Friday, November 11, 2011

Fantasy Versus Science Fiction...Heroes - Made or Born?

My good friend, fellow gamer geek and 1999 'National Welcoming Bear Hug Champion' Allen Ravenfeast for the rest of you mugs) brought up an interesting idea in the comments of one of my previous posts. Essentially, he postulated that Fantasy characters are generally larger-than-life heroes (or anti-heroes when appropriate) but Science Fiction characters are just people in space doing their job.

Now there is some validity to this to be sure. Elric of Melnibone' has several elements to his story that make him unique amoung his people and his people special to his world as a whole. A young King Arthur draws Excalibur from the stone because he is not just some shmoe but the rightful king of all England. Even the beloved Fafhrd and Gray Mouser are unusual individuals with particular talents that set them apart from the average citizen walking the streets of Lankhmar.

Now in Science Fiction, very often, the individuals can be just as unique and special but more often seem to simply be regular people in the right place at the right time (or wrong place at the wrong time in some cases).

Louis, Teela and Speaker-to-Animals are not especially gifted or unusual individuals in their setting of Larry Niven's Known Space, yet they become heroes in the Ringworld story. Certainly Mr. Spock is an unusal individual at the time of the original series, a half Vulcan, half Human hybrid but is Leonard McCoy gifted in anyway that is abnormal from the rest of Humanity? How about Scotty? Uhura? What about Ripley and the crew of the Nostromo in Alien? Gulliver Foyle from Bester's The Stars My Destination? Foyle is amazingly clever and skillful in his attempt to enact revenge on those who he felt left him to die but before being galvanized by that concept he was quite the opposite of special.

Now here's where it gets dicey...when you add dice of course...


Whenever I here the old schooler talk character creation, sorry, character generation, the idea is you are not making a large-than-life hero per se. Rather, D&D seems to learn toward making a character who is quite average or even a bit inept. Nothing wrong with that. Some of my favorite Fantasy characters are largely inept at the get-go. Bilbo, Frobo, Schmendrick the Magician and The Mouse (Matthew Broderick) in Ladyhawke all begin pretty wimpy.

I ask you though...when you sit down to play D&D or it's related games, is that who you want to be. Is that what you're gunning for? I am sure some of you are and I'd even go so far as to say many are at least once in a while. But wouldn't you, generally speaking, rather be playing a character like Conan, Lancelot or Jon Snow of A Game of Thrones.

So I suppose this entry into my 'Versus' series is more one of query than personal opinion.

Should Fantasy PC generation create your average commoner turned adventurer or hero of legend? Why not have options for both?

Are Science-Fiction PCs just the run of the mill, average joes of the far future? Do you think they are automatically destined for greatness? How so?

And while we're at it, you'll notice I try (though I'm sure I don't always remember and succeed) to avoid using Star Wars as an example. To me Star Wars is a blend of the two and therefore not so useful in a discussion of one vs. the other.

Barking Alien

*I do it in my D&D-But-Not game.



  1. Well, Star Trek is a counter example. While, yes, the crew of the Enterprise are just doing their jobs (in space) they are also the elite. Star Fleet only recruits the best of the best, after all it has more than 150 member planets and thousands of colonies to choose the 'best and brightest' from. Even McCoy was brilliant is his field.

  2. Perhaps, yet we know there are 'lower decks' members of the crew. The impression given is one where even the members of the bridge crew were at one time ensigns serving on someone else's command.

    True, Star Trek can be viewed on both sides of the equation but I've always wondered, how many 'best and brightest' can there be? The average TOS Era Heavy Cruiser has a crew of over 300 people. There are about a dozen of those ships. That's a lot of 'best' people.

  3. There are too many actions that make a good story/show/movie but are considered bad ideas if perpetrated in a game. Splitting the party being at the top of the list(and let's face it, almost all heroes are loners which doesn't work well w/ group based RPGs). The tendency for players to also build one dimensional combat monsters and call them heroes doesn't help. A lot of Old School DMs are quite tired of seeing them.

  4. @2eDM - I suppose you're right. Wouldn't know. See, I constantly allow splitting the party (in Star Trek it's almost a requirement) and rarely have one-dimensional combat monsters. It just doesn't happen very often (if at all in recent memory).

    If you check out some of my past blog entries, you'll see at I am not very old school. I tend to think if it works in a story, show, movie, comic book or animated series, it should work in an RPG. The trick is how to make the transition/translation from one medium to the other.

    I can't claim I always succeed but I do always try.