Magic Needs Rules

The inclusion of magic is what leads to a work of fiction being characterized as fantasy, as opposed to some other genre. I am, of course, not referring to stage magic, which is simply trickery, but to something that is completely unscientific. It’s also worth noting that many fantasy stories cross over into other genres, such as mystery or romance.

When an author sets about writing a fantasy novel, they need to decide exactly how magic works in the world they are creating. That’s even true of urban fantasy stories, which take place in something closely modeled on our own world. There are a lot of decisions to make, and they are important. Fantasy readers are willing to accept the possibility of magic, but they expect it to behave consistently. If the rules of magic keep changing, then readers will be taken out of the story.

The first thing that needs to be decided is how many types of magic there are. A single type makes things easier for the author, but multiple types can make for a more interesting world. It really doesn’t matter how many types there are as long as they are well-defined and comprehensible to the reader.

Having come up with a type of magic, the next thing is to decide who can use it. Does it require an inherited ability? Does it require training? If someone casts a spell, does it require gestures? Is an incantation necessary, and how lengthy is it? What about physical aids, such as a wand? Or maybe some type of material component is necessary? How much magic can someone use in a short period of time before it runs out? There has to be some kind of limitation. All of these issues needs to be worked out in advance and then used consistently.

I think that one of the most important facets of magic in fantasy is how common it is. A world where everyone can employ some type of magic is very different from one where only a few unique individuals possess magical abilities. It’s also important to consider how common magical items and magical creatures are.

For me, the inclusion of magic is what makes writing fantasy so much fun. But I also take it seriously. I strive to be consistent in how magic is portrayed. Andoran’s Realm has spell-casters, alchemists, and witches, and they all come about their abilities in different ways. Furthermore, spell-casters have specialities that they concentrate on, such as fire magic. It all combines to make things more varied and hopefully more interesting to my readers. Or so I hope. 🙂

How Not to Write a Book

From what I can tell, I don’t write books the way that most authors do. At no point during the writing process do I ever have a detailed outline of the book. I write scenes, but haphazardly as ideas come to me instead of in a linear fashion. When I have enough of them, I start assembling the book like it’s some kind of giant puzzle. I group scenes into chapters. I toss some scenes and rewrite others. As gaps appear, I write new scenes to bridge them. Eventually something resembling an actual novel begins to emerge.

When I began to write the fourth book of the series, I really thought that I might be able to change things. This book incorporates a D&D adventure early on, basically gifting me an outline of the first portion of the book. And unlike the other three, I really didn’t know where it was headed. But before I knew it, I started getting ideas. Now I’m jumping back and forth between scenes early in the book and those toward the end. Eventually I’ll figure out what goes in the middle.

Now I’m simply resigned. That’s the way I write, and it’s apparently not going to change anytime soon.

It’s a Fantasy Trilogy!

Actually, I’ve already started on the fourth book. But it will be a trilogy for at least a few months. The Guild War (Book Three of Andoran’s Realm), is now available for preorder on Amazon, with a publication date of March 12, 2018.

Like the first two books, this one is based off of my long-running Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Excitement! Adventure! Romance! Intrigue! Intricate business plans! And there’s a dragon on the cover!

How can you resist? Preorder it now! (And buy the first two, if you haven’t already.) And if you like one or more of them, why not leave an honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads?

From D&D Campaign to Fantasy Novel – Part 10

I will conclude this series of posts by mentioning some miscellaneous things I had to think about when converting my D&D campaign into a series of fantasy novels.

In Andoran’s Realm, there is really only one language spoken. (When Audrey does hear people speaking an unknown language, it turns out that they are originally from outside Andoran’s Realm.) This is a departure from D&D, where every race has their own language. For me, it was a deliberate choice. Multiple languages can be hard to convey, and can complicate storytelling.

When Audrey moves to the Witch’s City in the first book, she finds herself living in a huge mansion that sits on a large plot of land. Realistically, a place like that would probably have a dozen or more live-in servants. That would have horribly complicated things, so I decided that there is simply a cleaning and gardening service that shows up three times a month. That allowed me to focus on Audrey’s interactions with the people that actually live there—Saxloc and his parents.

The mansion is modern in some ways. It has hot and cold running water as well as what we would call indoor flush toilets. The hot water is also used for heating when necessary. Instead of using candles at night, the people living there use alchemic light sources known as glow-cubes. And it gets weirder. The mansion has both magical defenses and a surveillance system that can track people’s locations. It’s basically a world unto itself, and I had a lot of fun creating it.

Another oddity about the Witch’s City is that the local thieves’ guild has been legalized. Now part of a business called Novox, they sell insurance against theft, with part of the money going to the government. Those without insurance can be legally robbed by licensed thieves. Unlicensed thieves are tracked down by both the city guard and Novox.

In my books, I never mention anyone getting sunburned. I also never mention a female character’s menstrual cycle. This is deliberate. The books take place on an imaginary world where there is magic and gods are real. And it’s my creation. I’ve simply decided that sunburn isn’t a problem there, and that women’s bodies produce ova on demand, not on a set schedule.

My love of Japan sometimes shows in my books. The mansion has a pond full of colorful fish—in other words, a koi pond. Rice is a common foodstuff, and rice wine is a popular alcoholic drink.

This concludes this particular series of posts for the time being. I hope that you’ve enjoyed them and have also enjoyed my books.

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.

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.