Dec 05, 2021 12:44 PM
a grape grapples with tropes outside her literary canon
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The space is bright purple and stretches on for what seems like forever. The only other thing in it that can be perceived is a rounded woman with a bright face and glowing feathery wings. 

"Congratulations! You have been selected by the ineffable Will of the Multiverse to reincarnate as the villainess of a specific kind of romance story . Kind of weird, but it's become a huge thing over ten or so of your years in at least a dozen universal branes adjacent to yours. I think one of the Will's avatars read something somewhere and got a little too invested, honestly. Now, you won't be reincarnating into an actual otome that exists," the angel says. 

She taps her chin. "I don't get it, but according to my guidelines it's actually more in genre for us to create a custom otome-style world for you? It seems weird to me, but the universe molding crews love it, so we get lots of brownie points at inter-department parties. In any case, you'll be reincarnating into the soon-to-be-created Kingdom of Villarosa, setting of the non-existent smash hit otome game, manga, anime, and Broadway musical Roses of Villarosa!" She throws her arms out enthusiastically. 

"You'll be becoming the much-hated villainess of the story, fated to be sentenced to a horrible bad ending for the crime of being the gorgeous and charismatic heroine's rival in love and for generally being an awful person. I'm sure you can picture how the story goes already," she adds sympathetically. "You're definitely going to be a woman in your next life, and you'll also be attracted to men, though you may choose whether you want to be attracted to women also in your new life or be strictly into the cute boys."

"If you object, all I can say is that management apologizes for the inconvenience, but the Will's... well, will is final. On the upside, though, the reincarnation process will ensure you don't suffer any severe body or gender dysphoria, as well as preventing too much homesickness for your old life. Those safeties are there to prevent any depressing suicides. I'm sure you'll be relieved to know that you won't have to relive being a baby or toddler, you'll recover your old identity and memories when you're a teenager, a few days or weeks before the start of 'canon.' Another benefit is that because we haven't actually sent the specification for Villarosa to the universe molders, we have a chance to tweak things to make sure that your otome villainess reincarnation is to your taste. Just pick what you like best, and when we're done the molders get to work, I download a batch of fresh fake meta-knowledge about Roses of Villarosa to your soul, and you get reincarnated."

"So let's get started, okay?"

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"...you're going to have to... explain... all of that... again, slower. Using more words I understand. And fewer that I don't."

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"Alright. Uh, to start with, you died. Normally, that would be the end for you. But! Instead, we scooped you up to send you off into a new universe based on some literary tropes you're not likely to be entirely familiar with."

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After a few sputtering false starts, the question that makes it out of her mouth is, "Where do these foreign literary tropes come from?"

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"Different universes! Your universe is actually not that common in some of its particulars, on a multiversal scale."

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She sits with that for a few long seconds, drumming her fingers distractedly on her thigh.

Then she nods firmly and says, "Okay, go on."

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"Since you're going to be engaged with fate-patterns that treat you as a 'character,' the first step is to design said character," the angel explains. "For example, you have three options for hairstyle, which have effects beyond what you would expect a hairstyle to have. Two of them grant 'perks,' which are sort of bonuses you get for this next life, and one of them grants a minion. The 'drill hair' hairstyle is essentially an unrealistic level of ringlets, and grants the 'Ohohoho!' perk, which essentially makes you more intimidating. The 'hime cut' hairstyle is straight hair with bangs, a simple style that suggests hidden depths and grants them in the form of the 'Silk Hiding Steel' perk, which gives you a core of resilience in the face of shock or misfortune. The 'elaborate' hairstyle is whatever you want it to be, essentially, as long as what you want is something that looks like an enormous pain to achieve and maintain. You get a free Maid minion in order to help with that."

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"...how does making decisions about these things work? How much time do I have? Do I get to take notes before I make my final choices?"

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"You can have as much time as you need," the angel assures her. "You make decisions by telling me what decisions you want to make, and you can change your mind if you want to."

She summons a notebook and writing implement out of seemingly nowhere and offers it to her.

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"Thank you."

She jots down an untidy scrawl of shorthand and starts doodling an elaborate flower on a corner of the page.

"Why me, or is that not a question that has an answer?"

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"You were selected for having a particular kind of narrative potential."

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"Fair enough. Go on."

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"There are five hair color options. Blonde, redhead, silver, 'brunette' and 'rainbow.' Blonde is the generic 'rich girl' hair color and won't have any side effects. 'Redhead' is as likely to denote hair that's actually red as orange. Red hair connotes and therefore produces stronger emotions and a little more physical strength. Silver hair--properly silver, not the white of old age--means a little less physical strength and a boost to intelligence, plus some extra magical potential or creativity and artistic talent. 'Brunette' actually means brown or black hair--where hair color options have a range of possible manifestations you can pick how you want it to come out--and represents the most common hair color, the 'everywoman' hair color. It'll make you a little more relatable and a little less agentic. 'Rainbow' hair means any unnatural hair colors not covered under one of the other options and makes your world a little less realistic and a little more trope-influenced."

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"...I think I have to take silver," she says. "Because since when am I going to turn down artistic talent?" She still adds all these options to her notes. "Okay, what else?"

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"Next are the species options. 'Human' and 'Elf,' which are metonymous for 'the default kind of person' and 'much sparklier and overall better than the normal kind of person.' The default species can be whatever you want."

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"Okay. What's the downside of picking the sparklier option?"

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"You have to take an extra flaw, and it requires either a tech level of cyberpunk or space opera, or a magic level of low, medium or high."

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Note note note. "Okay, I'll think about that one. Go on."

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"The tech level options are 'aesthetically archaic,' which takes place in a romanticized version of the past where things are much nicer than they were at actual comparable points in time, and optionally has magic; 'actually archaic,' where things are as bad as they actually were in the past, and you have to choose a magic level of low or none. It gives you a free perk, but there are better ways of earning perks; I don't recommend it. 'Contemporary,' where things are approximately at the tech level and social level they have in your world at the point at which you died; 'Marvelous,' roughly similar to some of the near-future science fiction in your world; 'Steampunk,' which takes some of the themes of Marvelous and runs with them down the tech tree, envisioning a world of steam and gears and brass...Cyberpunk? Why is cyberpunk still in here? How am I supposed to explain cyberpunk to someone from a world that hasn't invented the transistor!?" She sighs. "Cyberpunk is a genre full of machines that think, merchant organizations that have become bloated beyond the point of anyone's heath with money and power, and a lot of gratuitous glowing lines on things."

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"As much fun as gratuitous glowing lines sound, I should probably stick with something I'll be better able to understand." Note note. "Maybe Marvelous, Marvelous seems to strike a nice balance between being more useful and interesting than my own world and being familiar enough that I won't get tripped up by the mismatch between my memories and my surroundings."

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"You'll experience a full childhood in your new world before your memories start returning, but fair enough."

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"I'd still rather not have to adjust too far. All right, what else?"

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She grins. "Now we get to the good stuff. Magic level. Magic can be metonymous for all kinds of not technically magic things," she waves a hand, "like psionics or whatever, but it's basically all magic in the end. The magic levels are, straightforwardly enough, none, low, medium, and high. None gets you a free perk, but like Actually Archaic, it's not worth it and I don't recommend it."

In a Low magic world, magic will exist, but will still largely be the stuff of myth and legend, not a day-to-day part of life. Magic users will be exceedingly rare and almost always self-taught, and there might only be one person in a generation who rises to the level where their abilities are more than a mere minor special power. If there are any magical creatures in this world, they will be similarly rare, possibly unique beings. At this magic level, there might be only one or two magic users in your story, or even none at all. Having any magical abilities, let alone powerful ones, could prove an unexpected strength that your foes are unprepared for."

A Medium magic setting is where magic really starts becoming a part of the world, and is our default option if you don't express a preference. We're still talking only a few hundred or a thousand real magic users in Villarosa, but that's enough that encountering magic is no longer a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Most magic users will learn from a master as an apprentice, and magical creatures definitely exist and have societies of their own. At this magic level, multiple characters in your story could have magical abilities. Still, the majority of characters will not be magic users, and being one yourself can give you a significant edge."

In a High magic setting, magic is everywhere and woven into the threads of everyday life. It'll likely be the case that nobles are expected to have magical ability. Magic is taught in schools, and even warriors will be using some magic. Magical creatures are common and some may be integrated into the society of Villarosa, though just how will vary. At this magic level, the overwhelming majority of people relevant to you will be magic users. You can have the perk Magic User for free, but it won't give you any real advantage over your rivals."

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"High magic sounds like it's the most interesting... on the other hand, maybe I should rein it in a little for the same reason I opted to avoid the gratuitous glowing lines..." Note note. "It sounds like magic has less of an effect on the overall structure and function of a society than tech level, but is that actually true?"

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"Essentially, because technology includes social technology, but a higher magic level can still improve quality of life considerably relative to tech level baseline."

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"Hmm. Okay, I think that makes sense. So probably high magic then." She amends her notes appropriately. "Anything else?"

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