From D&D Campaign to Fantasy Novel – Part 5

In Dungeons & Dragons, some character classes are capable of casting spells. Spells are divided into discrete levels based on how powerful they are. As a character advances in experience level, they gain access to spells of higher level, and can cast more of them per day. The two different uses of the word “level” is confusing, and I’m surprised that the issue still persists today given how easy it would be to resolve it.

The rules also state that spell-casters have to specify in advance which spells they might cast on a particular day, because spells have to be memorized. This came to be known as the “Vancian magic system”, named after author Jack Vance. In several of his stories, characters had to basically force a spell into their memory in order to use it. And being fiction, they always seemed to have just the right spell. (Kind of like how James Bond always seems to have just the right gadgets for his missions.) Not surprisingly, this system works poorly in actual play. The majority of spells are simply ignored. Clerics have no choice but to memorize large numbers of healing spells. Sadly, even in the most recent edition of D&D, this system persists to some degree.

In my books you won’t find people memorizing spells. They cast the spell they want, when they want. This is a direct result of my D&D campaign employing what is known as a “spell point system”. Casting a spell consumes spell points, and the number of spell points available increases with the character’s level. But compared to the standard rules, the number of spells that can be cast each day is reduced. This keeps the game balanced.

One interesting aspect to using spell points is that some spells can be made more powerful by expending more of them. Or less powerful by expending less. A Fireball spell can be cast that’s too weak to kill anyone, but which would make a fine deterrent. Spell points also allow for a single spell to replace multiple older spells. Recovery is the primary healing spell in my world, replacing Cure Light Wounds, Cure Serious Wounds, etc. A cleric can even use it to cure things like paralysis and disease by expending more spell points. In gameplay, it works beautifully, and it works in the books as well.

How is a spell cast? Does it require gestures? Incantations? Material components? For the most part, my spells require only a simple gesture and speaking the name of the spell. My assumption is that the real casting is internal—the caster focuses their will and visualizes what they want to happen. There are spells that are more complicated, but they’re generally not the type employed in combat situations.

As a final note, some of the spells in my D&D campaign (or at least their name) were taken from an anime called “The Slayers”. That anime, of course, was clearly influenced by D&D.

In Part 6, I will discuss religion in my campaign, and how it is portrayed in the books.

From D&D Campaign to Fantasy Novel – Part 4

Horses, or more generally mounts, are common elements in traditional fantasy. This is hardly surprising. When we think of armor-clad medieval knights, we often imagine them jousting in tournaments, or going into battle mounted on warhorses. In fact, wearing heavy plate armor basically requires a mount for travel purposes.

From a practical standpoint, mounts allow people to travel faster and carry more. Harnessed to a wagon, they expedite trade and make it easier to relocate. They can also be used to perform manual labor, such as plowing fields.

In D&D, mounts allow adventurers to range farther, but they are also a complication. When playing D&D, miniatures are usually employed to represent the characters. In the early days, the miniatures were made from pewter, and came unpainted. These days, a large number of pre-painted plastic miniatures are available. But what hasn’t changed is that there is no good way to deal with mounts. You basically just have to imagine that they are there. If the characters are attacked, then you have to deal with the possibility of a mount being killed, or injured and throwing off its rider. The mount might even have attacks of its own that have to be considered. In short, it’s a mess. And this complication really detracts from the experience of playing.

Another issue is what happens when adventurers go exploring somewhere where the mounts can’t or won’t go. Horses are often left simply tied to some trees. When the adventurers return, the horses might be fine. Or they may have been stolen. Or eaten. Adventurers tend to go through a lot of horses.

When my D&D campaign moved to Andoran’s Realm—a region on a different continent—I made a conscious decision to do away with horses or anything similar. Taking their place are giant lizards. They are used to pull wagons and to pull ferries across rivers. We are told that in the past some were used as mounts, or even ridden into battle, but that is no longer the case. The lizards breed slowly and are in short supply. You won’t find villagers using them to plow fields.

My decision not only improved gameplay, but also simplified the novels I am now writing. I don’t have to deal with obtaining mounts, stabling them, what happens to them during combat, etc. It’s freeing, and it helps to distinguish my books from others out there.

In Part 5, I will discuss how I have incorporated and modified the D&D rules for magical spell-casting into my novels.

From D&D Campaign to Fantasy Novel – Part 3

Racism is a common problem in our world (and seems to be getting worse). This despite all humans being the same species, and the various races barely differing in genetic makeup. How would things change if there was more than one intelligent species? Would racism give way to speciesism? Would speciesism be even worse?

Dungeons & Dragons has always incorrectly used the word race to describe different humanoid species, so I will continue that practice to avoid confusing those familiar with the game. Thus the original version of D&D included four races: humans, elves, dwarves, and hobbits. (Hobbits were later renamed to halflings, presumably to avoid legal issues.) Later versions of the game expanded on this, although even the original version alludes to the possibility of role-playing other intelligent races.

In my D&D-inspired world of Andoran’s Realm, some places are home to only a single race, while others, are home to multiple races. One would naturally expect those raised amongst only their own kind to harbor stronger prejudices against other races. As a specific example, the second book includes an elf from a small village who was taught not only that elves were superior, but that half-elves were abominations.

Half-elves are treated as a separate race in D&D, and that led me to create a rather unusual form of racism. It exists within the Witch’s City, a place where humans, half-elves, and elves generally coexist peacefully. The second book also includes Rosalind, a half-elf from a family that believes that half-elves are superior because they embody the best of both races. Rosalind doesn’t dislike either humans or elves. On the contrary, she wants them to interbreed to make more half-elves. She’s a racist, but without the hatred and denigration.

It doesn’t end there, of course. In D&D, there are a slew of intelligent “monster” races, including orcs, goblins, gnolls, bugbears, and ogres. And many of these have their own “sub-races”, who might not get along. The opportunities for enmity and racism are boundless.

In Part 4, I will discuss why there are no horses or anything similar in Andoran’s Realm.

From D&D Campaign to Fantasy Novel – Part 2

Dungeons & Dragons adventures (and many traditional fantasy novels) usually take place in lands that are modeled after medieval Europe. During that time period, there was no gender equality to speak of. With few exceptions, men were the the landowners, the business owners, the ones with authority. Some women were able to rise above this, and many wielded power behind the scenes, but it was really a man’s world.

In the early days of my D&D campaign, it was much the same. Most of the powerful non-player characters were male, including the villains. The group of adventurers was similar, dominated by males. But most of the players running those characters were male, so that wasn’t really surprising. As the years passed, things gradually began to change. I introduced a number of important female characters, both friendly and unfriendly. Players were also more willing to role-play characters of the opposite sex. That not only helped to even things, but it to make the adventures more lively.

In the first book of my Andoran’s Realm fantasy series, it is gender inequality that drives Audrey’s desire to leave her village of Farmerton. As a teenage girl, her future is set. She is expected to marry a man and bear him children. But she yearns to be more, to find a better life.

Audrey ends up in the Witch’s City, where there is much less gender inequality. The city is ruled by a woman. Women serve as city guards. Women run businesses and schools. Audrey soon discovers that the person in charge of the mansion she finds herself living in, isn’t the dragon-slaying husband, but his meddling wife. It’s not the perfect environment, but Audrey thrives there.

In medieval times, there was little in the way of practical birth control. But things are different in Andoran’s Realm. Anti-pregnancy powder, commonly referred to as AP powder, is cheap, readily available, and reliable. It is manufactured by alchemists, and if an unwanted pregnancy does occur, they can provide something to deal with that as well. Just like in our modern world, this empowers the women there. Audrey is certainly happy to learn about it.

Another surprise for Audrey is that prostitution is legal in the Witch’s City. One of her friends ends up taking employment as a courtesan, which I modeled after Japanese geisha, except that they also provide sexual services. (Authentic geisha do not.) Courtesans, some of whom are male, are both well-respected and well paid.

The second book of the series continues the trend, introducing even more strong female characters, including some rather odd ones. For me, it makes the storytelling more interesting and fun. And it’s also a challenge.

In Part 3, I will discuss racism in a world with multiple intelligent races.