Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Goals: Something You Can Never Have (and why!)

We talked on Monday about your character's desire. The emotional reward they seek. An emotional reward is good, but even better is a goal that is fueled by that desire. This makes for a personal connection to something in the world. It mixes together the desired emotional reward that gives the story resonance, with the tangible physical.

The best goals for dramatic tension involve other characters - whether a PC or an NPC is up to you, but if you're setting your sights on something with or from another PC make sure they're cool with it and involve them in the conversation.

Fortunately, the steps for doing this are super easy. So let's begin.

Step 1: State the Goal
We have our desire. We know what our character wants/needs emotionally. So what is the physical manifestation of that desire that we see in game that is driving the character out to adventure or to get involved in the plot of the game?

Revenge is an easy one to setup, but also provides a lot of emotional resonance. It is why we see so many revenge stories. The best part is revenge can tie to any number of emotional desires. Inigo Montoya wants forgiveness and to quell his rage at the death of his father, so he seeks revenge on the 6th finger man. The Count of Monte Cristo wants to punish his wrong doers for the wrong done to him personally, so seeks his revenge by destroying them. John Wick wants to express his anger and rage at the death of his hope when his dog is killed.

Love is another common goal - wishing to secure the hand of the desired prince or princess and establish your one true love.

Attaining ranks of power - especially for those seeking power for power's sake - are another one. Being crowned King, elected President, declared Supreme Chancellor of the Senate and given Emergency War Powers.

Step 2: Why Can't You Have It?
A goal with no obstacle is not much of a goal. If my goal is to acquire a hammer, and the only obstacle is I need to get to the store that isn't much of a story. However, put obstacles in the way - especially ones that increase in scale as we go along - and you could make a story even out of a goal as simple as that.

Put another way, achieving the goal is not the story. How we achieve the goal, and what obstacles we overcome to do it are.

So what is preventing you from achieving your goal? As a note, when trying to do this for some characters I've taken cheap ways out such as "well, that's not exactly an easy thing to do now is it?" and I recommend against this. If your goal is "to be the best swordsman" don't go with something bland like "there are a lot of other people looking for that title as well" but be specific, give a specific obstacle or threat like "the current best swordsman is said to be an unkillable demon who has won over a thousand duels and no one has ever survived meeting them." Or, "the current best swordsman is my beloved mother, but she will only fight to the death - even against her own child."

Give yourself stakes. And feel free to give yourself multiple stakes.

Inigo Montoya for example only has six-fingered hand to go on and doesn't know where the guy is. On top of that, Count Rugen is a better sword fighter than Inigo (in the end Inigo wins from his need to  avenge his father, not his skill with the blade), is entrenched in a powerful court with powerful allies, and lives in a castle protected by dozens of guards. No small feat that, and it is part of why Inigo's story works so well.

A Warning About Inigo Montoya and Wesley
Remember under Desire where I mentioned possibly wanting your desire to be insatiable in a sense? I talked about how if Peter Parker stops being Spider-man he becomes unworthy of forgiveness for standing aside and letting the criminal go free who would later kill Uncle Ben. I also mentioned the person who once felt weak, and so is always looking for more power because if there is more power to attain they could be made to feel weak again.

There is a reason for this, and it is especially true when it comes to RPGs where you could have a campaign go through several major story arcs and last for years and years. The reason is this:

If your character has a single, achievable arc at the core of their story, then their story can be completed before the game is done.

This is not a problem per se, but I need to call it out. A character with a completed arc is not as enjoyable to a lot of people as one with an arc. And when you finish an arc, that means you either need to find a new one, consign yourself to not having as much fun with a once beloved character, or swap out a character.

Again, there is nothing wrong with this. People switch characters all the time. People find new arcs and new ways for characters to grow all the time. However, I have seen it bring people out of games, and in some cases prematurely end a campaign that not everyone was ready for it to end just then. So be aware of it.

Like Inigo says at the end of the Princess Bride, after 30 years of chasing Count Rugen for Revenge, he has no idea what to do with his life. Wesley offers him being the Dread Pirate Roberts and he seems intrigued - but that is also because Wesley has also finished his character story. One of those two characters is leaving the game there, or the game is ending with that being the epilogue. Both of which are  fine...but if you're playing Fezzik and waiting for the culmination of your arc (which hasn't even shown up yet!) the game ending because 2/3 of the players resolved their story can feel kinda crappy.

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