May 23, 2014
When Bad Guys Go Good
Something much more common than a good guy going bad is a bad guy becoming good. Redemption stories resonate with audiences a great deal, as they tend to give us hope, and the same is true of stories told around a table, among friends, with a bunch of odd-shaped dice.
When player characters develop their character backstories, there is a tendency to lean towards the tragic. It makes sense, as there must have been some catalyst in their lives to make them peruse the life of the adventurer rather than that of a simple farmer, mason, or other more common profession. Most of the time this catalyst is something involving an attack, a betrayal, or a loss but sometimes it is something more than that. Every once and a while you come across the player character who was, at one point, someone you would consider a villain/bad guy but then something happened to them and forced them to reconsider all they had done.
One of my favorite characters of all time was a gunslinger-styled character from Anima: Beyond Fantasy. This character started the game by waking up inside a coffin, buried alive with no memory of her past and the only thing she knew to do was call upon her twin techno-magic firearms. Well, that and fight. She was disturbingly good at that. Over the course of the adventure she came to learn about who she was, until finally everything was revealed to her as her past self was reawakened within her. She was a Jurgund, one of the enforcers of the Imperium – a secret, nigh-all-powerful organization that controls all of Gaia from the shadows – and specifically, she was an exterminator. Hundreds of years old, the number of innocents she had killed in her lifetime numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Knowledge of all she had done came crashing down into her all at once, which, for a time, caused her to develop multiple personalities. One was who she had become, a silent but mostly good hearted companion to the other characters, while the other was who she used to be – death incarnate with a really bad attitude. Much of the rest of the campaign that focused on her was about her dealing with the knowledge of what she had done and coming to terms with who she used to be in contrast to who she now was. It was a powerful, emotionally driven journey that I still hold up as one of my favorite campaigns to have been a part of.
Characters with dark pasts where they themselves were not necessarily the heroes can work for a story as long as you have players who are willing to run with it and take it seriously. Taking it too lightly or just trying to play it off as somehow macho does not carry the same weight as a character who has to struggle with what they have done and occasionally fight against their darker impulses that threaten to pull them back into that evil.
Done right, it makes for remarkable storytelling.
As always, thanks for reading and I wish you all good gaming.
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