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  Thu Nov 12, 2009 9:58 pm
Peril Hellion
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Inept Evil Stooge
Disclaimer: As always, this is my opinion, and every point is up for discussion. There are exceptions to every rule, and a skilled writer can make just about anything work. However, if you're not really good, be honest with yourself, and consider my advice verrrrrrry carefully before ignoring it.

You want to make your hero special. I understand. Heroes are frequently larger than life, etc. But there are ways to do it that don't involve making him the subject of a prophecy that has him saving the world, the secret heir to the throne whose blood makes him the only possible good ruler, the sole person in the world who has Super Fantastic Evil-slaying Magic, etc. While I spend most of my time talking about destiny specifically, most of what I say here is also directed at other forms of egregious Specialness, so please bear that in mind as you proceed.

Anyway, there are three main points I want you to take away from this thread:

If you're using destiny in lieu of character development, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

If you need destiny as a motivation to make your plot work, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

If you're using destiny because it's the Done Thing or because it's convenient, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

Three Reasons Not to Incorporate Destiny

  • It leads to boring characters. "My wise old mentor told me to do it" is not a compelling motivation, and it will not make your audience love your characters. Instead, give them characters who think for themselves. Give them characters who care about things--specific things, not the nebulous "greater good." Give them characters who want--and do something about it.
  • It makes your plot facile. It doesn't have to, but when you start with such a formulaic concept, you set yourself up for a formulaic result. It encourages you to default to the trite and true (you love my horrible puns) "farmboy goes off on a quest to save the world from the evil god/emperor/demon" plot, which leads into my next point.
  • It's incredibly hackneyed, and at this point, it's honestly so overused that it's nigh impossible to do something novel with it. I've read a lot of fantasy books and played a lot of fantasy games, and I honestly cannot remember a single example of a work improved by the inclusion of destiny. I can remember a couple books that were good despite it, but that doesn't make it a good idea.

Three Alternatives to Destiny

There are obviously a lot more than three alternatives, but I'm lazy and like symmetry, so three is all you get. Using some of these may mean your hero can't be a random farmboy, but I don't see how that's a bad thing. I mean, people like to use inexperienced characters in RPGs so it makes sense that they start at a low level, but it's honestly not that big a deal. I mean, hell, FF7's Cloud had life experience, and it didn't break the game.

  • Have people solicit his help for reasons that AREN'T destiny. Maybe your hero really IS the best guy for the job, in that he has the requisite skills or knowledge, but he's just not interested for whatever reason. People seem to like reluctant heroes, and this is a pretty good setup for one. He could be duty-bound, cowardly, or just plain selfish. Then you get to figure out how to convince him to come along, and the fight he's likely to put up is a good way to show he's not a sheep or an faceess plot device.
  • Have him forced into the role of hero by random chance. This can be used as a direct substitute for destiny in many cases, and it's not my top option, but it can work well. If your farmboy really IS just a regular farmboy who simply happened to touch that strange glowing stone in the forest, I'm more likely to be impressed when he steps up to the plate than if he's a hero because he's innately Heroic and is Destined to do Great Things. A foregone victory isn't much to brag about. I can think of better examples for plots that don't involve saving the world, but people don't usually involve destiny for those anyway. At any rate, this gives you room to do all kinds of fun things like have the people around him (and especially he himself) seriously, seriously doubt whether he's capable of saving the world and things like that. Things you should do anyway, mind, but they have a bit more weight here.
  • Have him act of his own accord. Give him a personality instead of a prophecy, and you might just be amazed at what happens. There are myriad reasons someone can step up to the plate, reasons that go far beyond "it's The Right Thing to Do" (leaving it at that is incredibly boring), and proactive protagonists are really cool. For example, maybe the hero is the guy who fucked everything up in the first place, and he feels personally responsible. Hell, you can even give him reasons that are crass--maybe he's really naive and envisions it (wrongly) as a glorious adventure that will result in fame and glory (this is cliche, and while it can be done well, it's likely to be annoying if it's not), or maybe he wants to kill the evil emperor so he can take the throne himself.

    While I think this is a cool path to take, if your hero chooses to undergo this harrowing journey, he'd better have a damn good reason. The greater number of people responsibility is shared between, the less likely any individual is likely to do anything--it's like how a crowd of onlookers will watch someone get mugged or raped and not do anything because they think someone else will--and an entire world has a VERY large number of people to share the responsibility with.

Three Ways to Make Destiny Less Bad

If you MUST put it in, use it to reflect some interesting facets of human nature instead of as (just) a vehicle to drive your plot forward.

  • Have the prophecy be wrong or at least misinterpreted. This can be interesting, but I'd recommend against putting in a wrong prophecy for the sole sake of subverting the trope. Maybe the prophecy is really vague and maybe not even prophetic at all, but people apply it to the current situation because they like to find patterns when there are none. Maybe there's a lot of scholarly disagreement about what exactly it means, and different parties twist the words to favor their own interpretations. Maybe there's no clear sign pointing to the hero, so the wise old mentor invents a hero instead (making the wise old mentor less of a flawless paragon of good, which is a good thing!). Things like that.
  • Have the prophecy be self-fulfilling. Oedipus Rex, anyone? I think this works best in a tragic sense, but it can tie back into the previous point too.
  • At the very, VERY least, have your destined hero clash with his destiny instead of just shouldering everything with a shrug and a nod for the sake of the nebulous Greater Good. Have him question the things that are thrust upon him and the explanations given to him. Have him want things that conflict with his destiny, and don't have him give them up with a woeful sigh the second the mentor tells him to. Have him not be heroic sometimes. Have him doubt himself. Have him fail. Make him a person outside his grand fate and his special powers and his magical sword, and if you do that well enough, your audience might be able to overlook the obnoxious plot device you've dumped on him.


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  Thu Nov 12, 2009 10:01 pm

I couldn't agree more, let's just hope this gets to the eyes of those who need it most.

Last edited by eternal_magus on Thu Nov 12, 2009 10:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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  Thu Nov 12, 2009 10:24 pm
venerable inertia
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Location: velocitating a straight line
I totally disagree about everything; it is my destiny to prove you wrong ...

/me sets out on an epic journey ....................

(good read ;o)


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  Thu Nov 12, 2009 11:07 pm
gamer. reader. writer.
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Location: Canton, OH
Once again, Peri, you have made an amazing topic about something that has been bothering me on a subconscious level. You have also stirred my brain to possibly working on a thread about prophecy.

ΩЬȿίδίαη ρϦϕεηίϗ

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    So fist
  Fri Nov 13, 2009 12:07 am
Has fist, will travel.
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Good stuff I'd like to add some random thoughts on what good use of destiny does and its usefulness in a story:

Good use of destiny is ambiguous. Seers speak in riddles and metaphor as much as they speak plainly and direly. What's worse is they never come with useful guarantees of goodness after fulfillment, and they always come second and third hand, leaving room for doubt of its heavenly authority. The destined do not hear from god's voice they hear through surrogates whom they must trust or not trust as they wish.

Destiny seeks character, not the other way around. No matter what you do in KOTOR Malak is gunning for you. How you meet that certainty is what defines your game experience and the characters' development. Which is why ambiguity in destiny is necessary for good employment of destiny in terms of story and gameplay. Destiny should never explicitly define all the terms of the eventual event it predicts nor should it be avertable (that's polly-annish). It should be a creature of larger events that are out of the character's control. Character's do not chase destiny rather they are immured by it.

Destiny puts your character under a microscope. At first this seems counter-intuitive since the event will happen no matter what the character does. Yet there is a complicating factor. The character knows. They know. Its the difference between a person who is run down by a train who has never even known of a train's existence, and one that thoroughly experienced in its existence and sees it coming down the tracks. All the things the character does to prepare for that train, all those choices made down the road to meet it, become the main focus of the story, because your viewer/gamer has the ability to play monday morning quarterback on the matter.

Destiny is inhuman, unjust, and arbitrary. It is the product of an intelligence that is beyond human (gods super beings whatever). It does not care. It does not empathize that you are are newly married with a child on the way. You will drink that fucking chalice of demon blood or the Grey Warden will rend you in fucking twain. Destiny doesn't play around. Destiny takes all of your plans and hopes and says, "Fuck you kid, no more joy rides on the chariot with loose women for you. You have to finish the time machine before the angels of destruction reach the portal!"

Destiny is a chief source of conflict for a character caught under it. Any character that just nods politely and follows dutifully to an invasive proclamation to suffer for the good of everyone else from some mysterious god surrogate is either a dope or a lifeless undeveloped character. Luke Skywalker is destined to face his father Vader, a curse that forces him to confront his own desires to have a relationship with a father figure and his anger of abandonment. He is conflicted by it and is forced to grow as a character to resolve the conflict in a heroic manner. And therein is the trick of destiny based development. Destiny dictates terms more than it dictates outcome. How a character resolves his relationship and approach to destiny (the inescapable) is what defines a story that relies on this, not the event or outcome.

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  Fri Nov 13, 2009 6:24 am
Peril Hellion
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Inept Evil Stooge
Ah, Sophie, you have articulated many of the points I was trying to make in a more eloquent fashion!

I probably came down too hard on the concept. It's like anything else: what you make of it. It CAN be done well, and I've seen it done well. It's just...rare.


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  Fri Nov 13, 2009 7:41 pm
“I worship impersonal Nature, which is neither "good" or "bad", and who knows neither love nor hatred.”
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Actually, I have a three words to tell anyone who plans on creating characters with destiny, and good examples of the kind of various stories you can create: READ JOSEPH CAMPBELL! His book on hero with a thousand face has a lot of different examples of stories from around the world with characters who have a lot of similar stories. It was also used to create Star Wars (Not going to get into the whole new last movies, but the first three were really good.)

In these stories, no one tells the hero to go on the journey, but it is something that he feels called upon to do. It is something that he feels that he must do, for whatever reason. But read Joseph Campbell, he's the guy to go to when you deal with this subject. After reading the book, you might think that you want to create another kind of story or get inspired with an idea. Whatever the case may be, destiny or prophecy is always a good tool for stories, but however, many times, many are misued in stories.

Always remember that even in the Delphi oracle had a sign that said: TO YOUR OWN SELF BE TRUE. You had to know yourself, because many prophecies were written for individuals or if it was about a country: To give hope. History would continue, things would end, and many times, you couldn't read it/thus preventing it. A king went to Delphi and asked if he should go to war. The oracle said, if he went to war that a great king would be lost. He decided to go to war, and he ended up dying. He didn't follow the to your own self be true. (IF he had, he might not have gone to war, and thus lived...He knew the conditions of his country better than anyone.)

It isn't destiny or prophecies that need to be change to help make a better story.. no, it's human nature. We need to be more realistic human nature into our characters. Humans tend to read whatever they want to see in both situations and prophecy/destiny. In most stories, the hero (Destiny, chosen one) is someone who is always forced into the situation or is told to do something.. in real stories with a hero, is someone who feels called upon to do something. He feels that he is the only one who can do something about it. (Feelings are much different than reality... that doesn't mean that no one else can do anything... Feelings are not wrong/nor right.)

WWII, the Nazis read the prophecies of NOSTRADAMUS and saw their victory. (Yeah, when was the last time you read about the Nazis victory in history class? Uh, never, because it didn't happen.)

See what I mean? Human nature, human reactions and human mistakes. It isn't about creating a world for your character to save, but exploring the ideas, and culture of some place new.. it's about imaging that place was real with all the traditions of a world much like our own. (Religion (We each have a religion, even if it might be very different), business, nobles, and etc. Law and order. Elite soldiers and lowly... class system. (Explore different cultures, and traditional societies..

I have no problems with destiny/prophecy... The thing is that you should understand how those things work, before you make a game.. do research, create a world and stick with that world for your games.. I have been creating the same world for nearly 20 years... since I was really young, and it has taken a life of its own.

So I do know what I am talking about. However, if you have a story with seer saying person A will save world, so people B decide to kill the person to stop it... thus the village of person a's birth protects him and he is told by his elderly grandfather/teacher to go save the world...thus he goes on the journey that people b was attempting to prevents happens anyway.. Sucky idea... However, usually when you attempt to prevent something, you end up causing it anyway. The best example to see is Naruto.. does anyone tell him that he has to become Hokage.

No, but he isn't doing or wasn't doing it for any noble reason.. Sometimes, it does start out a selfish reason. However, in any heroes' tale, there is not only a external battle that the hero must fight, but at internal one as well. The hero battles something within himself. As I suggested above: read "Hero with a thousand faces" , you won't regret it.

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