Workshop 002 Results

I'm pleased to present the results of Workshop 002: The Summer of Love. This exercise had eight entrants, up one from last time. And what courageous entrants they are. Hats off to everyone who dared step into the ring, because this time around I tightened the screws, demanding the writers describe an undeniably upbeat thing (a summer festival of shopping, music, food and free healing) in grim and downbeat terms, using only their powers of word and phrase.

I've presented the entries in random (die-rolled) order, without the authors' names attached. I've done my best to preserve the original spelling, punctuation, and formatting of each entry, to the extent possible in the space between Blogger's WYSIWYG HTML and my own lunkheaded formatting skills.

Whether you're one of the authors, or a reader following along: thank you for being here! As ever, I think just observing the workshops has value. My advice for studying the entries is just: take your time. If need be, lay this blog-post aside for later, when you can really pay each writer's efforts their due attention. After the entries, I'll offer some closing notes.

Entry #1

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On Midsummer’s Eve, an inconsequential field to the west of the king’s tower in Carrenwald is draped in the facade of joviality and celebration for the annual Midsummer Fair. It’s branded as a market fair; merchants from Carrenwald and the neighboring kingdoms boast the sale of their purportedly unique products, hawked to those attendees who have money to waste. For the common folk, there’s plenty else to do besides greedy commerce. Trumpet-heavy music blares throughout the fair, driving crowds to wild dancing and overindulgence on food and strong drink, with raucous sporting events hosted for those with competitive tempers.

As Midsummer’s Eve corresponds to the end of the decimating Firehand Plague, the king himself supplies the real reason the fair is swarmed with local and distant visitors. King Volus II pays an excessive amount from his personal coffers to host a cadre of healers for the fair’s attendees, in remembrance of the plague’s elimination. Any caste of healer is welcome, from mundane sawbones to wild-eyed mystics, their craft offered freely to all. Many make a desperate visit to this fair, seeking remedies for persistent illness, damaged sight, severed limbs, and all other ailments endemic to fragile, mortal existence.
Entry #2

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Carrenwald’s annual Midsummer Fair is a chaotic, indulgent display, organized by the Church as a self-congratulatory memorial of the eradication of the Firehand Plague.

On Midsummer’s Eve—the anniversary of the triumph of the Council of Healers—eager hordes from Carrenwald and beyond descend on a muddy field west of the Wooded Tower to gorge themselves on food and drink. Trumpet players entertain drunken dancers while athletic contests disintegrate into bloody brawls. Compelled by the will of the Church, merchants from Carrenwald, Valtis, Erinar, and elsewhere bring the unique wares of their kingdoms, and spend seven rainy days defending their booths from raucous peasants.

It is said that the local pickpockets see better profits than the merchants, and perhaps the only lasting benefits of the fair come from the trained physicians and miracle-healers hired by the king. Echoing the legendary efforts of the Council of Healers, these well-paid savants treat fair-goers gratis, restoring lost limbs, giving sight to the blind, and snuffing out diseases that might otherwise bloom into a new pandemic.

Thus, wine, orgies, and penicillin keep peasants docile for a season or two, while the Church renews its glory.
Entry #3

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“Come, one and all! Be healed! The Midsummer’s Fair sees the blind and maimed restored! Diseases cured!” That’s all true. “Today, I bring tears of our god, Olin. This tincture can cure any ailment! Simply apply it everyday of the fair, Midsummer’s Eve ‘til the fair’s close!” None of that is.

I could never be a real healer. I don’t have the stomach.

A crowd lines up, though. Eager faces from three kingdoms or better attend this festival every year. Looking out over the field – folks feast and drink, they dance to the raucous of trumpets, they throw hammers or horseshoes or joust – it almost warms my heart. Almost.

“Wellness! Yours at no cost! Our King, honorable, compassionate Volus, pays for you in memory of that Midsummer’s Eve so long ago – The Firehand Plague extinguished! What ailment of yours could endure!? Step up! Be healed!”

Indeed. Volus will pay well, me and the actual healers and physicians he’s invited. But think of what he gains – the influx of commerce, the exchange of specialty good from three kingdoms. Volus is no fool. Out to the East, I see storm-clouds over the Wooded Tower. I smile.

“Step up!”
Entry #4

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For seven days each year, the peaceful field west of the king’s tower devolves into a carnival maelstrom in the display of debauchery known as the Midsummer Fair. Greased with funds from the King’s own pocket, physicians and healers use their magic to pervert the natural order, curing diseases as well as granting sight and restoring limbs with little consideration of adverse effects. This seems only fitting for a festival that hearkens back to the apocalyptic Firehand plague, as Midsummer’s Eve is supposedly the day the plague was cured.

The festival itself is packed with sick, desperate peasants who’ve come from all over the lands, hoping to get a moment with one of the witch-doctors. Drunken revelers leer at those who pass, stuffing their faces, gambling on sporting events, and awaiting the sexual frenzy that commences after dark. Vendors from Carrenwald and several neighboring kingdoms hawk their wares over the braying of trumpets as the hypnotic swirl of dancers distracts visitors from the thieving hands in their purses. Some years bring torrential rain, others bring lost children and frantic search parties, and throughout it all the grotesque cacophony of the market fair continues unchecked.
Entry #5

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Every year, Carrenwald hosts the Midsummer Festival, a week-long market fair that begins on Midsummer's Eve. The beginning of the fair marks the night that the divine punishment known as the Firehand Plague, which decimated the kingdom, was finally cured by the Council of Healers. In a way, it also observes the end of the schism and bloody war that ripped apart the church. In acknowledgment, King Volus pays through the nose for skilled physicians and miracle-healers to provide free healing in the field west of his tower. Though typically curing disease, the restoration of sight to blind orphans and missing limbs to maimed warriors has been performed in past fairs. In addition to the featured sporting events, trumpeters and other performers bring song and dance to the festivities. The fair draws folk from around Carrenwald as well as the surrounding former enemy kingdoms to trade food, booze, and specialized goods. Of course, the popularity of the event makes it a magnet for pickpockets and swindlers.
Entry #6

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The Midsummer Fair: On the anniversary of the Firehand Plague's being cured, the eve of midsummer, crowds gather in the shadow of the Wooded Tower for a week of sustained revelry. Although exotic wares can be found in the market stalls and exotic music at the dances, pride of place belongs to the crafts and trumpets of Carrenwald. The King himself pays for doctors and faith-healers to heal anyone at the fair – treating incidental injuries and curing recreational diseases, but also mending limbs and restoring sight to the blind. The days mostly belong to legitimate merchants, healers, dancers, bards, and pilgrims. The nights are also a time for grifters, thieves, and visitors seeking wilder pleasures. Beyond the lantern light, the faint luminescence of violet butterflies guides debauchery and dark rituals.
Entry #7

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The annual Midsummer Fair sprawls across the the field west of the king’s Wooden Tower. Commoners, vagabonds, merchants, and healers from Carrenwald and the surrounding kingdoms make the pilgrimage here to commemorate the date on which  the devastating Firehand Plague was cured. Mobs of sick, blind, and broken bodies seek solace with the physicians and miracle-healers King Volus II pays to offer free care to fair-goers (when they aren’t spending their generous windfall on less-charitable indulgences).

The fair offers diversions for everyone: food and spirits, dirge-playing trumpeters, subdued dancing, grim tests of physical prowess, and merchants hawking distinctive merchandise from Carrenwald and nearby realms (both above board and under the table). Swindlers find gullible marks aplenty and pickpockets reap a lucrative harvest from the ample, distracted crowds. Many stumble off into the nearby woods or private tents when the children succumb to sleep and the barrels run dry, seeking to lose themselves in the arms of amorous partners.
Entry #8

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Roll up for the Carrenwald Midsummer Fair! Celebrate the end of the plague with us, and the Church of Olin Firehand united evermore.

Eating and drinking to excess! Shooting! Wrestling! Music and trumpets! Midnight romantic pleasures!

Goods from Carrenwald, Valtis, and Errinar. Free services from Council of Healers. They cured the plague! They reattached the famed Sir Baleor's legs! They restored the sight of the seven orphans!

Come on Midsummer Eve, and stay for seven days. You'll regret it when you leave!

Messengers deliver the king's invitation to the people of Carrenwald and its neighbours, and palace slaves prepare the fairground west of the Wooden Tower. The notice is accurate, but doesn't mention the thieves, or the isolation of being abandoned in a crowd of strangers. It doesn't mention that drunken guards will hinder, not help, those lost or robbed.

King Volus sends personal invitations to the physicians and miracle workers at the fair, and pays them well from his own funds. But amongst them are charlatans and failures thrown out of the Council of Healers. Such people are happy to relieve the suffering from excessive funds, or worse, try out experimental cures.

• • •  The Roundup  • • •

This workshop was tougher than last time. While the design-facts were a bit simpler, the word-count was notably tighter and the whole make-a-nice-thing-sound-nasty (without changing how nice it is) is torturous contortionism in RPG form. Consequently, we can observe a higher rate of gnawing the design arm free; several entrants couldn't resist the urge to invent a detail or two. As always, I leave the flagellation (either kind) to the self.

While this exercise is nuts, it's the echo of a pretty common situation in RPG freelancing, where the demands of the editor and/or publisher and/or line chief and/or licensing approvals department and/or coauthors conflicts with one of the other demands, and you find yourself needing to satisfy contradictory interests. This exercise (indeed, every one of these exercises) is a warped replay of actual stunts I had to pull in my freelancing days, and this kind of contradiction is something we'll see more of (in different ways) as the workshops progress.

This is a small part of why my freelancing days are behind me, but it's a big part of why I'd never trade those days for the world, and why I still freelance now and again: meeting these kinds of demands is challenging, and educational, in a way self-publishing can't be, in a way I still draw lessons from.

Here in the workshops, we get to learn from each other, without risking the rent. Some of my favorite moves from this time around:

  • Entry #1: Draped in the facade. "For those with competitive tempers." Well-placed use of "sawbones," one of the least-pleasant terms for a physician.
  • Entry #2: "Eager hordes descend" on a "muddy field." Disintegrating to bloody brawls. Especially vivid: merchants defending their booths.
  • Entry #3: The crooked perspective of the narrator turns wide-eyed words of praise like "honorable, compassionate Volus" into injections of ironic venom.
  • Entry #4: "Devolves" for the gathering, "greased" for the payment; "pervert the natural order" for the miracles; leering and frenzy and cacophony and grotesque.
  • Entry #5: The phrase "divine punishment" casts a nice bit of shade over what's being celebrated. "King Volus pays through the nose."
  • Entry #6: Not merely west of the Wooded Tower, but in its shadow. "Recreational diseases" is a nicely-gritty merging of the orgy-note with the curative services.
  • Entry #7: "Mobs of sick, blind, and broken bodies" cuts nimbly to the heart: a festival of healing is, by definition, a festival inviting those who've suffered.
  • Entry #8: "You'll regret it when you leave!" put a curly Grinchy smile on my face. "Relieve the suffering from excessive funds" is juicy irony.

Thanks again, to every author who participated, every author who meant to, and everyone reading along. While I'll never reveal the participants' identities, they're welcome to do so, if they'd like to 'fess up or brag! This has been one entry in a series of RPG writing workshops, each designed around different (and comparably specific) challenges. Whether you're a hobbyist or a career RPG writer, I welcome you to participate in future exercises as they appear.