Saturday, 28 July 2012

Hate in the Real World - Some very difficult roleplaying

I've run some very hateful NPCs in my 28 years of gaming, and most of them have been a product of the campaign - evil wizards, nasty warlords, insane pirates. Character archetypes you would expect to be evil.

I'm now running a Call of Cthulhu campaign in 1933 and I've created a couple of characters I wanted to be distinct, especially a janitor at Miskatonic University called Lewis. He's not evil (although his opinions are), or insane, and has no plans to take over the world. He just mops floors and cleans up after the students. He's also one of the most hateful people you'd want to meet - he's sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-semite, willfuly ignorant, offensive and pretty much everything you'd dislike in a person. I created him as a red herring for the PCs, a man who seemed to hate everything and everyone and so might have been responsible for the apparent hate crime incidents happening around the campus. They only spoke to him a couple of times and then managd to follow the clues to the real culprits. During those conversations he would spit and moan about anything the PCs questioned him about. He blamed it on the kids, the women, the foreigners, the coloured folk, the Jews. His language was colourful and his attitude horrendous, and if he could whine and gripe about it he would.

This was the first time I'd portrayed a character like that - I'd used hateful characters before but never to this degree - and he was successfuly nasty. I think the PCs were trying to find a reason to beat the living shit out of him, but as he was in his sixtes and one of the players was a cop they bit their tongues and just chewed him out. More than that, though, throughout the entire encounter, the looks on the player's faces changed from interest to disgust, and I wasn't sure if the expressions were aimed at the NPC or at me for running him. I felt horribly uncomfortable playing the role and I've decided not to run an NPC like that again. In fact, I dwelt on the character and how I must have sounded at the table for a few days after the session and wondered if I should have apologised at the table, or mentioned that I didn't share any of this bastard's views.

It seems that it's okay for me to play NPCs that want to enslave the world with magic powers, invade star systems with fleets of starships and decimate millions, or have the PCs kinapped and beaten by psychopathic pirates - all things I'd never do or contemplate. That's all part of the story. But the moment I play a character that may have actually existed, and may have shared the views of people living in the real world today? It made my skin crawl to inhabit the personality of such a person and I don't think I'll be doing that again.

Playing in the real world - or, at least, a version of it - is far, far scarier than anything I've done with the fantasy and sci-fi settings I've played in. I think that's what gives Call of Cthulhu it's power.


  1. I had a similar encounter during a fantasy game, playing a viking type. We had all been captured and enslaved on a galley. Whilst rowing, because it looked fun, I was checking out the other slaves and seeing if I could figure a way to free ourselves. Most of them looked beaten down and would be no cop in a fight, but there were half a dozen African looking chaps, who were at least as big as the vikings I was travelling with. Very quickly it became clear that they wouldn't do anything to help us, so a plan was formed to start a fight and take control in the confusion. We had most of the other captives on side, and it was easy within the confines of the game world to get them to side against the obvious outsiders with the wrong coloured skin. I was down right nasty in the things I was saying to build up the conflict, but because they weren't directed at the African types, no one seemed to mind. the moment I did say something though, just as abhorrent as the rest of the stuff, every other player looked at me like I was the vilest specimen of humanity to exist. I found myself having to explain to a room of friends, some who've known me for years, that it was just the character speaking, and not my own. It got a bit weird, and me think that I'd never try anything like that again, even though I had done nothing wrong.

  2. It's a very true point about evil characters in any form. I remember Terry Gilliam in his autobiography, talking about an argument he had with George Lucas about evil. Lucas stated that Vader was evil and Gilliam pointed out that Vader isn't evil, he's pantomime camp. The torturer in Brazil (played by Michael Palin - I forget his char name) on the other hand is evil, because he is a supposedly "good" man who does terrible things to other people through ignorance, weakness to stand up for what is right and because he is just "doing his job."