'Heroes' and Their Safety Nets

Heroism is a moral quality. A hero tries to do what's right despite the risk to himself. For instance, if a warrior defends innocent people from bandits even though he endangers his own life in doing so, this is heroic behaviour.

Unfortunately many gamers have another idea of a hero. They think it means someone who is insulated from real harm. The terms 'heroic game' or 'heroic character' are often used to indicate games in which the player characters aren't in any real danger of being hurt no matter how many powerful opponents they face. This might be because PCs have a ludicrously high number of Hit Points, or they have Luck Points to let them re-roll bad rolls, or the game system gives an unfair advantage to PCs over ordinary NPCs (like Savage Worlds with its Wild Die, which allows PCs to roll two dice and pick the best one where ordinary NPCs only roll one die and have to stick with the result).

These unfair tricks, these safety nets to keep player characters alive are not heroic. They are unheroic. If our warrior defending the village from bandits were not in any real danger, this would take away all the heroism. It would also make the game very boring. Both heroism and excitement in a game come from the risk, and any safety net that protects player characters from risk makes the game less heroic and less exciting.

Superman is the most boring of all super-'heroes'. Until Kryptonite was introduced into the Superman world, Superman simply couldn't be hurt in any way. So before Kryptonite, there was absolutely no tension in any Superman story because the readers knew Superman was never going to be hurt. If Superman throws himself in front of a gunman to protect innocent people and takes the bullet, there is nothing heroic in this because he knows and we know that bullet can't harm him.

Some gamers want to play characters like Superman, who are completely immune to all danger. Playing such a character would utterly bore me. Sometimes I've deliberately played weaker characters than I was expected to play. I remember the first time I played Vampire, I saw how high a PC's stats were compared to a normal human and said, 'I can't play a character this powerful.' I asked the GM if I could leave some of my stat points unspent to weaken my character.