Last week I promised to tell you about a great structure for your stories and games. Well, let me introduce Joseph Campbell, and his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Mr Campbell says that all myths, no matter where and when they were created, share a common series of events. This structure is common to all heroes, from Luke Skywalker to Harry Potter, from Wolverine to Superman.
Here are some of the steps on the heroes journey:
A Call To Adventure
The hero or heroin lives in the normal world until receiving a call to enter a new, fantastical world. This is Gandalf inviting Bilbo to leave the Shire.
A Road of Trials
Having taken the first step, the hero now faces difficult challenges. This is the Fellowship of the Ring and their perilous flight through Moria.
The Goal or Boon
Having overcome great challenges, the hero now receives some boon that will aid him in his quest. This is Wolverine getting his adamantium skeleton, after being defeated by Sabertooth (in X-Men Origins: Wolverine).
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”– Joseph Campbell
Return to the Ordinary World
The hero then returns to the world with the boon, facing troubles on the way. Luke Skywalker heading into Vader’s trap after training with Yoda, anyone?
Application of the Boon
The triumphant hero returns and uses the boon to improve the world he left. This is Harry Potter returning to his foster parents with his magical abilities.
Here’s another great explanation of the Hero’s Journey by Matthew Winkler...
Consider the Hero’s Journey when you create your next campaign or story, and how you might use it to challenge the heroes and make their impact more meaningful.
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I’ve been yearning for a game that was simple to play and didn’t need much ‘stuff’. Something that focused on the story, but didn’t require source books and rules referencing. The game I wanted would unlock the imagination, not impede it. As a bonus, I wanted the game to help me write more meaningful stories too.
I’ve been hugely inspired by solo game systems written by hobbyists like JF (The 9Q’s) and Spacejacker from Tiny Solitary Soldiers. They’ve designed rules that let solo players use their imagination to game, much like role-playing games gamified collaborative story telling.
I decided to build the game I wanted, based loosely on what these other hobbyists have done. The dice would determine the direction of the story, but I decided to limit their impact to what I call challenges. The rest would be up to the player’s imagination.
Challenges are what makes a hero. The protagonist becomes the hero when he takes on the dragon, when he stands up to the tyrant, when he rescues the princess from danger. He might not succeed at first, but failure drives the hero on to greater feats of heroism.
To play, you describe the story, creating the world and the characters that inhabit it. Then you set a challenge for them, and let the dice decide how well they do.
Roll 3 dice. Each roll of 4+ is a success: 3 Failures: The hero fails the challenge completely. Describe how the failure advances the story. 1 Success: The hero succeeds, but a Bane is added to the story. Describe how the success advances the story and how the success or some new element also complicates things for the hero. 2 Successes: Describe how the success of the hero advances the story. 3 Successes: The hero is incredibly successful. Add a Boon to the story. Describe how the success advances the story and also sets the hero up for future success.
Why 3 Dice?
I like rolling more dice, but you could just as easily play with one die, flip coins or use some other method to decide the outcome of a challenge.
Our hero, Hypercondraclese, walks into the ancient lair of Biggus Dragonus, the dragon overlord of Peasantvillus. The challenge is simple, tell Biggus to “sod off” and leave the peasants alone.
I roll a 2, 3 and 6. Not bad. Hypercondraclese squares his shoulders and shouts up to the dragon: “Sir, would you please mind relocating your enormous rump, so as the peasants can get back to sheep farming.” Our hero has guts and the roll means he’ll succeed. But has he really? The Bane (from one success) means I add something to complicate the story. Biggus grabs Hypercondraclese around the waist in a taloned claw and beats his large, leathery wings. Before Hypercondraclese can shout “no, I get terribly air sick”, the dragon launches itself into the air.
Hypercondraclese may have succeeded in ridding Peasantvillus of the dragon, but his adventure is only starting.
Because challenges are the only time you roll dice, you don’t have to worry about a string of bad rolls derailing your story. While the climax might be a good time for a challenge like “dodge the bullet”, you can easily avoid these life or death situations in favor of challenges that add something to the story. If the hero doesn’t “rescue the girl” during this challenge, then there will be more adventure ahead, and even if he succeeds, there’s a chance that things will get more complicated.
Recording the story is a good idea, even if it’s a few bullet points typed out on your phone. This makes it easy to pick up the game again.
The game is a simple as that. Create, explore, challenge the hero, then repeat.
In the coming weeks I’ll be looking at a neat model you can follow to add a little more structure to things. Give these rules a try and let me know what you thought.
Boden raised his holy symbol high above his head, calling down a searing beam of light into the valley below. The seething mass of living dead bodies recoiled, flailing their arms in an attempt to shield themselves from the holy light and backing away from their victims.
“Evil will not triumph this day!” Boden muttered under his breath.
The story of the battle of good versus evil is as old as time yet as engaging and important as always. We love the hero and we want him or her to win, and in their victory we learn something of ourselves: heroism, humility, honour, whatever it may be. You see, the story of the battle of good versus evil is our own story. It is tied to our existence and as important as the air we breathe.
For good to exist, at least in a story, there must be the opposite force. In any good story there is evil. In real life there may be two parties with opposing views, neither one necessarily evil or good per say, just not agreeing with each other. In a story like Spider-Man, The Lord of the Rings, David and Goliath, Gladiator, and the Matrix, there is an evil that the hero must overcome, and by the darkness of evil we see the light of the “good” hero all the more brightly.
Because of the evil enemy, role-playing books are usually full of all types of monster, demon, devil and horror. They are the darkness that players want to defeat. Role-playing sometimes gets a bad rap from many religious organizations because of this evil content. It’s probably not surprising, even though there are Christian role-players out there, like myself. But in stories, we realize the need for that evil oppressor, the mad villain or the terrible dragon. Without Sauron, the Hobbits would have never left for Bree, Rohan would never have come to the defended of the White Tree and JRR Tolkien would not be as famous a story teller as he is today.
Edit: I came across a great post from Christian blogger Berin Kinsman that supports what I’m saying, so I’m plugging that in here:
Nearly everyone I know that’s involved in the roleplaying hobby, whether they play in fantasy settings, superheroes, horror, espionage, and any of the myriad styles and genres, typically engage in basic good-versus-evil stories. Even the folks I know who play games where they play monsters enjoy wrestling with and exploring the moral and ethical dilemmas and the angsts and drama. It is social, it is creative, but it is fiction. There is, on some level, a degree of redeeming social value to go along with the escapism.
The story of good versus evil teaches us a lot about our real selves. It teaches us, I think, that we want goodness and peace, we dislike oppression or unfairness, and we realize that peace doesn’t come from inaction but that often people had to die for freedom. As a South African it’s easy to think back on how activists like Mahatma Gandhi worked for freedom, through personal effort, suffering and hardship.
I think a wise GM looks at his campaign…
…and asks “what are we (the PC’s) fighting for?” It may, in a small part, be to defeat the tyrant, push back evil from the land or put the dead to rest, but what is the higher cause? Even if a new, more powerful set of armour motivates most of your players onto their next quest, I think you’ll find a deep hunger for the good to win out against evil. It’s part of what makes us human.