Tuesday, July 13, 2010

DnD: Monomyth as a DM Tool, Part 10 - Apotheosis

Apotheosis is defined as exultation or elevation of a person to the rank of god. Alternatively, it may be defined as an ideal or quintessential example of something. In the context of the Hero's Journey, Apotheosis is a period of rest and fulfillment. It is achieved only after the hero has died (literally or figuratively) to himself and has at least reached a point at which they are completely separated (physically, emotionally, spiritually, philosophically) from the life they once lived. In this new state of existence, they find themselves surrounded by divine knowledge, love, compassion and/or bliss.  They are given a glimpse of eternity - or one version of it, at any rate. But, as Don Cheadle's character so astutely states in the 2000 movie, The Family Man, "A glimpse, by definition, is a temporary thing." So, too, the Apotheosis.

Campbell: "Those who know, not only that the Everlasting lies in them, but that what they, and all things, really are is the Everlasting, dwell in the groves of the wish fulfilling trees, drink the brew of immortality, and listen everywhere to the unheard music of eternal concord."

Examples of Apotheosis
Frodo and his friends are harried and attacked by the Ringwraiths until they make it to Rivendell. Later, after surviving the hazards of Moria, the Fellowship finds a moment's peace in Lothlorien. In these elven refuges the hobbits and their companions are healed, rested and equipped for the next leg of their journey.

In many ways, the Pevensie childrens' visit(s) to Narnia is an apotheosis which contains within it a Heroic Journey (or several, if you consider each visit to Narnia a separate journey). In particular, during The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the idyllic period of time, spanning from the White Witch's defeat to their eventual return through the wardrobe.

There is an apotheosis of sorts at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope (IV) after the Death Star is destroyed. A ceremony is held, celebrations ensue, medals are given, a wookie roars, etc. - presumably in a very public manner. By the time the next movie begins, however, happy-time is over and the rebels are hiding on a bleak, inhospitable ice world.

Vallhalla, in Scandinavian mythology, is a place where the spirits of slain heroes go in preparation to aid Odin in the coming end-of-time battle known as Ragnorok. Despite being existing to prepare for a coming apocalypse, its inhabitants are frequently described as feasting and engaging in various other physical and/or carnal pursuits. The Ellysian fields in Greco-Roman mythology are similar in nature, as is the Islamic Jannat (translated as 'garden' - a concept of paradise), where everything one longs for in this world will be until Yawm al-Qiyāmah ('the Day of Resurrection'). The varying beliefs of Christians in Paradise (as opposed to Heaven) might also fall into this category.

The important detail to note in each of these examples is that the apotheosis setting is not the ultimate final destination, but a brief (relatively speaking) period of rest.

Apotheosis as a DM Tool

Apotheosis occurs many times and at differing levels of abstraction in role playing. In 4e, PC's obtaining immortality after reaching level 30 and completing their destiny quest might be considered a kind of concluding Apotheosis, as the PC's story is considered finished at this point. However, it cannot be considered a true Apotheosis because it is not temporary. There are a multitude of smaller experiences that better fit the definition of an Apotheosis: the completion of a campaign or story arc where the heroes bask in the adulation of a grateful populace; leveling up and gaining new skills/powers/feats; even taking an extended rest and playing with a new ritual or magic item.  Any temporary location or period of time in which the PC's are not struggling, but are graduating into a greater version of themselves - be it though personal growth, or better equipment/armament - can serve as an Apotheosis.

The significance of the apotheosis experience to your players should not be missed. This temporary period of time gives the players a sense of accomplishment - they have survived the onslaught and emerged stronger and/or better equipped than they were before. A brief period of rest allows them the time to explore these changes and revel in their success. However, should the PC's spend too much time in this state, they run an ever increasing chance of becoming bored or complacent. The pace of a campaign can be ruined by a poorly-executed apotheosis, as well.

In Jesse Schell's excellent book The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, the author discusses the challenges of keeping players in the 'flow channel' (Chapter 9, pgs. 119-122). The flow channel is a "repeating cycle of increasing challenge, followed by a reward, often of more power, which gives an easier period of less challenge. Soon enough, the challenge ramps up again."

Schell concludes his discussion on the Lens of Flow with:

This cycle of “tense and release, tense and release ” comes up again and again
in design. It seems to be inherent to human enjoyment. Too much tension, and we
wear out. Too much relaxation, and we grow bored. When we fluctuate between
the two, we enjoy both excitement and relaxation, and this oscillation also provides
both the pleasure of variety, and the pleasure of anticipation.

Having already touched on the importance of keeping an apotheosis temporary, there is one other important aspect to consider: Time does not stop just because your PC's do. Sure, the heroes may be reveling in the adoration and playing with treasure and new magic trinkets in a castle somewhere; but, caravans and ships still have schedules to keep, monstrous creatures still prowl the dark places seeking to fill their bellies, evil schemes continue to hatched and executed, and tyrannical despots continue their subjugation of peasants and farmers.

Pondering Apotheosis
  • Consider the following statement: Only boredom or a perceived threat will effectively rouse PC's from their apotheosis. Agree or disagree? Why or why not?
  • What, if any, are the possible risks of having several minor apotheoses (such as extended rests) occur in a short period of time?
  • Consider the following statement: An apotheosis should occur only when the PC's have earned it. Agree or disagree? Why or why not?
  • What is the (current or next) campaign's villain doing while your PC's are enjoying their current apotheosis? How will they find out - if they do at all?
  • Is it fair to end an opportunity while the PC's are in a state of apotheosis? Why or why not?
Earlier Entries in This Series
Stage I: Departure
Stage II: Initiation

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