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Walking the Walk, Talking the Talk

The brilliant Ravyn has gotten my wheels turning yet again. Over on her blog, Exchange of Realities, she has an interesting article called How They Say It about how characters recount a deed.  Like many of Ravyn’s posts, it got me thinking.  I’ve been pretty fortunate to have met some real bad asses in my lifetime, ones that help me shape how I play those same types of character.  Having been raised by a cop, served in the military, shooting pistol and rifle competitions, backpacking, and a whole host of activities have shown me plenty of real life bad asses to use as examples.

Unfortunately, I’ve met far to many blowhards in my life as well.  You know them too, though you may not realize you know them.  They portray themselves as bad asses.  They tell you how good they are at something, and often see no reason to back up all their talk.  They talk like they’re a computer hacker, but in reality they’re not sure how to attach something in an email.  If you think about it, you’ve encountered at least one in your life.

We portray heroes within the context of the game, but what are heroic characters like in real life.  Well, take a look at combat veterans.  Many will quietly hide medals, choosing not to talk about what they did to get them.  They are humble about their actions.  After all, they just did a job, nothing more.  The heroes are the ones who died.  They, they’ll argue, aren’t heroes.

The real bad asses I know are all like this.  They don’t talk about how bad ass they are, but they don’t take on false humility either.  They’re good and they know it, but why talk smack about how bad they are.  They don’t need to prove it here and now, they’ll prove it later if necessary.  However, they’ll help you become more of a bad ass if you want.  In my experience, they’re the first to share information and make you better.  The thinking seems to be, the badder you are, the better for everyone.  Again, they’re confident without a hint of false humility.

Here’s the thing to keep in mind.  The blowhard often has so much crap going on that they can’t possibly be good at everything (well…unless you’re playing a 3.5 rogue who has a billion skill points, but I digress) but they’ll tell you they are.  I had a boss who I mentioned in a comment on Ravyn’s blog.  To go into more detail about him, there was nothing any of us tried that he wasn’t more skilled and more proficient in.  I was planning a canoe trip down the local river, from end to end?  Oh, he even had a story to relate to that one (luckily, that story was tame…just tubing down a river for the afternoon).

Allegedly, he had been an MP in the Air Force, worked with SAC (Strategic Air Command), had shot pistol competition in the Air Force, had been a private detective (with a whole host of stories that made him sound like Mike Hammer or Thomas Magnum), owned a forestry company, worked air conditioner and refrigeration, and been a cattle rancher.  The thing was, none of the dates worked out.  Blow hards tend to fall into this trap.  Things don’t seem to quite fit.

Meanwhile, the guys who’ve done all that won’t feel the need to flaunt it.  I’ve known Navy SEALs who don’t talk smack, but instead they give off an air that they can handle themselves.  One of the biggest bad asses I know in real life is about my height (I’ve 5’8″), maybe a little taller.  He’s heavier than I am (I’m 230 lbs) and just seeing him walk up, you wouldn’t think a thing.  However, he’s lightning quick and a damn good shot.  He’s spent a lifetime acquring skills that could keep him alive.  He’s a small town cop but trains more than most NYPD officers from what I understand.  He does it by choice because it may keep him alive.

I think it’s important to remember that the bad ass walks the walk, while the blowhard talks the talk.  Keep that in mind for your next game.  Both can be good role playing points, but really shouldn’t be mixed together.  In my experience, there just aren’t that many people who talk the talk but can actually walk the walk.  Those who can do the walk, tend to keep quiet about it.  Makes it harder for people to know they’re coming! 😉

September 8, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized |


  1. I’ve canoed down the Flint from Radium Springs to Lake Seminole, and from Rad. Springs to Bainbridge. They were some of the best (and most miserable) days I can remember.
    But there’s nothing badass about doing it, and when I talk about it (which is only when it comes up in normal conversation), I only talk about things like how we bounced the canoe over some shallows, the giant croc that almost ate us, how it rained every second of every day, things like that.

    I agree with your point, most all people that are really good at something don’t often boast about their own abilities. I never talk about what kind of RPer or DM I am (mostly because I know I need a ton of work in a number of areas), and those that do are most often the ones that have no business doing so.

    With that said, I am the absolute greatest blog commenter any god has ever created in the history of reality.

    Comment by Liambic | September 8, 2008 | Reply

  2. Sure ya are Liambic…sure you are 😉

    Seriously, backpacking only makes you do bad ass things if you screw up. The same is true of a lot of things, and I suspect your trip with the canoe was something along those lines.

    I recall a DM you and I both know telling me once how I was the second best role player he knew, after himself. While I don’t toot my own horn (there’s better RPers than me), I took his comment as a deep insult 😉

    Comment by Tom | September 8, 2008 | Reply

  3. Tom: After himself? Yeesh. (Besides, does anyone truly know himself anyway?)

    You’ve shown examples of a lot of badassery in the physical fields; would you consider there to be a mental or social analogue to the army vet, and if so what sorts of people would you consider those to be and how might they come across?

    Glad you enjoyed the original article!

    Liambic: Just had to note, there’s a heavy relative component to what people view as badass, too. I know there are a lot of things that I consider really impressive that other people think nothing of, and I’ve seen people make serious fusses over things that I could do that didn’t seem like much to me. To someone who’s done a lot of outdoorsy stuff, your canoing wouldn’t sound like much, but to me, a city-slicker who’s never overnighted on a river, it sounds blasted impressive.

    Comment by Ravyn | September 8, 2008 | Reply

  4. @Ravyn: Oh yeah, this guy was definitely one of those types.

    As for there being an analogue in the mental or social areas of life, I can’t help but think that there are. To me, the Phd. is certainly some level of mental bad ass. Socially, I honestly couldn’t tell you what form that would take.

    For me though, the term “bad ass” has always been reserved for those who are primarily capable in a fight or other physical situation. Within the fantasy genre, magic makes those who are mentally or socially skilled into bad asses simply because their acumen can serve as a surrogate for physical prowess. In reality, not so much.

    However, the analogue you asked about does actually exist. It’s just not something I’ve honestly spent much time thinking about.

    As for enjoying your article, you have a tendency to write those types of articles anyways…ones that I have to write posts about in response 😉

    Comment by Tom | September 8, 2008 | Reply

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