Impractical Applications (Hero)

Pre-article note: Due to various complications including the holidays and grad school applications, all posts for the rest of the year will be reprints of earlier posts.

I spent most of this last week talking about heroes for this month’s RPG Blog Carnival. I’ve done a few characters who have come close: Aisling would get between almost anything and her fellows, Taraneh was just sweetness and light in general, Karasu’s job was keeping the world intact anyway….

And then there was Tuyet, the character alluded to in my post about heroic sacrifices, about whom I can say “I have never played a bigger antihero… but neither have I played a bigger hero.”

She started out simply enough. Cold, manipulative, very much Broken Bird into Ice Queen. A consummate spy, cunning and quick-witted, and downright vicious at times (I’ve had explicitly evil characters whose thoughts leapt to torture more slowly, let’s put it that way), she was fixated on two things: keeping her family out of harm’s way because that was her job, and getting revenge on the old flame who’d betrayed and blackmailed her. Her upbringing led her to put her family before everything, which in turn led to a feeling of expendability that only helped her overall strategy; since very few risks were great enough to outmatch the benefits if she succeeded, and surviving was a secondary priority, she could take greater risks than her enemies, and focus more on success than on getting out of there in one piece afterwards.

I think the first thing that began to turn her around was having been assigned to bodyguard a living legend (amusingly, by both her allies and her worst enemy. It’s complicated). They weren’t very much like each other—the Chief, as Tuyet began calling her pretty quickly, was the kind of person who got through red tape with a sword, and Tuyet was an inveterate social manipulator whose idea of a good fight tended to involve mostly hiding behind one of her teammates and insulting the opponent into incompetence. But as time wore on, she began to respect the Chief more and more, and acquired a hope that the Chief might respect her in return—and what better way than to get her processes to bring Results?

The second factor was more of a tactical influence. While Tuyet was a decent fighter (good defense, and absolutely vicious if she could attack from surprise), she wasn’t fond of combat at all; her idea of a good battle was one in which she’d scared half the opponents off before they got anywhere near her. What this meant was that every now and then she needed to do something seemingly suicidal in order to kick the conflict into her field of expertise, whether that was drawing just about everyone’s fire so she could a. protect her charge, b. feign her own death and c. use b as a smoke screen analogue so she could go invisible and sneak up on the archer who was the cause of the need for a., becoming the biggest target on the battlefield so she could try to orate the enemy into putting down their weapons and show some common sense before the fight itself began, or surrendering herself to the enemy for any number of reasons that had a lot more to do with secondary objectives than with being militarily overmatched. Not only was it tactically sound, but it was good for her PR; she was the only one who had to know what her real reason for those tactics was. After a while, though, the tactics turned into just as much a way to get an adrenaline high—still heroic behavior for unheroic reasons, though.

The third was that she had things that, to her, were worth fighting for. I find that people who want to fight for the world, or sometimes even just for their own countries, tend to have to work up to it; such large goals are almost too abstract, or don’t fit with the character’s internal logic. Tuyet was no exception. She fought to prevent the civil war into which her country was falling because, as far as she was concerned, dealing with the issues that had caused it through military might rather than dirty politics was ‘cheating’ (or at least, something she was not suited for and therefore a situation to be avoided if at all possible.) She fought the storyline’s major opponents because they annoyed her (except for the one she fought because it was fun). She focused on her PR because the teammate who was at one point the only person she trusted implicitly had handed her something that had originally been that character’s dream, and PR mattered for achieving it.

It helped, I think, that her primary focus even when she was still the amoral spymaster was duty. Tuyet’s job was to take care of her own, regardless of cost, and as the game wore on and her tendency to recruit people (including by demonstrating that she could take better care of them than their original handlers did) brought an increasingly odd contingent under her banner, her definition of “her people” slowly grew and spread, until eventually it encompassed everyone everywhere on general principle and because she was fighting anyway. (Even if they were, as she often accused them of, being fools.)

By the end, she was in large part the hero she had worked so hard to paint herself as (plus or minus that old vicious streak, a near-addiction to adrenaline highs, a perpetual impatience with the foolishness of the world around her, a running line about common sense being her greatest weapon, and a rather counterproductive yearning for a running antagonist to duel with), with a self-sacrificing streak a mile wide and a tendency to find some sort of way of dealing with almost every opponent available. She even died(ish—it’s complicated) the hero she had become, cutting off a former enemy (ish)’s attack on one of her closest friends which if it had hit would have killed the friend and if it had struck no one would have killed the enemy—as much to make a point to the former enemy as for either of their sakes.

It may, in fact, be her fault I don’t play people who are heroes from the beginning. Her path was fun, and I want to do it again.

Leave a Reply