Power and Consequences

During our last T&J session, one of the players said something (out of character) that stuck in my mind. The confrontation between Raz and Hikaru was really dramatic, and one of the players said that it’s because the players have the amount of power they do that things get so dramatic and intense. I think there’s some truth to that, but there’s also more to it.

The thing with Raz and Hikaru specifically is that there’s a crucible at work. They’re very different characters in terms of their motivations and personalities (Red Ranger and Blue Ranger, and then some), and under normal circumstances they’d be off and away from each other in no time. Instead, having become superheroes with common enemies and a very real need to be part of a functional team, they’re stuck with each other. This is IMO a big part of what makes Harry Potter work; given a choice Harry would go to a Hogwart’s that didn’t have the likes of Draco Malfoy and Professor Snape, or House Slytherin in general, just as Draco no doubt thinks the school would be a better place without Harry and his Gryffindor friends. Instead, they both have to deal, and conflicts arise.

Power has the potential to magnify actions, which is what Raz has run into; his super-strength stopped a dangerous supervillain, but it’s also about ready to earn a shitstorm of bad publicity and possibly get him sued. Harry Potter is in some ways the opposite of this, since in the HP world magic is more often than not good at mitigating consequences. In Dragon Ball Z, the “Z Fighters” wind up largely keeping their powers a secret from most of the world, and the heroes’ rarely if ever have their own abilities go wrong, unless it’s directly caused by a bad guy. On the other hand, there is something exciting about the ludicrously strong alien invader who the two strongest warriors in the world had to go all-out to defeat saying, “My boss is listening in on this, and he’s ten times stronger than me.” After the Frieza Saga (which was where Toriyama originally planned to end the manga) it got kind of dumb at times with the endlessly escalating power, but that first time, watching it on syndicated TV Sunday mornings, I was hooked. Buffy I think did a good job with having power with consequences, and that theme is a big part of what goes into Willow’s character in season 6. So, it’s not necessarily the power level, but the hold the consequences can have over the characters, something that power level can feed into if done right.

All of the above is why for Exalted I’d probably be most interested in a Dragon Blooded campaign; the Solars are scattered and don’t really have a foothold in the Realm, but the Terrestrials are the Realm, with scheming houses and social responsibilities, and even boarding schools where kids (who all desperately hope that they’ll exalt) are sent to learn the ways of the society and nobility. But with a modern setting it’s that much easier for us to make things spiral off into the land of consequences. Superheroes are public figures — unlike most WoD characters — and can run into stuff like lawsuits, making enemies, ticking off allies, etc. that much more easily.

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One thought on “Power and Consequences

  1. I’ve likened the situation between the characters as a dysfunctional relationship of necessity, but what makes it happen is the fact that there are excellent players at work.
    No meta-gaming. No “We implicitly trust the guy we met 10 minutes ago in a shady alley because he’s another player’s character” stunts. For the most part, it seems the group is following what Stephen King said about writing fiction: “If you have a firm grasp of who they are, the characters will speak to you”
    and it works because we have such a dichotomy in the cast.

    While the Harry Potter instance is good, a better (and closer) analogy would be the Justice League- Batman and Superman. Supes doesn’t care for Batman’s heavy handed approach and Bats has a hard time dealing that Superman often lets things escalate due to his conscience.
    If it wasn’t for the fact that they bring different things to the table (Superman being physically near-invincible while also a respected public figure and Batman not having a “nice guy” reputation along with being a detective)
    they would barely have anything to do with one another.

    They might antagonize each other, but they are not antogonists to one another like Harry and Draco. It’s a working relationship. A shakey one where both acknowledge each other’s worth. Draco, if given the chance, would probibly do everything he can to kick Harry out or destroy his life. Hikaru, if given the chance without any other motivations, probibly wouldn’t go anywhere near that far with Razmus.

    Lastly, a modern serious superhero game has many situations that can easily bring in harsh consequences simply because of one thing: It’s stretching what we already know.

    Most people are not terribly familiar with the inner-workings of the feudal system circa 13th century so it’s tougher for everyone to understand the problems and consiquences of what goes on unless everyone studies up and read detailed accounts. Yet on the other hand, with a “public style” game set in the modern age- be it hero or secret agent or horror, there are consiquences we ALL know. Someone may get sued by a prowler that they caught and restrained after the criminal broke into the person’s home, “Trial by Media” exists… etc. etc.

    It won’t be as overdone as say a high fantasy/sci-fi game using such themes or even if the story was set in the 1950s (where in both cases it will reek of heavy handedness, wedging in and playing up whatever we saw on TV that was set in the situation) Instead with a modern game, we know what can happen and what couldn’t.
    Shades of grey are added, and like tone on a test page from your printer, it allows for deeper and deeper layers to exist.

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