Friday, April 6, 2012

A to Z Challenge, F is for Folly

"Then he set the sword on the mounting board. Its grey-white metal shone against the dark roah behind it. While the handle could be seen, it was dark enough to be almost indistinguishable from the wood. The word beneath it, black against blackness, seemed to reproach: Folly."  

As I wrote yesterday's post I was reminded of this passage in the stellar book "The Name of the Wind."  Today I want to talk about folly, not the folly of ourselves but the folly of our characters.  Folly is a staple in the overconfident or perhaps overly successful character and it is often an integral part of the Three Act Structure (and pacing / tension but that's another beast for another day).  In order to grow and to learn we must experience failure and in many roleplaying games this is very difficult to attempt.  As in many cases failure can mean imminent doom.  As DM's it is our job not to try and artificially inject folly into our game, to deliberately set our players for failure or to grease the wheels.  Instead we need to let them leap from the nest from time to time and we need to be prepared to keep the story going when they fall rather than fly.

If you're not familiar with the exploits of Cugel the Clever, a dashing rogue and classic anti-hero written by Jack Vance which largely inspired Gygax's Thief Class, then pick up Vance's Dying Earth Collection; you're in for a marvelous read.  As an Anti-Hero with loose morals surrounded by a world of loose lips and looser purse strings Cugel frequently comes by large sums of money.  More often than not using his wits to beguile these fleeting fortunes.  Yet nevertheless Cugel always seems to lose them just as quickly, sometimes biting off more than he can chew, other times the world seems to conspire against him, sometimes it is merely poetic justice but all of this is a result of his own personal Folly.  As I wrote last week having too much cash, an incredibly versatile resource, circumvents numerous interesting and emotionally investing adventures which in turn allows your players to become lazy in their problem solving skills.  At the end of each story Cugel always seems to return to square one, rock bottom, not a penny to his name but his outlandishly fancy clothes and razor wit.  Doing so makes it very easy for episodic adventures (as I recall Cugel's story was told piece by piece in a Sword & Sorcery monthly/weekly magazine) and you also know what you're getting into.  Cugel will weasel his way into a small fortune, the question is how and that is ultimately the most interesting part.  How your players screw up is the most interesting part of the adventure, how you keep the adventure going is the most interesting part of a DM's duty.  How you both recover from this folly is how these adventure's keep going, how these character's become endearing and how we have such wonderful stories to share with each other.

In short, let your players fail from time to time.  Be prepared to keep things rolling when it does.  The best part of a story is when you both figure out how they recover from this failure and how they grow from it.  Endless success can very quickly dull its own enjoyment, the consequence of failure is what keeps things so exciting.  It may be tempting to change fate, alter outcomes but don't succumb, to do so would rob them of their agency and a chance to create their own story ripe with jubilation and pitfalls alike.

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