’m changing some things up with the blog and looking at a variety of new and old ideas in gaming. I’d like to spend part of today talking about some recurring tropes and ideas that crop up in fantasy storytelling and how they can be used (and abused) in an RPG to some sort of effect. Today’s volume is going to feature The Destiny phenomenon. There are a variety of ways this idea can be used to great effect in a fantasy rpg. Let’s take a look at how that can work.
Plot Point 5 Destiny
This iteration of the plot trap involves a character element that one character is destined, prophesied, or fated to do something very specific with their lives. Banish a Great Evil, found a new kingdom, or defy the gods themselves are just one of many potential Destinies that a character can have. These can be known from the beginning or discovered throughout the course of the campaign, but all of them will have very specific consequences for the story you are telling and the campaign your adventurers are playing through.
In this iteration of the plot, Destiny is usually considered a positive thing, and the character who has the Destiny is supposed to perform some great work or deed that betters the world around them. Destiny is usually a wonderful thing and in a campaign is a thing that drives good characters to support each other, and drives evil forces to try and thwart that destiny.
In this iteration of the plot, Prophesy is a much trickier thing. Basically an If/then statement of “If this happen, Then this happens as well.” Prophesies are full of interesting potentials with forks, false leads and consequences. Failing to meet the demands of a prophesy can lead to horrendous results. The thing that really separates Prophesy from the other manifestations of this type of Plot Trap is that a Prophesy is usually written down with very specific language and can be interpreted specific ways. If you can understand the language of the Prophesy, you can usually figure out what the parts of the Prophesy are.
In this iteration of the plot, Fate is an ugly thing. With typically dire consequences and negative outcomes for all parties involved, Fate is a challenge to be overcome rather than a Destiny to be met. Fate in many ways is the confluence of forces in the world that have decided that a thing must happen for inscrutable reasons. This Town must be destroyed, That ancient demon must be rescued, These kingdoms must fall to a war are all examples of Fated outcomes. Somehow managing to change one’s fate is a tricky thing worthy of adventure and could lead to some epic storytelling.
Why is this a Plot Trap?
Destiny as an overarching concept (regardless of being Fate, Destiny or Prophesy) can define a campaign. However, there are two key considerations that i always look at before i toss out this element. It’s usually a singular, personal thing, and when you give one character the “Destiny” trait, it means you’ve made a conscious choice to make that character the center of attention. This might work with some groups, but it might not. If you can find a way to spread the trait around to the entire party and it makes sense, more power to you.
The second part of this Plot Trap is that all three iterations of this have a defined goal and consequences. What happens if the characters fail to meet their destiny, or fall victim to their fate? What happens if the Prophesy is denied or enacted improperly? Identifying the cause and effect elements of your Destiny is an essential part of the process and can help you narrow down how the story elements will affect the game world.
Key Elements of this plot device
- The Focus: Every one of these is targeted at a specific thing. Usually it’s based around a character, but it’s equally likely it’s about an event, a place, or a people that are the subject of the Destiny.
- The Task: Figuring out what the specific thing to be done to accomplish the Destiny, avoid the Fate, or fulfilling the Prophesy can be a tricky thing, and the sooner you get down on paper (or in your head) the first idea of what that task is allows you to revise it until it makes total sense for you.
- The Consequences: In most cases, an idea like this has a defined consequence/result of completing the destined event. In some cases they are very straightforward. The destined character/characters prevent the Demon from rising from the Darkness and save the world. You need to figure out what happens when the characters complete all the aspects of this quest. Even if they failed to accomplish the specific element of fate, destiny or prophesy, can they salvage the situation? Figure this out to define the conclusion of your story.
There are a couple of variations on this theme that all work roughly the same way. Let’s take a closer look.
The Incomplete Prophesy
In this instance, the Prophesy is either in a different language, or it’s missing key components to be able to fulfill it. This typical incorporates a lot of expeditions to find the missing pieces or someone who can translate the language so that the prophesy can be read. Another iteration of this plot involves the Prophet knowingly misleading the people about the prophesy and its outcomes.
The Destined Companion
This iteration of the plot revolves around a close companion of the party of characters rather than one of them directly. The Companion is the target of Fate, Destiny, or Prophecy and the characters have to choose how to deal with this complication to their normal lives.
In this variation, wires were crossed somewhere, and a destined event has been interpreted as a fate instead or vice versa. On a cosmic scale, something has gone wrong somewhere, and the characters are likely racing towards doing the exact wrong thing for the situation they’ve encountered. Be ready to have a swath of content to deal with the conclusion of this version of the plot, because it sets up the first half of a campaign very well, with the second half taken up by the characters trying to fix the thing they broke from the beginning.
Destiny can be a tricky plot trap because it can add a lot of flavor and interest to the campaign you’re running. The downside is you have to manage having a clearly identified protagonist (and figure out how to either not threaten them directly or what happens when they die). You also have to figure out what the destiny is supposed to do and how you are going to manage things if the characters avoid their fate, thwart their destiny or set the prophesy on fire. There are a couple of similar ideas that we’ll talk about next week with the Birthright Plot Trap.
I hope this gives all of you some insights and ideas on incorporating this style of a Plot Element into your game without it becoming a burden to your fun. If you’d like to see more of these, or have a question about a specific plot element that you’d like to know more about, drop me a line on twitter, which you should be able to see over there on the right side of the screen. Game On, Game Fans.
Almost. Like i said above, i’m going to give you a campaign seed for using a version of this plot trap in a hopefully not crazy way.
Campaign Seed: In the Darkness
So this seed revolves around the idea that the characters (one specific or all of them as a group) have been destined to find the ancient tomb of the Sunless Horror and renew the ancient warding to keep the creature bound in the darkness beneath the earth. The characters will need to find the ancient shrine and find the sacred texts to re-enact the ritual.
Part 1: The Great Library
Stored in one of the deepest vaults of the Library Arcania in the capital is a hidden vault where ancient texts of power and magic are hidden. With the backing of destiny, the characters have found their way into the library and are granted access to the specific scrolls/tomes needed to perform the ritual. The sages/experts/smart people guide them through all the steps of the ritual and send them on their way.
Part 2: The Winding Deeps
The Ancient tomb is hidden deep underground and in order to access it, the characters must pass into the Winding Deeps, an ancient battlefield where a war was fought to turn aside the cults of the Demon lords. The place itself is guarded by the ancient dead of that lost war, and they seek to bar the characters entry into the temple site. (For maximum fun, some of the ghosts are trying to turn the characters aside so they don’t awaken more dangerous things slumbering in the ruins.)
Part 3: The Temple
At the center of the Winding Deeps is an ancient temple dedicated to dark powers and ill intelligences. This is it, the characters have come to the temple itself and they will have to perform the ritual and stop the Demon Lord from returning to the world. (If you really want to jack with the characters, you can run The Mistake and have this be the actual kicking off point for the heavier campaign elements you are running).
That’s our 20 minute writeup of a campaign that could feature these items and how to use them. Game on, Game Fans.