Fantastic Contests and Where to Find Them
November 26, 2011
As a newcomer to the Redwall-based survivor contest scene, the prospect of actually reading old contests can be a little daunting. As of 2012, there have been 23 such contests since the first ROC: Survivor began in mid-2001.
For those of you that have no idea what a survivor contest is, I shall elucidate. A contest is held online, in which a certain number of authors are chosen to write a story. The authors apply to this by writing a short (typically 600 or so words) scene that introduces the reader to the character they intend to write about. The contest co-ordinator usually writes one or more prologues that introduce the setting and the premise of the story. In this case, the setting is that of Brian Jacques’ Redwall series of books, though often expanded upon from canon.
The authors then come up with their own plots, interactions and character development and write in a series of time frames called weeks. At the end of each week, readers of the contest sometimes post reviews of what they think of the characters, to encourage them and to help them improve. The readers, reviewers and contestants also vote at the end of the week who is their least favourite character. Whoever is voted off typically leaves the story by killing their character, though this is more of a convention than a set rule in most cases. Once only three contestants remain, the votes sort them into first, second and third places and the characters may conclude the story.
Each contest can be as long as a novel, and with so many to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. Read them all chronologically? By order of series? The most recent?
Fortunately, with the exception of the Midnight Mossflower series, most of the contests are not related with the others in their series. You might miss a few references here and there, but there’s no harm if you don’t want to read 23 books, some of which you might not like at all.
So, to make things easier on people who want to look back at the old tales of adventure and fantasy, I have read a lot of contests for you and picked out my list of favourites. Unfortunately, I am unable (and unwilling) to read every single contest at this time. However, I have done my best to make this list a comprehensive overview of the series. I have ordered this list from my most preferred to my least preferred.
Be warned, though. It is impossible to give an unbiased list of what is really the best of the best. We all think differently, so bear in mind these are my favourites which I recommend to you and are in no way an official representation of the opinions of any majority.
Finally, I would like to say to the authors that this list is not intended as a personal slight to anyone. This is what I think of the contests as a whole and as a relative newcomer. If you enjoyed writing in any of these contests, all the more power to you. I am bound to have some bias, I wrote in Redwall: Lockdown and in Midnight Mossflower 2. This list is to give a general guide to newer readers and those of you who want to look back at the older stories.
I have mentioned some contests here I do not recommend to read. That does not mean to say you should not if they sound like your cup of tea. I am just advising against delving into them as a first time reader.
Note: Word counts are approximate, as different counts have different exact totals. Additionally, some contests are still technically running at this time.
Top 5 Recommendations:
1. Questors Bold III (QBIII) (2003-04) (235, 352 words) — Watching the characters develop and improve through the course of this story is delightful. This is a story of mystery, revenge and destiny. At first the style is a little antiquated – it reads a bit more like a role-play than later contests, where scenes are sometimes repeated as each contestant tells their version. Questors Bold III has some wonderful adventuring, memorable cast and a heartfelt ending that makes it a great story. It is my all time favourite contest.
2. Redwall: Lockdown (R:L) (2011) (142, 664 words) — One of the most unified casts I think I’ve read thus far, this actually feels like a real community living in Redwall. A strange conspiracy, a sinister Abbot and a wealth of colourful characters, both contestants and extras. This contest has plenty of enjoyable scenes, emotional moments and some very satisfying action. It has its flaws; there are more than a few plot holes and strange moments. However, I feel that it is nonetheless an enjoyable adventure.
3. Midnight Mossflower (MM1) (2008-09) (261, 019 words) — Midnight Mossflower goes out into a very different premise, with the contestants trapped in a castle and forced into a terrible experiment by their host, Professor Falliss. The characters are memorable and enjoyable to read, much of the dialogue is quite snappy, and the air of suspense is very well written. There are some slight issues with time jumping back each post, but sometimes it’s necessary with the different plots going on. On the whole, it is a solid, satisfying story.
4. Redwall: Revolutions (R:R) (2010-?) (238, 731 words) — A fun, quirky cast pretty much from the start, an adventurous story and some really nice twists and turns. A murder mystery, chases and some very dynamic character interaction. This contest includes some of my favourite contest characters, some brilliant and witty moments and a few rather touching scenes. Redwall: Revolutions is a personal favourite and I highly recommend it. Its biggest flaw is that as of yet, there is no written ending. Ask the Top 3 for details.
5. The Emperor’s Decree II (TEDII) (2010) (271, 669 words) — The world of the Vulpine Imperium can take some time to get accustomed to, but The Emperor’s Decree II is well worth getting to grips with it. An eccentric mix of characters all set against the backdrop of war and the disastrous effects of new technology. It has some bloody moments, but it is nonetheless a strong contest and well worth a look.
Some Excellent Reading:
6. Questors Bold V (QBV) (2009) (239, 614 words) — An unusual contest all round with the indeterminate rankings and lack of a strict ‘survivor’ element. This is the story of the first war against Redwall Abbey, with unexpected results from such a Jacquesian premise. Recommended to read for the outstanding characterisation and dynamics. The characters of this contest are some of the most memorable and they are written with a depth that makes this an excellent read.
7. Redwall Online Community: Survivor 3 (ROC:S3) (2004) (121, 549 words) — This contest has a very simple premise at the outset. A group of escaped slaves is being pursued by monstrous cannibalistic reptiles through the swamp. It’s purely an adventure tale with some fun characters and neat moments. Its age is sometimes noticeable, with perspective shifts changing within a few paragraphs, but otherwise it manages to keep up a decent narrative.
Unfortunately, the original website where the story was posted is no longer working. Therefore, I have uploaded the story here.
Thanks to Sycamore for providing the file!
8. Questors Bold II (QBII) (2003-04) (155, 181 words) — Questors Bold II is, like ROC:S3, a very direct premise and plot. A group of ten characters are captured by the empire of Auria, and most of the story focuses on the enslavement aspect of it. There’s very little deviation from that main plot idea, which works for me.
Even though I would only consider about half the cast to be truly memorable, even the early finishers can have a moment or two to shine. This story is very focused on the way the characters behave in captivity, so it leads to a lot of interesting, emotional moments. It’s reasonably paced and later posts don’t seem to suffer so much from overlapping each other. It’s definitely a recommended read.
9. Redwall Online Community: Survivor 2 (ROC:S2) (2002) (158, 794 words) — Like its successor, and indeed other early contests such as QBII, this contest is a simple survivor premise. After an avalanche in the mountains, the ten survivors of two treasure-hunting groups are forced to work together to survive and acquire the riches. The story’s pace is quite gentle to start with, which slowly builds the tension. Posts sometimes overlap, or switch perspectives to omniscience, but there’s not too much whiplash.
As is somewhat a trend in earlier contests, the characters with less time in the spotlight die rather bluntly. However they are not easily forgotten by the survivors, which is a nice touch. The characters being forced to stay close to each other does give the contest a very tight-knit group feel, which is quite well executed. Occasionally there are brief departures from the very direct narrative of events into painting a mental picture of the scene, which is very rewarding. Whilst the plot has little deviation from the expectation, ROC: S2 is a solid, if a little rough read.
10. RedVenture 3 (RV3) (2006) (174, 736 words) — The premise of RedVenture 3 is not very clear cut. At its most basic, level, it is the story of ten characters journeying to the Northlands, each for their own reasons. Each are dragged into a conflict between the vermin war lady Zylia Hellebore, and other woodlander factions.
The plot is often split between groups of characters that seem to get shuffled every week or two. Most of the characters are focused on their own goals. This turns the main plot into more of a background event. The characters themselves grow and develop quite interestingly over time. All round, this contest is an alright read, if you’re more into the characters than the plot.
11. Questors Bold IV (QBIV) (2004-05) (225, 616 words) — After an underground collapse during a public execution, ten survivors must travel together to escape an subterranean labyrinth. On the way they face danger on all sides and discover a secret weapon that could decide the war between the woodlander colony of Mikau and the vermin kingdom of Kereval.
The story is reasonably paced and the characters quite diverse. Even the first few to die make a memorable impression. The dynamics between characters can be quite engaging. The plot is fairly simple, but well executed. There are some oddities in the narrative, but otherwise Questor’s Bold IV is a decent read. Unfortunately, it does not have an ending, leaving the fate of the character undetermined.
12. RedVenture 2 (RV2) (2005-06) (209, 625 words) — This contest’s premise admittedly comes off as a bit contrived. Invitations are sent to three towns in Mossflower, challenging any beast to go on a treasure hunt that has been set up by Lord Arbenger. The resulting mix of characters is divided into three groups and each given an initial clue on how to proceed. They work amongst other groups and deal with the dangers that lie ahead in finding more clues that lead to the treasure.
This contest has some enjoyable moments, with a few interesting puzzles interspersed with action. The pacing is good and keeps every group moving to their goals. Whilst some cast members were not so likable, a few do stand out as memorable. One thing that did constantly nag at me was how accepting the characters were of the mysterious challenge, without questioning the motives behind it. The contest’s ending is not quite as resolving as I might like, but overall it’s alright.
13. Midnight Mossflower 2 (MM2) (2010-11) (140, 558 words) — Midnight Mossflower 2 picks up where the first left off, with the threat of a horde against Redwall Abbey and the menace of Professor Falliss’ creation as a harsh winter descends on Mossflower. I find this something of a bleaker story than the first. The characters are memorable and the pacing good. It has its flaws; the villains of the story can be a little undeveloped, and some of the writing styles and decisions did not appeal to me. However, there are those fun moments that make this worth a look.
Difficulty – Hard:
14. RedVenture 4 (RV4) (2008-09) (102, 669 words) — RedVenture 4 feels a lot like a standard sort of Redwall fan fiction. The simple premise is a ship of vermin and woodlander slaves are shipwrecked on an expedition. Some of the characters are likable and the plot’s pacing moves at a decent clip. However, the contest has a few weak points. The premise and the plot really don’t seem to try anything new. It feels as if it’s just rehashing ideas out of the books, particularly Jacques’ interest in exotic sea life.
Also, some of the writing can be a little mangled with POV confusion and sometimes the action is unclear, which is quite distracting. Many of the authors seemed fond of beginning with rather generic quotes tangentially related to their situation, which comes across as unnecessary. Overall, RedVenture 4 is alright to read.
15. RedVenture 5 (RV5) (2009-10) (192, 547 words) — RedVenture 5 one is a little sluggish for me to fully recommend. The plot is a bit slow and generic and the characters seem to meander about too much for me. The more memorable ones come off as unrelatable and unhinged. However, fond commendations of it from other readers suggest this one might depend on the reader’s own preference.
16. Redwall Online Community: Survivor 1 (ROC:S1) (2001) (100, 123 words) — This contest’s premise is rather an obvious choice, being the first Redwall-based survivor contest ever. Following the sinking of the ship Starsong, ex-prisoners, passengers and crew alike are stranded in the wilderness. Things get nasty quick, with storms, savages and conspiracies.
The contest has a few problems when reading. The first thing to notice is each post has a date and time stamp that can be a bit distracting, though this is obviously not the fault of the contestants. Problems begin very early with switching from past to present tense, oddly phrased and unnatural dialogue, and basic formatting problems with conversations taking place all in one line of text. The perspective of the narration switches about frequently and can be a little frustrating. I would not recommend it to read, the only thing that it is notable for is being the first of these contests.
17. The Emperor’s Decree (TED1) (2007) (192, 160 words) — I would not recommend reading this unless you are really into the Vulpine Imperium. It features a lot of body horror, clichés and insufferable characters. The Emperor’s Decree has a coherent plot which does move along, but is greatly hampered by characters whose deaths are actually something of a relief.
It is a story about an expedition to a mysterious new continent and uncovering the conspiracy that brought the characters there. It is saved from being last by the odd funny or introspective moment shining through every once in a while.
18. Operation: Sandstorm (O:S) (2004-05) (287, 569 words) –This contest reads less like a story and more of a gigantic role-playing game. Whilst some characters are fun to read, others have very little time to shine, as there are 16 of them. Some characters can be quite unbearable at times, though not quite as cliché heavy as TED. There is very little planning or structure, save for perhaps the higher ranked contestants.
The story follows a group of ex-slaves and vermin as they struggle through an inhospitable land for the promise of treasure. Whilst I do not recommend reading Operation: Sandstorm, it is quite wonderful seeing how some of its authors have improved and developed into great writers in years since.
You can download the three parts of Operation Sandstorm here:
Note: The cast of O:S was split into two teams of eight who were more or less separate until the third part of the story, the merge.
19. RedVenture 1 (RV1) (2002-03) (39, 721 words) — RedVenture 1 is incomplete and chaotic. Plotlines and meetings are flung about haphazardly. Some of the writers show promise; a few characters have quite decent moments. However, canon is deftly defenestrated by odd species, unexplained nobles and very Earth-like terminology.
In terms of writing, there are several out-of-character comments left in the posts, which adds to the feeling that this is very much like a forum role playing game. There is very little in the way of telling where or when anything is happening in relation to anything else and all the characters start more or less separated. Finally, the contest stopped running after Week 3, leaving the rest of the story a mystery.
“But…standing there, against the flames that would take the night to die, it was almost romantic. Black cut-outs–two standing, one leaning, and another flopped in the snow–against the bright flames of an angry fire. It looked almost like a sunset. And, just then–the sky opened up, snow filtering down upon the survivors.” — Mittsu, ROC:S2