Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Thematic Champions

Not going to lie, this post is totally inspired by the League of Legends release of its newest champion, Diana. For those who don't play League, and have no interest in it, Diana is essentially the Moon's chosen champion. She has been infused with its abilities and it fulfills a religious/spiritual role in her life. Part of what makes Diana so interesting though is her lore, which strongly ties her to a previously released champion: Leona, the Chosen of the Sun. With both these characters so strongly on my mind, I wanted to take today to discuss thematic champions and how they can work in your game.

Note: I'm taking a mini-vacation from Thursday through Monday. As such, there won't be an update on Thursday, Friday, or Monday. Reality Refracted will return on Tuesday of next week.

Choose A Theme With A Counterpoint
A good theme is obviously important to any character whose concept is to be a thematic champion, but the theme chosen should also have a good counterpoint. Good vs. Evil. Light vs. Dark. Sun vs. Moon. Wind vs. Earth. Fire vs. Water. These are all common themes and they work very well for fantasy characters partially because of the tension of having direct opposition. They are the champion for their cause and somewhere is a person who is a champion for the opposite cause. This gives stories that are already ready to be told, as well as helps provide narrative and other hooks for the world you are in. Finally, it also helps develop the world if only in establishing that these sort of things can exist.

Build Into Your Theme
Your theme should be present in the character design. Sometimes this is easy. A character tied with the theme of fire can be passionate and quick to act while one tied with water could be more mercurial and adaptable to strange situations. An earth character could be patient and stalwart while an air character is flighty and must always be in motion. It can be harder at other times as well. The sun and the moon have a lot of lore about them in various cultures, and a lot of that lore is actually counter to other lore that is out there. Just as many cultures believed the moon was a man, and a warrior, as believed the moon was a woman and a maiden. Some even blend the two (Artemis/Diana are goddess of the moon, hunting, and fertility while being a maiden.)

Not Just Paladins
Don't assume that all thematic champions are going to be paladins. Don't be afraid to think of the character as paladin like at the same time though. Paladins, in a way, are the best expression of thematic champions in a lot of fantasy games that are already present. Only, their theme is the deity/cause that they serve and not some other abstract spiritual thing like fire or the wind.

The point is that actual class is irrelevant here as long as it fits the theme. I could very easily see a Wind, Water, or Darkness based champion being a thief, assassin, mage, or bard as easily as I could see it being a fighter or paladin. The abilities matter less - story wise - than the approach to the character and how they work.

Role Play > Mechanics
With thematic champions, and to reinforce the last point I made, the RP behind the character is going to convey who they are a lot more than mechanics. Descriptive flair can be added - obviously with GM permission if you're a player - to make things look more spiffy special and cool. But the role play, the strength of the character beyond mere mechanics, will leave a lasting impression and that is the whole point with a thematic champion. If all you have is mechanics, than Chosen of the Tides is neat but it is basically a power template to beef someone up. If you execute the Chosen of the Tides in play well with a strong characterization that can exemplify the mechanical aspects, make the character truly shine, and suddenly it can be a really cool thing for  a player to inherit the title of Chosen of the Tides.

Have Fun With It
As with almost everything else you place/allow in your game, don't be afraid to have fun with it. Believe it or not, your excitement behind the project - whether you are a player or the gm - will shine through and let everyone else know that there is something going on here. So let yourself have fun with it, and let the character shine through that excitement.

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