Medievia Mudslinger

November 4th, 2001

Mudslinger Writer's Guide - Part VII - By Excrucior

The Game's Afoot!

One important concept to remember, and so many forget it all too often, is that you're writing about a game. If you want to create a believable tale, you have to work out what would be acceptable to say. You have to break down your terminology into what a player would say and that which a character would say. There's a world of difference between them. A good tale is written as if you're a character, a poor one as if you're a player. (There are certain exceptions to this, such as the technique of alienation and in comedy - often one and the same - but most stories should be written as if the narrator is in the game itself).

A character would talk in terms of another wave of guardsmen galloping down the street - a player would say, "Ah - repop!". See the difference? You have to describe things as a character would see them, not the player. I've had pieces that describe the characters as being level twenty or whatever - that's not what a character would say. Would you describe yourself as a level thirteen programmer? Use other terms - such as novice, veteran, well trained in the arts of magic - whatever, but only if you must, and then rarely. Try and keep that sort of thing out for preference. Continuous references to the guardsman you were fighting now was less versed in war compared to the Janitor you fought earlier will just annoy your readers. It also annoys me and that's more important. Just try to show that your character is skilled through his or her actions.

You speak English, your reader speaks English - what do the characters speak? Don't even try to answer that one in your tales, just assume the humans all speak the same language. Maybe a character has a Scottish accent - where's Scotland? Use a game area such as Derah or Vanlarra to differentiate accents. Define people in different terms and don't use phrases that you'd hear in everyday life. Don't compare the straightness of a blast of magical energy to that of a laser beam - the reader knows what you mean, but it doesn't draw them into the tale. Real life can ruin a Medievian tale.

A lot of things are described as 'runs' in the game. Trade run, equipment run, xp run - you know the sort of thing. That isn't a good term to use for a good narrative. You could try things like, "I need cash, anyone willing to haul freight with me?" or "I shall seek a better weapon - rumor has it that there is one in yonder castle." You don't go out on an xp run - you venture with your comrades for valuable combat practice against the fell beasts of the wilderness. Use phraseology that you would in real life if it were you doing the deed.

It's actually better, and a more advanced technique, to try and avoid any mention of things like the above as plot elements - even better than paraphrasing them in fact. If you can then try and have your characters not saying phrases such as those above, but instead make the plot take them there. To introduce a trading expedition you don't have to say that the protagonists decide they are going to trade, give them a reason to need money and then have them saying something like, "Back to the wagons then...". The next scene after this would be on the road and watching the birds springing from a bush - you know the rest. However, the fact is that you can introduce an ingame activity without mentioning the activity by its ingame name or just a paraphrasing of it. Give your protagonists a reason to do what you want.

Try reading the standard fantasy novel - people don't just go out and kill things for experience, because people don't talk like that in real life. You could have someone who guards a fortress in the wastelands explain something like...



"I've traveled out some distance and taken on the bears in the forest from time to time. They make good sport and their hides keep the floor from seeming too chill. Be wary of their claws, though, for their reach is more than it seems at first."



or



"This is Hector, one of the local guides. He's familiar with the terrain around here and the animals you may have to fend off. I'd suggest you listen. The last people who didn't ended up as a feast for the wolves."



This intimates experience of the fauna around the area without saying that they are a level twenty+ warrior or whatever. It suggests competence instead of an xp to next level total.

If you manage to keep your terminology and plot as in-character and not ingame as possible then this helps with trying to immerse the reader into experiencing the tale as it is told. It's just another of the techniques available for the author - use it.

There are a few game elements that make for bad narrative. I've had a few stories submitted that involve character vs character fights, and as you may expect, a few of these had them backstabbing each other. Think about this for a moment. In the game, you can watch a herobattle and they'll be backstabbing each other with regularity, fleeing and trying to get a strike back in at their foe. It's an aspect that many writers have tried to copy, but they tried to make it the same as they see on the screen. Can you justify the three combat round lag after a backstab? People have tried - "stood in one place while I regained my balance..." etc - but it doesn't work in narrative. Justify to me that a character can backstab another, his foe runs out of the room, and the attacker just stands there to let the guy come back in the exit he just left (entirely unnoticed of course) and returns the same attack. Then of course the guy who was first attacked has to stand still for a while while his opponent does the same to him. Can you make this work in narrative? I can't and I wouldn't dare to try.

Just to extend the concept here - is a backstab always a backstab? One of the more common assassination methods used to be a garrote, the surprise of the attack from behind cutting off a sentry's chance to raise the alarm. Someone leaping from an upper window onto a passing enemy by surprise is a devastating attack - something approximating the game element. Don't just take the game text literally. If in doubt about something then ask me for hints or advice.

As mentioned earlier on you have to have things believable. Can you link to escape a tornado? In the game, sure. In a story... you'd have to be really convincing, and it wouldn't really work - the reader would learn to expect it whenever danger strikes. It reduces the tension. Auction channel? You could convert it to an auction block in the City of Medievia where people take goods to sell to make it believable but a telepathic communication channel? Would that work for a reader? It's that willing suspension of disbelief again. (I mentioned before that the Medievian audience would accept this - they will, but it doesn't make a good narrative and an outside audience would be less than happy with it.) Going through the same mobs again to try and get a better weapon this time? That's a game element and not a story one - there should only be one of a named item in existence for a story purpose (Magnificent Sword of Ice is a named and rare(ish) item - a Guardsman's sword from the City of Medievia is a common one).

We gods are an interesting case to consider. We run quests on a regular basis, interact with mortals and chat, but the divine doesn't always work in a tale. Read successful mainstream stories that involve the divine - they all have to have some sort of mechanism to explain why the gods don't just smite the wrongdoer themselves, and these are usually pretty lame. If possible, try not to involve a god at all - players know we can dispense instant justice as necessary and that there is little that a high ranking god cannot do. Limiting a god within your tale ("forbidden from interfering..." *yawn* - cliche) will not work for the majority of the readers.

The ancient Greek had a phrase for this - Deus Ex Machina. It literally means "god out of a box", and it referred to a standard technique for ancient Greek theater. The audience of the time genuinely believed in a pantheon of gods who would rescue their favorites in times of need (read the Iliad and Odyssey for prime examples of this), and as such they cheerfully accepted a play ending in a god coming along, smiting the bad guys, helping the good guys, and down with the curtain (so to speak - amphitheaters didn't have curtains). It doesn't work with a modern audience, so avoid it.

In essence, don't try and explain game elements away in story terms - explain story elements in story terms and alter the game elements in the story (but not too far) to fit a decent narrative.

As a side note, comedy is somewhat exempt from this rule if using the technique of alienation - more on this in a future section.

There's one aspect I've left out from this section. However, that deserves a section of its own - Death and how to deal with it, next.

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