Post by Peter Watson-Wailes

Main picture: Alice in wonderland by Gordon Tarpley

Please note: The Usual Disclaimer applies as always.

In a post I put up recently on popular films as inspiration for campaigns, there were a few comments in the comments around the community from people which were basically this:

I wouldn't want to run or play in a campaign where a player character was "The Chosen One"

Whilst I can understand the sentiment behind this, it's certainly something that in my view can be run successfully. Therefore, I thought I'd take a look at how you can go about doing that, and how everyone can have fun in a setting where one person is singled out for some reason.

Note: for the rest of this post I'm going to refer to "The Chosen One" as TCO, for the sake of brevity.

Misconception: Only The Chosen One Matters

This is I think (from the discussion that was had around the topic), the biggest issue people have. However, whilst at first glance it makes sense, under closer observation, I'm not so sure it holds up.

First up, Lord of the Rings. Let's say you're running a campaign in the LotR world, and someone's Frodo. (S)he's the Ring Bearer, the one chosen to travel to Mount Doom and destroy the ring. Except that without Sam, there's various occasions where Frodo would have either failed. When fleeing the Nazgul near the start, would Frodo, Merry and Pippin have made it on to the boat and away without Sam being there to help? Or if Merry and Pippin hadn't come along, could Frodo and Sam have made it away alone? Could Frodo have escaped after being taken to the orc tower after he was stung by Shelob? Would he have recovered when he collapsed on Mount Doom and Sam had to carry him? Would he have given in to despair if he'd travelled alone?

Whilst Frodo is TCO all through the Lord of the Rings, he's not doing it alone. Indeed, he's not even doing the bulk of the work. Without Aragorn and Gandalf, Rohan and Gondor would have fallen. Without the renewed Theoden, Gondor would have fallen.

In The Matrix, without the training of Morpheus, the support and love of Trinity and the determination of Tank, he'd had died over and over. Even in the sequels, despite his incredible level of power demonstrated, he still can't be everywhere at once, or solve every challenge.

As for Harry Potter, Harry and co have vast plot armour, but even so, from the first book it's made clear that he can only succeed thanks to the support and aid of his friends, teachers and in some cases, the kindness of those he considers enemies. Without the aid of Snape, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Sirius and Dobby, to say nothing of Ron and Hermione, he'd have died over and over and over throughout the seven books.

So it's pretty clear that, even when there is a TOC, they're far from being the only person that matters. Indeed often they are only around to matter because of the efforts of others.

Challenge: One Special Player

There's a wonderful line in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince...

But I am the chosen one

For all that Harry is, in fact, TCO, he's not above being given a bop on the head for being a bit of an ass, by a close friend. The fact of him being the subject of a prophecy and that everything will ultimately come down to an action that he'll take (defeating Voldemort or not), he's often not the character with the most influence, or the one who's doing important things. In the first book, the real power and influence lies with Dumbledore, trying to keep the Philosopher's stone from wizarding society. In several of the books, one could argue that Snape's internal struggle reconciling his life choices has far more impact than Harry on the eventual outcome.

Equally, in the Lord of the Rings films, Sam's presence is vital irrelevant of that Frodo is the one carrying the ring. It doesn't make a jot of difference that he's not the ring bearer - his actions, his decisions and his aid is just as valid as anyone else's. In fact, it could well be argued that whilst the books are nominally about Frodo, the real hero is Sam, who was barely chosen at all. Aragorn is the hero, Gandalf the manipulator, Sauron the antagonist, Frodo the Chosen One. But Sam goes from gardener and everyman to legendary participant in world-changing events, to farmer again.

This is the key for setting up the story in a campaign with a TCO character - in every story, every character is the lead role. Just because it could be constructed as being about TCO in a book, doesn't mean it's about TCO in a tabletop RPG. All the players are of equal importance, as are their characters in any particular moment.

The "In the Moment" Theory of Importance

I have a pet theory, which I refer to as the "In the Moment" theory of enjoyment. It runs thus:

If I eat a bakewell tart and I enjoy it, I probably won't remember it in a month, let alone a year or ten years. But that future lack of appreciation for that, doesn't change that in the moment, it was delicious.

Equally, whilst sometime in the future, the TCO will be the person that it all comes down to, that doesn't negate all the moments before and after that, where they aren't the most important person. There's no practical reason why you can't run a successful, fun, engaging campaign where everyone gets to shine, even when one of the characters is The Chosen One. It's just a different type of campaign, and one that if you want to stretch your legs as a DM, I'd recommend it's well worth your time running.

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