The following is a free chapter from the first book in my Kings and Conquests LitRPG series Devils Demons and Dead Men, available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore.
“It’s a troll.”
“How do you know?”
“Because it makes the sword glow.” Garrett Wyland spoke as if his words were plainly obvious to anyone with even novice-level experience in an underground cavern adventure. His best friend Brace and two other boys looked on as green letters appeared on the flickering CRT screen one by one. It was a balmy Southern California afternoon. Most kids Garrett’s age were out riding bikes or playing street football. He and his friends were on a more epic quest.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ATTACK THE TROLL WITH?
ATTACK TROLL WITH
The cursor blinked.
“What are you waiting for?” Dwayne asked.
“Yeah,” Brace added. “Use the sword!”
“What if it breaks?” Garrett wondered aloud.
“How can it break? It’s glowing! It’s a magic sword!”
ATTACK TROLL WITH TORCH
I DON’T THINK THAT’S A VERY GOOD IDEA
“Yeah, see? Listen to the computer! Use the sword!” Brace ordered.
ATTACK TROLL WITH SWORD
THE SWORD CUTS THROUGH THE TROLL’S BODY. BEFORE IT CAN REGENERATE, THE CREATURE DISAPPEARS IN A CLOUD OF BLACK SMOKE. THERE IS AN EXIT TO THE NORTH.
The boys cheered and celebrated with handfuls of corn chips and newly opened sodas.
“Ok, me next,” Brace said. He took over the keyboard from Garrett. Every move took several minutes of discussion and every attempt to navigate the dungeon followed a protracted hunt and peck session with plenty of misspelled words, sarcastic jokes about the misspelled words and a careful reading of the next block of descriptive text.
Garrett looked over all the equipment he and his friends had gathered since they discovered the adventure game. The phone coupler and eight-inch floppy drives were both gifts from his uncle, who had just celebrated his five-year anniversary at one of the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturers. The integrated CRT terminal was a ninth-grade rescue and restoration project. Everything worked except the right-handed control key, which was missing both the key and the underlying mechanism. There was also a large patch of white paint on one side of the smooth yellowish plastic composite outer shell. It was better than the teletype. Despite their enthusiasm for the game, the boys were weary of spending all their refreshment money on fanfold paper. Garrett’s mom also wasn’t a fan of the entire upstairs story of her house sounding like the Los Angeles Times newsroom.
“Hey look! There’s the tree! If we climb inside we can get the golden acorn!” The boys leaned closer, one or two of them straightening their glasses as they waited for each word to type itself at 300 baud.
The only piece of equipment Garrett didn’t actually own was the computer itself. The text-based adventure game he and his friends had been trying to win for months was actually running on a PDP-11 at his uncle’s office. The game was called “The Conquests of the King,” and purported to allow a peasant boy to claim the throne and the hand of the princess by recovering a dozen treasures of the Realm.
“How many treasures left?” Jimmy asked.
“Sixteen! Now we have to climb down to the river cave,” Brace announced as he tapped out the commands and made liberal use of the backspace key to erase his mistakes.
After a tour of the office, Garrett’s uncle saw how his nephew reacted to Conquests of the King, so he asked one of the engineers to set up an account so Garrett and his friends could play. What started out as a fun diversion quickly turned into a request for a real account. It wasn’t long before Garrett was writing FORTRAN code that actually compiled. Then he was writing C. He hadn’t told his friends he beat Conquests of the King weeks ago. He was busy drawing maps and making up backstories for the new tabletop dungeon-crawling games he had discovered. And the spy games. And the car racing, space battle and superhero games.
Brace and Dwayne and the others were along for the ride because they liked to play the games Garrett discovered. But as the young man who was tacitly considered the leader of the geeks watched his friends, his mind was elsewhere. Of all the kids, Garrett could see beyond what was on the green-tinted screen.
He saw the possibilities. The game didn’t have to be limited to just twelve treasures. And it didn’t have to limit the player to just one objective. What if the player wants to be a thief? What if they want to study the arcane and go deeper into the catacombs to find magical secrets known only to the most powerful sorcerers?
“No, no, you have to dig under the sand to find the pirate’s lantern! Go east! East! No, the other east!” Brace preferred to do the typing. He had a habit of getting impatient if Dwayne was in charge, since the older boy was fond of going off and experimenting to see what the game’s limits were.
I can do this, Garrett thought. He was certain of it. Only moments after he wrote his first program and made the computer do something all his own idea he knew. This machine would carry out his instructions, like the faithful familiars in stories about witches. It would help him just like it helped the three programmers who wrote Conquests of the King.
He thought about his English teacher and the twinkle in her eye as she explained the mysteries of first, second and third person point of view. Garrett never could figure out why it always jumped from first to third. What about second?
It wasn’t until he and his friends discovered Conquests of the King that he realized computers had unlocked second-person literature. The stories being told here were not about the narrator, nor were they about figments of the author’s imagination. In Conquests of the King, the story was being told by the reader. The authors didn’t make the decisions. They just set the boundaries. The readers composed the plot.
The day that realization dawned on Garrett was one of the most sobering days of his young life so far. He felt as if he had emerged from a Toltec pyramid clutching ancient secrets. He had tried to explain it to the others, but they were far more interested in just playing the game, not analyzing it like it was a book report.
Maybe I’m the wizard delving into the catacombs to learn the secrets of this machine. All I have to do is write the codes in the right order and I can make any kind of adventure.
Garrett watched his friends play.
Now I can tell any story I want.
Devils Demons and Dead Men is available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore!