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 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.

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.

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.

Word Count

When I first began to write Audrey of Farmerton, I was concerned if I could even write enough for a novel. I did some research and discovered that the threshold is considered to be about 90,000 words. It’s not an absolute. There are famous novels much shorter, and many that are far longer. In addition, I discovered that fantasy and science fiction novels tend to be longer because they require a great deal of world-building.

In the end, my worries about word count were groundless. The first draft was just over 160,000 words. The revised draft came in at 168,000 words despite ending at a much earlier point than I had originally envisioned. When book two is finished, what I had initially planned for book one will certainly exceed 300,000 words.

The more I write, the easier it becomes. Writing two or three thousand words in a day is now common for me, although there are still days where I struggle to write anything. When that happens, I usually do something else or review what I have already written.

Creating the story

Audrey of Farmerton (Book One of Andoran’s Realm) was not plotted the way that most novels probably are. I came up with the basic idea of how to begin the novel, but I also needed to work toward events that had already occurred in adventures that involved Audrey. I took a few liberties, but I primarily worked within those constraints. This proved to be a challenge.

Farmerton itself barely existed when I began to write. It consisted only of Audrey, her parents, and the mayor. I gave Audrey a best friend and some additional relatives. The mayor gained a daughter who became a minor character. This helped to make Farmerton seem like more of a real place, but also complicated the return trips there later in the novel.

The biggest challenge by far was detailing how Audrey went from being an uninvited guest in Saxloc’s home to his adventuring companion and romantic interest. Here again, I was constrained by specific events that needed to occur. On the other hand, many of the people that Audrey ended up interacting with already existed, and it was simply necessary to work them into the story. And the Witch’s City was already well established including a map and numerous details. It was definitely a challenge, but it was an enjoyable one.

As I crafted the story, I found myself adding additional characters, some of whom developed their own story arcs within the novel. Many minor existing characters developed more detailed personalities, as well as mannerisms and quirks. Audrey herself changed, developing a drinking problem and anger issues.

The  story underwent major revisions following some critical feedback.That resulted in a much-improved novel that ended at a much earlier point. The material removed from the end will now be in Book Two of Andoran’s Realm.