Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Get to the Dungeon!

These days I'm writing the fourth book of the Journey to Chaos series, currently untitled. It's the ninth chapter and I was at a rut. Things were moving slowly. It was difficult to move the story forward. Part of this was a simple lack of framework for the arc to come but something else was in play; something more fundamental. My characters were not in a dungeon.

In the terminology of an RPG, a "dungeon" is any enclosed area where there are monsters, traps, treasure chests etc. that adventures pass through for the sake of the plot. A dungeon can be a forest, a cave, a literal dungeon of prisoners within a castle, the ruins of a town, etc. I'm not sure if a plain that one passes through on their way to something else would count as a dungeon, in the same way or otherwise, but the point is that a dungeon is where the action happens. That is where the fights occur, and the plot develops. A hero could, for instance, receive a mission from the king in a town and then go out to accomplish this mission in a dangerous locale. The town is only good for buying supplies/equipment, resting at the Trauma Inn, and talking with NPCS.

The early video RPG were entirely dungeons. I remember playing the original Zelda game and it plopped Link straight into the first dungeon without fanfare. I didn't play it far but I don't recall any towns or such. The second game had only minor, one-screen, towns where you couldn't do much. The dungeons were where stuff happens. That is where the hero fought mooks, engaged with villains, and pushed the plot of he game forward by pursuing the objectives of his mission.

FFXIII was entirely dungeon. It was a pretty neat trick, how the developers kept the characters (and thus the players) in dungeons throughout the entire game despite the fact that all of Cocoon was inhabited, settled or otherwise used by humans. There were nature preserves, mechanical grave yards, military installations, and when a character reached some honest-to-goodness town, some soldiers would show up and drive the NPCs away, and then it would become one more dungeon. The usual function of a town is fulfilled by the save sphere, which in this game is a high tech communication device for purchasing all sorts of stuff. Personally, I liked this idea. The plot never slowed down. In fact, I would find myself playing late into the night because I was driven by the energy of the plot.

I also remember playing the Dot Hack games and stuff always happened in dungeons. Specifically it was the bottom level of the dungeon. Even with its simulation of a MMORPG, events with "other
players" would occur inside a dungeon and at their bottom level. This was to ensure battles, treasure finding, the plunging of a new area and the development of characters. The town hubs were only good for finding equipment, party members, and quests to undertake within dungeons.

I struggled for days with the pace and direction of the ninth chapter of Journey to Chaos book 4 before I had this realization. So, without further ado, I placed them into a dungeon. Initially they were traveling to a peaceful town but that would lead to more talking. I realized that would be boring info dump and plot coupon-ish. So I altered the setting to make it dangerous. The details are naturally spoilers but in doing so the spoilers accelerate the rate at which I could move to the spoilers and introduce spoilers. This move suited the purpose of the plot but now it was easier to write and keep exciting. That change than accelerated my own discovery of the plot and this particular arc and its characters.

I'll have to keep this in mind for the next arc. It's of a different nature than the one I'm working on right now but if I keep this "get to the dungeon" thing in mind I believe that I will have a framework with which to progress.

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