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

    Friday, May 21, 2010

    DnD, Art: Card Game Preview - Footsoldier

    Last minute blog post for the week: Here is the low-man on the totem pole - the Footsoldier, supporter of both the Knight and the King.

    I'd like to give him more detail, but I'm not sure what to add.

    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

      Wednesday, May 12, 2010

      DnD: Monomyth as a DM Tool - Part 6: Road of Trials

      The Road of Trials is when the strange new world that exists beyond the Threshold really comes alive for the adventurer. Enemies and obstacles are encountered and the hero must make use of the training, advice and talismans provided by the Supernatural Helper(s).  This is also the stage in which hero begins to see the results of the transformation that began in the Belly of the Whale.

      It is important to point out that the trials on the road tend to come in sets of three. There is a significance to the number three that is easy to overlook, by both the hero actively faced with the challenges and by us in our roles as spectators.  The number three represents completeness:
      • The simplest meaningful geometric shape requires three lines
      • Three dimensions are required to form a solid shape; 2 being the symbol of the flat square vs 3 as the symbol of the cube (x2 vs. x3)
      • There are three great divisions to a temporal existence - past, present, and future
      • Thought, word, and deed, complete the sum of human capability
      • God is defined as having three attributes: omniscience (all-knowing), omnipresence (all-present), omnipotence (all-powerful)
      • The Godhead - also known as the Trinity - is formed of three entities: The Father (God), The Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit
      • Three persons, in grammar, express and include all the relationships of mankind
      Many other examples can be found here.

      Campbell writes: "Having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. This is a favorite phase of the myth-adventure. It has produced a world literature of miraculous tests and ordeals. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage. The original departure into the land of trials represented only the beginning of the long and really perilous path of initiatory conquests and moments of illumination. Dragons have now to be slain and surprising barriers passed – again, again, and again. Meanwhile there will be a multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land."

      Examples of the Road of Trials

      It can be difficult to identify precisely when the Road of Trials begins and ends in a journey.  Indeed, the entire adventure can often be seen as a continuous series of trials that overlaps and bleeds into the other stages of the journey.  For these examples, we shall focus on those instances where a trial or obstacles occurs in a set of three; Fairy Tales and fables are particularly rich in this regard.

      During the course of his adventure to destroy the One Ring, Frodo was constantly in danger, but found himself very nearly killed on three occasions: After being stabbed by the Witch-king of Angmar at Weathertop, getting skewered by the cave troll in Balin's Tomb (Moria), and being stung by the vile Shelob in the pass of Cirith Ungol.  Each time, he was saved by the works and gifts of those around him: Aragon's medicinal knowledge and Elrond's magic; Bilbo's Mithril shirt; Sting (another gift from Bilbo) and the Light of Earendil, both which were wielded by Sam.

      In the original telling of Jack and the Beanstalk (not to be confused with Jack the Giant Killer), the protagonist climbs the beanstalk three times, eludes capture with help from the giant's wife and comes away first with a bag of gold, then with a hen that laid golden eggs, and finally with a magical harp - killing the giant owner of the house during his final visit to keep the source of his new-found wealth a secret. Jack's distinction as the 'hero' of the tale was questionable at best, and the tale was retold by Bejamin Tabart in 1807 with a moralistic bent by turning the giant into a thief and murder, thus justifying his slaying.

      Red Riding Hood notices three features about her grandmother (eyes, ears, teeth) that are not quite right.

      The evil dwarf Rumpelstiltskin gives the queen three days to discover his name, lest he steal away her first born.

      In Monty Python's classic skewering of the Arthurian legend, the king and his knights must answer three questions to cross a bridge.

      During his time fasting in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted three times by Satan.

      The Road of Trials as a DM Tool

      In the context of gaming, especially video gaming, the vast majority of an adventure will be spent on the Road of Trials.  The obstacles encountered along the road, usually in the form of battles and/or puzzles, are often the only time the player is actually given full control of his character and made responsible for overcoming them.  In video games the other stages of the journey, which are more concerned with character development - such as The Call or the Belly of the Whale - are often glossed over in the form of cut-scenes or annoying run-on dialog that drive impatient players to continually mash a button until they can get back to the excitement of battles and party/inventory management.

      But what does the Road of Trials look like for a traditional pen-and-paper RPG player?  At it's worst, it is merely a grind - a series of combat and skill encounters whose sole purpose is to gain XP and has little, if anything, to do with story. The canny DM will, however, use every encounter as an opportunity for a PC to discover something about themselves.  Perhaps that discovery is simply a new power or ability - or perhaps a new way to use an existing power/ability.

      Terrain and dialog can and should be implemented to drive players towards a new level of understanding and competence and drive the story forward.  Even a seemingly random encounter might have some small clue embedded in it that speaks to one player - or perhaps even the party as a whole. Examples might include a bookshelf that gets knocked over, conveniently scattering some important maps or manuscripts on the floor; a foe who whispers the name of his master as he dies; an oddly colored fire that does not burn when someone is shoved into it, but freezes instead; a ghost that constantly repeats a question or phrase over and over as it harasses the PC's - or perhaps only a particular member of the party.

      In a larger sense, each of the trial-encounters along the Road could represent a different aspect of the party's journey.  For example, battling a group of undead clad in the livery of a PC's homeland might represent a break from a past life that was going nowhere. The following encounter might involve a rival group of adventurers, vying for the same prize/glory as the PC's as a reflection of themselves.  Finally, this particular road concludes with a battle against a meglomaniacal demi-god - a former adventurer who gained great power and lost his mind - as a warning of things to come should the PC's fail to stay grounded and humble.

      Pondering the Road of Trials
      • Can a groups' Road of Trials ever be as engaging and meaningful as that of an individual? Why or why not?
      • Do you think a PC/group can experience more than one Road of Trials at a time? Consider the pros and cons.
      • Does the Road of Trials gain or lose effectiveness if the number of encounters deviates from three? Why or why not?
      • Consider this statement: Any encounter that does not advance the story in some way is a waste of time.  Do you agree? Why or why not?
      • Consider this statement: Combat, while exciting, is generally not meaningful; Vice versa for skill challenges. Do you agree? Why or why not?
      • How does your stance on the previous two statements affect how you build an encounter or set of encounters?
      Earlier Entries in This Series

      Stage I: Departure
      Part 1: The Call
      Part 2: Refusing the Call
      Part 3: Supernatural Aid
      Part 4: Crossing the Threshold
      Part 5: Belly of the Whale

      Friday, May 7, 2010

      40K: Spreadsheet Template for Codex: Orks

      I'm done with Army Builder.  I continued to use version 2.2 for my Dark Eldar army lists as long as I could, but now that the new codex has been announced, I no longer need it.  And, thanks to their asinine licensing scheme, I no longer want anything to do with the software.

      Unfortunately, there are no really good open-source alternatives out there for generating an army list.  Until there is (don't look at me, I've got enough on my plate to last me a pretty good while), I have decided to put my 5th edition codices into a spreadsheet.

      Using Open Office, I've developed a template that will accommodate the entire army list - including weapons, wargear, and rules (complete with page numbers).  The goal was to find a way to represent as much, if not more, data than Army Builder provided.  Additionally, I wanted to try and get the entire list on a single sheet of paper - stats and point costs on one side, wargear and rules on the other.

      The Wargear and Special Rules use a simple code reference system to save space.  It's not quite as useful as actually having it spelled out for you on the paper, but I'm of the opinion that it's more for a opponent's reference, since a player should already know what special rules affect his army.

      The first list to be finished are the Orks. I will make this template available with as much information as I can legally include. Stats, details and point costs will have to be filled out on your own.  The vast majority of the work was in getting developing the layout, though, so entering numbers goes pretty quickly. 

      Give it a whirl and let me know if it works as a tool for army building, if there are any errors I missed, or what changes might enhance its usefulness. Enjoy!

      Codex: Orks Template (Mediafire, .ods)

      Next up: Blood Angels! (nearly finished)

      UPDATE (6-3-10): I made some additions and format changes to the spreadsheet - mainly to the Reference page. Calling it version 1.3

      Tuesday, May 4, 2010

      Misc: A Brief High Ate Us

      +1 Internets if you get the reference.  Also, you have excellent taste in literature.

      In an attempt to avoid burning myself (and you) out on the Monomyth series, I'm taking a little break before starting on the next block of entries.  I had hoped to have something to fill the gap, but collaborative schedules rarely work out so conveniently.

      At any rate, so you won't think I'm a lazy slacker, here's what's going on at Kingworks Creative (aka: the time in the evening after the kids go to bed and my own bedtime):

      • I finished a cover piece and an encounter map for the next Nevermet Press release, due later this month, IIRC. (Once NMP officially shows the cover, I will post them here).
      • Another drawing and a digital painting for two NMP settings are about half done. Not for anything in particular, just wanted to do them. 
      • Remember the card game I was working on?  I started the third one, but the design has been frustrating me, so I set it aside. Counting it, there are 2.5 cards left to finish, as well as the design for the back.
      • I have an idea for what I think could be a cool encounter, but it's in the early stages and needs some work.
      • The release of the Codex: Blood Angels has me revamping my army.  I'm currently converting half-finished Tactical Marines into Assault Marines, putting magnets in Sergeants and special weapons Marines.
      • Building a kustom Ork Trukk based on Dave Taylor's excellent tutorial.
      • At least one mob of Slugga Boyz and some Nobz waiting on a final pass of highlights and an ink wash.
      • In an effort to save money on the house we're building, I've been looking for things I can do myself to save money.  Thus far, I've only sealed windows, doors & wall seams. Soon, however, I will be putting down tile and hardwood flooring; after that, we'll be seeding the grass and landscaping ourselves.  Then taking a break to save up again in order to add a deck and finish the basement.
      • I've been working through Foundation Game Design with Flash a little bit each day (or week, if I was being completely honest) and it's got me thinking that I just might be able to finish that 40k Flash game after all.  No time soon, unfortunately.  I also need to look into the legality of making a free Flash game based on an established IP. I don't think 'homage' is going to cut it - GW's legal dept. can be pretty ruthless. I may need to make it a parody . . .
      • One of my freelance clients has been emailing me about doing an update on his website.  I'm expecting the files any day now.
      I'm sure there are some other things going on, but that's all I can think of right now. Cheers!