From D&D Campaign to Fantasy Novel – Part 1

I am certainly not the first person to attempt to convert a Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) campaign into a series of fantasy novels, and I probably won’t be the last. But I’ll wager that my campaign has been running longer than anyone else who has tried. It’s been running since the final core rulebook of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) was published over thirty-eight years ago. The official rules of D&D changed over the years, and we made changes of our own, but we remained true to the the original spirit of the game. It’s all about role-playing characters in a fantasy setting, but only in a semi-serious fashion, because it also has to be fun.

I have gotten in the habit of writing detailed summaries of the adventures that I have run as part of my campaign, but they’re not exactly publication-ready. Things need to be described in a more realistic manner. Even though it’s a fantasy setting with monsters and magic, characters have to be believable. They need to have backstories, aspirations, faults, quirks, etc. They need to seem real to the reader.

When I started working on the first book, I ran into a myriad of issues. Do I keep the traditional Tolkien-inspired trappings, such as dwarves and elves? What units of measurements are used? What type of currency is used, and how much do things cost? What do people eat? What do they do for fun? How do the government and economy work? Are there taxes, and if so, how are they levied? And those are only a few of the things I had to consider.

Another problem is that I hadn’t created everything from scratch. I took ideas and names from books, and from the real world. My campaign has the usual pantheon of deities, but I took the names from Hinduism, also integrating the idea of having three major deities. The names clearly had to change, because Hinduism is a current religion with many followers, and I didn’t want to offend them. Vishnu became Arwon, Lakshmi became Lasrina, Krishna became Kyran, and so on. In my books, the names are all different, but the deity’s associations remain basically the same. For example, Lasrina is associated with beauty and luck.

And now we come to what I really want to discuss: death. In D&D, if a character dies, they can be brought back to life using magic. (This is generally performed by a cleric—priest or priestess—but could also be done with some type of enchanted item.) Multiple lives are common today in computer games, but it was a novel concept in 1974. And it was clever. It meant that a player didn’t have to worry that the character they had spent months or even years developing might die and then have to be replaced by a new and far weaker one. Death was merely an inconvenience. Most fantasy novels have nothing like this, or if they do, it’s very limited. But it’s an integral part of D&D, so I decided to not only make use of it, but to embrace it.

What are the ramifications of death not necessarily being permanent? First, there have to be limits. I decided that a body reduced to ashes couldn’t be restored by any means, and that this was the usual method of disposing of bodies. (In D&D, dead bodies can be reanimated as undead—something that most people want to avoid.) I also decided that everyone had a limited number of lives that was unknowable, but was almost always at least two.

There were other decisions to make and questions to answer. What if part of the body is missing, or is in bad condition? Does it always work? What will the person brought back experience? Will they remember being in some kind of afterlife? How will having died affect them? How does knowing that death isn’t necessarily permanent affect society in general? Are people less careful?They would certainly be more comfortable knowing that they had more than one life.

I explored some of these issues in the first book, and more in the second. And it will continue to play a role as I write more books in my Andoran’s Realm series. I think this is one of things that makes my books stand out from many other fantasy novels.

In Part 2, I will discuss issues related to gender equality within my series.

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