Show, Don’t Tell – How ArenaNet Broke the Rule

Warning: this post contains spoilers up to and including the last mission of the Heart of Thorns expansion. Read at your own peril.

In my last post (https://tiffanystyrianexperiences.home.blog/2019/05/05/the-show-dont-tell-rule-of-writing) I discussed the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule of writing.
In this post, I’ll explain one situation where they messed it up – and how it made problems for them later.

It’s one of the biggest controversies of the Tyrian universe, and I suspect the breaking of this rule is why. It has to do with Marshal Trahearne, the sylvari who led the Pact until the Heart of Thorns expansion – and perhaps, according to some, his tenure as Marshal ended earlier.

But let’s go back to his beginnings in the storyline – to address the wider audience, let’s ignore sylvari players for now. Your character first meets Trahearne on Claw Island, trying to warn Watch Commander Talon that the Risen are coming.

Magister, this is Trahearne, Tyria’s foremost scholar on Zhaitan and Orr. He’s a hero to me.

Magister Sieran

Lightbringer, this is Trahearne, one of the sylvari Firstborn. He’s Tyria’s foremost scholar on Zhaitan and Orr, and a friend to the Order.

Lightbringer Tybalt Leftpaw

My friend, this is Trahearne, one of the sylvari Firstborn. He’s Tyria’s foremost scholar on Zhaitan and Orr. I’ve been trying to recruit him for years.

Warmaster Forgal Kernsson

You should recognize at least one and maybe all of these quotes, depending on which Order you joined. Notice that in every introduction, Trahearne is consistently referred to as ‘Tyria’s foremost scholar on Zhaitan and Orr.’

The problem with this is… how many times have you dealt with Risen? Odds are you had an encounter at level thirty, along with the rest of the Orders. The humans battle Risen and deal with a semi-corrupted Seraph, the asura deal with Elder Dragon research (but everybody mostly mentions Zhaitan), the sylvari are fixing a long-dead mystery regarding one of their fallen heroes and an undead lich, the norn deal with a threat to the Durmand Priory (where Trahearne, as a scholar, might be expected to spend some time), and the charr deal with a Risen warbandmate. (Note: I never played the charr storyline, so I won’t be giving it much if any attention.)

And Trahearne never shows up for any of these incidents.

So the player thinks; ah, he must not be that important. I’ve dealt with and beat up Risen ages ago, Mister Sylvari, and I’ve never heard of you before. I kind of like you because you are agreeing with me about the Risen attack, but whatever.

ArenaNet then does a pretty good job of pressing him on us and having him ramble on about how much he has researched Orr in an attempt to make up for his previous lack of screen time.

But this is more ‘telling’ and less ‘showing.’ And it all takes place after his initial introduction – and shouldn’t ‘foremost scholar’ be more widely known, especially by the awesomely epic Player Character, and not need an introduction?

The player might also feel annoyed at his ceaseless talking about Orr and his Wyld Hunt and yada yada yada. But, hey, at least he can’t be this major of a character and you’ll only have to deal with him once or twice, right? He’ll go back to Orr where he so obviously belongs and leave me alone.

And then your mentor dies – Forgal or Sieran or Tybalt – and Trahearne keeps following you around. He shows he’s a good fighting companion quite soon, but then he drags you off to visit the Pale Tree and enter the Dream, where he babbles even more – can you see where this is heading? – and then you leave the wretched vision at last and it turns out that – for some craziness – your fates are bound together! Wait, how did this happen? Who said this!

And so then you get the brilliant idea to form an alliance – and then you watch in horror as your character appoints Trahearne – the annoying prat who won’t shut up – to lead it! He almost declines, but then doesn’t, and you are crazy irritated at this nobody who took the spot – rightfully yours as the Player – of leader of what is obviously going to become quite a notable organization, given all the set-up leading up to it.

So you go through the last twenty levels grouching and complaining – not just to yourself, but online and everywhere – about this menace that has invaded your story and made it his.

Sound familiar?

Anyway, ArenaNet sees all this negative feedback on their character – the guy who was (maybe) supposed to be awesome Player sidekick.

Eh, no. You are the sidekick, and you don’t like it.

This ended up with Trahearne getting offed in the storyline by ArenaNet. You’d asked them to kill him, please, because you just can’t take it anymore and it’s obvious he isn’t going anywhere without dying. Eventually you got so ticked off that you wanted to cruelly end him yourself; you don’t care if it’s a twist of storyline and your Commander actually doesn’t want him to die, you just want him gone and dead and please let me get a bit of revenge.

Some of the more extreme people – the guys who wanted this awesome legendary sword Caladbolg – to kill him with that weapon and then use it themselves afterwards. Payback, right? Right.

Every single one of these things came true. It took a mentally invasive Elder Dragon and a specific request from Trahearne himself for it to make sense in the storyline and so the roleplayers wouldn’t fly off the handle, but they did it.

Guess what? The roleplayers still flew off the handle. (I’m one of those, by the way.)

All this because – or at least, it started because – he wasn’t given proper ‘showing’ before he made his big intro. I’ll tell you how in a race-by-race example, so bear with me until you get to one you recognize.

Take the human level thirty quest, for example – first interaction with Risen. You’re dealing with a Seraph officer going crazy from Orrian corruption – undead Risen are following him around everywhere, and he’s headed straight for Queen Jennah under the false delusion that her blood can save him.

Eh, that’s not true, Alastia Crow (the seer that gave him the artifact that’s corrupting him) lied to him to get revenge.

But let’s rewind; we’re stopping the Risen, yeah. We don’t know how, but Kellach is involved in it somehow. You decide to speak to Alastia Crow and/or her crew to figure out exactly how – you find out that he’s being corrupted, you find out how, and you find out his goal. Quite informative, no?

But if ArenaNet had shown interest in ‘showing’ Trahearne, they could have easily dropped him in the middle of this – and they don’t even need to bring him onto the scene.

At this point, it’s been well established that the Orders dislike each other, right? Right. Now say they’re squabbling over what exactly is wrong with this Kellach dude, and maybe Scholar Josir pops up. “I know what it is – it’s an artifact carrying Orrian corruption. Kellach’s turning into a live Risen!” Yeah, right. The others laugh him off the stage. Until this: “no, no! Trahearne told me!” Instant agreement from the others. The player is sitting there like ‘what? This Trahearne dude managed to make them stop arguing? He must be somebody!’

Now, speaking to Alastia Crow and/or her pirates is still necessary to figure out how he got the artifact and what his plans are, but Trahearne’s reputation just got a huge boost in the eyes of the player.

Now, speaking of the asuran first encounter with the Risen.

Professor Gorr, an asuran scientist, has figured out that the Elder Dragons consume magic. The Arcane Council, who want to use this information for their own evil ends, have kidnapped him and faked his death, but you manage to reveal the lie after proving Gorr’s theory.

Ehh, let’s say we bring Trahearne himself on the scene. While the ders argue about how to test and prove Gorr’s theory – both in probably dangerous ways because of how little we know about Risen (even the Priory’s carefully controlled experiment goes awry) – Agent Batanga brings in Trahearne, who comes up with a solution that is not dangerous in the least (and that he is possibly part of, being a necromancer) and stops all their squabbling.

He may even assist in spreading the word about Gorr’s theory – maybe Scholar Krasso remarks smugly how nobody can deny this since it has Trahearne’s stamp of approval.

The player then recognizes him as a clear expert, and remembers him at Claw Island.

The sylvari already have Trahearne being a part of their investigation, so nothing special is needed there.

What about the norn? They didn’t deal with Risen at all, did they? No, but they dealt with the Durmand Priory. The dredge had invented a new weapon, tested it against Vigil soldiers, and were planning to use it against the Durmand Priory to get revenge on the last dwarf. This arc’s finale took place at the Durmand Priory, defending it from the dredge with various methods.

ArenaNet could easily have found a reason for him to be at the HQ of the Priory when the dredge attacked, and while he would not have been able to provide help or advice, he would have the Priory’s stamp of approval, and maybe you’d overhear him talking to somebody about Risen – most likely in the instructive role, clearly displaying his knowledge of the subject.

The fact may even be brought up – Trahearne is reluctant to help, since he is an expert on Risen and Zhaitan and Orr, not dredge and sonic technology and Icebrood. He’d be overruled – or maybe not – but he’d at least have made an appearance.

The charr storyline I have not played and do not know much about – but I know something vaguely similar to the humans happenes. A friend of yours who had died is missing from his grave, and the Orders suspect he has been Risen. Instead of trying to find it out themselves, they should have called Trahearne.

I don’t know how that turned out originally (and feel free to comment with information), but I am sure that at least a mention of Trahearne could have happened.

And, if this had happened, let’s go over your reaction at seeing him on Claw Island again.

Your mentor tells you who he is, and you realize, ‘oh! This is the dude who helped me with X ages ago!’ When he anxiously tells Talon and the Lionguard that there is a substantial force coming, you agree with him on his own merit, and not just because he happens to agree with you.

When he suggests going to the Pale Tree, you are instead quite happy, since he knows all about Risen and is undoubtedly right about getting as much information as you can before heading back to take Claw Island.

Long story short, while you might still resent him for taking the place of leader, you like him a lot more and probably don’t complain nearly so much.

Maybe you come to sympathize with him – in the level 70 quest, he is worried about his ability to lead and constantly asks for your help. Perhaps you become a loyal supporter rather than a grudging ‘I’ll attack whatever you tell me to, Marshal.’

Maybe he doesn’t die. I know ArenaNet was planning a bunch of different things for Heart of Thorns than what actually came out.

The difference here with the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule is that you don’t feel superior to Trahearne, instead, you possibly respect him a bit, having seen his ability to stop the Order’s quarreling, his obvious expertise on Orr, and stuff like that.

He might not even have to talk so much in the first few quests just to update you on who he is.

And even if it didn’t change your mind about him… it would have made for a richer storyline, with more foreshadowing and interesting bits. Those are my favorite parts, anyway.

Now, maybe you do not identify with the type of people who dislike Trahearne… maybe you didn’t complain and ask for him to die.

But some people did, and I don’t like it. I can see where they’re coming from, but… he was my friend.

In my next post, I’ll explain my stance on the relationship between the Commander and Trahearne… not from the outside, seeing it as a game, but from the inside, as a roleplayer.

Also, if you want to have fun debates with me on this topic (or any others related to Guild Wars 2 or writing!), join me on my Discord server! You can find us at https://discord.gg/HwKw8vy.

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