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.

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.

The unintended consequences of chapter titles

I’ve mentioned this before, but my first novel, Audrey of Farmerton, ended up with chapter titles that were single words, such as “Impossible” or “Determination”. Those titles were originally for the sole purpose of helping me to navigate such a long book, but the beta readers liked them so much that I left them in. That had both positive and negative consequences, as I will now relate.

Coming up with a single word to describe a chapter turned out to be tricky. Sometimes a chapter is just a group of chronological scenes that don’t really relate to one another. In some cases, I ended up moving scenes to different chapters or modifying them to make everything fit. It became an annoyance, and some of the titles still seem somewhat contrived. Furthermore, I was handicapped by not being able to reuse a title, because that would be confusing to readers.

When I started to write the second book of my series, The Witch’s City, I realized that I had no choice but to continue with the single word titles. I also decided that I would not duplicate any of the titles used in the first book, further constraining myself. Fortunately, the English language has synonyms for just about everything, and a huge number of words.

I now think that my odd choice has actually helped me to improve as a writer. Chapters are supposed to be somewhat separate entities, to have a theme of some sort. Selecting a chapter title helps to drive my writing process, giving me ideas. And coming up with an appropriate title for a group of scenes is an interesting challenge. I’m now writing the third book of the series, and it follows the same pattern. It’s a bit darker; the first chapter is entitled “Death”.

The Witch’s City is now available!

My second novel, The Witch’s City, is now available on Amazon for purchase as a digital book or free if you have Kindle Unlimited. This is the sequel to Audrey of Farmerton. I am hoping to complete the third book in the Andoran’s Realm series (tentative title Zardis Thieves’ Guild) within six months.

The Countdown Begins

In just one month, The Witch’s City (Book Two of Andoran’s Realm) will be available on Amazon. You can either purchase the ebook or read it for free if you have Kindle Unlimited. Or you can not read it all, which is what most people will probably do.

I know what you’re thinking: Is it necessary to read Book One first? No, but I would recommend it. There are a lot of characters. Book Two does includes an index of most of them, but that’s really not the same as reading the first book of the series. After all, Andoran’s Realm is a character-driven fantasy series—a slice-of-life series, if you will. If you’re looking for battles between huge armies and world-shaking events, then it may not be for you. On the other hand, it does have a snarky princess, a misguided half-elf, an exiled witch, and a frustrated half-demon. What more could you want?

Disclaimer: Andoran’s Realm is not associated with the principality of Andorra or the board game “Magic Realm”.

The Witch’s City is now available for preorder! Woohoo!

Yes, that’s right. The Witch’s City, the second book of the non-best-selling, non-award-winning, fantasy series Andoran’s Realm, by the non-famous author M. Gregg Roe, is now available for preorder on Amazon in ebook form. It will be published to no real acclaim on August 12, 2017. I should add that the first book of the series, Audrey of Farmerton, has not been optioned by Netflix, HBO, a major film studio, or a television network, no matter what you may have heard.

But seriously, The Witch’s City continues the adventures of Audrey, Saxloc, and many others both in the Witch’s City and at other locations within Andoran’s Realm. Will Audrey and Saxloc ever resolve their romantic issues? Will Gabriel continue to flee at the mere mention of romance? Will Almera ever stop meddling in her son’s life? Why is Siljan such a lousy poet? The answers to some of these questions might be in the book. Or not. Oh, and I think there’s some stuff about witches too.

Be one of the select few to preorder this non-groundbreaking work! Hurry, before Amazon runs out of bits or something.

Quantity vs. Quality

Is it better to produce a large number of mediocre books or a small number of well-written ones? The answer, surprisingly, depends primarily on the author’s goal. If the goal is money, then quantity is the way to go. Book series can entice people to continue to purchase an author’s works. It also helps to write in multiple genres and to target underserved genres. If, on the other hand, the goal is to be considered a great author, it’s probably better to prioritize quality and hope you get recognized.

One thing that had puzzled me was how some indie authors are able to be so prolific. I recently heard one brag that he had written an entire trilogy in twelve weeks. Was he lying? No, but he was being somewhat deceptive. It’s common practice for some authors to write a normal length book and then break it into several parts. They are either published simultaneously or in rapid succession, and each is touted as a separate book. The first “book” is generally either free or 99 cents, while the others are priced higher. This is a clever technique to generate more revenue. It also helps to explain the insane number of self-published books. The only real downside is the necessity of creating more covers.

After realizing this, I wondered if I should do something similar. I could pull Audrey of Farmerton, break it into three chunks, commission more covers, and then proudly publish it as a trilogy. And just like that, I’ve written three books instead of one! And I’ve nearly got three more done! Hurray! Before long I’ll be able to produce a single poorly-written “book” in less than a month!

Joking aside, I am not going to go down the quantity path. My goal isn’t to become rich off of writing. I want my books to be the best I can make them, and I want them to actually be books. That means a low production rate, but I’m fine with that.

How important is a book’s title?

The topic of this post is something that concerned me as I began to write my first novel. “Audrey of Farmerton” doesn’t exactly sound exciting, or make it clear that it’s a fantasy. (Adding a series title, “Book One of Andoran’s Realm” in this case, does help some in my opinion.) I tried to think of a better title, but failed miserably. People I asked about it kept telling me they liked the title. Eventually, I just gave up and went with it. After all, the main character is named Audrey, and she’s from a small village called Farmerton, so the title is, at least, not misleading. The second book will be called “The Witch’s City”, and that sounds more like a fantasy novel.

(“Farmerton” turned out to be fairly unique despite its obvious origin of “Farmer Town”. The only real place by that name that I could find is in Scotland. Unique is, of course, good when it comes to people searching for a book by its title.)

Some people are adamant that a book’s title be clear as to the subject matter. For example, Murder on the Orient Express makes it clear that it’s a murder mystery set on a train. But many fiction titles aren’t so clear. I doubt that when Moby Dick was published, if any of its initial readers knew what is was about. Rebecca is a classic work of literature, but the title doesn’t really tell you anything. And, despite the title, To Kill a Mockingbird is not a guide to how to hunt mockingbirds.

The point I am trying to make is that the title doesn’t always have to be transparent. On the other hand, given the shear number of books now being self-published, it can certainly be argued that the title should be informative, because prospective readers may not even take the time to do more than read the title and glance at the cover (which may only be a small thumbnail image). This is especially important for beginning authors as they struggle to get noticed and build a following.