Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The story...

In response to a question I received about yesterday’s post, I thought I’d talk a little about Adventure Companions, Story Arcs, and Campaign Lines, and how they fit in FORGED.

This game is based on something we like to call the Legend Cycle, which is visually represented on the Lore page above. The Legend Cycle is basically a continuing feedback loop, wherein the game’s Lore drives the Characters (in this case, the Mortal Heroes), the Characters drive the Story, and the Story drives the Adventure. Finally, the Adventure and its outcomes alter the game world, which feeds right back into the Lore of Kelubaar, and so on. This is how any good story or RPG works, but in FORGED the Cycle is tied directly to the campaign mechanics.

Let’s look at how any good fantasy story works: In the beginning of every tale you have a premise. That premise is the world itself, and the environment (physical, ethical, political) in which our heroes find themselves. Then, you have the protagonist, who is generally not that much of a hero in the first chapters, though he or she is often well on their way to becoming one. Next, you have the all-important conflict. It is at this point that the story really begins; the premise and the protagonist are not much more than background to the conflict. The conflict is something that the protagonist has to find some way to overcome (again, physically, ethically, or politically) in order to effect a resolution. That resolution could be the defeat of an enemy, overcoming some adversity, or simply enduring and becoming stronger – in a word, change. Ideally, the premise, protagonist, conflict, and resolution should occur more than once in any great story; each cycle being a milestone of sorts for the hero on his or her way to resolving the primary conflict of the story.

It’s easy to understand how there can be multiple occurrences of premise > conflict > resolution in a story. But how do you have multiple occurrences or iterations of a protagonist? This is where the growth of said protagonist lies. The young man or woman from the first chapter is rarely the same as the battle-tested veteran that takes on the all-powerful enemy in the final chapter. The protagonist changes, evolves and improves with each cycle of the story. Every new premise, conflict and resolution builds the protagonist up, little by little, until they bear little resemblance to the plucky but inexperienced youth that they once were.

How does this all work with the Legend Cycle? Let’s take a look at an Adventure Companion in FORGED . An Adventure Companion consists of a short (1 – 3 session) story that challenges the hero(es) to complete some quest.

The town blacksmith’s two children have disappeared while playing in the hills above town (premise). The hero(es) are tasked with finding them (conflict), a task made difficult by incessant rains, rugged hill-country, and the interference of the hill-folk who don’t like trespassers (also a conflict).

During the course of this Adventure Companion, the heroes are forced to find some way to complete their mission in a certain timeframe, while the environment and the hill-folk try to thwart them. The hill-folk could be negotiated with, tricked, bypassed or fought – any success here will resolve the secondary conflict; i.e. the hill-folks’ interference with the heroes’ primary goal. Each method of dealing with the hill-folk carries its own benefits and consequences, although every form of resolution should ideally aid the heroes in their main goals.

The heroes learn that the children were seen at an abandoned mill on the day of their disappearance (premise). Setting out with new urgency, they come upon the ruins just before dark-fall, and decide to wait until daylight to head within. During the night, they are attacked by a pack of hounds emerging from the ruins (conflict and resolution). In the morning, they discover brands on the slain dogs’ hides, marks whose origins were known to but one among the heroes.

Now, the heroes are presented with new information by one of their own number. This knowledge came from that Mortal Hero’s Story Arc – his own background tale and one with implications for both past and present. Story Arcs are persistent, ongoing tales unique to each Mortal Hero, that ties them to the world and to the adventure. Story Arcs require a great deal of attention on the part of the Storyteller, and must be woven – sparsely or liberally as befitting the tale – into the various Adventure Companions that occur in the Campaign Line. The brands on the hounds were clues to the identity of their master, whose involvement with the missing children is now known to the heroes.

Malgorn was a man of hill-folk heritage who had lived in the hills above town fifteen years ago, trading with the villagers and eking out a simple life in the rugged country. Then one day, he killed a man, and disappeared into the wild, never to be seen again. Twenty townsmen led by the local Reeve spent months hunting for Malgorn, but could never find him. Two locals were killed in the hunt; one from an accidental fall and another from an arrow. The man’s young son carried that arrow with him every day of his life; an arrow that bore the mark of Malgorn. Nocking the old, black arrow on his bow-string, the Mortal Hero swears an oath of vengeance, and leads the party into the ruins (new motivation for a protagonist).

The quest is now a personal one, and they rush within, cornering Malgorn and the two missing children on an unsteady staircase at the edge of a thirty-foot cliff. They are dirty and disheveled, and obviously terrified, but still alive. Malgorn demands the children as recompense for his family, slain by the town blacksmith fifteen years ago (premise). He swears an oath that if they rush him, he’ll jump, taking the children with him over the cliff (dual conflict of vengeance and wanting to save the children).

Now the party has a dilemma; two conflicts are in opposition to one another. One among their number wants the man dead, but at what cost? Is that character’s vengeance stronger than his desire to save the children? This is a choice for the player to make, and the outcome and consequences of this choice will echo in his Story Arc forever. A good Storyteller pits conflicting goals against one another as often as possible, in order to create a more meaningful conflict. Can the heroes find a way to save the children? Will Malgorn leap to his death, taking the blacksmith’s children with him? Will they learn why the blacksmith killed Malgorn’s family? Some, or perhaps all of these questions will be answered in the final resolution of this Adventure Companion. In the end they could return victorious, or having failed in their endeavor to save the children, set the stage for the story ahead. FORGED takes a very neutral definition of resolution; in this case, any of the above outcomes would count as a resolution, regardless of how much or little innocent blood was spilled.

This Adventure Companion is but one among 5-8 Adventure Companions in a single Campaign Line. They are designed to be usable as both standalones and plot elements within the larger campaign. The hooks, locations, villains and resolutions can be altered to suit the Campaign Line, as well as to build upon each Mortal Hero’s own Story Arc. Adventure Companions can even be switched in and out of Campaign Lines, although this will take a little work from the Storyteller, as Adventure Companions within a single Campaign Line are designed to share certain common themes, NPCs and plots.

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