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.

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.

Is Traditional Publishing Dying?

Please excuse the clickbait title, but this is a serious issue. Entire industries have been created, transformed, or destroyed by changes in technology. Media companies in particular have been severely affected as physical forms of media give way to digital forms. Resistance to change is natural, but ultimately counter-productive. It is the companies that adapt and evolve that will continue to prosper.

“Traditional book publishers refuse to acknowledge that they no longer control what people read.”

This statement paraphrases one that I heard during an indie author podcast, and it rings true. We are no longer limited to books produced by traditional publishers. Or to what a bookstore or library decides is worth stocking. Bestseller lists have become all but meaningless. Most book shopping is now online, and digital books have become dominant.

In the past, self-publishing a book was both difficult and expensive. Few people attempted it, and most ended up with cartons full of unsold books. Now, self-publishing is both simple and inexpensive. It’s so easy that many people can do it with little or no outside assistance. These days, anyone can publish nearly anything. Indie authors now churn out huge numbers of new books each year—far more than are produced by traditional publishers.

I know what you’re thinking. Most of what indie authors produce is badly-written crap. I agree. But some of it is of excellent quality. Furthermore, traditionals aren’t immune to this problem. They continue to sign authors whose books go nowhere. Established authors often produce lousy books, especially if they are being pressured by their publisher to meet deadlines. As further evidence, consider that even today 70% of physical books end up being trashed—remaindered, in bookstore parlance. From what I can tell, publishers are no better at identifying talent today than they were in the past. The smart ones, in fact, now look for successful indie authors to sign.

The truth is that many of the services that publishers offer authors are now readily available for purchase. You can hire someone to proofread or to edit. You can find artists that specialize in book covers. You can find people to do marketing and promotion. It’s obviously not as good as getting an advance for writing a book and then having other people deal with all those things, but it’s also not exactly easy to find a publisher willing to sign you. Or who won’t abandon you if your first book bombs.

Another sign of impending doom are the insane ebook prices that many traditional publishers set. These prices are frequently higher than the paper version. It’s an attempt to prop up their dying print business, and a very foolish one. What they are actually doing is helping the indie authors. Someone upset with the ebook price of the latest Dan Brown thriller may simply start looking for authors who write similar books. And in all likelihood they will find at least one indie author whose books are sufficiently interesting, as well as being much less expensive.

As a final proof, I offer another statistic: Roughly 80% of the authors who have risen to prominence in the last five years have been indie authors. In other words, indie authors are taking over the market. Readers are finding far more indie works they like than traditionally-published ones.

A deal with a traditional publisher remains the ultimate goal for many authors, and there is nothing wrong with that. There will always be some traditional publishers, as well as other options such as crowd-funded publishing. And new forms will likely emerge. It’s a new publishing world now, and an exciting one.