Saturday, July 12, 2014

Metaplot in Hero's Journey: Choose Your Own Adventure

We've been hearing some requests lately to talk about the metaplot of Hero's Journey - that is, the overarching story that the characters are being put into and the way the game presumes they'll interact with the world. We've seen all kinds of speculation about it, including assumptions that it'll be the same as other games' metaplots, guesses that it'll be based on specific myths of some cultures and predictions about what parts of history might be tied into it.

The metaplot of Hero's Journey is this: it's time for a new Age of Heroes, and your characters are those heroes. And that's it. Before anyone starts panicking, let us explain!

What this means is that there is no "official" plot for the game that all stories are based around; there's not a specific antagonist the game requires all Heroes to struggle against, a specific item that all Heroes are required to seek or a specific political drama occurring that all Heroes will have to become involved in. All games have the same basic setting in which to play, in a modern world full of worship of ancient polytheistic gods, but they do not share the same plot.

This is actually an important part of the game's setup: because this is a game about heroes from all different cultures and mythologies and is intended to allow heroes of all different types and styles to be equally viable characters, it has to be open enough in plot to avoid blocking off any of those choices for players or accidentally promoting some above the others. If the metaplot basically boils down to destroying monsters, it prioritizes and rewards combat-oriented heroes over others; if the metaplot basically involves building cult presences in the world, it prioritizes and rewards socially-adept and creative heroes over others. If the metaplot chooses a specific antagonist, it will be relevant to some cultures but less important or compatible with others, making the story "about" some Heroes more than others, and so on. We want to avoid giving the game a framework that makes any particular character "better" for the game on the whole, even though of course different character types will be better at various tasks and adventures within the context of their individual games.

But if you're the GM trying to plan how to run a game, or a player who wants to know what to expect, how do you know where to start? That's where we're going to have you covered in a big way. We know that GMs want to be able to run games without having to write a fantasy epic first if they don't have the inclination to, and that without a metaplot they'll need a helping hand to give them some structure. To that end, a large portion of the Hero's Journey core rulebook is dedicated to storytelling guidance: how to set up a short story for a single session, a longer one for multiple sessions or an even longer one for a full chronicle, how to play to your characters' strengths and provide them with meaningful challenges, and what kinds of mythological motifs you can play with inserting into your story to help give your characters' story, whatever it may be, some resonance in line with the mythology the game is based upon. As we talked about in a previous post, the Hero's Journey, as in the archetypal heroic adventure that occurs in literature and myth around the world, is the major basis for the game's stories and the core book discusses how to run and represent it in detail along with other mythological themes that might be helpful and guides for how to use them.

But hey, some examples would be helpful, right? Among other things, the portion of the book dedicated to giving GMs guidance for running the game includes a whole lot of examples, from tables of suggested difficulties for basic hazards and tasks to plot seeds and possible explanations for various things a GM might want to start with as a baseline. Here's a quick sample from the section of the book discussing the new Age of Heroes and what kinds of possibilities different games might use to explain their beginning stories:

The moment your Heroes set foot in the world, crises and dangers will arise to meet them, causing supernatural forces that have not intruded on the world of humankind for centuries to begin to menace hapless mortals anew. Or, perhaps more accurately, your Heroes were not needed until destiny determined that it was time for new heroic tales and legendary deeds, and the gods themselves were moved to call upon new servants to serve that greater goal.

There are any number of reasons that the gods have begun endowing new Heroes with their might and sending them out into the world. Each game might decide that the grand design of fate is different, but some possibilities might include:

  • The gods have decided to wager with one another about the potency of their various powers, and have created Heroes to go forth and demonstrate their importance by proxy.
  • An enemy or creature dangerous to humanity has escaped from some ancient prison or trap and entered the world, and the gods have created Heroes to handle the problem for them.
  • Some gods have created Heroes in secret in defiance of treaties that forbid doing so, leading other gods to create competing Heroes to stop their activities, hunt them down, or simply because they now have an excuse to take advantage of.
  • The gods have grown bored with their usual doings and amusements, and have created several Heroes to provide them with entertainment, following their activities with interest from afar.
  • Prophetic gods have foreseen an oncoming calamity and determined that the world will soon need Heroes, motivating them to create some in preparation.
  • Pantheons of lands that have been colonized, exploited or invaded have finally decided to encourage their mortal worshipers to retake their homelands, and have secretly created Heroes to aid humans in driving out their oppressors.
  • Some gods have determined that it is time for the world to end, or at least to be thoroughly shaken up, and have created Heroes not to defend it from danger but to be the catalyst that destroys or recreates it.

Whatever reason they might have, once the gods have caused their power to invest new mortals with divine energy, the new Age of Heroes has begun and the world will never be the same. Heroes are drawn to important events, great deeds and dangerous foes, and will encounter them regularly no matter who they are, where they go or what they’re doing; just as the ancient heroes like Rama or Heracles had careers filled with adventure and intrigue whether they wanted them or not, your Heroes will always lead interesting lives.

Our hope is that the core book will provide enough guidance and options for those running games to be able to easily construct their stories and start their players on adventures with a minimum of difficulty, but give them all the possible room to expand and grow into various mythological stories that they could possibly want. We're looking forward to seeing what kinds of stories different people come up with and how they create their own heros' journeys, and there is no wrong way to do!