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Old 03-07-2018, 10:17 AM   #1
Jackal
 
Join Date: Mar 2018
Location: New England
Default Campbellian Roleplaying

As I've mentioned in other posts, the TFT house rules that evolved in our games over a couple decades turned into a full-fledged OSR. I'm hoping writing it all down will have been a complete waste of time!

But there are some parts of it that worked VERY well, and are unlikely to find a place in a TFT reboot.

The best of those bits was a framework for "Campbellian Roleplaying", as SJ termed it elsewhere. To whit, an extract for your comment ... and perhaps a bit of lobbying on my part to see more concrete adventure writing guideline in a future ITL ...?

The Hero’s Quest
… a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves, or above the sky, a secret island, lofty mountaintop, or profound dream state; but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, super human deeds, and impossible delight…” (Joseph Campbell, 1949)

With the publication in 1949 of Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell gave the world the greatest storytelling gift ever known: a grand synthesis of the structure and function of every element in every myth ever told.

It’s hard to over-estimate its impact. We have Star Wars and The Matrix and Lost to thank for it, certainly. But he also formalized our understanding of why works like The Lord of the Rings and Homer and the Orpheus myths and the Brothers Grim and Mickey Spillane and a million other stories resonate with us: even those works written millennia before our times are illuminated and made accessible in ways unimaginable before Campbell spelled it all out.

Campbell’s formal structure & elements are the key to creating engaging adventures.

Campbell identified 17 separate elements spread across three broad structures. For simplicity sake, we have distilled this down to 10 elements grouped into three structures:

Departure:
The Call: Life Out of Balance
Aid
Crossing the Threshold

Initiation (aka The Wyrd):
Road of Trials
Meeting with the Goddess
Atonement
Granting of the Boon

Return:
Flight
Re-crossing the Threshold
The Answer: Rebirth of the World

How does this help us?

Each element is a plot point or a chapter strung together in a common narrative structure. You, as GM, craft a story made up of plot points that satisfy each element’s criteria. This is essentially what Campbell did with the myths he illuminated. The specifics of each plot point – the who, what, when, where, why & how – is up to you to flesh out.

But rather than expend effort re-writing Campbell, perhaps an illustrated example, with each element marked, demonstrating how the structure is linked narratively would be best: to whit, the following Sample Adventure Outline which took me all of five minutes to dream up. (All praise to my Muse!)

Major NPCs & Locations Are Capitalized, (with Elements in parenthetical italics).

Sample Adventure Outline: Fecund Soil
You are a freedman. Captured by the Romans in battle, you, a Germanic tribesman, were brought to Rome and trained for the games. Many, many Spartacus/Gladiator/Ben Hur adventures later, you have been given your freedom, whereupon you decide to return to the village of your birth.

But all is not well in your village beyond the Rhine. Without its warriors, lost in battle all those years ago, Strange Raiders have taken to looting the pitiful hamlet at will. Few people are left.

One of those who has not given up is a Girl. She is young, perhaps in her late teens or early twenties, but she is the only person holding together what’s left. She is proud but needs help desperately – and so, turns to you. (The Call)

In exchange for your agreeing to put an end to the raids once and for all, and to punish the Raiders, the Girl offers you a magic crystal which shines a light in darkness that only the holder can see, illuminating foes and evil doers alike. (Aid)

You agree to help the Girl and the other villagers, and depart with the crystal and as many rations as you can carry and the village can spare (which isn’t many), trekking for several days down an old road – hardly more than a path and a sorry excuse for even that compared with the great stone-paved roads slowly crisscrossing the Imperial territory you left behind – until you traverse a High Pass and enter a strange, Dark Land. (Crossing the Threshold)

The Dark Land has many dangers. Wolves, spiders, haunted glades, bog wraiths, violent storms: all conspire to hamper your progress and sap your strength. Your magic crystal proves its worth again and again. (Road of Trials)

But you persevere until, just as a starless night falls, you come upon a Hidden Place: a vale where dusk seems never to end and the water soothes your aches and heals your wounds, and rest restores you. And therein you find … Her. (Meeting with the Goddess)

She is more Other by far than anything you’ve ever encountered. Ancient and beautiful and young and terrifying, She is beyond your ken.

She has been watching you. How, She never says. But She knows why you are here and what you seek. You don’t know why, and She never explains, but She offers you a wondrous Boon if you will defeat her enemy, the Goblin King and his Raiders: Her enemy and yours!

You accept Her offer, and, with heavy heart, take your leave of Her.

You travel out of the Hidden Place and beyond the hills seeking the Court of the Goblin King. His minions – Strange Raiders, indeed – harry your path, set ambushes, use fantastic creatures and allies to attack you, make camping dangerous and threaten to overwhelm you with every encounter.

Eventually, exhausted and half dead, you come to the Hall/Camp/Cave the goblins call home. With stealth and guile and strength of arms, and a supreme faith in destiny, you defeat the Goblin King in personal battle, scattering his army in disarray. There, you find plunder, and more: villagers you remember from your youth enslaved by the goblins, now freedmen like you. The goblins flee, never to return … or do they …? (Atonement)

The path is clear as you and your rescued friends make your way back to Her. Shadows flee at your advance. Nothing threatens you directly. But you are watched … and followed …

On entering the Hidden Place, She welcomes you with open arms and gives you a pouch of Fecund Soil: rich, glowing dirt that, when sprinkled over a patch of tired earth, gives it the power to bring forth ten-times the bounty it did before. And for you, She makes a gift of a curious amulet, strangely heavy, which sparks in the sun and feels always warm to the touch, but tells you nothing of it. (Granting the Boon)

After seemingly endless days of feasting and rest, which pass in no time, with ponies and carts to carry you back across the Dark Land, you make quick progress home, stopping only to settle scores perhaps, or fulfill a promise made on your way. (Flight)

Eventually, you come to the High Pass and cross over, back to your homeland. The air is clear and the sun shining. But your heart is heavy, your mood wistful: will you ever see Her again? Will you never return to that Hidden Place and find rest? (Re-crossing the Threshold)

Your party is greeted with cheers and feasting and dancing, with happy families joyously reunited, and you are accorded many honors. You bestow the Boon on the Girl, who spreads it over the fields and meadows, and at night ponder, alone, the strange amulet you now wear. (The Answer)

And so the village prospers, until one day …
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Old 03-07-2018, 10:27 AM   #2
Jackal
 
Join Date: Mar 2018
Location: New England
Default Re: Campbellian Roleplaying

Addendum:

I would note that long links of encounters & scenarios like those described above meant (a) we had little if any microeconomics (shops and such) in our games; and (b) we had an urgent need for combat healing spells.

Form follows function: but as we discovered, sometimes form reveals function, too.
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Old 03-07-2018, 07:24 PM   #3
Steve Jackson
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Join Date: Jul 2004
Default Re: Campbellian Roleplaying

Thank you for posting this!
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Old 03-08-2018, 04:30 AM   #4
Jim Kane
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Join Date: Mar 2018
Default Re: Campbellian Roleplaying

Jackal -

I feel the call to contribute something of substantive value here in response to your request for additional comment and help in developing this thread; but I am not sure if you are seeking additional citations of useful writer's reference materials and guidelines, or ?

Without knowing specifically what you had in mind, or are in need of, I can at this time, only offer these three - I hope helpful - CAVEATS to those who would join-in for their first time on the journey down the wonderful rabbit's hole of imaginative story-telling through their own writing.

1) While it is not-so-hard to learn the proper structure in it's various forms and incarnations - after all, a very good example outline was provided as shown above - the honest truth is, the more difficult part about writing as a craft, is filling-in the answers to The Interrogatives: Who, What. Where, Why, When, and How; with engaging, exciting, and plausible details, containing fresh hooks and honest motivations; along with a host of other critical details - both colorful and mechanically sound. It is those details and hooks, and how you as a writer create and cleverly dress and manipulate these elements, through the ebb and flow of the tension and release points in your stories/adventures which will either delight or bore your audience/players.

2) It's a strange thing which occurs in a writer's development once a working awareness of exactly how the mechanics behind classic story-structure and form operates on a internal-structural level. It becomes difficult NOT to see your favorite movies, songs, books, as/in: acts, scenes, arcs, plot-points, devices, artifices, symbols, etc., once the so-called: "secret" is revealed to you. Thankfully, unlike learning the secret to a magic trick that once amazed, but now, has little power to interest to you further, the challenge of creating engaging variations on classic themes, and then, properly pacing and packaging your variations for public presentation and consumption into the correct forms and with a solid structure, takes over as the new challenge, fascination, and passion.

3) It is very difficult to wake-up and say: "Today I will be brilliant; Today I will be riveting; Today I will be ENTERTAINING!", and hit the keyboard with coffee cup in hand. However, that is essentially the job description; and creativity, as a commodity, notoriously does not operate through an on-demand faucet.

That's all I have; "frui itinere"
.

Last edited by Jim Kane; 03-08-2018 at 08:36 AM.
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Old 03-08-2018, 08:21 AM   #5
Jackal
 
Join Date: Mar 2018
Location: New England
Default Re: Campbellian Roleplaying

@SJ - you are most welcome. None of this would happen without you.

@Jim Kane - thanks, once again, for your thoughtful comments.

My goal with this post to plant a seed: a seed that might grow into a tool that helps TFT GMs realize their vision.

That tool would be a bit of a Swiss Army knife, necessarily: a framework to hang ideas from, like I provided; a writer's trick bag with useful narrative tips & techniques that I'm sure you could create; perhaps some snapshots of genre or historical milieu. And some turnkey utilities, like the economic model in ITL, or a small village with NPCs and farms and crafts and festivals -- and rumors and grudges and hints of things not quite right -- that GMs could use as a starting point.

Why bother? Because I think TFT's longevity will depend on having an adventure pipeline, and on making it easy for GMs to create their own adventures easily.

"But Jack," I hear you say, "isn't that what GURPs is for? TFT is a cool little arena combat game. Why muck it up with RPG stuff? Why recreate the wheel when we already have an entire game system providing it?"

Because I think the simple beauty of TFT lies in it's lack of abstraction. Direct mechanics modeling how life works means the system doesn't stand in the way of our creativity. The interface doesn't expose the implementation, in designer-speak.

The hobby is moving in two directions: the table-driven abstraction of Pathfinder & DCC vs. the narrative-driven abstraction of Fate & Apocalypse.

TFT is neither. If we want a future for TFT, I think we need to show people how a neat little game is not only fun, but how splitting the difference between those abstractions frees gamer's creativity.

Cheers!
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Old 03-08-2018, 10:06 AM   #6
Jim Kane
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Join Date: Mar 2018
Default Re: Campbellian Roleplaying

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jackal View Post
@SJ - you are most welcome. None of this would happen without you.

@Jim Kane - thanks, once again, for your thoughtful comments.

My goal with this post to plant a seed: a seed that might grow into a tool that helps TFT GMs realize their vision.

That tool would be a bit of a Swiss Army knife, necessarily: a framework to hang ideas from, like I provided; a writer's trick bag with useful narrative tips & techniques that I'm sure you could create; perhaps some snapshots of genre or historical milieu. And some turnkey utilities, like the economic model in ITL, or a small village with NPCs and farms and crafts and festivals -- and rumors and grudges and hints of things not quite right -- that GMs could use as a starting point.
Jack -

You are more than welcome.

I know how hard it is to sustain a thing of merit on an open public forum if everyone is not clearly seeing the same picture of the same end-goal and the shared highway to that goal.

Please excuse me if I appear to be annoyingly obtuse, but I still am not confident I am correctly visualizing exactly what you want to end up with, and what form the "Swiss Army Knife" and the "Framework" you are describing requires to be in during the interim. It would be most helpful if you would inform me of how far off the mark I am from your picture; as I am clearing seeing two distinct, and distinctly different things at the same time.

What I think I am hearing at this point, sounds to me like one goal is to develop a functional method/system for an Adventure Generator Engine for GM's; as a creative-writing tool and template, wherein the writer can drop-in key specific elements, and these elements will be applied to a story-template, and with that basic form, create an over-arcing story-map, which reveals and informs all plot-points which need further fleshing-out, indicating where expository joinery is required in a story-line by revealing structural gaps, and guiding the writer through a flow-chart of a kind; from: exposition, conflict, climax, resolution, and finally, to the denouement.

The other thing I think I am hearing at the same time, is the creations of a writer's Community Chest filled with numerous and various ad-hoc contributions, consisting of: Standard Plots, Character-Archetypes, Troupes, Gags, Devices, Turn-Arounds, Formuli and Formats, etc.; possibly being the "trick bag" you described, so writer's can reach in and see what might fit their current story needs.

Or is it both you seek? Are they combined; where one is the Story-Engine, and other is the Story-Fuel?

Okay Jack, that is where I am visually with your project, so help me get the picture in focus, and tell me: where and by how far, am I off the mark from seeing your vision and goal.
.
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Old 03-08-2018, 10:45 AM   #7
Jackal
 
Join Date: Mar 2018
Location: New England
Default Re: Campbellian Roleplaying

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Kane View Post
Or is it both you seek? Are they combined; where one is the Story-Engine, and other is the Story-Fuel?
This.

I love how you phrase that: the Story-Engine and the Story-Fuel. Elegantly put.

Steve gave us a meta-setting in Cidri, and showed us how it could grow in the two "Lords" settings. He also gave us an example of a dungeon in Tollenkar's Lair. He gave us the underpinnings of a milieu with economics, and non-adventuring talents and spells, and races and such. He even gave us ideas for further developments: Thorz, anyone?

There was much to learn from what he gave us. But it took time. And I have absolutely no doubt that he -- we all -- have far more to share with new players than we had almost 40 years ago when we were new players ourselves.

I'd love to see the lessons a GM could glean from those works formalized. Hand it to me on a silver platter. Give it to me as exposition IN ADDITION to example.
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Old 03-08-2018, 11:09 AM   #8
JLV
 
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Location: Far northern California
Default Re: Campbellian Roleplaying

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jackal View Post
@SJ - you are most welcome. None of this would happen without you.

@Jim Kane - thanks, once again, for your thoughtful comments.

My goal with this post to plant a seed: a seed that might grow into a tool that helps TFT GMs realize their vision.

That tool would be a bit of a Swiss Army knife, necessarily: a framework to hang ideas from, like I provided; a writer's trick bag with useful narrative tips & techniques that I'm sure you could create; perhaps some snapshots of genre or historical milieu. And some turnkey utilities, like the economic model in ITL, or a small village with NPCs and farms and crafts and festivals -- and rumors and grudges and hints of things not quite right -- that GMs could use as a starting point.

Why bother? Because I think TFT's longevity will depend on having an adventure pipeline, and on making it easy for GMs to create their own adventures easily.

"But Jack," I hear you say, "isn't that what GURPs is for? TFT is a cool little arena combat game. Why muck it up with RPG stuff? Why recreate the wheel when we already have an entire game system providing it?"

Because I think the simple beauty of TFT lies in it's lack of abstraction. Direct mechanics modeling how life works means the system doesn't stand in the way of our creativity. The interface doesn't expose the implementation, in designer-speak.

The hobby is moving in two directions: the table-driven abstraction of Pathfinder & DCC vs. the narrative-driven abstraction of Fate & Apocalypse.

TFT is neither. If we want a future for TFT, I think we need to show people how a neat little game is not only fun, but how splitting the difference between those abstractions frees gamer's creativity.

Cheers!
That's a remarkably astute observation, regarding the hobby and TFT's potential role in it. You've given me a great deal of food for thought.
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Old 03-08-2018, 09:34 PM   #9
Steve Jackson
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Join Date: Jul 2004
Default Re: Campbellian Roleplaying

I can take no credit for the "Lords" material - that was after my time.
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Old 03-09-2018, 12:24 AM   #10
Jim Kane
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Join Date: Mar 2018
Default Re: Campbellian Roleplaying

Jack -

I have the picture in focus; however, it seems your thread is having trouble getting any traction thus far with 153 Reads, with only you, SJ, and myself posting thus far.

Chin-up, perhaps I can offer to help you 'Prime the Pump', so to speak; often an engine needs that.

Maybe others would feel more encouraged to openly contribute, if you broke things down into small bites that anyone can handle comfortably?

As the most important part of any story are the Characters, perhaps starting with that topic first would be a logical place to open the dialog. I would further suggest perhaps looking at Specific Character Archtypes first, and simply ask everyone to "shout-out" what character jumps into their head which they feel fits in the current archetype, and HOW does that character FORM fit and fulfill their role as FUNCTION within the structure of a story.

Breaking things down further, and as an example of where you might want to begin, why not take the classic Archetype: Human Tank, as _______ .

You might want to ask everyone to simply cite their favorites; and then, by analysis using: Compare-and-Constrast, people can learn each of the Stock Archetypes in series, the Range, the Dramatic Function (beyond combat) and learn: How they are same, Why they are different, and the Variations in-between the Range of the Archetype, and what is not this Archetype.

Examples; which you might offer up for HUMAN TANK:

1) Lenny, from: 'Of Mice and Men', by John Steinbeck; as an example of the Human Tank as: Drama and Pathos;

2) The Thing, from: 'The Fanstic Four', by Lee/Kirby; as an example of the Human Tank as: Comic Relief and Equalizer;

and lastly,

3) Raseem, the Strong, from: 'Arabian Knights', by Hannah/Barbara; as an example of the Human Tank as: Buddy and Straight-man - the Secondary Character with a good-nature, existing solely [from a functionality stand-point to the story] to support a Main Character(s).

Now, if someone doesn't jump on that list with: Chewbacca, from: 'Star Wars', as an example of (in)Human Tank as: Buddy and Straight-man; pretty fast,... and about four ofher's that just flashed into my head; you might want to consider the feasibility of your Noble Geas.

Your Thoughts?

P.S. If you can get a TANK list going, and once confident, but before you switch to a new Archetype, you might have everyone wrestle with this Puzzle-Question: "Mr. Spock, Human Tank? Yes or No?

It's a great exercise in mastery of classification by form and function.

.

Last edited by Jim Kane; 03-10-2018 at 10:49 PM.
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