What crosses your mind when you read the word “Redemption”? There are obvious and not so obvious ways to look at that word and its meanings and then apply it to gaming. While there are religious overtones to the word, at its heart is someone trying to overcome a past failure.

Yin_YangA player character trying to redeem themselves provides long-term motivation for a campaign without the GM having to do anything. The character might even be unclear on what will redeem them. There are some examples of this in the media that demonstrate this. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko spends three seasons wrestling with his own personal demons and stains on his honor while trying to figure out how to redeem himself. At a couple of points he even attains what he thinks is redemption only to find out that it fails to make him happy. Aang, meanwhile, is trying to redeem himself from the fact that he ran away instead of facing the fact that he is the avatar. Both make compelling stories as the world faces a potential doomsday of a nation trying to become an empire.

In Star Wars, Luke eventually decides to attempt to redeem Darth Vader — putting the Rebellion’s goal of ending the Empire’s reign in jeopardy to do so. (Although blowing up the Death Star would likely still end the Emperor’s reign.)

In the BBC’s version of Robin Hood, Robin, the Earl of Huntingdon, returns from the Crusades but experiences first-hand just how far corruption has spread while the King is away fighting in the Crusades. While burnt-out from fighting, he decides that he can’t sit by and do nothing about it. At its heart, Robin is trying redeem himself for abandoning his charges to fight for King in the Crusades.

For a character (player or non-player variety) redemption can play a powerful role. In one campaign I had two examples of this. A wizard started on his adventuring career after failing to protect his village’s sacred relic. Feeling the weight of his failure in his interactions with everyone from the village, he left home to try to track down the relic.

A soldier in that same campaign, was ordered to do something reprehensible. When he was called on the carpet for obeying that order, he was thrown into slavery. He never resisted the fact that he was thrown into slavery because he felt he let down the people he was supposed to protect. (It never occurred to the soldier that he was in a no-win situation if he resisted following the order.) He spent the rest of the campaign trying to do the right thing because he let his guard down once and horrible things resulted from it. In those two cases, the redemption those characters were seeking weren’t the focal points of the campaign, but they were at the core on what they were trying to accomplish.

In Vampire: the Masquerade, a Vampire on the Path of Humanity is constantly wrestling with how to survive and yet avoid descending into a heartless monster. It has a built-in redemption attempt in how to deal with the fact that they have to now prey on humans to survive. Obviously, not all characters or chronicles dwell on this particular issue, but you can make a really believable character if the character, newly turned into a vampire, is wrestling with that very issue.

However, redemption can be a much larger scale than just one character. What does redemption look like for the United States and how it treated the Indians?  What does it look like for a country that embraced slavery? What does it look like for a nation that embraced genocide? In Game of Thrones, the Mad King Aerys Targaryen the Second was overthrown because of the atrocities he was ordering. What does redemption look like for the Seven Kingdoms? Is redemption even possible in a land that seems perpetually stuck in an epic Civil War?

In the end, redemption can be a powerful goal for a character. What are some gaming examples of character’s seeking redemption that you have witnessed?

I wish you all Happy Holidays and may you have a Happy and Joy-filled New Year (with plenty of gaming!). Thanks for stopping by!

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