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 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”.

How realistic should a fantasy story be?

First, let’s distinguish between fantasy stories set in what is basically our own world, and those set in different worlds. A fantasy set in our world can leverage existing settings, cultures, languages, etc. This simplifies some aspects of the writing process, but can add complications, particularly if set in the modern era. But it’s the other type I want to discuss.

Tolkien’s Middle Earth is the iconic example of a fantasy set in a world that is distinctly different than ours, but still has many similarities. There are different races, different languages, strange monsters, and powerful magic, but the world itself looks much like our own in terms of the flora and fauna. The technology level is medieval, with castles and keeps and walled cities. It’s swords & sorcery, in modern terms. Many fantasy novels hew to this pattern, including my own.

It is certainly possible to write a fantasy set in a completely different world. The world can have a green sky, ten moons, and three suns. All of the animals and plants can be different. There can be unique races, each with differing language, titles, units of measure, religion, magic, culture, government, etc. But unless the author is incredibly talented, I can pretty much guarantee it will turn into a confusing mess for the reader. I know, because I’ve read both fantasy and science fiction novels that have taken things too far. The reader needs something to identify with, and they don’t want to be constantly having to look things up in appendices.

Dungeons & Dragons was heavily influenced by Tolkien, and my world was based off of my own D&D campaign. That provided the basis, and I made a deliberate decision to not make any drastic changes. Medieval fantasy worlds of that kind are traditional now. The familiar elements comfort the reader and make it easier for them to imagine what is being described. And the magic and fantastic creatures thrill them, or so the author hopes. It certainly seems to be working for George R.R. Martin.

In a future post, I may discuss the specific decisions I made, and some of the unintended consequences that resulted. Happy writing.

About my novel

My first novel is titled “Audrey of Farmerton”. It is a fantasy novel, but it is unusual for several reasons. It is based on a Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) campaign that I have been running since  autumn of 1979. This provides me with an enormous amount of material to draw upon, but it also means that a number of other people have contributed by creating and developing characters, some of whom are depicted in the novel. In writing it, I have frequently sought input as to whether I have properly portrayed their characters. So in a sense, Audrey of Farmerton is a collaborative effort, even though I am listed as the sole author.

My novel doesn’t seem to fit any of the traditional fantasy genres. It is the story of how a peasant girl named Audrey makes her way to a large city and struggles to find a life for herself there, but it’s not really a coming of age story. There is some fighting and heroics, but it’s not really a heroic fantasy. There is no noble quest to save the world or massive struggle between warring kingdoms, so it’s not an epic fantasy. There is some romance, but that’s only a portion of the story, so it’s not a romantic fantasy. Audrey of Farmerton is probably best characterized as a slice-of-life story or even a soap opera. There’s a great deal of people simply interacting and going about their lives, but in a fantasy setting with magic and monsters.

I am planning to publish my novel through Amazon as a Kindle ebook and then see what happens. I primarily wrote it for the enjoyment of myself and my friends, especially those who have actually played in my D&D campaign. The second book, which tells more of Audrey’s story is already well underway.