So we recently had a request from the brilliant @strasa for a post about meshing multiple arcs together when running Becoming Heroes. It was always our intention that it be done, as closely as possible, to give everyone an epic sense of destiny at work. Nothing is as iconic to fantasy as this particular story structure—that everyone arrives at the crossroads of destiny at once, at the same time, for one last final battle between good and evil.
Step One: Setup!
It’s important to let people decide their own character arcs, but if they’re genuinely stuck, nudge them in the direction of a potent one. Always push for Prophesied Saviors, Revolutionaries, Explorers and Lost Kings when you can because the big hitters make for bigger stories. This is something we didn’t go too far into within the text, that some arcs are just bigger than others. Having a “smaller” arc is not a bad thing that somehow implies your character is less important, it’s just a way for people who don’t like (or even scorn) the spotlight to shine in their own way. But aim to have at least one of the big identifiable arcs in play, because doing so makes it easy to wind the others together.
Step Two: Tie Ins!
This is where the ball really gets rolling. As we say in the GM section, it is crucial to engineer play around the arcs that your players have chosen. Once you’ve got this, you can start setting up the game world, and most importantly the game’s Villain. Everyone and everything else can be woven around the Villain, so pick one character’s arc and use it for the first steps of its construction.
Let’s say for the sake of clarity that you have a Revolutionary, Lost King, Vengeful and Dutybound. In a combo like this, I pick the Revolutionary and start from there. Immediately you have some oppressive political force that needs to be overthrown by the heroes, so call that the Empire and tie everyone into it somehow. The Lost King is obviously meant to rule this kingdom, and he or his family have just been deposed or something like that like. Great, so now two characters have a personal stake in throwing out the Empire. The Vengeful may have decided that his object of vengeance is this or that, as people tend to when making Vengefuls, but what you do explicitly or behind the scenes is make that entity a vital part of the power structure of the Empire. But this is Becoming Heroes, so you should probably make that guy the Emperor himself.
Oh wow, look at that, all we have now is the Dutybound. Now, this last player could make things a little difficult because Dutybounds always carry their duty into the story. They should probably not be bound to the Empire, though it could be interesting under certain conditions. If they have a particular political allegiance, have it come under fire from the Empire. If it’s a specific person, have them get captured or indoctrinated or have them be fighting the Empire already. If they haven’t chosen, suggest they make it to the Lost King or his family. All this work sets up that epic endgame that you want—everyone fighting together in one last epic conflict for the fate of their world.
Step Three: Spotlights and Casting a Wide Net
You might be thinking that the above example is too kitschy, too obvious or too homogenous. You might be right! This isn’t a game about the Empire, after all. Spotlight scenes are where you get to show your players that while everyone wants the same thing (if they do), they want it for different reasons, and have different methods for getting it. This is where arc points and NPCs become crucial. Set up scenes to hit their arc points, and I ensure you that everyone will feel like they’re having their own adventure. The arc points are all quite different from one another, and when you engineer opportunities for them to get hit, they tend to flavor the scene pretty heavily. Spotlight scenes are also where you can put all your foreshadowing, if you have something in mind to foreshadow.
NPCs are also part of this effort. Your PCs are Heroes with a capital “H” and play assumes that they’re already on the path to achieving their destinies. Have the NPCs treat them this way. And have them treat the heroes like the name of their arc implies. Revolutionaries are probably already well-known, or at least are known by other like-minded individuals, so have their allies and enemies treat them like the revolutionary they are. Pro-authority assholes and sympathetic intellectuals are a must. The Vengeful might run into an old contact that knew them before they were wronged, that might be expecting some innocent-hearted youth and are surprised when they encounter this gravel-voiced force of cold-hearted, bloody justice. The Dutybound will certainly have people who expect more or less dedication from them, and will definitely have at least one person who wishes to see their ward hurt or disgraced. The Lost King could be a fugitive, folk hero or well-priced bounty that attracts all kinds of unusual attention. These various encounters will widen the net of the story to include all the differences between the characters. When you reel it in for the final conflict, it’ll make that sensation of different destinies getting tied together even more potent.
Step Four: Bring Them Together, Put Them at Odds, Bring Them Together
Becoming Heroes is a circle-shaped game. Many of the arc points assume that the world was once good, ruled justly and righteously before the advent of some new evil. The players are trying to bring back that time of sunlit glory. But until then, there should always be something wrong with the world. Never let them sit content on their laurels, and never let a victory be a complete one. Except the very last one, which should be everything they ever hoped for, and should Set the World Right. This is just as true for things outside the party as it is inside. Cause a little interparty conflict wherever you can, by having things rub up against opposed virtues or goals. A Revolutionary may want to use a devastating magic weapon against the Empire, but the Dutybound may object to such a thing being used against the very people they’re trying to protect! Think of the casualties!
This continual imperfection will keep the circle rolling until you bring it to a decisive close with the final battle, where everyone is of one mind. If things get a little too fractured, there are a few tricks you can use to bring them back together. Remember that Circumstances are easy to inflict and great for bringing people together. You can always give characters emotional states of mind relating to recent events or recent characters, and people play that. Giving everyone at the table the status “totally okay with everyone and loves the team GO TEAM” is way too obvious a move. But if the aforementioned Revolutionary uses the device, say that he regrets it, or feels remorse. The Dutybound’s character can react to this positively, bringing them a little closer together.
Step Five: The Final Battle
Surprisingly, this part isn’t as hard as you’d think. It can go down any way you want it to, really. Maybe you storm the wizard’s tower. Maybe you confront the Big Bad during his final assault on the last meaningful citadel the kingdom has. Avatar: the Last Airbender sets a good example, where each member of the party has some crucial role to play in the final conflict but that the fight itself is left to just one of the heroes. Sometimes though, your party just wants to descend on that evil like a pack of gods-blessed wolves, and if you sense that, then give it to them. Everyone is going to want the same thing here pretty much by default, so there’s not too much work you need to put in to pull everyone together.
Step Six: Epilogue
Becoming Heroes is a game that should have an ending. You can always play on, of course, but an ending gives meaning to the events that preceded it. So once things end, you should have an Epilogue. It’s a chance to see the changes the character’s have wrought, large and small, upon the world. Have a ceremony. Bring up NPCs they may have forgotten about. Tie up loose ends. Make sure everyone has their place after the destruction of the land’s evil. And make sure the characters, if they are Lost Kings or Prophesied Saviors or Alchemists, set up new and good institutions in evil’s place. If they’re all Dark Knight and Lone Wolf types, maybe they scatter to the winds, living on in legend only. Or perhaps others create good organizations in their name. And don’t try too hard to keep the party together once the evil is vanquished; it’s better if heroes go off and do their own thing.