Category: Commentary

May 02 2017

Character Spotlight: Akasame

To my knowledge, Akasame’s origins date back to Version 2, which should surprise few people familiar with the origins of the story as there’s not a whole lot that survived from Version 1 (thank you, adolescent fit of pique). Physically, I was imagining something along the lines of Toshiro Mifune (as in Throne of Blood), but while my mind goes to Sengoku Jidai samurai, the equivalent time period for the story would actually set the characters back in the Yamato Jidai, which I’m far less familiar with (and you don’t see nearly as often in pop culture depictions as the Sengoku and Edo Jidai). Originally, I imagined Akasame as a daimyo, but that wouldn’t have fit, so I used the less specific “warlord” title. I was inspired in part by Makoto Shishio of Rurouni Kenshin for the whole “the flesh of the weak is the food of the strong (弱肉強食)” philosophy taken to its literal extremes. He is without a doubt the most unambiguously evil of all the lead character in TTWC3. He has almost no redeeming qualities whatsoever except for an appreciation for subordinates who are both competent and loyal. As a result, there’s not that much depth to his character and his section of the story mostly serves to demonstrate how his hubris continually makes his situation worse.

Much as with Carpos, only as I was writing his end did he manage to pull a surprise turn. I hadn’t originally planned for him to turn into a youkai in his dying moments, but it seemed entirely appropriate. And, in case you were wondering, his head doesn’t die and it’s left sealed away in Castle Notos until it can be revived. (Whether I tell that story or not remains to be seen, but that strikes me as a good twist to pull if I ever tell the tale of what happens when Scipio’s seal on the Darklands fails.) I don’t know why I give some of my worst characters better ends than they deserve, but there you go. I suppose if they were too pitiful going out, you might feel some sympathy for them or, worse, think I’m sympathetic toward them.

And this does it for the 24 lead characters of The Trident War Chronicles. There are plenty of other characters throughout my canon who warrant spotlight features like this, but many of them still have a lot of their story left to tell. I suppose I could always talk about characters up to the point they’ve been featured and make additional posts later. We’ll see. I’d say doing a spotlight a month isn’t a bad idea. Let’s make it happen. Stay tuned.

Mar 01 2017

Character Spotlight: Mab

I don’t believe Mab was part of the original prototype for the story, but when I revised the concept, she was added in to be a counterbalance to Corona on Zephyr’s side. (This makes here a “rook” character in the series’ chess conceit.) My primary influences for the character and scenario were Gargoyles, the 1998 TV mini-series Merlin and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I would imagine Mab’s role as the primary antagonist in Merlin inspired me to use her over Titania. I’m more liable to associate Titania with the role of Oberon’s Queen, but I realized there was no reason not to have both, which served as an excellent source of conflict. While neither Oberon nor Mab were strictly monogamous prior, Oberon never elevated any of his flings to equal standing with Mab. That’s the main thing that sticks in her craw. It also doesn’t help that she had grown complacent in their marriage and stopped going out of her way specifically to please her husband, something Titania (at the point we’re introduced to her, at least) is very adept at. Now, Oberon is a terrible person, short-tempered, faithless and cruel, but there aren’t many Fae in the upper echelons of their society that embody many virtues we recognize. Think of decadent aristocracy at its most detached and you get a decent feel for Oberon’s court. While I’d like to think Mab elicits some sympathy, it should be noted that she’s not that admirable of a character. It’s just that she’s on the receiving end of the kind of cruelty she would regularly dish out herself and is never fully cured of her haughtiness and vindictiveness.

Now let’s dive right into the likely controversy that may be sparked around her section of the story. Let’s make no bones about it. Rowland raped her and there’s no excusing it. I wanted Rowland to sire Puck via Mab and I envisioned her trying to seduce him in a ploy to be free of her chains, and that ploy failing because, honestly, Rowland isn’t dumb enough to release an extremely dangerous High Faerie who has repeatedly expressed her intention to kill him just so he can have a supposedly transcendental sexual encounter. I found myself stuck, though, as I realized that this would destroy just about any sympathy Rowland might have as a character. (He’s got plenty of bad points, but it’s not like he’s without redeeming value.) This led me to come up with the idea of the madness that took hold of Mab, both a natural side-effect of her imprisonment and also a metaphysical thing due to the Fae’s reliance on the natural spirits to sustain them. (Things like cut stone and wood lose their vital essence, for instance, making human settlements basically dead zones for the Fae.) This drove her to desperation and I wanted to establish a certain closeness between her and Rowland that ends up being exploited. Yes, she did solicit him initially, but she didn’t consent under the circumstances that followed. I then wanted to have Rowland show indirect signs of guilt after the fact but I also thought Mab showing her utter contempt for him was important too. And, yes, in case you were wondering, all this was allowed to happen according to Oberon’s design. While Rowland deserves guilt for raping Mab, Oberon is vastly worse for orchestrating the circumstances for his wife to be enslaved and raped just to teach her a lesson. Yeah, he’s a real scumbag.

I did like contrasting Mab with Simona. Here you have two women in Rowland’s service, both far more long-lived and powerful to justify serving under him, one who despises him and the other who loves him to the point of fanaticism. In the end, though, it’s the one who hates him who bears him a son, even if he never knows the son in question. (Though as noted in the text, Rowland did regret never consummating his relationship with Simona after she was gone. It was purely for political concerns that he kept his hands off her and you might argue that his pent-up unresolved feelings for Simona got displaced onto Mab when she tried to seduce him.) For Rowland’s part, he cared for both of them in his own clumsy way. I’m sure you can sympathize with the poor mortal woman who found herself being stacked against those two.

I’m not entirely sure I did full justice to the character of Mab in the brief seven chapters I gave myself to work with, but it was an interesting effort all the same. Next time we’ll be looking at our final lead in TTWC3, the red warlord Akasame. Stay tuned.

Jan 14 2017

Character Spotlight: Urgill

Stock fantasy races like Orcs, Goblins and Trolls tend fit the Always Chaotic Evil mold, no doubt in part as an easy way to have them slaughtered en masse without triggering any moral compunction. Some more recent authors go to great pains to avert the stereotype. I don’t set out explicitly to upend what you think about when you hear the word “Goblin”, but my two Goblin leads in the Trident War Chronicles are among the more sympathetic, so you could be forgiven for thinking that was specifically my objective. No, I just develop characters in ways I find interesting.

Actually, Urgill was more of a stock Goblin character in earlier incarnations. Only as I tried to make her more interesting did she become a more rounded character (and in many ways more upstanding than a lot of my human leads). Her tragic infatuation with Rowland was an early development, but as she became a consecrated warrior maiden kept from fulfilling the traditional female role in her society, that infatuation took on grander proportions. You can imagine the fantasy that took shape in her mind, her returning to her homeland in triumph with her otherworldly prince to liberate her people from the Monarch Lich. Of course, even if Rowland had any intention of helping her, even if he loved her the way she wanted to be loved, that dream would’ve been doomed to failure. Her ultimate fate was almost a mercy.

Originally Urgill went to Notos entirely of her own volition, a terribly ill-thought out bit of teen rebellion. Now it’s part of a plot by her father that’s still ill-thought out, but has a little more credibility to it (if you ignore the overwhelming power of the Monarch Lich, which is something no one who hasn’t faced him directly has a good handle on). You feel more of a touch of destiny in Urgill’s mission, even if she was destined for failure.

It might’ve been fun to have more scenes of Urgill’s rivalry with Simona, but I think I had just the right amount. If I showed too much of Simona’s merciless contempt for Urgill, there wouldn’t be much audience sympathy left for her. I did like the juxtaposition, Urgill who was elevated in the eyes of her people contrasted with the debased Simona (not so much in Rowland’s service, but definitely in her old life as a comfort woman). Both of them had their unrequited love for Rowland, though as we learned, under different circumstances Rowland might have actually responded to Simona’s feelings. I still feel a bit sorry for Urgill getting hooked on someone way out of her league.

If she had the resources for it, it might have been interesting to see Urgill found a community south of the River. It definitely would’ve sown the seeds of future conflict, but Rowland’s ruthlessness put an end to that possibility well before it could present an actual threat.

And I guess that does it for Urgill. Next time we’ll deal with Mab, a character who developed in some interesting ways that I look forward to discussing. Stay tuned.

Nov 30 2016

Character Spotlight: Scipio

Scipio is definitely the token good teammate on the Alliance side. I mean, they’re mostly varying shades of grey (except the unambiguously evil Akasame), but they tend to be on the darker side of the spectrum. I liked the idea of giving the Alliance a “conscience”, though his advice isn’t always followed. How much of a difference he made, it’s hard to say, but it’s more than what he would’ve accomplished if he stayed in that tower.

It was a newer development to have him infiltrate the mage conscripts. In an older version, he avoided conscription by casting a spell on the mages in question. In retrospect, even if this worked as well as I originally wrote it, there were bound to be problems later. Also, for his part in the capture of Castle Notos, it would be a lot more effective from the inside. Since we already had the precedent of Rowland infiltrating the militia, it fit with the MO of an Alliance operative. A much better solution if you ask me (probably why it’s the version I went with).

Scipio is pretty much the only person in the Alliance with an eye on the greater scope of things. Rowland’s only really interested in Notos, Simona only cares about what Rowland wants, Carpos is using the Alliance as a stepping stone for his own ambitions, Garm thinks of nothing but getting his people home, and though we haven’t gotten to them yet, Urgill has her own mission, Mab is simply biding her time until she can be free, and Akasame like Carpos is using the Alliance for the sake of his own ambition (and for the opportunity to kill people). He’s the only one to gives credence to the threat of the Darklands (except for Urgill, of course, given that she’s from there–Simona doesn’t count because due to her three hundred-year absence, she wasn’t quite up to date on current events over there), though he is somewhat skeptical. Had Rowland launched further attacks after the Battle of Kalonis, it’s likely that Aristides would’ve pushed for stomping the Alliance. Oh, the Alliance might have survived and carried on guerrilla attacks until the Zephyrians withdrew, but they wouldn’t be in any shape to form a government as quickly as they did and waylaying the Zephyrians may well have resulted in the Dominion being that much better positioned to receive them. Considering all this and factoring in the seal on the Darklands, it wouldn’t be incorrect to characterize Scipio as having saved the world. Things definitely would’ve been much worse without his hand in world events. Not a bad bit of work for a former hermit.

There’s an order of mages that’s founded after his death calling itself the Scions of Scipio that serves Notos for nearly six hundred years. It goes a long way toward keeping his name alive. It actually outlives the republic Rowland founded, though not by too much. That’s a story for another day, however.

And that does it for Old Scipio. Next time we’ll be discussing poor Urgill, who has the uncanny Goblin knack for getting the short end of the stick. Stay tuned.

Oct 05 2016

Character Spotlight: Garm

The problem with writing Dwarves, at least for me, is that it seems very easy–far more so than with Elves–to fall into the stock character tropes and never really write the characters as individuals. I tried to avert this somewhat with Garm. In many ways, he is the stereotypical Dwarf warrior, but I made some effort to play with the formula a bit. Garm realizes that being nothing more than dumb muscle brimming with valor and bloodlust isn’t enough to win wars, at least not against an opponent that not only has numerical superiority but also uses its dang head to win battles.

One of the key elements of Garm’s character is his struggle with his upbringing with all its focus on pride and personal honor versus the necessarily underhanded approach he needs to take if he wants his people to actually succeed. I drew a lot of inspiration from Viking culture, where victory by craft is supposedly as valued as victory by might. How true this was in practice is up for grabs, but I used it as a starting point for Garm. The Dwarves lack the might to beat the humans outright, so he had to start using his noodle.

His arrangement with the Church of Holy Light is a relatively recent development. I started thinking about how the Army of Light could actually beat Xorgoth’s flight and I knew that just throwing meat into the grinder wasn’t going to do it. As I’d developed the repeating ballista to neutralize the advantage Corona provided at Kalonis, I had my answer. And by making this arrangement, I also gave a justification for why the notoriously anti-nonhuman Church would allow the Dwarves to return to their mountains. After all, even diminished from the Darklands campaign and dealing with an insurgency by loyalists to Daphne, the Army of Light would’ve had no problem mopping the floor with Garm’s forces.

I’m sure the attentive readers are left to wonder what the Dwarves’ reaction will be when they find that their cities have been plundered in their absence. That does take some of the joy out of their homecoming. There will be consequences, naturally.

It wasn’t until the latest version of the story that I developed any supporting characters for him. I particularly like contrasting the younger, more idealistic Burkur with Garm just to show how bitter and jaded he has become. He’s a man (or Dwerkh, I suppose) who’s lost everything and the only thing that keeps him going is the drive to get his people home and see them flourish once more. Anything that doesn’t directly contribute to this goal goes to the wayside, as seen with his callous treatment of the Dwerkhar who fell during the purge of Urgill’s forces.

Well, I guess that does it for him. We’ll be back in several weeks to tackle Scipio (not literally, mind, as he’s an old man and terribly fragile). Stay tuned.

Aug 16 2016

Character Spotlight: Carpos

In his original conception, Carpos was named Clement, which was supposed to be a joke because his personality was the exact opposite of his name. However, as I started to develop the backstory further, I decided that Solon would name his firstborn after his late brother, the one who was supposed to inherit the throne in his place. He was actually a fairly flat character until more recent iterations. Assigning him a “pawn” (remember that the characters are loosely based on chess pieces) in the form of Patrocles helped a little. And, yes, I’m consciously invoking the the subtext between the literary Achilles and Patrocles when I chose the name. I’ll leave the extent of their relationship to your imagination.

It’s helpful to compare and contrast Carpos with his sister Daphne. Whereas Daphne tried to find balance and harmony with her human and Elven halves, Carpos always hated his Elven side for setting him apart. He knew he could never be truly accepted by either community and reconciling with the Church to improve his political standing was a non-starter, being an ungodly abomination and all. While his powers were weaker than Daphne’s, he never made an effort to cultivate them either. He could have become a decent magic user and a slightly below average psychic, but as you see in his epilogue, it’s only at the end of his life that he realizes what he’s been missing out on. I would wager if he was at his full potential, he’d be an inferior magic user to Simona but a more powerful psychic. It probably wouldn’t have saved him, but he would’ve been much more formidable.

Before I started serializing his section, I half-jokingly compared his to Viserys Targaryen. His character was pretty well set long before I first saw Game of Thrones or read the book, but the similarities are rather interesting. Two petulant pretenders to the throne who abuse their sisters as a matter of course. Related to the Targaryens is the whole incest angle. In Carpos’ case, it’s less a matter of any actual attraction to Daphne as it is a realization that his prospects for a mate are rather limited. He would much rather secure a political marriage to strengthen his standing, but pretty much no noble house would be willing to give one of their daughters over to him. Besides personal prejudice against him as a Half Elf, there’s also the matter of the Church’s disapproval. Squicky though it is, his decision to focus on Daphne makes some measure of sense. Also, until she started to assert herself as Princess Regent, Carpos was fairly confident in his ability to control her, which was another big plus in his book.

From a certain point of view, Carpos’ treason almost appears justified. If you discount the legitimate threat posed by the Darklands (which he and many others did), then Solon’s call to war was a ridiculous expenditure of blood and treasure. Even taking into account the validity of the Darklands campaign, it crippled the kingdom economically and militarily. If Daphne hadn’t raided the Dwarven cities in the mountains, Zephyr would never have been able to afford the grain it needed to feed the people in light of the famine that struck while the expeditionary forces were away. Even if the Monarch Lich launched his assault westward, it’s likely that his body would’ve failed him early in the campaign. (Trueborn Liches in my canon ultimately destroy their physical bodies with their ever-growing power, even after a considerable share of that power gets passed on to the new generation.) The Spider Lich (the Monarch Lich and Arachne’s offspring) had been transported halfway around the world for safekeeping and wouldn’t be mature enough to lead the Chaos Dominion for years. Ultimately, it would’ve amounted to little more than postponing the fight for a generation (and a human generation is a little thing for someone with even a half measure of Elven blood), but it would’ve made Carpos look good in the short term. However, more than likely, even without the Darklands campaign to raise its name and martial standing, the Church probably would’ve still tried to overthrow Carpos as it did with Daphne, so it all becomes a moot point.

The original plan was to give Carpos a suitably pathetic end for such a big scumbag, but as I was writing the epilogue, his little turnabout took shape. I already had him scheduled to die about a week after his capture, but I knew Simona wouldn’t want him to die so quickly. (Think along the lines of what the King of Midland had in mind for Griffith in Berserk, then stretch that over the centuries.) As I had him realizing just how long the torture could last, the only answer was to provoke Simona into killing him. It lets him go out on something of a victorious note, which he really doesn’t deserve, but one of the running themes of the series is that, good or bad, you don’t always get what you deserve.

And I think that’ll do it for know. We’ll be back in several weeks to cover the far less scummy Dwarven warlord Garm. Until then. Stay tuned.

Jul 01 2016

Character Spotlight: Simona

I’m rather fond of Simona and not just for the fanservice factor she provides. Her basic concept was inspired heavily by Pirotess from Record of Lodoss War (and you can draw parallels between Simona’s relationship with Rowland and Pirotess’ with Ashram). She was originally a comfort woman brought over to service the upper echelons of King Zanil’s forces during the Chaos Dominion’s invasion of Notos. When the Darklander advance was turned back by the Zephyrian legions, she was captured by Clovin the Knight Champion of Notos, who led the Notian remnant. It’s hard to say why he spared her, but she agreed to serving Clovin’s bloodline in exchange for her life. As mentioned in the story proper, the generations to come varied in quality, but Rowland was the first to truly earn a full measure of her devotion.

It’s rather obvious that Simona is madly in love with Rowland. She had shades of infatuation with a few of her prior masters, but it never amounted to anything. Of course, even if she had lived, the best she could’ve hoped for was to be some sort of mistress on the side. Maybe that would’ve been enough for her. Maybe not. It wasn’t until after she died that Rowland was willing to admit any mutual feeling, so it’s not certain if he would’ve stopped holding her at arm’s length. Ah, tragic romance…

If you compare and contrast the human-nonhuman pairings in the series, Simona doesn’t have the same leverage over her partner as you see with Solon and Xanthe or Ionathas and Corona. Maybe it has something to do with her being raised as a servant and spending her entire life in that capacity. It certainly doesn’t look good for her own will to be subjugated to that of her master, but she’s never known anything else and she’s too strictly bound to her own code of honor to go back on her oath no matter how bad things get.

It might have been fun to tell the story of Rowland’s trade negotiations with Daphne from her perspective. Needless to say, his flirting with a half-Alari Zephyrian hits just about every sore spot she has. Hard to say who was more jealous, Simona or Uriel. ^o^

I guess that’ll do for now. In seven weeks I’ll be back to cover Carpos. What a piece of work that guy is. Stay tuned.

May 13 2016

Character Spotlight: Rowland

We’ve wrapped things up with our first lead of TTWC3 and now it’s time to take a deeper look. While Rowland is placed in the “king” role opposite to Solon and the Monarch Lich, he actually has greater affinity to the “knight” characters Ionathas and Caligo. Whereas Solon is the idealistic wise old king and the Monarch Lich is an archetypical evil overlord, Rowland is a very different sort of leader, bold and brash yet not without a good share of cunning. He takes a force of a few hundred and and manages to defeat one of the greatest strategists of that time backed by a military superpower. Now, admittedly, if the full strength of either the Zephyrian army or the Army of Light had been brought to bear against him, he probably would’ve been defeated. Similarly, he wouldn’t have been able to emerge victorious if the Dominion dispatched the sort of forces the Zephyrians contended with in the Darklands. However, success is as much a matter of skill as it is luck.

Rowland was a more interesting character to write than either Solon or the Monarch Lich because he was morally grey. Both Solon and the Monarch Lich have complexity to them, but they’re situated close to poles of the white-black spectrum. Rowland, however, is listed as a chaotic neutral in that he does whatever he pleases to benefit himself (and to the degree that he thinks outside of himself, his cause). You might be forgiven for doubting his sincerity when he speaks of working for Notos’ benefit. I do believe he’s a patriot, but not to the point that he’d serve the motherland to his own disadvantage. He refused the crown, but he still rules as a king in all but name. That being said, he didn’t go for hereditary rule because he cares enough about the country to not entrust it to anything so unreliable as his own progeny. If this all sounds somewhat contradictory, this blend of the selfish and the selfless, it’s because Rowland himself is riddled by such contradictions. It might be a problem for him if he stopped to fret about it rather than just charging on ahead.

I’ll save a discussion of his relationship with Simona for her section. I will say, though, that he uses people so cynically that he has little notion of true affection for anyone else. You could blame losing his mother at a young age, having a father obsessed with the cause above all else, and being raised primarily by a fanatically loyal and deeply infatuated servant. That’s not to say he lacks any redeeming qualities in his interpersonal relationships. He generally gives as much loyalty as he gets and while he may have his share of unsavory deeds, he’s far removed from the list of my greatest monsters.

Loss is a common theme throughout the Trident War series. Victory comes at a price and that’s for the lucky ones. However, of the entire cast, Rowland is perhaps the lead who gains the most and loses the least. That might make him something of a Karma Houdini in the eyes of some, but it’s something interesting to note.

Well, that should do it for Rowland for now. We’ll be back in seven weeks to discuss Simona. Stay tuned.

Mar 22 2016

Character Spotlight: Medusa

Medusa is a character that hails back from my now lost original concept for what would become The Trident War Chronicles. I’ve been a big fan of Greek mythology ever since I was a child, so it’s little surprise that I’ve woven it in so tightly with my own mythos. Much as Arachne originally had little more going for her besides being a menacing monster, so too was Medusa until I spent some time to give her more character development. I’ve already talked about her relationship with Arachne in an earlier post and there’s not much to add there. I’d probably say Medusa is a little more emotionally dependent on Arachne than Arachne is on her, but that might be because her background is a fair bit more traumatic.

Something I wasn’t expecting in her character until I really got into writing her section was the aspect of her as a tired bureaucrat. She doesn’t serve the Monarch Lich out of any great fear or loyalty, but more because it’s just a job. Basically, when Arachne submitted to him, she had no reason to put up a fight and was given her job as an inspector of the realm. You might think there was a punitive aspect to the Monarch Lich sending her to Notos, but it was simply a matter of him putting her powers and experience to use. As someone who made the rounds all throughout the Darklands multiple times during the Lich’s reign, who better to survey the land of the enemy?

As an interesting side not, there are three degrees of petrification that get covered in more detail in TTWC3, where the characters are on the receiving end and it seemed appropriate to talk about their origin here. Total petrification is fairly familiar and what most people associate with Medusa. Petrification of the flesh, where only a victim’s body is turned to stone, is actually inspired by the Medusa Transducer in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In my universe at least, I make the rationale that living tissue and dead matter react differently to the spell. This also make a convenient way to loot the victims. The way the Ancients were turned into bronze statues in Everyday Magic follows the same principle. Surface petrification was inspired by the Metroidvania Castlevania games like Symphony of the Night where it looks like total petrification but is ultimately just a shell that you can break free of. This form of petrification has previously been seen in KoG3 when Brenok petrifies Adrienne.

That does it for now. I’ll be back again in a couple months to start our treatment of the leads of TTWC3 with Rowland. Stay tuned.

Feb 08 2016

Character Spotlight: Xargos

I’ve stated before that I have trouble clicking with most of the leads of TTWC2, which is a terrible thing for the author to say, but Xargos is one of my favorites. While Orguz is the most sympathetic and Caligo the most interesting (particularly with regard to his backstory), Xargos is one of the most fun as a total dirtbag villain. Vain, greedy, cruel and cowardly, there’s almost nothing redeemable to him and he’s so blatant that he’s pretty fun to write. Now, perhaps the most fun villain to write was Brenok from the KoG series because you take all the above vices and add diabolical cunning. Speaking of which, the fact that Xargos veers into being stupid evil is another part of his charm.

As despicable as he is, I actually feel a bit sorry for Xargos. He’s so arrogant and he’s so much dumber than he thinks he is that he just blindly charges down the path to his own destruction. Compare him with Ophis Python, who was just kinda pathetic. For Python, circumstances were largely out of his control, but Xargos is almost entirely the author of his own ruin. It’s a bit sad, but you have a hard shedding any tears genocidal psychopath.

Well, that’s it for now. We’ve just got one more to go and that’ll be it for TTWC2. Stay tuned.