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In the old days when I actually used to take part in and GM conventional role-playing games I recall coming up against a bizarre event. This almost always occured at the start of a campaign set up, or change of setting. No matter how much the GM of the moment would describe the coming setting, or provide background material and books of art to illustrate what the cultural, technological and historical basis for the game was, there would always be someone who would choose to be a character that could not possibly exist there and/or call themselves something that was glaringly incongruous.

It seems I am not alone in finding this strange phenomenon. As I was reminiscing about Runequest I went surfing, as you do, and found a lovely site that a GM had obviously put a lot of work into. The games sounded as if they were fun, though I noted the sad comment that no game had happened for 158 days. This pricks my heart in sympathy – there is nothing worse than having a labour of love, as an RPG campaign is, just wither away through lack of interest/committment/availability.  

Runequest is clearly designed to be viewed through a bronze-age, heroic classical Greek lens. The original sources all confirmed this. The art of the site in question really hammered it home.

I looked at the character lists. There were characters named Alansar, Cleombrotus and Darkos. These seemed within the general mood. Then, sure enough, I found one called Grant McKielsen. Very Greek. Very bronze age.

It reminded me immediately of the time I tried to start a similar bronze age camapign. I layed out books of Greek architecture and art, described the fashion and weapons of the time, brushed over the stories of the Illiad. Then I invited the players to think about the characters whey might want to portray in this setting. Most got it straight away. We discussed hoplites, senators, physician/philosophers, and priestesses. All seemed to be going well.

Then one of the players declared that he wanted to be a bard. With a lute. And a big floppy hat with a feather in it. Armed with a rapier.

I can still hear the crickets and see the tumbleweed around the table as the rest of us digested this information.

What is the psychology at work here? Conceit (didn’t hear a word anyone esle said – too busy being a hero in their own mind), misguided sense of humor (see, it doesn’t fit, that breaks the suspension of disbelief, cause we’re not really heros, we’re just playing a game. Get it?), ignorance (back in the ancient days, like before flat screen TV everyone blah blah blah sword, last movie I saw), or something else?