Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Episode 77: The Hero Trap

This is episode 77 of Roguelike Radio, where we talk about the Hero Trap - the concept that players struggle in roguelikes when they try to act like heroes. Talking this episode are Darren Grey, Kawa and Eben Howard. 

You can download the mp3 of the podcast, play it in the embedded player below, or you can follow us on iTunes.

Show schedule:
 - The meaning of the Hero Trap (based on Darren's blog post on Rogues and Heroes)
 - FTL's giant alien spiders
 - The problem with non-roguelikers trying to be a hero and following hero conditioning from other games
 - Completionism and wanting to explore every nook and cranny, and how this gets reinforced by progression mechanics (and can thus be countered)
 - Managing player expectations, by making challenge spikes obvious and not having too many windshields
 - The puppy quest in ADOM as the quintessential Hero Trap - new players are fixated by it whilst veterans ignore it
 - Setting up the player as a rogue rather than a hero
 - Teaching players to be rogueish in the tutorial, such as in Sil and Powder (both of which will likely kill you in the tutorial too!)
 - Teaching players early on in the game with mechanics, such as giving escape items and including monsters that must be run away from
 - The problem of running away not giving experience/items, thus discouraging the player from doing it for power purposes. Brogue, Incursion and Sil all get around this problem with their progression systems.
 - Having stealth as the noob default instead of mindless killing
 - Scaling player power going against the rogue feeling
 - The hero trap in advancement choices - players choosing raw power over escape abilities or tactical options
 - How the game theme impacts on the player's view of their character. Medieval fantasy theme is very poor for this, but post-apocalyptic favours more desperate characters.
 - How can we make fantasy less hero-y? Various quest and background ideas to play around and subvert the usual tropes.
 - Teaching the reality of risk in roguelikes, since other games tend not to have real risk without permadeath
 - Use and misuse of resources, and correct use of rogue-ish tricks instead "heroic" brute force
 - Dungeonmans' very blunt message that you are not a hero

Join us next time on Roguelike Radio for a discussion of taking inspiration from board games.


  1. You guys have made another great episode. This one was really rich with cool ideas and discussion about some games that fall into the trap (or avoid it).

    A couple of the talking points also gave me some ideas for some small roguelikes.


  2. YAGP guys and girl! I really need to play FTL...

    1. I finally bought FTL and gave it a go and didn't enjoy it so much. I'd never played it but apparently my 7DRL was in the same vein (resource management + spaceship...).

      I can see the superior design, the tight play. It just didn't come together for me. Not dissing it, just saying that you shouldn't go into it thinking it's the best game ever. Go in with an open mind. I think maybe my expectations ruined the experience a bit after hearing everyone rave about it.

    2. Hm, yeah. I'll try to go into it with low expectations then, thanks for the warning :) ...or maybe I should play that KlingonRL I hear so much raving about instead! Sounds very interesting :)

  3. I'm a HUGE button masher RL player. It makes me a poor player maybe but that's what I like to do. So I fall into the hero trap sometimes as I whack away at monsters but I also button mash toward the exit as well. Live to fight another day!

  4. Here is where I plug my own 7DRL game: KlingonRL is NOT about fighting at all. If you try to fight the Federation ships you die horribly.

    Finding the Genesis Device (The game's McGuffin) is about stealth and resources. Getting it home is about running away.

    If you play it right your ammo is much more valuable as a trade resource than for attacking.

    This concludes today's shameless plug. :-)

  5. Something I thought was interesting that I observed: you may have noticed that the link between a powerful character and one with altruistic/heroic goals seemed to be taken as almost axiomatic. While there were parts talking about vulnerable characters with kind goals (the puppy cave) and powerful characters without mentioning their morality (when talking about combat mechanics and abilities), I don't remember anyone questioning the idea that power and morality tended to go together in player characters.

    This might be because of the Greek idea that the word "hero" is derived from, which was originally about power and evolved to include moral superiority.