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Kobolds' Crystal Caper: A drop-anywhere dungeon featuring kobolds and demons for Tier 1.

Kobolds' Crystal Caper

Kobolds' Crystal Caper is a game-ready dungeon designed for level 1 and including notes on adjusting the dungeon for levels 2-4. It features an underground complex that guards a sealed shard of demonic energy and a tribe of Kobolds that have broken in to loot the place.
The dungeon is built so that its entrance can be easily fit anywhere in your campaign. It could be located behind a secret basement door, down the stairs of a cemetery's mausoleum, or through a corridor from another dungeon.
This dungeon uses content from the Monster Manual, Volo's Guide to Monsters, and Xanathar's Guide to Everything.
A full keyed map and player version are available here. If you have Dungeondraft, you can also download the original file here. A PDF version of the adventure is available here, or on GMBinder.

What's Happening Here?

This underground complex was built around a shard of demonic essence that crept into this world from the infinite Abyss. The religious order that constructed the dungeon guarded the world from the corrupting energies of the demonic artifact while studying its power and origins. The order has long since faded into obscurity, leaving the complex abandoned and the abyssal shard locked away. Now, a group of kobolds has broken into the complex, lured by the telepathic murmurings of the demonic spirits within.

Who is Present?

  • Hox Grellbait is a gray-brown Kobold Dragonshield with bands of circular scars he got from a near-death scrape with a grell. Hox was able to kill the grell before it killed him, a feat that has earned him great respect among his tribe. Hox still has a crippling fear of being grappled, especially by tentacles. Hox recently obtained a glowing magic weapon, a Moon-Touched Scimitar, which he covets jealously.
  • Kashak Topbrain is a spotted red-brown Kobold Inventor who cackles maniacally over his own genius. He lives for the surprise and discomfort caused by his strange improvised weapons. Kashak believes himself to be a genius and loudly proclaims his every invention to be "his greatest creation yet!"
  • Sir Venistaro Marnez is a Skeleton with an intelligence of 10 that can speak common. Venistaro was a paladin in life who was dedicated to protecting this dungeon. He was entombed here after his death with his magic weapon, a Moon-Touched Scimitar. Recently, the weapon was stolen by the kobold Hox Grellbait. This desecration awakened Venistaro, who now seeks to hunt down the kobolds and prevent them from further looting of the dungeon.
  • The demonic spirits within the abyssal shard are malicious Dretches that long to be free. Their innate telepathy lets them touch the minds of creatures inside the dungeon complex, but only creatures that can speak abyssal can understand their pleadings to be free. To everyone else, they simply feel a strange sense of something calling to them.

Adventure Hooks

  • Noisy Mausoleum: In this adventure hook, the dungeon is located beneath an old mausoleum in a local cemetery. The grounds caretaker, Finillus Jacks, has been hearing weird noises coming from the mausoleum (originating from the kobolds). He begs the party to investigate and put a stop to the disturbing noises.
  • Family Secrets: In this adventure hook, the young scion Artullo Marnez has discovered old family documents describing the final resting place of his ancestor, Sir Venistaro Marnez. Artullo hires the party to explore this tomb and recover a long-lost family heirloom, the Moon-Touched Scimitar.
  • Beckoning Presence: While wandering around town or exploring another adventure site, one of your party's characters begins to sense something calling out to them. This presence is voiceless and vague, but they get the sense it is begging for help. The sensation (which originates from the demonic spirits) guides them to the entrance to the dungeon.
  • Plot Hook Delivery System: If you need a place to hide a magic item, McGuffin, or piece of forgotten lore for your party to recover, you can easily place it in the Library (Room 5), inside the Abyssal Shard (Room 11), or in the Kobold's Treasure Hoard (Room 16)

Adjusting Difficulty

The adventure as written is built for a group of 4 level 1 characters. Here are some ideas for adjusting the difficulty for higher level parties:

Level 2:

  • Room 4: Add 3 Kobolds.
  • Room 5: Add 1 Kobold and 1 additional Giant Rat.
  • Room 11: Add 1 Dretch.
  • Room 12: Add 1 Kobold Inventor.
  • Room 15: Have Hox arrive after 2 rounds instead of 3.

Level 3:

  • Room 4: Replace 2 Kobolds with Kobold Scale Sorcerers.
  • Room 5: Add 1 Kobold Sorcerer and 1 additional Giant Rat.
  • Room 11: Replace all 3 Dretches with Maw Demons. These Maw Demons have telepathy out to 60 feet.
  • Room 12: Kashak has 21 hit points, and add 1 Kobold Dragonshield.
  • Room 13a: Remove 1 skeleton, and Sir Venistaro Marnez uses the statblock of a Wight.
  • Room 15: Hox has 64 hit points and arrives after 1 round instead of 3. He is joined by add 1 Kobold Scale Sorcerer.

Level 4:

  • Room 4: Replace all Kobolds with Kobold Dragonshields.
  • Room 5: Add 5 Kobolds and replace the Giant Rat with a Death Dog.
  • Room 11: Replace 1 Dretch with a Shadow Demon.
  • Room 12: Kashak has 21 hit points, and replace the Giant Rat with two Death Dogs.
  • Room 13a: Sir Venistaro Marnez uses the statblock of a Wight.
  • Room 15: Add 5 Kobolds and 2 Kobold Scale Sorcerers. Hox has 64 hit points and arrives after 1 round instead of 3.

Exploring the Dungeon

General Features

The dungeon's floor is tiled with gray stone. The walls and ceilings are carved from from light gray stone shot through with veins of red garnet. Ceilings in the hallways are 10 feet high, and ceilings in rooms are as high as the narrowest width of the room (minimum 10 feet). Most of the doors are wooden. If doors are locked, they can be unlocked with a DC 12 Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check or forced open with a DC 13 Strength (Athletics) check. Unless otherwise noted, the dungeon is unlit.
Holy Symbols: The holy symbols present in this dungeon depend on the patron deity of the order that built the dungeon. This choice is left to the DM, but here is a list of suggestions for common settings:
  • Helm (Forgotten Realms): Staring eye on an upright gauntlet
  • Dol Arrah (Eberron): Rising sun
  • Bahamut (Points of Light): Dragon's head, in profile, facing left
  • Pelor (Greyhawk): The sun

1. Landing

A 10-foot wide staircase leads down to this room. A fountain filled with clean water is in the center of the chamber.
Any characters with a passive Perception of 15 or higher can hear the sounds of a something being dragged in Room 4. Making too much noise here draws the attention of the kobolds in Room 4.

2. Paladin's Quarters

This well-appointed bedroom is covered in dust. There is a moldering bed in the north-western alcove and lines of bookshelves against the northern wall. A table and chair in the south sit next to a small rack of rusting weapons.
This room was once the living quarters for the head paladin that oversaw this dungeon. A creature that examines the weapons sees the old crest of the Marnez family on their hilts. The bookshelves contain religious texts and historic volumes relating to the Marnez family and their formation of a religious order dedicated to guarding the world from demonic incursions.
Treasure: The desk contains a holy symbol in the form of a metal emblem worth 10 gp. The holy symbol can be used to bypass the trap in Room 7.

3. Barracks

This plain room contains 7 moldering cots with basic furnishings. The dusty floor is disturbed by numerous small reptilian tracks left by kobolds exploring this room. A small door on the far wall leads into a dusty privy.
This room was once the barracks for guards that patrolled this dungeon. It has been long since abandoned.

4. Meeting Room

This ornate room has a large straight table lined with old and broken wooden chairs. The back wall has been broken inward, creating a rough 3-foot diameter hole leading into a round excavated tunnel.
Creatures: Four Kobolds are dragging an ornately carved chair towards the tunnel. They intend to present it as a throne for Hox Grellbait. The kobolds don't initially attack the player characters, instead threatening them with their spears while shouting "Go away! This our territory!"
The kobolds can be calmed with a DC 11 Charisma (Persuasion) check, or by offering them any amount of gold or treasure. If calmed, the kobolds will reveal the following information:
  • Their tribe follows Hox Grellbait, a mighty kobold with a glowing sword.
  • The tribe came to this dungeon following whispers in their minds.
  • Scary skeletons are trying to steal Hox's sword.
  • The tribe simply wants to loot this place for all it can offer them.
Regardless of whether they are calmed, the kobolds will not allow the party to explore the dungeon or stay in it. They will persistently demand that the party leave. They will attack if the party refuses. They may look the other way for a bribe of 20 gp or more.
Tactics: The kobolds fight always fight in pairs or as a pack, taking advantage of their Pack Tactics feature. The kobolds are not particularly brave. If a kobold is damaged, it will attempt to retreat through the tunnel on its next turn, taking the dash action. If only one kobold is left standing, it will also retreat.

5. Library

This sizable library is filled with numerous old tomes. Many of the books have been pulled off the shelves and left haphazardly on the floor. The dust in the room has been disturbed by many kobold feet.
This room contained the collected lore of the religious order that built this dungeon. Much secret knowledge may be hidden inside at the DM's discretion.
Creatures: Three Kobolds are in this room, loading books into a small roughly-made cart. The cart is harnessed to a Giant Rat. The kobolds attack on sight.
Tactics: On the first round of combat, one kobold uses its action to unhook the giant rat's harness. The rat is well trained and fights as an ally of the kobolds. If injured, the kobolds retreat towards the tunnel in Room 4. The giant rat fights to the death.
Treasure: If the party spends an hour exploring this library and makes a DC 12 Intelligence (Investigation) check, they find three volumes with ornate metal covers studded with small gems. The books are worth 50 GP each to the right collector. The other volumes in this library might be worth quite a lot all together, but it would be extremely difficult to find a buyer.

6. Storage Room

This room is filled with old wooden crates and chests of drawers. Many of the crates have been levered open, revealing ancient decaying supplies of rations.
Treasure: Inside the chests of drawers are ten sets of valueless religious robes. Each robe also has a metal holy symbol worth 5 gp. The holy symbols can be used to bypass the trap in Room 7.
There are also 5 empty glass vials in a drawer that could be filled with holy water from Room 8.

7. Statue Trap

This intersection of four corridors is illuminated by four torches lit by the Continual Flame spell. A larger-than-life stone statue of a paladin stands in the center of the intersection. It carries a stone scimitar in one hand and holds a real metal holy symbol in the other. A phrase is carved around the base of the statue: "Show your devotion or face judgement."
Trap: If any creature approaches within 10 feet of the statue that is not carrying or otherwise displaying a holy symbol from this dungeon, they trigger a trap. The statue momentarily animates and attacks the creature with its stone longsword (+4 to hit, 5 (1d6+2) slashing damage). This trap can trigger only once per round.
If a creature approaches within 10 feet of the statue while carrying one of the holy symbols, both their holy symbol and the holy symbol in the hand of the statue glow briefly, and the trap does not trigger.
Development: The first time the party reaches this intersection, the dretches in Room 11 try to make telepathic contact. If a character can speak abyssal, they hear a voice begging "Help. Free. Release. Power given. Help." Otherwise, it sounds like desperate but unintelligible whispers.

8. Holy Water Fountain

This room contains a basin of water that is continually filled by a jet of water emerging from the carved head of a dragon. The water gives off a faint white light. The overflowing water falls to the floor, where is drains away in the pattern of an arcane glyph.
The water in the fountain has been blessed to be holy water. The rules for holy water can be found in the Player's Hand Book, chapter 5, page 151.

9. Crystal Observation Room

The doors leading into this room are locked. This study contains a desk and chair and a chest of drawers. A wooden table is set directly in front of a window reinforced by iron bars that looks into Room 11. There is a small metal lever embedded in the wall next to the window. The room is dimly illuminated by red light shining in from the massive red crystal visible through the window.
The lever in the wall can be pulled to raise the portcullis connecting Rooms 10 and 11. One minute after being pulled, the lever automatically resets and the portcullis falls.
This room was used to study and observe the abyssal shard in Room 11. There is a journal resting on the desk that contains many of their findings:
  • The crystal is a shard of the infinite abyss, the chaotic evil home plane of demons.
  • The helm inside the crystal was once a powerful magical item that has weakened with time.
  • Three demonic spirits are trapped inside the crystal, dragged with it from the abyss.
  • The shard could be destroyed with Holy Water, but doing so would release the demonic spirits.
Treasure: There is a horned demon skull resting on the desk that is worth 60 gp to the right collector. The chest of drawers contains two Potions of Healing, as well as three empty glass vials, intended to be filled with holy water from Room 8.
Developments: When the party enters this room, the dretches in Room 11 try to make telepathic contact. If a character can speak abyssal, they hear a voice begging "Lever, open. Crystal, break. Power, promised." Otherwise, it sounds like desperate but unintelligible whispers that grow more excited when the party approaches or touches the lever.

10. Cleansing Shower

This round room has four metal spouts sprouting from the wall a foot above head height. A lever on the wall causes clean water to spray from the spouts in a cleansing shower. A grate on the floor drains the water away.
This room was used to decontaminate scholars that examined the abyssal shard in Room 11. The door leading to that room is locked.

11. The Abyssal Shard

The only way into this chamber is from Room 10 and past an iron portcullis that can be opened by the lever inside Room 9. It the portcullis is down, it can be lifted by creatures working together with a collective Strength score of 20 or higher.
This round chamber has a domed ceiling that begins 10 feet high and rises to 30 feet high over the room's center. The whole chamber is dimly illuminated by a crimson light that shines from a 5-foot wide, 10-foot high jagged red crystal in the room's center. A terrifying black helmet is visible suspended inside the center of the translucent crystal. Three shapes of darkness like wisps of smoke swirl inside the crystal.
This is the abyssal shard, a physical remnant of demonic energy. It has an AC of 14, Hardness of 5, 50 Hit Points, and immunity to psychic and poison damage. Reducing it to 45 or fewer hit points causes it to crack, immediately releasing the three demonic spirits trapped inside. Reducing the abyssal shard to 0 hit points causes it to shatter, permanently destroying it and causing the helmet to drop to the floor. A single splash of holy water instantly destroys the abyssal shard, releasing the demonic spirits inside.
Creatures: The three demonic spirits inside the crystal are Dretches. The dretches may have promised power to any creature that releases them, but this was a lie. They are cruel creatures that immediately attack any non-demon they encounter.
While the abyssal shard remains with more than 0 hit points, each dretch regains 3 hit points at the start of each of its turns. If a dretch is reduced to 0 hit points, it immediately turns to invulnerable black smoke and flows back inside the crystal. One hour later, the dretch re-emerges with all its hit points restored. If the crystal is destroyed, any dretches inside of it that had previously been reduced to 0 hit points are released with 1 hit point. After the abyssal shard is destroyed, the dretches die if reduced to 0 hit points.
Treasure: The helmet inside the crystal is a Dread Helm, a common magic item from Xanathar's Guide to Everything. It once contained more power. At the DM's discretion, there may be a way to restore it to its original power, turning it into a Helm of Telepathy. Perhaps Sir Venistaro Marnez is capable of restoring it, or perhaps the party will need to go on a whole new adventure.

12. Workshop

This room looks like it was once a simple blacksmith's workshop. It contains a small pit of coals, an anvil, a work table, and several racks of blacksmithing tools.
This room was used to maintain and repair the equipment the guards of this dungeon used.
Creatures: The Kobold Inventor Kashak Topbrain is in this room, along with his pet Giant Rat and a Kobold Inventor assistant. Kashak calls the giant rat Clang due to a suit of metal armor that Kashak made for it. The armor gives the giant rat an AC of 14.
Kashak cackles at the party's arrival, excited by the prospect of testing his weaponry. He demands that the party surrender and hand over their "shinys" or they will discover why he is known as "the greatest and most deadly inventor of this age." If the party surrenders, they are looted of their material wealth and escorted out of the dungeon.
If the party refuses, Kashak and his team attacks. Clang the rat and Kashak fight to the death; Kashak's inventor assistant surrenders if reduced to 5 or fewer hit points.
Treasure: The racks on the walls contain a complete set of Smiths' Tools worth 20 gp. The work table also contains an ornate silver shield emblazoned with a holy symbol worth 35 gp.

13. Chapel of the Fallen

This chapel is the resting place for the guards and paladins that fell in battle securing the abyssal shard. The double doors leading into this room are locked.

13a. Chapel's Main Hall

This 50-foot long chamber is lined by two rows of columns supporting the 20-foot high ceiling. One of the columns at the eastern end has fallen to the ground, creating a small barrier that can be hidden behind to provide half cover.
The eastern 15 feet of the room is raised 5 feet and supports an ornate marble coffin. The coffin's lid is carved to resemble a priest; the lid is slightly ajar. Behind the coffin the wall has been broken inward, creating a rough 3-foot diameter hole leading into a round excavated tunnel.
Creatures: Two Skeletons have emerged from Room 13b and are battering at the door to Room 13c. A third Skeleton sitting on top of the partially ajar coffin is Sir Venistaro Marnez, an undead with an intelligence of 10 that can speak Common.
When the party arrives, Sir Venistaro holds up a hand in a warding gesture and speaks to the characters: "You who travel these vaults: have you come to despoil this sacred ground, or do you come to aid me in ridding it from its invaders? Speak and be judged." If the player characters ask for further clarification, the skeleton imparts the following:
  • His name is Sir Venistaro Marnez, the first paladin in charge of guarding this complex.
  • A group of kobolds has despoiled the vaults and awoken Sir Venistaro and the other undead.
  • Sir Venistaro will allow the party to explore the dungeon if they vow to remove the kobolds and not damage the abyssal shard in Room 11.
If the party agrees to aid the skeleton in removing the kobolds, the skeleton points to the tunnel behind him and tells them to travel that way and seek the kobold with the glowing sword; that sword was originally Venistaro's, and must be returned to him. Returning the sword to him causes Sir Venistaro and the other skeletons to become inert corpses once more.
If the party refuses or indicates they have come to loot the dungeon, Sir Venistaro's eye-sockets flash red and he commands his two fellow Skeletons to attack.
Tactics: Sir Venistaro does not have a sword and must use his shortbow. He remains at the back of the room, fighting at range, while the other two skeletons move into melee range. The skeletons all fight to the death.

13b. Northern Alcove

This room contains two stone coffins and an iron brazier. The coffins' lids have been pushed ajar, revealing their contents to be empty. The skeletons that resided inside are now in Room 13a.

13c. Southern Alcove.

The door to this room is locked. This room contains two stone coffins and an iron brazier. The coffins' lids have been weighed down with heavy rocks. Thumping comes from inside.
Creatures: A terrified Kobold named Sniv huddles in this room. Two Skeletons inside the coffins are trying to break out and attack it. Meanwhile, the skeletons in Room 13a are trying to break down the door. Sniv is beyond relieved to be rescued and throws itself at the feet of anyone that offers to let it out, begging for help. Sniv is a surprisingly honest kobold and will help his benifactors in any way they ask save for actually attacking his tribe.

14. Giant Rat Pen

This large excavated space has a 10-foot high ceiling. A wooden fence surrounds a circular pen filled with straw. Two wooden gates into the pen are held shut with knots of twine.
Creatures: Four Giant Rats are kept in this pen. A creature with hands can use its action to open one of the gates, letting the rats run free. The giant rats are well trained and fight as allies of kobolds, attacking any non-kobold on sight. The rats fight to the death.

15. Kobold Camp

This wide cave has been roughly excavated from the natural rock. Small sleeping rolls for just over a dozen small creatures are scattered randomly across the uneven floor. The chamber is illuminated by a campfire whose smoke is cleverly whisked away through small ventilation tunnels.
Creatures: Five Kobolds are in this room, cooking rats on sticks over the camp fire. The kobolds are alarmed at the intrusion of the party; four immediately attack, while the final kobold runs towards Room 14, planning to release the giant rats. The kobolds fight to the death to protect their home.
Development: Three rounds after combat starts, the Kobold Dragonshield Hox Grellbait arrives from room 16 having heard the commotion. Hox wields a Moon-Touched Scimitar (+4 to hit, dealing 5 (1d6+2) damage) that glows with a supernatural blue light. Hox took this weapon from the corpse of Sir Venistaro Marnez in room 13a.
Hox is furious at the intrusion of the party, but wary of taking them on directly. He starts by merely threatening the party: "I am Hox Grellbait, the mightiest kobold to ever live! My scars show my strength, and my magic blade can smite you down with a single blow! You cannot win; surrender and we will talk, else I shall slay you where you stand!"
If the party surrenders, they are looted of their material wealth and escorted out of the dungeon. If the party attacks, Hox fights to knock out a single weak-looking character and then hold them hostage, again demanding the party surrender. If they refuse, Hox will not attack the unconscious character, instead deciding to run away rather than fight these heartless lunatics.

16. Hox's Treasure Hoard.

This small cave contains a miniature living space. A single bedroll is unrolled next to a camp fire. The flame's light illuminates this room and dances off a small pile of glittering coins and assorted treasures.
Creatures: Hox Grellbait the Kobold Dragonshield lives alone in this room, obsessing over his hoard of treasure.
Treasure: This room contains 1800 cp, 1400 sp, and 100 gp in a loose pile. A treasure chest contains two potions of healing. There is also a golden goblet worth 120 gp, and two pieces of garnet worth 25 gp each.

My Previous Drop-Anywhere Dungeons

Tabernacle of the Nascent God
Demiplane of Pompolius the Powerful
Apostle of Ice and Hate
The Fish, The Idol, and the Hag
submitted by Scaphitid-Ammonite to DnDBehindTheScreen

Intellectual Masochists: On the Nature of Plot Twists, Narrative Structure and Player Immersion in VNs (Spoilers for The Portopia Serial Murder Case)

The world is the totality of facts, not of things. - Tractatus Logico-philosophicus-Proposition 1:1
In 1985, Yuji Horii made The Portopia Serial Murder Case, a slightly rudimentary take on the burgeoning western PC adventure game market which put the players in a surprising murder mystery.
In the game, the player is given the role of a detective working with fellow investigator Yasuhiro "Yasu" Mano to solve the case of Kouzou Yamanaka, a banker found stabbed to death in a locked room of his own mansion. Together, you and Yasu investigate a variety of suspects, pursue leads, and search for the truth.
Reflecting its influence, Portopia does not have a "protagonist", the player chooses a command from a variety of options, ranging from asking around to hitting objects, and the action is carried out and executed by Yasu, who is the narrative vessel through which all action takes place. The player themselves is never seen, heard from or carries out any actions themselves beyond changing areas. Each of the suspects the player investigates have simple yet clear personalities; you have Fumie the secretary, Komiya the elderly guard, Toshi the nephew and small time criminal, and Yukiko the teen juvenile. As the story progresses, multiple revelations are made surrounding the suspects, Toshi, the most likely initial suspect if ruled out on having been doing a drug deal on the time of the murder, Komiya was away getting drunk at the time, and Yukiko's missing father had committed suicide that night due to debts he owed the victim.
Eventually, a breakthrough is made when the player learns that Kouzou and another man, Kawamura, were a pair of con artists who had ruthlessly destroyed multiple lives. Further investigation after Kawamura himself is found dead reveals that one of their victims left behind two children with their suicide, one of whom was Fumie. Only she's gone missing, and already had an airtight alibi to begin with for the murder. The only suspect remaining is thus her unknown brother, who can be identified through a butterfly shaped mark on his shoulder.
This is where the twist happens. After a rather infuriating maze segment, the player discovers a memo revealing that Kouzou had come to regret his crimes, and that he had in fact had been attempting to atone by caring for Fumie. After this, the player is to return to the police station and not call in a witness, as they have done dozens of times.
Instead, they tell Yasu to take off his clothes.
The mark on his body reveals the shocking conclusion.
It's interesting to me how undervalued Portopia is in the west towards game history. Not only was it the first ADV/VN in history, but it was basically the first narrative based game in Japan period. Creators like Hideo Kojima and Eiji Aoyama have directly credited with getting them into the industry due to its complex storytelling, and its original success allowed Yuji Horii to make the original Dragon Quest, the game which birthed JRPGs as a genre. Basically 90% of Japanese gaming period owes itself back to this singular title.
It's thus fascinating to examine the iconic "Yasu is the criminal" twist in how, more than just it as a twist as its own, but it how it acted as the originator, and how it essentially implanted the concept from the very, very beginning. And how these, in turn, lead us into a long string of techniques which formulate how VNs narratives are told.
Let us, for this demonstration, perceive three essential pieces in the puzzle. In short, there are two primary objects, you, the solitary individual, and the game as a digital construction projecting an alternate "reality" which we call a fiction which the player is making the effort to connect to. Connecting the individual and the fiction are two wires, which we will call the primary mode and primary thought. To establish those two:
  • "Primary mode" is to describe the correlation between how the individual interacts with the game itself through both narrative interactions and storytelling.
  • "Primary thought" is the assumptions the player is inclined to make based on the information they are given, and they're own general ideas regarding people.
The Yasu twist fundamentally displays a violation of both of these processes. In terms of primary thought, the twist shatters two things the player assumes, that the victim was a remorseless criminal, and the Yasu was the main ally. The second, far more jarring one, is that it violates the implicit order of how the player interacts with the experience of the fiction. Remember, the "protagonist" of Portopia essentially does not exist, they are a menu whose choices Yasu executes. You are, in that sense, acting as Yasu's controller, yet Yasu is in the end also the criminal you are trying to capture.
This contradiction between the conventional logic the player is adapted to verses the reality they are faced with is the inherent logic behind a "Yasu" twist. They are a sharp reminder of the power of information, because they are when information is re-correlated as a function of betrayal.
To take the idea of a strict medium-level control, think of Knox's Decalogue. The ten point list, more or less, comprised the logic and reality behind the nature of the common detective fiction. The detective and his assistant are to be impartial sleuths who deduce the mystery, the culprit is a singular entity whom is to be hunted down, and the victim is the victim.
So thus, what happens when that reality is violated? If the safety net of the detective fiction is removed, can you trust anything? What is a clue to the answer, and what is a manifestation of paranoia? Is anything even real, then?
It is this "Thought/Mode Synchro" that constructs the mental shock from such twists. The idea that the writing has seeded a revelation outside of one's natural understanding breaks our understanding of how fiction, and by consequence reality, functions. It is the birth of the second sight, which asks the work to be viewed on the level of all information, as the narrative has forever gone beyond the point of no return.
Indeed, many VNs employ a secondary technique will can be phrased as "Information Transformation", when the basic settings, characters, and ideas have their context or events being participated in so radically altered to where the beginning and end are virtually unrecognizable. This is the ultimate form of Thought/Mode Synchro, as it demonstrates the full destruction of all original logic in the supplementation of the new. A deepened layer, which is the proof of the true meaning.
To lead next is the subject of how VNs form their narrative, which is where an important work of reference, Hiroki Azuma's 2001 Database Animals is a...dated essay, and one which at times makes some exceptionally strange arguments (he seriously makes the argument of YU-NO being allegorical to living with DID), but it's central thesis is such; in the overlaying lens of postmodernist thinking, the conceptual idea of the "grand narrative" is erased, hence the ideas of database consumption which permeate the rest of the book come into focus.
This argument of Azuma's comes into sharp focus when his essay begins in its later pages discussing VNs themselves. "Grand narratives", to ruthlessly oversimplify the term in philosophy, relates to the use of fiction as a form of internal knowledge. The tradition of fiction thus is about its perception as gaining information about the world, first through oral tradition, and later as societal and factual understanding.
In order to receive this totality, what is "essential" is thus a linier correlation of facts which build towards the stated conclusion. The Odyssey will always be the stated journey of Odysseus' journey to reunite with his wife Penelope, all elements of the story are directly positioned to that conclusion. Were the facts to be displayed to where some other conclusion was reached, or they were betrayed as to create an alternate perspective, then the facts become irrelevant. They became the transcended "ultra-perspective".
VNs, by their hybrid nature, are fiction which on the surface betray this factual totality. Multiple routes, interlinked structural writing and play-assisted deductive reasoning are in betrayal to a factual totality, because the facts thus cannot all happen on a singular world-line or approach the singular conclusive entity. One ending is the basis of information, while the second ending is the basis of secondary.
It's because of that that the concept of a "True Ending" becomes a vital concept to VNs as an entity. The "final conclusion" is an existence which acts as the method by which the "un-totality" is decarded. In the player being directed to obtain a final pointer, the idea instead becomes the manual accumulation of facts which approximate the final truth. The totality, thus, is born of the perceptive eye arguing in level with the fiction, as the facts are the not of the linier line, but spread out for the observer to interact with.
Interestingly, however, the totality of facts often does not correlate to the sum. Bad endings, side routes, some minor dialogue options, often these are not required in the slightest to reach the final conclusion and, by consequence, the accepted totality. The facts, thus, are not born of the cumulative nature of the work, but of the specified priority information. The ideas which are considering most critical, such as who the people are, what their goals are, and what are the truths and conclusions they are able to reach.
The factual totality however in interesting contrast to another idea, that being the belief of relevancy in multiple conclusions. If the conclusion to the totality lies in a singular point, then what does that say about all the alternates which are now listed as "less important"? This brings itself into the sharp contrast with the idea of pursuing based on the scope of the story presented throughout multiple paths (grand narrative) VS on the merit of the singular conclusions (small narrative). If the former is the large scale "incentive", then the latter is thus the response of an emotional preference to a specified segment. This is ultimately a personal decision, so I feel it's not important to ponder on, but still worth noting regardless as an argument.
Perceive, for a moment, the nature of VN's as a hybrid medium. While they are games categorically, the sheer amount of text in their scripts outstrip many of the most extensive novels. This amount of text is impressive on its own before you account for that they are able to skip over many things necessary for a traditional novel to function, most crucially being descriptive text needed for transitioning scenes, establishing location and notifying speaker, all of these things are carried out by the backgrounds, sprites and UI. When one considers this, the amount of text in a VN actually considerably outdoes that of novels, as it is largely dedicated to dialogue and important description of actions and concepts.
The heavily dialogue focused nature of VNs becomes especially fascinating when another idea is observed, that being the cast size and layout. VNs have typically what we might call small casts of characters by comparison to the volume of text, typically sitting comfortably between 10-20 notable individuals, with only a few approaching the 30s (for comparison, Bleak House by Charles Dickens is 377K words in length, well below the length of many VNs, and still has a cast of 62 named characters). The cast itself is usually routed directly around the perspective a singular character, sometimes a set of them, which are designated the protagonist. Alternate perspectives are usually relegated to cutaways or interludes, but the expectation is always that, sooner or later, the story will return to the designated perspective.
This expectation of "The story is the summation of the protagonist" is something which skews far closer to video games, I think. We are internally built around the observation of the "player character", even though in the case of VNs that character is someone we at best only control through specified decisions. To avert the expectation that the protagonist exists means voiding the sub-surface layer to player-reader connection, the perspective of the protagonist as the rooted, independent individual.
This kind of "Game-based writing design" is pertinent when we layer them over emotional intensity. In absence of gameplay, VN's are often heavily specified around creating strong emotions through route structure and episodic formatting. A single series of events can have shocking turnarounds, comedy, love and tragedy, all as merely a contained fragment of the narrative. Rather than the underscoring of a singular narrative, we instead watch the constrained rooting of multiple narratives, each with roughly the same cast and setting (in contrast to, say, Shonen manga story arcs, which often introduce entire new casts of characters each arc).
The protagonist essentially acts as the "second sight" of the narrative, as they are layered as the constant interactor within the context of the fiction itself. This gamification tool is interesting due to the hybrid medium position. In being restricted to a singular lens, a collective understanding of the work through the player is thus acquired.
So, we are thus positioned with three key matters, the "Thought/Mode Synchro", the "Absolute Factual Totality" and "The Rooted Individual Narrative". These, I think neatly formulate the real "face" of VNs as a hybrid media, more textually dense (in word count, I mean) that novels but also intrinsically designed as occurring under the logic of video games.
So then, the question arises, why did I title this "Intellectual Masochists"? Well, beyond just wanting a catchy title, I believe it is a darkly fitting descriptive for the people who make up the VN community.
The desire that, off my three outlined principles, essentially creates a feedback loop of a desire for information correlated with the inherent emotional intensities that will repeatedly come from the acquisition of information. The factual totality is reached through endless emotional pressures, which are individually interlaced on one another, are to be considered together. Hence, we desire the factual totality, yet the road will bring us just as much pain as love.
That, perhaps, is the answer I reached.
If we look at a fiction, what is the facts born of it?
A lie is forever in opposition to the truth, after all.
A hybrid existence, lived as a both and a neither. An interactive "game" devoid of complete interaction, and a novel which is written outside prose.
The natural logic of it, comes then from something born separate. For those things, are what is to be treasured.
It is those things, words, which we value.
It is all, forever, that it needs to be.
I know this is long, but thanks for reading! This was a genuine attempt at an essay of sorts about VN's and their design, so I'd appreciate feedback. Feel free to bring up specific examples with games of the ideas I discussed in actions as well! Due to spoilers I didn't discuss anything specific beyond Portopia, but there's a lot of individual examples which I'm sure can be used to expand on the ideas presented here.
submitted by RainSpectreX to visualnovels

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