In a recent essay, I explored the story arc campaign structure. This narrative style was inspired by the SF novels of CJ Cherryh. This looping method of building a story also allows me to import another trope from one of my favourite fantasy writers. The concept of the eternal champion from the works of Michael Moorcock sits easily within the framework of multiple story arcs.
For all my love of The Lord of the Rings, I have read more fantasy novels by Michael Moorcock than any other writer. The fact that Moorcock is so prolific and his novels are relatively short also helps. At the heart of Moorcock’s fiction are the Eternal Champions, instruments of Cosmic Balance who endlessly fight Law or Chaos on multiple planes. Elric is the most famous, but Hawkmoon is probably my favourite.
The essence of the Eternal Champion is how they are reincarnations of the same Hero in different planes. Each incarnation has the destiny to fight on behalf of the Cosmic Balance, often unknowingly. Such a brief description of the Eternal Champion reads like an overview of Player Heroes from multiple campaigns. This simple description also sits neatly within the framework of the story arc campaign structure.
The Flux RPG
The trigger for weaving the Eternal Champion concept into my story arc campaign structure came from reading The Big Book of Little Games by John Wick. One of these little games was The Flux. This is available individually from DriveThruRPG, where it is described as follows:
What if the world died yesterday?
What if the world died yesterday and was completely reborn?
What if the world died yesterday and was completely reborn and you were the only one who noticed?
And what if you could pull skills and abilities and even powers from the old world and use them in this new world?
The Flux is the first “little game” from The Big Book of Little Games. It is a “meta-rpg” that gives you the tools to Flux between RPG worlds and retain your characters.
The mechanics in The Flux demonstrated how I could weave the Eternal Champion idea into my campaign. John Wick shows how multiple Heroes can be accessed during play, although it becomes progressively harder the further back the Player reaches for skills from their previous Heroes. The Flux includes rules for the setting pushing back on the Heroes for invoking their Eternal nature. While The Flux is not the Eternal Champion RPG, the shared concepts make it easy enough to convert the mechanisms and achieve the effects I want.
Being able to weave the Eternal Champion concept into my story arc campaign structure helps build the narrative. One potential flaw in the story arc approach is how the different arcs may seem disconnected. This is an acceptable way to play but may not create the multi-layered epic tale I seek. While the Heroes may change, if I can better present them as reincarnations of the same heroic spirit, then this strengthens the campaign continuity.
Furthermore, once the principle of continuity of character is strengthened, then this likewise reinforces the idea that the plots are linked together. If the Heroes are the same cosmic spirits, then the various story arcs feel much more connected. In turn, the epic plot builds across the different story arcs.
Likewise, the concept of Eternal Heroes also helps the Players in my campaign. Here is an in-game explanation for those areas where Player knowledge exceeds Hero knowledge. If the Players recall facts, events or characters from previous story arcs, then so too can their Heroes. The reason why one Hero remembers a different life may be clearer to the Player than the Hero, yet the Hero is entitled to act upon this information. Conversely, the inevitable gaps in Player knowledge about previous events are now explained in-character. Such fragmentary memories perfectly suit the conceit of a reincarnated Eternal Hero.
Should Player knowledge prove lacking, then the Eternal Hero concept allows me to narrate a dream-like flashback sequence where I remind Players of events in a previous story arc. The inevitable recurring characters or motifs I weave into the campaign can easily serve as a trigger for a flashback. Players are free to simply act on this information, or play up the weirdness of the flashback.
Reinforcing the Past
In order to reinforce this connection to a previous Hero, a couple of tools are available to me. The principle of the Eternal Hero is only a recent addition to my campaign, so this remains a work in progress. I introduced The Flux at the start of the current story arc, but no Player has invoked the process yet. Clearly, I need a stronger mechanical framework to reinforce the concept of Eternal Heroes.
My next step will be to include one ability from the previous Hero onto the current Hero’s character sheet. Players are unlikely to resist the lure of a powerful ability. Every time a Hero uses this legacy ability, then there will be a faint memory of the previous Hero. HeroQuest characters are flexible enough to allow for this bonus ability.
Secondly, I want to reinforce the more mystical nature of this connection with a runic chain. Every Hero has three runes as abilities, which I linked to the Hero’s mind, body and spirit. A new Hero must share a rune with the previous Hero, even if it is applied to a different aspect of the Hero. Thus, the old Hero’s mind rune could become the new Hero’s spirit rune. I hope this would suggest a spiritual link between the current Hero and the previous incarnation.
Once I read The Flux RPG by John Wick, I saw a way to weave Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion concept into my story arc campaign structure. I believe this will reinforce the connections between these story arcs and help us tell an epic tale together. The concept of the Eternal Hero helps build the narrative and brings benefits to the Players. The initial presentation of this idea has not worked well in play, so I plan to strengthen the connections in our next story arc.
Have you tried linking together different incarnations of Heroes? Would this help you build an epic story? Is there another way I can link together the Eternal Heroes? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.
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- Something for the Weekend last week: Oct ‘17 Carnival: GM Superstition
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