Making Unconventional Fantasy Sound Less Redundant…
Some of the pillars of Mystic Riders are obvious in what they mean. Some of them… Not so much. So while we won’t be delving into every single one and what they mean, we will flesh them out if there are any lingering questions. For example, Ginny was curious about my pillar, which was Unconventional Fantasy. (Which I find ironic because I think it was her who started it, but I digress.) So today, we’re going to talk about some of the fantasy elements of Astranar more in-depth, and why they would be considered unconventional versus other elements.
The first thing that pops into my mind is our magic itself. Now, having schools of magic isn’t original–it’s downright any tabletop RP. Having those schools break down by element also isn’t original, that’s Pokémon level shenanigans, even within another game system. Dungeons and Dragons does this, and it even reflects our shadow system of magic which is more concept rather than elemental based. But where things start to go differently is how our colors correlate to the elements. When we decided to use music as a core influence for the game, we had to figure out how to sort the magic in the very early stages of development, and Ginny has the crazy idea to use solfege–Do, Re, Mi, Fa, and so on. She has charts and medieval texts that not only assigned solfege colors, but it also assigned them elements! It was perfect, it was destiny, it was…
…Not widely accepted when I mentioned it to a couple of my friends. You see, solfege isn’t based the same as our modern, color coding tropes. Water isn’t blue, for example, it’s orange. Fire is represented by yellow, not red which is actually represented by earth. (You know, I’m from Oklahoma, red and earth being related makes perfect sense to me, but I digress into bad puns.) One guy told us he didn’t understand why we were doing it that way, and shouldn’t we just do the standard arrangement? That worried me. I immediately put on the brakes and put on my Capricorn hat to fret about the details. Were we going too far? Would people get it, even if we explained? Should we go with the safer concept and just fudge solfege so that it would match convention?
Ginny and I were in opposite camps on this discussion to start with. I had on my writer-hat, don’t ostracize and confuse your readers. If that means playing to tropes that means playing to tropes, because if your book is too confusing and has negative reviews, it’s going to not have great sell numbers. Games are made or broken by their sell numbers. Ginny had her designer hat on. There, innovation is the name of the game, and doing something within lines while coloring outside of them at the same time is totally acceptable. But that’s why, even though we share a brain, we have to stay communicating with each other so we can reach mutual decisions. Usually one of us is less invested in the other, but talking about it at least makes us think of all the possible outcomes and scenarios, so we can possibly edit the idea or grow it into something even better.
In the end, Ginny and I decided that we were going to stick by our medieval nerd research. The only fudging we had to do was play around with indigo/violet and turn one of those into pink for the sake of one of our mentors, but even that was pretty minor. Why? Because why be like every other game? There’s a point towards the familiar, I’ll give you that, but if you are just like every other game, then what is the point of playing? I would be endlessly amused by players forgetting Water is Orange and accidentally casting Space magic. It’ll cause some hysterical moments. And if you do what everyone else does, those moments are lost. There isn’t anything new and players can just rely on their lizard brains to get through the game.
Sometimes we do go down the road of the expected. We have unicorns, and we have pegasi. But sometimes we go astonishingly literal (there’s a story about me going on a D&D rant and Ginny just running with part of it to create a creature for the game), and that in itself is unconventional because we take it farther than most people do. By pushing some of the boundaries and boxes that people have put around fantasy, we are reminding them about the fun that was had back before we had rules. While our market isn’t nearly as tapped as it could be, they are playing other demo’s sandboxes as it were, and so we want to engage them in new and interesting ways, as well as meeting what all that they want in a game.
I will put a rope around the outside of the box though to sort of corral things, keeping them within limits. There has to be a reason for what is and isn’t included in the game, otherwise it’s a waste of the programmers’ time and it’s a waste of the player’s to have to find it or go around it. So as cute as candy dragons might be, there isn’t really a reason to include them. (I say that, watch Ginny find a way to include them in a holiday somewhere.) It’ll also keep our magic from taking things (sometimes literally) off the rails, since spells and magical animals are tied so deeply to the story in Mystic Riders. Just this week, we finished hashing out how much of each school there is going to be. What were the decisions? That’s another blog post. See you next week!