Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Missing Mentor

This is the lamest image I could find on Google.  You're welcome

            Populating a city for a Vampire the Masquerade chronicle is a matter of filling in all the relevant positions within the city’s bureaucracy.  The Prince, the Primogen Council and a Sheriff along with a few other NPCs usually round out the population of vampires in the city.  Including a few oddities such as a Lasombra-antitribu or a Ravnos or even a clique of Caitiff in the Barrens will give players a few interesting characters to encounter and potentially overcome.  The Storyteller has worked to give each of these NPCs a role and place within the story, but this approach serves the need of filling out a city’s stat sheet.  While filling out each of those positions within a city’s hierarchy is important, the storyteller also needs to have NPCs who serve the story and the player characters. 
            Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with aThousand Faces” is probably familiar to most readers as an outline for storytelling where the Hero completes a heroic journey helped along the way by a mentor and other characters to overcome a great antagonist or solve an overwhelming problem.  Star Wars is probably the most famous example of the Hero’s Journey in modern cinema.  Luke is initiated into a new world when he meets Obi-Wan Kenobi (his mentor) and begins learning about the Force and becoming a Jedi.  He travels from his small homestead on the backwater planet of Tatooine to the Death Star where he saves the Princess.  From there he joins the Rebellion and saves his new allies from destruction by blowing up the Death Star by relying on his nascent understanding of the Force. 
This model can be easily applied to storytelling in RPGs such as Vampire the Masquerade.  The Player Characters are initiated into a new world filled with supernatural creatures and given new rules that govern their lives.  They confront terrible creatures and evil machinations to save themselves and their city from the Sabbat, Werewolves, or various other monsters.  The World of Darkness allows these battles to be waged in the shadows and in the grey areas of morality where the absolute good of the “Light Side” doesn’t exist. 
Does this really need a caption?
However, when looking at storytelling in the World of Darkness and RPGs in general, the Mentor is one of the most under-utilized character archetypes.  Typically in Vampire the Masquerade the mentoring of a character in the Camarilla or Sabbat or whatever Sect is hand-waves as part of the character’s prelude.  The character’s sire is assumed to have fulfilled that role and the player is left to his or her own devices as the plots of the Elders run like clockwork around him or her.  Conversely, the introduction of a trustworthy Mentor will provide the storyteller with an avenue to give information to players as they progress through a story.  The same is true for a stereotypical fantasy style game such as D&D.  The characters begin the game with knowledge of the world and their skills already learned.  New skills are acquired through leveling up rather than a process of learning.  The characters rarely rely on a mentor to assist them in learning about the world. 
One of the most difficult parts of running a game is that the Storyteller or GM has the story in his or her head, but he/she must convey that story to the players without dragging them through the plot.  The mentor provides a way for the Storyteller to impart information without just giving it to the players because the mentor can act as the voice of the storyteller during scenes where exposition is necessary.  The mentor can also provide information about the setting that players may not know such as the disposition of other cities in world and whether or not other supernatural creatures are operating within the city where the players live. 
Man who catch fly with chopstick accomplish anything
The mentor can give the players information about the history of the city or the clans or sects as needed.  The mentor can act as a repository for all the necessary exposition that the players need as they explore the world.  Without a mentor the storyteller may need to just give the players information.  By putting the exposition into the mouth of a mentor, the players become more immersed in the story and setting rather than being pulled out when the storyteller just gives them some important information about the setting. 
For example, the Players need to know whether or not the Prince strictly enforces the traditions in the City.  The Storyteller can just tell the players the answer, or the Storyteller can use the mentor to give the players that same information.  By having the mentor answer that question, the players are no longer just asking questions to the Storyteller but are interacting with the world.  Also, the information is not coming from the omnipotent, omniscient narrator but from a character in the story.  The omniscient narrator is never wrong, but an NPC can have outdated information. 
This guy is named Mentor.  Does this count?
I have found that having a single mentor for all of the player characters is the simplest approach.  The players will rarely split the party for any reason, and they approach all NPCs and situations as a group anyway, so having one mentor for the party works well.  The single mentor must then have the knowledge to give each player what he or she needs to understand the world and the story being told.  In a game like Vampire the Masquerade where every NPC and PC is a self serving bastard, it’s important the Mentor be above the fray and he or she can never work at cross purposes to the players so long as he or she remains the players’ mentor.  Of course, there are plenty of ways to turn their mentor against them, but that’s for another article. 
By incorporating an NPC mentor into your game, Storytellers will be able to give assistance to players and an in game method of helping players grow in their skills and acquire new skills as well.  The mentor can provide both helpful advice and new knowledge that the players will need to overcome challenges. 

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