An Insane Person Explains Why They Didn't Like Choice Of The Dragon


#1

DISCLAIMER: This is an overly long op-ed practice piece to train my critical eye and writing talents, for use in my own projects. I’m an amateur with little to no credibility and should be treated as such.

DISCLAIMER: I’m insane.

Hello, other people! I didn’t like something, so I’m posting it on the internet and expecting everyone to agree with me because I said so. That always works.

Today, I want to critique Choice of the Dragon. I didn’t like it, which means everyone that likes it is wrong. But at least there’s some parts I liked, and if you didn’t like them, go away. I don’t write opinions to convince people. Jeez.

First of all, frickin’ dragons. Frickin’ dragons are awesome. They’re frickin’ dragons. But what about frickin’ dragons makes them frickin’ dragons? Well, shut up. Stop questioning me!

Anyways, frickin’ dragons. You see, frickin’ dragons are powerful. Like, they wreck cities and battle Godzilla. That’s awesome. But more importantly, it’s an opportunity. Your normal power fantasy is ostensibly grounded, in the sense that it at least resembles real life. But that causes all sorts of problems.

First, when a piece of media at least superficially looks like real life, it can be confused for reality. While I can’t cite any studies on the topic (a quick search found no significant high-quality research on the subject), I can cite the entire advertising industry. If media couldn’t influence people, then we wouldn’t have backroom license agreements and opaque government funding. So when I see a power fantasy portraying anything but clear fantasy, I get a little bit uncomfortable. It’s not trying to be realistic, it might not even intend to trick people, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Second, grounded power fantasies usually aren’t that powerful. You might be powerful, but you need to use your power in a very specific way. For instance, ever play D&D as a pacifist? Don’t. You’re gonna die, because you’re not strong enough for peace. And if you make a clever workaround, the GM has to throw out all their planned material, and they yell at you, and you get kicked out, and you get angry, and you get drunk, and you go over to the GM’s house and piss on her furnature, and the GM kicks your ass. But it’s not my your fault. The game took away your agency, your power to make decisions. And if you don’t have power, why play?

Knowing the above, is Choice of the Dragon a good premise? Hell yeah. First, frickin’ dragons obviously don’t exist, so no uncomfortable feelings. And second, frickin’ dragons are powerful. Like, really powerful. You can shoot your arrows all you want; frickin’ dragons don’t give a damn. They’re frickin’ dragons. They wanna talk things out, you ain’t got much choice. ‘Cause they’re frickin’ dragons. So 10/10 for concept.

And this is where everything falls apart.

The player of Choice of the Dragon is not a frickin’ dragon. They’re a Choice of the Dragon dragon. Choice of the Dragon dragons are weak. I went into this game wanting to conquer the world, and instead I collected taxes. Because apparently I need the money. I don’t know why I need money when I can just take anything I want, but that’s what I did, because I’m a Choice of the Dragon dragon. Boring.

And before you doubt my rightness, Choice of the Dragon is very much trying to be a power fantasy. For instance:

You make several passes, lighting the buildings on fire. As the people pour out of their homes, you touch down periodically to eat a few and mangle a few more, and then you lift off again to catch a few people who thought they could escape. Finally, the only people left alive are a handful of farmers cowering in a golden wheat field. You fly past, allowing them to think they’ve evaded you, and then with a single puff you light the whole field afire, burning them alive.

Yeah, I’m using quotes. Suck it, unspecified-people-that-don’t-use-quotes!

Back on track. The quote’s pretty typical. Lots of words dedicated to rubbing ego, not a lot to plot or character development. Which disqualifies it from many other forms of appeal. No characters to get attached to, no world to get invested in, no interesting philosophies to test, no challenge worth overcoming, no good jokes to laugh at, nothing. Seriously, there’s a potential romance subplot where you choose a mate based on three sentences of character development. No, if this formula is gonna succeed, the player needs perfect agency. They need to make choices and they need to be capable of whatever they choose. Which brings me to the stat system.

Choice of the Dragon uses opposed stats. This is a horrible idea. By making it impossible to be good at everything, you force the player into a particular playstyle. They can’t change their mind when they want, because they don’t have the stats to do so. Keep in mind, Choice of the Dragon has a wound system. I don’t know why it has a wound system, but it does. If you screw up, you’re getting beat up. Because…power?

There’s another problem with the quote. Here is the choice that causes the quote to appear:

  • Set the town afire and suffer no one to live.

And here’s the quote again, with key passages marked in bold:

You make several passes, lighting the buildings on fire. As the people pour out of their homes, you touch down periodically to eat a few and mangle a few more, and then you lift off again to catch a few people who thought they could escape. Finally, the only people left alive are a handful of farmers cowering in a golden wheat field. You fly past, allowing them to think they’ve evaded you, and then with a single puff you light the whole field afire, burning them alive.

Notice anything? The player chose to set the town on fire, but they didn’t say how. The game assumed the player’s methods, and in doing so, took away their agency. Actually, it’s worse than that: the player is being disconnected from the player character, as decisions the player character is supposedly making aren’t in the player’s control. Not only am I not that powerful, I can’t even enjoy my pillaging. That wasn’t me; it was the narrator controlling me.

Even more damning are the choices themselves. Let’s look at another passage.

After several days of flight, you came across a tiny halfling travelling through the desert. Even from afar, your keen eyes detected the glint of gold and the sparkle of magic. This halfling has some sort of magic golden shield strapped to his tiny back.

You knew immediately that this treasure must be yours.

The halfling was far from civilization and would almost surely die soon of thirst and starvation. For the moment, he seemed to be protected by the power of the shield.

Did you kill him on the spot, ignoring his magical protections, or did you hover nearby and wait for the halfling to die, knowing that you might lose the treasure?

  • I waited for him to die.
  • I killed him on the spot.

Time out. Why do I want the golden shield? What am I going to use it for? What if I didn’t care? What if I wanted to use diplomacy? What if I just want a friend? Being a dragon’s lonely, yo. What if this guy’s going to a party? I could use an invite.

That’s the problem with power fantasies. They promise huge agency, which requires extreme foresight by the designer. You can’t plan for every action, so you have to convince the player of their choices. Unless the player is me, in which case you can’t convince me of everything. I’m always right.

Let’s edit this. How about this?

That shield…you don’t know why, but you crave it. It glistens in the desert sun, beckoning like a drug. You want it. You need it.

And then add the following choice:

  • Resist the impulse and move on.

There. Not only does the player have a reason to take the shield, they have a logical alternative. Plus, there’s little effort on the part of the designer. One extra choice is easy to program if you’re using the branch and bottleneck/delayed branching choice structure, and a few extra sentences isn’t hard.

But there’s a deeper problem at play. This is entirely speculation on my part, but I’m always right, so believe everything I say. Choice of the Dragon thinks dragons are interesting for all the wrong reasons. The Choice of the Dragon dragon kidnaps princesses and steals treasure. Fine. Problem is, none of the reasons presented hold up. For instance:

What are you planning on doing with the princess, anyway?

  • It’s all about companionship and good conversation.
  • I’ll keep her around for a little while to lure in more knights, but then she’s dinner. It’s a little known fact that princesses taste better than most humans.
  • It’s all about the ransom payments. Those are a quick and easy way to build a hoard.

Let’s go down the list. #1!

  • It’s all about companionship and good conversation.

Okay, understandable. I assume living in a cave is lonely. However, I’m not sure I’d call kidnapping companionship. That’s the kinda thing a serial killer says to justify being crazy. And serial killers are, well, wrong. You can’t get the benefits of companionship under duress, so…no.

How about good conversation? Uh, I guess, but you can get that anywhere. I’m pretty good at talking. Where’s my dragon friend? I’m sensing some elitism here, that peasants don’t have perspectives worth listening to.

So choice #1 labels you an elitist serial killer. Let’s not pick that.

#2!

  • I’ll keep her around for a little while to lure in more knights, but then she’s dinner. It’s a little known fact that princesses taste better than most humans.

First of all, why do princesses taste better than humans? Your title in society doesn’t necessarily correspond with your body type. Actually, why do humans taste good at all? We’re more bone than most any other animal out there. You can get better meat off a cow, or pig, or chicken, or any other farmyard animal. I’m sensing some “just because” logic here. I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me “because I said so”, I call bullshit.

How about the first point? Using the princess as a lure seems like a decent idea. Except you’re a frickin’ dragon. If you want food delivered to you, just ask. Kinda hard for anyone to say no. Cause you’re a frickin’ dragon.

Choice #2 doesn’t make sense either. So what’s the other option?

#3!

  • It’s all about the ransom payments. Those are a quick and easy way to build a hoard.

Why do you need a hoard? You’re a frickin’ dragon! If you want something, you don’t buy it. You take it. ‘Cause you’re a frickin’ dragon! Stop being passive and assert yourself, damnit!

So Choice #3 doesn’t hold up. Which leaves us with no good options. Which is fine; not every question has a good answer. Except this one does.

#4!

  • Apologize and release her immediately. There’s been a grave misunderstanding.

Choice #4 doesn’t exist. However, it’s the decision I would have made if I could. I save as much face as possible, maybe start that companionship going. I would’ve avoided kidnapping her in the first place, but I didn’t have a choice in that. Ironic, I guess.

It’s not like this is hard. Well, it’s hard for you, but I’m perfect, so suck it. For instance:

#5!

  • Anything to cripple the monarchy. I am the true ruler of these lands!

Hey, the frickin’ dragon asserting themselves! That’s an enticing choice. Granted, I’m not sure I would pick it. But I could see the logic behind it. Instead of burning everything down, you take the clever path, throwing the kingdom into disarray. Maybe. I’d have to know more about the world before I commit to this. Still, it makes me think. If this choice was the only good one, I’d feel somewhat satisfied. Not as much as a could, but it could be worse.

#6!

  • Princesses know a lot of things. I wanted to ask some questions.

Another decent reason. Royalty is presumably well-informed; whatever the frickin’ dragon wants to do, the princess can help with that. Speaking of which…

#7!

  • The stubborn king doesn’t fear death. His daughter, however…

Ooooh, leverage! That’s a frickin’ dragon flexing their muscles! Tempting!

All right, you get the point by now. Let’s wrap this up.

If you promise the player power, then they need agency. Or in other words: let the player use their power as they see fit, or they don’t have power at all.

I hope we learned something today. And by learned, I mean already knew. Because all of this is obvious, WHY ISN’T EVERYONE JUST LIKE ME

mic drop


#2

you need to write about a freakin’ dragon , that wanna publish his memoire! :joy:

That insanity of yours is begging for a comedy run! I say do it!!!


#3

That gave me a good laught


#4

Can’t disagree, and you make some good points. Still, what if the Choice of Dragon wrote Choice of Dragons? All your arguments become pretty much void, because, well, FRICKINDRAGONS!


#5

You can’t say frick, this is a Christian Minecraft server.


#6


#7

Now, take a shot of whiskey each time you come across the word “frickin’”.


#8

Why am I reading this in my mind with the voice of John Oliver? :thinking:


#9

I still like it though :eyes: