My Writer's Journey Act 1

“An effective story grabs your gut, tightens your throat, makes your heart race and your lungs pump, brings tears to your eyes or an explosion of laughter to your lips.”

Christopher Vogler, The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers

I was inspired to start publishing my adventures that I have written in the past by a talk that Chris Perkins gave at the 2017 PAX South event called “Story Time with Chris Perkins.” In this panel, Chris discussed that he is looking for the next people to take up the mantle of storytelling for Dungeons and Dragons. Chris’s dialogued about being creative and his call to action to start posting content on the DM’s Guild website inspired me. I had never published any content before, and anytime I had thought of it in the past I had always been nervous about copyrights and getting sued to death. I did not realize the Dungeon Masters Guild has a very low barrier of entry. So as I continue to write and work towards publishing my adventures, I intend to start a segment in this blog, a segment that will be dedicated to my own writer’s journey.

When I was in college, there were very few courses that really enthralled me, but one course that did was a Storytelling class. My storytelling class was a massive paradigm shift and helped show me a way of looking at stories critically, and further helped me develop a way to better engage my readers when it comes to more formal storytelling. The best tool I walked away from this class with was a book called The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structures for Writers. It talks about the Hero’s Journey and about the archetypes that go with it.

Vogler writes about how flexible the Hero’s Journey is and that it can be manipulated for more than just a book or movie writing structure. I personally have been using this structure in all of my campaigns ever since the first campaign I wrote. So why not take the tool I like to use and see how professionally published adventures hold up. I intend to use The Storm King’s Thunder by Wizards of the Coast as my subject to evaluate for the course of these segments. I chose “The Storm King’s Thunder” because it is the adventure I have been running for my current table and it is currently topical. Warning, THERE ARE  SPOILERS in these segments, you have been warned.

A Little Background

The hero’s journey is a construct that Christopher Vogler developed as a way to simplify a myth structure called “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” developed by Joseph Campbell. The Hero’s Journey is split into a three act structure with half of the story taking place in the first and third act collectively and then the other half is wholly tied up in the second act. Seeing how it will take an amplitude of words to analyze The Storm King’s Thunder, I will only cover Act one in this post and probably cover Acts two and three in the following segment.

Act One - The Standard Hero’s Journey

Act one has five distinct plot points

  • The Ordinary World
  • The Call to Adventure
  • The Refusal of the Call
  • Meeting the Mentor
  • Crossing the Threshold

The Ordinary World

When first we meet our heroes, they tend to start in something called the Ordinary World. This is the world that the heroes currently see and are familiar with. The Ordinary World section is used to build a baseline of what is normal and is used later to find the juxtaposition between the “normal” world, from the perspective of the heroes, and the special world.

In Storm King’s Thunder, the characters can start off with one or more of the predefined hooks to draw them to Nightstone. This establishes a “another day, another dollar” feel to the play. It is, how ever, where the players start to see the effects some giants are having on the world. When they reach Nightstone the town is in runes and barren after being hit by a barrage of falling boulders. The Characters can learn that the boulders came from a floating Cloud giant castle and that an artifact in the center of town was stolen. By this point it is also important to start thinking about how to get the players to come up with ties to the Ordinary World, it helps remove that feeling of being a murder-hobo (RPG term for kick down doors, kill things, and get loot with no real ties to anything).

The Call to Adventure

The Call to Adventure is a plot hook to get the heroes to venture into the special worlds. It spurs the heroes into action via inspiration, social pressures, or by other means.  This is, as many DM’s know, critical to setting the pace of campaigns. Like a story without a good hook, the journey feels useless and the common phrase of “but why are we here” starts coming up.

In my opinion, the Call to Adventure can be found in Storm King’s Thunder when the heroes potentially meet a cloud giant named Zephyros. It is here that the adventurers can learn that the ordning of the giants has been destroyed and each of the Giant sub-societies are now competing to improve them and their kin’s rank in the new ordning, or class structure, when it is solidified once more. This should have clear effects on the heroes as they have now seen first hand what potential effects an unstructured Giant ordning looks like and should find some motivation to stop it and the effects it has on the world.

The Refusal of the Call

In the previous situation, this massive information drop is the kind of situation that can cause a potential “refusal of the call”, and it is the shattering of the players’ current perspectives. In traditional media, the refusal of the call would be when the heroes realize that the road ahead of them is tough or unknown to them and possibly dangerous. The heroes refuse the call to adventure temporarily in a fear of losing the ordinary world or out of fear of the special world. This plot point is hard to find in The Storm King’s Thunder, and I doubt it is represented. The reason I think you won’t find an explicit refusal because it is what I like to call a “living plot point”.

When you are writing campaigns and modules, you need to think about it like your canning or freezing vegetables. All that you really are doing is preparing the food and preserving it, so all that needs to be done is reheat and spice as needed. You are limited to what you can do with the food until you actually use it for the meal. Adding certain spices before freezing the food just does not translate as well, these spices in campaign writing is what I call a “living plot point”. A “Living Plot Point” is something to be added when you are about to “cook”, usually added by the players if they are so inclined but can definitely be prompted by the DM.

Meeting the Mentor

Continuing on, as the characters progress through the campaign they will eventually run into a Frost Giant named Harshnag, whom is chaotic good and a seasoned traveler. He roams the wilds looking for his evil kin to slay. The heroes have a chance to travel with Harshnag and learn much of what he knows. Harshnag is the mentor for the heroes in Storm Kings Thunder. He has insights that the players do not know and takes them to an old Ostorian (an ancient giant society that collapsed over 500 years before) temple called “The Eye of the All-Father” which also leads us to the the Crossing of the threshold.

Crossing the Threshold

In this case the crossing of the threshold is a literal one. The Eye of the All-Father is temple that is home to an oracle. To get to this oracle, the players need to cross through a portal (a threshold) and communicate with the oracle to find out how to help stabilize Storm giant monarchy but also how to find the evil giant lords harassing the civilizations of the Sword Coast.

Crossing the threshold is another key point in a good campaign. This is classically shown when the players and the characters have fully bought into the story and are now ready to take on the special world and what it has to offer. However, it can be fun to drag the characters kicking and screaming across the threshold, this creates very interesting situations and can bring about massive character development. The threshold can be used as a literal or a metaphorical threshold, but the important part is that your characters/players clearly cross that threshold and enter into the special world.   

This is where I will leave it for the week. Check back in next week as I finish my analysis of The Storm Kings Thunder. Remember to follow The DM’s Table on Facebook or on Twitter @dmstable for updates on release dates for our upcoming podcast and other big announcements. Thank you for reading.

-- The DM