Wednesday, May 19, 2010

DnD: Monomyth as a DM Tool - Part 7: Meeting the Goddess

Have you ever wondered why action and comic-book movies often include a love interest? It is generally accepted that the inclusion of a sympathetic female character will make the movie more appealing, and thus more marketable, to what would otherwise be a product that caters to only a portion of the movie-going public.  According to Campbell, however, there may be more to the protagonists' ever-present love interest than we realize:

"The ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and ogres have been overcome, is commonly represented as a mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World. This is the crisis at the nadir, the zenith, or at the uttermost edge of the earth, at the central point of the cosmos, in the tabernacle of the temple, or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of the heart. The meeting with the goddess (who is incarnate in every woman) is the final test of the talent of the hero to win the boon of love, which is life itself enjoyed as the encasement of eternity. And when the adventurer, in this context, is not a youth but a maid, she is the one who, by her qualities, her beauty, or her yearning, is fit to become the consort of an immortal. Then the heavenly husband descends to her and conducts her to his bed – whether she will or not. And if she has shunned him, the scales fall from her eyes; if she has sought him, her desire finds its peace."

Clearly, there is some emptiness or missing part of the hero that only this embodiment, often present albeit overlooked until late in the journey, can fill. Once that emptiness is realized, to continue to live without it is to exist in a state akin to anguish or yearning.

Examples of the Goddess

Over the course of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Gimli fell head over heels for the immortal Galadriel - probably the closest manifestation of a literal goddess I can think of - though the dwarf's relationship was strictly a chivalrous one (eg: loving from afar); Eowyn and Faramir, both of whom could be considered heroes of their own journeys, met and fell in love as they recovered from their injuries; and Sam, finally finding the courage within himself after facing many trials and terrors, married Rosie Cotton.  Aragorn and Arwen would also fall into this category, though they had met and started a relationship before the events recorded in the triliogy.  An important detail of this final example being the relinquishing immortality by the goddess-figure in order to grow old and die with her husband (one year after his death, specifically).

In the Underworld Trilogy, Selene, the vampire protagonist, falls for Michael Corvin.  Initially a 'normal' human, Michael undergoes a transformation into a powerful lycan/vampire hybrid and (using Campbell's lens) Selene becomes his consort.

On a much lighter note, the premises of the classic TV shows Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie are a cross between this concept and classic juvenile wish-fulfillment. The movies Splash, Enchanted and My Super Ex-Girlfriend offer big-screen equivalents (though I cannot in good conscience recommend watching the later).

Meeting the Goddess as a DM Tool

So how does Meeting the Goddess work in a group-based context? I will confess that I have struggled with this stage of the Hero's Journey. The simplest answer is: it doesn't work; at least, not in the way it is presented. However, if we add a layer of abstraction, it is possible to change the love that a hero is able to win from the goddess into the unexplainable attraction the NPC's have for the PC's.  It is that attraction and affection for the heroes that compels NPC's to offer up any and all assistance in their efforts to rid the land of a threat, despite barely knowing them. There is something the heroes must do or become, but without the assistance of the NPC, they are hopelessly stuck.

The divine aspect, then, becomes the knowledge held by the DM guiding the words and actions of the NPC's in their interactions with the group - occasionally to harrass, but more commonly to help.

While it is certainly not required to play a game, for a more immersive role playing environment that fosters true in-character interactions, a DM should seriously consider, before using Random-Guy-on-the-Street #1 to divulge the secret location of the lich's phylactry, what (if anything) a given NPC knows about:
  • this rag-tag band of adventurers who have just blown into town from who-knows-where
  • the mission the PC's are trying to accomplish, and how they might be successful
  • the villain(s) the PC's are working against - their plans, motivations, history, and/or weaknesses
A tool such as the Johari Window can be very useful for keeping track of this information.

Aside from what a NPC knows, the DM should consider how the NPC feels about the heroes, the villain(s), their current setting, even themselves. A self-loathing NPC might be just as happy seeing the town wiped out, and himself along with it.

Pondering the Goddess
  • What roles do NPC's play in your PC's lives?
  • Is the manner in which a NPC obtains the knowledge and/or equipment they provide important? Why or why not?
  • Do you think a campaign can be just as engaging and enjoyable without any NPC interaction? Why or why not?
  • What, if anything, can a NPC provide for a PC (or group of PC's) that they cannot provide for themselves?
  • How might including a non-PC love interest for one or more of your players have an impact on the campaign?
Earlier Entries in This Series
Stage I: Departure
Stage II: Initiation

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