Translate this page:

Translate this page:

Translate this page

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Investing in the monomyth's "Ordinary World"

Those who enjoyed Gamasutra's post on the monomyth (Solo RPG Gamer: Gamasutra: Automated Monomyth), may find this post at the Words on Play blog interesting:

Another aspect of RPGs that seems to be at odds with creating a compelling story is the desire to make the player character a blank slate at the beginning of the game. Again, this gives the player the freedom to create whatever character they like, but without an established backstory to work with, it is hard to forge any kind of connection between the player and the world. Yes, it gives us a nice conceit to explain the player’s early unfamiliarity with their world (and run them through the obligatory tutorial quests) but dramatically it leaves the character without any investment in the world.

The solution I’d like to explore is to have a more significant “Ordinary World” (in Campbell’s terms) before the Call to Adventure.

I think the author's thoughts may be relevant to Pen and Paper RPGs as well, even in solo mode. Would play, and the story, be more compelling if a player spent a few scenes interacting with people and places in this "Ordinary World" where he comes from (as the author of the original post suggests)? Or should that just be relegated to a background write up?

Edit: I've decided to put this to the test in this gaming session for Solo Tabletop Gaming Appreciation Month.


  1. I agree about the World/Hero connection necessity (I did, after all, make a big deal about it in WvH), but the process needs to feel dynamic, not obligatory. Using the Backstory Generator in Mythic Variations as a "mini-game" in the first session of any RPG campaign could make for an intriguing application of the theory.

  2. Good thoughts, JF. I agree that it should not feel obligatory, but as something that the players would enjoy doing anyway.

    I remember that Cyberpunk 2020 also had a sort of backstory generator. For me at least, however, it created little attachment to my character's backstory, and none to NPCs unless they were mechanically useful to me. Maybe if I had supplemented that with a bit of preliminary roleplaying with those NPCs, it might have created an attachment in me as a player.

    Of course, I can't generalize my experience to other players and YMMV. :)


Please feel free to leave comments, suggestions, ideas.