Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Muscles From Brussels or Anywhere Else (Nights Black Agents)

My apologies for going dark on you! I'm acting in the outdoor Shakespeare, opening night's this week, and everything's just a little frantic. Taming of the Shrew, by all means come and see, but since most if not all of you live outside Bermuda I shan't be too upset if you don't. ;)

Anyway, as I have little time I shall quickly cover another character type for Night's Black Agents: the Muscle.

A probable ex-military type, the Muscle is often the star of modern espionage thrillers. Stephen Leather's Spider Shepherd, for instance, is ex-SAS, as is Andy McNab's Nick Stone, aka the dimwitted heavily armed movie camera. Even Jason Bourne is a variant on the theme, the brainwashed black program badass. So the Muscle ought to be the most popular character archetype, right?

Well, no.

The Muscle's problem closely parallels that of the Fighter in D&D (or AD&D, or spank the magic dragon, or whatever we're calling it now). It's the meat and potatoes of the game. Every group needs at least one, because every group will at some point encounter a situation that can only be solved with ultraviolence. But players generally don't want to be the one who just hits things and does nothing else.

AD&D solved this problem with prestige characters, and later iterations use what amounts to a series of perks, each designed to make the character type feel unique even if the base is straight fighter. Night's Black Agents does a broadly similar thing with the cherries system, martial arts and the combat maneuvers, and so long as the player is willing to learn those special rules and use them, this works. But I've noticed an inbuilt resistance to learning rules, particularly among adult gamers. Life, apparently, is too short for reading. It's not too short for watching trashy TV shows, I notice. But then I'm a cynical soul.

This is where props like the thriller action cards on Pelgrane's site come in handy. However props aren't the only solution to the problem, and the most effective is, oddly enough, background.

I've mentioned before that I prefer a one-sentence descriptor for characters these days. This is still the case with the Muscle. The difference being, that sentence needs to be pulled from something more interesting, more descriptive, than 'ex Special Forces veteran gone rogue.'

Consider two examples, drawn from the news. One concerns a Japanese finger sculptor who works for former Yakuza. The other is about former child soldiers now working as mercenaries for British PMC Aegis.

My point is this: the way to get past the snore-factor inherent in the Muscle character type is to think carefully about the Muscle's background. Any idiot can play an ex Spec Ops badass. But combat, war zones and conflict are world wide. People from all walks of life are drawn in, and marked forever. Imagine being the former criminal trying to make a good life for himself, his family, but indelibly scarred by his past. Imagine being the child soldier who now knows nothing but war, and can only make a living using the skills learned over years of psychotic conflict.

Nagi is a former Yakuza, one of the very few older sisters of the Kudo-kai, who came to Paris to start afresh, only to find that her criminal past still bars her from any meaningful career or family life.

Bai went from the battlegrounds of Sierra Leone to war-torn Iraq, and has two lifetimes' worth of bitter experience packed inside less than two decades; very little frightens him, except death itself.

Gotta go! Catch you all later.

No comments:

Post a Comment