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The setting is a low sci-fi world with Burning Empires lifepaths provided. The essential plot will be that the cold war turned into an actual war and ruined the earth. The US clung to their ideals from the 1950s, and in the 2020s a private enterprise is sending what is essentially a colony ship to space to be free from the communists; our group is playing as part of the colonization effort.

The game master allowed the non-political lifepaths from Burning Empires. I chose to be the leader and attempted to build up what I thought to be a character who would be chosen as the leader of such an operation.

I decided that the best way to do so was to make him the embodiment of the "self-made men" ideals that the US had back in the 1950s. The problem I am having is that the morals of a person who embodied such ideals are extremely different from mine, and I feel that rather than embodying those ideals as intended I will end up being someone with an old catchphrase.

How can I properly roleplay as a character with distinct ideals and morals compared to mine?

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    \$\begingroup\$ What are you hoping to get out of the experience in the first place? \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Feb 8 '19 at 16:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ It may not be relevant, but how are you playing a game set in the 1950s of Earth using Burning Wheel? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 8 '19 at 16:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I made an edit to clarify the post. \$\endgroup\$ – Maiko Chikyu Feb 8 '19 at 16:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ OK, comment removed, best wishes on the campaign/game. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 8 '19 at 17:45
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Find a better role model

You want to play a leader. Cool. The first model of a leader you thought of — the “self-made man” ideal of the 1950s United States — is alien to you and horrible.

There are ways to play characters that are very distant from you, but that advice won’t help you because the problem you have is more fundamental: you’ve picked this personality for the wrong reasons.

Pick a different ideal of leadership to model your character on, instead of going with the first you thought of.

The “self-made man” of the 50s was a dysfunctional myth and following it did not actually make for good leaders. The characteristic you’re focusing on, in particular, is the least helpful for trying to portray an effective leader. Good leaders aren’t abusive.

There are now and have been in history many styles of leader. Consider a second and third model before picking one to base your character on instead of trying to play someone who you can’t empathise with.

(Besides which, if you aren’t even happy with the idea of playing that kind of character, imagine how unhappy your fellow players might be when they need to put up with him.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for that last sentence, especially — a character you can live with and enjoy playing is an important starting point \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Feb 8 '19 at 17:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @vicky_molokh Maiko had more specifics about the attitude they were thinking of in the first version. Though that’s been removed from the post, I couldn’t ignore it. “He is intended to be racist who doesn't understand the concept of overworking people or notice woman are human.” Hence, abusive qualities, not leadership qualities. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 8 '19 at 23:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Ah, thanks for the pointer, with your help I found it too. Deleting. \$\endgroup\$ – vicky_molokh Feb 9 '19 at 7:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ The last sentence is the key, for sure. \$\endgroup\$ – stormsweeper Feb 10 '19 at 2:47
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Are You Open to the Experience?

Before you proceed, consider whether you enjoy the idea of a challenge like this. I'm saying this not to dissuade you - I played my share of extremely mentally distant characters, and intend to keep playing them. Rather, I want you to check whether you are open to such an experience in the first place, and aren't doing it purely due to peer pressure or other unpleasant factors. Assuming you consider the exercise at least interesting, or hopefully even enjoyable, proceed.

Someone Else's Shoes

Consider Starting Small

It can be hard to jump in all the way into deep water at once. If it looks overwhelming, especially if it's your first attempt at roleplaying a radically different mentality, consider of meeting halfway between the initial concept and your own mentality. Sort the traits by how far they are from yours, and consider toning down the more radical ones.

Also, consider emulating the mentality of characters who match the archetype but are generally more likeable. For example, Scrooge McDuck is a self-made duck from 1947, has both light and dark qualities, tends to act as the party's leader, and is generally perceived as likeable (which is a major factor for retaining popularity for half a century).

Be Ready to Try Again

The first day I played a character whose views on right and wrong differ from mine, it came off rather unconvincing. That's OK. Few people achieve great success on their first tries.

Look for Deeper Differences

In my experience, a lot of radical differences in views are misunderstood. People often see another believe that X (which they disagree with), and conclude that believing X can only be a result of either malice or hypocrisy, and/or only cardboard villains can believe X (often such conclusions are a two-way street!). Meanwhile, if they dig deeper, they'd find out that belief in X is a reasonable conclusion based on the set of deeper ethical axioms and priorities of the believer.

Some examples of such differences are the views on the balance of equality of opportunity and of outcome, of care vs. fairness vs. loyalty vs. respect vs. sanctity, of utilitarianism and deontology, of moral realism vs. moral nihilism etc. Check out those parameters, and see where they likely differ between you and the character. Try to find the likely values for those parameters in the society he comes from.

Devil's Advocate

The Devil's advocate mentality can be useful for portraying characters you disagree with. Using the fundamentals from the point above, try crafting logically sound lines of reasoning for the character - both for getting a better understanding of his likely behaviour, and for him being able to argue for his own morals in dialogues.

(As a Player) Avoid Presentism and Other Cultural Biases

Presentism can be very detrimental to grasping a radically different culture and for remaining impartial. When contemplating your character, try to maintain a state of mind of an anthropologist, not a missionary. This is probably easier said then done, but just keeping this in mind should help at least a bit.

All Archetypes are Idealised (to Some Extent)

At some point you may look at some detail of your character's archetype and think, 'This doesn't work!' and want to backpedal. But that's OK. Archetypes lean towards being idealisations by their nature. The knight in shining armour, the incorruptible revolutionary underdog, they all get to have flaws and blind spots if examined [too] closely.

The question is how close you want them to be examined, and how much you want to accentuate the negative. That usually depends on the style of the story/campaign. For example, the Superman from the 1978 film is more idealised than the one from 2016, but trying to fit one variant into the other film would likely cause a dissonance that worsens the film overall. The same applies to RPG campaigns.

(The Option of) Gradual Character Development

You don't need to keep the character the same for the whole campaign. Consider which arguments and experiences can change his views. If these are deeply-held views, changing them will be neither easy nor simple. But that's part of the fun: seeing the complexities of changes in reasoning; the changing social dynamics with other PCs and NPCs.

A Word on Burning Wheel/Empires

I must admit I'm not well-acquainted with the system, but from what I know, it encourages campaign events that challenge a PC's deeply-held beliefs, and assumes that while the players are friendly and open to each other, the characters may hold deep disagreement. So my impression is that your goals of trying on such a role fall within the area of expectation for this game line.

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Make him a Parody

So you don't know the character, and don't agree with the character. I've done it too. I usually just try and do actions that are funny, and would make sense to him, but not to anyone else, creating a sort of comedy. Whether it actually is or not doesn't.

For example, I'm playing a sociopathic doctor, who is being assigned by the group leader to research genetic enhancements. The leader is very powerful, and I've made it my goal to push him over the edge, and declare war on the Earth for an invasion, and always suggesting cruel and inhumane options. It's something my character would do, as he's from the evil empire, a sociopath, and morally bankrupt. Also, he came with the people from a human research division. Not many people laugh at this, and they all take it very seriously, even though I really don't. I constantly meantion killing the guy who is, in my opinion, not qualified to lead my research, another player, with escalating force, for redirecting said research to make cat girl clones. And yes, other people are considering it. The guy literally has no charisma, he's failed to find anyone to volunteer for this procedure, gave up, and is now sulking about.

He's directly parodying the sociopathic Napoleon/Hannibal Lector type character, except in this one he's surrounded by people who are better than him at killing. There's a 14 year old from Mars who is well known to be a crack sniper. My guy is instead a research bunny. I did this specifically because I didn't want him to be just another soldier.

Your Character is not perfectly tied to that Person

The second part to this is to say that your character might act and think like the American 50s ideal man, but that character is unrealistic. When he's thrown into a situation, make him act like that person, but then remember, he's acting. His real person isn't bound to that idealistic portrait. You can make him compromise his views at any time. Perhaps he's secretly xenophobic, and would rather cover up the discovery of sentient alien life. Or maybe, he's extremely tolerant, and would rather criticize another player for shooting first and asking questions latter. Or maybe both!

For example, originally, I was thinking of making my character be a womanizer, but the situation never called for it, so I decided against it. My character has access to do that kind of thing, but it just didn't fit the group, so I never went through with it.

But yeah, last thing is, the character isn't you, never was, and is more of an expression of your freedom to choose. You chose something alien, so play something alien. If you choose to change it latter, then change it. The end.

Also, some people to look at for the "rugged individualism style leader", for some inspiration.

  • Herbert Hoover. He's pretty much the archetypical man of this style. Note, he actually was hated by most of America after his presidency.

  • Abraham Lincoln. Led the Union during the Civil War.

  • Douglas MacArthur. Led the South Pacific Campaign, and led the Korean War.

For a bonus, this guy doesn't fit the stereotype exactly, but..

  • George B. McClellan. Very cowardly, but brilliant general of the US Civil War. Always overestimated the enemy. Graduated second in his class only because he couldn't draw very well.

The archetype sounds like it'll be fun to play, and could lead to some hillarious results. Good luck, and remember to have fun.

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