Real historical adventurers: Prince Rupert of the Rhine
Alongside all the buzz over DCC beta there’s been a load of irritable hand-waving about that old, old chestnut, epic vs. picaresque heroes (or heroes vs. anti-heroes, if you like. Or consciously roleplaying villains. Nothing as interesting as gothic hero-villains, IMHO, which might or might not be impossible at the D&D table).
So by coincidence I just ran across Prince Rupert of the Rhine (while looking up brass for a comment on dragons at blood of Prokopius), and it seems like he’s pretty much a poster boy for the emergent-story, earned-heroism shtick that was flavour of the month last time this came around. Sure, he started out as a prince, albeit in Germany, where they weren’t thin on the ground in the early 17th century, but his early career is as picaresque as you could ask for, fighting the Spanish with the Dutch, then the HRE with the English, then the Roundheads with the Cavaliers, then the Spanish again but alongside the French, and then turning pirate.
…well, privateer. In the Caribbean, no less. And then he turned legit, made name level and got appointed to command the Royal Navy, dabbled in alchemy, helped set up the Invisible College and the Royal Society, invented weapons (including almost but not quite the Gatling gun), and acted as first Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
So was he a hero?
Of course not, he was an actual historical person: the term hero is for those reassuring fantasies we feed children who haven’t yet figured out or been given a license to make their own moral judgments about things.
But he was definitely interesting enough for my game. And if there were a player character in an RPG who followed the same career, they would not have had to act like an asshole to do what he did. They would, in fact, have had to guard their personal reputation – for reliability, for probity, for good judgment – extremely carefully, in order to wind up with the kinds of appointments and privileges he earned himself. He had friends and enemies, and he made a career out of surviving through some of the most difficult and tangled conflicts European history can offer. And as far as I can tell he didn’t need to see himself as the protagonist of a work of fiction, bound to stereotypes of action.
So what’s my point? I guess that, if you’re wondering whether you’re the hero, your game has already lost some verisimilitude – in some regard the challenges and choices you face aren’t enough without some grander, more metaphysical context, where you get to believe yourself pre-justified. Maybe it’s that, whether you consider yourself a hero or a villain or whatever, you’ve already turned away from imagining the actual consequences of your actions.
And that, for me at least, is not where the action is.
I don’t quite know what it is, but I like it. I’m wondering what a little actual research time might turn up.
Oh, also? Lou Zocchi’s patent for a braking system for d100s. As Kramer said of Frank Costanza, “He’s so prolific!” I would guess having a load of gravel inside your die would make it roll funny, and therefore defeat one of Mr. Zocchi’s other great life purposes, but maybe he has that covered somehow.