Skip weeks

by David Meadows 30. November 2016 19:18

No update this Friday, due to circumstances.

Should be an update on the 9th, but that could be the last one of the year.




Twenty Years Later

by David Meadows 27. November 2016 00:08

(Number 7 in an occasional series of explanations. See sidebar for the full series.)

As already described, this story started life as a game. The original protagonists were Strikeforce, and their initial adventures were set in 1987. That story is being serialised on the site.

After about 7 years, and 300 "chapters" (playing sessions), I decided the Game was much too unwieldy, too big and complicated to manage any longer, with too much weight of storyline and character history to keep track of. I decided to end it in a big, dramatic fashion. I created a storyline I later called The Event, in which all Earth's heroes sacrificed themselves to save the Earth. End of the Heroes, end of the Game. I was out of the superhero-GMing-business.

For a couple of weeks. Then I realised I couldn't leave the Game behind. It was too much a part of my life. I needed to resurrect it. But how?

After a couple of false starts and bad ideas, I hit on it: a new storyline, called Twenty Years Later. Which would literally be that. The same universe, twenty years later, with the players playing completely new characters. Twenty years after the Event, a new generation of heroes was emerging. Their story is being serialised on the site as Heroes. The players had full knowledge of the pre-Event world, of course, but the idea was that their characters didn't. 

Throughout the new Game, I used as much of the old history as I could as background. There's James, saying that he's the son of an old hero (the player had my permission to put that link in James's background--in fact, it might have been my suggestion to him, because I wanted the storytelling opportunities that link would bring). there's Sara, the daughter of an old villain. Don, a pivotal character who was directly involved with Strikeforce 20 years earlier.

In some cases I deliberately hid crucial bits of information to keep the players guessing--the identity of Sara's mother, for example. And in fact, the exact details of Sara's power. Her catchphrase in the early Heroes issues, "I'm good at finding things", was a catchphrase I had her use in the Game. It clearly pointed towards a particular--wrong--character as her mother, misdirecting the players. When the true nature of the power slowly became obvious, the identity of her mother (who once had the same power) became obvious--to the players, not their characters, of course. (For clarification: Sara wasn't a player's character, she was one of mine.) 

In other cases, I made the nod to the past more obvious. When they met Franklin Marks, the players all knew it was Electron, twenty years older and without powers. But being good players, they played their characters as if they were completely in the dark. Because that's the essence of role-playing: you make your character act within the bounds of the character's knowledge, not your own knowledge.

Incidentally, the player who originally played Electron in Strikeforce played Fred in the Heroes era. When Fred met Franklin Marks (Heroes issue 6), I played Frank, the player played Fred, and the conversations the two had are fairly faithfully reproduced. Read that issue again, bearing in mind that Fred's player once played Frank, and think about how beautifully he played "in character", not letting his player knowledge colour his actions. In fact, read it keeping all of the players in mind: James, Fred, Harry, Chi-Yun, all of their players walked into the Marks's house knowing exactly who they were. Not a single player "broke character" to let any of that knowledge influence them.

The same pattern was repeated over and over throughout the Game. History crept in and became important. Sometimes it crept in merely for background colour, to amuse the players. Sometimes it was a mystery posed for the players' benefit, something that had no bearing "in game" but the players could amuse themselves figuring out who or what a particular call-back referred to. But every time, the characters behaved exactly as they should with the information they, the characters, had.

That's really satisfying to see, as a GM.

But when it comes to translating the Game to the story you read on the web site, this time jump (or at least the way I have chosen to deal with it) has caused a whole set of problems. That's going to need a lot more explanation, so I'll talk about it in the next of this series.

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Week 25

by David Meadows 25. November 2016 22:09

It's time for a spotlight on Paul Smithsteen. But of course this isn't so much about him as it is about how he sees the rest of the team, so issue 13 of Heroes is aptly called Dr Smithsteen's Casebook

There are a couple of news stories, and as usual you should read these after you read the issues they refer to. Or read them first and get plot spoilers, see if I care.

And a small encyclopaedia article on Troll Dust, which to be honest I should have held back because details about where it comes from and how and why have not yet been revealed in the story.

And finally a who's who page on the amazing Nightflyer. Nightflyer himself contributed most of the details, so you can be sure it's accurate. Although he was possibly making it up as he went along.

Next update will be 2 December, and that might be the last one of the year. Not sure, but check back here and I'll keep you posted.

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by David Meadows 25. November 2016 19:51

I just discovered that SharePoint Designer will spell check every file in a web site in one operation. How come I never knew that before?

Ok. No excuses from now on.




Week 24

by David Meadows 18. November 2016 20:39

Chapter 12 of Strikeforce is unimaginatively called "Incidents". A number of plots are intertwined through this one, but it's mostly setting up things for some big stories coming soon. And I introduce another dozen new characters, because the universe isn't complicated enough already (!).

Other updates include:

  • The long-overdue biography page for Electron, which actually has some unrevealed details about his background so it's worth a read.
  • A description of Vancouver's Sentinel Building, which played a very small role in the recent Heroes story but also (as you will learn) takes part in a Strikeforce story that is yet to be told.
  • A timeline for 2349, which drops two names that will mean nothing to you at the moment but will soon become so important you wouldn't believe.



by David Meadows 17. November 2016 23:55

Strikeforce chapter 12 has gone completely out of control.

It was supposed to have a short epilogue teasing the next chapter. Then the epilogue turned into a huge space battle that's taken me all night to write.

All I'm saying is, if I don't post a new chapter tomorrow it's not my fault.

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Week 23

by David Meadows 11. November 2016 20:07

This week I celebrate two milestones:

First, the site has exceeded 100 pages of content. Only 316 pages on my "to do" list now...

Second, with issue 12, the Heroes story reaches the end of its (arbitrarily decided) first volume, and a thematic turning point: the team's (I use the term loosely) first full adventure without their mentor, Don, and their growing acceptance of their role in the world.

This issue took a long time to write. I was doing fine until the last few pages. There I was, thinking the issue was about Fred, when I suddenly realised it was equally about James. (It's a constant problem with James: he's always pushing himself to the front of anything that's going on.) This stymied me for a while and I spent quite some time rewriting the last few pages to make them say what I wanted them to say. I then needed extra pages to make the ending work (and it still feels a bit rushed). You may have noticed that every issue of Heroes has been 22 pages long. There's no real need for this. It's a traditional length for comic books, but they do vary. And on the Web, I have no real constraints at all. I could use any number of pages I want to make the story work, as I have this month. But I like the discipline of keeping to the 22-page limit, so I'll keep this as a one-time variation.

Here are some stats for this arbitrary volume: 

12 issues
270 "comic" pages (my printed archive runs to 498 pages of text but I'm very generous with white space)
1,262 panels (that's 1,274 pieces of non-art, including covers)
67,073 words

This last figure is interesting: if Heroes was a regular book, it wouldn't even make a short novel. Yet I feel that I've told a lot of story in those words. Which supports my original thesis: a comic-book script is a very good format for a lazy writer.

Elsewhere, there isn't much more to this week's update. The Electron bio page got pushed back to next week, for reasons I can't quite remember (it's written but it's not in this update for some reason). So all you get for for your money is a rather pointless timeline of 2323, and an even more pointless entry on the Museum of Antiquities (honestly, I'm not even sure why I wrote this). 

The most interest new page is probably the history of troll rock -- yes, my universe has its own music genre. How cool is that? Troll rock (and its associated subculture) will crop up fairly often in the story, so it seemed worth talking about it.

Next update will be next Friday, as usual. 

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From Game to Story

by David Meadows 9. November 2016 22:19

(Number 6 in an occasional series. See sidebar for the others.)

I've described how this story started life as a game, and the steps I went through to create that game. But how did the game then become a story?

The game generates a lot of paperwork. Everything I plan to happen has to be documented, and that then has to be re-written to reflect what actually happened after the plan meets the players. At some point, I thought it would be fun to re-write it in story form rather than a dry history of "X went to Y and met Z", and that's how this web site came into being.

There are a few problems in making a role-playing game session into a work of prose fiction. For a start, game sessions aren't neat and tidy the way stories are. Players don't always follow my plots, either through pig-headedness or because they've missed some vital clue that I thought would be more obvious than it was. They go in the wrong direction. They explore the wrong things, say stupid things to the wrong people, and generally just act like a force of choas blundering through my plots.

Fiction writers talk about things called "story beats", which are the key moments that logically advance the story: X happens then Y happens then Z happens ... if these things don't happen in the right order (and with the right amount of dramatic pacing between them) then the story either makes no sense or feels flat.

Naturally, players excel at doing X followed by P, Q, F, skipping Y entirely, and blundering on to Z. It's just ... not dramatically satisfying. Oh, it's satisfying to play, but that's because the players are actively invoved. It's terrible to read afterwards. Even if it makes sense, the pacing is terrible.

So when I write the story I ... "adapt" it. Think about a Hollywood movie "based on a true story". There's no way the true story was as neat as the story shown in the film, but the screenwriter has "tidied it up" to make it feel dramatic while (hopefully) keeping the key factual elements intact. That's exactly what I do in going from game to story.

Go right back to Chapter 1 of Strikeforce. The big fight at the Institute for Temporal Studies? Didn't happen quite like that. Oh, it happened mostly like that, but it wasn't as streamlined, it was more dragged out. Electron's player tried numerous futile tactics against Killervolt, for example, and I don't think there was a moment of epiphany when he and Avatar switched targets, he just won through a lucky dice roll. I took liberties to change the fight from a challenging game to an interesting story.

I am also writing scenes that never actually occurred during the game. In a gaming session, the only events we play out are the ones that players' characters directly interact with. So when Strikeforce chapter 9 opens with two pages of various villains and other non-player characters interacting in the ballroom of the Haley Hotel, none of that happened "in play". The gameplay started when Strikeforce heard of the raid and reacted to it. But in my plan for the game, I had the villains doing those things -- I had to plan their actions, even if the players wouldn't see those actions, because the players would see the results of those actions and it all needed to make sense for them. So I have all these extra non-game events documented because they are actually a vital part of the plot, and I am writing them out when I think they will make the story more clear or more interesting for the reader.

The other thing to bear in mind is that I'm writing Strikeforce chapters nearly 30 years after we played those game sessions. I have notes of what happened, but I didn't record what words the players put into the mouths of their characters (it would be an impossible task). Even if I had, players improvising dialogue on the spot will rarely come out with the sort of carefully-planned, polished prose that a novel needs to have.

So I am completely inventing the dialogue when I write the story now. But I'm inventing it based on years spent with those players and those characters. I know the characters so well, I know how they speak. The characters probably didn't say those specific words at those specific times, but they could have and probably should have. I am confident that everyone in my story is speaking "in character", as far as my writing skills allow. This also extends to characters' thoughts, which would almost never be expressed in a playing session but I can extrapolate from my knowledge of how a player portrays his character's personality and motivations. So where a character's thoughts would add to the story, I'll make them up.

So, that's it really. What you're reading is not a 100% accurate transcript of what actually happened in the game. You're reading a "dramatisation" based on a "true story". And I hope it's suitably entertaining. If it isn't, that's my failure as a writer, because I know the game sessions are entertaining. Well, if they weren't the players wouldn't have been coming back every week for 30 years.

Would they?

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Coming soon...

by David Meadows 6. November 2016 19:27

I currently have a list of 639 potential cross-references to 300 pages which will eventually need to be written. Seems like the best way to tackle the problem is to write the pages that are pointed to from the most different places (on the assumption that these must be important if they're mentioned a lot).

So as of now, here are the most popular items:

Row Labels Count of REFERENCES
James 12
Electron 10
Scorpio 10
Jerome 10
Chi-Yun 9
Nightflyer 9
Don 8
Luey 7

Complicating things is the fact that several of these characters have big revelations in upcoming storylines, and I don't want to preempt them by doing a bio that will be either incomplete or have to undergo major changes very soon.

So it looks like the characters I will be doing over the next few weeks are Electron, Nightflyer, Don and Luey. In that order.

Just in case you were wondering.


Week 22

by David Meadows 5. November 2016 19:04

Strikeforce have discovered that their team-mate Black Swan is in the clutches of their arch-nemesis, the Warscout.

They currently have no idea where to look.

'No idea' is normal for Strikeforce.

Yes, the Swansong storyline reaches its conclusion in Strikeforce chapter 11.

This is complemented by a biography of Black Swan herself -- but you won't want to read this until after you read the story!

Also new this week is an article on Don's customised, armoured recreational vehicle.

And there's a timeline of 2013 which documents several minor events that have been referenced in various stories.

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About this blog

The Heroes Universe is an ongoing work of fiction, conceived and chiefly plotted by David Meadows, with help from a group of friends, over a 30-year period.

I am slowly documenting the Universe on this web site.

This blog is a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of that history.

If you're new here, the series of posts listed below will explain what it's all about. I hope...

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