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Webcomic / Demon Thesis

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Demon Thesis (or, An Anthropological Study of Eldritch Horrors Native to the Canadian Maritimes) is a creative project from Chris Doucette, creator of the webcomic The Last Days of Foxhound and programmer for Loot Drop. It is hosted at Doucette's website, and here is a direct link to the game.

In Doucette's own words, Demon Thesis is "the bastard child of Final Fantasy Tactics and MS Paint Adventures", which results in a creation that is half webcomic, half browser game. The game sections are done in HTML5 and Javascript, while flash is used for loading sound files for systems that have trouble using HTML5 audio.

Most of the story takes place in or around MacPhee University, a (fictional) small, private, and remote Liberal Arts college in New Brunswick. The main characters are a group of four students (Alain, Clady, Sam, and Val) some of whom have a long history, some of whom have only just been introduced to each other. One day, a couple of local construction workers dig up a strange stone totem and bring it into the anthropological office at MacPhee. Being that the head of the department is on vacation and Sam is working in the office, he's the one who receives it.

When Sam heads to the school library for a little after hours research, (thanks to Val, who works the front desk part-time) he sees something strange that he had somehow never noticed before, there's a recess near the front of the library exactly in the shape of the totem. When Sam tries fitting it in, suddenly there's an explosion, the four are gifted with Elemental Powers, and find themselves using those powers to defend themselves from Blob Monsters, The Undead, Living Snowmen, sentient plants from another dimension looking to conquer our dimension, French werewolves, and more. And all the while, a strange presence called Mesmerus, (the speaker of the Arc Words quote at the top of the page) is speaking in their heads, encouraging the violence a little too much for comfort.

All four suspect that Mesmerus has a hidden agenda, but they'll be fighting for their lives and those of everyone else at the school while they try to figure it out.

This Web Original contains examples of:

  • Bad Ass Bookworm: Everyone to a degree, but Alain and Clady are Math and Bio students, respectively, who are about to go into grad school, both are skilled fencers and they're both rather taller and in better shape than Sam and Val.
  • Battle Couple: Alain and Clady.
  • Blow You Away: This is the elemental power that Clady receives. It has a side effect of creating Anti-Magic zones.
  • Canada, Eh?
  • Cassandra Truth: Gordon, the construction worker who finds the artifact, tells his boss that he feels like something awful will happen if he lets it out of his sight.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Clady is the most consistent example, but everyone has their moments. (Even Val, who isn't generally the deadpan type)
  • Death Seeker: Deveneur reveals himself to be one just before the final battle, after he's already baited the heroes into beating him half to death with spells.
  • Degraded Boss: A loup-garou (basically a French werewolf) was the boss of the first chapter. In the last two chapters you will fight them several times being used as mooks, sometimes taking on multiple ones in a single battle.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: The last battle involves the heroes taking on Mesmerus, a magical Eldritch Abomination. So do the four college students with borrowed magical powers beat up the immortal creature from another dimension? Damn right they do!
  • Dishing Out Dirt: Alain's power. It also creates earthen barriers that can stand up to a hit or two, allowing on to entrap a creature inside, to cut off routes of getting around the battle maps, etc.
  • The Dragon: Deveneur is essentially this to Mesmerus.
  • Dual Wielding: Try equipping Val with the axe... never mind that the party owns only one axe. See Morph Weapon and Giving Up on Logic below.
  • Eagleland: Val has a few traits of the less nice version, but for the most part she's just a little more aggressive and abrasive than the others.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Mesmerus. Also, one chapter has a group of them let loose on the campus. The mere sight of them sends people into a brain lockdown, and Mesmerus has to keep the protagonists from seeing their true form to prevent the same thing from happening to them.
  • Eldritch Location: MacPhee is built on a place where the barrier between our dimension and others is thin, allowing them to potentially interact. It was originally founded by an occultist as a line of defense against these other dimensions, but over time almost all of the supernatural courses and influences have been forgotten and it's become a mostly normal school.
  • Elemental Powers: Each of the four main characters get empowered with one of the four classical elements. (Well, close to it anyway. Sam gets ice instead of water.)
  • Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors: To a degree. The elements will interact in various different ways, and Doucette created a cheat sheet to help players keep it straight.
  • Energy Absorption: Certain enemies will be completely immune to, or even gain health from certain spells. Also, the entire gambit of Mesmerus turns out to be that he's gaining power from every spell the heroes cast and using it to bring down the barrier between his world and ours.
  • Evil Counterpart: Deveneur is also a mage who was empowered by Mesmerus. His goals, however, are in direct conflict with the heroes.
  • Fanfare: Every time you win a fight (barring the tutorial), the Canadian national anthem will play, with Canadian flag. Sam, Alain and even Clady salute. Val on other hand seems to wave American flags, resulting in a glare from Clady. When some of the characters has to be fought, the poses change appropriately.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Deveneur was an adult during the French and Indian War who went into a kind of magical stasis after it. Naturally, that doesn't seem to affect him getting around in the 21st century in the slightest.
  • Forced Transformation:
    • Both Gordon, (one of the construction workers who first brought the totem to Sam) and Clady are turned into werewolves thanks to Mesmerus, until they can be defeated.
    • At the end of Chapter 4, the entire party is transformed into the phlegm monster enemies for one battle.
  • Foreign Exchange Student: Both Val and Clady. Val is American and Clady is Danish, and they are attending a Canadian school.
  • Gameplay and Story Integration: Done pretty well throughout, but especially in the last fight with Deveneur, in which it is pretty much a given that you'll throw out more spells than you've ever used before in a single fight, due to the way the arena is set up. After the battle, this is tied into the narrative justification for Mesmerus' entering the world.
  • Giving Up on Logic: Several examples.
    • The following conversation happens after Clady notices that the foil she gave Sam before a battle has morphed into an easier to wield broadsword:
      Clady: Sam, where'd you get that sword?
      Sam: Uh... you gave it to me?
      Clady: I gave you a fencing foil, not a broadsword.
      Sam: ...
      Clady: Yeah, never mind. I'm going to stop asking questions like that.
    • When Mesmerus tells the group that he's giving them time off for Spring Break, and then proves that he is in fact knowledgable about the concept, this trope is the only possible way to describe their reaction.
  • Hot-Blooded: Val is hot blooded and then some. Most prominently, the first time the group encounters the snow golem enemies, Sam tries reasoning with them... until Val suddenly interrupts with an ultimatum of killing them if they don't get out of the group's way. In a few other instances Val shows much more willingness to fight and a quicker temper than the rest of the team.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: Remember those Eldritch Abomination enemies whose appearance Mesmerus censored so the group wouldn't mentally shut down as soon as they look at them? Well, those "abominations" are terrified of these strange creatures called humans and see themselves as frantically fighting for their lives when a group of humans start killing them off in ones and twos, Slasher Movie style. The group is horrified to realize this, and refuses to continue slaughtering them for the amusement of Mesmerus. Mesmerus is not pleased at this revolt, and stops even pretending to be on their side as a result.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The story is divided into 6 Chapters, each of which is named after a part of the college experience. (For example: recruiting, midterms, spring break, finals, etc.)
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Val tries to take this approach for awhile after first getting her powers, but the situation doesn't exactly accommodate her.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Defied when Clady is the victim of a Forced Transformation and attacks the party. Only knocking her senseless with spells undoes the transformation/makes them stop attacking.
  • In the Back: If one of the player characters can attack a monster from directly behind it with a physical attack, it'll do double the normal damage. This also goes for monsters attacking the player characters.
  • Kill It with Fire: It's not long before Val starts showing an unhealthy enthusiasm for her newfound powers.
    Alain: Was she a pyromaniac before this started?
    Clady: There was the incident with our "fireplace" in our first floor, chimneyless dorm room...
    • Generally speaking, Fire is one of the more useful spells on offense, since the flames stay in place and keep on burning anything forced to remain standing in them.
  • Kill It with Ice: Sam's power is ice attacks. It also creates icy areas that both the students and the monsters can skate across, allowing much faster travel. Although since you cant stop once you start moving on the ice until you get to a patch of normal ground, it also means you may go sliding right by the person or place you were headed for.
  • Level Grinding: Averted. Upgrades (or the acquisition of new weapons and items) happened at pre-determined times, and which upgrade actually happens was usually the result of voting on the site.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Deveneur, who moves 4 times as fast as the heroes, has full use of spells and physical attacks, and grows a resistance to any spell he's hit with.
  • The Magic Goes Away: After the last fight. Without the influence of Mesmerus, there is no more magic. This is treated as being somewhat sad but probably for the best.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Mesmerus, full stop.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!" This is how all of the main characters react Deveneur's Wham Line. Everyone instantly realizes exactly how badly they've been played/manipulated.
  • The Medic: Everyone can use healing magic, but Sam is easily the most efficient at it, needing only two spell points to do so. Val is the worst, requiring five.
  • Morph Weapon: The fencing foils that Clady and Alain borrow from the fencing team will shift into a broadsword if you give it to Sam, due to the magical effect going on. Clady will notice this and there'll be a bit of dialog in the midst of the battle about it before everyone agrees to give up trying to use logic in the situation. Also, give Val the axe and it'll change into two smaller, hand sized axes that she dual wields.
  • Motor Mouth: Billy from Newfie. When he starts talking at a normal speed, something is very wrong.
  • Mundane Solution: At the close of the first chapter, Val attempts to smash the totem with a pick-ax. It doesn't work. The futility of this is lampshaded.
    Alain: C'mon, you've read The Lord of the Rings. You thought it'd be that easy?
  • Only One Name: Mesmerus, of course. Also, the last names of the main characters are only mentioned in one scene. Going by likely order of elimination, their full names are probably Valerie Sun, (which makes her talking about how she should have gone to Arizona State University instead a bit of a pun/referencenote ) Clady Vestergaard, Sam Guinness, and Alain Durand.
  • Pair the Smart Ones: The story of how Alain and Clady wound up dating. Summed up by Val thusly when Clady recounts it:
    And you lived nerdily ever after, I get the picture.
  • Playing with Fire: Val's power. It's particularly useful against the snow men enemies, and since the fire continues burning the same spaces where it was cast, it's guaranteed to cause at least some extra damage to enemies.
  • Police Are Useless: Justified due to the circumstances, which includes the fact that anyone who comes near a site where the four are battling the supernatural entities gets sick and is unable to comprehend what they're seeing. As for trying to get official police help, Detective Rogers sums it up like this:
    It's not that I don't believe you, if you can make fire appear out of nowhere I'll take the rest on faith, but I can't file a police report with the story you're giving me and be taken seriously. We can't press charges against a werewolf for starting a magical fire that caused no property damage... the justice system isn't set up to deal with your kind of problems.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The first time the group encounters the living snowmen (or snowmunculus) Sam tries to peacefully explain what's going on and get the snow creatures to let them pass when Val butts in with "Get out of our way or I'll melt your ugly ass!" The snowmen don't take kindly to the threat, and become recurring enemies.
  • Post-Victory Collapse: In a way. After the final battle everyone collapses in relief and break down into tears of joy because all the stress they've been under has just been lifted all at once. As the narration puts it:
    And so 5 months of psychological trauma were suddenly released.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: All the background music was chosen to make sure there wouldn't be anyone trying to make copyright claims.
  • Puzzle Boss: Insofar as this is a tactics game, every fight is a puzzle, but both Deveneur (in both fights) and Mesmerus in particular qualify for the trope.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Both Professor Sheffield and Detective Rogers. The school's president, Fields, while clued in to what is happening, is noticeably less pleasant, helpful, and accommodating than the other two are.
    Val: (After Fields essentially blackmails them into protecting the school) I'm almost positive that's illegal.
    President Fields: Welcome to Shit Happens 101.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Val and Clady, roommates and friends with very different styles. Val is impulsive, abrasive, and Hot-Blooded, Clady is a level-headed, snarky intellectual with a tendency to nitpick statements to death, which is pointed out more than once.
  • The Reveal: Using the magic powers granted by Mesmerus weakens the barriers that separate his dimension and ours. After the totem allowed Mesmerus to effect the world, he both granted the powers to the students and either created or summoned the other enemies solely to force them to use spells and weaken the barriers enough for Mesmerus to fully cross into our world.
  • Thanatos Gambit: After weakening the barriers between dimensions enough, Mesmerus needs blood to be shed in the library so he can cross over into our world. Deveneur (already a Death Seeker) accomplishes this by making the group believe that he is in the midst of summoning Mesmerus, and letting them pound him with spells. It works.
  • Twofer Token Minority: In Canada, Alain counts, being a black French-Canadian. He lampshades the fact.
  • Verbal Tic: The Canadian eh is avoided, but oddly enough Mesmerus uses it once in the opening chapter. Shows just how long he'd been watching Canada through the thin place in dimensions.
  • Unwitting Pawn: The entire group plays directly into the plans of Mesmerus and Deveneur. Every time they use the powers Mesmerus granted them, it lets him get closer to entering our world.
  • Weirdness Censor: Mesmerus imposes one on the group when they face a particular enemy. The mere sight of these creatures had caused Innocent Bystanders to go straight in mental lockdown.
  • Wham Line: After the penultimate battle, Deveneur finally clues the party in when he says "And every spell weakens the barrier between his world and ours." With that, the group finally understands what Mesmerus' true goal was, and how he's been using them since the very beginning.
  • World of Pun: Puns are made constantly in game mode, as virtually any action you have the characters take is accompanied by a pun or reference. For example, give Clady the spear and let her attack with it, and the attack is called "Clad the Impaler". Give Val, the sole American, the axe, and it's called "American Chopper" when she uses it. If Alain, a French-Canadian, goes into a defensive mode to take less damage, it's Block Quebecois, and so on and so forth.
  • You Will Be Spared: When Mesmerus appears, he offers to kill the group quickly and painlessly since he feels like he owes them.