Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Making Room for the Next Hero

If you will indulge me for a moment (and I presume since you have taken the time to come here and read the words I am writing that you are predisposed to do so), I am going to mix my interests for just a moment.  Sunday night BJ Penn, an MMA legend, lost what most consider to be his last fight.  In the post fight press conference Penn, rather emotionally, announced his retirement.  Now, Penn has retired before, so certainly he may rethink this decision in the next few days and months.  Somehow, however, this retirement seems different.  It seems like maybe he means it.

Penn V Edgar 3.  These men spent 64 minutes and 14 seconds
doing this to one another.
I was not a big Penn fan over the years.  Too often, it seemed, he was fighting a guy that I considered one of MY GUYS.  In fact, that was the case Sunday.  Penn's opponent was Frankie Edgar, an accomplished fighter in his own right.  Edgar is the kind of fighter I usually get behind, not flashy, usually quiet and respectful, and one who goes into fights with heart and determination that may or may not be backed up by the necessary skill to defeat the fighter on the other side of the cage.

While I might not have been the biggest Penn supporter over the years, his presence in the sport is undeniable.  His was a persona writ large all over the sport of mixed martial arts for most of the last fifteen years.  His name was so ubiquitous that even my wife, who politely nods and feigns interest when I talk about the sport, could point him out in a crowd and stopped reading to watch his fights when he came on.  Even though I was never a huge fan of his, I was always ready to watch him fight. His record, like many of the old guard fighters is a mundane looking 16-10-2, but those are just numbers.  A deeper look at his opponent list is a veritable Who's Who of other important names in the sport.  Virtually every one of his fights was an EVENT.

Mmm.  Tastes like chicken.
His personality was just as large as his fights.  He would fight anyone, at any weight.  Sunday's fight was contested at the bantamweight limit of 145 pounds.  Penn held UFC World Titles as 170 and 155 pounds, but was unafraid of stepping up.  In Japan he once fought Lyoto Machida in an openweight fight.  Machida, a former UFC World Champion at 205 lbs. weighed in that night at 224, while Penn weighed 191.  That thirty-three pound weight differential was insane especially for a fighter who normally competed at 170!  But Penn did it and held his own with the very dangerous Machida all the way to a decision.  He was never one for truly over the top antics or smack talk, but he did do some crazy things.  Like lick the blood of his opponents from his gloves.  Repeatedly.  I once cribbed this maneuver for a PC without even realizing I was channeling Penn until after the fact.

What does this have to do with gaming?  Well, Penn's career reminds me a lot of a role-playing character's.  Especially a beloved character, one who has progressed through a truly amazing campaign.  Penn career was one of awesome battles with truly worthy opponents, much like a PC.  Unlike a PC, however, Penn's abilities began to deteriorate with age.  Penn's last seven fights consisted of one win, one (dubiously judged) draw, and five losses.  While some role-playing games have some makeshift rules for character stats slipping as they age, does anyone ever really use them?  As a result, a player character could conceivably go on forever, or until the GM finally runs the encounter that kills 'em.

Neither of those things seems like a truly fitting end for a legendary character.  I have made variations of this point before both in conversation and even with the Wagon Train analogy in an earlier post. Still, I think it is important enough to consider again.  Even the most beloved player character comes to a point where there are only one of two above scenarios that can play out.  Either the GM cannot create a situation to challenge the PC, or the GM creates the situation that kills the (beloved, remember the beloved part) character.

Or, like Penn, the beloved legendary PC can retire.  In both the cage and at the game table, that retirement makes room, potentially, for the next legend to stake his claim.  


  1. I don't know, (beloved) characters who diminish somewhat as they age sounds an awful lot like something out of "Cubicles and Careers."

    1. True. As I wrote this, I thought about the same sort of thing happening in serial fiction. The one that came immediately to mind was when I read one of the last Doc Savage stories ever written and I thought "This is terrible." I figured the authors had written so many of them, that they just didn't have anything else interesting to say.

  2. I don't know that I have any sort of Answer to what you are saying, though it IS very interesting. I know that I have Made characters, to do or be something I am not, and after a span of time, they have done their job for me, emotionally, and it is then Work to be that person, In Long running fiction, characters sometimes see, do enough things that they change, as real people do, but I think that is not very often in Player Characters, that they are full people, who become different people in what they have experienced.. Interesting post..