Fortune Favors the Bold

Posted in Feature on December 3, 2007

By Michael G. Ryan

Following the sun we left the old world.
-- Inscription on one of Columbus's caravels

When the story of Homelands ended, the tale of Baron Sengir came to a close. The legendary Urza and Mishra have all but faded into history, though their artifacts occasionally filter their way down to the present day, and Lim-Dûl and Freyalise are only distant memories. Now, as we leave Jamuraa behind, the characters from the Mirage setting are about to disappear as well, leaving something of a void in the development of the worlds of Magic.

From the comics to the novels to the online encyclopedia entries, many of the stories of Magic are connected only by the backdrop of the multiverse itself, with its minotaurs, elves, goblins, angels, and myriad other races. But in truth, a Serra Angel is not really a character -- she has no name, she has no personal background, she has no friends or enemies. She has only an image to offer players, and an image is no longer enough.

Late last summer, Mark Rosewater and I began a discussion about the necessity of long-lasting stories. Why do worlds like Star Wars, Star Trek, BattleTech, and Dragonlance capture the enduring attention of their fans? What sorts of characters, settings, mythologies, and plots push the envelope and make for exciting tales of adventure in these environs? At the same time, members of Wizards of the Coast's Continuity team were having a similar discussion, and were doing in-depth research into the specific archetypes that build these worlds.

Mark and I then set out to develop a story arc that would not only address the "classic" archetypes (character, setting, plotting, and themes) but would engage Magic players in a way unusual in trading card games -- through multiple media. We wanted to tell some of the story through the cards (emphasizing strong integration of card mechanics, art, card names, and flavor text), more of the story through various short story venues, and still more of the story through novels or comics. Each medium would contribute an integral piece to the whole. We wanted special tie-in products to support new characters, unique artist interpretations of these characters, and the possibility of expanding into a wide variety of unexplored media. And through all of this, we wanted to maintain the spirit of excitement that Magic fans expect: high quality art from the most talented artists working today, unexpected twists on familiar themes and plots, and cohesion between game play and story. Add to this some creative surprises from the designers and the return of some traditional Magic settings like Llanowar and Benalia, and you have the ingredients for epic storytelling.

Traditionally, however, epics span great distances and explore uncharted realms (consider The Odyssey or Lord of the Rings). We knew we wanted to take our characters to a dark shadow world, to the keep of a servant of evil, and to a plane where all the world is a market and anything can be bought -- for a price. We also knew that we wanted to tie our most recent stories together with our future tales.

Enter Sisay, captain of the Weatherlight, who joined with Mangara and his allies to defeat Kaervek in Mirage's Jamuraa.

Or, rather, exit Sisay, captain of the Weatherlight.

Have Ship, Will Travel

Sisay has been kidnapped. Her crew turns to the one man who is both indirectly responsible for her capture and capable of her rescue -- Gerrard, a Benalish master-of-arms who abandoned Sisay and their mutual quest years before when the burden of responsibility became too much for him. Gerrard, however, may not be ready for such a task, no matter what he thinks.

Skyship_WeatherlightMark and I recognized right away that the flying ship Weatherlight was an incredibly strong means of transporting us from place to place (or plane to plane) as our story developed. Equipped with a wide variety of unique artifacts (including many strange ones left over from the little-known Thran empire), the Weatherlight was more than capable of transporting our diverse cast of minotaur, goblin, cat warrior, golem, and vampire to ports unseen. Our crew was in place; our captain was at the helm. But what would serve as the impetus to get our adventure started?

We explored many options, analyzing all the elements necessary for creating a solid story: a strong hero, an ambitious villain, and character motivation to carry the story along. At length we realized that a significant sacrifice was needed to really draw players in, such as the loss of Sisay, a character already known to fans of Mirage and Visions. Abducted by Volrath (a servant of the Lord of the Wastes, the mythological embodiment of all evil), Sisay serves as bait to draw forth Gerrard, whose parents were strong foes of the Lord of the Wastes. Gerrard is now the heir to the Legacy, a legendary gathering of artifacts which can collectively destroy the vile Lord of the Wastes.

Gerrard's destiny has always been tied to the Legacy, and from the beginning, Sisay knew of his perceived "responsibility" to take up his heritage. While Sisay raced to challenge the Lord of the Wastes, however, Gerrard went off to chase separate adventures. The loss of a childhood friend to the Lord of the Wastes' machinations convinced him that he and Sisay no longer shared the same ambitions. As a result, Gerrard ended up pursuing his fortune and glory across Dominaria, from the deep swamps of Urborg to the sun-drenched docks of Benalia. Our story begins there, in Benalia, as the crew of the Weatherlight -- most of whom served alongside both Gerrard and Sisay -- seek out their former friend to demand his aid in rescuing Sisay from the Lord of the Wastes.

With a strong protagonist in Gerrard, we made sure that the characters around him were equally strong in their own unique ways. The multiverse of Magic is filled with memorable races, and that diversity is well represented in the Weatherlight crew. From Tahngarth, the minotaur who owes more loyalty to the memory of Sisay than to the presence of Gerrard, to Hanna, the ship archivist who felt betrayed by Gerrard's departure years before, we made sure the relationships among the crew were engaging, deep, and challenging. How does Mirri the cat warrior get along with Squee, the goblin cabin keeper? How does the cursed Crovax fit into such an odd assortment of travelers? What do the other crew members think of Karn, the silver golem, knowing that he is actually part of the Legacy of artifacts? The possibilities of interaction hold as much promise as do the risks of rescuing Sisay.

The (Hob)Goblin of Consistency

To ensure that the voices of our primary characters would be consistent in tone, structure, and intent, we took a new approach to flavor text. In the past, flavor text has been written by many different people, sometimes as many as twenty. Some writers drafted one or two pieces, others drafted dozens. With the addition of long-term characters to the Magic multiverse, we knew the parameters of such writing would become more difficult: not only did flavor text have to convey a bit of story or character, a little humor or pathos, or an insight or absurdity (all of a brief, specific length), but now it had to convey a consistent voice. Squee the goblin must sound the same each time he speaks; Ertai, the untested wizard who joins the crew late in the game, must stay within the parameters of arrogance that have been established for him.

To get these characters developed to a point where others might imitate them, we chose a select team of authors, and asked each to develop one or two unique voices. Thus, six writers -- Melody Alder, Kij Johnson, Mark Rosewater, Pete Venters, Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, and I -- handled all the voices for the Weatherlight expansion. The result was much stronger character development. Each of these authors will do additional work in future sets, expanding the voice he or she has already begun and taking on new ones as our story develops. Look for some of our secondary characters, like Squee, to become more important in the future.

Every Port in a Storm

Gerrard's Wisdom and Ertai's FamiliarAs the tale of Gerrard and his quest to rescue Sisay unfolds, players will have plenty of opportunities to get to know the characters and the plot through a number of different outlets, starting with the cards themselves. Beginning with the Weatherlight expansion, players will find cards named for characters, like Gerrard's Wisdom or Ertai's Familiar. Characters will begin to appear regularly in the art (see Who's Who Aboard the Weatherlight for specific card references) and they will be interpreted by many different artists, but always with a consistency that makes them readily identifiable to players. Additionally, the cards themselves will become more and more integral to the story. The Null Rod, for example, will play an important role in a future plot development.

Cards will appear in other storytelling venues as well. The Benalish Missionary, a common white card, appears in the short story in this issue, and future stories will include additional cards that players have become familiar with. These stories will appear online, in The Duelist, and in other outlets, beginning this month. Novels are already being planned to tell the tale of the Weatherlight saga, and these, too, will feature additional links to the expansions themselves.

Carrying this concept a step further, a special project is underway that will allow players to build decks around a given character. A player fond of Mirri the cat warrior, for instance, will be able to construct a deck based around certain characteristics unique to Mirri, who will be represented in a special oversized card. Look for one of four of these outstanding character cards in issue 18 of The Duelist, and eight more different cards through your Arena league this summer.

Smooth Sailing

Mark and I plotted a story that lasts into the year 2000. We worked with a wide variety of people -- flavor text authors, the Continuity team, the Magic editors and Magic team, the art directors, the Book Publishing team, the marketing reps, and outside consultants -- to ensure that we give players the most exciting storytelling experience possible. We will continue to explore other avenues for reaching players.

As the Weatherlight and its crew set sail, I believe that Magic players are in for the ride of their lives -- a ride that will take them beyond Dominaria, beyond the cards, and beyond their expectations.

Meet the Crew

Here's your introduction to the crew of the Weatherlight. Following each character description, we've listed the cards from the Weatherlight expansion on which each character appears.

Gerrards_Wisdom Gerrard: Born to inherit the Legacy--a collection of artifacts destined to overthrow the evil forces of the multiverse--Gerrard has endured much hardship during his life. After years spent as a Master of Arms in Benalia, Gerrard has chosen to return to the Weatherlight to lead the rescue for his former captain and mentor, Sisay. Gerrard appears on Gerrard's Wisdom, Master of Arms, Debt of Loyalty, Desperate Gambit, Llanowar Druid, Benalish Missionary, Null Rod, Redwood Treefolk, and Abyssal Gatekeeper.
Ancestral_Knowledge Sisay: Sisay spent some years traveling with Gerrard in search of the Legacy, then years more on her own after his abrupt departure. Her kidnapping by Volrath was a calculated plan on evincar Volrath's part to draw Gerrard back into battle. Sisay appears on Abduction and Ancestral Knowledge.
Nature's Kiss Mirri: Abandoned by her cat warrior kin when she was young, Mirri was raised alongside Gerrard for many years as they were both trained in the arts of war and magic. She is a skilled combatant and Gerrard's closest friend. Gerrard sought her out in Llanowar after he decided to return to the Weatherlight, and she eagerly rejoined him aboard the ship. Mirri appears on Nature's Kiss and Vitalize. She is also featured on the cover of this issue's Duelist.
Shattered_Crypt Crovax: Crovax was brought to the edge of his sanity by the forces of Volrath when Volrath had Crovax's noble family destroyed, leaving Crovax the sole survivor. Believing himself to be cursed, he eagerly joined the Weatherlight crew on their journey to Volrath's realm, hoping that there he might find salvation from his plight. Crovax appears on Haunting Misery and Shattered Crypt.
Tahngarth, Talruum Hero Tahngarth: Part of the proud race of Talruum minotaurs, Tahngarth served as first mate of the Weatherlight under Sisay's command. Impatient, gruff, and vain, Tahngarth now follows Gerrard, but he cannot hide his suspicion that Gerrard is not ready to be a leader. Tahngarth appears on Benalish Missionary and Llanowar Druid.
Hanna, Ship's Navigator Hanna: The daughter of the ancient wizard Barrin, Hanna was educated at the Argivian University where she learned much about the uses of artifacts. She brought her talents to the Weatherlight and began to develop a romantic relationship with Gerrard. That relationship ended abruptly when Gerrard left the ship years ago, but his return may have rekindled her interest in him. Hanna appears in the background of Llanowar Druid.
Ertai, Wizard Adept Ertai: Trained under Hanna's father Barrin, Ertai is an untested wizard of potentially great power, which is exactly how the arrogant young man thinks of himself. When Barrin elected not to join the Weatherlight crew, Ertai came in his place, leaving behind Tolaria and his mentor. Ertai does not yet appear on a card.
Karn, Silver Golem Karn: As part of Gerrard's Legacy, the silver golem Karn was charged with protecting the child Gerrard from harm. When he was tricked into killing an innocent man, Karn vowed never to take another life, no matter what the circumstances. He rejoins Gerrard on the Weatherlight after spending years deactivated. Karn does not yet appear on a card.
Call_of_the_Wild Squee: Squee serves as goblin "cabin boy" aboard the Weatherlight. Sneakier and smarter than the average goblin, Squee's loyalty to Gerrard is shadowed by his much stronger loyalty to the abducted Sisay. Squee appears on Call of the Wild.
Orim, Samite Healer Orim: Orim is skilled in numerous languages as well as the healing arts of the Samites, and she has served faithfully aboard the Weatherlight for many years. Highly spiritual, she believes that challenging Volrath is morally vital. Orim does not yet appear on a card.
Starke_of_Rath Starke: After escaping Volrath, Starke was forced back into the evincar's service when Volrath took Starke's daughter prisoner. Since then, Starke has tried to ally himself with Sisay, betrayed Sisay to convince Volrath to let his daughter go, and has now pledged his services to Gerrard as the Weatherlight's guide to Volrath's realm. His duplicity has often been his undoing. Starke appears on Debt of Loyalty and Desperate Gambit.

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