The incompetent, "chronically out of xir depth" protagonist

Practchett was the master of Agency of the absurdity. Make compelling and powerful a character that for all world standards is theoretically a failure with several characters on series My favourite moment is when apocalypse is screwed due the four riders go drunken and the protagonist just by chance stolen the death horse. But Pratchett was a genius he could make the story of a monkey eating bananas in a magical library work…

Most of people haven’t that sense of balancing humorous serious and power vs flawed characters. Pratchett could have made incredible IF with his master skills.


Ape, mara. Ape.


I WILL CALL HIM MONKEY… HE IS AN ASSHOLE I was a little Mara playing as kid the videogame and that monkey made me suffer hours to give him the damn banana for that book. So no MONKEY…

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Agreed that Pratchett was a master at character study and situational comedy/absurdity.

It’s not a reason not to try it, though. Even if you get 25% of his skill at it, it would still be great. His powerful characters are so effortless and yet so thoughtful, it’s almost awe inspiring; Death primarily, but also Granny Weatherwax. His weaker characters like Miss Flitworth (Reaper Man) and Twoflower or Letitia (I Shall Wear Midnight) are still inspired and demonstrate depth of character.

And therein lies the point, again. Great writing can make anything work.

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Agreed. Power fantasies are safer to create when it comes to IF since it theoretically allows the player as much agency as possible, at least within the confines the author can provide them.

I’d disagree here. If the goal of an IF work is player agency, i.e. the player had control of the character’s decisions and those decisions have meaningful results, I’d say a power fantasy can be just as bad as playing a failure puppet. Either one renders the player’s choices about the character’s actual capabilities irrelevant; in one you win at everything, in the other you fail at everything. The power fantasy avoids the frustration of failure, but in the process sacrifices any tension over “can I do this” as well as the satisfaction of having evolved to the point of success- both of which I’d argue are important to giving a reader the feeling that they’re driving the story/game.

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Right - in either case, there’s no conflict. Without conflict to which the character must adapt, you don’t have a story. We don’t get to discard the principles of good story just because it’s IF. IMO, of course :slight_smile:

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In general I feel like when the protagonist is on a way different level of competence than everyone else, going either way, then the works gravitates towards a comedy, I mean there’s a reason it’s filled with loser protagonist who do nothing correct and are the butt end of all the slap stick. I mean they’re are exceptions but for the most part I think it’s true. I guess otherwise it goes towards a horror situation though but then you might still end up being the dumb blond who ran up the stairs away from the killer.

I have this sixth sense whenever CCH is mentioned…but in keeping with the whole “underdog” theme, it is my only power. So maybe I got screwed when powers were handed out. :thinking:

Mileage can vary, and obviously people are entitled to their opinions, but I really don’t view the CCH MC as incompetent…more just inexperienced. After all, the story just tracks them from their very beginning as a hero. I mean look at Gotham (which I haven’t watched in years, admittedly). Young Bruce is more inexperienced than incompetent, which is expected since the story starts with him very young.

But in CCH1, the MC can earn a perfect GPA, find a (powered) love interest, win tussles against Zenith classmates (like the Gauntlet against Uni, Wombat and Stoic), score a decent blow against a world class villain, and even get named leader by their powered peers. Yes, in the big scheme of things, the MC is still near the bottom, but when you look at it in the context of the semester, and what a person in MC’s situation could reasonably hope to achieve, I think that’s pretty impressive. And in Part 2, you have an MC waling on a high-tech villain who has kicked everyone’s ass, and you have an MC getting the final (knock out) blow on the aforementioned world class villain. I see growth there.

I guess I prefer the underdog trope to stories where you are awesome from the very beginning (like in a James Bond story), although I admit to liking some of those (like…James Bond stories).


@Eric_Moser I think your pc is not incompetent is that the character feels so due the fact is dealing with real villains. And the fact the character believes powers make people better . I think a theme in series is that human intelligence and tech and tactics with people than you can trust could be far more important that any power.

However that feeling in character of powerful people being superior make some readers feel like incompetent instead like underdog

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After writing The Magician’s Burden, I realized that a lot of people vehemently detest underdog stories. Any sign of it gets them upset, even if there are some victories along the way. Granted, I may not have handled it perfectly, but when people want a lowly teenage magician to give the beat down to a powerful, ancient demon, that’s where it starts getting strange.


What i am about to say will piss people but as you know i am telling my sincere opinion. Many people cant understand the scope and intentions of several art creation and insist and insist that X has to be what they entitled believe they are evwn if authors say millions of times that is not a high fantasy or is not a power fantasy.

You are the proof lol. You were adamantly clear in all progress LOW FANTASY underdog etc etc etc Stilk people criticized it not by its merits or faults. BY STANDARDS OF A GENRE IS NOT and never tried to be. IT is like judge a Tennis match with the rules of football…


mara, isn’t one of spain’s national sports tennis with football rules? runs

Back on topic: When people want the ‘underdog’ to outright save the world… erghs, no…
But, honest question, as i saw this in some games: if you have an underdog who is not allowed to succeed at anything, why even write it at all?

Is an underdog equivalent to incompetent though? :thinking: As in ‘incompetent’ in the vein the OP is suggesting where they are completely incompetent at everything, from small choices to big choices.


Umm…. Low fantasy doesn’t automatic means underdog story. Now fantasy subgenre give defined very differently depending on what they are, but the difference between low and high fantasy is often in the level of magic. (In most understandings of the words. Low and High fantasy are subgenre whose definition shifts a lot.)

By most definitions Samuel’s work are high fantasy.

What is sucess? Ah… that’s the point and where a real writer shines GOAL and motivations. Your motivations could be reaching the job of your dreams or just get bananas as a monkey librarian in a magical academic. Win a dance contest. Or just make your sister pay for the money she stolen last week. All could be perfect objectives for a underdog not all has to be a bout save the world

Samuel was clear and adamant ALL process that is a underdog story

A good number of people equate these things with each other, unfortunately. It might be a side effect of the onslaught of wish-fulfillment power fantasies (we all have written/come up with them, lbr) that we look for that stuff in games and are disappointed to the point of insulted if it isn’t there.

IMHO, the important thing is a good learning curve and development arc for the character.


Lol :rofl:

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This expresses what I what I was feeling but did not find the words for earlier in regards to CCH.

No, and that is the point; an underdog could have all the skills and training as their peers but may lack experience which makes them the “underdog.”

An “underdog protagonist” is not an incompetent protagonist, unless the author writes them this way.

In CCH and TMB, I felt the protagonist to be underdogs, but they had competency of one nature or another, which differentiates them from the OP’s idea of an incompetent protagonist.


I think there are a couple different definitions of “underdog” floating around.

I’ve always seen it as simply a character who’s logically unlikely to succeed at something. They can be at any objective level of power or capability, so long as their goal in the story is seemingly beyond them. An unlucky college student thrust into a magical world would be an underdog, for example, but so would Superman against a collection of guys much tougher than him. And that underdog status doesn’t change based on whether or not the character actually succeeds.

With that in mind, I’ve never minded playing an underdog character, so long as I have reasonable control over how I approach the fight (or whatever the conflict is; doesn’t have to be an actual fight).

How would everyone else define an underdog?

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