Friday, December 31, 2010

The Hero's Journey

Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth (Hero With A Thousand Faces)

The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation--initiation--return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth.

Stages of the hero’s journey:

1. Birth: Fabulous circumstances surrounding conception, birth, and childhood establish the hero’s pedigree, and often constitute their own monomyth cycle.

2. Call to Adventure: The hero is called to adventure by some external event or messenger. The Hero may accept the call willingly or reluctantly.

3. Helpers/Amulet: During the early stages of the journey, the hero will often receive aid from a protective figure. This supernatural helper can take a wide variety of forms, such as a wizard, and old man, a dwarf, a crone, or a fairy godmother. The helper commonly gives the hero a protective amulet or weapon for the journey.

4. Crossing the Threshold: Upon reaching the threshold of adventure, the hero must undergo some sort of ordeal in order to pass from the everyday world into the world of adventure. This trial may be as painless as entering a dark cave or as violent as being swallowed up by a whale. The
important feature is the contrast between the familiar world of light and the dark, unknown world of adventure.

5. Tests: The hero travels through the dream-like world of adventure where he must undergo a series of tests. These trials are often violent encounters with monsters, sorcerers, warriors, or forces of nature. Each successful test further proves the hero's ability and advances the journey toward its climax.

6. Helpers: The hero is often accompanied on the journey by a helper who assists in the series of tests and generally serves as a loyal companion. Alternately, the hero may encounter a supernatural helper in the world of adventure who fulfills this function.

7. Climax/The Final Battle: This is the critical moment in the hero's journey in which there is often a final battle with a monster, wizard, or warrior which facilitates the particular resolution of the adventure.

8. Flight: After accomplishing the mission, the hero must return to the threshold of adventure and prepare for a return to the everyday world. If the hero has angered the opposing forces by stealing the elixir or killing a powerful monster, the return may take the form of a hasty flight. If the hero has been given the elixir freely, the flight may be a benign stage of the journey.

9. Return: The hero again crosses the threshold of adventure and returns to the everyday world of daylight. The return usually takes the form of an awakening, rebirth, resurrection, or a simple emergence from a cave or forest. Sometimes the hero is pulled out of the adventure world by a force from the daylight world.

10. Elixer: The object, knowledge, or blessing that the hero acquired during the adventure is now put to use in the everyday world. Often it has a restorative or healing function, but it also serves to define the hero's role in the society.

11. Home: The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on
his fellow man.

Gamesmasters and World Weavers may find the Cambell's delineation of Hero's Journey helpful in understanding some of the dimensions beneath the classic Quest and Hero stories of yesteryear.  May it help in your Mythopoea and give you insights and inspiration in the coming years!

Happy New Years!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Comment: Fast Forwarding Combat?

I'm writing in response to this article: whose basic point is that D&D 4th Edition is designed in a way that makes anything but Big Boss combats a drag on the game.  So he recommends a solution where you basically skip all the low level and intermediate combats and just run the Big Boss combat in the normal 4e mode.  Everything else becomes a Skill Challenge.   Some of the comments point out the difficulty of the solution, but I'd rather discuss the heart of the problem itself.

I wrote the following reply to Blog's comment (the one above mine):
To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of later editions of D&D because of just this sort of thing. Instead of making the system simple and easy to use, so that combat can be done efficiently and in a fun way, each new edition seems to add complexity and force a lot of niddling rules. In the latest release the designers appear to be trying to appeal to Gamists who are currently running around in WoW, not playing D&D. They figure that you can't compete against MMORPGs with table top RPGs because everyone will naturally play the former not the latter and over time table top RPGs will go the way of the Dodo bird if they don't compete. So they made D&D more like WoW to compete and try steal their players with the idea that D&D is now more like WoW in design. Players don't like to die? Fine! No Problem, we make it almost impossible to die in 4e. Etc.
This, in my opinion, was a pretty bone headed decision because table top RPGing is inherently different than computer RPGing. There's overlap, sure, but the overlap is not where they seem to think it is. So we wind up with yet another edition of D&D that's off the mark. Table top RPGing is a fantastic idea, and really fun, when done with a system that makes it easy instead of hard. I tend to go with light-weight or medium-weight homebrew systems that we designed to keep combat and the mechanics from bogging down the story and the fun of the game. 4e seems to me to do anything but that, and so the result is, as you say, ... what?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sandbox And Spiral Methods Discussion on LRPGSW

I thought this was turning into a useful and interesting discussion on the Sandbox and Spiral Methods of Gamesmastering over on the Literary Role Playing Game Society of Westchester Yahoo Group, and so I am sharing the link to that discussion here.

Please feel free to participate either on the LRPGSW, or here in the Blog.  To participate on the LRPGSW Yahoo Group you merely need to join the group.  Its free.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Eight Animals of Bagua

The Eight Animals of Bagua are, in order around the circle:
  • Monkey
  • Dragon
  • Unicorn
  • Hawk
  • Bear
  • Lion
  • Snake
  • Phoenix
Three are enchanted creatures.  The others are normal animals, but each with very distinctive characteristics.  The monkey is fast and light on it's feet, yet very powerful (do not get attacked by a monkey - it's bad).  The Hawk is fast and strikes from out of the blue, and with it's deadly beak and talons, a very serious adversary.  The Bear rolls and has enormous power in his blows.  The Lion, of course is both fast and powerful. The Snake is subtle, strikes suddenly, and can be poisonous.   

In the Elthos World I have the Eight Animals of Bagua associated to eight of the twelve Elkron (the cosmological  and Celestial Powers of my world).  They form a nucleus of Animal Powers, and as such are the Lords of Eight Animal Kingdoms.  There is one King of each of the Eight, forming the Eight Kings of Bagua.  Each one rules his own Kingdom in a fashion that is aligned to it's nature.  The King of Serpents is subtle, quick witted, and poisonous.  The Monkey King is light, carefree, and jovial - but very powerful, and a trickster who defies even the Greater Powers in the Higher Dimensions simply because he happens to be like that.  He is fun loving, and very loyal to his own people, and his friends.  And so on.   

I am trying to build out the Elthos World on the foundations of classical mythology, and so I use things like the Eight Bagua Animals to enhance and extend my world.  It's fun.   And in this way I try to make the various elements of my world work together and coordinate internally.  Thus forming a cohesive whole to the cosmology that hither to could not help but be fragmented.  Now it is much less so.  And I'm quite glad about that.  Keeping the mythological background of Elthos coherent has been one of the most difficult aspects of my endeavor as a World Weaver.  Finally, after much effort and research, I feel the fruit is beginning to ripen.  

On a side note, I have been studying Wudan (Chinese Internal Martial Art - Sword School) for several years now.  The curriculum covers Tai Chi, Hsing-Yi, and Bagua.  The above drawing is one that I created this morning for my Sifu as a Christmas gift.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Role Playing Games: A GM's Perspective

I wrote this article for the Computer Game Developer's Association in 1996. I thought I'd republish it on my blog, just for fun.

Role Playing Games: A GM's Perspective

Multiplayer Internet Role Playing Games (MI-RPGs) promise a new paradigm of computer game playing. Proponents believe that it is the future evolution of computer gaming. As computers evolved the Internet, the Internet will evolve Virtual RPG Worlds. Those elements that made for good traditional RPGs will have to be translated by MI-RPG designers into the new medium. As some of the startup companies are finding out this is not necessarily an easy thing to do. The first task in the process must be a review of what makes a good traditional RPG.

The chief attribute of the traditional RPG that makes it so exciting for many players is that it is a social game in which they can build and role play their own completely fantastical fantasy Character. In addition, one of the things that makes them so marvelous is that, when designed well, the RPG can incorporate a wide variety of other games in one concise package known as the "World". The players are challenged to exercise their imaginations and game playing skills in a wide variety of areas. You must employ the same tactical and strategic skills of hex war, calculate the odds of success in the same fashion as you do in backgammon, and occasionally astonish your friends and enemies with the all the cunning and skill that you employ in poker.

Another aspect of the successful RPG is that you don't merely play it, you participate in the creation of virtual history through your Character. Most RPGs are run over a long period of time developing their own unique histories. There is no limit to how long your Character may adventure in such a World. A long lived and historically significant Character in a well loved Campaign can be very rewarding.

Most RPG players agree that there is one thing especially that makes for a great RPG. The Gamesmaster. The GM is the central focus of the World. The entire atmosphere and mood of the World is created by the GM. GMs with a sense of their proper role in the game are essential to a good RPG.

The expert GM has a natural sense of the way that a good story goes. He or she can instill an air of mystery, a feeling of awe, a fear of peril, and all the while a sense of humor into the Campaign whenever it is needed. The proper role of the GM is to act as one who guides, but does not control the action of the game. It is a very subtle art. The GM must allow for the direct interaction of the players, "think" for all of the NPCs and monsters spontaneously, and manage to maintain a cohesive "historical" plot line. It is not a skill that everyone is born with. There are those few, however, who seem to make their Worlds come alive. Most experienced players agree that one good GM is worth 10,000 cleverly designed modules from Gygax's treasure horde.

Design Issues for MI-RPGs

With the advent of Multiplayer Internet Role Playing Games (MI-RPGs) the design flaws of the traditional RPG can lead to extreme consequences due to the vast numbers of players that are likely to be involved. What is barely passable in a traditional RPG among friends can become a brutal business disaster with 12,000 or more paying customers on the Internet. Since there seems to be an odd tendency to rush-to-market-like-a-bat-outta-hell these days, I expect that the first wave of MI-RPGs are going to be pretty rough rides. The good MI-RPG is going to take a LOT of consideration to get right, up front and in advance of getting onto a server.

The quest for the MI-RPG designers is to find a way to migrate the best elements of the traditional RPG into a Virtual Reality World. The most difficult aspect of this will be to figure out how to incorporate the charms of good Gamesmastering into the game. Obviously, it will not be possible to merge some of these aspects of the traditional game because the players will be separated from each other and the Gamesmaster. However, by comparison to the single player computer games that try to simulate the RPG environment, the MI-RPG will be a vast improvement.

A/I reliant worlds are going to run into some major long term problems. These Worlds operate on the principal that the GM is unnecessary to the game since the story line will be guided by the players who will make it interesting by their own interactions. A danger with this approach, however, is that Worlds that have no GM guidance will most likely degenerate into all out warfare among players. When there is no authority to guide either the moral dimension nor the macro story of the Campaign then it is an invitation to chaos. Think "Lord of the Flies".

Even with artificial intelligence as good as it is, when you are dealing with a long term on-line environment, predictable monsters will eventually drag a World down. After a while players learn what to do to overcome a computer A/I monster, and then they have an advantage which can lead to lost balance in the game. It is one reason why computer game developers are impressed with Mutliplayer games. Humans always play more cleverly than computers. This is especially true when it comes to GMs.

For Worlds that choose to incorporate live Gamesmastering, special attention should be paid to the quality of the GM who is designing and/or running the World. It is simply a fact that badly designed and/or run RPG Worlds die as soon as their novelty wears off. We witnessed this aplenty in the traditional RPGs. However, it is to be noted that some Worlds that were well crafted from their inception have endured these last 18 years with no loss of enthusiasm on the part of their players.

In terms of the technicalities of MI-RPG design, it should be understood that there are two distinct factions of players in the Multiplayer Internet Gaming (MIG) market place. There are the so-called "twitch game" (DOOM(tm)) players who have little or no interest in RPGs, and there are RPG players who do not seem to care a wit for twitch. These have formed two distinct and separate markets. Some like it hot and spicy, some like it sweet and sour.

The difficulty for MI-RPG designers comes in with the consideration of the combat. The issue can be segregated into two basic categories. Should the MI-RPG lean towards the twitch game in design, or should it emulate the traditional RPG?

For instance, should the game be levels oriented (traditional) or keyboard skill oriented (twitch)? In the levels based game, the Character's percent chance to hit an opponent is calculated according to the level of the Character which goes up according to the number of "kills" for the Character. As the Character gains in levels his or her chance to hit increases. Thus high level Characters are tougher. In a twitch game version (DOOM(tm) style play) the Character is controlled by the key board, so there is no question as to who is higher level. The faster twitcher wins the combat. A combination between the two is possible which would look like DOOM(tm), but incorporate levels by having the size of the "Hit" area widen as the Character's levels go up. Thus, while twitchy, would improve the high level Character's chances to hit. The downside to this, however, would be that twitch players would have an even greater advantage in such a combat system. But only against Characters of their own level or less. A high level Character played by someone with less advanced twitch skills could still score against a low level Character played by a very expert twitch fiend. Thus, game balance.

A related question would be whether or not combat should be interfaced with the 3D first person style (twitch) or a hex-war overview? Hex-war style has certain advantages which can be categorized as strategic and tactical. If all you can see on your screen is what is directly in front of you in 3D perspective (DOOM(tm)) then it limits your ability to plan moves. You might squeeze tactics out of such a combat system, but you'll hardly get strategy.

In the case of MI-RPGs that do decide to go with the hex-war overview combat, the next question will be, should the combat be turn based or real time action? In turn based games the combat is sequential. You make your move, we role the combat dice, then I make my move. Back and forth like chess. In real time hex-war style games, while you are moving, your enemy is also simultaneously moving. There are no turns. If you take too long to decide what to do, you get ravished. Which is better? Turn based has the advantage of giving the players time to consider their moves and play carefully. This tends to cultivate a better understanding of strategy because you have time to consider the entire situation. Real time action games tend to favor the cultivation of tactics. In a MI-RPG environment, if you have a hex-war combat system it is desirable to keep the action flowing, and turn based could take too long. One would also have to contend with how to manage a large number of players in either case. A possible solution might be to have the entire game turn based, but have each turn take 5 or so seconds for everyone across the board. Other related issues involve planning for the use of Magic and Clericy in a World.

One of the most pernicious dilemmas facing the MI-RPG designer is the issue of time and distance. What do you do with the party, for instance, that has a 20 day journey by sea? Make them wait 20 real days to play next? Or sit on deck and watch the waves for 20 days? If you try time compression then how will you synchronize different groups of Characters? Of course you could just keep your World really small. Or disallow voyages by sea. Or you could have conveniently located teleporters near your major cities.

Even more pernicious, and something that strikes at the very heart of every RPG player, is how do you handle the issue of death? Do players role new Characters? Or do the re-appear at some "saved" location? Can they be raised from the dead by other players? This particular rule issue is actually very critical to player acceptance of an RPG.

Additionally, questions of political and theological proportion must also be thought out by the MI-RPG designers. All of these issues require consideration and detailed planning for a game to last for more than a short time. I know of a number of companies that are hoping to launch MI-RPGs in the near future, but have not given enough consideration to the systems they will use or how they will run their Worlds. Their thinking seems to be that their programmers will somehow be able to figure these things out. As one who has spent a Godzillian hours refining and designing RPG systems I know that this is not a realistic expectation. There is a great deal of potential in MI-RPGs, but it will take a very good team of experts in each of their fields to make it successful. Companies that are willing to devote the extra time and resources required for R&D have a window of opportunity to establish a beachhead in the MI-RPG gaming market and from that an industry can manifest and prosper.

While it may well be that the same steep percentage of Worlds drizzle into oblivion as they did in the traditional RPGs, it is nevertheless the case that great Worlds have the potential to become the nexus of gaming activity on the Internet long into the future.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cross-Post: Storyline vs Sandbox

I thought this was interesting...

My comment was as follows:
I think the distinction between "sandbox" and "plot-driven" campaigns is certainly valid. And like others I'm working on combining the best of both, when possible. One thing that I found useful in this regard is the "Spiral Method" of GMing. Instead of having specific plot points that must be followed in specific order, what I do is I have plot points in the back-story that will occur regardless of what the PCs do if they do not interact with them. The Prince of Lira will wage war against his brothers in the Western Desert if the PCs do nothing. If they do discover this fact and work towards altering the course of events they may succeed. Or they may not. The way the Spiral Method fits in is that I may not have a timeline for that war. It is a free-floating plot that could occure any place and any time, depending on what the PCs are doing. I put things in general areas. So in this case, this plot point might get triggered any time the PCs wander toward the Western Desert. The Spiral Method creates plot points but disconnects them from specific time and place. This allows the PCs as they wander the Sandbox to spiral into the awaiting plot points. The problem with the sandbox method, for me, is that it can lead to too many plots in play as PCs pick up on plot points, drop them, picking up on new ones, and over a period of time it may lead to too many loose threads. The answer to this, as GM, is for me to keep track of those loose threads and periodically, when appropriate, reintroduce the abandonned plot points in order to tie up the loose ends as I go. An example of this process can be found on my blog where I wrote out the story in prose form. Over time the loose ends got tied off, and at the end of the adventure it had a nice "Homecoming" feeling as the threads all got tied up. I did not plan it that way in advance. I used the Sandbox and Spiral Method to achieve this effect. So I think it works. The hard part is keeping track of loose threads, and tying them up in a natural way. Meaning I don't force the players to tie up the loose ends... I just reintroduce things they've forgotten about periodically throughout the story.

I also created a thread on LRPGSW for this to see what people there may think.