life and may possess abilities and skills you do not, but there is still something about them that makes you feel connected to them in some way.
And there you have it. Trench-coat McNinja, I am not saying you should take up your katana and go home, but I would be grateful if you could bring a little more character to your character.
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