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Defend your magical city from an invading army! Use swords, spells, and strategy to save your people, lead them to glory, and build a legacy for the ages. Siege of Treboulain is a 280,000-word interactive epic fantasy novel by Jed Herne. I sat down with Jed to discuss his work. Siege of Treboulain releases this Thursday, April 14th. You can play the first three chapters for free, today.
This is your first work of interactive fiction, I believe. Tell me all about your other work.
It certainly is! Outside of Siege of Treboulain, I’ve written three epic fantasy books, along with a few short stories.
Fires of the Dead follows a group of sorcerers and thieves who venture into a haunted forest to find a dead magician’s skull. But as people start dying, the magician might not be so dead after all.
In Across the Broken Stars, a cowardly war deserter tries to redeem himself by helping a young fugitive search for a mythical safe haven. Following a trail of ancient riddles, they set off across a realm where people live on discs that float in space, pursued by a ruthless inquisitor.
And, lastly, The Thunder Heist follows a swashbuckling pirate who’s trying to steal a priceless artifact from a city of ships that floats on a monster-infested sea.
What surprised you about writing an interactive story?
The main thing was how back-and-forth the writing process was. When I write novels, it’s (usually) straightforward. Outline the story. Start at the start. Work through until you reach the end.
Writing an interactive story was more scattered. Within each chapter, I’d often jump around from piece to piece. For example, sometimes I’d leap ahead to write a devilishly difficult choice; then I’d backfill by inserting other scenes to let players to reach this point.
I also followed less of a strict outline. With my novels, I usually plan every scene ahead of time, and I generally match ~90% of my plan in the first draft. But with this, I’d often enter chapters with only a vague idea of what’s next. For instance: in this chapter, people start getting poisoned. Go!
The spontaneous nature of this approach was the right method. It let the story naturally evolve to follow the most interesting paths available.
The other big revelation had to do with the nature of choice. When it comes down to it, a good narrative-based game should give players impossible choices with no easy answers. Within days of starting the project, it became apparent that one of my main jobs was forcing players into these situations—these crisis moments where you must make a tough decision about what kind of ruler you want to be.
This emphasis on difficult, character-defining choices has always been in my stories. But working in an interactive medium brought this idea to the foreground. I’m glad it did because it helped me grow as a writer, and will improve my future novels.
Did you have a favorite NPC while you were writing the game?
I enjoyed the interactions with the game’s main antagonist. In your backstory, the player chooses what their relationship was like with the antagonist—friend, rival, or even a lover. Throughout the narrative, the story occasionally dips back to your memories with this antagonist. Via these flashbacks, you learn what’s driving them. And you also learn about yourself along the way.
I loved this dynamic. It added more stakes and complexity. That was the aim: I didn’t want a paper-thin ‘evil villain.’ By having the antagonist be someone who helped you become the person you are today—for better or worse—it created a more interesting story.
Apart from the antagonist, I’m also a big fan of Marshal Heartstone, who leads your army. I’m drawn towards characters who make big sacrifices in the cause of duty—and Heartstone certainly fits the bill. Plus, Heartstone has a fun sidequest that explains mysterious aspects of Treboulain’s past, which was a joy to write. And you can have some duelling sessions together as well, to improve your sword-fighting skills.
What was the most challenging part of finishing this game for you?
The complexity of wrangling the various stats and pathways through the game!
Right from the start, I wanted to create a sprawling world with tons of varied routes. There’s four romanceable NPCs, three backstory options, and you can even decide what weapon, armour, and shield you want for certain fights. All of that made for heaps of head-scratching and frantic diagram-drawing. Still, it was worthwhile for the story it creates!
The other big challenge was the sheer scale. Previously, the longest book I wrote was 80,000 words. Siege of Treboulain clocked in at 280,000. It took endurance and patience to make it through. But I’m glad I did, because it’s hugely improved my writing stamina, along with producing a story that feels grand and epic in scope.
What would you like players to know about this game that they might not expect from the title, art, and descriptions?
I’m stoked with the magic system, but it’s hard to describe it in a blurb–so that’s probably the main one. Essentially, you are given the gift of arborturgy: the ability to control plants with your mind. Depending on how you play, it can lead to cool set pieces in the game; swinging from building to building by using vines, enchanting grass to snare your enemies, and even using plant-tendrils to catch arrows mid-air.
I also think the backstory adds a lot to the game. Early on, you choose one of three backgrounds: magician, warrior, or scholar. Each choice creates an entirely different playing experience.
Lastly, if you enjoy epic fantasy for the world building and the immersion, then you’ll love the city of Treboulain. Before writing, I mapped out every street in the city, and there’s a ton of depth, ancient lore, and hidden mysteries all wrapped up in the place. You’d need to play the game a few times before you can fully explore even a fraction of the city.
Plus, it’s not just a static backdrop. The city shapes itself to your decisions. Depending on your actions, it might look totally different by the game’s end…
Tell our readers what else you’re working on.
I’m currently writing my next epic fantasy novel, tentatively titled Kingdom of Dragons. I can’t give away too many details yet, but the title might suggest its subject matter…
My other current project is Wizards, Warriors, & Words. It’s a fantasy writing advice podcast, which I co-host with fellow authors Rob J. Hayes, Michael R. Fletcher, and Dyrk Ashton. We’ve published over 80 episodes so far, with cool guests joining us from time to time. New episodes come out every Monday.
If you want to stay updated with my future works (and read some exclusive, free short stories), you can join my twice-a-month email newsletter.