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A blog about writing, reading, art, and history

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

Character creation, part 2: Zahnia

While she hasn’t played a large role thus far, Zahnia is the chronicler in the fantasy novel I started back in November for NaNoWriMo. She begins the story as a nine-year-old and one of many young orphans who are being used for illegal arcane experimentation. While it hasn’t been revealed officially in the story, the illegal researchers implant our tiny protagonist with a magic stone that prevents her from aging—just to see how the device affects children. Upon her rescue from this plight Zahnia becomes a student, adventurer, and historian, eventually becoming the official chronicler for Queen Viarraluca, traveling with the queen and writing about the great monarch’s exploits. Each chapter opens with an epigram from one of Zahnia’s publications (a deliberate nod to Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, and their particular generation of science fiction writers).

Zahnia is a challenging character to write for a number of reasons. Her age is the most obvious, but her situation complicates matters further. As a child and a prisoner, just how much does she understand about her situation and what is happening to her and the other orphans? How much of her childish innocence does she retain in this prison where her fellow orphans are taken away, many never to return, and those who do return come back with strangely colored hair or extra appendages? Too, how much of that ‘little girl’ demeanor do I keep on and how much does Zahnia mature as the story progresses? True, she doesn’t age physically, but I would assume that she matures mentally and emotionally as she studies and travels. I’m constantly re-thinking how much her personality will change during her travels versus how much she retains because of her nine-year-old’s body and hormones. I can tell already that her character is going to test not only the limits of my writing, but my understanding of child psychology as well.

The following is an excerpt from the current draft chapter 1, where Zahnia attempts to escape her prison:

Then came the day when the guards came for Zahnia. The little girl was asleep in the corner of her cell when she heard the door opening. She looked up with a start as the bald man stooped through the cell doorway. Deciding she didn’t want to die or end up with wings or extra arms, the frightened orphan decided to make a break for it. She stood up and yelled at the bald man. Having never been challenged by a captive, the bald man blinked in surprise. Emboldened by his hesitation, the girl charged forward, screaming another challenge. As the bald man reached down to grab her, she kicked him between the legs—in that place where she’d heard boys were sensitive to being kicked. She dodged around him and out the door as he doubled over behind her.

She didn’t get far. The man with the curly hair was just outside the cell as Zahnia escaped. He had her scooped off the ground and over his left shoulder before she could react. The man said something that Zahnia guessed was a joke at the bald man’s expense, then turned and packed her off. She heard the bald man utter what sounded like a curse as the curly man carried her away.

Angry and terrified, Zahnia squirmed, bit, scratched, punched, and kicked as fiercely as her small body was capable of. She could hear the other orphans yelling and cheering as the curly-haired man fought to get control of her. Grabbing the man by the hair, she chomped down as hard as she could on his left ear and kneed him in the throat. Zahnia felt his fingers grip her hair as he jerked her away, throwing her hard to the ground. She hit and lay stunned for a long moment, seeing stars and tasting curly-hair’s blood in her mouth. She could hear curly-hair screaming and cursing.

Baldy managed to get ahold of the rebellious girl before she could get back up. He held both of Zahnia’s arms and screamed a string of profanities she didn’t understand in her face. She spat a chunk of curly-man’s ear into the bald man’s face and kicked him in the guts as fast as she could swing her little legs.

Fed up, the bald man turned and slammed her into the nearest wall. Zahnia felt her back hit first, whipping her head into the rock wall less than an instant later.

Zahny

“Me? I’m not really important. Just an orphan who has occasionally moved in august company.”

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Fan Art: Sluggy Freelance

I’ve been reading the webcomic Sluggy Freelance by Pete Abrams since around April of 2010. I saw my brother reading it off and on when he was home from college and he told me a bit about the story and characters. I finally got curious enough to check it out for myself. For those not familiar with Sluggy, it’s a daily comic that’s been running since August of 1997—do the math, that’s a lot of friggin’ comics to wade through. My recommendation for those who want to check Sluggy out but aren’t sure they want to read the entire archive: click the archive drop-down menu beneath the comic, go to “Comics not yet in books,” and select the chapter titled “bROKEN” as your starting point. This particular storyline is kind of the main lead-in to the current story. One of the nice features of the Sluggy website is that Pete thoughtfully provides hotlinks whenever he references past comics in his current story. Thus if something doesn’t make sense to a new reader (or to a current reader who’s forgotten), they can link directly back to the pertinent comic instead of having to hunt through the archive. (I wrote up a blurb for Sluggy Freelance in a previous post about some of my favorite web comics. It can be found here.)

In the spirit of webcomic artists who like to draw their characters dressed as other characters, I decided to draw the six main characters from Sluggy Freelance as the Light Warriors from Final Fantasy I. Shortly after I joined the message boards at Sluggy, someone put a call out for fan art. And so I posted my original drawing, with the intent of drawing other pictures along the same theme.

Sluggy Warriors

Final Fantasy’s Light Warriors, Sluggy-style!

I originally drew this for Halloween in 2011. I don’t recall precisely what inspired me to draw them as the Light Warriors, but it seemed fitting for some reason. Left to right: Sam as Thief; Kiki as herself; Zoe as Black Belt; Torg as Fighter; Bun-Bun as himself; Riff as Red Mage; Sasha as White Mage; and Gwynn as Black Mage. Some elements from the drawing I’m happy with, other elements less so. I’m particularly happy with how Torg and Zoe turned out (despite that Zoe looks a lot buffer than she does in the comic). I’m not so happy with Sam and Sasha’s faces–in fact, I’m not sure everyone can immediately tell that’s Sasha.

Gwynn as the Black Mage

I was going to make a “Black Magic Woman” reference, but I think Pete did that in the comic when Gwynn got possessed by a demon and tried to murder her friends.

This technically was the second image I drew for this theme. I originally used it as part of the coloring book I drew for my cousin/godson, Paul. It made most sense to make Gwynn the Black Mage since she gains magic powers after being possessed by the demon K’Z’K. They aren’t something she uses often, as she seems to be somewhat afraid of them. I find Gwynn also fits this this role aesthetically as her coke-bottle glasses can be made to look like the Black Mage’s glowing eyes.

Shasha as the White Mage

The classic White Mage typically wields a mallet or a mage’s staff. Leave it to Sasha to carry both, just in case.

Here is my revisitation of Sasha as the White Mage. Unlike the picture I drew of Gwynn, I made sure to include a couple references from the comic in this one. I threw Kiki in for good measure, with a funnel on her head because it just seems like the kind of thing she’d wear on her head like a party hat. There is just something infinitely huggable about Sasha, in contrast to Zoe’s intimacy issues or Gwynn’s prickliness. (The stuffed animals and the pool floaty are a reference to one of my favorite story arcs, which begins here.)

Riff as the Red Mage

Chances are he’s screaming underneath that mask.

It just somehow made most sense to cast Riff as the Red Mage, as we have a caster who can also wear armor and fight. A battlemage, if you will. Originally I’d intended to have Riff casting a spell of some kind as he ran, but I just couldn’t make the spell look convincing. Instead I opted to have him running with the Water Orb (one of the key mcguffins from the original Final Fantasy). The armored boots and bracers seemed to fit Riff’s personality, and I added a chain-mail shirt because the Red Mage can wear chain armor and chain mail is a fun texture to draw. (Just ask any Prince Valiant artist.) I’m also quite happy with how the pommel of his sword looks, but less so with the scabbard.

Sam the Man as the Thief

Neither Sam nor Bun-Bun seems overly impressed by the Rat’s Tail as a quest item…

I think one of the things that bugged me about my original Sam drawing was the lack of coat. Sam’s long coat is almost as customary as Riff’s, and I think drawing him without was a mistake. I cast Sam as the thief solely because the they both have pointy ears. For no apparent reason, I opted to give Bun-Bun a helmet. The only requirement was that it had to have an open face. The Roman centurion helm was the first look I tried, and I liked it well enough that I decided to roll with it.

Zoe and Torg as the Black Belt and the Fighter

An action shot of Torg and Zoe, with Zoe vaulting over Torg’s head as she leaps into battle.

All along I’ve intended to put Torg and Zoe together for theirs. It just took me a long time to decide on a pose for them. I considered pictures of Torg standing behind Zoe and of Zoe standing behind Torg. I considered drawing them standing back to back. I considered a number of action poses, finally deciding on this one of Zoe vaulting over Torg’s head as she leaps into battle. Torg’s action pose comes directly from a Captain America comic I’ve had for years. The battle axe is a Norse design, to reflect Torg’s viking heritage. Zoe’s pose is from a picture I found of the thief gal from Trine. I like Zoe’s outfit much better in this than in the original cast drawing above.

At any rate, there was some talk on the discussion forums about Pete using some of our fan art as filler, but I haven’t heard anything back about it. As far as fan art goes, I also drew and submitted a piece for Amya Chronicles, another of my favorite comics. I heard back from Savvy, the comic’s writer, and she wants to use it for filler art here in the next few months, so I’m kind of stoked about it. I feel it’s only courteous to wait until Savvy posts it before posting it here, though.

Role-Playing as Girls

MMORPG: Many Men Online Role-Playing as Girls.

Pirate Queen

“Pistol-packin’ mama, won’t you put that pistol down?”

I’ll admit, I’m one of those guys. One of those dorky guys who builds and plays female characters in various video and computer role-playing games. This isn’t to say that all of my characters are ladies, but a good percentage are. Four out of my seven Lord of the Rings Online characters are women. Three of five of my Guild Wars 2 characters are. About half of my Knights of the Old Republic 1 & 2 characters are. Admittedly, most of my Neverwinter Nights 2 characters are ladies. (In my defense, do you have any idea how hard it is to make male characters that aren’t stupid looking in NWN2 without them all looking alike? With the exception of the dwarves, it just isn’t worth the effort.) I’d have to look, but I’d guess that my ratios for Dragon Age: OriginsNeverwinter Nights 1Titan’s Quest, and other games are similar to LotRO or GW2.

Lady Highwayman

“Many a young maid lost her baubles to my trade. Many a soldier shed his life’s blood on my blade.”

Guys like me take a lot of shit for our willingness to roll and play fem characters. The fact that so many of these games are willing to pander to the pocket-mining demographic by designing impractically revealing women’s armor and allowing players to strip their characters down to their underwear really only gives these critics more ammunition. (One big shout-out I’ll give to both Neverwinter Nights 2 and Lord of the Rings Online is that neither does this. Unequipped characters wear conservative under-tunics and none of the armor features exposed midriffs or cleavage.) I seriously hate this kind of cheesecakey pandering. Not that I lack interest in cleavage, I just find it kind of insulting that they’d think any reasonably competent warrior woman would want gaps in her armor just above her heart and entrails. (I’ll probably discuss this pet peeve further in a future post.)

Drow Warrior

“Such a coaxing elf, I’d to pinch myself to make sure I was standing there!”

I guess the most obvious reason I tend to build and play lady characters is aesthetics: I just find women more interesting to look at than men. After all, most of these games are third-person POV, and I’d much rather follow a gal’s backside around than a dude’s. And, honestly, I just like the look of smart, self-sufficient women in commando’s armor or a ranger’s cloak or a rogue’s cowl or a Jedi’s robes. I feel like smart game designers have figured out that women’s armor can be both protective and sexy—that chain and scale mail can be delightfully form fitting and that leather and plate armor can feature appropriately feminine curvature. As far as science-fantasy RPGs go, I’ve been similarly impressed with women’s armor in the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series and with the Mass Effect games. In both series, our heroines’ armor manages to look protective and practical, yet feminine at the same time.

Shep

“They locked you in the tower and they threw away the key,
But this tower’s no match for a wag like me.”

I think, too, that women hero archetypes are fun both to play upon and play against. In Dragon Age: Origins I had as much fun playing the quintessential skinny, bow-toting elf maiden as I did playing a skinny elf maiden with heavy armor and greatsword. (That, and I found the elf dudes to be a little on the derpy-looking side in that game.) And while my champion from Lord of the Rings Online typically wore a suit of battered dwarf armor, it was amusing a couple times to put her in an elf gown and pick fights with swamp trolls. My favorite party build from NWN2: Storm of Zehir was six bat-shit-crazy Dark Elf maidens. My Drow fighter with the bastard sword took one level of sorceress (for the Dragon Disciple prestige class), and to go against the grain, I gave her a bunny rabbit for her familiar. I just don’t think the sentiment would have been as funny had I instead used some tough-guy Drow soldier instead.

Ice Hunter

“‘We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.”

Indeed, one factor that defines the role-playing game genre as a whole is story-telling. From the epic saga to the basic dungeon crawler, every game tells a story. Thus each player becomes the character or characters in the story. The classic figure of the handsome knight in gleaming armor on a quest to save his kingdom has certainly earned it’s right to be a classic, but what of the beautiful knight in gleaming armor on a quest to save her kingdom? I think I’d rather tell her story. I’ve beaten the main story for Dragon Age: Origins on four of my characters, but only one of them was male. The stories of the exiled sorceress, the noblewoman seeking to avenge the murder of her parents, and the elf-maiden on the run after killing the lord who raped her friend: all were more interesting stories to me than were the dwarven thug escaping his former employers or the pretty-boy forest elf trying to remove an evil curse.

Dragon Food

“This dragon had a plaguey hide,
fa la lanky down dilly,
That could the sharpest steel abide,
fa la lanky down dilly.”

From a literary standpoint, I think that adventure games in general owe a certain amount of debt to figures like JRR Tolkien and Gary Gygax. First to Tolkien for giving us a character like Eowyn, a skilled shield-maiden not afraid to disobey orders by donning men’s armor and riding into battle to protect her people. And to Gary and the other Dungeons & Dragons writers for creating a world where women adventurers are in every way equal to their male counterparts. Certainly, there have been plenty of women figures throughout history and literature who’ve demonstrated a woman’s ability to fight in battle beside the men, but I feel it was the works of writers like Tolkien and Gygax and Arneson and others of their respective generations that really encouraged contemporary and modern adventure writers to include strong, smart, independent heroines in their stories. Playing women fighters in video and computer role-playing games is my way of creating my own strong, smart, independent heroines.

dance7.1

“Everyday I’m shufflin’.”

All images are screen shots taken directly from game play.
Image 1: Guild Wars 2. Song: “Pistol-Packin’ Mama,” by Bing Crosby
Image 2: Lord of the Rings Online. Song: “The Highwayman,” by The Highwaymen
Image 3: Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir. Song: “Star of the County-Down,” traditional Irish
Image 4: Mass Effect 2. Song: “Scalliwag,” by Gallic Storm
Image 5: Lord of the Rings Online. Song: “Immigrant Song,” by Led Zeppelin
Image 6: Dragon Age: Origins. Song: “Sir Eglamore,” by Kate Rusby
Image 7: Guild Wars 2. Song: “Party Rock Anthem,” by Lmfao
Image 8: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2. Song: “What a Way to Go,” by Ray Kennedy 

Sabers

“He said, ‘women gonna be the death of me, but what a way to go!'”

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