Thursday, May 27, 2010

DnD: Monomyth as a DM Tool - Part 8: The Temptress

I must confess feeling a need to tread carefully, lest the discussion of this topic come off as sexist. However, the truth of the matter is (1) that the vast majority of cultures throughout the history of mankind have been patriarchal, and thus their heroes have tended to be male and (2) men, heroic or no, have done - and continue to do - some pretty stupid things in their pursuit/seduction/objectification of women.

The Temptress embodies anything that might lure the hero away from his quest, possibly even abandoning it altogether. She is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, very similar to the Gnostic belief in dualism. Dualism states, at the risk of oversimplification, that there exists a physical material world that is bad, and a spiritual world which is good.  In order to live in this spiritual world, the physical one must be overcome; for the Gnostics, this 'salvation' came though the accumulation of knowledge. Similarly, the Temptress must be overcome by self-discipline and a dedication to the higher purpose of the journey to which the hero has been called.

"The crux of the curious difficulty," Campbell writes, "lies in the fact that our conscious views of what life ought to be seldom correspond to what life really is. Generally we refuse to admit within ourselves, or within our friends, the fullness of that pushing, self-protective, malodorous, carnivorous, lecherous fever which is the very nature of the organic cell. Rather, we tend to perfume, whitewash, and reinterpret; meanwhile imagining that all the flies in the ointment, all the hairs in the soup, are the faults of some unpleasant someone else. But when it suddenly dawns on us, or is forced to our attention that everything we think or do is necessarily tainted with the odor of the flesh, then, not uncommonly, there is experienced a moment of revulsion: life, the acts of life, the organs of life, woman in particular as the great symbol of life, become intolerable to the pure, the pure, pure soul. The seeker of the life beyond life must press beyond (the woman), surpass the temptations of her call, and soar to the immaculate ether beyond."

Examples of the Temptress

Anakin Skywalker's embrace of the Dark Side was precipitated by the feelings he had for two women: His mother, whose death led him to slaughter a tribe of Tuskan Raiders; and Padme, for whom he sought a means of preventing death.

One of my all-time favorite movies, Legend, has a scene where a faerie attempts to seduce Jack, the hero, by taking on the appearance of his love, Lily. Additionally, Lily is herself tempted by Darkness when he becomes infatuated with her innocence.

In late Arthurian mythology (primarily the Lancelot-Grail accounts), Merlin was doomed by his desire for Niviane, the daughter of Northumberland's king. Fearing Merlin's power and how he might use it to control her, the huntress gets Merlin to agree to teach her everything he knows before she will love him. He does and she eventually puts a spell on him and places him in a magic tomb from which he cannot escape.

There are a handful of examples scattered throughout the Bible, but the the most pertinent to this discussion appear as obvious metaphors in Proverbs 5-9 (personifications of Wisdom, Folly and 'the adulterous woman') and Revelations 17 and 18 (Babylon portrayed as a prostitute).

The Greek hero Odysseus was advised by the minor goddess/witch Circe (herself a temptress) not only how to safely bypass the Sirens on his return to Ithaca from fighting in the Trojan War, but how he might manage to hear their irresistible song while doing so and live to tell about it.

The Temptress as a DM Tool

Heroes in role playing games are faced with many puzzles, trials and challenges on their journey, the vast majority of which are exterior in nature - that is, they appear as an obstructing and/or opposing force from without.  Monsters are easy to fight because they physically exist and can be interacted with, they generally have an exterior that reflects their alignment, and they are actively trying to rip the hero's face off; traps are unthinking and unfeeling and simply react to the PC's presence; riddles and puzzles, by their very nature, appeal to a competitive person's desire to 'win'.

The Temptress, however, uses her wiles and words to assault from within. These are not merely physical attacks vs. Will, but serious challenges to the underlying motivation driving a PC. She understands that victory in the long term outweighs the immediate satisfaction of driving a dagger into her enemies' heart, and spends her time reshaping a PC's thought process rather than trying to lower their hit points. Then, when her web of deception is complete, it will be the PC's who bring about their own destruction. She is never perceived as a threat - at least, not until it's too late - because she does not use threatening behavior. Words, questions especially, are her favorite weapon; with them, she plants seeds of frustration and confusion and throws the party into turmoil.

It is not easy to implement, but when done well, the inclusion of a Temptress in a campaign can provide a memorable gaming experience.

Pondering the Temptress
  • Campbell states that the Temptress does not have to appear as a woman. Can you think of another form The Temptress could assume in your campaign?
  • Why might the Temptress want your PC's to fail in their quest? For personal gain, or does she serve the will of another?
  • If you were an adventurer on a quest, what sorts of fears or concerns might tempt you to stray from or abandon it entirely?
  • Can you think of a situation that might drive a wedge between your PC's? Is there any pre-existing tension or animosity you could draw upon?
  • Do your PC's keep secrets from each other? If not, can you think of a situation in which they might want to?
Earlier Entries in This Series
Stage I: Departure
Stage II: Initiation

    No comments:

    Post a Comment