Tabletop RPG Podcast and Roleplaying Resources

Can CBA Protagonists Kill? (Discussion)

ABA Action Tales with Mortal Combat
Watch a typical suspense-thriller or action movie these days and you’ll find the body count soon mounting. Heroes from Indiana Jones to Rambo find themselves killing the bad guys in self-defense or revenge. Count how many Nazi’s get knocked off in the Indiana Jones movies! Mainstream ABA fiction is much the same.

5 Ways They Kill

There Are 5 Ways Protagonists Face Killing:

  1. Man on a Mission
  2. License to Kill
  3. Mortal Combat in Lawless Lands
  4. Faceless Enemies
  5. Villains that Deserve to Die

But what about CBA fiction? Can protagonists kill? Is it only in self-defense?

Let’s have our discussion on Dave Long’s Faith*In*Fiction discussion board to review the boundaries set by the industry on this topic. Join us on the forums! (Look under the ‘For Writer’s’ section)

Here Are 5 Ways Protagonists Face Killing:

  1. Man on a Mission
  2. License to Kill
  3. Mortal Combat in Lawless Lands
  4. Faceless Enemies
  5. Villains that Deserve to Die

Man on a Mission
Hollywood action movies and ABA thriller love to include Shoot-Em-Ups. Think of the Tom Clancy books where political enemies routinely find death at the hands of the protagonist.

The ‘Man on a Mission’ kills simply because he (or she) needs to kill. The character is on a quest, and killing is part of the game.

Such excuses seem flimsy in CBA fiction. Hair-trigger killing by a protagonist is not acceptable. Doling out death is not something to be done without careful consideration.

And so, CBA fiction features characters that pull their punches.

I recently read a Dragons in our Midst novel by Bryan Davis. The hero has sword fights with the bad guys. Does the hero stab the enemy, dealing him a mortal blow? Nope. What does he do instead?

He uses the flat of his sword to knock them out.

What about you? Know of CBA works where the hero kills other than in simple self-defense?

Post you comments on the forums.

License to Kill
James Bond is the archetype figure for protagonists who have a ‘license to kill.’ Characters employed in occupations such as soldiers and police are sanctioned to kill in certain circumstances. It’s in their job description.

Dee Henderson’s books such as the O’Malley series are a great example in the CBA space where military occupations cause protagonists to face a killing scenario. Do you recall the hero pulling the trigger though?

The CBA market does seem to put some boundaries here. The ABA market has many Rambo-type characters, vigilantes who are deputized to go knock off the bad guys.

By contrast, an ABA character may pull the trigger, but they are clearly wearing their white ten-gallon hat when they do so.

Can you think of exceptions?

Mortal Combat in Lawless Lands
Think of the old-fashioned Westerns (now politically incorrect), with Cowboys and Indians killing each other, a sort of 1800’s guerilla warfare.

Fantasy literature often propels the main character into a world where normal laws of the State simply don’t apply. There are no police handy to intervene. In such Lawless Lands, the hero is granted a de facto ‘License to Kill.’

Faceless Enemies
One technique to bypass the whole moral dilemma of killing by introducing faceless enemies.

Star Wars is a great example of this. Think of Episode I. The body count surely numbered in the hundreds by movies end. Buy who were being sliced in two by the Jedi heroes?

Robots walking on two legs like men, and a demonic looking Alien (Darth Maul).

Episode IV (the original Star Wars) didn’t have the nice CGI technology of this decade. So what did director George Lucas do in the original film? He had faceless clones in helmets. Stormtroopers.

And who can forget armored, faceless Boba Fett dying in Episode V?

Tolkien had his heroes hewing goblins and trolls by the cartful.

Faceless enemies like aliens, robots, and evil beasts let your hero kill with abandon.

Villains that Deserve to Die
What do you do when your tale just begs to have the villain die? We cheer when the evil Emperor Lord Sidious dies in Star Wars Episode VI. What if they had simply arrested the Emperor and put him in jail? What a let down.

But we need to keep our heroes righteous. A hero is merciful, but often faces a villain that deserves to die. What do you do? Simple.

Have fate kill off the bad guy.

Think of the first Spiderman movie with Tobey McGuire. When Spidey faces his uncle’s killer, he stays the hand of retribution. Oh dear, the killer trips and falls to his death by accident. How sad. Then you have the climax — a fight between Spiderman and the Green Goblin. Does Spiderman kill him? No. The Green Goblin attempts to kill Spiderman with spikes from his flyer, and instead impales himself.

I can think of many other examples from the ABA space. Can you think of examples from the CBA space?

Post you comments on the Faith*In*Fiction discussion board under the ‘For Writer’s’ section.


  1. Bryan Davis

    Hi Stan! I noticed your comments about Billy using the flat side of the sword in “Circles of Seven.” How true! I’m not sure if you read “The Candlestone” or not, but in that book, which comes before Circles of Seven, Billy kills Palin and not in self-defense.

    This killing really made a huge impact on Billy throughout the rest of the book, so he was hesitant to kill afterward. So, if you don’t mind me saying so, that makes your comments a bit out of context. They imply that my series is hesitant to portray a non-self-defense killing, which, of course, is not true.

    What do you think?

    Bryan Davis

  2. Stan Shinn

    I didn’t read “The Candlestone”. Sounds like non-self-defense killing does take place.

    — Stan Shinn

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