I’m a bad person who has fallen completely down the gamer hole on Tyranny since my last post. Everything I raved about the other day? Pretend I did that twice as hard. I don’t think I’ve fallen in love with a game this much for years. I haven’t even touched Dishonored 2 yet or thought about picking up the new Final Fantasy, two other franchises I adore, because I’m too busy planning out future playthroughs and alternate paths through Tyranny.
Last time I talked at length about the morality of the setting, and how you need to approach it as alien to our own. This time I want to talk a little bit about the magic and how it differentiates itself from anything else I’ve played in the genre, or even in similar games like the Dark Sun series.
The magic of the game is sharply divided into three different tiers. At the top you have Edicts, which are the native power of Kyros the Overlord; proclamations that have a delayed or immediate effect on the world. Prior to the game’s start he could melt and entire nation into slag by having someone speak his Edict out loud, and the historians of the game tend to define eras by the Edicts proclaimed in them. We don’t really know what limitations they have, if any, and a large part of the game is prodding that. They seem to be open to interpretation and rules lawyering in a fun way. Here’s a small spoiler for how you can break the first Edict you encounter:
The game starts around the 20th of the month. The Edict you are sent to proclaim will take effect on the 26th of that mont once spoken. If you proclaim it on the starting day, you’ve got about a week. If you proclaim it on the 25th, you have one night. What I discovered was that if you buy up camping supplies and stay away from the settlements until the 27th, and then speak the Edict, you have a year until it takes effect. It will come down on the 26th of that month the following year, and you have what feels like infinite wiggle room. Not only that, but I found that characters actually have unique dialogue for if you break the game like this.
It’s really fun and you can either play it straight or be a sneaky bastard and get around the rules by interpreting them broadly. I think that adds a cool element to the game, where you aren’t just playing fantasy Judge Dredd who must enforce the letter of the law at all times. You can choose to make yourself into someone who interprets the spirit of the law and judges based on that, and you have a capacity to really stretch the boundaries.
The next level of magic is what the Archons have available, and to be honest I’m still exploring that a bit. One of them can shield his loyal followers from harm no matter how far away he is, another can devour the bodies of captives and add their minds to his, one can walk through shadows, so on and so forth. I’m just now entering the part of the game where I’m starting to poke and prod at how these interact with the world and if they’re permutations of the Edict or of the magic most readily available to the player:
Sigils are a little bit Morrowind-esque, which is already a massive point in their favor from me. I love them because they’re kind of like magic based on poetry or writing. Each spell is a miniature essay or argument against reality that you craft by hand.
You have a Core Sigil which represents your theme, your thesis if you will. Expression Sigils are the structure of your argument, how you channel your theme. Accent Sigils append your Expression, and Enhancement Sigils are kind of like citing other sources to draw additional effects. You could create a core sigil of frost, expressing itself in projected force, with accents of ricochets and enhanced residual decay. You’ve just created an ice lance that bounces around and leaves a ticking poison effect on each enemy struck, and within the context of the game, it’s because you’ve successfully argued reality itself into submission and twisted the new reality through your essay into a powerful magic attack.
I fucking love it. I usually don’t play casters in games – typically a bard or a ranger is the furthest I go – but in Tyranny I do find myself drawn hard into the spellcrafting system because it revs my imagination up like crazy. I get the feeling that Sigils are going to tie into the higher tiers of magic somehow, and I can’t wait to find out how.
Speaking of revving the imagination up, I’m almost done with my (admittedly very slow) re-read of IT. Man, I forgot how long this book is, and it’s not really one I can blaze through because I get caught up on details.
Details are what I want to talk about briefly here, in the context of mindfulness.
If you aren’t familiar with the term, it’s something that has been around for awhile but has become affiliated with a lot of… I guess new age-y philosophical sects and there are a billion different permutations on it. Some people take it super-seriously as a lifestyle, others try to incorporate a few minutes of it into their daily routine, others only use it as a stress relief or pain management thing.
I tend to tap into it as a writer, particularly when I’m gathering information as an observer.
One of the core attributes to mindfulness is that you acknowledge things happening around you without judgement, accepting the good and not taking the bad personally. You don’t get upset at the red light, you just see that it’s turned red and you wait. You try to make yourself intensely aware of things like plants growing in cracks, or people smiling, or whatever else is happening immediately around you. There isn’t any focusing on the past or worrying about the future, you’re trying to fill your mind with the present without letting it have a negative impact.
You can see how this would be tremendously useful for writing.
It’s something I have to force myself to do, honestly. I tend to fidget about the past a lot, and spend the rest of the time daydreaming about the future (even if it’s just future story ideas), but that’s the equivalent of breathing out constantly. You have to remember to breathe in from time to time.
King, I think, really gets that. You can see it in any of his books, but IT is probably the most solid example. His narrative voice is mindful and not passing judgement, which makes it stand out all the more when you zoom in and see something through a protagonist’s eyes with their thoughts coloring things one way or the other. It’s how his country town settings are densely populated with some of the most believable characters I’ve ever read. Never mind that, on the surface, they’re rarely more than caricatures. Every one of these characters has a certain level of realism, honesty even, that most authors can’t capture in a novel. Sometimes there are authors who can’t capture it in a series. King regularly captures it in a paragraph. He gives you just enough of a realistic frame that you can fill it all in with people you’ve known.
I think in many novels, in many stories – mine included – the bit characters can become objects knocked around by the protagonists or the antagonists. By being mindful of the fact that every single bit character is a fully realized human with all the unpredictability that entails, King is able to flip that around and have the main characters get knocked off their feet by the bit characters. Their actions directly influence the course of the overarching story, because each of them has their own parallel story that may intersect with it at the most random time.
I also like that the stories make it all the more clear that Pennywise isn’t necessarily the main villain of the piece. We don’t really know for sure whether he made the soil of Derry for fertile for atrocities or if it was like that and he settled down to plant his proverbial crops. Just like Salem’s Lot, IT represents the massive ugilness just beneath the surface of some small towns. A shape-shifting cosmic horror is almost unnecessary when you’ve got an entire town of damaged and abusive adults pretending that they know how to raise a generation of kids and failing miserably. If anything, the monster is a welcome reprieve because you know that in a fairy tale these 12 year olds stand a good chance of beating the dragon, at least better odds than preteen Beverly has of winning against her physically abusive father or Eddie has against escaping his helicopter mother.
When the narrator is talking in a neutral, mindful tone of all the little details in Derry, it makes the horror stand out all the more when we’re seeing those things through the eyes of one of the protagonists. The dispassionate description of a homemade dam becomes a totem of hope and unity for the Losers when they realize it’s brought them together and made several of them the first friends they’ve ever had, and the nonjudgemental descriptions of decay in an old apartment become creepier and creepier when viewed through the eyes of those same kids when they realize that what we disregard as water damage might be a true monster getting its claws in the world and manifesting through things falling apart. Be that buildings or relationships.
It also does something that I strongly admire King for, which is being kind of a time capsule of progressive thought for different eras. For a novel written in the 80s, it opens with a truly horrific gay-bashing and it’s explicitly portrayed as a very bad thing, to the point that it is tied in to the awakening of a fear-eating monster that kills everyone on both sides. You can see all the prejudices of everyone in the town in a way that’s completely realistic, like the cops who talk about how they “hate fagolas” but that doesn’t mean they want the guys to get beaten to death walking home together. Just by mindfully presenting the casual homophobia, racism, sexism, domestic violence, torture, extra-judicial executions… the ugly parts of American history and still very much parts of America now, he presents them as inexcusable and something to stand against, because in addition to being atrocities in their own right they often point towards a sickness under the skin where they manifest.