From D&D Campaign to Fantasy Novel – Part 9

Before I discuss how martial arts fits into Dungeons & Dragons, I first need to define the term. In general, martial arts can refer to any type of combat technique, including sword-fighting and archery. In common usage, the term refers to unarmed combat techniques, such as karate, judo, or kung fu. If weapons are involved, they are employed in conjunction with unarmed techniques, and the weapons may be unusual.

At first glance, martial arts appear to be completely out of place in D&D. This is because they originated primarily in Asia, while D&D is very much a reflection of medieval Europe (or some idealized version of it). In fact, the first set of rules for the Monk character class appeared in the Blackmoor supplement in 1975, only one year after the publication of the original rules. The class was subtitled “Order of the Monastic Martial Arts”, and it was described as a sub-class of Cleric.

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the popular TV show Kung Fu was airing at this time, especially when you consider that the main character is shown training at the Shaolin Monastery. That, coupled with the growing popularity of Chinese kung fu movies and martial arts in general, is probably what led to the creation of the Monk character class.

When I started my current D&D campaign in the fall of 1979, one of my players elected to role-play a monk. He named her “Grace à Pas”, which I changed to “Grasapa” in the books. The name is a pun on “grasshopper”, which is what Caine, the main character of the Kung Fu TV show, was frequently called by his master. Despite being incredibly weak at first, Grasapa ended up being one of the long-surviving player characters.

Xlee, a  Monk I created for some one-off adventures, was introduced as Grasapa’s instructor and a recurring NPC. He has yet to appear directly in the books, but Grasapa now runs Xlee’s Martial Arts Academy in the Witch’s City. That became an important element of the first book. Audrey enrolls there, and Grasapa becomes her instructor.

It’s worth mentioning that while in graduate school I enrolled in a nearby school that primarily taught Shaolin kung fu. (But it’s just a coincidence that it happened to be the same martial art as the TV show.) In the books, Audrey studies Shorinken, which is actually the Japanese word for Shaolin kung fu. My point is that I draw upon my own experiences and knowledge when writing about Audrey’s training or her use of unarmed combat when adventuring.

In conclusion, martial arts may seem out of place in D&D, but it’s been around almost from the very beginning. And it has always played an important role in my D&D campaign.

In Part 10, I will discuss some miscellaneous issues that I haven’t touched on yet.

From D&D Campaign to Fantasy Novel – Part 8

The original rules for Dungeons & Dragons included the concept of alignment. It was a property that applied both to characters and intelligent creatures. There were three possible alignments: law/neutrality/chaos. They were intended to describe behavior to some extent, e.g. chaos implied unpredictably and a disdain for rules and strictures.

The first major rules revision (AD&D) included a second alignment axis: good/neutral/evil. Now a character could be, for example, chaotic good. It made more sense, but it still served no real purpose. Even worse, the rules stated that there were languages specific to each alignment, something that makes no sense whatsoever. And even now, alignment remains part of the D&D rules.

Alignment is not only unnecessary, it hampers proper role-playing by oversimplifying things. Characters should have real personalities, including goals, quirks, defects, etc. And their personalities should develop and change with time, reflecting their experiences. The goal should be to create characters (and creatures) that seem real, not that correspond to artificial labels.

Now let us discuss character classes. Originally there were three: Fighting-Men, Magic-Users, and Clerics. Rules supplements soon introduced new ones, starting with Paladins (a sub-class of Fighting-Men) and Thieves. More followed, including Monks, Assassins, and Druids. At the time, character classes were quite useful. (After all, role-playing games were a new concept for most people.) It simplified things for the players by providing restrictions and guidance.

As the rules were revised, the number of possible character classes increased, and the individual classes became more complex. Furthermore, characters could pursue multiple classes. And there were so-called Prestige Classes for high-level characters. The numbers of abilities, skills, and spells kept growing. It became, in short, a complete and utter mess. Creating a character became time-consuming, and gaming sessions required constant referrals to the rule books.

These days nearly everyone knows what role-playing games are. And that’s why my D&D campaign includes no character classes anymore. Instead, I (in conjunction with Jym Ramage) created a point-based system that allows each player to gradually shape their character. It’s a simplification that allows for tremendous flexibility, and it helps to make each character unique. I’ve been using the system for years as both a DM and as a player. My players never need to waste time looking things up in rule books, and neither do I. Their character sheets (and custom-printed spell lists, if appropriate) are all they need—aside from dice, of course. It makes D&D far more interesting and fun.

Now let’s look at some of the characters in my books. Gabriel is straightforward. He’s a do-gooder. He wears armor and fights with a sword and shield. In AD&D, he would be described as a Lawful Good Fighter. Saxloc, however, doesn’t really fit. He’s trying to be both a warrior and a spell-caster. And he can cast healing magic. He’s an amalgamation of portions of three separate D&D classes. Siljan and Hankin are similarly complex. Despite this, each one can be described using the spreadsheet I developed specifically for use with the system.

As should now be clear, adapting the various D&D characters in my campaign to characters in my books was straightforward. Part of Siljan’s character arc is that she becomes a cleric. But she didn’t start out that way. It was something that she elected to pursue later on, after already developing skills as a warrior and a spell-caster. She’s complex, and that makes her much more interesting.

In conclusion, alignment is something that has never made any sense, and character classes have simply become unnecessary complications. The games I run (and play in) are still recognizably D&D despite having far fewer rules. And they are great fun, which is what is really important.

In Part 9, I will discuss how martial arts fits into D&D and the role it plays in my books.

From D&D Campaign to Fantasy Novel – Part 7

The Earth completes one orbit of the Sun in 365.2425 days. The Moon completes one orbit of the Earth in 29.53 days. Since month is derived from moon, that means that there should be 12.37 months in a year. In reality, we only want to deal with integer numbers of days, which is why we have leap years and months with different lengths. That’s just how things are.

The fantasy world that contains Andoran’s Realm is different, because it is my creation. A year there consists of twelve months, each with thirty days. The moon is full on the first day of each month. Furthermore, the seasons are properly aligned. The first day of the year is the Winter solstice, and therefore the first day of Winter. The first day of the fourth month is the first day of Spring, and so on.

Right now you are probably thinking that the names of the seasons aren’t supposed to be capitalized. I made a conscious decision to capitalize them in my books, because it is more consistent. We capitalize the names of the months and the days of the week, so why not the seasons?

In Andoran’s Realm, the months don’t have names, and there are no weeks. A specific day would be referred to as something like “the twelfth day of the second month of Autumn”. Times during the day tend to be referred to vaguely, with terms like “mid-morning”, “late afternoon”, or “just after dusk”. I do, however, sometimes mention hours or minutes or seconds for time intervals, despite never having actually described how people measure time there.

What about other units of measure? For distances, I use inches, yards, and miles. (I made a deliberate decision to omit feet.) I can’t remember any specific reference to a weight, but I would probably use ounces and pounds. The Metric System is wonderful, but it’s completely out of place in a fantasy setting. I could also have made up all new units, but that can be confusing for readers.

What about money? In D&D, it’s all about precious metals. A copper piece is typically the lowest denomination, followed by silver, gold, and platinum pieces. And the ratios are simple: 10 copper = 1 silver, 10 silver = 1 gold, etc. My world deviates from this in making 1 gold piece the equivalent of 100 silver pieces. This makes gold more valuable, meaning that the average person rarely deals with gold pieces.

In Part 8, I will discuss how I adapted D&D concepts such as alignment and character classes.

From D&D Campaign to Fantasy Novel – Part 6

Religion has been part of Dungeons & Dragons from the very beginning. Clerics were one of the three original character classes. Each is sworn to a specific deity (or god), deriving special abilities as a result. Their magic focuses primarily on defense and healing, although they also have decent combat capabilities.

There probably have been D&D campaigns run with a single deity (monotheism), but it is far more common for there to be a pantheon. These deities might be specific to one race or region, or broadly worshipped. Each deity is typically associated with some specific thing or property, such as wisdom or storms. Most people will acknowledge all of the deities but have one particular one that they primarily worship.

My current D&D campaign utilizes a pantheon with names and associations taken from the Hindu religion. This includes the borrowed concept of Trimurti, meaning that there are three primary deities. They are Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer). As I have related before, I opted to change the names when I began writing the first book. The deities mentioned most often in the books are listed below.

  • Dukane — order and creation
  • Arwon — balance between order and chaos (aka preservation)
  • Karth — chaos and destruction
  • Lasrina — beauty and luck
  • Kyran — harvests and fertility

How does the average person in Andoran’s Realm worship their deity? In villages and small towns, they simply pray. In a larger place, there may be actual temples operated by clerics. This gives people a place to pay their respects, make donations, and seek help. Temples don’t hold regular worship services, but may have them on special occasions.

Two clerics appear as viewpoint characters starting with book two. Siljan lives and studies at a temple of Kyran, while Branwyn is an established priestess of Arwon in charge of her own temple. The two of them take very different approaches to their duties, even interacting with their deities in distinctly different manners.

In Part 7, I will discuss things like the calendar and monetary system used in Andoran’s Realm.