Story is essential to human civilization, not just a tool within RPG. And, story takes many forms. What is interesting to me, are stories based on myths and legends. And, understanding real world myths and legends may give insight into creating more interesting stories within RPGs. All of this is explored within this documentary I found on Netflix, aptly named Myths & Monsters released in 2017.
There are 6, ~45 minute episodes. This is a British documentary, with appropriate (if not a bit annoying) British accented commentary from university professors. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed the main narrator, Nicholas Day. Each show is based on a main theme per the title of the episode.
Each episode is narrated with interjecting comments over some beautiful pieces of artwork. Many of these are animated in a way. I’m trying to think of a comparison (I don’t know what it’s called; but they did it in American Ripper). What they do is take a 2D image and through CGI slowly animate parts of the image (like the arms of a figure, or arrows in the air) through a motion as if it were a couple frames in an animated scene. Sometimes this gets a little annoying, but usually it’s an interesting effect.
Many of the images are historical pieces that I think I recognize (I’m not scholar of art..) but many appear to be unique to this series and appear to be of a cohesive style. Very inspiring. Nearly all are beautiful. You may want to watch this just for the inspiration from the art. Other than the classical pieces, I think it’s obvious that they have an artist who made other images as half of these have a very similar style (there’s a long list of artists on the IMDB page). These are gorgeous too. And lastly, each episode tells one whole story via a sort of cartoon that is broken up through the episode.
I wish I could screen shot some images to post here, but I am thinking Netflix uses some vile wizardry that’s keeping me from doing so.
Episode 1 is titled “Heroes & Villains” and is essentially a summary on the theory proposed by Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces. I’m going to assume that you already know who this is. If not, then the next thing you need to do is start reading about comparative mythology and Campbell’s theory on the Monomyth. It is the foundation of all modern fantasy story telling, whether the author (or you the reader) know it. You can say this is only my opinion; I’m OK with that, because I really believe I could prove it to be true. This episode focuses a bit on the Arthurian legends and Odysseus to illustrate the Heroes Journey.
Episode 2 is titled “The Wild Unknown” and covers the idea that in the ancient world, the “wilderness” was “wild” and “unknown”. This is illustrated via some Greek Myths, and what I was thinking the entire time is “This is all about Law vs. Chaos!”, if you see “Law” as “Civilization” and “Chaos” as “The Wild”. If you’ve read the DCC RPG core book; you’re gonna see where all of this is pertinent.
Episode 3 is titled “War”, and .. you guessed it, it’s about mythologies centered around war. Simple enough. However, this is where I started thinking “this series is mandatory viewing for any Dungeon Master”. Stories about war are not just about the warfare itself. In fact, a good war story has very little to do with the technical aspects of War (a story that does is more historical, NOT mythological). Rather, a good war story is about the people, places, ideas, politics, etc of all those involved. And, how these things change. What persists (the victors write the history). And, what was lost (maybe only the DM knows what was lost?).
Episode 4 is titled “Love & Betrayal”. My favorite line in this episode is “Sometimes Love is dangerous”. You ain’t shittin’! So true. And, when you look at some of the original myths and stories, the ancients had some wicked and twisted tales. No boring love triangles. No, it’s stories like Agamemnon sacrificing his own daughter to Artemis in order to win her favor prior to the Trojan War, which he finally returns 10 years later a victor and hero, only to be murdered by his own wife who plotted revenge for a decade! Now, that’s an epic tale based on love betrayed!
Episode 5 is titled “Change & Revolution”. In this episode, you start to see how the stories told in a society are a reflection of that society. And, that just as the society changes, so do their stories. For a DM creating a world, I think the simplest lesson here is to not create a “history book” regarding the history of the world. Create stories as they would be told by the people, about what happened in that history, acknowledging that stories are often not accurate in a literal sense. However, when you examine them, the stories not only try to explain something in the past, but also teach a lesson important to that society.
Episode 6 is titled “The End of All Things”. Apocalyptic stories always fascinate me. This episode uses Ragnarök as an example. Related to all the prior episodes, one lesson is that a societie’s end times stories say something about that society. Beyond that, studying some of these stories from real world cultures yields some of the most fantastic ideas that a DM could riff on. Want an epic high level campaign? Well… the 7th seal just got opened. Get ready for some divine whoop ass down in that placed called Megiddo that your party used to explore at lower level where the NPCs dropped all sorts of foreshadowing about a coming Great War between Good and Evil.