Mort Q2. Plot


It's hard to think of a more nailed-on coming of age Hero's Journey than what Pratchett plots out for Mort. Does it manage to do something interesting with this? What advantages are there to following a similarly familiar plot structure in RPGs? Can we even do a classic coming-of-age story (say, 1st-3rd level D&D, for example) in RPGs?


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    Interested to hear what others say - as mentioned in #1, it wasn't really the plot which got me engaged with Mort.

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    There's not a great deal to the plot. It's amusing seeing how both Mort and Death grow through the story: it's not just Mort's changes that matter. Mort learnt responsibility and Death learnt about justice.

    As for doing a coming of age story, I think most RPGs are poorly suited for that kind of story. +3 to hit and an extra 20 hit points don't have much connection to responsibility and a sense of justice. There are games that try to mechanise internal states, but I think it's a question whether such mechanics reflect or drive the changes in a character.

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    One thing I forgot to mention. Mort's name and what it means. He spends most of the book being called "boy" and resenting it. Just about as soon as he becomes recognised as an adult and people call him "Mort", he becomes Duke of Sto Helit and is referred to as the place, not as a person.

    I'm not sure what to make of that.

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    I think I read that Pratchett said this was the first Discworld plot that wasn't just a vehicle for jokes.

    Doing a coming of age story in RPGs is certainly possible. What are the advantages? Framework for one - the coming of age story is about learning something about the protagonist, and this can add a level of meaning to an RPG character arc.

    I found an interesting article on this. Here's a summary of the genre, with a link to the article that goes into much more detail, with lists of genre tropes (like the mentor) and pivotal scenes you might include:

    The Maturation story is about the protagonist’s shift in worldview from naiveté to sophistication. The Core Emotion for the reader or viewer at the end of this story is either hope and satisfaction, or relief, at the protagonist’s having emerged whole from a threat to their belief system. The Controlling Idea of a Maturation story on the positive side is: Sophistication prevails when we learn to express our gifts in a world which we accept as paradoxical and imperfect. The character begins as flawed, with a negative attitude regarding some aspect of life. Their story arc is an attitude change from negative to positive.

    That's certainly achievable in the medium of RPGs. Whether it's specifically achievable with D&D is another question. D&D's not really set up for this kind of thing out of the box, but I suppose if you were willing to alter some parameters, like the thresholds to advancement (when and why do you go up a level?) and rewards (what do you get when you gain a level?) then you could, perhaps, do it.

    There's an 80's fantasy novel by Lawrence Watt-Evans called 'With A Single Spell' that was a coming of age story about a young wizard trying to prove himself. This, and others in the series (The Misenchanted Sword was the first). At the time, reviewers in Dragon Magazine responded by speculating that the first one was about a fighter, the second about a magic-user, and we just needed a thief book and a cleric book to complete collection. As it turns out, the world in which the stories was set was first developed for playing RPGs - probably D&D. So if you can tell a coming of age story in a novel set in an RPG setting, it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to do the same in a short campaign arc.

    Incidentally, it looks like Watt-Evans wrote a book about Discworld: The Turtle Moves! (Discworld's Story Unauthorized) (2008) - Review of the comic fantasy series by Terry Pratchett

    That said, D&D would not be my choice for this. D&D seems like to kind of game you go to for good, old fashioned, clear-cut fun, where life is simple and it's obvious who the bad guys are. In other words, it's the game you play when you're tired of being 'of age' and want to re-experience your youth for a little while.

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    Masks, a superhero game Powered by the Apocalypse, tries to mechanize the emotional states of adolescent superheroes. I guess it tries to show the increasing maturity as the character levels up, but I’m not certain of that. I’ve been playing fir months in a pbf game, and my character hasn’t leveled up.

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    I think it was Robin Laws who coined the terms "iconic hero" vs "dramatic hero." In that framing, iconic heroes are ones like Kirk or Holmes, people who don't change over the story; they're suited for episodic stories. Dramatic heroes are the ones who change, which is most literature. In this story, Mort is definitely a dramatic hero.

    Most RPGs are designed around iconic heroes. Their personality doesn't change, even though their stats do.

    There have been attempts. Burning Wheel and Spirit of the Century have people rewriting their core beliefs over time. Smallville has them rewriting their beliefs rapidly! Pendragon's traits change to reflect how the character is played, with incentives to play a certain way. Monsterhearts (and I suppose Masks) gives characters new ways of relating to the world as they gain maturity.

    But I suppose that's needed in a game, especially one where we play to find out. Mort's story is a successful coming-of-age. But in an RPG, it shouldn't be guaranteed that Mort's growth would be successful. Mort could have become the dutiful servant, or a new vicious Death; instead, he grew into becoming the Duke of Sto Helit. In a game, any of those outcomes should be possible.

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