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Friday, 13 September 2019

The personal touch

Gamebook maven John Jones was in touch with the Fabled Lands team recently with an intriguing suggestion – indeed, a creative challenge – that occurred to him while watching Jessica Jones:
“What is interesting about the conflict between Jessica and Kilgrave is the personal nature of it. Unlike other villains, Kilgrave has only one very goal he wants to achieve and any effect he has on the larger world comes in service to that goal. At the same time Jessica has her own very personal goal. I mention this to contrast it with the main conflict in The Serpent King's Domain. To Namagal it's a very personal situation involving his death and/or humbling. To the viewpoint character playing the book, it is (or can be) little more than an item on a to-do list toward achieving a different goal. I make that contrast because one thing I'd like to see in The Lone and Level Sands or perhaps a later book is for an important quest to be personal and important to the viewpoint character.”
Of course, conflict is almost always more interesting when it’s personal. After a love story, perhaps the most compelling of narratives is a war in the family:


It only works when it’s earned, of course. Batman v Superman did nothing but lay popcorn-brained waste to the surprising-yet-inevitable showdown which in Frank Miller’s original story came at the endpoint of a difficult friendship that had struggled on against the odds for decades.

The point of the personal conflict is to up the stakes. The story has more bite, more pain, more inner struggle. We, the readers or viewers, feel more strongly involved. But writing rules are no substitute for commonsense. All those screenwriters who feel the need to make Robin the Sheriff of Nottingham’s half-brother, take note. And let’s also point an accusatory finger at the recent Harry Potterization of the 007 franchise, in which every adversary must be tied to Bond’s angsty childhood. Puh-lease. It’s more Charlie Higson than Ian Fleming.

The sharpening effect of personal conflict is why I don’t object to a little PvP in my roleplaying games. The civil war that happened in our Tekumel campaign was a classic tragedy in the making, with the player group splitting right down the middle. Jamie told his wife that the Tsolyani civil war was the most important thing in his life at the time. I can believe it. Think of any time you and somebody you care about have ended up on opposite sides on an issue of passionate importance. There’s a wrench in the gut that goes far beyond mere difference of opinion.

The Tsolyani example reminded me of a letter I got from Professor MAR Barker back in November 1985:
"Eyloa the Wizard of the Tlashte Heights, played by Mike Callahan, just discovered that the Pariah Deities' chief agent in his sector, Torsu, is in reality his own father. I was told later that this is a rip-off of the Star Wars plots, but then I have been running this particular campaign since before The Empire Strikes Back and all along the storyline has been the same."
So you can pull off the same trick between player and NPC. I must have been aiming for something like that in my second-ever gamebook, The Temple of Flame, which begins by establishing the backstory between the lead character and their former colleague Damontir the Mad, who is the book’s antagonist. Players of Heart of Ice have remarked that though the possible endings include saving the world and seizing ultimate power, nothing compares to meting out just deserts to the weaselly Kyle Boche. And even in Fabled Lands we have recurring adversaries like Talanexor the Fire Wizard and your persistent frenemy Lauria. You want to see more of them, don’t you?

Which brings us back to John Jones’s suggestion. I’m not going to reveal what he proposed because it was really cool and maybe Paul Gresty will want to run with it in future books. All I will say is that it made me think of Fritz Leiber Jr, and that’s never a bad thing.




10 comments:

  1. The dilemma of RPGs has always been how to square freedom and personality. Being able to imagine whatever character one wishes to as the protagonist too often comes at the cost of that character's involvement in the plot beyond that of a mere mercenary (the popularity of that motivation in the genre is no wonder). Planescape: Torment comes to mind as having been uniquely creative in achieving both with its basic conceit of amnesia. I would be curious to see how a FL book would be able to address this.

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    1. One of the biggest obstacle to personal conflict in the Fabled Series is that the authors know nothing of the protagonists in question. In Way of the Tiger or Lone Wolf, you have a definite person required by the book to have a certain outlook. Avenger must recover the Scroll of Plot Device or die trying. He can't just decide to piss off and be a merchant seaman for a while.

      Even in Blood Sword, while the individual characters are undefined beyond possible classes, there is still the base goal of defeat the Battlepits (Book 1) and stop the Elder Magi (Books 2-5). Even thought they may be a pack of greedy, sociopathic murder hobos, they still have that goal.

      Fabled Lands? Your goals are whatever you want them to be as is your personality. You can't just drop in stuff like "The rebels in Sokara are desperate for aid as they are sorely pressed by General Marlock."

      Because like as not you'll get a respond like my Devereaux would give. "They'd better be. I killed the old king's heir and slit Beldai's throat as he slept to scatter their army to the four winds, whose Fane I've actually visited. Hopefully those bloody aristo will get hung from the walls soon so I can re purpose their into a delightfully exclusive mountain ski resort."

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  2. Lauria's return was something I expected/hoped for, but your teaser has whetted my curiosity. I am sure, if he decides to work in such a suggestion, Paul will do a fine job of keeping the player interested in the intersection of their character's life and the Fabled Lands.

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    1. Book 3 gives you a potential future link with her via the "Civil" code word. Of course, that link is because you sold her into slavery to the Uttaku, so it's not exactly a "friendly" link. Still, give where Book 8 is supposed to take place, you could easily get a potential team up/race/etc involving tomb robbery or something.

      Hell, for that matter, you could potentially get a rematch with Talanexor even with the "Fortress" code word. It's not like your character is the only one who can buy/obtain Resurrection Deals, after all. That was one of the cooler bits from Book 7 - dealing with an enemy who can also return from the dead.

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  3. Without getting too much into the details (in part because it's actually been awhile and I've kind of forgotten them myself), I took some inspiration from an incident that occurs in the TSR module, "Scourge of the Slavelords." At a point in the adventure the PCs and captured. As part of their capture they are stripped of their equipment. Some of it (potions, scroll, etc) is taken by the villains for their own use. Other stuff, like intelligent, Good-aligned weapons is dropped over the side of a ship, never to be seen again. The idea is to give the PCs a reason to really, personally hate these enemies. Little makes players hate their opponents more than those opponents taking their hard-earning stuff.

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  4. Is the next Fabled Lands kickstarter being planned?

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    1. Probably the best way to put it is that the Fabled Lands is planning to plan it. One thing Paul has said is that before any kickstarter he wants to actually have the book finished. So, it's coming, but it's still going to be a while.

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  5. The Steam Highwayman books strike a happy medium by defining the protagonist's role as a highwayman but not his or her background and motivation, which are left to the player. Like Robin Hood, you might be a disaffected nobleman or a working-class freedom fighter or several other options.

    The very point of Fabled Lands is to give players the same freedom as in a tabletop roleplaying game. Readers who've only ever played highly narrative-driven CRPGs seem to find the freedom daunting, but it's the series USP so there's no changing it now.

    We can and do have personal relationships in FL (such as the one with Lauria) and those are all the better for the player actually initiating them, rather than just being told they come packed with a pre-written character background.

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    1. The level of character choices and freedom is the reason it became my favorite series. I used to love the Lone Wolf books. I'd play and replay them all the time. I occasionally still do (mostly on Project Aon so I don't have to have a physical character sheet). The point that kind of soured me on LW came in book 27. Your character had obtained an evil artifact. He (or she) has been told, point blank that the thing in indestructible and needs to be taken elsewhere. He still tries to destroy it using his special magic weapon. This results in him taking damage and the weapon also taking damage to the point that its effectiveness in battle is reduced from the point on.

      The Fabled Lands series often gives you the chance to do foolish, dangerous things that can or will get you killed. But doing them is always ultimately your choice. You're never forced to do them.

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    2. Agreed! I hate railroading in roleplaying games, so make every effort to keep it out of any gamebooks I write.

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