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The Deeper Well

A Gamer Without A Cause

by James Bierly
Apr 20,2005

 

A Gamer Without A Cause

Some gamemasters may dislike it immensely when the players challenge the authority figures of the game world. If the GM runs a game in which powers-that-be often assign missions to the PCs, the GM may want to discourage insurrection against said authority figures.

However, I believe that the ability to rebel against fictional figures of authority is something that most people enjoy immensely. Plots dealing with rebellion appeal to us because we want to vicariously experience the thrill and liberation of challenging authority. Because many role-players participate in the hobby so that they can live out the things that they could never do in real life, they tend to enjoy being playing as rebels quite a bit.

Some games such as Exalted, and (Classic Era) Star Wars seem to be built around the assumption that the players will make characters who challenge the powers and principalities of the world/worlds, as well as simply fulfilling the assignment of the week. The immense popularity of such games seems to suggest that there is something to my theory.

So how does a game group go about exploring a successful campaign or story arc based around rebellion? A few ideas are given below.

-No one ever said it would be easy. Authority figures in game worlds are often powerful individuals in their own right, in addition to commanding significant socio-economic power. There will be immense obstacles to be overcome in any struggle with the-powers-that-be. Players should be prepared for a long struggle. Once a gamemaster realizes that a rebellion plot has been initiated, she should see to it (unless the campaign has an incredibly pessimistic/fatalistic theme) that the PCs have a chance, slim though it may be, of success. Unless you are playing Paranoia, the authority NPCs of your world should not exist as a way to exercise your own power over the game.

-Develop deep motivations. Characters may begin a rebellion against those in authority due to trivial reasons, but as time goes by the game will be more meaningful if the characters feel they have some kind of strong moral/personal reason for rebellion. Perhaps different characters will have differing deep motivations for their actions. One may want to simply steal wealth from an overlord. Another character may hate the overlord because the overlord killed his brother. Another may feel that he has a moral imperative to remove the corrupt overlord from power for the good of the people. A rebellion plot is a good opportunity to develop some interesting group dynamics.

-Impassioned speeches, angry mobs, trench coats, body piercings and big explosions fit in nicely with many rebellion plots.

Hope you all have a great game this week,

James Bierly

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