What Is Good Roleplaying? Part 2 – Where We Get Poetic

There’s a book called Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton. The subtitle is Lessons in life from saints, spies and serial killers. I’ve mentioned Dutton before while discussing the peculiarities of the PC psyche.

The book ends with a poem about someone talking to a moth about why its trying to reach the light inside a bulb. I don’t remember who wrote the poem, so I can’t attribute it, but I found the whole thing here. Here’s the key part (regrettably long quote, but I didn’t really know how to cut it further):


have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

Fuck yeah!

Well, krhm, I wouldn’t really recommend that as a life philosophy, but I wouldn’t necessarily discourage it either, as long as you don’t make anyone else suffer. Dutton didn’t choose this poem just because he liked it. To him it represented everything there is to know about psychopaths. They don’t tolerate boredom, so they go out and do things. Some of them end up as serial killers, but mostly they apply that particular trait to other things, such as surgeries and stock market, where they thrive.

Gaming stories are generally pretty boring. Just people telling stories they are emotionally invested in, but no-one else is, because the narrator is usually the only one who understands the context. However, every once in a while, you do get to tell a great gaming story. Quite often these are in-jokes among people who were there, but even so, they do tend to have something in common:

Someone put themself in grave danger. You know,

fire is beautiful

This is how you should play your character. The fire will eventually kill you, sure, but you’ll be happy about it.

My uncle (my mother’s older brother) died at fourteen (long before I was born, of course). He had seen Sputnik go into space and he wanted to replicate that (although this was actually five or six years later, but the way the story has been told to me always mentions Sputnik for some reason or another). So, he got himself a plastic bottle and filled it with gunpowder (don’t know where he got that from). Well, he didn’t really think it through and lit the contraption in their family living-room, killing himself pretty much instantly.

His grandmother and my mother keep telling themselves that the kid lived his life to the fullest up until that moment. Its a way to cope with the loss, I guess (my mother does have all sorts of lingering trauma from the experience). However, there is another way of looking at it. I bet the kid was more excited then you or I have ever been. I don’t know whether he was just stupid or the context was different and he just didn’t understand the dangers involved, because the current safety culture didn’t exist, but in either case, he must have felt like he was doing something great and, well, he must have felt very much alive.

Again, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this approach to life. Would you rather have a couple of such moments of reaching for the fire, or would you rather just feel the warmth from a distance for an extended time? Most of us choose the latter, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t choose the former for your characters. That way we can at least pretend to reach for the fire.

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