Tuesday, April 13, 2010

DnD: The Monomyth as a DM Tool, Part 1: The Call

I had originally intended to present the parts of the Monomyth the three groups: Departure, Initiation, and Return. However, as I began writing the first entry, and writing it . . . and writing it, I decided that perhaps each step warranted its own post.

As we explore each of the 17 aspects of the Monomyth (aka: The Hero's Journey) as a tool for DM's, we will use a four-fold approach: First, a brief description and elaboration of the aspect; Second, some examples taken from some of the most well-known and seminal works of adventure fiction - The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Star Wars (Episodes 4-6) by He Who Shall Not be Named, and perhaps a few random others as they apply; Third, we will explore how the aspect is used in RPG's and (hopefully) how it might be better implemented; Fourth and finally, some questions to get the gears turning.

The Call to Adventure

Arguably the most important aspect of the monomyth - and one that could generate a whole series of posts on it's own - the call is what pulls an individual into the adventure. The call comes to a protagonist while they exist in a state of familiarity and relative comfort and, through enticement or possibly even brute force, compels them to venture beyond it. The sense of contentment a hero may have has now been relocated - often geographically, but the shift might also be emotional, philosophical, mental, otherwise and/or some combination thereof - and must be found. As Campbell writes, "The hero can go forth of his own volition to accomplish the adventure . . . or he may be carried or sent abroad by some benign or malignant agent. The adventure may begin as a mere blunder ... or still again, one may be only casually strolling when some passing phenomenon catches the wandering eye and lures one away from the frequented paths of man."

Examples of The Call

In The Hobbit, Bilbo is swept into his adventure when Gandalf knocks on Bilbo's door and has him host a group of dwarves. Years later, his nephew, the easy-going Frodo, is also told to pack up and hit the road by Gandalf after the One Ring is left in his possession. Both Baggins enjoyed daydreaming about adventure, but were fairly content living in the Shire. Had Gandalf not held such influence over them, they likely would not have pursued their destinies in the larger world.

Sheltered, teen-aged moisture farmer Luke Skywalker stumbles upon a hidden recording in a dusty R2 unit he is cleaning which gets him thinking about the larger galaxy, though his uncle attempts to quickly put an end to the matter. It's not until the little droid takes it upon itself to seek out the intended recipient of the message, however, that he is compelled to act. In fact, the case could be made that Luke, who was simply trying to retrieve some lost property, was railroaded into his adventure.

Harry Potter has probably the easiest, most welcome call to adventure of all. He's stuck in a miserable existence with an Aunt and Uncle who are, at best, negligent - but more often than not, downright abusive, when his call to adventure comes pouring through every opening in the house and eventually, literally bursts through the door in the massive form of Hagrid. If anything, Harry's call comes as a huge relief and a release from what was, to that point, a meaningless, dreadful existence.

The Call as a DM Tool

Since the inception of role playing games, developers and game masters have been thinking of ways to engage - or 'hook' - their players and get them motivated at the prospect of putting their PC's in harm's way. When the PC's are just starting out on the adventuresome path, these hooks usually seem to boil down to three basic motivators: destiny, revenge, and boredom. Once the PC's have an adventure or two under their enchanted belts, simple greed can be added to the list, be it for money, magic, or experience points.

It is a generally accepted belief that any hook or call that relates in some personal way to a PC or group of PC's is better than having them approached by a random stranger in a tavern looking for some hack-happy handyman to rid her garden of dire bunnies. A problem arises, however, when a DM tries to make every problem in the campaign world revolve around the PC's. Before long, every time the heroes came into the town, the populate would either run from them in fear or mob up and lynch them for the calamity their existence was wreaking.

Thus, the challenge for the architect of an adventure or campaign is in finding or creating hooks that are meaningful and provocative to the PC's, while not necessarily revolving around or focusing specifically on them.

Pondering The Call
  • Campbell mentions that in some instances a hero stumbles across an opportunity or call that has nothing to do with them. How do you think your players would react in that situation?
  • What if the decision to answer the call was not an easy one to make? If the heroes risked more by undertaking an adventure than by avoiding it, would they still accept the call?
  • If an antagonist attempted to intercept or block the call from reaching the heroes, what would happen? Is there more than one way the same call could be sent?
  • What if the heroes received two different calls to action from two opposing influences? How might their choice shape the rest of their adventure/life?
  • How would adding a time element - an expiration, if you will - to the call affect the PC's perception of it? Would they be more or less likely to react if they knew a window of opportunity was going to close?

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