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Resolutions for the Fantasy Hero

Some of you have seen Peter's "Evil Overlord List" from 1996-97. It's "The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord" such as "Shooting is not too good for my enemies." If you've not read it before, it may help you make your opponents-for-adventurers more effective. It seems only fair that a similar list should exist for the heroes.

Photo by Pawel Janiak on Unsplash

This idea came to me after watching a Shannara Chronicles episode where Our Heroes had the leader and chief motivator of an enemy organization unconscious in their hands. They needed to escape the enemy fortress, but a couple were in bad shape from torture, so there was no way to take the leader along. Did any of the five think to "off" him on the spot? No, and 10 minutes later he was leading more of his men as the heroes were trying to complete their escape. This is SO like television (and movies).

Many from the Evil list are just as good for the Goodguys, but for copyright reasons I do not include them. (The Evil list includes technology; I'm sticking with fantasy.)

  1. I will not split the party.
  2. A foolhardy act is a brave act which fails. I will not be foolhardy.
  3. When I capture one of my chief enemies, and cannot take them to prison, I will thoroughly kill them on the spot. (Shannara Chronicles)
  4. If it's impractical to "bring the Evil Overlord to justice", I'll kill them on the spot. I AM justice, when Necessary.
  5. I will burn to fine ashes any powerful enemy I kill, whenever possible.
  6. One of my advisers will be non-military, non-adventurer, maybe even non-adult; they'll notice flaws in my plans that no one else will.
  7. I will not gloat over my enemies' predicament before killing them (from the Evil list . . .).
  8. I will run away to fight another day, rather than die futilely.
  9. I will not fight "just for the experience". Focus on the Objective!
  10. I will take and interrogate prisoners rather than Slaughter Everyone.
  11. I will never think I'm invincible/indestructible.
  12. I will have backup plans.
  13. I will have backups of items that I need to defeat the Evil Overlord.
  14. I will also find the Evil Overlord's children/siblings, and if they're Evil, kill them.
  15. Lawful Evil is not trustworthy.
  16. I will not allow Evil characters to join my party.
  17. This is a War, not Sport. I will kill the Evil bastards any way I can.
  18. When I capture a beautiful minion of the Evil Overlord, I will not believe she's so attracted to my good looks and purity that she will gladly betray her Lord. (If I'm female, same applies to handsome male minions.)
  19. While escaping I will not pause to make some wise-crack to the enemy.
  20. If my advisers/friends think my plan is bad, I will listen to them.
  21. My guards/prison wardens will always operate in pairs. If one goes missing the other will immediately raise the alarm.
  22. I will imprison enemies in widely separated places, whenever possible.
  23. I will take my enemies alive only where it is practical.
  24. I will not immediately believe an enemy who says they have Seen the Light and are changing sides.
  25. When the big fight is about to start, I will think about all my items and capabilities to find something especially useful.
  26. I will never accept a challenge from an enemy leader.
  27. The only good orc, is a dead orc. (Or other Evil race.)
  28. I will not split the party!
No doubt you can think of more.

Just as the Evil Overlord list is (in one sense) an admonition for those who play/control dominating Evil characters, my list is intended as an admonition/guideline for those who play Good characters. Even in the days when most D&Ders were wargamers, the standard of tactical and strategic play in D&D was quite low. Simple things such as security around a camp, running away from a fight when it served no purpose within the context of what the party was trying to do, taking prisoners to gather intelligence – most parties didn’t (and still don’t) do it. As more non-gamers joined the hobby, the standard has tended to slip further.

Not taking prisoners, especially, was striking. I remember arranging “cutting out” expeditions designed to capture a guard (using invisibility, flight, and the like outdoors) so that we could “squeeze him ‘til the pips squeak” for information using ESP and other magic that assured we got full reliable information. Of course, there are GMs who absolutely refuse to let the players gain any information this way . . .

More commonly nowadays, players don’t have the patience for good tactics and especially for good strategy. And GMs who impose a story on the game, don’t want to lose control by letting players gain information in an unanticipated way.

Both lists are intended to be amusing, though I am no comedian and figure you folks will come up with more amusing admonitions. Sometimes an amusing phrase will sink into a player’s brain where something more straightforward might not. Depends on the player.

This article was contributed by Lewis Pulsipher (lewpuls) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program.We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
 
Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio

Henry

Autoexreginated
Interesting idea; having a hero “don’t” list. Heroes do end up in some goofball situations, usually not just through plot, but their own stupidity, sometimes.

I do, however, have one counterpoint to the above list: Quite a bit of it sounds just like the “villains” list. Back in the 1990s, Iron Age comic book anti-heroes were big examples of following such a list - and they were unlikable sad sacks who weren’t that far different from the heroes, in my eyes.

The classic “stupid good” heroes are likable because of their idealism, not in spite of it. Killing off villains because it’s convenient, spurning redemption because of practicality — these don’t make for people you root for, because taken to the extreme, you don’t end up with Captain America or classic Superman, you end up with Watchmen — or Zack Snyder’s Superman. :)

Should D&D characters be held to this standard? If they’re good, then yes - but then, D&D has had a long tradition of its PCs being ironic murder-hoboes.
 

AriochQ

Adventurer
The problem of what to do with unconscious enemies is a recurring moral quandary in many RPG's. Many groups just kill them and move on, which is perfectly fine if that is the kind of game the player's, and DM, want to run. But, if you are in a game where the PC's are 'heroes' and expected to act morally, that isn't often the moral choice (it could be considered moral in some settings, but those would be the exception). I would think any good aligned character would be opposed to cold blooded murder. It might also violate the code of a lawful character. In my experience it is often the case that the group decides to leave unconscious enemies to the fates. It seems like a good compromise. They may bleed out, they may recover. Ideally, it happens after the heroes are long gone.

Moral quandaries make the game more interesting IMHO and I a always curious to see how different groups deal with them.
 

Philature

Villager
That list effectivness/fun really depend on the kind of games you are playing.

If you are playing A Game of Throne type of games, the list is great. In fact the fun would be in finding the few key elements the character don't follow to the letter and eventually bring them to their own end.

In other games, the fun is demonstrating that good can win over evil with all it intended goodness. For example, Harry Potter stray pretty far away from that list and dabbling into it would make him and his friend seems like jerk.
 

callinostros

Explorer
Heroes wouldn't do some of those things, they are villainous acts. Heroes do the right thing even if it makes life harder instead taking the easy way out. Now, I will grant you that morally ambivalent heroes might do some of them and some (perhaps many) PC groups would do them as well, but calling them acts of a hero is a stretch.
 

Kobold Boots

First Post
Interesting idea; having a hero “don’t” list. Heroes do end up in some goofball situations, usually not just through plot, but their own stupidity, sometimes.

I do, however, have one counterpoint to the above list: Quite a bit of it sounds just like the “villains” list. Back in the 1990s, Iron Age comic book anti-heroes were big examples of following such a list - and they were unlikable sad sacks who weren’t that far different from the heroes, in my eyes.

The classic “stupid good” heroes are likable because of their idealism, not in spite of it. Killing off villains because it’s convenient, spurning redemption because of practicality — these don’t make for people you root for, because taken to the extreme, you don’t end up with Captain America or classic Superman, you end up with Watchmen — or Zack Snyder’s Superman. :)

Should D&D characters be held to this standard? If they’re good, then yes - but then, D&D has had a long tradition of its PCs being ironic murder-hoboes.

On the Captain America bent -

I think it's important to realize that if you really understand the heroic idealist as a character, you're not looking at their super identity as the basis for the hero.

If you like Captain America, what you really like is Steve Rogers. Captain America is a shield and an outfit. If you change Rogers, you fundamentally change the hero and not for the better. Even Marvel Studios ran the risk of screwing this up until they finally showed a clue during Winter Soldier where Chris Evans nailed the character with the PA announcement at Shield HQ. At the point where the follow up line was "did you write that down first or just make it up?" Captain America or not, that was classic Steve Rogers in 30 seconds and cemented that the shield didn't matter.

This is different from the average hero in a D&D game. While we all give our heroes names, it's very very rare that a player will play the role beyond "I'm a paladin"..

So if you make up a list of things to not do, and a list of things to do.. that's great and funny and all - but it kind of misses the point entirely. Heroes and Villains are people first. Nail that down and you end up having a reason for them to be acting the way they do, when they succeed it's memorable. When they fail it's tragic.

Archetype first and it's just another dead character. Roll another one up and move on.

KB
 

Pauper

Explorer
I can see having a list of horrifying yet humorous admonitions on an 'Evil Overlord' list -- the 'evil' is right there in the title, after all.

But as a list of things for the hero to do? Many of these are frightening and close to fascistic, like 4 ("I am justice when Necessary"? Funny how it always seems to be Necessary, dunnit?), 14 ("I will find the Evil Overlord's children/siblings, and if they're Evil, kill them." And how do you tell they're Evil? Is that a new factor in the Myers-Briggs test? "Yes, I'm an ISTJE, what of it?"), and hoo-boy, 17. ("This is War, not Sport. I will kill the Evil bastards any way I can." So it's not just the kids of the Evil Overlord that are in for liquidation, then? It's anybody's kids you can throw into the Evil bucket?)

This may have been intended to be humorous, but honestly it's just sad and disappointing. The hero is not just the Evil Overlord if the author happens to be rooting for him; heroes should avoid the Moral Event Horizon, not plunge past it as the rules on this list would suggest he or she do.

--
Pauper
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Ugh. So many on this list reinforce murderhobo tendencies. This would actively hurt my table.
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
I will say that I agree with #'s 1, 8, 9, 11, 12, and 25 - too many parties rush in without a single plan, and stay in a dangerous fight because "the DM wouldn't place something in his campaign that we can't handle."

Yes, yes I would. And this thing can kill you. I gave you tons of warning signs, including the slaughtered creature corpse at the dungeon entrance that was 5 challenge levels above you. Also none of the plot threads insinuated you HAD to use straightforward violence to kill this thing to accomplish a major goal.... :(

In a game I recently DMed , I watched the group tackle a flying enemy, within two hours of receiving a flying magic item, and they tackled it with all ranged weapons that no one was optimized for, because they forgot they received the item. :) #25 is pretty important!
 
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neobolts

Explorer
One of the great design choices from 4e was the gods having three bullet points that acted as tenants of that faith. It made RPing a cleric a little bit easier for new players. There's probably some good material there for crafting a heroic ethos.
 

grimslade

Adventurer
1. I will not split the party.
2. A foolhardy act is a brave act which fails. I will not be foolhardy.
6. One of my advisers will be non-military, non-adventurer, maybe even non-adult; they'll notice flaws in my plans that no one else will.
7. I will not gloat over my enemies' predicament before killing them (from the Evil list . . .).
8. I will run away to fight another day, rather than die futilely.
9. I will not fight "just for the experience". Focus on the Objective!
10. I will take and interrogate prisoners rather than Slaughter Everyone.
11. I will never think I'm invincible/indestructible.
12. I will have backup plans.
13. I will have backups of items that I need to defeat the Evil Overlord.
15. Lawful Evil is not trustworthy.
18. When I capture a beautiful minion of the Evil Overlord, I will not believe she's so attracted to my good looks and purity that she will gladly betray her Lord. (If I'm female,
same applies to handsome male minions.)
19. While escaping I will not pause to make some wise-crack to the enemy.
20. If my advisers/friends think my plan is bad, I will listen to them.
21. My guards/prison wardens will always operate in pairs. If one goes missing the other will immediately raise the alarm.
22. I will imprison enemies in widely separated places, whenever possible.
23. I will take my enemies alive only where it is practical.
24. I will not immediately believe an enemy who says they have Seen the Light and are changing sides.
25. When the big fight is about to start, I will think about all my items and capabilities to find something especially useful.
26. I will never accept a challenge from an enemy leader.
28. I will not split the party!

Okay The list is a good one with a couple of bad rules. I would strike these rules for a heroic party. They are not heroic. The high road is not the easy road, generally.

3. When I capture one of my chief enemies, and cannot take them to prison, I will thoroughly kill them on the spot. (Shannara Chronicles)
4. If it's impractical to "bring the Evil Overlord to justice", I'll kill them on the spot. I AM justice, when Necessary.
5. I will burn to fine ashes any powerful enemy I kill, whenever possible.
14. I will also find the Evil Overlord's children/siblings, and if they're Evil, kill them.
17. This is a War, not Sport. I will kill the Evil bastards any way I can.
27. The only good orc, is a dead orc. (Or other Evil race.)

16. I will not allow Evil characters to join my party. Is ironic because following the cut rules would probably make the 'heroic party', evil. Sometimes heroic characters will have to partner with evil, but will do their best to blunt their evil or redeem them.

I would add a few about heroes not going loot crazy during their adventure.
Not everything needs to be skinned. There is probably no market for goblin teeth.
Detect Evil is not plot radar.
Do try and help the innocents caught in your murder spree of righteousness.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
The problem of what to do with unconscious enemies is a recurring moral quandary in many RPG's. Many groups just kill them and move on, which is perfectly fine if that is the kind of game the player's, and DM, want to run. <snippety doo dah, snippety ehh>

Moral quandaries make the game more interesting IMHO and I a always curious to see how different groups deal with them.

Part of it is the fact that this particular moral quandary almost inevitably leads to a transparent "he's going to betray you, so don't let him surrender". IMO the DM needs to take the first step to make surrender a possibility.

Example: In my not really Planescape or Spelljammer but really bizarre Astral game, the PCs assaulted the pleasure palace of a gith pirate captain. As the gith pirates are important adversaries, this was relevant because the PCs were hoping to steal any star charts there. Regardless, the place was done up in about as baroquely twisted/twistedly baroque a fashion as you might imagine, complete with shaved bugbear eunuch guards wearing Borat-style mankinis firing blunderbusses. The freed brothel slaves ended up joining up with a up and coming ally who'd helped the PCs during the assault and had lost her crew in the resulting escape after the raid. However, two of the bugbears survived and, when they spoke with them, they offered to serve the PCs. One was later killed by a vampire, but the survivor, swiftly dubbed Borat, faithfully served them as a jailer until he was killed by some gereleths later on. He's been memorialized in statue in their town.

OK, that's kind of bizarre, but the general point is that the PCs have to feel that surrender isn't invariably going to lead to betrayal. It probably works better in this particular campaign because the PCs have a home base of a sort and thus weren't saddled with a retainer they had to haul around all the time. Otherwise, prisoner killing isn't going to stop, even for otherwise fairly good PCs.
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
I can't help myself sometimes...

I will not split the party.
Sometimes it isn't my choice to make. This also precludes any heroic sacrifice.

A foolhardy act is a brave act which fails. I will not be foolhardy.
If it can't fail, you are not being brave when doing it.

When I capture one of my chief enemies, and cannot take them to prison, I will thoroughly kill them on the spot. (Shannara Chronicles)
I'm sure a warcrime is always the answer...

If it's impractical to "bring the Evil Overlord to justice", I'll kill them on the spot. I AM justice, when Necessary.
This one requires a huge ego, and it is a slippery slope. If I AM JUSTICE, then I get to decide what is good and what is evil.

I will burn to fine ashes any powerful enemy I kill, whenever possible.
This is overkill, unnecessary overkill. It doesn't stop a well worded wish. Even if it is permanent, in a world where people can be brought back from death, permanent death is pretty amoral

One of my advisers will be non-military, non-adventurer, maybe even non-adult; they'll notice flaws in my plans that no one else will.
Because dragging an underage civilian into dangerous situations will only end up so well...

I will not gloat over my enemies' predicament before killing them (from the Evil list . . .).
citation unnecessary, this is the rising overlord list anyway.

I will run away to fight another day, rather than die futilely.
Yeah, let the actual heroes die.

I will not fight "just for the experience". Focus on the Objective!
The world is not going to conquer itself..

I will take and interrogate prisoner.s rather than Slaughter Everyone.
How kind of you.

I will never think I'm invincible/indestructible.
Because the world would be a better place without me to rule over it...

I will have backup plans.
Because we cannot allow Goo... I mean Evil to win at any cost.

I will have backups of items that I need to defeat the Evil Overlord.

It doesn't matter if the items are one of a kind and I have to travel to a parallel universe to steal theirs and doom them.

I will also find the Evil Overlord's children/siblings, and if they're Evil, kill them.
Yeah, Because the last thing we need is someone with a legitimate claim to the throne to get in the way.

Lawful Evil is not trustworthy.
How they dare having standards! They might make my minio..., ahem friends, see how much of a jerk I actually am...

I will not allow Evil characters to join my party.

Of course not, I wouldn't want any competition.

This is a War, not Sport. I will kill the Evil bastards any way I can.
Because we are not above low blows.

When I capture a beautiful minion of the Evil Overlord, I will not believe she's so attracted to my good looks and purity that she will gladly betray her Lord. (If I'm female, same applies to handsome male minions.)
Because I know that it is impossible, I'm a complete monster no one can fall in love with.

While escaping I will not pause to make some wise-crack to the enemy.
Nevermind that talking is a free action...

If my advisers/friends think my plan is bad, I will listen to them.
I wouldn't want to risk my evil empire, um happy place I rule with an iron fist, for an ego boost.

My guards/prison wardens will always operate in pairs. If one goes missing the other will immediately raise the alarm.
How and why I got a private prison doesn't matter. I'M JUSTICE damn it!

I will imprison enemies in widely separated places, whenever possible.
We wouldn't want to give rebels a chance to rebel. Of course this is moot, because...

I will take my enemies alive only where it is practical.
Of course, the line about not slaughtering everything was just PR.

I will not immediately believe an enemy who says they have Seen the Light and are changing sides.
Cause the world is black and white and everything revolves around me.

When the big fight is about to start, I will think about all my items and capabilities to find something especially useful.
Cause we are clearly not above low blows...

I will never accept a challenge from an enemy leader.

Because combat by champion would certainly spare so many innocent lives...
The only good orc, is a dead orc. (Or other Evil race.)
And we have already established that what counts as good or evil is purely at my whim.

I will not split the party!
Cause they might actually turn good if I'm not there to keep them in line...
 

Lord Mhoram

Adventurer
I was reading this, and it made me think of one of the worst Dragon Magazine articles I ever read "Be aware and take care" then I realized it was the same author.
 

Johnny Angel

Explorer
The Evil Overlord list is about all the tropes that lead to Evil's downfall. But the hero's version of the list mentions all kinds of tropes that heroes actually get away with, and which attracts us to them all the more. There are things that heroes do in stories that are not part of their charm or a moral system that makes them heroic that nonetheless frustrate us because they're cheap means of creating problems.

I don't see splitting up the party as being that big a problem outside of RPGs. I can't recall a TV show where the sub-group without the thief winds up needing a trap disarmed. But in RPGs you are always compromising a balance built into a game and into encounters. In other media, the encounters are tailored with the make up of the smaller party in mind. Really, what you need is a rule more like:

I will provide for reliable lines of communication. If I must split the party, we should all know what others are doing or discovering.

One of the tropes that pisses me off royally is what I think of as the 'friendly foil' - an ally who is a source of the problems the hero has to solve. Think, for example, of Jack on MacGuyver. Or any woman on MacGuyver. The writers of that show were obsessed with the idea that women are stupid and cause all the problems by not letting men handle everything. Also, consider Angel on the Rockford Files. All I want to see from a Rockford Files reboot is Rockford choking Angel to death and throwing him in a sausage press. How about a rule like:

I will not have a friend who causes more trouble than my enemies.

The list mentions gloating. Gloating is not a heroic trope. Heroes quip, and they get away with it. Heroes get in trouble for prematurely letting their guard down. How about something like:

I will not assume everything is all right now.

Also,

I will keep clocking in all directions. Even enemies that are slow, shuffling and moan constantly nonetheless always mange to sneak up from a direction you haven't checked lately.
 

lewpuls

Adventurer
I was reading this, and it made me think of one of the worst Dragon Magazine articles I ever read "Be aware and take care" then I realized it was the same author.

Oddly enough, I've seen quite a few people over the years say they thought that was one of the best articles Dragon Magazine articles ever. To each his own.
 


lewpuls

Adventurer
“Presentism” is the imposition of contemporary morality on historical figures of centuries ago, usually resulting in criticism of those people. It’s nonsense, because circumstances were quite different, and morality was different, “back then”.

Example: people think the Romans were evil for having slaves. Slavery is always bad, right? No. Romans enslaved prisoners of war (and virtually every year, Rome was at war somewhere). If you said to a Roman that’s wrong, the Roman would say, “what, you want us to kill them instead? We can’t afford to keep our enemies alive, they have to earn their keep - via slavery.” (The Romans may have been the nation in world history most likely to enable their slaves to earn their freedom, by the way.)

What I see here is some people imposing their standards of morality (from the current oh-so-safe wrap-kids-in-cotton-wool modern world), on people in life-and-death adventuring situations. And it’s just as much nonsense as presentism is. None of us here are likely old enough to remember WW II. That was a much grimmer reality than anything today, and if my understanding of history is correct, morality wasn’t quite the same then as now. Desperate situations make for different points of view.

Some of us may remember the heart of the Cold War, perhaps even the Cuban Missile Crisis, when people genuinely feared that nuclear destruction was about to begin. Once again, standards of morality just might have been different then, than they are now, when there’s no such sword hanging over our heads.

I chose dictums that made sense in a very dangerous world. Some people here are talking about a fantasy morality in the sense of “this could never happen in a real world of adventuring.” There’s a war on. Combat is war, not sport. (See RPG Combat: Sport or War?
http://www.enworld.org/forum/content.php?4580-RPG-Combat-Sport-or-War#.WeJ8zGiPKUk ) The object is to make the enemy surrender, or slaughter them if they won’t. Being nice is not an option. Perhaps contemporaries don’t understand that kind of desperate situation, given our safe-and-secure contemporary world.

I don’t see how you can impose contemporary “no one can actually hurt me” morality on a game where people DIE. Now if you play story-telling instead of a game, there’s no real danger involved, that’s a different kettle of fish. I'm talking about role-playing GAMES.

Your mileage may vary.
 

This list sounds lame. Let me redirect you


"Where men gather, a bustle of chaos ensues. I would save them all, if I could." - Lord Keldorn Firecam, Paladin
"Don't kill if you can wound, don't wound if you can subdue, don't subdue if you can pacify, and don't raise your hand at at all until you have extended it." - Wonder Woman
"I rescue the helpless, I raise up the hopeless. I don't measure people's lives, I save them" - Captain America


The "hero" whose rules you're writing doesn't sound anything of the sort, they sound like a character half way through Protagonist's Journey to Villain. Which is perfectly valid, I play that kind of character sometimes. But don't call it the "Hero List"
 
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