the heroes of the story: by destiny or by chance?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by jonthefox, Jun 17, 2019.

  1. jonthefox

    jonthefox Veteran Veteran

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    When crafting your story (or even just when appreciating another game's story), do you have a preference over the basis of how the main character(s) become heroes of the story? What I mean is - for a protagonist to become powerful and brave enough to risk one's life and defeat the big bad and save the world etc., does this happen because of some prophecy or being a descendant of a previous hero - OR, were they just regular people who were in the right (wrong?) place at the right time, and now feel a responsibility to stopping the evil they've borne witness to? Does using one origin story or another change the kind of story or kind of game that you make?
     
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  2. Trihan

    Trihan Speedy Scripter Veteran

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    I think it very much depends on the scale of the game, a lot of the time. If it's a sprawling epic with world-shattering consequences, your protagonist could very well be some sort of prophesied chosen one. But if it's all taking place in one region, or even just one town, maybe your protagonist is just a regular person who got caught up in something bigger than them.

    Personally, in my game, I've kind of got a mix of the two: the "main" protagonist is just looking for his missing brother, but he ends up being part of something much, much bigger than that mainly through circumstance. Though without being too spoilery, none of it happens by chance either.
     
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  3. xdan

    xdan Veteran Veteran

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    My settings are rarely so simple that the protagonist can be either of those things. For one, I have this game where the protagonist is a being that lives in other dimension and is using a machine to control a body in our dimension. That's not chance, and certainly not a prophecy.
     
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  4. EthanFox

    EthanFox Veteran Veteran

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    I think both ways can work. Many people come down harshly on "chosen one" narratives because they're a bit cliche, but I don't personally feel there's anything inherently wrong with them.

    The slight issue they have is that they can be used to prop up lazy plotting; for instance, having a character be "a chosen one" can be an excuse answer to many questions about the plot. It can give a hero too much of an impetus to proceed even against their best judgement, or provide a "way out" for the writer to get the hero to overcome obstacles that would otherwise make them give up.

    Also, it can lessen the meaning of their arc. I'm a great believer in the idea that stories hook people due to plot, but they keep people due to characters. People will question a complex plot with poor characters, but they will walk through fire with a character they believe in.
     
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  5. gstv87

    gstv87 Veteran Veteran

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    "by destiny" always seemed stupid to me.
    it almost implies that even if the character does everything wrong, and borders actually helping the bad guy, that they somehow would still come up on top.
    which wouldn't happen, because if you try and actually do everything wrong, you end up losing...... so, what's the destiny there?
     
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  6. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    In my opinion "By Destiny" and "By Chance" are the two of the lesser ways to do it! Better ways to "become" a hero are by measured choice, by displayed merit, by earning (or taking) it somehow, or especially by their unknowing (but motivated) decisions - any of these, combined with a strong conviction, can create great heroic characters. Often there's some kind of birthright or prophecy mixed into that as well (even in good stories), but I feel it's complete unnecessary.

    Minor, vague spoilers for Harry Potter and Tales of Symphonia in this following paragraph. Skip if you're extremely sensitive to spoilers and plan to enjoy those works.
    Good examples of heroes who weren't there by chance or by destiny, and therefore really connected with the audience, (if I remember the details correctly) include Odysseus from Homer's Odyssey, Claret from Skyborn, Callum and Reila from The Dragon Prince (who sort of had destinies as different kinds of heroes, and choose their own path instead), and Hermione Granger from Harry Potter (interestingly, Harry himself is part of the prophecy, but it's Hermione, who becomes a hero through merit and choice, who ended up being the most beloved character).

    Popular movies like The Social Network (Mark Zuckerberg) and Rocket Man (Elton John) are essentially character studies, where the "plot" is only there to service the character's development, which is also the case in the anime Death Note (Lyte).

    Tales of Symphonia
    violently subverts the ideas of fate and the Chosen One, and its story and cast are one of the most popular in the history of RPGs. Log Horizon presents a similar isekai setup to what you usually see in the genre, but its main character Shiroe starts in the same position as the thousands of other people who got sucked into the game, and it's his cunning and ambition that eventually earn him a special role, rather than being "fated" by the game or just being "really OP" (see Kirito from Sword Art Online)

    And when the hero's beliefs, personality, talents, and flaws drive the story around him - rather than some kind of predetermined "destiny" or narrative convenience - that's when you have great storytelling. Game of Thrones went off the rails a few times, but for the most part it really nailed this - almost everything that ever happened to a character (sans the White Walkers, which were dumb anyway) happened directly because of the nature of that character or because of the nature of another character. If you think about each Stark family member (and focus on the first six seasons), you don't have to squint to see how their character traits directly led to the circumstances they found themselves in.

    One of my golden rules of making a good RPG is that "Weak plots are driven by Convenience, Good plots are driven by Motives, and Great plots are driven by Characters". To put it less vaguely:
    • Weak plots are driven by Convenience - the characters are simply asked or forced to do something and accepts the task.
    • Good plots are driven by Motives - the characters have a convincing desire or need that drives them to do everything that they do.
    • Great plots are driven by Characters - the events that unfold only do so because of who the characters are, and replacing the cast with a different cast would make the general plot impossible.
    I think that "destiny" falls mostly into the Weak Plots driven by Convenience category (although it depends on how hard the destiny is "hammered" onto the audience), and "chance" will fall somewhere between the Weak and Good categories, depending on how much sense it makes for the character (with their motives and abilities) to become a hero in that moment of circumstance.
     
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  7. SolonWise

    SolonWise The Lonely Maker Veteran

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    I agree a hundred percent with this statement, but I do believe we can do this even if the main character is "the chosen one". Its kinda contradictory, but sometimes I think a destined boy that must save the world only manages to do so because of his courage and his willpower, and not because he is, indeed, the chosen one. Maybe he is the chosen one only because of the traits he already have. Maybe, the main character seems like a chosen one by everybody else only because he can inspire people with his own personality, but he may be just the right guy in the right time.

    I don't know... Its a very interesting topic.
     
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  8. Grunwave

    Grunwave Veteran Veteran

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    Generally, I think you should balance the two against one another.

    If your hero is destined, what is the point?

    If the protagonist is a chef, who finds a sword and kills swordmasters for days... it is unbelievable.

    I think David Gemmel did a swell job of balancing them in his character Druss.

    That character was born into a family of warriors, but he resented his father and turned into a simple logger. At the point problems arise in the story, he has a genetic disposition to be a fighter and he has been beefing up swinging that ax for years. Fortunately for that arc, his father has a magical ax tucked away in a chest.

    You see here that this is not a story of The One.

    And it is believable that an Arnie-sized lumberjack could kill people with a magic ax.

    I would say the magic ax is the worst part of the writing, but it pays in spades when the demon that imbues the ax attempts to possess the protagonist.
     
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  9. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    It's very true that there's still room in a "Chosen One" story to have the adventures, conflicts, and successes (or failures) of the Chosen One stem from their own character traits and believable decisions - and I believe those tend to be the best Chosen One stories, rather than the ones where their success is "destiny" because it fulfills an absolute prophecy or because of obvious plot armor. If you believe that a Chosen One can fail to achieve their goal, you'll still be invested in what transpires. If you believe that he cannot fail because he is the Chosen One, your interest will likely flag (unless the goal is so interesting and multi-layered that judging its merit is more important than getting there).

    It's also worth examining the fine but important difference between a Meteoric Rise, a Chosen One, and a Prophecy/Predestined Hero. In a Chosen One plot, the hero is chosen by some outside figure or force, usually a supernatural one. The hero may have some trait or merit, but it's an external motivation compelling them to do something. In a Prophecy (predestination) plot, something is fated to happen, no matter what the characters do. It's "written in" to the universe, or has somehow already happened and been foreseen (often in time travel/time loop plots). I personally find that to offer the weakest connection between the audience and story.

    In a Meteoric Rise (which is what I believe you're getting at when you say "seems like a chosen one because he can inspire people"), the character rises to a special role in something big on their own merits and actions, and even if they are "chosen" to represent or fight for a group of people, it was a direct result of their own actions rather than an outside figure's judgement. Shiroe from Log Horizon (see my above post) is a great example of a Meteoric Rise character, and Barack Obama is another really good example of one - his charisma, oration, and platform made him a rising star, rather than being "chosen" by some extremely powerful senior political figure or being born into royalty in a monarchy. I believe these Meteoric Rise characters tend to make great stories as long as the rise is believable.
     
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  10. jonthefox

    jonthefox Veteran Veteran

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    I don't think character-driven stories are mutually exclusive with these modes of becoming a hero. I'm thinking more of how the plot is moved in the specific way that the characters and story are developed. To clarify what I mean more....

    By chance: the main character has a love of adventure, and convinces his best friend (who is more cautious, but staunchly loyal and unwilling to let her best friend go at it alone) to explore the old crypt that the village elder has forbidden anyone from ever visiting. While there, the party stumbles upon something that unlocks a grave threat or evil (eventually thethe big bad) and/or confers special knowledge or powers upon them. It is the unfolding of these events that gives rise to their journey, their powers, the knowledge of how to tackle the problem that arises in the world, and ultimately their becoming heroes - and had they not gone to the cave, they would've never been in a position to do this, or perhaps there would've never been a problem in the world for them to solve in the first place.

    By destiny: there's something inherent in the character that lets them play a heroic role, even though they of course must make choices and have motivations like any human character. This could be their bloodline, their racial history, the fact that their ancestors studied magic and passes down special knowledge or just exceptional genes, or of course perhaps there really is a prophecy that someone who X will be able to do Y (pull out the sword in the stone, wear the ring, commune with elder spirits, etc.).

    Maybe a better way at distinguishing what I mean is to think of it this way. If you ask yourself, before the game begins, were your main characters just normal people with nothing particular about them, who become changed (into heroes) by the events of the game? Then I'd consider them becoming heroes "by chance." If on the other hand, there was always something "special" about your main characters (and I really just main the main protagonist or two, not the whole party of course) - something that made them different and potentially uniquely powerful and brave - that is what I'd consider to be "by destiny."
     
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  11. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    I suppose that if you look at it in that light, then "by chance" is the most appealing to most modern tastes. It's easier for most people to sympathize with people they can relate to, which is why you'll see most heroes in mediums like anime and (modern) superhero movies leaning far toward the "by chance" side, in contrast to ancient literature which focused much more on the "by destiny" side of things. There's a big cultural/time aspect involved, and these days I think it's definitely better to go the route of ordinary people becoming heroes.

    With that said, I still think you're presenting a bit of a false dichotomy. Using your example of a character who wants to explore a crypt:
    • What if that character had a passion for archaeology, did a lot of research in ancient texts, and was able to piece together that he'd be able to find something arcane there (rather than simply stumbling upon it)? I think it would be a good setup, but would that be "by chance" or "by destiny"? - I think it would be something entirely outside of both those categories.
    • What if the character's best friend was deathly ill, and he heard there was a dangerous spirit within that could heal anything at a grave price, and he was completely willing to go to any length to find a cure for her? Chance? Destiny? Seems more like Intention in my eyes.
    • What if it's the character's sense of chivalry kicked off the grave threat - maybe a dark figure comes by and asks about the crypt, and the main character (being the Jon Snow-like fellow who's far too truthful for his own good) tells him everything he knows, then realizes his mistake after ominous sounds and flashes come out of the crypt, and goes in to try to set things right? You could safely call this "chance" by your definition, but I still feel like it's something very different from walking in to "have an adventure" and stumbling upon (and unleashing) the great evil by accident. It's entirely driven by the character's personality and MO.
    :)
     
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  12. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    Interestingly enough, I always struggled with the motive for the main character in my games when I was writing them in the 90's, to the point I just told my other friends who were working on it with me that "They stay because I said so.". Granted that wouldn't work well in an RPG. Hero Ralph says because I said so!

    Over time I've gotten better on this. In my game the main character does what he does to first save someone, and then things escalate from there. My second game the party is shipwrecked and their motive is to find a way out, but they have to go through the evil to do it. You might say the 2nd is a by chance, but I may add a choice to ignore it and just say "See Ya!" at the end if you want to be that kind of person.
     
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  13. Tigerawr

    Tigerawr Veteran Veteran

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    The protagonist is supposed to have agency, to act, while the antagonist react. Too often, it's the villain who's trying to do something, while the hero try to stop him. IMO it makes for poor heros; give the hero a goal, and then make the villain oppose him. (Due to having a goal of his own, not just because.)

    Where does he get enough power to attain his goal? He works for it. Why is he brave? It's his personality. Well, it's only a possibility among others. Stories work just as well with qualities other than courage. Or even with anti heros.

    Makes the character interesting, and gives a sense of progression and achivement, like a rags to riches story.
     
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