[In which, while this week I play in my buddy’s 13th Age campaign, I reflect on GMing with anti-heroic Revan in a party of heroes.]
Maybe you read about the last session of my “Cursed Myth” campaign: the roleplaying got intense.
Revan considered killing NPCs who gave the lost, unarmed, and unarmored party food, shelter, and key clues about where they were. One threw Revan out of their house. While Revan was outside, he killed their dog with necromancy.
Revan’s player and I have an open line of communication, since before dice hit the table. He ran his idea past me. Then, at my invitation, he discussed his plan with the group at Creation Night. His bottom line: I want everyone to have fun. As we play, let me know if how I’m playing Revan becomes a problem. After the last session, he reaffirmed this. He also asked me for feedback.
Before the campaign started, Revan’s player asked how I felt about him playing an evil character. I wasn’t against it. I mostly asked questions to clarify how he saw his character.
I also shared this: Matt Colville's "On Being an Evil Character."
He found it helpful. Revan, he said, would be an anti-hero. As Colville described it:
An anti-hero, by contrast, is someone who literally does not want to be a hero. They do not embody the traditional virtues of heroism. They reject them and often openly ridicule them.: But they can be trusted to the right thing because it furthers some necessary goal. You can’t rely on them to be on your side in the grand scheme of things, but for this one mission, you will know they will help, because they have to.
Like Max in Mad Max.
So last session,, Revan was an anti-hero. His player did what he said he would do. In the moment, I was not thinking about this. But afterward, I saw it. Revan killed their dog and helped protect the lizardpeople from the harpies and ogre. The latter, not because Revan wanted to save them, but because he wanted to save himself and his mission.
In the bigger picture of this campaign, I share some of the burden of making Revan fit in this campaign. For one, I didn’t say no but encouraged him. I’d be an ass of a GM to leave him hanging. But also, as GM, that’s the job. Make room for the characters. Make it fun for the players. It’s what I’ll do for each character. It’s just more obvious with Revan.
For the duration of the campaign, I must pull all the strings of the world to make sure Revan’s goals align with the rest of the party’s goals. I have to arrange the pieces so Revan will do the right thing and help them because he has to.
Revan the Bonehook
Cave Elf Necromancer
I lived after a beheading at the hands of the Emperox’s Halos. I have no head, only a haze-filled cowl with a pair of glowing gray eyes.
+2 Wraith Lord
-1 Divine Emperox Xìnyǎng
Former emissary for Necropolis, during the War of Night’s End against the King and Emperox.
I ran the corpse smuggling ring known simply as the Defilement to fuel the Lich King’s army.
Raised by my grandmother who was head of the Drakkenhall interrogation station of the Ministry of Order, Queen Moro-Līanae's spy organization.
the Cursed Skull (Revan’s Faction)
Revive necromancy, bring an end to the ‘Unholy Dawn’ [bring down the Emperox] and initiate the cleansing of Necropolis, and create communities where necromancers can safely live and practice their faith
Positive Wraith Lord
Negative Divine Emperox Xìnyǎng
Negative King Battlehammer
creating a campaign that includes Revan
When Revan’s player first asked what I thought about evil characters, I knew almost nothing about the rest of the party. But I did know I’d leave it up to the players which icons were heroes, villains, or ambigiously both.
This is a must for 13th Age, and it’s the first—but not only—step toward a campaign where the characters fit together.
+2 Divine Emperox Xìnyǎng
-1 Wraith Lord
-1 Divine Emperox Xìnyǎng
+2 Wraith Lord
I’m glad Revan and his player are part of the campaign. Revan’s OUT and backgrounds add a great deal to the world—things I never would have considered. But for a minute, consider a campaign without him:
The main heroic icon would’ve been the Divine Emperox.
The Wraith Lord would’ve been a secondary villainous icon.
But as it is, I gotta let Revan shift the icon dynamics of the campaign. What I expected or what his or any other players expected must give way to this truth:
The Divine Emperox and the Wraith Lord are equally ambiguous—about two-thirds heroic and one-third villainous.
Isn’t that a more interesting campaign, anyway?
I get to have some fun more than one player.
The Revan I’ve seen so far doesn’t seem to know about the Wraith Lord’s strong heroic streak.
The Oramir and Aso I’ve seen so far doesn’t seem to know about the Divine Emperox’s significant villainous streak.
Add to this, three of five players have negative relationships with Daevos the Cursed Merchant. There’s the main villainous icon. Now I gotta give Revan and Aso reasons to hate a servant of the Cursed Merchant!
Which, I have to say, creating factions alongside characters was a big help. Revan’s character, for example, fully identifies with the Cursed Skull’s agenda. So when Daevos messes with that….well, he better find a bodyguard for his dog.
Now a lot of this is still fairly abstract. What about specific NPCs and encounters? Obviously, there’s more to work out. Or improvise. But getting clear on the bones of the campaign makes the rest easier.
For me, Revan’s player, and the whole group.