It's available in print and pdf, and its the first time an NPC of mine has been illustrated. Made me woozy with the happys!
Definitely, definitely looking forward to feedback and opinions; so, if you got 'em please let me know. Constructive criticism is always welcome, as there is no better way to improve. Let me know!
I'm no master of the craft, but I've picked up a trick or two by rubbing elbows with those who are, and, after all, whacking two stones together will eventually start a fire if the tinder is dry enough. Ummm...I mean, put enough monkeys on the job and Shakespeare... Gah. This is just a brief Adventure Design 101 noodle on ways to bust up tropes in D&D adventure writing that work.
What do I mean by tropes? Functionally defined, in classic Swords and Horses adventure writing, we expect swords. We expect horses. We expect monsters. Usually, we expect a BBEG or at least the metaphoric equivalent of a distressed damsel (a village to save, a morose but kindly noble to save, someone to save). We don't, for example, expect clowns.
Now I don't mean jesters, with multi-tonged hats, motley, scepters and bells. Early mentions of jesters in the west stretch back to Pliny the Elder and the Hellenistic court of Ptolemy I. In the east a jester is referenced as a member of the Vijayanagara Empire. Jesters are almost a trope of Swords and Horses adventure in themselves.
No. I mean big-shoed, white faced, wig-wearing, red nosed, 10-fit-in-a-car, Bozo the Clown clowns. Or mimes. The Marcel Marceau type. Can you picture that guy in your next D&D adventure, facing off against the Paladin? Most of us would get laughed off the table and back home.
Yet Tim Hitchcock and Nick Logue in Paizo's recent Gamemastery module, Carnival of Tears do just that. An entire carnival of clown and circus types. So as writers/designers, how do they get it to work? They use a frame. In fiction, a frame is a way of constructing a story within a story. For example, in The Princess Bride the story of the grandfather teaching his home-from-school-with-a-cold grandson about the joy of reading is the frame story that wraps around the adventures of Wesley and Buttercup.
Hitchcock and Logue (and you'll begin to see who inspires a lot of my own writing as I repeat their names ad nauseum) use the needs of the Fey as a frame wrapped around the players' story of adventuring within the carnival. It's more than a simple justification like "it's a carnival because Fey are wacky...". I see it as a frame because there's an entire other storyline implying why its a carnival. A simple justification would lack sufficient verisimilitude and lead back to getting laughed off the table.
In my own work (warning: shameless plug), I introduce mimes to 0onegames Great City Campaign Setting (developed by Tim Hitchock). Yep. The Marcel Marceau type. I made them powerful monks and gave them an aisan-ish name, "The Monks (or Mimes) of the One Jade". On the cafe strewn, mardi-gras-esque streets of the Great City's Residential Ward they show up and begin to mimic revelers. All is fun at first until the mimic turns mean and starts revealing unpleasant secrets about the mime's victims. These mimes are feared.
Whether you like this or not, none of it is why mimes work in the piece. They work in the piece because of its context. The Great City Campaign Setting chose revolutionary France as one of its historical analogs. So of course a fantasy culture imbued with other hollywood-esque French and French revolutionary elements (open air cafes, a resistance movement, wine bread and cheese, culinary experts, chamber pots, an equivalent to absinthe, rapier wielding poets of the moon), has mimes. They just don't feel out of place.
Sometimes context isn't enough. There's a feature the Mimes of the One Jade share with one of my favorite NPCs from The Great City, a bozo-the-clown clown named Fouche. Fouche is the creation of Greg Oppedisano, and Fouche is a serial killer. A clownish serial killer. By day he desperately tries to entertain a wan, disinterested and sparse populace. At night, he kills them. A performer's ultimate revenge on an indifferent audience!
Fouche, however, is not an intrinsic feature of the party-loving Residential Ward. He's a drift over from the Docks Ward. This NPC works, I think, because of narrative contrast. Clown and Killer. Night and Day. Confused visitor and deadly murderer. Performer and reviler of the audience.
The One Jade mimes have this mirroring, too, only less so. Silent, but they speak your secrets. Wimpy appearance, but deadly martial artists. Still, they rely more on the Residential Ward context for their verisimilitude. Fouche has enough built in contrast to live and work anywhere in the Great City.
In conclusion, here are three techniques I think can help you introduce outre, out of place, trope bashing differences into your adventures without breaking the suspension of disbelief:
- Frame Story
- Narrative Contrast or Mirroring
EDIT: It occurs to me that a Frame Story is a shortcut technique for creating context through mirroring. Neat.
Here's the excerpt from the back of the book:
This sourcebook portrays a struggling mercantile colony ruled by the incompetent son of a brutal emperor. A city whose earliest citizens proudly trace their history back for thousands of years, but now struggle against social and political oppression; a city where a brooding underbelly of resistance fighters, and crime syndicates, and a proud but disillusioned military all wait for their lord to fail. It is a city where night cloaks the deviant works of social outcasts, mad alchemists, and corpse robbers.The Great City is rife with excitement, intrigue and adventure; dare your characters make it their home?
Ok, I've got to get back to writing one of my installments in the adventure path. I'm late. First time ever, and it stinks to be behind schedule!