There are many differences between the heroes in novels and those you play in an RPG. While you might envision your heroes as you would the main characters in a book you’re reading, there are some key differences which quickly set them apart.
1. Training under a Master: Usually, your character shows up to the game fully trained and ready to kick the posterior of evil. Only rarely is your character trained by a wise old master who then subsequently dies. In most fictional stories, the opposite is true.
2. What you do when the Enemy is Defeated: When a fictional hero defeats the villains he usually heaves a sigh of relief, and praises his luck in defeating his foes and surviving. When a PC does the same he usually first insults the enemy’s lack of ability or a chance to succeed, and then loots the bodies.
3. A New Quest…: When a fictional hero is set upon some great quest his first instinct is to either bemoan his fate or say, “Yes, my liege, it would be my honor.” When a PC is in a similar situation he will usually first say, “What’s in it for me, king chum?”
4. Treatment of NPCs: Being an NPC himself, a fictional hero will often treat ‘others’ as he would normally treat people. PCs tend to have a more jaundiced opinion of anyone who’s not themselves. This can result in decreased evaluation of allies, relegation of important NPCs to ‘henchman’ status, disregard of the king and laws of the land, wanton looting of everything in sight, and responding to any ‘insult’ by any NPC as tantamount to a declaration of war on the party.
5. Upon finding themselves in Jail: While a classic fictional hero will usually bemoan their fate and think they’ll never escape, a PC will often moan and ridicule the GM and then become bored until an easy means of escape is hit upon.
6. Magic Items: When a fictional hero finds a magic item it is with a sense of awe and wonder. The item is often treated with the utmost respect and fear. They will be lucky to have half a dozen magic items in their possession and each one will be unique and powerful. Often, though not always, a PC will have 36+ magic items and care for each of them about as much as he cares for an annoying hamster his sister owns.
7. Fear: Fictional hero: just about all the time. RPG hero: never, or for entirely the wrong reasons, e.g. “Agh, the chips ran out!”
8. Upon entering a Room…: A fictional hero will admire the décor, and look for someone to talk to. An RPG hero will ‘loot the premises’ and then look for secret doors no matter how strange it would appear to do so under the circumstances.
9. Walking about the Countryside: A fictional hero will often ride a horse, or stick to the woodlands to avoid detection by those who want to find him. An RPG hero will walk down the center of the road, yelling at anyone nearby, and with sword and shield drawn in ‘ready pose’ at all times.
10. When meeting a Villain…: A fictional hero will often try to outsmart or kill the villain. If he’s hiding behind a pillar, he might trade an insult or two with his foe before doing silent battle. When the PCs come upon a villain they will probably first ridicule him to some great length and then charge at him.
11. Division of Loot: A fictional band of heroes will often give the treasures to the people who can best use them. A group of PCs will often ‘split’ the treasure to the letter to avoid blood feuds.
12. Upon seeing a Monster: Fictional Hero: Run away. RPG Hero: Attack.
13. Romance: Fictional story: pivotal. RPG adventure: irrelevant.
14. Non-combat: Fictional: comprises 95% of the story. RPG: comprises 2% of the story.
15. When the guard on the wall says “Who goes there?”: The fictional party is probably wearing hoods and makes up an excuse as to why they’re here to trade and they’re from Alaska. The RPG party proudly proclaims their names and deeds to some great and then demands the gate be raised or they’ll storm the castle.
16. When they know they’re going to Die: Fictional heroes will often bemoan their sorry fate. RPG heroes will often become angry at the GM for rigging the adventure against them.
17. Upon miraculously Surviving: A fictional hero will often be awed at their luck and forever grateful to whatever pulled them through. An RPG hero will probably yawn and get on with the business of the adventure. If they happen to owe this bit of luck to some NPC they’ll become annoyed with him because they don’t like being indebted to people.
18. When there’s a group Problem: Two fictional characters who have a problem will probably talk about it for 15 chapters and then gaze evilly at each other for the next 15 chapters. At the end of the book they’ll hug and make up. Two RPG characters who have a problem with each other will often draw swords and see “Who’s da man.”
19. Base of Operations: Fictional character: their house. RPG character: flying, invisible, super-fortress capable of space flight and leveling whole cites. It’s also trapped to kill anyone who enters and the players kept the map to themselves so when the GM says someone went in their fortress they can take over the role of GM and say, “He fell into a pit trap there.”
20. Music, Good food, Drink: Appreciated by a fictional character for their various virtues of taste, comfort, and art. Appreciated by a PC for their various magical bonuses and allowing them to enter a drunken bar fight.
21. Background: Fictional characters will often have a background too elaborate to describe in under 150 pages. This will include their father, mother, family, uncle, pet parrot, pet monkey, who their mortal enemy is, and what happened to them on the farm when they were 15. A PC, unless forced otherwise by the GM, won’t often have a background. If they do have a background it will probably go something like this, “My entire family was killed by orcs and dragons so no villain can use them against me and I have a good excuse for killing dragons and orcs. My uncle, before he died, left me a load of treasure and magic items. My character can’t remember his name.”
22. Appearance: Fictional character: blue eyes and lightning scar. RPG character: Bad-ass with spikes on his boots to kick people with.
23. Personality: Fictional character: complicated, wimpy, and often resulting in large interior monologues and internal conflicts of interest. RPG character: Lawful Good guy who steals all treasure and magic around, covets xp, destroys anyone in his way, and arbitrarily does pretty much whatever he wants.
24. When Powerful…: A fictional character will often help those in need, pledge his sword to a higher power, aid in large battles, and confront any villains he can get his hands on. An RPG character will often use great power for personal profit and gain, to show off, and to toss fireballs at random trees.
25. When Weak…: A fictional character will stick close to powerful NPC allies to help him on his quest and train him in sword fighting. An RPG character will complain until the GM hands him some sweet magic items.
26. Magic: For a fictional character, magic is mysterious and powerful, only to be used with extreme caution. For an RPG character magic is something like a candy-dispensing machine, click the right button and the right result comes out until you run out of quarters and have to sleep on it.
27. Undefeatable Evil: A fictional character will become witless trying to figure out how on earth they’re going to beat their great foe who’s so much more powerful than them. How can they be expected to do it alone? An RPG character will snicker and load his shotgun.
28. Description and World Lore: In a fictional story, this is used to flesh out the environment and create a real place in the imagination. In an RPG it’s often used to figure out where the bad guys and treasures are so you can squash and steal them.
29. Allies: Fictional characters often view their friends and allies as their most powerful, useful, and prized possessions. PCs often view allies as a liability or people who can walk into traps for them.
30. Unknown Magic: If a fictional character doesn’t know what some magic thing does he’ll often bring it to a trusted and wise old wizard. He’ll also ask all his friends what it does. A PC will often shake it, look for words at the bottom, and point it at various NPCs in the hopes of figuring out what it does by accident and saving the fee of consulting a wizard.
31. The Grand Finale: The grand finale of a novel is usually some ultimate moment where the main character discovers a truth about himself in an interior monologue. After self-shrinking himself, he often finds it ridiculously easy to torch the villain he thought was so powerful. A PC will probably realize he’s late for supper and leave. By next week, he’ll have forgotten the whole thing and delay the game for half an hour while you explain it to him.