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Battling Dragons was the first game here on Reality's End more than eight years ago from the time of this writing. It also holds another prestigous first -- it was the first real interactive fiction written here on Reality's End, starting a proud tradition that continues to struggle to this very day.

It wasn't always like this, however. The original stories in the RE Forums were a hotbed of activity. Stories grew every day, not every month. Even as time went on, the fad mellowed to a normal RE flatline, and the writing systems improved on this site, it remained an obvious choice to use the main draw, Battling Dragons, as the setting for various stories throughout RE's writing tradition.

Key of Ages
March 15, 2006August 4, 2007
Authors:
Geirrek, Bimblesnaff, Zedd, and one anonymous "mystery" author
Superstars:
Geirrek, Grackle, Zedd
Length38 Posts (Enormous)StatusIncomplete

Because this is a continuing story, you may want to read Key of Ages if you haven't yet before moving on. The plot or your opinion may be compromised.
History
First, let me say that Key of Ages is without a doubt the best written story on Reality's End ever. It's authors wrote their butts off, which makes its impressive length moreso since the whole thing then had to be written standing up.

That being said, Key of Ages sucks.

This story is perhaps one of the worst BD stories ever made, and I can only say that thanks to bombs like My Kamaitachi. Pretty much every story written on Reality's End fails; this should come as no surprise. However, KoA shouldn't have failed, especially as spectacularly as it did.
Let me walk you through it...

The new writing system RPeX had just debuted earlier in the month. Reality's End had come off some hard times story-wise after the BW system flopped pretty badly. With everything learned about making a story successful at that time (knowledge which remains the same today), Key of Ages was created, crafted to be an infallible story. It didn't rely on mythology because that is not a strong point of RE members, strangely enough. The first post was small as were all of the introductory posts as not to scare away new authors. A plot that any character could be thrown into was used. Finally, the old favorite of author characters was used. It is how every forum story worked, and they worked pretty well.
I don't know how it came off to every one else, but when Geirrek was put into the story, it was to show just how much I had invested in this thing. He had never appeared before in a story, and now, I was staking his entire reputation on this one work.

My bad.

In addition to all of this, KoA also played on the only BD story to ever get finished, The Search. It took place in a pseudo-continuity. There were lots of plans to have Zedd gain an agent-of-time status or include Bimblesnaff in some sort of way. In fact, Geirrek actually appeared in The Search. No, not that scene where he fell through a plot hole. Later, when the heroes were trying to think of a way to defeat Falak, Zedd makes specific mentions of Geirrek and his curse, the Dark Cauldron.

The Search itself features two spells only mentioned in Key of Ages. The Whisper is the ultimate light spell and was used to defeat Falak. This comes from the old BD RPG. Before version three, the Shadow Blast was the strongest spell in the game; Whisper was a Light-elemental version of it and usable by humans. (Although never stated anywhere directly, what the caster whispers is the true name of God.) The other spell was Wyrd Venom, which appeared at the very end of The Search. It poisons the threads of fate common in many mythologies to undo ones past, present, and future.

Since these two spells were already used in a story, I decided to make this BD story feature the other two ultimate spells: Dark Cauldron and the Blade of Ages. The Cauldron had been mentioned before, but the Blade was something I had no ideas for. All I knew is that it also appeared in Shadow Aura, kept by the unreleased monster Scarabbard, who was actually slotted to make an appearance in KoA when the Blade was finally revealed.

So, I came up with the idea for the Key, which could also unlock several other powerful items. Other characters could go after them, and through some wackiness to unfold, the Blade would eventually be needed. All seemed to be well...
Major Players
Key of Ages lacked major players, and that is really more of a problem to be addressed later. For the grand size of this story, it is quite surprising that only three people wrote the bulk of it. The anonymous author only contributed two posts, and while nice, they really didn't add anything to the story, especially anything it needed -- like characters.
Problems
There was no long first post, no mythology, no narrow plot, and no difficulty in coming up with a character, so just what was the problem with this story?
Where to begin...

Like every newer story, the lack of authors is always a big problem. Key of Ages, however, suffered from an incredible lack of characters. It is the only story I can think of ever to lose a protagonist. This normally isn't a problem when the member is a character, however. The Rumbl-o-Rama series always faired well, as did the early BD stories in the forums.
For some unexplained reason, however, everyone on RE at the time suddenly transformed into a giant pussy. All of the sudden, they not only feared how other authors would use their character, but they also worried about using other authors', despite the fact that this practice had been going on at the site on the forums without the slightest of problems. Apparently, a more suitable environment for writing stories than a forum changes all of the rules.

I shall never be able to get over this complaint. It is the stupidest thing I have ever read in my entire webmastering career. If one is worried about writing for another author's characters, then don't, or at least don't make them do much. As for one's own characters, there was a very explicit report system to stop anything nasty, and in some off chance that something unexpected happened to one's character, so what? That character isn't you. It isn't like whatever happens to your character will happen to you in real life or anything. Moreover, it won't infect all of your other writing whenever that character appears again. Just look at Mad Goblin. How many Bimblesnaffs does that guy have? And none of them are connected. Hel, in this story, he opted to add yet another persona, Grackle.

So KoA is left with only three protagonists: Geirrek, Grackle, and Zedd. But wait! It gets worse! Zedd can barely be considered a character. Maybe about half of one or something. See, he was so secretive, that when he was introduced, he didn't even get a familiar, name, or appearance. Zedd didn't even have any sort of storyline until the most recent additions to KoA, and even then, they were thrown out rather rushed.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a secretive character. Back during The Search, Zedd i Randir was an awesome character. He lurked in the background, slit people's throat, and never had anything explained. He was even able to have deus ex machina levels of power and managed to pull it off! Why was he so great back then and so horrible now? Nothing at all changed, other than becoming less powerful. And that is a good thing.

No, Zedd did nothing wrong. In Search, he had plenty of other protagonists to hide behind. In Key of Ages, he was forced to the foreground, which is not the mysterious type's strength. Granted, he could have had some story develop, but none did until the end of the story. And by then, the damage had been done. Pages went by without any build-up whatsoever. If he were lurking in the shadows where he belonged, anything Zedd did would have been taken as a potential clue for what his purpose was, and the suspense would have been immense. But with only two other protagonists to take the focus away, Zedd didn't get to hide much. So what could be done about this?

Take away one of the protagonists, obviously.

Yes, in perhaps the stupidest plot twist in the entire story, Grackle turned heel. Up until this point, whenever dialogue needed exchanged, Grackle was always there for Geirrek. Zedd was too mysterious so say much of anything useful, and Grackle was playing the part of the fool. Without anyone else around, conversations could always bounce between Geirrek and Grackle with some comic relief thrown into the mix, which allowed Zedd to stay silent and grasp onto some of his mystery.
Grackle revealed that he was evil, however, which left only Geirrek and Zedd, putting the normally great character Zedd in a position he should never be -- out in front. A mutual hatred was used to distance Geirrek and Zedd. It wouldn't be my first choice, but it seemed better than having two character not talking to one another for no reason at all.

Some good did come out of this, however. Up until this point, the story lacked a strong villain. While they are needed in a smaller number than good protagonists, they can greatly help out a story. Grackle was geared up to be a tremendous big bad, especially since his entire focus was on the Key of Ages. Up until this point, there was only the Lich.
This isn't going to be entirely ragging on other authors; I'll take the blame for this one. See, the Lich was a rather uninspired villain. I needed someone to have the map hidden, so I came up with a quick team of immortals that would want the Blade to be kept secret. The Lich was in no way supposed to be the main villain; I figured he would be defeated when the heroes left the castle, and therefore, he didn't get the attention or build-up a primary villain deserves.

For some reason, the Lich was relegated to throwing waves and waves of generic battles at the protagonists. Let this be a note to future authors: random encounters are never good in stories. They work in videogames and there alone. It felt like I was reading War of Shadows.
The bland battles really started to grind toward the middle. In the beginning, the soldiers were always different with new types of familiars. Later, they not only lost their individuality, but they also seemed to happen a lot more often. I tried adding the Lich's mercenaries to liven things up -- to make individuals that were evil and powerful instead of weak hordes.

And what keeps things fresher than introducing something that's already been done before?

Again, my bad. The Lich wanted a team of mercenaries after the performance of an especially wicked creation of his. I had him cast an empty stare to the drooling zombie dwarf. The obvious connection is to have a lot of dwarves, apparently. Here I thought -- what with being a Lich with an undead army, undead dwarf, and an undead mercenary he had recently been impressed with -- the new team of mercenaries would all be undead, especially since being alive is exactly how the dwarf died in the first place. The heaps of ancient dwarves also belittled the original dwarf's power and rarity by making it more commonplace.

The Lich also began to suffer from what I would like to call "Power Ranger syndrome". He seemed to possess omnipotent knowledge of the protagonists at all times. Twice, he was given a view of the heroes -- once through a spy, and once through a mercenary's armor. Each time, an eye placed on his spies gave him vision. How he knew everything every other time I'll never know.

So what of Grackle? What indeed. Bimblesnaff changed his mind far too much on what goals he wanted Grackle to work towards. Sure, he was able to retcon and use a lot of the scraps from his previous ideas and developments, but if he would have picked one and stuck to it, the payoff would have been much better. Flop-Hop and Raph kept changing from evil to good in his mind, and that is somewhat apparent if you look into some of the verbal clues Grackle gives.
Grackle also never did that much. He played the deceiver very well, but as a villain, he always had to get defeated or retreat. He didn't have a revealed plan big enough or any croneys to lose for him. Grackle degraded to a status similar to the Lich and was simply a villain instead of the villain. He just fought the heroes and left it at that.

Then, there was that generic youth, Karl. This was another huge mistake of mine. Originally, he was introduced as meat; since this is interactive writing, I wanted authors to interact all over him. I think we all sorta knew in the back of our minds that something horrible was going to happen to him eventually. Instead, he simply was horrible.
He was made to combat the idea that an author's character could be ruined by other writers. A nameless character was put in to be entirely determined by other authors. In fact, I refused to define anything about him past his cursory introduction. Unfortunately, the other authors seemed to make the same vow. We went so long without a name that I eventually began referring to him as Seth out-of-story (after the hero in my game Killin'). His namelessness went on so long that it became a sort of gag in-story, and in some ways, it actually worked.

Not having a familiar, however, did not work. The longer it went undefined, the more expectations the reader had for it. At one point, I was considering making it a Celpie so that it could have the first ever official occurance of Soul Union in BD, becoming a Shedu and accidentally banning the Shade out of Geirrek. Yes, that's right -- an entire, ancient pillar of the game was going to get its big reveal on a spectacular moment for this story. That's how much I was putting into Key of Ages.
However, as Karl's undefinedness dragged on, his familiar, eventually named Boris, strangely appeared in the story, but no author ever described it. It would do things, carry Karl, and have little tidbits described about it which slowly but surely limited what exactly it could be. This wasn't the problem, however. The problem was that people looked at it and it even partook in battles without its species ever being revealed.
That's just stupid.
My oath prevented me from defining its species. I can understand if other authors didn't want to choose its species, but they certainly shouldn't have made it do so much without defining it. By making it act, they in turn did define what it could be. An early version of a post made Boris a Peluda instead of a Bonnacon, but that was a grievous plot hole since Karl had been riding it earlier -- something that is difficult to do on a spiny beast.

Then there was the entire fiasco of the Key itself. The meta-physical properties of it were a nice touch. However, empowering its bearers just seemed to cause more problems than it was worth. One early draft had Karl -- who had a group of dark veins and spike growing out of his mark -- become giant. Nothing special; just big.
Not. Cool.
The Key was made into a power of its own, which really detracted from the relics it was supposed to unlock. Again, some really cool stuff came from this, like Karl loosing his arm, but this was an element not built upon. It also made it difficult for anything to be unlocked as up until this point, the Key had simply been a key. Everything about it had to be decided after its introduction, which leads to the little-loved explain-o-posts in which how stuff works gets to be drolled out for the reader. Never fun.

So what does one do with a story that is now two years old and goes entire half-years without an addition? Try to finish it up as fast as possible. Queue "Crazy" Geirrek. Stuff that should have received a lot more build (but instead went into more battle sequences) had to be executed at a speed I typically insult and shall do now, too. I had a few ideas of what Geirrek could do and settled on the Shade after the team lost Grackle. I figured it would raise suspicion and doubt between the remaining protagonists that sure beat absolutely no chemistry at all.
Driving Zedd and Geirrek apart may not have been the best idea, however. It made the story much more Geirrek-centric, which I never wanted it to be. I wanted his name and what he meant in the story more than anything else -- to show that I was committed entirely. I thought that there would be heaps of relics out there just waiting to be unlocked by the Key of Ages. I thought that putting Zedd more on his own would force a story out of him.

Well, it didn't. Again, my bad.

The pairing of Zedd and Karl was another atrocity I'll take the blame for. I think between them, you may have half of a protagonist. Granted, Geirrek isn't the greatest character. Never said he was. I mean, the dude is simply the design for the RPG's male summoner. With a gauntlet. That's it. Maybe it's a good thing this was his last (and only) appearance.
However, Geirrek has goals and is pretty liquid in just about any situation; he can do things. Not all that interesting, sure, but he allows a plot to advance. Again, I expected there to be other protagonists to be the "characters".
Overall
Unlike other stories in the BD Writing History, this one is still being written. It could be finished one day. Or, perhaps with the advent of splintered stories in Board Writing, that long sought-after other hero could make a debut. After all, any point in the story could be splintered now. I don't know which point in the story would be best. Pretty much, any divergent path in the first half would be very welcome. I bet some of the current authors wouldn't even mind being able to reintroduce themselves with a clean slate and hindsight on their side.

Is this story really that horrible? Of course not. I'm exploding all of the details because of how much this story shouldn't have failed. It was engineered based off of the experience from every story before it. I didn't do anything wrong; none of the authors did anything wrong, either. It was all the non-authors -- those who didn't write for the story. Those whiny little cowards that complained. No one in the forums ever complained. There were a lot of people that didn't even write well at all back then, but no one seemed to mind. All we cared about then was plot holes, and now that those are a thing of the past, what could the harm be of writing? Just the addition of one more character would have been Key of Ages's saving grace.

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