Sir Gawain and the Iron Man, Part 2

2009 March 6
by Stupid Ranger
In Part 1, I described the classic “arming of the hero” scene in the story of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and in the Iron Man movie, and I described how this scene could be applied to your own roleplaying as an indication of character development.  I hadn’t intended to make a Part 2, but our friend, Todd, posted a couple of interesting follow-up questions:
Todd Bradley said…
How does this “Arming the Hero” scene fit in with the classic “Training Montage” of action movies? And where does sit in Joseph Campbell’s monomyth (“the hero’s journey”)?
Sir Gawain and the… Training Montage?
The classic Training Montage is ever so familiar to movie-goers.  In this filmed sequence, we witness the hero in physical preparation for the upcoming battle.  I think that there are a couple of ways to adapt the arming scene to the montage sequence.
First, for the unarmed, the training montage is pretty much the arming scene.  Because there aren’t weapons or armor (in most cases), the training is the hero’s preparation. You could develop a training montage for your unarmed character as his arming scene; roleplay this by describing what exercises he completes to emphasize what aspects of his training are most important.  You can then describe character development through the introduction of new training exercises.
However, if you still want to implement a classic arming sequence for your unarmed character, or if you want to implement a training montage for your armed character, you can easily include both because they have such a complementary nature.  Describe your character’s training regimen, with or without weapons.  Let’s face it, those fighters and archers didn’t just wake up one morning proficient with their chosen weapon; a training montage can be a great roleplaying technique to describe your character’s dedication to perfecting her combat abilities.  Follow-up the training montage with an arming scene: describe what is important for your character to have with her when she enters combat.  Maybe your unarmed character has a charm or a magical ring he carries with him; describing that in specific detail as he prepares for battle would be part of his arming scene.  For your armed character, describe how she prepares her weapon: testing the edge of her blade, or ensuring her bowstring is in good condition.  Character development, such as learning new techniques or acquiring new equipment, can be described in future training exercises and/or arming scenes.
Iron Man-omyth
Joseph Campell, in his introduction for The Hero with a Thousand Faces, summarizes the “hero’s journey” monomyth as:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. [From the Wikipedia entry at:]

There are several elements throughout that description that we can recognize has part of our roleplaying stories.  Many campaigns begin with the characters being faced with that call to “venture forth.”  This is a prime place for a simple arming scene: what does the character feel is important as he prepares to leave on his journey?
I’ve always felt that the real power of the arming scene comes from multiple iterations used to describe character development.  That simple opening arming scene is more significant if, later in the adventure, there is a second arming scene to show how the character has grown.  For that purpose, I would recommend placing the next arming scene between encounters with “fabulous forces.”  The hero (your character) seldom sees only on encounter in his journey; after one or more encounters, he will gain knowledge leading to personal growth.  When you feel that your character has experienced significant growth, you can craft a second arming scene (possibly with a training montage) to illustrate this growth.
The Arming and the Monomyth Example
Suppose we have a fighter.  She has received good basic training (insert montage here) from the town guard, and her natural ability with a longsword has caught the attention of the elite weapon-masters in the next town over.  She has been summoned to attend their trials.  Our innocent fighter has been presented with the call to venture forth.
Here, we can craft the first arming scene: she dresses with care the morning of her departure.  She checks her blade; it’s not new, being a cast-off from the guard, but it is a sound sword and holds a decent edge.  Before she leaves, her mother presents her with a soft blue ribbon.  Our fighter absentmindedly ties back her hair with the new ribbon, not so much out of vanity but as a reminder of her family.  We have described our fighter’s personality here: not much attention to her clothes, when compared to her weapon; her weapons are more important than her appearance.  The last detail with the ribbon shows that she is close to her family.
Our fighter ventures out into the great wide world on her way to the trials.  She encounters an outlaw, who engages her in combat.  She receives a few minor injuries, before being disarmed by her opponent.  She manages to regain her weapon, but she receives a nasty cut to her forearm in the process.  In the end, she is victorious against the outlaw, though she is wounded from the encounter.  Here is our first trial: combat outside the careful training activities.  Our fighter has reached a very significant realization that she needs much more training.
She continue on her journey, arriving in good time for the trials.  She succeeds and is invited to join the elites, who present her with a new, better blade.  She has been victorious in her early trials, and she has received a reward.
In her next arming scene, we can focus on describing her new sword: the metallic ring as she pulls it from its scabbard, the way the light reflects off it as she inspects it in the sun.  We might mention less of her appearance and the blue ribbon; right now, those parts of her personality aren’t quite as important to her, because she is more concerned with not only the new blade but the new training that comes with it.  For those looking to add a training montage, there is ample opportunity to describe the exercises she practices as she learns the weight and balance of her new blade, and her desire to improve her skills after her near-miss with the outlaw.
As I said last time, the arming scene provides some great roleplaying opportunities, especially to highlight character development.  You can also include the training montage, either in place of or in conjunction with the arming scene.  And both elements work well in Campbell’s “hero’s journey” monomyth; consider your character’s path to determine where he is in the “journey,” then plan the appropriate scenes or sequences to showcase your character’s development.
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