Playing Highlander

Highlander was not only a go-to movie through much of high school and university, it was the inspiration for more than a few campaigns, most of which fizzled out. Much like James Bond, Highlander was a lone-wolf story, unsuited to group play. And unlike James Bond—wherein the central character can be divided into respective roles for each member of the group—the Highlander was a lone-wolf not because he could do it all, but because the central premise was that all immortals eventually had to kill each other.

Not great for group cohesion.

And back in the day, everyone wanted to play the immortal if we were going for a “Highlander and Pals” kind of game.

The one thing that we got right back then amid all the silliness and mistakes, was that one doesn’t need a special set of rules to play Highlander.

There is nothing intrinsic to the Highlander world—not skill, technology, or particular abilities . . . other than immortality—that requires specific mechanical systems to mimic.

I’ll come back to immortality, just let me run with this.

I haven’t played a huge number of RPGs, but I’ve played enough. I could run Highlander in all of them.

Highlander is about immortality and the culture of immortals. Those are abstract notions. Could they be replicated using mechanical rules? Of course they could. Do they need to be? Not any more than the differing cultures of Tudor England and post-Golden Horde Russia (what is that period called?) require differing mechanics.

For the most part, the “rules” of the immortal culture can be broken. The fact that even the Kurgan respects them means nothing. If he really wanted to, he could. The fact that he does not is the only shading in an otherwise black & white, simplistic portrayal of evil.

“But,” you say—or at least, the voice in my head says . . . shut up voice in my head before I hurt you by jamming this pointy stick in my ear! . . . ow!—“But immortals only die when their heads are cut off. That needs to be represented mechanically!”

Ah, immortality. There’s the rub!

Wait. Really? Why? Every game I’ve played has rules for death and dying. The only difference is the narrative explanation of death. Damage from wounding did slow down immortals. They might even appear to be dead for a few moments should the injuries prove traumatic enough. Immortals feel pain, after all. So as they are being damaged, apply the rules for damage. When the immortal character reaches the death threshold for the rules, the head comes off.


“But,” you say, “the system I use has hit locations/targeted strikes/aimed shots and what if character makes a called shot to the neck? That cuts off the head and game over!”

Actually, no, and the reason for this is right there in Highlander. Let me give you a hint: “My cut has improved you voice.”

The hit was scored. Damage was done as per the rules. If the rules say that’s an insta-kill, sure, why not—insta-kill. Follow the rules, and if it is not an insta-kill, there is an explanation for why not. For added points, have a call back to that. If it’s an NPC, have the cut improve his/her voice, à la the Kurgan!

So go ahead and play that Highlander game, use whatever rules system you are comfortable with.

And playing contrary to myself, if you want something that might smooth out the mortal-immortal tension, consider using something like Muntants & Masterminds 2E (or, even better, the recently released DC Adventures! Pure awesome!), in which the immortal character must actually pay for invulnerability and immortality, while the other characters can spend those points making their mortal character uber-cool.

My thoughts on Highlander here.

Go buy DC Adventures here.