My Writer's Journey Act 2 and 3

A Quick Recap

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. I covered Act One in last weeks post (if you haven’t read it yet, your might get lost reading this post), and intend to continue on to Act Two and Three in this post to finish up this mini-segment.  I will continue to use The Storm King’s Thunder by WotC as my subject to evaluate. Warning, THERE ARE  SPOILERS in these segments, you have been warned.

The Special World

The Special world is considered the new region or condition the characters have ended up in after crossing the threshold. In my opinion, this is where most of the adventure take place. It seems that much of Act One and Three are more DM controlled and have little written in the adventure compared to what is written for Act Two. Yes, as the author you can make suggestions to the DM’s on how handle or include “Living Plot Points.” These are points that are more made up on the fly by the DM to flesh out the world more and to help strengthen the story to make it as interesting as possible.

The Special world in the Storm King’s Thunder could be considered the Giant Society that the players are thrust into. There are Giant Lords looking to find better favor with their gods in order to climb the divine ladder dictated Ordning. The Ordning is what determines a giant’s station in giant society; it was recently shattered by the gods, and soon after most giants have forsaken the Storm giant rule. These lords shape and change the ordinary world and started to cause havok. These things collectively help make up the special world.

The Standard Hero’s Journey

Act Two

Act two has five distinct plot points

  • Tests, Allies, and Enemies
  • The Approach
  • The Ordeal
  • The Reward
  • The Road Back

Act Three

Act three has two distinct plot points

  • The Resurrection
  • Return with the Elixir

Use and Evaluation

Tests, Allies, and Enemies

The traditional use of tests is a way of straining or strengthening alliances and pushing characters physically or mentally. At this point, I like to use this to really develop the backstory to whatever special world my players are ushered into. It is a great place for meeting NPC’s with a connection to the story, solid dungeon crawls, and show off the Shapeshifter Archetype if you have one. I will most likely do something in the future that outlines Vogler’s character archetypes, but for now, know that the shapeshifter is like a double agent of sorts. You can use this character archetype to then create the feeling of betrayal and give the players a taste for vengeance to prepare for the climactic final fight, or at least that is what Storm King’s Thunder does.

In the story, there is a fight between Harshnag and Iymrith not long after the characters have returned some Ostorian relics to the Oracle. This is a great way to show that Iymrith is the Shapeshifter Archetype. Iymrith supposedly kills Harshnag, while he is trying to distract her as the players make their escape from the temple. This is also furthered by the stealing of the Teleportation Conches from a Giant Lord and to find that Iymrith sits as an advisor to the current Storm Queen Serissa.

The Approach

I like to think of the Approach as the metaphorical/physical climb that the characters need to experience to get to the climax. This climb is the time where the players will find out what has really been going on while they have been so oblivious; they see the big picture. The Approach can be just as important to get right as the climax itself. It lays the groundwork and if the approach is botched, then the climax has a feeling of “ok cool, but why did we do that. I get they were bad, but what made them bad” and this is never is a good place to be. You want to sell the climax, as the major turning point in the story, this is more important in tabletop role playing games because most of the adventure leads to the climax. After the climax there is usually very little story left in the campaign so you want to end it strong.

The Wizards of the Coast does this in Chapter 10 “Hold of the Storm Giants” and in Chapter 11 “Caught in the Tentacles”. In these chapters, players find out the most about what happened to Queen Neri and King Hekaton. This story leads the characters to blue dragon Iymrith’s door where the ordeal takes place.

The Ordeal

The Ordeal is another word for climax, and it is in this moment that the players face the true villain of the campaign. For a tabletop role playing game, the ordeal is what your players should remember your campaign by. The villain should be ruthless and push the players to use all of their abilities to really get through the plot point. This is also a good place to squeak in a Resurrection plot point, where something or someone from the past comes back to help the characters succeed in their task.

Harshnag can be used as a Resurrection plot point, as the DM has the option to bring him back into the story just before the characters start their assault on Imryth’s lair. The Ordeal plot point takes place In this lair the dragon has crafted, she has build up proper artillery defences for the defending the den from an attacker’s approach as well as a number of gargoyle guards to manage these defences. Even the den itself has been constructed to trap characters in, but with some measure of talent and luck the players and DM should be able to craft a great climax ending with the tools that WotC has given.

Living Plot Points

As I discussed in last week’s article, I classify “living plot points” as something that rests more on the DM. It is very important to leave a level of vagueness to the writing of the campaign so that the DM can fit in these living plot points. These plot points can personalize the campaign and invest the characters more in the story. Though we are talking Act Two and Three, it is still important to keep the players invested in the story, even late in the game, as this solidifies the players memories on the campaign and leaves them saying “wow”. It is something you want to facilitate as a campaign writer by giving the DM the tools and ideas for how these plot points can be written and utilized. In the last two acts I feel that four out of the seven plot points that Vogler mentions are actually living plot points when looking at them with a campaign paradigm. Everything after the Ordeal is in the DM’s hands for the most part. Players can make a return journey with some relic to give to some king in hopes for a reward, and you can lay that out, but really it seems that these last plot points get smashed in with other plot points or with each other.

Here is what Vogler uses as a summary of his plot points

  • The Reward: The hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing death.  There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.
  • The Road Back: About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home.  Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.
  • The Resurrection: At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home.  He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level.  By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.
  • Return with the Elixir:  The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.

The Reward and the Resurrection is fairly self explanatory. On the Road Back and the Return, these are basically the characters attempting to get back to where they were before the adventures began. This part isn’t a silver bullet section. These points can be hand written in or can just be combined to form some sort of quick closure for both the players and the characters. It is important to remember to facilitate living plot points; I can not stress this enough. It just allows for each campaign of the same story to have different feels to them.

Check back in next week to see what I have in store. 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