A few weeks ago, I wrote about the next game I am planning to run after my current weekly game is over. If you haven’t read that post yet, go ahead. Click the link. I’ll wait.
Back so soon? That didn’t take long. I was just pouring a drink. Since you’re here, I’ll share. Never mind the glass. It’s hard as hell to clean ’em in that sorry excuse for a bathroom sink. Have a seat. Yeah, just move that stack of papers off that chair. Those cases aren’t going anywhere fast. Right on the floor there. Don’t let the stack fall over, you think I wanna work in a pigsty? Here ya go. Cheap scotch. On the plus side, it burns like hell coming’ back up too.
Where were we? That’s right. We were talking about the types of characters who would work in this type of game. We’ll call them “the usual suspects.”
First, let’s take a look at influences and source material.
The game setting is Jason L. Blair’s Streets of Bedlam. Let’s see what he has to say about characters in neo-noir:
“Motives are muddy and trust is as hard to come by as it is foolish to invest… People do what they have to do to survive… Those you meet often have long histories full of bad deeds, big mistakes, old debts, and enemies. No virgins, no angels, just demons with white wings.” – Streets of Bedlam, p. 11
Okay, that sounds pretty bleak. Are you sure the characters are the good guys?
“You’re a person with a past and an aim to do good. You’ve made mistakes that have cost you, chased dreams that ran faster, put your trust in people who didn’t deserve it, and gave your heart to those who didn’t know how to carry it. You’re caught up in something that is bigger than you, bigger than itself some days, and it just might pull you under if you can’t muster up the strength to fight.”
You right wrongs. You track down bad guys who are protected from on high, the men and women nobody else dares to touch. You hunt down the scum of the earth. You rescue the lost, protect the vulnerable, and shepherd the weak.
You navigate the maze of crime, corruption, and cover-up to get to the ugly truth at the heart of the matter. Then you decide whether to expose it, and let it whither in the harsh light of day, or expunge it, putting a quiet bloody end to the matter.
You are, despite all appearances, one of the good guys… Just because you ain’t a nature scout doesn’t mean you can’t help a little old lady cross the street, right?
You use the tools you have, the history you’ve accumulated, to do what’s right. And hey, maybe your motive isn’t the squeaky-cleanest. Maybe you’re doing it for money, for revenge, for the love of a bad woman, to exorcise some personal demon, but at least you’re doing it.
That’s more than a lot of folks in this city can say.” – Streets of Bedlam, pp. 13-14
Damn. That’s actually pretty unequivocal. The characters are the heroes, like Superman, right?
Well… Not exactly:
“Everybody… has baggage, even those that just got off the bus. You’re no exception.
Your own demons are always peeking around corners at you… Addictions, fetishes, impulses, voices in your head, emotional scars, a deep-seated need for revenge all put you in places you would rather not be – or in situations you had best be careful in.
Finally… sometimes people just don’t want to be rescued. Sometimes folks don’t realize the hole of shit they’ve crawled or fallen into. Not every damsel is looking for a white knight to come riding in on his noble-fucking-steed. Sometimes the maiden prefers the dragon. Sometimes you rescue them anyway and deal with the fallout.”
You’re right. That’s not like Superman at all… unless Superman were a recovering junkie who likes to go down to the peep shows every now and then. Man, the only superheroes that sounds like are… maybe Batman, the Punisher, maybe some character from Kick-Ass.
Maybe if you combined one of them with that principal from Lean On Me.
Isn’t that the movie with the kids looking for a dead body? The one with Wil Wheaton?
No, that’s not the movie about the kids looking for a dead body. That one’s called Stand By Me. It’s the one with Morgan Freeman about the principal of an inner city school who carries around a baseball bat and fights all the teenage drug dealers who’ve infested his school. He dares one kid to jump off a roof to his death or get off the drugs. This character would likely be a Samaritan in Streets of Bedlam. No, he’s not a priestly sort, come to think of it, teachers and preachers aren’t that far apart, but he’s there trying to help the kids and be their personal shepherd, of sorts.
So, ya see, the characters are just people. They’ve made mistakes, serious mistakes. They have addictions, flaws, serious personal demons on their backs. Yet, they’re trying to do the right thing. Take the cop from Sin City as a prime example. John Hartigan is a clean cop in a crooked city. He is betrayed by his partner and framed as a pedophile. He actually pleads guilty to this charge to strike a deal that would allow him to still be able to protect the girl he is accused of molesting. Why does he allow himself to be take the rap for something he didn’t do? Well, it’s to protect the little girl, right? Except, he actually does have some feelings for her that don’t exactly qualify as pure. In the end though, he does the right thing. That’s what this is about.
In Streets of Bedlam, John Hartigan would be a Badge. There are actually dozens of other characters that would be excellent examples of the Badge archetype, like Marge Gunderson from Fargo and Ed Tom Bell from No Country For Old Men.
Another excellent example of the type of character that would be a fit for this game is Jake Gittes from Chinatown. Jake is a detective with a history who tries to do the right thing, is conned by a beautiful woman, and ends up causing people to get hurt, killed, or worse. Hell, he even gets his own nose nearly sliced off in the process. In the end, he “solves” the case, but is powerless to do anything to save the girl or get the bad guy off the streets. In the end, all he can do is pour himself another drink, take on another case, and forget about the whole damn mess.
Poor Jake’s Streets of Bedlam archetype would be the Bulldog. His nose is full of knife magnets.
What about Jules Winnfield? I liked him in Pulp Fiction, I mean… Sam Jackson is a bad ass.
Sure. Jules Winnfield is exactly the type of character that would be great for this game. He starts out as a hitman, a professional gun for hire. Then, he gets shot at by a punk kid hiding in a bathroom, and all of the bullets miss.
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.” – Ezekiel 25:17 (not really) Pulp Fiction, Miramax (1994)
To be fair, they missed Travolta… I mean Vincent, too.
Sure, they did. But Jules interpreted it as a miracle and left his hitmanly ways, presumably to do good for the downtrodden and shepherd the weak and shit. In the end, Jules spares Pumpkin and Honey Bunny and does the right thing. Ol’ Vince on the other hand… Well, let’s just say it gets ugly.
So, what archetype would Jules be in Streets of Bedlam?
Jules is an excellent example of the Hitter archetype. Oh, and say “what” one more time, I dare you.
Who else is there?
Well, the next character I have in mind is a little tricky. He appears to be one thing in the film he’s from, but in the end is revealed to be something else entirely. We’re going with what he appears to be, because that’s just easier.
In The Usual Suspects, Verbal Kint is a weasly little man with physical deformities and a weak constitution. He appears willing to sell his mother’s soul for his own freedom and loves to talk. As a matter of fact, he spills everything Agent Kujan wants to hear. He is a devil with a silver tongue who can weave a story like nobody’s business.
Hmmm… That sounds a lot like a Dogface.
Except doesn’t Verbal turn out to really be a Boss?
He does, but I said we weren’t going to deal with that turn of events.
Okay. Who else do we have?
Let’s move on to the old trope of the nosy journalist who keeps stumbling into things he really shouldn’t mess with. Back in the dark ages of the 1970’s, there was a short-lived series on ABC about a reporter who investigated some awful crimes that turned out to not be what they seemed. The guy’s name was Carl Kolchak. He was never promoted for solving these mysteries. He never won a Pulitzer. In fact, he was considered a liar because almost all the evidence he found was always lost or destroyed. Most of his colleagues and acquaintances thought he was a kook.
Carl Kolchak would be a Snoop in this game.
Wait, didn’t he investigate supernatural stuff?
Why do you keep bringing up irrelevant facts? That’s pretty annoying.
Sorry, I just thought…
No. Anyway, I’ll give another example of a Snoop a little later.. Let’s move on.
So, you’ve probably never seen this film, but it definitely fits our needs for the next character we’re looking for. Guy’s name is Manual Jordan. When he was younger, he killed a teenager during an armed robbery and served 23 years in prison for that. After he gets out, he ends up going back to the city where he grew up. He wants redemption, see? So he goes and lives at a community house run by a street preacher named Miles Evans, who would be an excellent nominee for Samaritan himself. Except, it’s Manual we’re looking at here. He starts trying to protect two kids who are getting into some really bad shit kids have no business messing with, and he gets his shot at redemption.
Sounds a little like Travis Bickle, De Niro’s character from Taxi Driver. What would he be?
Manual and Travis would both be good examples of the Drifter in this game.
Why didn’t you just say De Niro then? Taxi Driver was a great film. Everybody loves De Niro.
Because I was hoping you’d go out and watch the other film. It’s called Levity.
Oh, right. I should do that. In fact, if I’m playing in this game, I should probably brush up on a few of these films. It would be lots of fun, and really help me think of what types of characters I’d be open to playing.
Great idea. Just don’t get too hooked on playing anything specific yet, because we’re gonna draw these guys up together as a group.
Got it. Any other ideas?
Sure. We’ve already talked about Sin City, but that film is loaded with characters who are great examples of what would fit into this game. Not only is Hartigan perfect as a Badge, Dwight McCarthy is an excellent example of a Snoop, since he used to work as a newspaper photographer until recklessness and alcoholism cost him his career. There are also several good examples of the Valkyrie archetype. The best example from that film though, is Marv.
Ohhhhh yeah! Marv is a Monster.
Exactly! Not only is Marv a huge guy, he goes about trying to save those he cares about in a very blunt, direct manner. He thinks he’s stupid, but he’s surprisingly smart when it comes down to it. He has a strong personal code of honor and is actually chivalrous, kind of like a knight of the “Kick Your Ass” Table. He can take a hell of a beating, and part of his code is to avoid unnecessary killing and also to protect women. Marv is the protoypical Monster, really.
But are there any other Monster examples in films? I mean, aren’t most of those kinda dumb, big and tough as a brick ass kickers usually the bad guys? How many of them go around protecting women, children, and bunnies?
You’d be surprised. There are actually a few others out there. Just to show you how different this archetype can be from Marv, let’s take a look at Karl Childers from Sling Blade.
You could make a case for Karl as a Drifter, sure. But really, Karl is a Monster. He isn’t quite as big as Marv, but who is? Though he does befriend a boy who is much smaller than him. It makes him look bigger than he is. He’s kinda dumb, but really smarter than anyone gives him credit for, even himself. In the end, he does what he has to do to uphold his code and protect those who he considers family.
So, yes. Karl is another example of the Monster archetype. Just… one that likes his french-fried potatoes.
Next up is Harling Mays from Flight. Harling is a coke dealer who just happens to be the best friend of the main character. Harling is always there for Denzel’s Whip Whittaker. Need to sneak out of the hospital? He’s your man. Need some cocaine to get your through that pesky NTSB hearing? He’s your man. Harling picks his friend up when he’s low, injects humor when things look bleak, and is always there for his buddy. Of course, the means are more than a little bit on the questionable side, but hey… What’s a little blow between best friends? Wait, I didn’t mean it quite that way.
So, Harling Mays is perfect for the Pusher archetype.
Sounds like it, but aren’t you missing somebody?
What do you mean?
Come on, there’s a Pusher out there who’s the first one that comes to mind. I can’t believe you missed him.
Of course. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Walter White. The people’s Pusher. So, there’s two examples of how that archetype could work. I mean, it is a more difficult one to wrap your mind around. Most people see the word Pusher and they don’t see any way to play them as basically a good guy trying to do the right thing.
Moving along, let’s talk about Rocco.
Ya know, that guy who tags along with the McManus brothers in Boondock Saints. When we first meet him in the film, he is a low-level mafia errand boy. He really isn’t happy with his lot in life and clearly wants to be important. So, when the McManus brothers start their little vendetta against the Russian mob, and pretty much anyone else, human, feline, or otherwise, who gets in their way and lives a life of crime, Rocco decides he wants to be a part of that now. Except, Rocco doesn’t really know what the hell he’s doing. He gets incredibly lucky, loses a finger, and ultimately his girlfriend’s cat pays the price of its life for Rocco’s aspirations of grandeur.
That scene… the one with the cat… that’s disgusting.
Yeah. RIP “Fluffy”, or whatever your name was. Anyway, Rocco is pretty much a poster child for the Wannabe archetype in this game. He latches on to something he aspires to be, a mobster, then switches loyalties and becomes a good guy, basically. Plus, he has a sweet beard.
Basically. And yeah, great facial hair.
So, I’m pretty sure we’ve dragged enough names through the mud, blood, and shit of this city for one day. Next time, we’ll talk a bit about the other archetypes, the ones that aren’t included in the main setting book.
Oh yeah, and none of this stuff is official canon for the setting. It’s just my take on Streets of Bedlam that I’m using for my game. I’m just a Wannabe. Hopefully, I get to keep all my fingers.