Tuesday, 17 February 2015


I'm not sure if I'll get around to recounting the latest misadventure of the Muleteers, but there's a couple of posts to be had reflecting about the last session.

Huizinga, in The Waning of the Middle Ages, calls to attention "The Violent Tenor of Life"; the ease with which harsh and tender passions in alternation were unleashed, the revelling in cruelty. Although controversial as historiography, this description perhaps tells us more about what we moderns seek in the medieval, the archaic, the Renaissance or the Regency or the Wild West, when these are presented as times where life was cheap, morals were loose.

The role-playing game in its imaginative detachment allows the same vicarious pleasure in the impulsive act of grisly consequence. Vicarious? No, the direct pleasure of being able to say "I waste him with my crossbow" and having it happen as easily as saying it; of watching, horrified and grinning, in the mind's eye as a series of critical and fatal hits makes Peckinpah work of the enemy. The pleasure of being such a fearsome character and choosing to exert a brash and self-serving virtue; of hoisting sacks of coppers to urchins, the equivalent of Nino Brown serving up turkeys. The pleasure, even for mild-mannered character players, of being the monk hiding from the Vikings, the Wild West schoolmarm, the scholar who can live a little shady and still look a saint by comparison.

The roleplaying scenario strips away nervous inhibition and allows action as transgressive and pointless as that of the pictured fellow under the terrier crest who is spit-roasting a man for the crime of wearing a rebec on his head. Dealing out violence under these circumstances acquires a palatable irony because these are people long since dead, or better yet, who never could have lived.

One final pleasure, to the player, is finding out the boundaries of the world of action and joy. Does having a handful of hit points above the norm means that world is your arena whose inhabitants are merely bled and bowed bulls for the matador? Or rather, is it a place where crime is abhorred, vengeance is meted, and the arm of punishment is long if not swift?  Hurrah, for the scales are tipped in the favor of the latter option, the morality of the Hays Code, where we see every murder and blasphemy dealt out by the arch-hoodlum before the coppers surround him and fill him full of lead. Because to deal out the rough justice of consequences is the particular pleasure of the gamemaster. And the truly dispassionate gamemaster knows to make the delay or denial of justice, as unlikely as it may seem, a possible adventure in itself, if one of the hardest.

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