Last week I wrote a post about what I called The Hero’s Progress, and I took issue with a couple of the parts of the Hero’s tale – namely, that the Villain takes something precious from the Hero and just kind of locks it away to be saved later, and that, meeting the Hero, the Villain lets him or her walk away from the encounter.
Today I’d like to consider a problem with a different part of the Hero’s Progress – the thought that the Hero gets to progress through their journey through a series of increasingly difficult challenges. This is certainly how game design works – things get harder, you level up, things get harder, you learn some things and improve, so things get harder… But is this realistic or make sense?
So, I am going to consider this question for a moment, and then I am going to present a story idea for a game that would break that mold: The tale of the wizard Merlin.
The journey so often increases in difficulty as time passes for the Hero. There are several reasons that this might be, and which often hide the fact that this is happening:
- Someone powerful or skilled (like the Master or Mentor character) is traveling with the Hero and dealing with much of the challenge.
- The Hero does not consider taking on challenges outside of his or her skillset (instead returning to them later).
- The Hero has friends with him or her early on and slowly evolve to handling challenges on his or her own.
Often, the Hero comes from prophecy – their coming was foretold. This preps the Masters to support and defend the Hero, sets the Villain against them, the Hero is looking for loyal friends who can help, and is expecting and considering challenges to overcome. And thus, with help, the Hero works their way through challenges in order of difficulty.
However, I have one other philosophical point to consider about the Hero: is the Hero the person for whom their challenges present themselves in an order from easier to harder due to mere chance? In other words, was there someone else who could have been the Hero who ran into a challenge too difficult and was defeated, injured or killed or disheartened?
If this is the case, then of course the Hero’s tale is about someone for whom this is the natural progression. We could watch the story of someone else, but then it’s not the Hero’s progress. Meaning that the most important single trait of the Hero is luck (whether you consider the luck good or bad might depend on the story).
For instance, Harry Potter. We don’t read Harry Potter from Neville’s perspective, or even from Ron’s or Hermione’s. Harry Potter is a pretty good example – lots of Mentors and Masters, sacrificing themselves for success and for the Hero. Friends around helping. Others who, if circumstances had been different, could have been the Hero instead – Neville, most especially. Prophecy that could have meant two. Luck, and the Master’s planning.
Merlin – The Wizard Living Backwards
However, I want to talk about a different Wizard. Merlin. In some lore, he lived backwards. What does this look like? A couple of different scenarios:
- He is living life backwards. In his subjective timeline, he always knows what’s coming for everyone else, but not himself. Because he lived through it.
- He is living from old to young, starting with all of his power, and ending with all of his wisdom.
The second I have especially seen in Peter David’s Knight Life series. Merlin and Arthur were in the crystal cave, and when they came out in modern day, Merlin was a teenage kid.
So here’s what I’m thinking – a game where you play Merlin, growing younger as you go. So rather than games where you start with almost no power, and have to learn it as you go, so that you’re badass by the end when you hardly need it anymore… you start the game with all of the powers, and slowly over time, lose them.
However, you will have learned from your experiences in the game, and by the end should know how to handle challenges on your own. I think also maybe more health and mana as you progress – trading magical power for hardiness.
Of course, I suppose this still fits in with the progression I am talking about – easy at first, and harder as you go. However, this is a reason that makes sense for that progression, rather than it being luck. Rather than it being the plan of a Master. Because Merlin IS the Master character. No one to lead him. His own wits and power are what he has. And this would be a plot that breaks the normal molds.