First, quick updates.

I’m at about 90% completion on the first draft of Defying Destiny, the third War of Broken Mirrors book. Virtually everything else is on hold in the meantime.

Once the first draft of that is done, I plan on tinkering with some other pieces while I’m in the midst of editing it and beta readers are reviewing it, then getting back to Arcane Ascension 3 and Weapons and Wielders 2 when the book is finished and released.

Now, for something completely different.

I wrote the section below for a post over on /r/fantasy, but I figured I’d repost it here, since I know some of my readers might find it interesting.

***

This is going to be something that is already very obvious to some readers, so forgive me, but it’s something I wanted to get down into writing.

The “hard magic” vs. “soft magic” discussion comes up regularly both here and in other fantasy discussions, and I wanted to bring up an element of it it that I consider to be important to me as both a reader and a writer – “fair play”.

In the mystery genre, there’s a subcategory or style that’s sometimes referred to as a Fair Play Mystery or Fair Play Whodunnit. A simplified version of this concept is that all of the major elements of the mystery are presented to the reader in advance, so that theoretically the reader can solve the mystery alongside the protagonists.

This is an essential part of the experience of the mystery for some of the people who read it. It enhances the enjoyment of the story for some to be able to say, “I figured it out!” or “Aww, how’d I miss that?” or even “I noticed this on a reread!”

To a certain subset of the fantasy reader base, a detailed magic system that is applied in a consistent way allows for a fantasy story to have a similar style of appeal.

When a character learns a new spell, or picks up a new super power, or finds an item, a reader of a fair play fantasy can try to think about how the protagonist might cleverly use that new thing to solve problems later in the story.

Similarly, when a character encounters a problem in a fair play fantasy (or “hard fantasy”, as we’d more commonly call it), a reader can stop and think, “How can the protagonist solve this with the tools at their disposal?”

The clearer the system framework in place, the easier it is to accurately predict how magic can be used to solve problems. This does not mean that great specificity and simplicity are necessarily better, however. These are simply knobs for the author to turn, and in some cases, a degree of flexibility allows for both the writer to be more creative and for the reader to have a harder (but still possible) problem to solve.

Notably, this does not just apply to magic. It’s true for any capability a character possesses, regardless of source. For a non-magical example, let’s consider Batman’s utility belt.

Let’s say we’re watching a new episode of Batman: The Animated series, because this is a better hypothetical world and the show is still being made.

At the end of the episode, Batman tricks one of his usual antagonists – Two Face – by using a trick coin he had hidden in his utility belt.

There are several ways to make this fair play, with different pros and cons. Some of these can be combined.

  1. No foreshadowing in the episode itself. The viewer is supposed to know the character already from previous episodes. This relies on long-term continuity of characters and capabilities, rather than making the episode self-contained. This means the episode has more time to focus on other things, and may work more for established fans – but it won’t be fair play for someone who only watches that one episode.

  2. Character foreshadowing. We establish Batman’s relationship with Two Face early on. He knows Harvey Dent is out of prison, and we know they’ve tangled before. He knows about Two Face having a thing for flipping a coin and using it for determining how he is going to behave. For some readers, this might be sufficient in itself.

  3. Light item foreshadowing. Early in the episode, we could see him working with his utility belt in the bat cave and filling it with items. They’re all small items that can fit in there – a utility knife, a vial of acid, an emergency beacon, a collapsible gas mask, a tracking device…all stuff Batman would have clear reasons to have on hand. This foreshadows that the belt itself, and the objects within, might be used to solve the problem.

  4. Heavy item foreshadowing. In this case, we could literally see Batman putting a coin into his utility belt at some point in the episode, or perhaps playing with a trick coin under other circumstances. Maybe Zatarra the Magician gives him a trick coin in a flashback where Zatarra is teaching him about transposition magic, making it personally relevant to Batman’s training, and more impactful when the coin is used.

Character and item foreshadowing can be combined (and often will be) to make a clearer picture, if fair play is the goal.

The heavier the foreshadowing, the easier it is for a reader to put the pieces together and see where things are going – which can be good or bad, depending on the creator’s goals. But one other advantage that’s easier to overlook is that clear foreshadowing also gives you the ability to subvert expectations.

When we see Two Face’s background with Batman, Batman loading the utility belt with all the items above, and we see Batman with the coin early on, and we might think, “He’s definitely going to trick Two Face with the coin.”

Then Batman tries it, and good old Two Face says, “I’m a lawyer, Batman. You think I’ve never seen a trick coin?”

That’s a whole other way to thrill a reader in a fair play story – misdirection. The coin was the obvious solution. So, when Two Face isn’t tricked by the coin, some readers are thrilled by the misdirect.

And that makes it all the more thrilling when Batman explains, “Of course, Harvey. But you were so distracted by the coin that you missed the tracking device.*”

*I will not pretend to be able to write Batman, but you get the general idea.

We’re reminded about the other items that Batman had in his utility belt – the ones we potentially forgot, because we as the audience were too distracted by the obvious solution presented in the coin.

Some watchers are thrilled by the twist because they caught it. They get to say, “I knew it! When Harvey took the briefcase, Batman had already put the tracking device in it!” Others get to be thrilled because they missed it, but they knew it was fair. That they could have potentially gotten it, if they’d only paid a little more attention. That can be part of the fun, too.

This isn’t going to be appealing to every individual person, nor is it necessary in every single case. But it’s a part of why I think that hard magic has a clear appeal to some readers – they can read watch the episode and say, “I knew Batman was going to try the coin, but I was surprised when he beat Two Face by using magic.”

What – you remember when I said that Zatarra taught Batman transposition magic, right?

Maybe that wasn’t the best example – maybe it wasn’t exactly fair play. It’s a sliding scale, with some readers and writers preferring different techniques. Regardless, I hope this helps illustrate the concept of why some of us enjoy hard magic in fantasy.

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Hey all!

Six Sacred Swords is out on audio! You can find it on Audible here.

B1_Six Sacred Swords_Weapons and Wielders Small

It’s also currently on sale for 0.99 on the US and UK Kindle stores! If you’re interested in the Kindle edition, you can find that here.

Just a minor update.

I’ve gotten confirmation that the audio release of Six Sacred Swords is set for April 30th! This’ll be on Audible, much like my other titles, and once again narrated by the amazing Nick Podehl.

In terms of my other works:

  • Defying Destiny (War of Broken Mirrors 3) is about 80% written. I’m finally making steady progress with it. It’ll still be a while before it sees a release, since I’ll need to do beta reading and editing for it after the manuscript is done, but I’m in the final stretch of the hardest part.
  • I’ve paused working on Weapons and Wielders 2 and Arcane Ascension 3 to buckle down and finish Defying Destiny.
  • I have some other new side projects I’m very excited about, but I’m barely starting on them until I get Defying Destiny done.

That’s it for now.

This overlaps a bit with my Writing Progression Fantasy post, but I was replying to a topic on /r/progressionfantasy today and I felt it was relevant enough to repost here.

The topic of discussion was how to write progression in a satisfying way, and I’ve got a few pointers from my own experience.

Character-Specific Abilities can be awesome, as long as they feel properly earned. A good example of this would be the Iron Bodies in the Cradle series. Everyone who reaches “Iron” level gains a permanent enhancement to their body, but people who do specific training can get more specific benefits, like greater bonuses to strength, dexterity, regeneration, etc. Because there’s a personal component to this stage of progression, this makes the Iron Body feel more meaningful than most other stages of progression in that setting (and in many other settings in general).

Note that these do not truly have to be “unique” – having multiple people with the same Iron Body is fine. The main goal is to distinguish the main cast members from each other, which leads me to my next point.

Abilities that Distinguish Party Roles are useful for making a character feel awesome, but in a way that doesn’t invalidate the rest of the group of protagonists. This is easy in RPGish settings; character classes are an extremely common way of handling this, by creating a structure where each character advances, but in different ways. (The attunements in my Arcane Ascension series serve this function.) In a more open-ended style of setting, it’s often easier for character roles to overlap, and an author should be conscious of when they’re giving characters overlapping abilities.

Notably, overlapping can be fine when multiple characters share a theme, or when cooperation between them is a part of the story. Multiple characters with stealth characters makes sense if you’re writing about a group of thieves or ninja, for example.

Branching choices, when well-executed, can make a character’s progression feel more meaningful. In cases like this, it’s not necessarily important that the protagonist makes the same choice that the reader would have – the protagonist’s choice simply needs to make sense for the character. Then, once the choice is made, demonstrate the coolness of the choice. There can (and often should be) downsides, but we should see why the protagonist’s choice was valid and will give them interesting options for the future.

A great example of this is in Forge of Destiny, where the protagonist has key choices about certain elements of her path appear as abstractions in a dream.

Metrics for Improvement are a huge way of giving satisfaction to a reader. Rather than just having a character train and get “better” at sword fighting, it’s clearer when there’s some sort of structure to it. Numeric levels and named titles (ala xianxia) both serve this function. Having multiple different categories of progression can help distinguish between characters. In RPGs, this is easy because you can have things like Hit Points, attack power, etc. as separate values. In other settings, different types of advancement (e.g. physical cultivation level vs. spiritual cultivation level, or character level vs. equipment level, etc.) can help.

Comparisons Between Characters can help as well. Some readers really enjoy seeing a character surpass people who used to be far ahead of them in power, especially in things like revenge-focused stories. This can also be done with non-specific entities, like showing how a character can easily defeat categories of monsters they used to struggle with, etc.

Upgrade Frequency is a tricky subject. Stories with extremely frequent upgrades, like Forge of Destiny, are probably the clearest examples of this genre – but there’s a saturation point where it becomes harder to care about individual benefits if they’re coming super quickly. I think it’s important to find the right balance for your particular story between making upgrades frequent and meaningful.

Interesting and Distinctive Upgrade Methods can help make a particular boost feel more meaningful. This can be a very specialized form of training that makes it memorable (e.g. Goku training in high gravity) or it can be a risky choice on the part of the protagonist. Most people have seen the more traditional stuff like killing monsters to level or sitting around and Cultivating – variety helps.

I’d also like to recommend reading Cradle and Forge of Destiny for some clear examples of progression, for anyone who hasn’t checked them out already.

I hope that any aspiring writers reading this find it useful!

 

Hey everyone,

Sorry if I scared anyone with my April Fools announcement too much. =D

I am, in fact, still continuing to write my books. In fact, last month was pretty productive.

Some project specific updates:

  • I got through some major content for Defying Destiny. It’s still not done, but I’d put it at around the 75% mark.
  • The second Weapons and Wielders book is well into being written. This is largely because Six Sacred Swords was originally going to include a lot more content, but I split it into multiple books. As such, I already had a clear outline of what was going to go into this one, and I’ve gotten underway on it. I’d say it’s about 25% written, but I may stop working on it to focus on Arcane Ascension 3 next.
  • I wrote a bit of Arcane Ascension 3 – it’s at about 5% progress.
  • I’ve been itching to do some new stuff, so I’ve have a couple small projects in progress.
  • The first is a LitRPG novella. It’s basically a Zelda and Dragon Quest parody, similar to something like Yuusha Yoshihiko, Legend of Neil, Endro!, or Maoyu. This is a short project that I don’t expect to take up much time. I’ve wanted to write something that’s more of a “traditional” LitRPG for a while, and this is something of a test case for that.
  • I’ve got a bit of writing done on a more martial arts focused story (something more like Naruto or a xianxia epic). I’m enjoying getting this started, but it’s still probably a long way off.
  • I spent some more time working on a tabletop rules set for Arcane Ascension, but I’m a little conflicted about it. This would be a stand alone rules set, but I’m debating switching over to making it a Pathfinder compatible game instead. I’m not sure what would appeal to my fans more – I’ll be curious what people think.

To give a little more context behind some of my side projects, I’m going to give a little bit of explanation about the genesis of my main book setting as a whole.

So, the earliest seeds of my book universe came from online chat role-playing on AOL. For those of you were around in those days, maybe you saw me and friends playing prototypes for some of this setting’s characters in the Red Dragon Inn or that sort of thing.

The real meat of it started coming in when I wanted to write games for the IFGS (International Fantasy Gaming Society), a major live action role-playing organization. One of the player characters I created at that time was none other than Jonan Kestrian. While he’s changed significantly in his book incarnation, his affiliation and basic personality characteristics came from playing him in a LARP.

I didn’t actually end up running many events with the IFGS, but it got me working on the bits and pieces of setting information that would serve as a foundation for the next stage, which was much more important.

In college, I started running a tabletop game. This was where many of the elements that are recognizable today started – the tabletop versions of Salaris, Wrynn Jaden, Velthryn, House Theas, and the earliest seeds of Rendalir.

Years later, I started running my own LARP campaign based in the same world.

That LARP campaign started out on Mythralis – the continent used in Forging Divinity – but involved visiting other parts of the world, as well as travelers from other locations.

This is where things get super relevant for future books. Each of the other continents has a different “flavor” to it – Tyrenia is heavy on alchemy, Vylin Tor is war-torn and filled with beasts, and Artinia is heavily focused on martial arts and spiritual powers.

Some of my earlier, unpublished books, go into these areas. Marks of Iron is an entire novel written in Tyrenia (well, the intro is in Vashendamir, but almost all of it). Dreams of Jade was one of my very first attempts at writing a book, and it’s on Artinia. As you may be able to discern from the name, Wrynn Jaden was the protagonist.

When you see me talking about side projects, many – but not all – of them are going to be ways to explore these other continents that existed in the tabletop game/LARP. In some cases, I may just revise my existing books, but in many cases I’ll just be writing new ones.

I love fleshing out entire worlds like this, and I’m hoping that my readers will enjoy seeing the distinct cultures, religions, and magic systems for each continent. You can also expect to see crossover elements showing up more and more over time.

(As an important note, none of these books actually cover the events of my LARPs, tabletops, etc. They’re set in a different time period. I may do some of that someday, but things like Forging Divinity aren’t actually based directly on gameplay. That’s a valid style, but it’s not what I’m doing – I’m just writing in a RPG universe.)

Thanks for reading, and I hope my April Fools joke didn’t scare anyone too much!

Edit: APRIL FOOLS, everyone. I’m keeping the post below for posterity’s sake, however.

I have an important announcement to make today.

As many of you know, I’ve been struggling with writing Defying Destiny, my third War of Broken Mirrors book.

I’ve realized that, while writing as a professional has been very fulfilling in some respects, it’s taken a lot of the joy out of the writing process for me. I miss writing just for fun, and by making it my profession, I’ve lost much of my momentum and enthusiasm.

And so, today, I’ve come to announce that I will no longer be a professional writer. I’ve decided to pursue my true passion in life – writing Dragon Ball Z crossover fan fiction.

I realize that this may come as a shock to some of you. Not everyone can be as much of a true, passionate fan of Dragon Ball Z and crossover fan fiction as I am. I hope that if you decide to read my fan fics, you’ll see why I’ve made the choice that I have.

Here’s the first chapter of my first fic.

***

After a lifetime of wondering what my father was like, I spent my first moments in his presence avoiding him.

There was little rational reason for it. It was possible that talking to him at this early stage could create enough of a divergence in the timeline that I wouldn’t be born in that particular timeline, but that wouldn’t affect this iteration of me in the slightest.

Mother’s earliest tests had made it clear that we were dealing with a multiverse setup, and that changes to another timeline wouldn’t directly impact our own. That had, as far as I understood, been one of the greatest challenges with designing the time machine.

Getting here was easy. Setting an anchor point so that I could eventually use the machine to come home was the difficult part. She needed to find and save some sort of multiverse variable so that I could return to exactly the right time and place – otherwise, I’d either potentially end up in another timeline when I used the device to move forward, or just end up in the wrong location in space. Earth moved rapidly, so even if I returned a few minutes off, I’d be in the middle of space rather than on the planet.

If I made a serious enough mistake, I could end up in another dimension entirely. I didn’t know a lot about those, but Mother had spoken to me about legendary figures like King Kai, who had once trained many of the warriors of the past.

As exciting as the prospect of learning the Kaio Ken was, I was hoping to avoid meeting him this soon.

Still, I considered, I should see if Son Goku is willing to teach it to me, and possibly others. What would the cumulative effects of the Kaio Ken and a Super Saiyan form look like? And perhaps with such a technique, we’d be able to keep some of the others from falling so far behind in the power curve. With Piccolo’s legendary regenerative abilities, I suspect he’d be able to handle the technique’s strain even better than Goku could.

My time ship was, of course, also equipped for space travel – just as a precaution. We didn’t have the resources for exhaustive testing. Even if we had, redundancies were a good idea, and mother had considerably more experience with space flight capable ships than she did with time machines.

Killing Frieza and King Cold had been comparatively easy. Doing so without much collateral damage – and without giving a clear indication of who I was –were the difficult parts.

By my calculations, Goku would be arriving in about three hours. I had capsules on me with food and other resources to help pass the time, but I had a few more important things to do first.

I withdrew one of my capsules and expanded it, revealing a backpack. Then I opened the back and began my salvage operation.

I’d done my best to keep Frieza’s soldiers relatively intact, using only my sword when I killed them. That meant that there were a number of pieces of equipment on them that still had considerable research value.

The highest priority were scouters. My mother had fixed the one left behind by Goku’s brother, Raditz, many years ago – but that was an older model. While she’d been able to reverse engineer it and make some improvements of her own, having access to newer models of scouters would undoubtedly be useful.

Maybe we’d even be able to correct that obvious design flaw where they exploded when they detected too much power. It boggled my mind that someone would design a computer that couldn’t handle more than a six-digit integer. Maybe it was a deliberate self-destruction mechanism to prevent anyone that powerful from retrieving the device and using it to track the other devices it was connected to?

We’d find out soon.

The arm-blasters used by Frieza’s soldiers put out too little energy to be of use to me, but they could be used by seemingly anyone. I wanted to know if they generated ki on their own, or if they had some way of focusing an ordinary person’s ki to distribute it into a ki blast even if that person couldn’t manage one on their own.

The former was still useful; it could give us insights into how the android’s energy weaponry worked. If Mother could reverse-engineer the blasters – and she obviously could – perhaps she could make ones that were powerful enough to harm the androids eventually. Or, perhaps, a protective shield that would work against similar types of energy attacks.

If they worked by utilizing an ordinary person’s ki, that had better long-term applications. Any use of ki – even through the device – was likely to build up the amount of ki in the user’s body over time. We could use them as a training aid to teach ordinary humans how to manipulate ki. Eventually, maybe they would help bring people up to the level that the various legendary humans like Master Roshi, Krillin, Tienshinhan, and Yamcha used to be.

I paused, glancing upward to where most of those legendary figures were actually standing. They were still observing me from a distance.

Father was closest. He was the least intimidated my presence – understandably so, given that he was clearly the strongest person here aside from myself. He was, however, also very obviously angry.

Father’s competitive instincts were something of a legend, too.

I could use that.

I floated over to them. I was nervous, embarrassed. Fighting with Frieza and Cold had been something I’d trained for, but no amount of practice could prepare me for speaking to a man who had died before I’d been old enough to form memories of him.

I his hands clenched into fists as I floated in his direction, settling about twenty feet away.

Mother was there, too, I realized. Hiding in the back behind…was that Yamcha?

Awkward. They’d had a “thing” once, before she’d met Father.

I drew in a deep breath. “Son Goku will be arriving on this planet shortly. With his return, you will all be safe once again.”

I saw Father’s eye twitch.

Good.

“I’ve eliminated these paltry threats for you, but you should be aware that stronger opponents will be on the way. Ones that won’t sit around and gloat, or go through four forms before demonstrating their actual power. When they arrive, I’d advise you all to allow Goku to handle it. In reality, none of you will be strong enough to contribute.”

Father stepped forward, just as I’d expected. “Who do you think you are, boy? I am Vegeta, proud prince of the saiyan race! An elite among elites! If there is a threat coming, it will be I, not Kakkarot,” he spat on the ground, “that rises to handle it.”

I shook my head. “Elite? Among…who, exactly? There are four people with Saiyan blood left that I’m aware of. You couldn’t hope to scratch me or Goku in your present state, and frankly, even the boy is likely to pass you shortly.”

Vegeta trembled.

“And why are you spouting about your ranking in a structure that clearly wasn’t actually accurate? Your system classified Goku as ‘lower class’, because it apparently only took childhood power level into account. Perhaps the Saiyan species would have flourished if people had actually taken potential power into account, rather than simply looking at a starting point.”  I shook my head.

“Such. Arrogance.” Vegeta stepped forward, power cracking the ground around him. “Our empire once ruled the stars! We were the mightiest of warriors, a proud people, with generations of conquest. If not for the work of a single treacherous—”

“Frieza?” I snorted. “The guy I just offed in, what, a second?” I shook my head. “Honestly, if Goku wasn’t messing around, I’m sure he could have done the same on Namek. That’s what’s wrong with you — all of you. Stow your pride. Use a little common sense. Maybe then, the saiyan species will actually be worth something.”

“I will listen to your insults no longer!”

Vegeta charged me.

I had to hand it to him — he really had some courage, trying to attack someone who just obliterated an opponent who had killed him with ease not long before.

I didn’t bother going into my Super Saiyan form. My base strength and speed were more than sufficient to catch his hand, then punch him once in the chest.

There was a crack. Ribs breaking.

He bent double, clutching at his chest.

There was something deeply cathartic about finally being able to punch the bastard that had sired me. Sure, I’d wanted to meet him, but I knew his background.

And I knew Mom never had much in the way of taste.

This son of a bitch had once tried to destroy our world, all because a lower-class saiyan was beating him in a fight.

He coughed, producing blood.

I was unconcerned. He’d handled far worse and survived. Saiyan physiology was tough stuff.

I raised my hand again, but hesitated.

I didn’t actually want to kill him. From a practical standpoint, our future would be safest if he both existed and had sufficient motivation to grow.

That was enough time for Gohan, of all people, to flicker and appear in front of my father.

“Stop.” Gohan’s eyes narrowed. “I won’t let you hurt him anymore.”

I blinked, lowering my hand.

I couldn’t fight him. I wouldn’t. Not even if it would make him stronger.

“I won’t.” I lowered my eyes to Gohan. “But I do have one more thing to say to him.”

To his credit, Vegeta raised his head, staring me straight in the eyes in spite of his injury. “I will heal from this, boy. And I will get strong enough to destroy you for this insult.”

I laughed at the utter irony of that statement. “You should grow stronger. Getting near death like this makes us all stronger. You know that, but for some reason, you apparently forgot about it after your fight with Frieza. Get yourself a reliable method of healing and train. And when Goku is stronger than you, don’t complain that he’s ‘low class’. He’s a warrior. If you want to compete with a warrior, you need to start training like a warrior, not a prince.”

Gohan raised his head slightly, giving me an odd, appraising look. I wasn’t speaking to him, but he seemed to be processing my statement.

Vegeta just smirked. “Oh, I am a warrior. I have no doubt been fighting before you were even born. I don’t know where you came from, boy. I don’t know what backwater planet produced another hybrid — and I have no doubt that’s what you are. That hair of yours could never mark a pure blooded child, and I’ve seen the strength a hybrid can produce. But you’ve reminded me of something; a power that only a true saiyan can reach. And when I find it, I show you what a saiyan prince is truly capable of.”

“I’ll look forward to seeing it.” I smiled. “Now, I think that’s enough boasting and posturing.”

I produced a capsule. People tensed as I hit the button and tossed it, producing a mini-fridge. “Anyone want something to drink?”

***

It was, oddly enough, Krillin that chose to take Vegeta toward Korin’s landing. Perhaps there, he could receive healing from Dende. I didn’t know if he was presently on Earth, or if he’d gone to New Namek – my knowledge of certain events in this timeline was a bit fuzzy. I’d focused primarily on knowing what I needed about Goku.

The damage I’d dealt was enough to trigger a zenkai boost, the kind of near-death power increase that saiyans always seemed to experience. While taking my anger out on Vegeta had been cathartic, expediting an increase in Vegeta’s power growth had been the primary goal.

With it, perhaps he’d reach Super Saiyan a few years earlier. And with that, I hoped he’d have more time to properly train — perhaps even with Goku — before the androids arrived.

More importantly, I’d reminded him and Gohan of the utility of zenkai boosts in general.

In my timeline, they weren’t a usable advantage. We didn’t have any easy means of providing the healing necessary to get an instant benefit. There was no Dende for in-combat healing, and we’d long ago exhausted our supply of senzu beans. With Piccolo dead, we had no easy access to dragon balls.

Not until I managed to get to New Namek and used their dragon balls to wish for Piccolo, but I couldn’t do that while the androids were still roaming. I worried they might destroy the entire planet while I was away, and I wasn’t sure the Namekian balls could fix that. They were limited to restoring one life at a time.

Perhaps mother could have gone to New Namek without me, but she was rightfully concerned that the time travel machine was a higher priority.

We’d handle that soon after I returned.

I made awkward small talk with the others for a few hours until Goku finally landed.

It was amazing to see him in person.

“Hi, everyone!” He emerged from his capsule.

“Daddy!” Gohan looked so strange like this. He jumped into his father’s arms, hugging him tight.

“Oh, hi, Gohan! Wow, you’ve grown so much since I was gone.” Goku smiled, setting his son down. “You’ll have to show me what you’ve learned in a sparring match later!”

Gohan’s expression momentarily slipped into a frown, but then it brightened again. “Of course, Father!”

I noted some of the dissatisfaction there, but it wasn’t my place to say anything. Was it?

I took a step forward. “Son Goku. It’s an honor to meet you. Could we talk in private?”

“Sure!” He beamed a smile at me. “You must be the one who beat Frieza! I could sense your power even from space — you must be quite the fighter!”

I nodded to acknowledge his compliment. “I am. But there are others you’ll need to worry about more. Please, come speak to me in private.”

I noticed Piccolo listening closely to our conversation from not far away, but I ignored him. The Namekian could be discreet.

It was Mother who couldn’t hear this conversation. True, I’d probably already pushed events enough to prevent my own birth, but I didn’t want to change things so much that she avoided father entirely.

…probably.

I had conflicted feelings on that.

Goku and I walked off a ways, far enough that ordinary humans probably couldn’t hear us. Gohan looked worried, but said nothing. His eyes narrowed, not in anger, but in scrutiny. Even at his age, he was analyzing the situation.

Perhaps he’d noticed the “Capsule Corporation” logo on my jacket. I should have been more subtle.

“I’ll be direct. Son Goku, I’m from the future.”

His eyes widened for a moment. “Wow! Is that why you’re so strong?”

I nodded. “Indeed. At this point in time, I have not even been born. In order to ensure the safety of this planet, I need you to train hard for a battle to come.”

“No problem! I love training. What am I fighting?”

I smiled at his simple response. He was just as Mother had described. “A pair of androids. Their creator remains unknown in my time, but their power is tremendous.”

“What’s tremendous mean?”

I flexed for a moment, drawing in a breath. I felt a tingling sensation in my spine. Then, in a moment, my hair had shifted to the spiked gold that signified my super saiyan form.

Perhaps on reflex, Goku did the same. His power shattered the stone beneath him, shimmering in a brilliant translucent field.

I could sense his strength. It was truly impressive — almost as high as Gohan’s had been in my own time, and similar to my own current power.

“As we are right now,” I explained, “We would not stand a chance against them, even if it was two of us against one of them. We would be beaten and broken, then left to die. And they would continue to destroy the world.”

A grin slid across Goku’s face. “I like it.”

I blinked. “What?”

“A challenge. Good. I was worried that Frieza would be the end of it.” He punched his fists together. “Good, good. I needed this. You’re strong. Can I fight you?”

I nodded. “I’d like that. It would be wise to evaluate each other’s strengths. And, if possible, I would like you to share a technique or two with me.”

“Teaching isn’t really my thing,” he grumbled. “But I guess I’ll think about it, if you give me a good enough fight.”

I gave him a slow nod. “I can do that. But first, one more important thing. In my timeline, you develop a severe heart disease. It completely cripples you, leaving you incapable of fighting.”

“Aww, man! That sounds awful.” He frowned. “Don’t spoil my fighting mood like that!”

I raised to hands in a warding gesture. “I brought a cure. We developed it in the future.”

“Oh.” He sighed. “That’s a relief.”

“You have to take it when you start feeling the symptoms. No delays. Do not lose it, and do not forget. This disease will prevent you from fighting, Son Goku.”

He gave me a serious nod. “Alright, alright. I get it. You have it with you?”

I nodded, reaching into a pocket and producing a vial.

I tossed it. He caught it, then shoved it into the belt on the side of his gi.

“Great. Ready to do this?”

I nodded. “Let’s begin.”

***

I’d never fought Son Goku before, but I’d fought his son a hundred times. A thousand.

I knew much of his style and techniques, even if Gohan’s primary teacher had been Piccolo, not his father.

And so, while we were more or less evenly powered, I had an information advantage.

It amounted to little.

Son Goku was a master of technique.

Every time I came in with a direct assault, he deflect it with ease.

Every time I tried to exploit a weakness, he moved smoothly to roll with the punch.

Every time I tried one of his old companion’s tricks that I’d learned — like the famous Taiyo-ken, or Solar Flare — he knew a counter.

When I tried to leverage the reach advantage of my sword, he simply blocked it with a single ki-infused finger.

I could have imbued my sword with ki as well, allowing it to potentially cut him, but that was too much of a risk. I didn’t want to maim Son Goku in a sparring match.

In truth, fighting him was an exhilarating experience, as well as a true lesson.

Power was intensely important, but what Goku demonstrated was something different.

Skill. Instinct.

He had these things in levels I couldn’t hope to achieve.

If I wanted to confront opponents like him in the future, I’d need to devise a style that suited my own strengths more clearly.

In the end, we stopped our fight quickly. We were clearly scaring the others, and a simple mistake could have caused collateral damage.

“Wow.” Goku said. “So that’s what another Super Saiyan is like. We should do this again sometime!”

I smiled. “I’d like that. I plan to return here to assist you with fighting the androids. But first, would you do me the honor of teaching me the Kaio Ken technique?”

Goku frowned. “Why do you wanna learn that? Super Saiyan is stronger.”

“I believe we could develop a way to use them simultaneously, increasing our power even further.”

Goku shook his head. “I don’t know… There’s a difference in the allocation of ki in our bodies when we’re in our Super Saiyan state. I don’t know if it’s possible to push enough ki into the extremities at the same time to maintain both techniques.”

I stared for a moment. It was a far more technical answer than I’d expected. It was easy to forget that Goku was both a veteran fighter and a ki-wielding prodigy. While he utilized most of his abilities intuitively, that didn’t mean he didn’t understand them at all. “Could you show me regardless? Perhaps even they can’t strictly be used at the same time, I could find a way to adapt them in a useful capacity.”

“I guess.” He shrugged.

“And perhaps show the others? It may be useful to people without a Super Saiyan form, such as Piccolo or Tienshinhan.”

“Hm. Why not? Okay.”

With that, he launched into a series of demonstrations for the group.

I took copious mental notes and began to practice them.

Flooding my limbs with ki was a simple enough exercise, but I wasn’t able to emulate his technique completely. Not right away.

Still, I could sense the foundations of it working, and perhaps in time, I could learn to master it.

***

Before I left, there was one more thing I had to do.

I gave Goku the date, time, and location of the androids.

Then I went to speak privately to Piccolo.

“You heard everything, didn’t you?”

He nodded. “You’re from the future. From the look of you and the attitude, I take it you’re Bulma and Vegeta’s kid.”

I saw no reason to argue. “Yes. I’m sure you can understand why it’s important they don’t learn of that too soon.”

“Right. Fine. What do you want with me?”

I handed him a second vial of the heart disease medicine. “Make sure Goku actually takes this.”

Piccolo snorted. “I’m not his babysitter.”

“No. You’re his son’s babysitter. But you’re also practical enough to know how necessary Goku will be on the battlefield. Consider this a favor in exchange for convincing Goku to teach you the Kaio Ken.”

Piccolo glowered at me. “Fine.” He snatched away the medicine.

“One more thing. Don’t die. In my timeline, you’re gone, and so are the dragon balls. You may also want to make a backup plan, like preparing someone else who can make a dragon.”

“Hmpf. I’ll consider it.”

I nodded to Piccolo. I suspected he’d do as he was asked.

I briefly regretted hurting my father before I’d had Goku teach everyone the Kaio Ken, but with several people using it, I suspected he’d pick it up on his own if he needed to.

For now, it was finally time to go.

I headed back to my time ship, then loaded in all the goods I’d salvaged.

The scouters and ki-blasters would be useful.

With a moment of hesitation, I went back to the group.

“Did anyone bring senzu beans?”

I confiscated the small bag that Yamcha was carrying.

They’d have fewer for a little while, but they had years before the androids arrived.

I needed every edge I could get in the months ahead.

If I was injured again, now I could pop one of these immediately and earn a zenkai boost. They’d also be useful if I severely injured myself while training to combine the super saiyan form with the kaio ken.

With those in hand, I punched in the coordinates to return home.

I didn’t notice that my craft had been just slightly damaged in my sparring match with Goku.

When I hit the button to return home, I saw an error message.

And then I was somewhere else.

***

I found myself in a dark passage. The space was tight enough that my ship could barely fit inside.

I exited the craft cautiously, grimacing when I found the damaged component. I’d have to repair it before I could return.

For the moment, I stored the ship in a capsule and put it on my belt.

There was an unfamiliar type of ki source nearby, and I had to investigate.

I used a ball of ki to illuminate my surroundings.

I was indoors, in some kind of ancient-looking structure. Strange glyphs were carved into the stone walls, perhaps inscriptions in some unfamiliar language.

Was I in the wrong time, or simply the wrong place?

I didn’t know. Perhaps the ki source up ahead could tell me.

I cautiously walked forward, keeping a hand ready to draw my sword at any time. The ki source was both strong and operated under an unfamiliar frequency. It felt almost like human ki, but there was something about it that was subtly different, as if it was deeper and more all-encompassing than something I’d sensed before.

It reminded me of the descriptions that Son Goku had given me for King Kai’s ki, in fact. Had I died, perhaps, and found my way into the afterlife?

I didn’t think so. This didn’t exactly look like King Yemma’s desk.

In fact, it looked rather more like some kind of labyrinth. I imagined the ancient pyramids might have looked similar.

I sniffled at the dust in the air. This place wasn’t well-trafficked. There were no spiderwebs, though. No insects at all, so far as I could tell.

Just a single source of ki up ahead, looming. Not threatening, exactly. Just radiating outward with might.

I came to a single huge stone door and pushed it open.

A man stood on the other side, already wary. He had a white-bladed sword in his hand, glimmering with some sort of unusual ki that felt cold to my senses.

Strange, blade-like constructs protruded from his back. I could sense a faint signature of unfamiliar ki from them as well, but they appeared mechanical in nature.

My eyes widened. Was he another android?

My hand drifted to my sword, purely on instinct.

“So,” the man said, “The Abidan have finally sent me a challenger. A wolf, from the look of you.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I suppose it doesn’t matter. Perhaps you don’t even know why you’re here.” He stretched out his sword in front of him. “But people only come to this place for one reason.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

He nodded. “To die.”

I tensed, drawing my blade. “Do not threaten me.”

“Oh, not threatning.” His lips curved up in a little smile. “More of a challenge, from one swordsman to another.”

“If I beat you, will you explain some things to me about this place?”

He shrugged. “Sure. But you won’t. I’ve come too far to fail here. Tell me, though, stranger. Who are you?”

“I’m Trunks.” I drew in a breath. “A saiyan from Earth.”

The swordsman nodded to me. “I’ll remember that, stranger. You should know that your opponent as well. You face Tim,” he made a flourish with his blade, “Sage of the Endless Sword.”

That was an impressive title, I had to admit. “A pleasure to—”

I heard something ring in the air, then ki exploded from my blade.

I barely had time to shift the ki in my own body to shield myself before the energy made contact. If I hadn’t trained with Goku, perhaps I wouldn’t have responded quickly enough.

As it is, the strange ki rebounded harmlessly off my body, much as the sword had been deflected by Goku’s finger.

I didn’t know what that attack was, but it was clearly a dangerous technique, and he was already preparing another. I could see a bright white light beginning to form around his sword, and the mechanical arms on his back were glimmering as well.

There was no toying with someone like this.

I powered up immediately, taking my super saiyan form.

His eyes widened just a hint, and he drew his sword back to strike.

I punched him once.

He flew back against the nearby wall, cracking into it, and collapsed to the ground.

I winced.

I’d hit him a little too hard.

***

I dragged Tim’s unconscious, bleeding body into the nearest room. There was a bed set up there, as well as a second nearby rug that looked like it might have been where someone else was meant to sleep.

I may have made a terrible mistake, I realized.

If I was in the distant past, had I just caused some serious harm to the future?

I decided the simplest approach was the safest.

The so-called “Sword Sage” was alive, merely unconscious. I left him in what looked like his bed.

He seemed a resilient sort. If I left him alone, he’d probably recover on his own.

I briefly considered giving him a senzu bean, but I decided against it. I didn’t know enough about the physiology of the people here to know if it would work on him. He seemed mostly human, but there was enough different about him that feeding him a pill didn’t seem wise.

And, of course, I didn’t want to waste any senzu beans when I was still in a strange land.

I didn’t even know if I was on Earth. I hadn’t heard of any human swordsmen with power comparable to his. Yajirobe had used a sword, but he didn’t have sword techniques like this man did.

Perhaps I was in the afterlife after all?

I shook my head, then headed out of the room toward a light that indicated the surface.

Just after I left, I sensed several other, much weaker ki signatures nearby, heading toward the entrance to the labyrinth I’d just exited.

I hid my ki signature, observing.

The other figures included several warriors and a small child. None of them had ki comparable to the man I’d just faced. They were armed with various weapons, but also carrying what looked like potion vials.

I felt a degree of relief. Perhaps they had healing concoctions they could give to the man I’d knocked out.

I left the area without a word, hoping that the Sword Sage would get the treatment he needed.

I had a whole new world to explore.

For anyone who hasn’t picked up Six Sacred Swords yet, there’s a giveaway for the Kindle edition up over on Goodreads! I’m giving away 100 copies. If you’re interested, you can enter the giveaway through Goodreads for a chance to win one of those copies!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Six Sacred Swords by Andrew Rowe

Six Sacred Swords

by Andrew Rowe

Giveaway ends March 18, 2019.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

Over on the new /r/progressionfantasy section on Reddit, someone asked for advice on writing progression fantasy. I put together a basic list of some things that I thought were worth discussing, and I figured I’d copy it over here in case anyone is interested.

Notably, not everyone is going to agree on these points. There are plenty of different ways to write an effective story – these are simply things I’ve found that work for me.
Character Roles in Progression Fantasy

As a general rule, I have a strong preference toward systems and settings that allow for different characters to progress in different ways. This allows for multiple characters to be relevant, even if some of them fall behind in terms of the overall power scale, as long as they have a sufficiently unique niche.

For this reason, it may be a good idea to have an underlying system that supports diverse character styles. A classic example of this is character classes in RPGs. A 20th level fighter is vastly more powerful than a 5th level wizard, cleric, or rogue, but the other classes still offer things that the fighter might not be able to do on their own.

It’s also wise to consider whether important character attributes like speed, strength, and resilience should advance separately to some degree. For example, in Dragon Ball Z, a character’s overall “power level” increases all of these attributes – which often leads to the more powerful characters being better at virtually every relevant factor in a battle. There are still some techniques that can be game-changers, but I think a story like Dragon Ball would have benefited greatly from having some characters being specialized in different areas (e.g. Yamcha is high speed for his relative power, Trunks is high physical damage for his relative power, Gohan is high energy damage for his relative power, etc.)

For this reason, I often have magic and advancement types that explicitly only improve one or two things at a time (and often with downsides to other attributes). In Six Sacred Swords, for example, Keras’ “Body of Stone” technique makes him stronger and more resilient, but at a cost to his speed. (Notably, a technique like that does exist in Dragon Ball, but it’s outscaled to uselessness almost immediately because the speed penalty is so large. It would have been more interesting, in my opinion, if someone developed a variant of that technique that was actually useful.)

This is all for stories where you want multiple characters to be progressing and relevant – which, as a general rule, I personally find more compelling than only watching the growth of a single character.

Weaknesses in Progression Fantasy

Weaknesses can both be a good way to enforce the relevance of multiple characters and to show growth as a person gradually learns to overcome some of their weaknesses.

Notably, weaknesses that are irrelevant to the character’s style are (in my opinion) less compelling than weaknesses that are relevant. For example, physical weakness as a wizard has to be fairly extreme for it to serve as a major detriment. Physical disadvantages for a close-range physical fighter are much more immediately relevant, and thus, in my opinion, more compelling.

I would also resist the urge to “solve” or “fix” these weaknesses immediately. Working through a weakness can be a good long-term goal, and it can (in my opinion) feel unsatisfying to see it just wiped away without much difficulty.

Don’t Skip to the End

A part of what makes progression fantasy compelling, at least to me, is seeing the gradual process and the difficulties a character goes through on their journey. If a character jumps from Level 1 to Level 99 in a single book, that doesn’t really serve the same purpose. That can still be an interesting story for some readers, but it has a different sort of appeal from watching gradual growth.

Effort = Reward

A big part of the core of progression fantasy is, in my opinion, the feeling that the power increases are being earned. It’s okay if a character gets some kind of advantage from time to time because they’re clever, or hard working, or just barely survived. It’s less satisfying, in my opinion, if it feels like they get everything for free or simply because of good luck.

Other People Should be Competent and Believable

A common trope in some forms of fantasy is for the protagonist to excel simply because they found something that would very likely be immediately obvious to any number of other people (from our world or otherwise). If possible, avoid this type of thing.

For example, if someone gets super popular because they’re the only one playing an “unpopular” character class in a game with a million players…that doesn’t really make any sense. People data mine statistics and theory craft about every class in MMOs, often long before the content even sees a public release. And in cases where things aren’t super public yet, that’s an even greater reason for people to be trying whatever they feel like (and thus not having any “super unpopular” classes).

Any Power Available to Society Should be Applied by Society

Similarly, think about the common applications of the types of magic and technology that exist in your world and how they might be applied by the average person.

Resurrection, for example, would have a huge impact on cultural and religious views of death. The conditions under which resurrection can occur would be important, and you’d expect that important people would try to make sure that they can meet those conditions if they’re ever threatened (e.g. having powerful priests on retainer).

Teleportation could have potentially huge impacts on things like trade and the flow of information.

Elemental magic could have tremendous impact on crop growth, influencing weather, power generation, and even simple things like city lighting at night.

This is more of a “general hard magic” thing than just a progression fantasy thing, but it’s especially important here because progression fantasy often allows for unlocking potentially society-altering abilities over time. This means you should be prepared to address how the already powerful are utilizing their power, as well as how any characters that gain power might use their power.

For example, if no one has ever reached a high enough level in space magic to unlock teleportation before, the main character learning teleportation opens up a lot of options for them. They can choose how they want to trail blaze in terms of using teleportation for things like mercantile, spreading messages, etc.

This also applies on a moment-to-moment level. If a character has an ability that clearly would “solve” the situation, they should at least consider using it. (No author will be perfect at this, but keep an eye out for abilities that offer easy solutions to a lot of situations, like super speed, teleportation, and time travel. Be extremely careful giving these out.)

Interactions Between Magic Types

Similar to the above, but also consider things like how teleportation might interact with another character that is learning to make spells permanent, or another character that learns how to increase the area of effect of spells, etc.

If you don’t want certain things to be combined, establish why they can’t be early on.

Influence of Power Increases on Plot and Pacing

Consider the places and times in the story when you want things like this to “unlock”. If characters uncover these abilities too early, it may influence your narrative significantly.

For example, if you want it to take a long time for the heroes to return home after a quest, you may not want to let them get powerful enough to learn teleportation or flight magic before that point in time, or you might want to have a reason why they do not learn those specific spells.

Reliable Progression vs. Dramatic Moment Progression

Something to decide on early on is if you want a clear, linear method of progression or something that allows for more spontaneous “moments of awesome”. It’s absolutely possible to have a middle ground, but think about this ahead of time and how it will impact your story.

If power increases feel completely arbitrary, you run the risk of readers losing immersion in the believably of the story. If your progression is too steady, however, it may also feel boring or uninteresting.

Another element of this whether or not you want to tie progression to emotional catharsis. This is extremely common; a character has some sort of breakthrough, generally about their own inner struggles, and suddenly powers up. (See: Stormlight Archives, Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon, etc.) This kind of thing can be extremely satisfying if utilized effectively, but it can also be super cheesy if it feels arbitrary and unearned. If you choose to go this route, try to spend some time setting it up beforehand to make sure that the character’s path makes sense to the reader.

Methods of Progression

Think about which types of progression feel the most applicable to the story you want to tell, and which ones you want to explicitly exclude. Try not to change these mid-way.

For example, early on in Dragon Ball Z, the Saiyan characters learn that they grow significantly more powerful any time they get close to dying. This is a progression mechanic, and one of the characters figures out how to “game” this by getting badly injured and rapidly healed.

After this, that form of progression is largely forgotten for a long period of the story. It’s only relevant in a few patches, and explanations of why it isn’t used again are largely retroactive.

Avoid doing things like that. If you introduce a method of rapid progression, expect that people will try to use it repeatedly, unless there’s a good reason for them not to.

It can also be interesting to give different methods of progression to different characters. When yo do this, those characters should, at points where it may be relevant, be shown to be considering those types of progression (even if they choose not to). To go with the easy Dragon Ball examples again, Piccolo can gain power by fusing with other members of his species. He rarely seems to consider doing this, however, even when presented with situations where it might be relevant or useful (e.g. the most recent tournament arc).

Antagonist Progression

Keep in mind that if progression exists, your antagonists may also be progressing. This can offer challenges to your protagonist that aren’t often found in other forms of fiction, because they might have to find unique methods of progression that outpace their opponents.

Elements of Choice in Progression

When a character has to make a choice in the progression process, this can make it more interesting. This both helps ensure that niches are maintained and helps the reader engage with the story by thinking about what they would do when presented with the same choice. Even a disagreement with the protagonist can help with reader engagement. Just try to make sure that any choices offered feel at least somewhat reasonable; if the choice is too obvious, or the protagonist makes a choice readers might strongly disagree with, you could potentially run into trouble with your audience.

Options vs. Linear Power

As a general rule, adding something new to a character’s list of abilities that they can actively take advantage of is more interesting than just a straight power increase.

For example, adding a new special attack that has a condition – like, say, a Backstab attack that requires hitting an opponent behind – is generally more engaging to a reader than a +2% additional bonus to critical hit rate.

Similarly, when a character already has a bunch of attack spells, adding a utility spell is probably more interesting than just another larger (or different) attack.

That doesn’t mean straight power increases can’t happen. Rather, I would recommend interspersing them with adding new abilities so that the power increases themselves can be larger and more relevant when they do happen. And, once again, those power increases do not need to be global; a character can get a boost to speed without it increasing their strength or resilience at the same time, for example.

Conclusions

My TLDR version is that the key elements are variety and internal consistency. Allow for characters to be interesting and distinct from each other, and give them different progression goals and paths. And when powers are available, make sure people at least think about using them when they’re relevant.

I’ve mentioned this in other places before, but Will Wight’s Cradle series is one of my favorite fantasy settings. His latest book, Underlord, is out today. I was lucky enough to read it ahead of time, and I consider it one of the strongest books he’s written to date.

If you’re interested, you can find it here.

I’ll have more updates on my own works soon!

I’ve been chatting a lot with my fellow fantasy writer Will Wight, who writes very similar fiction to my own. We’ve never quite fit in with any established fantasy subgenres, and we’ve always had trouble finding a way to appropriately describe our works. “Almost LitRPG” and “Inspired by Xianxia” weren’t quite perfect.

Jess Richards suggested a new term – Progression Fantasy – and we’re going to make good use of it.

Progression Fantasy is a fantasy subgenre term for the purpose of describing a category of fiction that focuses on characters increasing in power and skill over time.

These are stories where characters are often seen training to learn new techniques, finding ways to improve their existing skills, analyzing the skills of opponents, and/or gaining literal or figurative “levels” of power.

Progression in the subgenre title specifically refers to character power progression, not other types of progression (e.g. increasing wealth, noble rank, etc.) that occur in stories.

This subgenre heavily overlaps with LitRPGs, GameLit, xianxia, xianhuan, and shonen battle manga, but progression fantasy titles do not necessarily fall into any of these categories.

For example, Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives would fit the model of progression fantasy, but would not be in any of the other mentioned genres/subgenres. Sword Art Online is both a LitRPG and a progression fantasy. Dragon Ball is both a shonen battle manga and a progression fantasy.

The vast majority of “academy” style stories have at least some degree of skill or power progression within them. Of those stories, the ones that fit this particular subgenre the best are the ones that have clearly quantifiable power growth, such as numeric leveling and unlocking higher level spells and abilities. That said, quantifiable power growth isn’t strictly necessary — it’s just one of the easiest ways to identify something that is a clear fit for the subgenre.

A good test to see if a story fits the subgenre of progression fantasy is if the Book 3 version of the central protagonist could easily defeat the Book 1 version of the protagonist in a conflict. If the series is more than 3 books, the Book 5 version should easily beat the Book 3 version, and the Book 7 version should beat the Book 5 version, etc. (Two books is being used in the example because it’s okay to have some arcs where character progression slows, stops, or even reverses, but there should generally be some forward momentum.)

This can be applied to genres outside of books as well. Shonen anime is a clear example, and you’d use story arcs rather than books to “test” if a character is growing in strength. For example, Goku from Dragon Ball demonstrates clear and consistent power growth throughout his series.

Clear Examples

Some examples of the types of character progression that would qualify a story as being a progression fantasy are below.

Note that these contain minor spoilers for these titles, since they discuss the types of character progression that occur in these series.

  • In the Cradle series by Will Wight, martial artists train to reach higher levels of Cultivation by perfecting their body, mind, and spirit. At each level of Cultivation, they gain access to increasingly potent abilities.
  • In the Arcane Ascension series by Andrew Rowe, mages train to increase the amount of mana in their bodies. This allows them to cast stronger spells, and eventually, to increase their Attunement Level and gain formidable new powers.
  • In Mother of Learning by Domagoj Kurmaic, the protagonist is a mage who is stuck in a time loop. As he repeats events in the loop, he gains new abilities, more mana, and more powerful spells.
  • In the Traveler’s Gate Trilogy by Will Wight, the protagonist trains in the titular House of Blades, unlocking new abilities and items with each room he successfully conquers.
  • In Six Sacred Swords by Andrew Rowe, Keras practices existing magical techniques that increase his physical strength and durability, and also gains new spells and techniques throughout the story.
  • In the Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson, members of the Knight Radiant can advance to different ranks, each of which provides additional powers.
  • In The Tutorial is Too Hard by Grandara, Lee Ho Jae is transported into a game-like “tutorial”, where he gains levels and abilities as he attempts to survive the deadly scenarios it prevents.
  • In Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama, characters train to grow stronger and learn new techniques, and later in the story have numerically quantifiable power levels.
  • In Hunter x Hunter by Yoshihiro Togashi, characters begin the story without any clear form of “magic”. Once they learn it, they gradually begin to develop and master their own personal techniques throughout the story. This is a good example of a case where progression is clear without there being any obvious numeric leveling.

These examples aren’t anywhere close to exhaustive; they’re intended to be a starting point. Many, many LitRPGs, xianxia stories, and shonen anime fit into this model. It’s much harder to find western-style fantasy novels that fit this style, however, which is part of the reason why a subgenre term is being created.

Borderline Examples

There are a lot of stories where the character is learning things, but without as obvious of power progression. Harry Potter increases in magical prowess over the course of his books, but there isn’t a good way to measure how much he’s progressed. Vin grows in knowledge throughout the Mistborn series, but it’s hard to say whether or not she has any significant power gain between books.

LitRPGs where the central protagonist starts out extraordinarily powerful and doesn’t get much stronger — such as Ains in Overlord or Rimuru in Slime Tensei — are also borderline cases. (The progression in those cases comes largely from town building and from the power increases of side characters, which is relevant to this genre, but less so than if the central protagonist was gaining power directly.)

Stories where only one character of an ensemble cast has progression are also borderline cases. Star Wars Episodes 4-6, for example, are something of a progression fantasy for Luke Skywalker, but not the rest of the cast. This is another borderline case.

Progression fantasy generally focuses on progression in combat ability, but some stories may offer other forms of progression that have a similar feel. Technological uplifting stories are closely related to progression fantasy, for example, as are time loop stories. These are also “borderline” cases that are worth potentially discussing in progression fantasy communities, but it’s worth knowing that they’re not what everyone will be looking for in the subgenre.

If you like this kind of story, we’re setting up places to talk about it with other readers.

There’s a new Facebook group here, and a subreddit here.

I hope that this concept is useful for people to find more works that they love.

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