Roasting Woman

Center of attention
Center of attention

At last year’s Texicon, I ran a Mission St. Mary game where each player controlled a group of explorers whose objective was to explore each section of the board.  The table was divided into nine sections and in the center of each section was a themed encounter.  One of the sections had a village with that age old Pulp adventure story plot, the damsel in distress.

What happened in one of the game sessions has bothered me to this day.  So, I’ve decided to share it with you dear reader and hope you will share your thoughts with me.  The Texicon home page theme that year was “Gaming is Educational.”  I’m not sure what I learned.

Ovarview of the situation
Ovarview of the situation

Mission St. Mary from Two Hour Wargames is an immersive game or what is often called “RPG-lite.”  The characters are pre-generated and the player assumes the role of a character.  One of the things a player quickly learns in this game is that being able cause damage at a distance is good.  Most natives do not have ranged weapons and those that do are terrible shots.  You certainly do not want to be in a situation where you have to melee often.  The natives may not be able to hit the broadside of a barn, but are quite lethal when up close and personal.  So the rifles in a part of explorers is worth their weight in gold.

"What the devil is this?" asked Smith
“What the devil is this?” asked Smith

The explorers arrive in the village during a feast and the king invites them to join the festivities.  The villagers have created a large bed of hot coals.  A witch doctor emerges from a hut along with his entourage, which include men carrying a naked woman suspended from a pole.  The pole is placed on the spit and the woman screams as she feels the heat of the coals.  Through an interpreter, the explorers learn the natives are convinced the woman is a sorceress of great power.  She worked much magic when she arrived.  The witch doctor has convinced the villagers the woman has too much unnatural power for one person.  Therefore, if they eat the woman, everyone will gain some of her power.

Children racing to greet the new comers
Children racing to greet the new comers

Seeing the distress this causes to the explorers, the chief offers to free the woman in exchange for four rifles.

Now, this is the place in the game for the player to make decisions.  Does he pay the price, free the woman by force, or bargain with the chief?  One player made a decision I didn’t expect.

The chief offers to free the woman - for a price
The chief offers to free the woman – for a price

The player was a young man in his late teens, blonde, with an athletic build.  He decided to leave the woman to her fate and move on to the next objective.  He wanted to win the game.  He did win the game, he visited all nine sections of the board.  But I wonder if he enjoyed the game?

Of course, it has left me puzzled over the last year as to why anyone wouldn’t want to save the woman.  I suppose on one level it was ok because he did win the game.  But it also asks the question, did he role play?  Would his character have left a fellow human being to be roasted alive?

Was I gullible to believe that people want to help others in their times of need?  Maybe I should have foreseen this kind of decision and added a game penalty.  If I had added a game penalty, I would have enforced my ethical view into the game, but would that have been the right thing to do?

Closer look at the victim
Closer look at the victim

I guess that is the heart of the matter.  Did I miss an opportunity to teach an ethical view that the player may not have been aware of?  Or is that asking to much of a game?

I hate to envision the young man going off to college to enjoy a beer at a party knowing that a couple fraternity brothers are raping a drunken coed in the next room.  Would he be the type of person to walk by a robbery in progress and not call 911?  Would he be the kind of person to vote to uphold the rights of others or just his own self interests?

The victim's backside
The victim’s backside

Well, that’s enough of that.  Either he was playing a game just to win, or he is self-centered.

If he had rescued the woman, he would have added a girl genius to his party with a very lethal broad spectrum death-ray!  Of course her battery is wonky (how else would the natives have captured her?) and requires rolling a success (1,2 or 3) on a D6.

Our girl genius
Our girl genius
Another view
Another view

In hindsight, when the player marched his band of explorers out of the village, the chief should have felt slighted.  Either the explorer could have bargained for the woman, or he could have enjoyed a slice of one of the haunches.  The chief should have attacked the rude band of explorers.  Besides, he might have gotten the rifles by prying them from cold dead hands.

The victim on a spit figure is from Reaper’s Dark Heaven Legends line: 3408 Victim on Spit

The girl genius figure is from Reaper’s Savage Worlds line: 59009 Mad Scientist (Female)

All of the other figures are from Wargames Foundry’s Darkest Africa range: Darkest Africa

The huts are from Old Glory the trees & bushes are made from plastic plants found at Michaels and Woodland Scenics tree kits.

Comparison shot. Reaper figure in center; other two figures from Foundry
Comparison shot. Reaper figure in center; other two figures from Foundry

DSCN1837

9 comments

  1. An interesting question! First of all I wouldn’t let it bother you that badly. I have a gaming acquaintance who is somewhere on the Asberger’s/Autustic spectrum. His wife has to remind him from time to time that, in an RPG setting, the characters are all out to help one another and that, no, it isn’t ok to just walk away from the pit when he’s the only one who hasn’t fallen in. That’s what this seems like — he didn’t care because he wasn’t buying into the fiction; he just wanted to win the game. Maybe he thought rescuing her would slow him down too much.

    Luckily for most of the people I play with, the story is the thing. That’s why I got an award once for charging a machine gun with cavalry in a WW1 game. 🙂

    Having said all that, don’t hesitate at all to adjust the victory conditions. Make it that the player has to either rescue the character by trading rifles or rescue the character by fighting a champion. Oh! Or add victory points to each encounter. Not rescuing can be a choice but it has a penalty. It’s your game. 🙂

    (It also kind of reminds me of the kids who run from door to door grabbing candy at Halloween without engaging with the people or their friends or the festive part of the holiday. The only objective for them is greed. But they’re missing out on the only part that is actually worth anything)

    I must check out this girl genius thing. I tried to read it once and got really confused. Maybe it’s time to try again. 🙂

  2. The behaviour of teenagers in Role Playing Games can be shocking. I remember a game I put on for the teenage children of a work colleague, with a few of their friends. Their choices during the game might have suggested they were a group of sociopaths. They all grew up ‘ok’ though! A real-life situation may present a person with an ethical dilemma, but a game might not have any of the consequences of that situation. If the consequence of not rescuing the woman were winning the game, many players will choose this. Trading the rifles had a negative consequence for the player. Allowing the woman to die might have resulted in a ‘loss of face’ for the player, with 1-2 porters deserting, or something similar.

  3. Don’t fool yourself by focusing on teenagers. I’ve run dozens and dozens of All Things Zombie games at conventions and most people do not cooperate and will abandon each other in a heartbeat. In one game it was the teenager that tried to help others while the older players gleefully looked the other way.

  4. I wouldn’t read too much into it either. The game feeds different people differently. The reason for his actions could be totally unrelated to anything that you might consider. He might have just approached it as a problem solving exercise, perceived risk v. benefit. There may have been some personal dynamics between players that you were un-aware of, etc.

    In any event, sounds like a great game to play, and love the figs. I’ve visited your site in the past, but don’t think that I’ve ever commented. It is wonderful. Thanks for sharing your adventures, and “Atomic Floozie” has to be one of the coolest names on the web.

  5. If it was a ROASTING MAN, woud you have your panties in a bunch?

    I think not.

    You’re just another sexist woman who complains ONLY when a woman’s interest is harmed, but never man’s insterest

  6. Dirk, No. You missed the point entirely it would appear. Let’s not make this a hostile enviroment. Just go away now please.

  7. Hmm, my reply to Dirk seems to be lost. Perhaps because it was considerable less kind than Scott’s. There’s simply no place for that kind of comment here or anywhere.

  8. To be honest, the woman on the spit was the only captive figure I have that would fit in with the late 19th & early 20th century. It is a lot easier to find bound female figures than male figures. I think it has a lot to do with the “damsel in distress” archetype found in so many pulp stories. The only male captives I know of is that there is an explorer tied to a post and an explorer sitting in a large cauldron from Old Glory and there are some bound men on their knees about to be beheaded from Copplestone’s Back of Beyond Range. All of the other captives in 28mm for the period are female.

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