Jump to content

Less than Epic Fantasy


Ironworker
 Share

Recommended Posts

It seems to me that the best fantasy out there is usually very "Epic" in scale. Stories like LOTR or Star Wars. Probably the two greatest fantasy stories of the 20th century are both pretty much big and epic "Save the Universe/World". Usually even tales that start small end up being very grand in scale. Especially in film I think.

With all the grand scale stuff sometimes It's hard for me to scale back and come up with small scale fantasy that is good. I don't write stories or novels. I usually write fantasy for games. Either RPG or miniature war games. Typically I'll sit down to write a two or three page backstory for a small adventure and will not have realized I've gone wrong until I get to page 20 of something that is just basically a prolog to what I was intending to explane in my two or three page back story. That's usually when I scrap the whole thing.

Most small scale fantasy I've encountered, outside legends like Beowulf and the Arthurian myths, have left me feeling less than impressed. Usually they are just boreing little stories that seem like fabels and not adventures.

I think this may be a problem with fantasy gameing in general. Most small scale stories involve a single main hero which does not work well in a RPG setting but stories that are good for groups of heros are usually depicted as pretty grand a scale and that's hard to pull off if you don't have a group that is very deticated to keeping a game running for a long enough period of time to finish an epic tale.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 23
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Top Posters In This Topic

I guess the best thing to do for small stories, as far as I've seen is to just build a frame work. Eg a->b->c etc, and just fudge the rest, this means you don't have to nail down too much, and as long as you keep track of the story should work well, and won't end up as an epic. :poke:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Both your examples have more than one character in the starring role. The problem is not a single hero, but that GMs and players don't "think outside the box".

 

I ran into a problem with Exalted in that my stories aren't epic enough. Both LotR and Star Wars split up parties to have two or more things happening at once. Great for a movie, but bad for gaming. I think having one part of the party turning off the shield generator and the other part ready to attack the Death Star would be cool. But I also realize players don't like waiting their turn.

 

But then again in a recent Buffy game, everyone bought into the TV show mentality. Everyone realized that at some point they'd get their "close up" and so people tended to know when to act and when to support a theme. (BTW We saved the world and no one even knew, but us.)

 

I'd say you need to know where you are starting and where you want to end up. You then have to figure out how to go from point A to point B. Point A should be mundane and point B should be epic. Both your examples start with rather normal people who have a destiny. Neither Frodo nor Luke was ready for the things that would happen. The destruction of the Ring and the Emperor are almost unimaginable at the beginning of the story.

 

I think a big problem that many gamers have is the glass ceiling. In Forgotten Realms you are never going to be bigger than Elminster, but why? Because most GMs aren't comfortable with lowly PCs changing the world. If you can't imagine a 1st level character that some day might change history then you're never going to tell an epic tale. If a GM isn't willing to allow players to affect the setting in a real way then you are condemned to sweeping out dungeons.

 

Iain.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think small-scale fantasy can work well too. I love the stories of Conan, which were certainly small scale, rarely more than just the Cimmerian involved. Occasionally he went thieving with a partner (Taurus in the Tower of the Elephant comes to mind). King Kull and Bran Mak Morn were similar, acting primarily alone, though both were often to be found at the heads of armies, being the leaders of their respective peoples. Conan eventually became King of Aquilonia, but he primarily worked alone.

 

Granted, these are examples of grimmer Sword-and-Sorcery rather than the High Fantasy of Tolkien.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Early fantasy such as Dunsanay, Howard and Leiber often fit the less-than-epic role. The problem is that since LotR, it seems everyone has to "out-Tolkein" JRRT.

If you can't turn it into a trilogy, or decology, for that matter, why bother? it's specious logic like this that causes so many repetitive plotlines, and the uneasy sense of "deja vu all over again".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The last game I ran (Heroes Unlimited) had a main opponent for my players(an evil organization that used science and sorcery ran by an ancient warlock/CEO),but there were some smaller adventures that were unrelated to the main enemy. I've run D&D campaigns in the past , and some were unrelated adventures, and some involved a specific goal or quest.

I don't think every game has to be centered around some grand, epic undertaking(like LOTR). To use an example from another post, the Conan stories wre basically a string of adventures that Conan had, not some big epic quest. He did become king , but that was down the line a bit.

I think the important thing is to keep it interesting for your players, keep all the players involved( have stuff for every character type to do - thieves, fighters, etc), and most of all, have fun!! :B):

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This will sound crazy, but I write backwards. I write the ending first and work from there. Do I want the bad guy to get perished by the players? Or do I want him to get away somehow and reappear? All depends on wether it's the introductory adventure or the conclusion. My adventures are pretty episodic and that tends to keep them interested.

I've discovered that most players are pretty imaginitive and creative and will come up with things I would never have thought of. They also like the fact that I don't run really rigid storylines. It gives them the oppurtunity to do pretty much what they want, how they want. It also causes me to have to think fast sometimes but I enjoy them challenging me that way.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I used to be a real comic book fan. I liked the stories. I still collect the DC Archive hardbounds of Batman, Superman and the Justice Society, from the 40's. The key was the writing. Each issue had a number of short stories: some excellent, some good, some...well, forgetable. Each, though,had to stand on it's on merits.

 

Today, the art is better(by far), the print quality is phenominal, but the stories just don't cut it for me anymore. Don't get me wrong, there are still some very good writers, but the name of the game seems to be "epic". Almost everything is part of a 12 issue storyline, or worse, the annual 72 part crossover.

 

Now I get my fantasy/sci-fi fix reading the Chaosium and Del Rey Cthulhu anthologies. Most of the stories are pretty darn good, and the ones that don't measure up...well, at least I didn't spend the whole summer, and $200 trying to collect every chapter.

 

Epics certainly have a place, but I feel most of us can relate more to the "small" stories. When epics become commonplace, they just aren't "epic" anymore.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I cannot remember exactly where I read this bit of advice -- I believe it was in an article on writing interactive fiction games (also known as text adventures). But the theme was developing plot for your game, and the advice applies just as well to writing scenarios for your role-playing game.

 

The advice was this: that drama can actually be more effective on a small scale than a large scale. Consider these two scenarios:

 

1) "Captain, unless we stop it, the quantum singularity will destroy the whole universe in less than a week!"

 

2) "Doctor, we have to do something, or the mudslide will wipe out the whole village!"

 

Which one is more personal? Which one grips you and makes you have to fix it because you can't live with the consequences? Sure, the whole universe blowing up would be bad -- but down in that village lives old Widow Rooney, who keeps a goat on the green. And she doesn't have much, but she always invites you in for a cup of warm goat's milk. How could you not do your utmost to save her?

 

P.S. Woohoo, 100 posts!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree. For me it doesn't matter of the story is epic or not; it matters if the story is engaging, interesting, perhaps thought provoking. In short I have to ultimately care about the characters in some way or fashion. If Tolkien couldn't write characters worth a whit then the LOTR would be a flop. But he did and he could (though perhaps not as WELL as PJ is doing for the movies I think!). The focus should always be on the story...

 

Damon.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Iron,

I don't know how much character building you've done, but focus more on this and the rest will happen like "magic"....I'll give an example of how I accomplish this...

 

I always start with the a villian---that is singular. No organizations (yet, that is).

And ask myself some general journalist questions...

 

What does he want?

How does he plan to get it?

Where are his goals best served?

Why does he want what he wants?

When does he need to accomplish his goal?

Who is he?

 

Brainstorm on him for a few days, without writing anything down. Once it feels as though your head is going to explode with ideas...start writing. I write this in the first person as my villian...from his perspective....have the villian answer the questions you've been thinking about.

 

Always fit at least one redeeming quality into his character...

Here's an example (brief, but an example no-less)

"Lord Gerard ran a sword through the high priest, in the town square nonetheless. The priest didn't die right then, no...he stayed impaled on the sword, nailed to the fountain by the glistening steel shaft, screaming for mercy...pleading that someone would kill him. The priest's blood pooled in the central fountain for three days. His corpse hung there...it rotted in the fountain for six days."

 

"My word...Six days you say? Why six days?"

"Lord Gerard stated that he would not defile the sabbath."

 

 

This adds intrigue to the villain....it makes the pcs ask themselves, "is he REALLY such a bad guy?"...

 

Make his goals INDEPENDENT of the pcs....and let the pcs make themselves the obstacles to his villiany. Let the villain react to the pcs in such a way that his goals are still being realized. You'll be surprised at how much story this generate for you. The trick is to keep the villian/pc opposition at a personal level. The story drive is about emotion....as long as the passion is maintained, the story will be a good one.

 

I won't get much more into character/story theory at the moment...but just think about it. If you like the idea of building this way, just let me know and I'll elaborate on the details....

Kev

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lionmane - If I remember correctly, Conan was in his late 40s when he became King of Aquilonia. And the earliest 'canon' stories (Howard, Lin Carter, deCamp and Nyborg -sp?) have him at about fifteen, sixteen years old. Somebody recently wrote a book with Conan even younger, ending with the oftmentioned sacking of Venarium, but he fiddled with the continuity and I didn't consider it paticularly well-written. Somewhere it was put down that Conan originally considered bows and arrows as children's toys, until his mid-twenties when he was in Turan and saw them used with devastating effect by Turanian horsemen. However, in this book, Conan's twelve years old and picking small birds out of the air with a bow he'd made himself.

 

And, in regards to your signature, you have great taste in music. What song is that from?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  Somebody recently wrote a book with Conan even younger, ending with the oftmentioned sacking of Venarium, but he fiddled with the continuity and I didn't consider it paticularly well-written.  Somewhere it was put down that Conan originally considered bows and arrows as children's toys, until his mid-twenties when he was in Turan and saw them used with devastating effect by Turanian horsemen. 

The quote on Conan and his feeling toward Bows is from The Queen of the Black Coast. And Harry Turtledove wrote Conan of Venarium recently. But, the best news for a Conan fan in awhile is The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian which reprints many of the original Howard stories as they were when first published in Wierd Tales.

 

Now as for stories and keeping things less than epic. It depends on the experience of your characters. If the PCs are long into their careers of adventure they should be involved in the big picture items of winning a rebellion against the evil overlord or some such. But early on they should be easy to please with fighting a band of orcs or other bandits being just about all they can handle.

 

A useful plot device which isn't epic is the puzzle or mystery. Far more common to Call of Cthulhu or other horror style games it is easy to import and finding plot devices is as easy as watching the Maltese Falcon.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The advice was this: that drama can actually be more effective on a small scale than a large scale. Consider these two scenarios:

 

1) "Captain, unless we stop it, the quantum singularity will destroy the whole universe in less than a week!"

 

2) "Doctor, we have to do something, or the mudslide will wipe out the whole village!"

 

Which one is more personal? Which one grips you and makes you have to fix it because you can't live with the consequences?

Number one is the one I can't live with the consequences. In a week's time I'll be away from the god forsaken mudslided village, so who cares.

 

Next point. Not everyone wants to play stereotypical white hats. You want to make people get involved then make sure they have a stake in the outcome. The stake could be monetary or emotional. Not everyone signs up for the same reason. Not everyone keeps going for the same reason.

 

Even better than the heros with a free Friday night, make moral dilemmas. You can help these people OR those people. Make people choose between important things or worldly rewards and spiriutal rewards.

 

Personally I like encounters and adventures that have the potential to change characters. Saving dragons from evil princesses really doesn't matter after a while. It's two dimensional good beating one dimensional evil ... genocide by alignment.

 

In order to have a good time people have to have a vested interest in the outcome. Not everyone will jump for the same reasons. You have to have rewards on different levels to reward different motivations. Morally ambiguous character are often best in dilemmas as they are likely to see the big picture. (It also allows the GM to sit back and watch the arguing of the party on what the best course of action is.)

 

And Spartan6, writing backwards is smart. It means you have a direction you are pushing the party. If you want to geive the party real choice it's best to start at the destinatiobn and work back to where the party is. Try to think of all the paths then from the beginning and figure out how they lead to the destination.

 

Iain.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...