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Friday, November 11, 2011

Solo Tabletop Gaming Appreciation Month: First attempt at roleplaying using the Monomyth structure

As part of Solo Game Appreciation Month, I decided to put to the test some ideas I read on using the monomyth structure as a guide my solo play. I honestly cannot say this session so far has been real roleplaying, except in the sense of having my GM hat on. :) It was still enjoyable, though, and reminded me of my feeble attempts to create roleplaying plots for my friends.

I’ve heard that the Aria rpg used the monomyth, but I’ve never had the pleasure of finding a copy so I made an attempt to roll up my own using information on the net, and also in “The Writer’s Journey” book by Christopher Vogler (excellent book). I have a lot of loose ideas and notes lying around, but here is my first attempt at a concrete structure for the “Ordinary World” phase of the monomyth structure (as always feedback is greatly appreciated!):

Ordinary World

The purpose of the following questions is to discover through play (as much as possible) what their answers are.

  • What does our hero's "Ordinary World" look like?
  • (Optional) How does it contrast to the “Special World”? (You may not know this yet and that’s OK).
  • What is the hero’s outer problem? (The hero is assumed to be the PC, though not necessarily, I guess).
  • What is the hero’s inner problem? (It can be a flaw, a psychic/emotional wound, a lack of something, etc.)
  • What makes the (imaginary?) audience identify with the hero? What is his universal drive, goal, desire or need?
  • What is at stake for the hero?
  • What is the story’s premise or theme? What is the story about? What single idea or quality is it about? (Usually it can be an underlying assumption about an aspect of life like “love conquers all”.)

Once again, the purpose is to discover the answers to these questions through play. I thought that having a few phases in the hero's backstory for applying these questions might be useful and fun.  I chose the following life phases:

  • Before the hero is born.
  • When the hero is born.
  • When the hero is but a baby.
  • When the hero is a toddler.
  • When the hero is a young girl/boy.
  • When the hero is a teen.
  • When the hero is a young adult.
  • When the hero is an adult.
  • Etc. as needed.

In my session so far, I did not make use of all of these life stages. My assumption is that one will choose randomly, cherry pick, or use them all depending on taste.

Also, in my solo play test, I found that some of this discovery happens in GM-mode (as if prepping an adventure for others). I am also anticipating being able to answer some of these questions through actual roleplay in this “Ordinary World” (i.e. player mode).

Below is my write up for what initially was an exploration of “What does the world look like?”, but as I played (again, in GM-mode), I found myself  encountering hints and details regarding other questions as well.

For now, I’m provisionally calling this adventure, “The Intellectual” (how imaginative!):

(First I asked Mythic, “What does this Ordinary World look like?” Answer: Inform-Messages. There were more questions along the way, but I did not write them down. Also, in the back of my mind, there has been an assumption that this will be a setting in the medieval fantasy vein.)

The setting is a medieval town where a great library is located, and (Altered Scene) where, formerly, the center for the regional messenger post service used to be. This service does not exist anymore, though the deteriorated and abandoned building still stands in town. The great library still exists, but it is in bad condition.

A stranger might be struck at how the rest of the town is in good order, but eventually would realize the reason for that: the townies have a strong anti-intellectual streak in them, and are a rather insular lot (thus why they have no use for the messenger post). It should come as no surprise that this town is located on a relatively remote island (think Nantucket if you’re familiar with Massachusetts).

By the time our hero is born, none of the above conditions have changed.

Our hero’s father is a merchant, and much like his fellow townies, he is not much interested in intellectual pursuits. He is, however, a very kind man, who shows his love for his child. By contrast, the mother is almost the opposite: a relatively cold intellectual, who is not so kind due to her tendency to look down on the other town dwellers as uneducated.

While the hero was growing up as a toddler, his mother used to read to him at home and at the great library. As a boy, she generally encouraged him towards pursuits of the mind. However, compared to the hero’s affectionate father, she was cold and distant in a way.

Most people in town have assumed that our hero is as much of a snob as his mother, solely because he spends a lot of time in the library, and takes after his mother in terms of his interests. As a result, he has been bullied throughout his young life—though never when he is in the company of his good friend [to be named], who acts as a deterrent due to his size and ability to put a hurting on most.

The adventure will begin in earnest when the hero is in his teens. The hero’s mom has been pushing Dad to send our hero to a school located in the Empire’s capital, far far way. The schools in the hometown are not good enough.
I am not yet ready to begin the next phase of the monomyth as I want to spend some more time in this Ordinary World to find out more about the NPCs taking form in this very humble beginning. :) I also still need to figure out how I will use elements of roleplaying systems such as stats, resolution mechanics, etc. I definitely know that they will not be used in the usual way.

As always, feedback is appreciated!

Edit: Click here for Session #2 of this ongoing game.