This week I’ve been talking to authors about ttrpgs and great books. Many authors play and I’ve loved learning more about why. Today I’m sharing a conversation between authors Jonathan Nevair and Rowena Andrews.
*Goblins have been evicted*
Rowena: Hello! How are you doing this afternoon?
Jonathan: Great now that I am back from Philly, lol – thanks for moving back the meeting. Do we need to roll initiative? (lol)
Rowena: We could – but I usually roll really bad initiative so I think it’s an auto-win on your side
Jonathan: Ha! OK, well thanks for being flexible. I am ready to talk writing/D&D!
Rowena: Awesome, and thank you for agreeing to this and technically being my guinea pig as this is my first author interview/chat.
Jonathan: For real? I would have thought you’d done them before. I feel special. 🙂
Rowena: Yep, I was too new before to brave doing one. But, D&D is always great to talk about and you were my first thought when Jodie approached me to help out with the series.
Jonathan: It’s funny because I had already come across moments of “crossover” – usually how writing fiction novels has helped my D&D, especially as a DM.
Rowena: Is that in terms of worldbuilding? Or building the narrative in general?
Jonathan: Both. For one, after learning more about story building and narrative structures I definitely began to build things in a D&D campaign when I was the Dungeon Master. I became aware of how much more exciting and invested I could get players to be in an adventure when I put in plot points (the typical ones like the hook, inciting incident, pinch points, etc.) – and thinking about some classic character tropes and using them to create roles for NPCs that went beyond just being something to fight or an obstacle.
And definitely with worldbuilding too – thinking about multisensory descriptions when describing settings in a campaign – I have this informal “rule” to comb through each written chapter in a book I write and ensure there are at least two of the five (six? lol) senses in every scene – if possible. That got me thinking about my verbal descriptions of settings as a DM. And I could really see the way players came to life in terms of immersion.
Rowena: That’s really interesting – especially about the sensory details. It’s certainly something I like to come across in D&D (although I think we’re driving our DM up the wall asking if we can smell things at the moment in one group – as two of us have enhanced senses of smell due to becoming werebears). Do you find yourself, having to adjust the level of details? I know when I DM I have to try and keep things flexible because players will go off the beaten path – whereas obviously, characters in a book are a little more obedient.
Jonathan: Oh definitely – I totally get what you are saying. You need to be so careful when you are the DM – it’s so funny, isn’t it? You will mention something in passing that is basically irrelevant and then the party is fixated and convinced it is a vital aspect of the quest! It can be very funny, and then there is the way I used to be more of an “on the rails” DM and would have to figure out how to steer them back in the trajectory I wanted them to go, but over my time playing I have definitely become more of a sandboxer. But yes, it’s easier to control those things in fiction, right? But I do think that pacing is relevant here – in both writing and D&D. Don’t you?
Rowena: Absolutely. Although much harder to control again in D&D – although I have found that for things like fight scenes, for example, using D&D esque timing can help work out the beats.
Jonathan: Oh that is interesting. I can see how that would work for sure. I think for me to there is a way that some moments are like “catching your breath” in chapters and scenes and then others rush forward because you have the foundation of the world/space/setting to go on, then another new place and the cycles continues (and they get to short or long rest lol). But I do think of writing scenes and chapters like that – like an ebb and flow, a wave crashing in and then retreating to give players and readers time to catch their breath and experience what just happened and how it relates to what will come next. Does that make sense?
Rowena: Yes, especially with the emotional moments and close calls. (Also I love the idea of those moments being short and long rests, as well as the ebb and flow). It’s also those moments where you can play with some of the details that aren’t necessarily relevant to the plot, but just to live in the world.
Jonathan: TOTALLY! Those are some of the best moments where the PCs can RP and be able to perform their personalities, quirks, habits. As a player I love that – it might even be more exciting for me than the melee, etc. By the way, speaking of plot points and ebb and flow – I did something at the end of Forge of Fury recently as DM that was an example of one of those literary plot points – the resolution. I think for a while I was “ending” campaigns right after the Boss fight, like “OK you did, and we’re done.” And then I realized that in fiction writing and narrative you need closure, that moment to exhale and be able to have the character and NPCs demonstrate what they have learned from their adventure and experiences. What I did (this is really funny) is, I had just re-watched Star Wars Ep. 4 for the millionth time and that last scene when they are given the medals… I had the party return to a village near the Forge after completing their tasks and the villagers had a celebration waiting and had the town wizard erect a monument in the town square with their figures lol!!! They arrived to trumpets and pomp and they freaking LOVED it! They still bring it up – I realized that was a great crossover that really helped round out the campaign.
Rowena: That sounds amazing!! I’ve not actually reached the end of a campaign yet, but I would definitely want an ending like that. I love that it was inspired by Star Wars too. And, I agree that it is tempting to end it after the boss fight, but that quiet moment at the end (or trumpet filled) is so important.
Jonathan: Yes, and it can even be quieter, like the four hobbits at the Green Dragon raising a pint after it’s all over… that kinda thing.
Rowena: That scene is perfect.
Jonathan: You know I am a huge fan lol. The interesting thing is as a science fiction writer, as opposed to a fantasy writer, the “crossovers” are a bit different – more abstract in certain ways since it is a different kind of world from D&D – sure other RPGs are scifi, etc. but I only play D&D and it’s interesting, but one way D&D has helped me is, when I DM I keep a post-it note above my computer that says “What is your PC doing?” and it reminds me to make sure all players are engaged and remaining active – and I kept it there when I wrote Jati’s Wager (which has a large cast of characters on a heist team) – kinda like a D&D party, and it really helped me to “not forget” about some of them but be sure to mention (even if just in passing) what they are doing while others are in the narrative spotlight.
Rowena: Oh, that is an excellent idea. I know in bigger groups that can be an issue, but I hadn’t thought about how that then applies to characters.
Jonathan: I can’t remember if my friend, Steve, who plays in my group – or Matt Coville, recommended that (I really like his videos btw).
Rowena: I need to check his stuff out. I’ve actually just read the first of his books recently.
Jonathan: Oh wow, I didn’t know he had books out. He is a very engaged (fast talking!) tuber for sure!
Rowena: I need to look that up. I watch far too many D&D videos.
Jonathan: And buy too many dice. 🙂
Rowena: There is no such thing!
You know there’s also the “other” side too – and I have not thought about it before, but the whole “being a bad DM” or “bad PC” in some way and what those traits and actions are – but there is probably a lot to learn there about storytelling too. Like, not hogging the story, avoiding being a hobo – like how you might have gratuitous violence in a book that doesn’t have much of a purpose – no one should ever experience violence or combat unless it is absolutely necessary and no other option is left (at least in my stories) – I like the idea of thinking about how morality can fit into D&D with alignments. I’ve gotten pretty into sticking to RP’ing my PCs based on alignment. It’s a fun way to put restrictions on yourself “in-game” and really does match some of the ways I might say “well so-and-so” in this book would never do that so they can’t…. Does that make sense?
Rowena: Yes, it does. It’s interesting because none of my campaigns are particularly strict about the alignments – I tend to use them loosely, but I wouldn’t as a rule go out of my way to break them either (I tend towards chaotic – in D&D and in life). But, I like your idea about how ‘being a bad DM / PC’ could relate more generally into storytelling, and I very much agree that violence should only be when absolutely necessary.
Jonathan: Chaotic good is my favorite alignment lol. There’s a really cool website I found with lengthy descriptions of each of them that I ate up – got me super into it. Just a few weeks ago my current PC, Lutharian, a High Elf fighter/druid – made a bold move attacking a drow that had threatened her – the DM was shocked and actually asked me – “what is your alignment?” Because it didn’t seem to fit, but the chaotic was in there lol… but also – and this brings up something I think is a really cool crossover – there is backstory! In both D&D PCs and in worldbuilding in fiction. I am HUGE on writing back histories of my PCs in D&D. My friend Steve encourages this and it is so cool – because by doing it I built up a past where Lutharian had fought in two wars with the dwarves, one against the Drow, where they had killed her leader. She had a history of pain and anger against them and so it made sense for her to seek violent retribution like that – very cool moment. And I think about how much backstory you write for a novel right? Like I wrote pages and pages of events and history in the Wind Tide Universe from the First and Second Spans (the ages in that world) and also about events and cultures “outside” the story’s frame in the book. But you need it and then you can cherry-pick from it when needed and it really helps justify people’s attitudes, behaviors, fears, hatreds, etc. Do you write backstory for PCs? Or for your books?
Rowena: Firstly, I love how you included that for your character – and those moments where PCs act on something that not everyone in the party might know are fantastic, and usually great for the party as a whole – whether they go well or not. I do write backstories – I’ve been a little light with my PCs – one didn’t have a lot of memory due to ending up in the Feywilds as a child, so my DM has gone wild with that one – which is interesting in a different way. But, for my book, I have documents full of historical events between the two main countries, and then individually, and files on all the characters with notes on random interactions that I might never use but feed into them.
It really is so helpful. I never thought about how much crossover there is but it’s a lot.
Do you think playing/DMing D&D (and I’m assuming you played before you became a writer – correct me if I’m wrong) was one of the reasons for getting into storytelling and becoming a writer?
Jonathan: Hmm.. well, I played when I was younger, but that was back when 1st/2nd edition was out. Yes, I am THAT old!!!! But then I stopped by my mid-teens and only started again during COVID. So really writing came before D&D for me. I worked with someone at Moore College who is a Game arts Professor and we have become friends. He was hounding me for years to get back into D&D, and it wasn’t until COVID that I did. So writing first, then D&D. BUT – I will say that my desire to DM is definitely driven and inspired by being a writer and storyteller – 100%!
Rowena: That’s interesting! I really want to get some of the books for the older editions because I’m curious to see how much they’ve changed. I was the same way round – writing before D&D – but I’ve moved more into the writing since playing.
Jonathan: OMG some of those old books bring back such a flood of memories – someone posted a picture on Twitter recently of Fiend Folio and I was hit by such a rush of images from my early teens – you should check them out online. So different from what is coming out today with WoTC. The other thing is obviously we played in-person back then, at a table with the classic multi-page folded DM screen (LOVED THOSE!!!) and dice (your favorite lol) and we had figures we’d bought and painted, made drawings of our PCs, and had those classic character sheets. I do miss that because now I play on Roll 20 with people who are both nearby and far away. I really like aspects of Roll 20 a lot but I do miss the “brick and mortar” game. I know you play with Peter (another blogger/reviewer) – do you play in person or online?
Rowena: Online. Both my groups are online, but even if we didn’t have Covid it would be online because of distance. In my Sunday group, we have players across the UK and one in the Netherlands, so weekly games would be a problem. Although once we can travel more easily, we’re planning a weekend in the highlands to play in person for the first time. And the same for the group I’m in with Peter, a couple of the guys live close to one another, but the rest of us are scattered.
Jonathan: Highlands + D&D = perfection.
Rowena: It does. I think we plan to try and get minis made as well if only for that weekend.
Jonathan: Do you have a favorite class?
Rowena: Cleric is fast becoming my favourite, although boy is it stressful when multiple people are going down and you only have limited spell slots. I’m also a fan of Wild-Magic Sorcerer just because I love being an agent of chaos. What about you?
Jonathan: That is funny because as you were typing about the Cleric I knew you were going to say that! For me? I tend to be drawn to characters that have an ability to mix elements of combat/magic. I REALLY enjoyed playing a bard not too long ago. I know it gets a bad go of it from some folks, but I loved the RP potential of it. Probably the bard or maybe something in the tank area. I am playing a fighter/druid and really like that – I am BIG of Fey elements too.
Rowena: Bards are great (Peter played one in a recent two-shot we did and I know he really enjoyed it – he’s a Barbarian in our main campaign). I like the blend of magic/combat too, which Clerics are okay at. What about the different races? Do you have a favourite?
Jonathan: I definitely lean to elves, halflings, gnomes. What can I say, I am a forest child lol. 🙂
You? (I play with someone who always is like a Tiefling, or something like that – satyr, it’s interesting how our personalities point us to things).
Rowena: Tieflings are one of my favourites. My first character Niamh is a tiefling, and I will always have a soft spot for her for so many reasons (also I like having the horns and tail – not sure what that says about me). I also really like Dragonborn which is what my Cleric is. I’m also a huge fan of humans – just because it’s sometimes nice to have that point of normality amongst the chaos that is D&D (although not having darkvision sucks – this is a downside to Dragonborn as well)
Jonathan: My brother is playing a Dragorn monk in our current campaign and it is such as badass. We have gone from level 1 to level 14 now and it’s just out of control what he can do… We are hoping to take these characters all the way to 20. None of us have ever done that. OK – so since you named your favorite I will give you mine: Rumpletum Evergreen (aka “Rum Tum”) – a forest gnome bard. I chose to have him only speak in rhyme – which was INSANE and so much fun for about 5 sessions – and then I was struggling! So I had him “lose” his ability to rhyme lol and then it came back after their triumphant victory over the big bad at the end of the second campaign lol. So much fun to play such a small physical character with such big charisma and performative presence – there was a little bit of Tasslehof in him! (from Dragons of Autumn Twilight).
Rowena: Oh my god, that would have been amazing to witness – but I don’t blame you for ‘losing’ the rhyming ability. I loved Tasslehof. I did a read-along of the first book with Peter this year – my first time reading it – and we’re going to review it…at some point. Level 20 characters are insane – you think a level 14 monk is bad, wait until level 20. We did a Battle Royale recently with Level 20 characters – and there’s just so many abilities that they have!
Jonathan: I can’t even imagine!
Rowena: Did you say you were going to be playing a Paladin soon as well?
Jonathan: Oh yes – I am very excited. I already built him – backstory and all. He’s ready to go. “Trusty Jack” is his name and he will be an Oath of Vengeance Paladin. I am very excited, as I have never played one before. I’ve been working on my RP voice and personality while on walks with my dog lol (hope no one is out there listening to me lol). I am going for bold, loud, and just slightly overbearing with him. I’m very excited because like the bard there is that mix of combat/magic and I’m also interested in the way the oath brings in that element of alignment/morality we talked about. One thing that my friend Steve has really taught me is to embrace character flaws in D&D, whether they are ability score based or just personality – and I love it. I used to think of it as a “deficiency” but now I realize it makes a PC all the more real but also more interesting to RP. So much fun and I need to read the new book that came out, Paladin Unbound!
Rowena: Yes! It’s a great book. I really want to play a Paladin at some point, not sure what Oath I would go for though – although vengeance is very interesting. Character flaws are so much fun to play with too.
Jonathan: We have a dwarf paladin in our current party who has a Dex problem, lol – he has fallen down SO many things and tripped and exposed us during stealth so many times it is fantastic!
Rowena: My sorcerer is weak as hell, so anything that requires strength is just doomed to failure. Our group is now called ‘The Fellowship of the Glowing Potato’ because she tried to throw it into a cave to light the way, rolled a Nat 1 and instead hit the Ranger in her one good eye. I have never lived it down.
Jonathan: OMG that is what makes D&D so amazing. That is hilariously awesome.
Do you think we have enough content?
Rowena: Absolutely – and I think it’s almost as chaotic as D&D. And you’ve brought up some fantastic points about the crossovers (I may be making notes from this as I plunge back into editing shortly).
Jonathan: I never have a chance to talk D&D this in-depth. It is so much fun! Even just sharing our PCs, etc. 🙂
Rowena: I agree, although always feel free to shout at me on Twitter about anything D&D related!
Jonathan: I will! If you need to do any follow up for this lemme know! Thanks for asking me this was SUPER fun!!! And guess what? Tonight is my D&D night!!!!
Rowena: You are very welcome, thank you for taking the time to come and chat. And that is awesome! D&D nights are the best nights of the week.
So, I guess just as a final wrap up. Obviously, you have Jati’s Wager coming out next month (and I still can’t get over that cover!!) and then what does the future hold for you writing wise?
(D&D will always be chaos)
Jonathan: I know, that cover right? I love it. So, Wind Tide is a series, and as of now, a trilogy. The third book will release on Nov. 18th. Title: No Song, But Silence So that is my immediate writing future plans. Once that book releases I intend to write a stand-alone novel. Not entirely sure yet what it will be but I have been getting pulled to the lure of cyberpunk lately. I think because the Wind Tide universe is very “natural” in many ways in its settings I am feeling ready for some tech-based settings and stories – plus I love the aesthetics of cyberpunk. But we will see – I am writing No Song, But Silence now!
Rowena: I love that title!! And can’t wait to pick up the rest of Wind Tide. Cyberpunk is fantastic, the aesthetics are a lot of fun and if you go that road I can’t wait to see what you come up with!!
Jonathan: Thanks! I can’t wait for your novella which will be out about the same time! Wahoo!
Rowena: It will. I’m still in slight disbelief that I’m actually doing it lol.
Jonathan: Well, I can’t wait to read it. OK – I will sign off (Cricket wants a walk so I guess I get to practice my “Trusty Jack” voice lol). Talk to you soon!
Rowena: Thanks again, and may the dice be kind to you tonight. Talk to you soon!
About Jonathan Nevair:
Jonathan Nevair is a science fiction writer and, as Dr. Jonathan Wallis, an art historian and Professor of Art History at Moore College of Art & Design, Philadelphia. After two decades of academic teaching and publishing, he finally got up the nerve to write fiction. Jonathan grew up on Long Island, NY but now resides in southeast Pennsylvania with his wife and rambunctious mountain feist, Cricket.
Jati’s Wager (Wind Tide #2)
Published: August 18, 2021
About Rowena Andrews:
Rowena Andrews spent her childhood searching for Dragons and talking to animals and started turning that into words when she was bored in class. She wrote her first book at fourteen and while it lives forever in the bottom of the sock drawer, the encouragement from her English Teacher meant the writing bug took hold and never went away.
Rowena has a BSc in Geography and a PG Diploma in Coastal and Maritime Societies and Cultures. She moved to Scotland for University, fell in love with the place and never left, and now lives and works on the east Fife coast.
When she’s not writing or reading, she’s hoarding dice and playing Dungeons & Dragons, and submitting to the whims of a demanding cat and dog duo.
Fate belongs to the Gods. They Weave it. Sing it. Harvest it.
Ravyn was born between life and death, free of the weave of fate. She dreams of distant places and grand deeds far from the eyes of the Gods that she refuses to believe in.
Eleyn is thrice-sworn to the Gods, marked for death and cursed with the knowledge that the Gods are stirring and what that will mean for the world she will leave behind. Unless she can change things, and that means twisting the weave of fate.
But fate is a dangerous thing, especially when it is stolen from the Gods.
Published: 30th November, 2021
Preorder Link: mybook.to/TheRavynsWords