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The "Vogler" Model Part 10: Ordeal

The heroes have healed their wounds, sharpened their swords, and checked their packs.  They are now ready to enter the Inmost Cave, and face their Ordeal.

Most likely, the Ordeal will involve combat, but there is no reason it couldn’t be a challenging social or emotional conflict as well.  Most games do lean toward physical confrontation as a default challenge, but there are a few  games that are heavily geared toward social combat.  Most of the World of Darkness games from White Wolf promote this style of play, and games like Changeling the Lost in particular, make emotional conflict central to their theme.

Typically, this is also the first time the characters will really face the possibility of death.  Combat up to this point, was more or less designed to prepare them for the Ordeal.  The players may even be a little cocky about their character’s ability.  They may underestimate the villain because the lackeys were not much of a challenge.  If this is the case, reality should give them a sharp whack to the head.  In a nutshell, the Ordeal is that point in the story, where the heroes really grow up.

I mentioned in the last installment, that I would talk more about The Mines of Moria.  Despite facing many Tests and Enemies along the way, Frodo and the other Hobbits hadn’t really faced death - yet.  As they are about to escape from Moria, Frodo’s lifelong friend and mentor sacrifices himself to save Frodo.  In this case, Frodo faced death, it just wasn’t his own.  It is Gandalf’s sacrifice that really opens Frodo’s eyes to the horrors they face, and shatters his illusion of ever returning to the Shire.  It is at this moment, that Frodo loses what was left of his innocence.

As with any combat, the fight against the villain should be balanced.  If neither side has a clear advantage, the tension will be at its highest.  Make the villain too weak, the the players will feel cheated out of an otherwise satisfying dramatic moment.  Make the villain too strong, and you risk a total party kill.

This needn’t be the end of the villain either.  Remember, villains are bullies, and bullies are cowards.  If the villain is losing, have him flee.  The players may even relish the idea of chasing the villain across the world, sparring with him on a regular basis.  Sherlock Holmes has this sort of relationship with Moriarty - there is a real sense, that on some level, Holmes and his nemesis actually like on another.

Whether the villains is destroyed or defeated, make sure the characters are rewarded for their victory.  This is where the characters Seize the Sword, and where I end this until next time.


A side note - Should victory be guaranteed for the heroes?  Not necessarily.  A defeat at the hands of a balanced enemy could even be fun for the players.  It may strengthen their resolve to defeat the villain, and get the players more heavily invested in their characters.  This depends heavily on player personalities, so it could be a good topic of conversation away from the game table.

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