Sahara (WIP) - 19th Century Foreign Legion adventure (Updated June 22)

Hi! I’ve recently been reading those Foreign Legion novels by P. C. Wren, and they’ve inspired me to try my hand at writing. I’m more of a short story/article writer, and this is the first CYOA I’ve ever tried writing, so I’d appreciate any feedback you can give me! I enjoyed writing this and I hope you’ll enjoy reading it too.

If you have any questions about the universe this is set in (parallel to Beau Geste) or the characters, ask away, but I can’t promise a spoiler-free answer :slight_smile:

Dashingdon link: https://dashingdon.com/play/armadillidium/sahara-wip/mygame/

Enjoy, and thank you in advance for any feedback!


Premise

You are an ordinary young man living near the end of the 19th century when your life is suddenly turned upside-down by a scandal. Hoping for a new start, you have fled home and enlisted in the French Foreign Legion. Posted to the Sahara for five years, you will have to make the best of your time here.


Updates

June 22, 2021

First half of Chapter 2 has been rewritten! (+13105 words with code, 19568 words total)

I have decided to delay the introduction of several NPCs since there’s a lot of new names in Chapter 2.


Seeking feedback on…

I’m not looking for typos or grammatical errors yet, but on style and pacing.

As usual, please let me know if there are any bugs or continuity errors, and if there is any other feedback on pacing, choices, and characters.

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The chapter still pretty early and we also still don’t have choices to shape our stats but i honestly love the story potential. Hope to see more of this

So I don’t know the books, so… Where is the story, resume of your CYOA ?

Sorry, I don’t understand what you mean by this. Do you mean the setting? This takes place in a pre-WWI French Algeria, with a vague timeframe of any year between 1880-1910. Or do you mean you want to see an overall blurb of what’s going to happen in the story?

Yes the setting. I would love to know what I’m getting into.
'Cause right now we don’t know anything if we don’t know the reference (the books).
Why not write a little about the story without spoiling too much ? But a t least let people knowing if it could interest them or not. The rest of your presentation post is good.

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Right, will do. I thought the post was getting quite long, and there’s also a litle blurb in the startup screen, so I didn’t. Thanks!

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Is the image Lawrence of Arabia?

No, but that’s two (well, three now) now who’ve said that… Must have inadvertently make him look like Peter O’Toole?

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He does look a bit like Peter O’Toole. I think it’s the sky blue eyes and the posture, as well as the kepi havelock.


Comments

I like the writing style – it feels more verbose, like literature that isn’t contemporary, but at the same time isn’t overly so. The PC’s fish-out-water status and their unfamiliarity with the new life they’re in comes across relatively well. The very mundane and dirty reality of Legion life comes in hard and fast to dispel any of the player’s – as well as the PC’s – romantic illusions about what it was like.

One thing which is a bit confusing is how NCO and officer seems to be used interchangeably. For instance, in chapter 2, “the short officer” salutes the sergeant and declares that the recruits are ready for inspection. Petit’s a corporal, which would be enlisted/an NCO, not an officer? I’m not that familiar with the French system, I admit.

Character-wise, I think it’s a bit too early to make a judgement. Lesauvage and the Caporal seem like the stock “Sergeant Ripper” and “Smarmy Lapdog” characters. Quite a few of the characters feel a bit tropey. I don’t really have an opinion on Oscar, only that it’s a huge surprise for a choice with some 9 options to show up after every other choice has been 2-3. That’s far too much for me and it also seems to hint at favouritism on the author’s part when that’s the only instance of it.

I think there are too few choices, and where there are, it’s often a binary choice, which makes it seem like there are fewer opportunities for the player to have input than there might be. The ability to choose a reason for joining the Legion promises much, and hopefully that’s going to pay off, as well as naming all of the people the PC left behind to join the Legion. However, the majority of the rest of the choices don’t really seem to leave much for player agency. Agency is going to be hard to justify during enlistment, so I suppose the point could be made that the two chapters so far are too drawn-out and the plot moves too slowly. It’s fine as a story, doesn’t work that much as an interactive one, or a game.

I’m not that fond of how railroaded the PC’s personality is, namely how railroaded they are into being meekish, innocent and not making much of an effort to “harden up”. There are a few choices, but outside of those the default behaviour is to shirk everything. I get that being from an affluent background is part of the plot, and that the PC is going to be a fish out of water, but I’d appreciate more options for the PC to try and to actively adapt to becoming a Legionnaire rather than going with the flow. The PC seems almost petulant at times, especially if the PC chose to join the Legion voluntarily, which makes them hard to like, in my opinion.

I find the theme interesting, especially with all the background plot with theft and all that. Chapter 1 was quite good, however by the end of Chapter 2 I was starting to lose interest. Compared to how short Chapter 1 was, Chapter 2 just feels like it’s full of padding. The massive array of questions for Oscar was just the last straw. Chapter 1 sets up these preconceptions of someone being forced to enter the Legion and adapt to a foreign lifestyle. Chapter 2 gets bogged down, with so much just devoted to the PC getting enlisted. The amount of description and exposition in Chapter 1 was fine; in Chapter 2 it felt less like an interactive story than a re-enactor’s dream.

I don’t like to be overly critical, and I generally do like attention to detail, but I don’t think it’s really necessary to know how to set a bed, or to have a page dedicated to putting on a sash, or the logistics of cleaning oneself. I think I’m a patient reader, but I was itching to get something done halfway through Chapter 2, which seemed only to promise more of the above. Something which would raise or be affected by the stats in the stats page.

I get that soldiering is monotonous. I get that monotony is a partial theme, after the comment made by the sergeant earlier in the game. But all of this seems to be a pacing issue and the monotony could be gotten across other than making me wait for the next choice to break up all of this text. Not every game has to be a thriller, but this game grabbed me with the premise then did its best to release me as chapter 2 progressed. I think it would be pertinent to define what the genre is, because by the end I was less certain than at the start. The intro seems to suggest a thriller/investigation, but all of chapter 2 so far seems to suggest slice of life.

The writing sets the scene well, it’s just that I think it’s not wisely allocated which results in the plot grinding to a halt. It’s clear there’s a lot of effort into making the situation feel authentic, it’s just that there’s a bit too much superfluous detail. I think there’s the potential for a good idea here, and the plot is promising, it just needs some tinkering. Nonetheless, I wish you the best of luck.


Bugs/Typos

His lower jaw juts out like the jaw like an anglerfish.

Repetition?


Slow of mind and lazy to work, always drunk, and most importantly, corwardly in face of the enemy!"

cowardly


Saluting the sergeant doesn’t Order/Maverick?


The “shower” consists of a canvas roof propped up with woode beams, and while one side is the fort wall

wood/wooden


YYou want to shrink and disappear out of here, but you wash yourself well anyway, as well as you can with the inadequate soap

Two Ys


Show them what to do!" he orders, only staying long enough before taking off again.

Who’s doing the ordering? Lesauvage?


Here, I’ll show you what to do with your catridge-belt and pouch.

cartridge

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Thank you so much for the long critique! It’s much appreciated. Looks like I have a lot to think about and edit. Good to have feedback early on to know where I’m going wrong. Seems like the biggest issue here is pacing.

I’m not familiar with military ranks either, tbh. I’ll go over those again and fix them. I didn’t know NCOs aren’t also called officers.

I’m basically using him as Mr Exposition during that “two hours of polishing” since he’s the only old legionnaire the pc has met so far (and touching another person’s bed or property in general is grounds for a beating in the Legion)… I’ve been worried that that is a massive chunk of exposition in one place, and if there’s a better way to break that up I’ll do it but I haven’t thought up of how yet now.

Maybe Guillaume returns or something, so at least that’s another character in the cast that you’ll get to meet (so his appearance won’t take you by surprise in the next chapter).

The ending to chapter 2 was hammered out at 4 AM something because the exposition was going on for faaar too long and I was getting desperate to end that conversation with Oscar… it’s going to be changed to something better.

The mad sergeant and his bootlicking corporal are very stock, yeah. And Igor is basically Chester from D.O.A., he’s happy when he causes other people pain.

So far the ones you’ve met:
Franck is based on movie tough guys where it’s never his fault until disaster strikes. Why is he in the Legion, you might want to know? His own doing, which got him arrested.
Thomas says as little as possible because this way he knows he won’t cause any offence..
Oscar is a doormat and has been either ignored or the butt of everyone else’s jokes since he’s arrived, so he’s desperate to look competent in pc’s eyes.

Right, I’ll change the options so that pc will be more actively adapting to the situation. I might change the purpose of the daring bar to also reflect how well pc is adapting, or adding a new stat bar for Adaptation/Comfort that changes some internal monologue flavour text?

I’m also going to add interactions with Franck and Thomas during soupe, which means also naming even more NPCs. A lot of those scenery characters will remain flat even if they’re named, I think… tracking all 20+ of them would be way too much for me. It’s awkward to eat alone when everybody else isn’t, no?

Hopefully that won’t be too many character introductions in one chapter, though. Wren has a bad habit of doing that…

I was thinking of getting all the humdrum out of the way in one chapter as early on as I can, so I can get on with the adventure in the next chapters. Rosen dedicated an entire chapter to the daily routines so I thought that would be an okay way of doing it. Obviously that didn’t pan out here…

I was after the impression of hardly anyone in the lineup has been doing it, and the last person who did it before him got chewed up really good. Do you still think Order/Maverick still applies here?


Eh, looks like I really screwed up something with the face, then. Also, Lawrence of Arabia is blond, no?

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Thanks for the reply!

Some of the stuff doesn’t really seem that relevant to the player, like the intricacies of daily routine. The more pertinent stuff would be information on the other characters, money, perhaps punishment if that’s going to be relevant. The less-relevant stuff could be trimmed down. For instance, what are the chances of the PC going to be sent to a penal battalion or court-martialled? If that’s not going to happen, then three sentences could probably be cut down to one.

Or perhaps mention stuff in a timeskip; “you make small talk with Oscar over the intricacies of daily routine; how to set your bed, clean your kit and avoid drawing the sergeant’s ire” or something like that. Or, in the future, a few sentences with the PC’s observations on their new life.


I think Daring should be kept as is, since I don’t think seeking to adapt is an inherently “daring” thing - one could argue it’s more strategic as it’s pragmatic. Daring/Strategic would make sense as it is now - for how one approaches situations. I think a separate Adaptation/Comfort slider would be a good idea, with corresponding flavour text.

Perhaps potentially use it for checks – Oscar’ll probably look less favourably upon a gentleman who gets involved with the scum, for instance, but Franck might not. It might be easier to raise reputation in some instances since the PC’s being proactive in learning to soldier. Also I guess if the PC ever gets to see their loved ones again/in an epilogue there could be something about how their stint has changed them.


Would it be possible to delay naming the background characters unless it’s necessary? The player probably doesn’t need to be introduced to all of them, so perhaps a few words in descriptions might suffice?


I think the mundane stuff can work in the case of traditional fiction, since characters and the plot are determined by the author and they can ruminate about stuff, but with interactive fiction there’s the caveat that the player desires input. COGs are more gamey than VNs, so this is more the case. If you broke up the mundane parts of soldiery and spread it over several chapters I think it would be fine; here, with so much coming at once, it’s overwhelming.


I guess it’s the intent rather than the actual result? Also one could argue that the other recruits notice you doing it when others aren’t, which gets you a reputation for following the rules.


IRL Lawrence was blond, O’Toole I think was naturally brown-haired. And I think there’s kind of a resemblance?

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Thank you! This is what I love about a community. There’s always someone who can give a fresh eye over and discuss things with :slight_smile:

I guess daily routines won’t matter much after this point. I’m moving that into a handbook of sorts under the stats screen. A few characters might be in and out of prison, someone might get sent to the penal battalion, and there’ll be discussion of doing something that warrants a court-martial later on (detailed in the big spoiler below).

Sure, that’s a good idea! This stat seems to have potential. A middle ground where both don’t mind, and then things change if you’re at either extreme. Thomas is the sort of “don’t care as long as you don’t mistreat me” kind of character. He’s not in there of his own will, but who is? This is where people with problems disappear to. Or they’re tricked by the recruiter.

I’m planning for Reputation to be easier to raise if you know how to play your strengths well. Foreign Legion discipline is a bit different - for example, nobody cares if you don’t march in step or in a straight line or how you carry (or drag along) your rifle, as long as you’re competent and not insubordinate. Enforcement can be arbitrary at times (is the one doing it in a good mood today?) but is always brutal.

And then, whatever these Legion “morals” are:
Stealing is good and you should pride yourself on getting away with it. As long as you have your complete uniform and kit.
It’s okay to beat up somebody else. But if you’re getting beaten up, then it’s your fault so it’s prison for you.

I’m definitely doing that. There’s enough named characters to introduce as is. It looks like eventually most if not all of them would need to be named anyway since the company will split into two factions by the end of act one thanks to the sergeant’s mistreatment: one mutineer and one still loyal. You’ll at least have to know the names of those that stand on your side, but they won’t be focused on otherwise.

At that point, most of them don’t know yet that you have to salute. So hence they don’t, and didn’t get chewed out for not doing it, either. Maybe I can change that around so that Franck is the first to salute being the smart aleck he is, and so Lesauvage demands that from the recruits at that point on… That should count into Order/Maverick that way.

Huh, I wouldn’t have guessed from that one film. And no, it’s still not O’Toole lol. Maybe a few changes to the image are in order, but that can wait.

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I just wanted to say how cool this WIP is! Great writing, really makes me feel like I’m there in the moment. I’m always saying to myself that there should be more history CoG’s, and you definitely made a good one :slight_smile:

Characters: Great! I feel like I can see them now. They do kind of mix together (they’re all wearing uniforms in my head, granted), but definitive physical or social characteristics are helpful in distinguishing them (Igor is skinny, Thomas is quiet and young, that one bleu is giant, Oscar is similar to MC in upbringing)

Setting: This was really good. I felt like I knew where I was throughout the day. I really like what you did when describing Saïda; I feel like the parts of the town that you described are really distinct and different. I will admit, I didn’t immediately know that I was in Algeria though; I knew I was somewhere in the Sahara, but I think I had to read on a bit to find where exactly. It would be cool if there was a little passage about how you got from your country of origin to Oran, and then to the recruiting station, even if it is brief.

Style: You pinpointed it! It does have that kind of wordy descriptiveness that I recall from that late 19th-early 20th century literature that I’ve read. There is a good amount of exposition that could be cut down (the uniform jumps out in my mind), but you’ve already heard about that.

Names: No complaints! These are distinct enough that I know when I’m thinking of another character.

Stats: The stats are totally manageable, though it would be nice to know what stat went up when I make my choice. I was constantly going back to the stats to see if there was a difference after my decisions. There could be a little sentence after you make your choice like: “(Your Daring went up!)” or “(Your Sincere went up)”.

Bugs: Other than spelling stuff (I know you’re not stressing about that, and you shouldn’t :slight_smile: ), I haven’t seen any!

Word Choices: I can’t speak much to word choice as I speak neither French nor Arabic, but I didn’t personally find what you wrote so far offensive. Admittedly, you’re writing about a period of colonialism, so it’s not going to hit everyone the right way. It might be a good idea to have a chance later on to speak to a Bedouin tribesperson at some point and learn their point of view.

Thoughts before I forget: One thing I can say is that I didn’t automatically assume that the guards that escorted me to the train and to the fort were Algerian. I had assumed they were French until I read a few more pages. Another thing (low importance) is that it’d be nice to have a UK and USA national origin option; it’s not essential, as you’ve already given great choices, but that was a thought I had while choosing.

Again, great job! I hope I wasn’t overly critical! I’m definitely going to follow this WIP :smiley:

2 Likes
Feedback
  • 1st off, I like the stat screen. The descriptions and actual stats are well done
  • those first four paragraphs chef’s kiss amazing visual there, good work
  • “No other civilisation but the Romans have influenced modern life as much.” civilisation to civilization
  • “her vibrant voice warms the cockles of your heart.” cockles? what is that? a google search says that’s a mollusk lol
  • ““New recruit, young man?” he asks, surpring you with the polite tone he uses.” surping to surprising
  • “You must have your reasons. I won’t be indescreet.” indescreet to indiscreet
  • “He has handcuffed to the seat, and your blood slowly flows over the sharp iron restraint.” ad ‘you’ after handcuffed
  • “I know all your tricks for deserting deserting, you Infidel Roumi .” remove one of the deserting
  • “Then you remember that you’re in s holding cell of the Legion’s barracks.” s to a
  • “You it, and he proceeds to squeeze your hand, hard.” You it to You take it
  • “YYou want to shrink and disappear out of here, but you wash yourself well anyway, as well as you can with the inadequate soap,” typo at beginning

Very good so far! The descriptions are immaculate, I already like the characters (especially Oscar), and there is a ton of potential for interesting scenes. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

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Civilisation is a correct (British) variant.

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ah my apologies. kind of like a gray vs grey?

Thanks for the feedback! I’ll continue improving this, and update that link as soon as Chapter 2 is rewritten. It’s not truly historical, more of a mishmash of anything that’s convenient to the plot, but historical fiction enough.

That’s my approach for making characters: try to give characters a distinctive silhouette and maybe their way of moving, if I can describe that well. Faces are not always easy to see from a distance and many people look alike, but no two people really walk the same way. Glad that works, at least for now. Minor characters will probably get away without being described, though. Loads and loads of names incoming…

I guess I should have mentioned that they’re based out of French Algeria early on.

I’m changing the setting back to Sidi since most of my references talk about being there and not enough of anywhere else. You’ll be garrisoned at Saida at some point later, but not now.

Yeah, writing the entire scenes down like how I see it in playing my mind (sort of like transcribing a film in full) is not a good idea for a CYOA lol.

That’s an awesome suggestion. Would be very useful especially for testing early on.

The country choices given so far correspond to the major nationalities that regiments were divided with (well, in 1831 - irl they’ve done away splitting by nationalities/language by then but plot, don’t want to pull a P C Wren situation where a half dozen non-native characters wander the desert for years and years, end up meeting randomly in the middle of the desert, and it turns out they’re all related), and back then UK and USA didn’t make up a significant amount. Though you may get bonus flavour text if you type in “English” as your language spoken since there’s those two guys.

Oh, almost forgot to ask. Which bits clued you in?

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Thank you! I don’t know if that description in the beginning is accurate, but from a bird’s eye-view I’m imagining a glare-white city, lonely and remote, just floating in the endless sea of desert sands. The sand obscures my view when the wind picks up.

Well, until you go in there and it’s absolute chaos of crowded humanity and camels.

I’ll keep those edits in mind when rewriting almost the entirety of Chapter 2. Hard to proofread in Sublime Text :sweat_smile: All of Oscar’s exposition is getting moved into a “handbook” section in the stats screen so you might have to form a new opinion of him…

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seems good so far, but for some reason I feel like I’m fighting for the bad guys here, would’ve loved to play with a native fighting off the occupiers (france colonised algeria right?), the story would have been more interesting (I think). But good game nonetheless, keep it up.

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Well, it is meant to be a Foreign Legion adventure, not a Touareg adventure (I don’t have enough references to write the latter anyway as of now).

I’ll keep this in mind. A character in there who openly voices that he doesn’t agree with the situation, how does that sound? Despite being in the FFL he (rightly) sees the French disrupting the thousand-year old dynamics of the African peoples and them attacking back is justified. The concept of being anti-colonisation must be just as old as the colonisation itself, right? And considering how expensive colonialism has been for the French, too…

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