The Cycle

I’ve been really awful at updating this blog, and I think it’s because I insist on doing articles. I’m still probably going to finish up Breathing Life at some point, because I have a fair amount of stuff written for it already (and I’ve had a lot more drafted and planned, awaiting me having more free time).

Some of it’s because I keep starting new projects.

The most recent is velotha’s flock, a free-verse game about were-ravens caught in a struggle between God and the devil. Bit of a niche audience, but it draws me to an important point: the cycle of literary characters.

Outside the realm of gaming, I’m also working on the Dust, a collection of short stories in a shared universe. Both of these projects touch on the cycle.

You see, most core characters have a clear progression in their life. They start out as nobodies, go on the Hero’s Journey, and wind up solving the problems in their world (or dying trying).

This cycle is one of the things I wanted to touch on in velotha’s flock.

It’s not enough merely to have the character grow, however. This cycle involves setbacks, trials, allies. It’s not necessarily obvious. I could launch into Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, but I find it just as simple to say this:

Too few games really talk about good storytelling.

I’m not talking about making sure everyone gets a turn and sharing the limelight and going into details with regards to NPCs and having a vibrant world.

I’m talking about creating purpose.

The best stories hold some universal truth about the human condition.

velotha’s flock does that. Aren’t we all weary exiles, seeking a way back to the homestead? We all have strengths and weaknesses, some part of us that threatens our well-being.

You see, there are three elements that are important:

• Sacrifice/Struggle
• Trial/Triumph
• Reckoning/Return

I put these as dichotomies because an interesting story has a chance of failure. For every hero that blossoms into a champion, thousands more are dashed upon the rocks. They are anti-heroes, failures, but still human and as such afforded a certain dignity.

I want a game that allows those who fail to fail with dignity, and lets those who succeed become champions.

There are a few systems I use for this:

First, there is an ongoing “moon” die that represents fortune and the protagonists’ mystic power. They must always be paying attention to this, because it gives massive bonuses and enables some of their special powers. As it wanes, they have to rely more and more on wit and their character’s build.

Second, the path up above is written into the GM’s advice. In addition to talking about the waning of the moon, it gives guidelines for how to treat the players.

Not wanting to spoil the rest (and not having it all pinned down), I’ll end this here, but with a final note:

I believe that roleplaying needs to get better about intentional storytelling. A lot of the games out there leave it for players to blunder by accident into ancient archetypes. That’s not an unforgivable crime, but it overlooks a greater purpose to stories. We aren’t going to see more people interested in games until we can prove that they can be things for thinking adults, not just children.

And H.G. Wells’ floor games don’t count, since he’s unabashedly childish about his wargaming hobby.

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