Monday, September 26, 2016

Empathy for the Summoned Celestial Black Bear.

     I would like to take a moment to acknowledge an unsung hero. A team player who though never given the credit or respect he so rightfully deserves, has always been there, willing to step in and do what was needed no matter how dangerous, horrifying or just plain foolish. An ally who often times literally took slings and arrows in defense of, or simply for the amusement of, the party members. A selfless being, sworn to obey the commands of the cleric who conjured him from the picturesque mystical forest of the plane of Celestia where he roamed; only to spring into existence in a dark dank dungeon or in one instance, inside himself. Summoned Celestial Black Bear, this is for you.
     The Celestial Black Bear has become a running gag that has endured almost as long as our 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons campaign. For almost the entirety of the 10 years we have played in the world of Tubbnia, the Celestial Black Bear has been the punchline of many a memorable game. Much like Kenny in South Park, the bears most notable (and notorious) act is meeting a grizzly end during session...see what i did there. The bear, however, isn't really killed. As a summoned creature it is returned to the plane of Celestia no worse for wear, remembering the events like a dream; a terrible, terrible dream. The bear then waits until the  cleric summons it once more.
     So, what can the repeated destruction of a summoned creature teach Participants in terms of life skills during a Skill Centric Role Play session? In one particular case, it was used to teach empathy. The cleric who had summoned the bear, often marching the creature to its doom, found the whole thing quite amusing, until the day the shoe was on the other foot.
     The party found themselves in a dungeon, as they often did in those earlier days. They stumbled across a throne room, sitting on the throne was a skeleton, aged and in disrepair. The skeleton was however without a head. The skull laid several feet from the the throne, it seemed to smile with a rictus grin.
     One of the party members decided to walk over and pick it up. No sooner did they do this then they realized they weren't standing where they had been. Looking about, they saw their body several feet away, kneeling over the skull looking around as confused as they were. It soon became apparent what had happened; they switched bodies. The party tried to figure out how to fix this problem and came up with the idea of passing the skull until everything was as it had been. It would have worked too, if it wasn't for that summoned Celestial Black Bear. The cleric got the skull and switched bodies. When he looked at his own body through a pair of new eyes, he saw his face grinning wickedly back at him. When he looked at his hands he saw paws.
     Just to give you an idea of the level of retribution floating around in the bears head, here's a short list of bear deaths.
  • The time the party cast water breath on the bear and tied him to the bottom of a raft to act as a propeller. The bear was eaten by a megalodon
  • The time the bear was commanded to charge through a noble's garden to distract the residents while the PC's looked for documents. The bear was riddled with arrows by guards.
  • The time the PC's found an orb of annihilation and "just to be certain" it was one, they had the bear touch it.
  • The time they sent the bear down a hallway to retrieve a Lich's phylactery. The phylactery was on a pedestal with a pressure plate that when triggered caused sneezing powder to fill the room; a room which was made of mirrors and magically attuned to amplify sound several thousand times.
  • The time the bear was summoned inside of itself causing the first summoned version to explode while the second summoned version screamed in horror. All just to see if it was possible.
     The Celestial Black Bear gained control over the cleric as the cleric once had over it. Eventually everyone was returned to their correct bodies, but not before the topic of empathy, illustrated by this in-game example of walking in another's shoes, was explored. Though the tale of the Celestial Black Bear, if literally taken, is impossible and has no relevance to any real life experiences the Participants were likely to encounter; as with the happenings of a fairy tale or fable, a bit of wisdom was buried in the details.
     Using the events that transpire in-game to teach life skills analogically allows Participants to learn by their own example, albeit in character. The impact of learning in this fashion can be tremendous. Looking back over the events of sessions played and considering the effect of personal actions  on others and how others can affect us, are concepts which work to foster empathy. Separating the raw life skills presented in sessions from the in-game narrative, and reviewing those skills with the group, allows even the most outrageous and over the top events to function as effective teaching tools. A lesson the summoned Celestial Black Bear has taught well.

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