Billy Idol’s Guide to Gaming

I am convinced that not only was Billy Idol an avid gamer with a penchant for dragon-baiting and studded leather, but that he was also an expert developer of exquisitely detailed characters. If you read the following entry and are still unconvinced, I believe that if you look carefully at a freeze-frame of Mr. Idol in the air plane love song sequence of The Wedding Singer you will be able to gather all the proof you need to confirm my suspicions. Honest. Ignore Adam Sandler’s cruel comment that, ‘Even Billy Idol gets it.’ That is a nod toward misogyny, which is a gaming topic for a whole other day, and likely a wholly different blog than this.

Like all quasi-controversial 80’s pop-rockers, Billy Idol left us a code to impart important information. Billy’s messages were about roleplaying, and instead of using back-masking, he left us a clearer trail in the song titles. Behold:

Blue Highway:

Billy knew that the surest way to know a character was to get them out on the road and into constant use as a character, not just let them stagnate as a killing machine with endless loot capacity. Interaction with the local denizens who are not trying to snuff out the blue flame of your life, and exploration of the setting outside of the impregnable office tower guarded by Black IC and homicidal riggers, or beyond the cool halls of the dungeon is one of the best ways to truly bring your character to life.

Eyes Without a Face:

The wisdom of Billy is endless. Do the rest of the members of the party know what your character looks like beyond the color or type of protection worn… or maybe that one cliché signature feature you mumbled about during character generation? (Lock of white hair, scar, mismatched eyes, etc). Take the time to go beyond the first impression a character makes, and really delve into how they look, where their scars are and how they got there, why they wear that dagger in that awkward place, and how their eyes look under the moonlight beside the crystal waters of Dead Man’s Lake.

Flesh for Fantasy:

Killing, violence, danger from wild…things, and of course – the 80’s action hero action item list of ‘do it yourself and justify your actions later in the heady glow of saving the people’ tend to overshadow most of what roleplaying is capable of being. How deeply have you looked into the motivations for the things your characters do? Why do they adventure in the first place? Why do they kill/not kill, use magic/not use magic,  seek out eufibre and get on N!, join the ISRA, travel to a distant world, laboriously construct power armour in the university basement and fight crime between classes with a cool moniker and a fear of the dean’s budget reviewer….?  Why do they do these things? Who inspired them, and who held them back? Who encouraged them, and who caused them to doubt?

How do they feel when the adventure is over and they think about what they have done?

Billy Idol asks these questions and his characters rock. A character with no flesh on its paper and pencil bones, has no character.

Rebel Yell:

Like Mr. Idol’s most successful PCs, our characters need to have something to believe in, and the means to go out and achieve it. More than just the motivation from the previous entry, this taps into the less rational side of the character’s psyche, and the environment which produced it.

What makes the character angry? What makes their eyes well-up with unbidden tears? What kind of service do they deem to be unacceptable at a lunch counter while they are on a stake-out waiting patiently for insane cultists to finally creep out of the basement apartment they purchased four weeks ago and filled with grocery bags of chalk, salami, incense, and Egyptian cigarettes?

In the midnight hour, what do they want?

White Wedding:

Celebrations, anniversaries, and real progress through some kind of growth process are vital parts of truly playing a character. Age is more than a trait that determines when penalties and senility arrive…

What character arc is your Dwarf-in-plate-armour-with-atrocious-and-wholly-unnecessary-Scottish-accent on? What might cause him to backslide? What might cause him to truly learn a hard lesson?

What about kids, wives, husbands, building an elite fighting force one offspring at a time, or saving to buy a lovely cottage overlooking the picturesque promontory known as The Teeth of Peril?

Billy will be the first to tell you: Let your character truly live in the world the GM is creating around it. Adventures and incredibly satisfying game play will be the result.

Catch my Fall:

Without a group, Billy knew that the game was lost. Mr. Furious was just riffing on Billy when he botched stating that the Mystery Men were an elite cadre of something. Even if your group is not classically heroic, but is instead just the other guys, a character alone is very soon talking to himself and waiting for some broad to get out of prison to help him commiserate about the lack of gold in his morning helping of falcon. Who needs that?

Learning how to enhance the team, and make each member shine is one of Billy’s most important RPG lessons.

Dancing with Myself:

Mr Idol is nothing if not a survivor though, so he advises all of those poor saps who cannot find a game group to keep your head up, even though you are an army-of-one.  Billy has been there and survived, so so can you!

As long as you are not talking to yourself, or provided you are only talking to yourself while maintaining distinct characters for each voice (see my recent Palladium posts on troupe play), all is well, and Billy has got your back.

Don’t Need a Gun:

Billy, like Dustin Hoffman and Timothy Dalton, knew well that even the best-dressed character needs a hook. What makes this paladin, or this half-elven assassin, or that blonde barbarian, or this ship-suited psychic with a minicomp and oh-so-perfected-sense of ennui different from the billions of them being imagined around tables in the myriad basements of suburbia?

Be distinct within the confines of genre and character. This is not as easy as it sounds, and that is reflected in the large number of people who have never heard this song.

Mony Mony:

Finally, good old Billy knew that shouting out random, vulgar lines repeatedly en masse over top of the actual dialogue while the game is going on, is one of the dearest treasures of a solid roleplaying group and that it never gets old – no matter how inane it becomes.

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One Response to “Billy Idol’s Guide to Gaming”
  1. morrisonmp says:

    This is great. I appreciate that you managed to whisk a little wisdom into the funny. I find it interesting though, that one of the things I see bemoaned the most on the blogs I read — is the lack of role-playing in our role-playing games.

    I’ve been struggling with this too in recent gaming experiences. Even fairly coarse action movies attempt to build character, to make the audience connect and care a little about the lives of a character — why what they do matters (or matters to them).

    Unfortunately, at too many tables, math seems to take over characterization.

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