Dungeon Etiquette

We live in a society.

Trying to apply real world logic to video games is a fool’s errand, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that most of what “heroes” do is awfully close to war crimes.

…I write, having just spent two hours leveling up my JRPG adventuring party through wanton murder and environmental destruction.

The Demon King, Chapter Ten

It is a beautiful day, and you are a horrible demon king.

What would you like to do?

– Make a pot of tea.
– Water your plants.
– Read a trashy romance novel.
– Have a nice chat with your nemesis.
– Take a long nap.

This illustration is by the magical Starstray (on Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr). The prompt I gave her was “a very powerful and very fancy wizard who is very bad at being a demon king.”

I commissioned this painting to celebrate having finished the first book of The Demon King, which I’m going to call The Temple of Everlasting Autumn. It took me four months to write this 30k-word novella, and I’m going to take another month to edit it. I’d also like to put together some book cover style graphics to showcase each of the ten chapters. After that, it will probably be time to start thinking about where the project can go in the future. In the meantime, you can read the first draft (as I gradually edit it) and check out all the comics and illustrations on AO3 (here).

It is a beautiful day, and

You are a terrible bog witch dwelling in a haunted swamp forest.

You have just woken up from a three-month nap, and you hate everything.

What do you do?

.

I’ve been thinking about getting into RPG Maker, and I think I want the player-protagonist of my first game to be a horrible old woman. My ideal project would basically be a 16-bit version of Animal Crossing. You explore a haunted swamp forest, collect materials, and run errands while planting trees and watering flowers. The catch is that all of the dialogue choices will be extraordinarily rude and filthy. You’ll also have dialogue options that encourage murder, but the game will always tell you that killing people is wrong and make you choose something else.

I think it might be neat if the game were set in the world of The Demon King, with the demon king himself being a secondary character. The witch will coerce Balthazar into doing manual labor (like clearing away fallen trees) through shame, bullying, and offering him smutty romance novels, and each encounter will open up more of the map.

The point of the game will be to care for the forest while helping spring transition into summer. I imagine that it will take about two hours to play through the story, with five or six “stages,” or perhaps “chapters.” My main inspiration for gameplay is A Short Hike, but I’d like there to be significantly more text.

I wonder how long a project like this would take to put together?

The Demon King, Chapter 9

I just posted Chapter Nine of The Demon King on AO3 (here).

This is the second-to-last chapter of the novella, and it’s meant to function as a narrative climax. At the beginning of the first chapter, Balthazar casually murders someone; and, at the end of this chapter, he destroys an entire ecosystem. He has his reasons for doing what he’s doing, but I want to make it clear to the reader that he’s not fucking around. I also want to make it clear that this story is not YA fiction, so the language I used in this chapter is a bit… tumescent, let’s say.

Even though its narrative arc is complete in itself, this novella is intended to be the first part of a longer story, and I hope this sort of explosive conclusion is equally satisfying and intriguing. I think it can be understood as a natural outgrowth of the concepts that have already been introduced, but my goal is for an astute reader to come out of this chapter with a deeper curiosity about the history and metaphysics of this world.

This illustration of Balthazar is by the brilliant Jennifer So (@hellojennso on Twitter, @jennosaur on Instagram, and @jennlso on Tumblr), who designed the character. This is actually the first character design created for The Demon King (back in November 2018), and I’m excited to finally share it. Jenn nailed the character on the very first draft, and this is how I’ve pictured him since then.

The Demon King, Chapter 8

This illustration of Ceres is by Sali (@salisillustrations on Instagram and @saliechelon255 on Tumblr), who creates beautiful digital paintings based on books and anime, including Studio Ghibli movies and the Harry Potter novels, alongside her original work. Her characters are fashionable and expressive, and they always fit perfectly into their richly detailed environments. Sali has a talent for drawing fancy wizards, and it was a pleasure to be able to work with her on this illustration for The Demon King.

The eighth chapter of The Demon King is the culmination of Ceres’s first character arc. It echoes her introduction, in which she glibly treats murder as the only viable option to a tricky political problem, but now the reader is able to see the deliberation that leads to her decisions.

I’m interested in female political leadership, especially at high levels, when an executive’s position is just as symbolic as it is practical. It’s my impression that, whether it’s Hillary Clinton or Kamala Harris or Tsai Ing-wen or Angela Merkel, there’s an expectation that a woman needs to be perfectly competent and capable while still being both “rational” and having all the charm and charisma of a male politician. This is impossible in real life, of course, but it’s fun to exaggerate these pressures and expectations in fiction to see where they lead.

In any case, the prompt I gave the artist was “a beautiful fairytale princess quietly plotting murder.”

Although it’s still rough around the edges, I’m posting the first draft of The Demon King on AO3, and you can find it (here).

The Demon King, Chapter 7

This illustration is by the brilliant Yura Krokodil (@KrokodilYura on Twitter and @krokodilov on Tumblr). She also posts original comics on DeviantArt (here). This artist is a genius when it comes to environmental painting, and she’s magnificently talented at creature and costume design.

This is a scene from the seventh chapter of The Demon King, in which Balthazar ventures into a creepy mushroom forest and has a meandering conversation with a giant spider named Uniagoliantia. You can read the chapter on AO3 starting (here).

In Return of the King, Frodo and Sam cross through Cirith Ungol (“the pass of the spider”) on their way to Mordor, and along the way they encounter a giant spider named Shelob. The Silmarilion mentions that Shelob’s mother was Ungoliant (“dark spider”), a primordial spirit who took the form of an even larger spider. I think “Ungoliant” is a cool name, but it’s a shame it doesn’t have eight syllables, so I expanded it while making it sound more feminine.

Although there are definitely weird and creepy spiders in the world – just as there are weird and creepy fish and weird and creepy mammals – most spiders are just minding their own business, and I think their big bright eyes and round fuzzy bodies and short little legs are kind of cute.

When it comes to creepy things, I tend to think that mushrooms are much creepier than spiders. Still, they’re very cool-looking. I was talking with the artist about this, and about how the “evil forest” area that always seems to be one of the first dungeons in a lot of RPGs inevitably looks really interesting and beautiful, and she told me that she was inspired by the opening dungeon of Final Fantasy IX, which is called, appropriately enough, Evil Forest. It feels a bit anthropocentric to refer to a place that humans aren’t comfortable as “evil,” and I imagine that the creatures who live in any given “evil forest” are probably quite happy there.

Demons Have Feelings Too

The passage Balthazar is reading is from the introduction to the “Demons” entry of the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. The full paragraph reads:

Spawned in the Infinite Layers of the Abyss, demons are the embodiment of chaos  and evil – engines of destruction barely contained in monstrous form. Possessing no compassion, empathy, or mercy, they exist only to destroy. The Abyss creates demons as extensions of itself, spontaneously forming  fiends out of filth and carnage.

And this is just not a very nice thing to say, honestly.

I drew this comic to include as the interstitial illustration following the sixth chapter of The Demon King, which I’m posting on AO3 (here).

The Demon King, Chapter Five

The Bridges Under the Mountains
https://archiveofourown.org/works/26956795/chapters/67408192

This chapter was partially inspired by the Mines of Moria from The Fellowship of the Ring, but it’s also a response to the part of Stephen King’s postapocalyptic fantasy novel The Gunslinger in which the hero Roland responds to the “slow mutants” who live in a tunnel through the mountains by shooting them. I always thought that was rude, even when I read the book as a kid. Couldn’t he have just, you know, tried talking to them?

The Demon King is, in many ways, my response to how upsetting I find the violence that’s taken for granted in a lot of science fiction and fantasy stories. It’s nice to be a hero, of course, but what might that type of world look like if you’re the sort of person who’s considered to be a monster?

Balthazar from The Demon King

I’m working on creating a character design for Balthazar, the main character of The Demon King.

The visual aspects of his magic are based on the Twilight magic from Twilight Princess, which is a lot of fun to draw. Unfortunately for me, the reader isn’t going to see him casting the magic he specializes in until much later in the story, although other characters will occasionally allude to the fact that he’s able to do something they can’t fully perceive or understand. A large part of the story’s broader narrative arc therefore involves a lead-up to the revelation of what type of magic Balthazar is using, as well as how he’s using it – and why. The Demon King begins as something like a high fantasy sitcom, but (hopefully) it will gradually get deeper into worldbuilding and character backstories as it progresses.

Anyway, I’m still trying to settle on Balthazar’s face model, but I’m moving in the direction of Ranveer Singh, who has interesting and expressive features.

I’m also still trying to figure out his clothing. Specifically, I can’t decide whether his outer robe is the robe of a Roman Catholic priest or a Japanese Buddhist priest, or whether he just threw a blanket over his shoulders.

And please don’t think too hard about how his horns are attached to his head. It’s… magic?

The Sun Also Sets

This is an illustration of Ceres, one of the main characters in an original story I’m working on called The Demon King. (If you’re interested, I’m posting my first draft on AO3, but it’s still very much a work in progress.)

The idea behind this character is that “pure-hearted” video game princesses like Peach and Zelda always seem to rule their kingdoms mainly by themselves, which is a bit disturbing if you think about it. The Demon King has a larger narrative arc, but for now it’s mainly a play on video game tropes, and Ceres is a way for me to explore questions relating to how “legitimate” power and authority are often presented as “feminine” in many fantasy-themed games.

In any case, I’m writing Ceres as a horrible dramatic bitch, and I love her.