I was joined by several excellent authors, to talk about any possible connections between great fantasy writing and table top roleplaying games. I’ve gathered the posts here, so you can easily find any that you may have missed.
I’ve been exploring the connection between table top roleplaying games and great authors all week. Today I’m excited to chat a little with Thomas Howard Riley, author of We Break Immortals.
Thanks for talking with me!
Will you tell me a little bit about your book?
Of course, and thank you for having me on your site to chat.
My upcoming book is titled WE BREAK IMMORTALS.
It is full of swordplay, terrifying magick duels, mysteries, sex, riddles, kings, prophecies, battles, quests, murderers, and, of course, superhuman serial killer cult leaders. It explores themes of obsession, longing, self-reflection, vengeance, corruption, terror, loss, the bonds of friendship, the feeling of being outcast, and how even people who have no family of their own are able to find one among the people they meet.
It is an epic fantasy adventure, but one that threads the needle between what is usually considered High Fantasy and Grimdark Fantasy, what I prefer to call Rated-R Epic Fantasy. It is an adult fantasy, which does include things like graphic violence, sex, and drug use.
It is an expansive world, where people who are able to use magick are hated and feared, hunted and burned. Unless they are one of the select few who can buy or bargain their way into celebrity…or…the become powerful enough that no one can stop them.
My world has an expansive magic-system, however, the thing that defines this world is the magick-undoing system. The methods of stopping magick and those who use it is as in-depth and rule-based as the magick itself. More so even. To keep magick-users in check, and hunt them down when they go rogue, kingdoms employ Render Tracers, professionals who have accumulated secrets and loopholes that can stop magick and track those who use it.
The story includes multiple points of view, each character quite different from one another. It took a lot to juggle so many large personalities.
How about your history with ttrpgs? When did you first start playing, and what drew you to it?
I was drawn to it originally by two things. Firstly, most of my earliest reading was fantasy (and also sci fi, but mostly fantasy). I read every Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms novel written through at least 1995. And the local hobby store sold gaming modules for these series, including ones specific to the very books I had been reading. I still have some of them. It allowed me to insert myself into the stories that I loved to read, and to affect the outcome. It was awesome.
Secondly, it was a way to play knights and soldiers and wizards with your friends, but with rules to back it up. So there would be no more of the “you can’t beat my guy because he has more powers”, or “your knight didn’t kill my archer because he’s too fast,” etc. that always happened when we were little kids.
RPGs provided a structure, so that we would know for sure whether the knight beat the archer, or the wizard’s powers were enough to stop whatever-it-was. It made everything fair. We did not have to argue; the dice decided. It was up to us to know our characters so that we could make the right choices of how to target those dice, to maximize our chances of success. It was like playing toy soldiers and craps at the same time. It felt badass.
Eventually I played virtually everything that was around at the time: D&D of every variety, Warhammer 40k, Battletech, Space Fleet, Blood Bowl, etc.
I love that books were your gateway into gaming, so to speak! Did ttrps influence your desire to write at all?
I definitely feel its influence there. Being part of a ttrpg (back then we just called them rpgs because there was no option other than tabletop at that time) was like training wheels for storytelling. I not only had the opportunity to watch the GM weave a tale together while accommodating 10+ people with their own motives, but as a player-character I was able to participate in that storytelling, sometimes creating epic character arcs worthy of their own books. And when I did decide to pursue writing books, I was able to come to it with that experience. So it not only inspired me to storytelling, it also taught me some useful tools for it.
One of the key things I feel playing RPGs cultivated within me was the ability to wrangle multiple characters with different plans, hopes, motivations, and decisions. Seeing that different players did not always get along when on the same quests, or would get annoyed with each other, or would go on to betray each other, really helped guide me when creating my own characters, so that I pay great attention to make sure they are each their own person, with their own dreams, and their own way of doing things, and that their goals may not always align with one another.
I also am forever blessed/cursed with a love of crews, teams, clans, squads. I do write characters by themselves if the scene absolutely demands it, but I much prefer when characters bounce dialogue and actions off one another in a group. Even though I write multiple POVs in my own books, I tend to give each individual POV their own crew to belong to.
The best RPG I was ever a part of was run by, and in a world created by, a very good old sword-fighting friend of mine. (I used to sword-fight as well by the way. And no, I do NOT mean fencing. This was a very different thing). His name is Richard Marsden, who is incidentally also the founder of the Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship, a HEMA organization that teaches sword-fighting techniques for heavy rapiers, sabers, and longswords (and who writes his own SF books actually – you can check out his humorous Traveling Tyrant SF series, or his acclaimed swordsmanship books Historical European Martial Arts In Context or The Polish Saber).
This was the longest running individual adventure I ever participated in, lasting well over a year, played on hazy afternoons in a smoke-filled alcohol-fueled garage. And from it I gained two things that jump out at me right away, one general and one very specific.
The general thing, was I learned that not everything ended neatly, and that emotions would rear their head, that things would get messy, and that adventures sometimes ended in tragedy. I learned there was a balance of humor and seriousness, of triumph and tragedy, that was real, and if I could walk that line, my story could be incredible.
This was a funny bunch of people, myself included (I have been told that I am, as they say, a real card). And we laughed a lot. But we were also serious. This game saw some of us start wars, or preside over atrocities, caused the downfall of thriving civilizations, ruined environments, and burned down religions. This game included player-characters betraying one another, and at some points even killing each other (literally taking them out of the game permanently). It included a player-character suicide in-game. This was not a G-rated dalliance. It was both heavy and light. But when it was heavy, it was very heavy.
The specific thing is one particular set battle, a siege really, of a vast city that our characters needed to get inside to stop something that powerful priests were doing. It included player-character in-fighting, murder, ingenuity, betrayal, and redemption. And the way I have plotted my own series, Advent Lumina, I have set it up so that particular part of our rpg, played decades ago around a card table in an empty two-car garage, will one day be immortalized in my books (obviously modified to fit within my own story framework, world, and characters, but you get the idea).
That feels like a lot more than you asked for. But I have never been known for my brevity.
In short, participating in rpgs gave me both inspiration and preparation for writing the kind of stories I wanted to write.
I think brevity is overrated. I love that you mention the love of teams/ squads. I myself prefer books with multiple characters that play off each other as I think it allows for a more natural way for characters to develop. But that’s just my personal preference.
I’m seeing some similarities between DMing and writing. What are some differences?
The key difference is control. Running a game as DM calls for a certain amount of control (one has to wrangle recalcitrant players generally down the path you have prepared for them after all) But the control ends where the players begin. They can make their own choices, and affect the story in their own ways. All you can hope to do is loosely shove them along in the right direction. This is part of the fun, seeing which way things will go, and what unexpected reactions will pop up as you go.
When writing, you have total control. You are the DM and the players. You are responsible for every aspect of the story. This is at once amazing and nerve-wracking. You have sole control, but also sole responsibility if anything goes wrong, if the story doesn’t not work right, if the characters don’t mesh, and so on.
That does not mean that you cannot still be surprised by your own story. No matter how much I plan out ahead, new themes and ideas and character motives and epiphanies may leap out of the background and make the story better. But even this surprise comes from the writer’s subconscious. There is no outside input, just your own ideas bouncing around in your head.
Another difference is the kind of pressure on you. A DM must wrangle the players along the story, but must also keep them entertained, making sure they want to come back again and again. It is difficult to keep someone’s attention for weeks or months on end. That requires a certain skill. You have to be interactive, fun, accommodating, and you have to think hard on the spot, under pressure. If one of the players (or all of the players if they are just plain rude) takes the party off the carefully manicured path you have set out for them, you have to be able to think quick on your feet to come up with ways to still somehow bring them back to that path. That is a somewhat different skill set than a writer. And also the degree of perfection is a bit different. Writing a finished product requires a lot of professional polish. Being a DM is inherently a bit more relaxed, as you are usually just playing with your friends.
Writing (mostly) takes place in private. You may find your characters wandering in your mind away from where you wan them to go. But you have time, alone, to come up with solutions. You are not the deer in headlights that a surprised DM would be. (I have seen some DMs sweat for a while, desperately trying to think of a way to get things back on track without looking like they ever went off the track in the first place.)
It is different for a writer. For a very long time you have no one to impress but yourself. The finished product is what matters, meaning you can write the story backwards from the end, or a bit from the beginning, middle, and end. You can jump around, and skip over parts that aren’t clicking and work on others, and come back to it later, without the pressure to make sure each piece is chronologically perfect before moving on to the next. There is much more pressure to make it perfect, but writers have the benefit of being able to draft, revise, and polish their story in total before anyone really sees it. A DM only has to work on creating one piece at a time as they are played, though they must make sure each piece is ready for play on a deadline.
It seems that more and more authors (and creatives in general) are playing or mentioning D&D. Do you think that it’s rising in popularity for any particular reason, or do you think it’s always been enjoyed, but not necessarily mentioned?
I think it has always been enjoyed. I think the stigma around it has changed. Much like comic books were looked down upon as a geek culture for much of the 70s, 80s, and 90s by the grownups and cool kids, D&D and fantasy in general was sneered at.
But then one day everyone who had spent their whole lives reading and playing got older and said, “You know what? This is fun and we like it and we don’t have to conform to anyone else’s version of cool or grown up. We have that money to spend, and we set the rules of what we want to do. And anyone who doesn’t like it? Well, bye.”
And the bigger that collective group became that was seen publicly approving of it, the more people found courage and feel comfortable talking about it in turn, and now here we are. (This is true of human nature in regard societal change in general)
Now comics and D&D and fantasy and sci-fi are mainstream. The most popular video games are D&D based. There are tournaments where real money is made. Kids now would never know it was ever something that used to be ridiculed.
How can you ridicule Final Fantasy? Or World of Warcraft? Or League of Legends? Or Marvel movies? Or the Walking Dead comics? That stuff is popular. You may not like one or another as a personal preference, but gone are the days when that subject matter could just be dismissed out of hand as geeky childhood dalliance. That stuff is mainstream now. It’s cool. And I’m glad for that.
What would you say to someone who hasn’t played before but is curious about it?
I would say go for it. Definitely. It’s a fun thing to do with like minded people. It’s like having a poker night only better because you can let your creativity shine. (And you are less likely to lose a lot of money)
But I would say make sure to go in with people you are comfortable with. Whether you go in for serious or silly or a little of both, it is best if you do it with people who you know will have a good time hanging out as well as gaming.
About the author:
Thomas Howard Riley currently resides in a secluded grotto in the wasteland metropolis, where he reads ancient books, plays ancient games, watches ancient movies, jams on ancient guitars, and writes furiously day and night. He sometimes appears on clear nights when the moon is gibbous, and he has often been seen in the presence of cats.
He always wanted to make up his own worlds, tell his own stories, invent his own people, honor the truths of life, and explore both the light and the darkness of human nature. With a few swords thrown in for good measure.
And some magick. Awesome magick.
He can be found digitally at THOMASHOWARDRILEY.COM
On Twitter he is @ornithopteryx, where he is sometimes funny, always clever, and never mean.
https://amzn.to/3hVPA3J Amazon US link
https://amzn.to/2UYvhtT Amazon UK link
https://bit.ly/3zU8qyq Goodreads link
http://thomashowardriley.com Author Website
Today Dan Fitzgerald, author of The Maer Cycle, is sharing his thoughts on D&D. Incidentally, he just released The Maer Cycle Omnibus, which I definitely recommend picking up.
Like many fantasy writers, I got my start playing D&D. When I was just a wee pre-teen, D&D was pretty much my life. Sure, I did other things—went to school, ate food, watched TV, what have you, but the thing I always looked forward to for days at a time and obsessed about afterward, the thing I could do for hours on end with no care for food or sleep, was play D&D. I would even stay up late some nights when I couldn’t play with others, rolling up random characters and taking them through randomly generated dungeons until they died. Ah, good times!
This was the early 80s, so we’re talking 1st edition AD&D, where a first level mage had max 4 hit points and only one spell, and if they somehow made it to level 2 they got another 1-4 HP and another spell. Surviving to level 3 was a miracle, and staying alive long enough to actually cast a fireball was damned near impossible. It was a blast.
Fast forward to today’s D&D 5E (that’s 5th edition for you less nerdy types), where mages are more powerful at 1st level than they used to be at level 3, where characters miraculously heal overnight from the most grievous wounds, where you can be unconscious and on death’s door one moment, then hacking and slashing a few seconds after a simple healing spell. This is not a diss on 5E (okay, well actually it is, but the original had its flaws too); it’s just a different way of playing, and of thinking about the game, and I think we may have lost something in the process. The old game was more nitty-gritty, more deadly, and to me, a lot more fun.
My gaming pals back in the day liked to power up and play high-level characters and fight everything in the Monster Manual (and later the Fiend Folio, the Holy Grail of D&D books), and I was happy enough to play along, but I always enjoyed the tough, early starts, the 1st level characters with nothing more than their wits and a longsword, and maybe a Magic Missile or Cure Light Wounds once a day, to protect them. When a handful of orcs or a gaggle of goblins was enough to make you think twice, and if you killed an ogre, you felt like a superhero. Nowadays a new character already feels like a superhero, and I miss that feeling of vulnerability.
What I don’t miss? The idea that each race had certain characteristics inherent to it, and limitations on what characters could or couldn’t become. The notion that orcs, goblins, ogres, and many other humanoid races were automatically evil. The gender binary. The heteronormativity. Whatever I may not like about 5E, it states very clearly in the Player’s Handbook: “You don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender. Likewise, your character’s sexual orientation is for you to decide.” That’s honestly refreshing, as is the lifting of limitations on what races can play what classes. I may not like some of the rules updates, but the overall tone is better, which matters quite a bit.
But I digress. Or rather, I don’t. Because what I love about D&D, at its essence, is the idea that you can pretend to be anyone you want, and you get to participate in a live story that’s never existed before. It’s all about a group of people sitting around a table (or in recent times, a Zoom and Roll20 screen) telling stories together. Sure, there are rules to guide you, and they can help streamline play, but they can also limit the role of your imagination. Honestly, if you’re not homebrewing your rules at least a little, are you even playing D&D? My favorite games are ones in which you can always deviate from the rules or make an exception when it makes for a better story.
It’s the same way with fantasy. There are “rules” to follow if you want to be traditionally published, but aren’t the best stories the ones that break those rules in innovative ways? And with the flourishing of small presses and independent publishing in contemporary fantasy, there really are no rules to speak of, only stories, writers, and readers. I can write whatever the hell I want, and someone is going to read it, but let’s be honest: as a writer, I don’t want just someone to read my books. I want a LOT of someones to read my books. I want to tell my stories to whoever will listen, and I always hope to convince someone who might not have read fantasy before to try my books.
In my Maer Cycle trilogy, I tried to write books that would appeal to fans of classic fantasy, to D&D players and nerds of various stripes, and would have that feel of the low-level characters gritting it out against well-matched opponents, with a lot more role-playing than fighting. And as their skills advance through the trilogy, I wanted it to feel earned. I also hoped to write something that felt grounded enough that it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for readers who don’t usually read fantasy—there’s not a lot of big, showy magic, and the fantasy creatures are (mostly) meant to feel almost plausible.
Now that the trilogy is out in the world, I’ve got something totally different in the works, the Weirdwater Confluence duology, which I’m calling sword-free fantasy. It’s quite a bit more removed from D&D, but if I’m totally honest, one aspect of The Living Waters was inspired a little by a particular creature from the D&D universe. I won’t say which one, but old-school nerds may recognize something a bit familiar in the name of the duology.
However far I may roam, the bones of my writer’s soul remain grounded in the world of the imagination opened up by Dungeons and Dragons, which has influenced my storytelling as much as any book I’ve ever read.
You can read more about me or my books on my website, http://www.danfitzwrites.com, and my books can be purchased from the usual online vendors, which my publisher, Shadow Spark, has available on one easy page. I can also be found on Twitter, where I talk about fantasy, books, and general nerdery, and on Instagram, where I post way too many nature pics and the occasional bookish snippet or announcement.
You can find The Maer Cycle Omnibus on Amazon
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
This week on Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub, I’m talking about authors and the love of ttrpgs. I’m fortunate to have several great guests throughout the week. Today I have the privilege to talk with Dorian Hart, author of one of my favorite fantasy series.
Thanks for being willing to chat with me about D&D and great fantasy. First of all, would you tell me a little bit about the Heroes of Spira series?
The Heroes of Spira is Hopeful Ensemble Epic Quest Fantasy, a subgenre I probably just made up but which describes the series pretty well.
Hopeful, because there’s a core of decency, humor, and optimism running through all the books, even when things seem bleak and perilous. My characters are flawed, but you’ll cheer for them the whole way. Ensemble, because it features a group of would-be heroes that mostly stays together, working as a team, across all five books. Epic, because the stakes are high, and the scope becomes quite wide by the end. Quest, because the aforementioned heroes are usually on some quest or other, many of them involving strange and wondrous locales, while helping save the world. And fantasy, because it has swords and wizards and talking gemstones and giant monsters and mysterious artifacts and magical towers and dire prophecies and dream-warriors and evil math-priests and a side-trip to hell and, eventually, a nine-foot-tall oracular toad. Also some other stuff, but that should give you a general idea.
The finished series will be five books. I’ve published four of them already, and am about halfway through the first draft of the fifth. The first four, should anyone be interested are: The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’s Maze, The Greatwood Portal, and The Infinite Tower.
Regarding Dungeons and Dragons: When did you start playing? What first drew you to ttrpgs?
My D&D/TTRPG journey has been ongoing for 43 years now, and featured two specific days of special significance set 16 years apart.
The first was in 1978, when as a 9-year-old I visited a book fair at my elementary school. I was there to browse the fantasy and science fiction section, but nestled among the books was the original “blue box” Dungeons and Dragons basic set. I read the back and realized it was a game, not a book, where you pretended to be a fantasy hero. Cool! I bought it (hoping my parents wouldn’t mind that I used my book fair money for a game), took it home, and showed it to my friend John who lived across the street. On that day, my love for fantasy TTRPGs (along with an unquenchable need for dice) was born. A year later, I convinced my parents to get me the PH and DMG hardbacks for Christmas, and that really cemented my D&D geekery in place.
Fast forward to 1994, when I was 25 years old. I hadn’t played much D&D in high school and college, lacking the time more than the interest, but on one fateful day some mutual friends introduced me to Kevin Kulp. Kevin is a brilliant game designer (his credits include TimeWatch and Swords of the Serpentine), a great friend, and, it turns out, a wonderfully talented GM. He invited me to play in his campaign, and watching his table technique inspired me to run a game of my own. My campaign, whose plots and characters inspired the Heroes of Spira series, lasted 15 years over about 300 sessions, and was one of the great experiences of my life.
I love that the first moment you were introduced to D&D was so memorable! What’s doubly great about your two special moments is that one took place in your childhood and the other as an adult. I think it’s kind of sad that, as children, we are encouraged to use our imaginations, but adults are sort of expected to set those things aside. I think that’s one of my favorite things about gaming: the ability to keep using our imaginations. But I digress.
It is so cool that the Heroes of Spira was inspired by your campaign! Was it tough to gather such a long campaign into a cohesive narrative? Or was it easier because you had so much history to jump off from?
My journey from D&D campaign to novels was highly unusual and probably not generally reproducible.
When I was running the game, I’d write up a summary of events after every session to help myself maintain continuity and consistency, not to mention recall the names of random NPC’s I’d made up on the spot. Eventually one of my players (the aforementioned Kevin Kulp) convinced me to post these summaries to ENWorld, a popular D&D message board that had a specific forum for “Story Hours” – basically campaign journals presented to the public. While at first my posts were extremely dry and not meant to be read as fiction per se, they inexplicably grew in popularity, and the more people were reading, the more I wanted to give them something entertaining to read.
As a result, over time, I started writing the campaign summaries more like they were chapters of an epic fantasy novel. With my players’ permission, I audio-recorded my sessions, so that I could play back the tape for more fidelity while I wrote up the summaries. A few years in, I was essentially writing a serialized novel that was also an accurate account of the game! It helped that my D&D style is very DM-story-driven, which I know is not for everyone, but my players bought into it wholeheartedly. I gave them a detailed, complex narrative, and they tacitly agreed to go where my adventure led them.
By the time I was done, Sagiro’s Story Hour (as it was called) had hundreds of regular readers, and I had written about 750,000 words of fantasy-novel-ish content.
So, in that sense, it was easy to go from games to books, but that coin had another side to it. Over the many years I posted my campaign’s story, lots of my readers urged me to turn the account into actual novels. I resisted, time after time, for a number of reasons. For one, the story was loaded with WotC proprietary terms, monsters, etc. For another, D&D campaigns don’t naturally translate into books; their pacing is all wrong, and their focus is often on combats and stats and character sheets, while going light on characterization, dramatic arcs, foreshadowing, all that good stuff. For yet another, it sure sounded like a lot of work!
Over the years, though, I came around to the idea. I worked out how I could strip out all of the explicitly D&D-ish terminology. I outlined and took notes and figured out what needed to be dropped, changed, or moved around chronologically. I mapped out character arcs, and how the books would move the focus of everything onto the characters and their development. I have spent a LOT of time figuring how to turn a TTRPG campaign into books so that they don’t *feel* merely like someone’s campaign notes written down.
It helped immensely that, as I said, I ran a very novel-like D&D campaign. In one case, I literally set up a moment that had been foreshadowed nine years earlier in real time, to the great astonishment (and joy, I hope) of my players. The game had emotional moments and lots of character development already baked in, because my players were all wonderful role-players who were just as invested in the game as I was.
And then, sometime in 2012 or 2013, I wrote the first words of the first draft of The Ventifact Colossus.
Wow, that is incredibly cool! It definitely seems like a ton of effort (not that there’s necessarily an easy way to write a book) , but as someone who’s read the books, I think it really paid off. It reads like old-school fantasy to me, but not as a campaign, if that makes sense.
Do you have a favorite character class to play, or do you like to switch things around?
I like variety, though it’s a quirk of my adult D&D career that I’ve played very few characters. That’s because the campaigns I’ve been in have been extremely long. The first, in which I played an old, crotchety, high-wis-low-str cleric, lasted 17 years. Following that I played a low-wis kick-in-every-door fighter in a “short” game that lasted only a decade or so. But I love playing anything, really, as long as I’m with a group of friends and having a good time.
The time spent goofing around with friends and kind of telling a group story is something special, I think. Is there a particular gaming memory that really makes you smile or laugh?
There are more than I can count, so I’ll just pick one.
During my long campaign, one of the characters suffered from a strange and sporadic magical effect: bits of a second world would sometimes manifest in his vicinity, overlapping with his own world. So, he might be out in a street, and then a forest would appear around him, with trees and buildings and roads and people all kind of mingled together.
I had that happen while the party was in an inn; for a few minutes, a wild jungle overlapped the rooms and hallways. Among the details of the jungle I provided was a monkey running loose in the corridors, and while I may lack any number of practical skills, I am a master of making realistic monkey noises.
Foolishly, I decided that when the jungle vanished and things returned to normal, the monkey would be left behind. A few extra minutes of silliness, I thought, before the adventure I had planned for the day would continue.
That’s not what happened. Instead, my players decided to spend THREE HOURS interacting with that monkey – chasing it around, feeding it, playing with it, teaching it tricks, involving it in some practical jokes, all obliging me to make myself hoarse from making monkey noises.
At the end of the session, one of my players asked me if that was how I intended the evening to go. I sighed, shook my papers at them all, and lamented “There’s no monkey in my notes!” We still use that phrase on occasion to denote when things don’t go as planned.
Ok… one more, since I can’t resist, and DMs out there, this is one you can use! The party was confronted with a password-protected tower door, and had just slain the beholder that was guarding it. One of the clerics cast speak with dead to learn what they could, and naturally one of their questions was “What is the password to get into this tower?” The dead beholder answered “I cannot remember the password.”
My players then spent about two hours trying to figure it out, becoming more and more frazzled and weary, until one of them had the lightbulb moment. Turns out, it was more of a pass phrase, and the phrase, of course, was “I cannot remember the password.”
My players literally threw bread rolls at me for that one.
I must admit, I would probably have reacted in the same way. Bread throwing seems like a perfectly reasonable response. I am awful at puzzling things out.
Switching gears a little bit, I’ve noticed that a lot of authors play D&D. Do you think there’s any correlation between writing and gaming? Does one strengthen the other?
While I haven’t done any scientific studies on the subject, I’d say it makes good sense that there would be such a correlation. After all, what is TTRPGaming if not storytelling by another means? I imagine that the type of person who wants to write stories will naturally search out other ways to be involved in storytelling, and D&D can be a very strong experience in that regard.
And I’m quite sure that gaming strengthens writing, because almost any consumption or creation of stories, in any medium or genre, will make one a better writer.
Good point! That makes perfect sense that they would sort of leapfrog off of each other. What would you say to someone who hasn’t played before but is curious about it?
The first thing I would say is “There’s no single correct way to play D&D. If everyone is having fun, you’re doing it right.” As a corollary, I would say “Try your best to play with people who you’d enjoy hanging out with if you were doing something else.” D&D is a social experience at its heart, and if you’re going to spend several hours hanging around with other folks being social, it’s better if you get along.
As for the game itself, I’d offer this additional advice: Try to make sure the DM and the players agree about what kind of experience they want, especially on the player-driven vs. DM-driven axis. Do you want the DM to craft a specific adventure for you? Or do you want a “sandbox” where the DM turns you loose to do whatever you want? Similarly, do you want a game where the players are Good and Righteous Heroes™ or ne’er-do-wells who scoff at the law and revel in violence? It can be off-putting for a new player if they go in expecting one thing and end up getting the opposite. D&D games work best when everyone’s expectations are understood.
That’s a good point regarding playing with people you like spending time with. I know every gaming group is different, but with the people that I’ve gamed with for years, we spend about half the time just joking around and half the time playing. Friendships forged in the heat of battle (or around a table rolling dice) are lasting friendships.
I agree that communicating expectations is important. I once created a homebrew campaign that I was very excited about and ended up being very discouraged when each player managed to make characters that would most definitely not work in that world. The fault was mine for not communicating and finding out what the players were looking for. That being said, I am much better at participating than I am at DM’ing. I have a knack for rolling low at the most hilarious of times.
Ha! In my gaming groups, we have two important rules. Rule 1 is: “Don’t give the DM ideas you’ll come to regret.” But Rule 2 — relevant to your last observation — is “Don’t gloat before you roll.” I’m personally (in)famous for uttering statements like “The only way I can miss this attack is if I roll below a 3!” Saying something like that increases my odds of failure by an order of magnitude, but I can’t stop myself..
Now I’m curious: do you prefer sandbox campaigns or specific crafted adventures?
As you might guess, I prefer the crafted adventure to the open sandbox — both as a player and as a DM. Not that there’s a single thing wrong with liking sandboxes! It’s an entirely subjective preference. But I’m partial to long-term plots, full of foreshadowing and recurring villains and a sense that there’s a deep, underlying narrative to everything. Those are easier to create in a less sandbox-y environment, I think.
Also, as a DM, my weakest “stat” — monkey noises aside — is improvisation. I spent way more time prepping my sessions than was probably healthy, and counted heavily on my players buying into my vision of the game’s story. Again, I know that’s not for everyone, and there are players out there who would become very frustrated with my style. But where a sandbox asks players “What problems would you like to solve?” I skip to “Here is a problem to solve. How would you like to solve it?”
One of the things I’ve loved about the Heroes of Spira series is the foreshadowing. There were a few times that left me floored at how things had been set up.
That was a huge advantage of having the entire five-book series (mostly) outlined before I started the first book. I’m writing the final book now, and it feels like the whole thing is scene after scene of paying off arcs started in earlier books.
[Minor spoiler example: One character has a habit, first seen in the third chapter of the first book, of writing his name on little pieces of paper, putting them in vials, and tossing them into rivers and oceans. It’s a half-hearted way in which he hopes to be famous someday. It’s not until book five that I finally pay that off in full, but I’ve known exactly where it was heading the whole time.]
I’ve been wondering why Dranko does that since the third chapter of book one! I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Thank you so much for talking D&D and writing with me! I’ve enjoyed it so much! Do you have any closing thoughts?
First, thank you so much for inviting me to be part of this event! It’s been a real pleasure chatting with you about something that’s been such an important part of my life.
Second: I know there are readers for whom “based on a D&D game” carries a huge stigma when it comes to fantasy books. To those people, I would say: Remember, some of the genre’s most beloved works had humble tabletop origins: Erikson’s Malazan, Feist’s Riftwar Saga, Brust’s Vlad Taltos series, even Tchaikovsky’s excellent Shadows of the Apt series, not to mention all the books by Hickman & Weis, and Salvatore.
I understand the concerns, since there are some potential pitfalls in translating a TTRPG campaign into novels. But if an author is aware of them, and understands what makes the two different, a fantasy series born from a campaign can be as good as any other.
Dorian Hart wrote an excellent essay on this subject for Storytellers on Tour. They have graciously allowed me to post the link here, if you would like to read it: RPGs and Novels.
About the author:
Dorian Hart is the author of the Heroes of Spira epic fantasy series, which currently includes The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’s Maze, and The Greatwood Portal. He also wrote the interactive science fiction novella Choice of the Star Captain for Choice of Games.
In a bygone century, Dorian graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in creative writing. This led circuitously to a 20-year career as a video game designer, where he contributed to many award-winning titles including Thief, System Shock, System Shock 2, and BioShock.
Now he writes books in his Boston-area study, serves as the stay-at-home dad for his two teenage daughters, and happily allows his wife to drag him off on various wilderness adventures.
This week on Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub I’m talking about the connection between table top role playing games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, and great authors. Today I’m happy to feature some thoughts on the subject from author Geoff Habiger.
When Jodie mentioned she was looking for authors to share their experiences with gaming and writing I jumped at the chance because gaming – especially TTRPG gaming – has been a big part of my life and an influence for my writing since I was in the 5th grade (many, many yahren ago). In that time, I have played innumerable RPG starting with D&D from the days of the Big Red Box up through 4th edition (I’ve not played 5th ed. yet). Other RPGs I have played include: Rolemaster, Pathfinder, Paranoia, Timemaster, GURPs, Traveller, Star Wars (West End Games version), Mutants and Masterminds, and several home brew systems. RPGs allowed me to spend time with my friends, explore new worlds, and helped fuel my imagination and creativity. I’d spend hours (days sometimes) creating dungeons, making characters, and building new worlds to play in. Based on this background it seems only natural that I became a writer.
Though it wasn’t as natural as you’d think. My path to being a writer took a detour through writing for RPGs. Around the time that Wizards released the 3rd edition of D&D and the open gaming license was created, my best friend (and now co-author, Coy Kissee) and I decided to start our own game company and create material for the D&D OGL system. Thus, Tangent Games was born and the creation of our Ados: Land of Strife campaign setting. For several years we created a new world to explore, our own monster manual (Brixbrix’s Field Guide to the Creatures of Ados), rules for a new religion (out of 20+ in the pantheon) (Jute: Faith of Creation), and an adventure module (Temple of the Forgotten God). Not to mention a ton of game supplements. We created alternate rules for using languages in D&D (Ars Lingua) and rules for creating detailed descriptions of gemstones (Gemerator), and we created supplements to get more mileage from alchemy (Better Damage Through Alchemistry) and how to harness magic from gems (Mineral Magic series) plus several others.
All of this experience in RPG writing gave me a good foundation to move into writing fiction. There are many similarities between the two, and a few differences. The biggest difference being that most RPG writing is instructional – you are writing the rules for playing the game. Your writing must be clear and concise and must convey the rules to the reader so that they can understand and play (and hopefully enjoy) the game. But that sort of writing doesn’t leave a lot of room for creativity. The goal is to explain how to play the game and there is less importance on plot and story, and practically no character development (even when you are rolling up your character!). At the same time, RPG writing does allow plenty of chances for worldbuilding, and when writing an adventure, you do need to understand plot and story, though this process is very different from a traditional novel because you will never understand the actual motives of the main characters you are writing for – the players (and their player characters) that are playing the game. It is like writing an open-ended choose your adventure story where you have no idea who the main character is, what they can do, or even if they are motivated to complete the adventure as you envision it.
In addition to the foundation from RPGs my experiences as a gamer, game master (GM), and designer helped when I began our actual writing career, especially with our fantasy series the Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures. As I developed the basic premise for this series – in a world of magic and monsters, how do the police solve crimes – I wondered where to set the story. I knew we wanted a “classic” fantasy setting, reminiscent of the RPG experience I had loved playing in, and I realized that we already had a great setting in our Ados: Land of Strife campaign world. But I didn’t want to write LitRPG so we couldn’t just drop a story into our RPG world. But Ados gave us the world into which we could play with much of the worldbuilding already done. There is a direct line of influence from our RPG experiences to what goes into our stories from how the world functions to how our characters act and react to any given situation. Our RPG experiences dictate our fight scenes, how magic works in our world, and how to pace our stories. It’s even gotten to the point where we make fun of the RPG experience – especially around adventurers – in our stories. (Note for anybody who’s not yet read our books, Reva *hates* adventurers.)
In the end, I don’t know if I would have become a writer if I hadn’t been a gamer first. The characters we played, the worlds we created, and the stories we got to tell during those caffeine-fueled, all-night game sessions, all became the fodder for me to be the writer I am today.
Where to find us online:
Our Books: Wrath of the Fury Blade (book 1) and Joy of the Widow’s Tears (book 2) can be found on our website (https://www.habigerkissee.com/books) where you will find links to buy from indie booksellers or corporate behemoths. Book 3 in our series: Fear the Minister’s Justice, will be out (hopefully) in 2022.
About the author:
The writing duo of Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee have been life-long friends since high school in Manhattan, Kansas. (Affectionately known as the Little Apple, which was a much better place to grow up than the Big Apple, in our humble opinion.) We love reading, baseball, cats, role-playing games, comics, and board games (not necessarily in that order and sometimes the cats can be very trying). We’ve spent many hours together over the years (and it’s been many years) basically geeking out and talking about our favorite books, authors, and movies, often discussing what we would do differently to fix a story or make a better script. We eventually turned this passion into something more than just talk and now write the stories that we want to read.
Coy lives with his wife in Lenexa, Kansas. Geoff lives with his wife and son in Tijeras, New Mexico.
I am so excited to be talking Dungeons and Dragons with Zack Argyle, author of the Threadlight series. He’s an incredibly talented writer, as well as a fan of D&D.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me! Will you talk a bit about the Threadlight trilogy?
Of course! I wrote this series as something I would enjoy reading. It takes inspiration from some of my favorite authors: Anthony Ryan, Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, and Brian Staveley, but also takes the theme of family, which is important to me, and brings that to the forefront.
The story originated while thinking about the parents of the chosen one. If they knew when the child was a baby that it was key to saving the world, what would they be willing to do to keep that child safe? But also, what if they failed? Chrys Valerian is a father who will burn the world to protect his family.
When did you start playing ttrpgs?
I joined Pinterest as a software engineer in 2015 and shortly after found out that they had a few D&D groups. One of them had two of my teammates, and they invited me to join. None of us work there anymore, but I do still play with those two teammates who invited me, even though we all live in different states! That group is the three of us and our wives, currently running the Ghosts of Saltmarsh 5e campaign.
Has gaming inspired you in any way?
Being a dungeon master is what gave me the confidence to go all-in on this years-long storytelling adventure! There was a particular moment that I’ll never forget.
Each of the players provided me with backstories at the start of the campaign which I used to weave into the greater arc of Storm King’s Thunder. One night, on the streets of Gauntlgrym, the party had just defeated a powerful foe when a high level member of the Zhentarim faction—their greatest enemy throughout the campaign—appeared. The man dropped to a knee in front of one of the players, then bowed and whispered, “First Lord.” The players gasped. Those two words changed everything in the campaign. It changed the player dynamics, the plot focus, and the tone of the story.
Since you weren’t there, it probably seems like nothing. But in that moment, I knew that I could write a compelling story. I knew that I could take complex arcs and weave them together to create moments of awe. Shortly after, I started seriously writing Voice of War.
As someone who has been on the player end of a moment like that, I absolutely get it. My husband once ran a campaign in which he wrote separate visions for each player of how their character would die (if the visions were correct). They ranged from sweet and satisfying to violent or completely unexpected. Mouths dropped open. One player teared up. It was such a cool moment!
On the opposite side of that, has publishing books made you more confident in your gaming?
It’s actually quite interesting. As a character, I do think it has helped me be more confident in creating and role-playing more complex, interesting characters. On the other hand, there is an added pressure now when I am the dungeon master for the story to be great! Which is a lot of pressure for something that’s supposed to be fun! The same goes for writing. If you publish a book that people love, there is a lot of pressure to make the next book better. If you succeed, the pressure is compounded for the third book. In a way, it’s given me a bit of empathy toward Patrick Rothfuss. With the acclaim of his first two books, I’m sure he’s freaking out about ending the series well. Same goes for popular TTRPG personalities, like Matthew Mercer (Critical Role) or Griffin McElroy (Adventure Zone). The pressure on their shoulders as DMs is insanely high.
I never would have thought of it that way, but that makes perfect sense. Although, when it comes to the next book in your series, I really don’t think you need to worry. 🙂
Are there any parts in your books that are a direct result of a D&D campaign?
I’ve reused a lot of names between campaigns and the Threadlight series. My first D&D character was Sir Atticus Endin, which led to the Great Lord Malachus Endin. There were also characters named Alverax and Corian. But none of the plot points have yet to be taken from a campaign.
I’ve noticed that many great fantasy authors play D&D. Do you think there is a connection between gaming and writing?
If you enjoy being a dungeon master, which requires a ton of hard work, worldbuilding, juggling of complex scenarios, as well as a wild degree of creativity, then you almost certainly enjoy writing. It doesn’t surprise me at all that so many fantasy authors love TTRPGs!
What are some similarities and differences?
Extensive worldbuilding, characterization, magic-filled fights, and mysteries are all quintessential building blocks of both.
Does gaming help with writing creativity or vice versa?
True role-playing—I believe—does help your writing, because it forces you to learn how to think and make decisions based on the perspective of another person. If you can learn to put yourself into the mind of a character that does not think or act like you, then you will be that much better of a writer.
What do you love about gaming?
For me, it’s the camaraderie. I love being in a situation where people can let down their defenses, where they can be silly, creative, dorky, anything. Mix that in with moments of unpredictable, collectively-inspired storytelling, and it’s just wonderful fun.
I totally agree! I love that you mention the storytelling being collectively-inspired, because it is such a group event. You could take the exact same campaign and play it with two separate groups and the stories would end up being two completely different stories. Do you have a favorite character class, or do you like to mix it up?
Definitely love variety! I’ve played a Gnome Barbarian (Corian), Changeling Sorcerer (Alucard), Tabaxi Rogue (Boots), Human Paladin (Atticus), and Vedalken Druid (Keltrovac). My two current characters are a Firbolg Wizard (Marsh) and an Eladrin Rogue (Rael). I have no shame, so I’ve also done different character voices for each one.
Oh, kudos for the firbolg! I actually had to look that one up. I have yet to do the voices for my character myself (I’m working up to it). The amount of creativity that can be put into making a character is one of my favorite things about D&D. The sky (and the DM’s final word) is the limit!
What first drew you to writing?
I’ve always loved storytelling. Despite having a degree in electrical engineering, I actually started out my college career in Journalism. Fifteen years later, the itch to write never left me. Mix that in with my love of learning and trying new things, as well as an unhealthy dose of stubborn tenacity, and here I am with a full-time hobby job.
Is there a particular gaming memory that always makes you laugh or smile?
There was a moment in one of our campaigns where the party really grew attached to one of their traveling companions, a hill giant named Moog. One session, Moog had been captured and was going to be killed, mostly as a way for me to simplify the campaign. The sorcerer in the group said “No!” and rushed to save her. I only allowed it because he said he had a spell called Tree Stride that allowed him to move one mile per minute through the forest. He got to the hideout, blasted the captors, and then quickly fell to the floor dead. While rolling for death saves, he rolled a nat 20, got up, and killed the captors, saving their friend. It was already an epic moment that became even better when we realized that he’d mistaken the spell, and he did not actually have Tree Stride—he couldn’t, it was too high level. The sorcerer and Moog became best friends after that, and we still laugh about the wonderful mistake.
What would you say to someone who hasn’t played before but is curious about it?
Do it! Find a group you can feel comfortable with, and just have fun. Play a character that acts just like you would if it helps, then, when you’re ready, try a new character that is wildly different. The friendships you make and the fun you’ll have outweigh any of the fear of getting started. Make it happen!
About the author:
Tomorrow marks the beginning of a week of interviews with authors who enjoy table top role playing games, or TTRPGs. In many ways, TTRPGs and books go hand-in-hand. While the most well known TTRPG is Dungeons and Dragons, you can find books as TTRPGs as well. So, after you’ve read and enjoyed the book, maybe play in its world yourself. Here are just a few:
The Lord of the Rings
Who wouldn’t want to adventure in Middle Earth? Tolkien created a rich setting that is perfect to explore in. There are several different editions of LotR roleplaying books, ranging from affordable to “well, let me sell my kidney so I can buy this book”. I’d suggest grabbing the affordable ones and keeping your eyes peeled the next time you’re used book buying.
Who says classics can’t be played? This is a pre-order right now: the game should be available in October. This has some definite potential and it’s an indie game! If you decide to give it a go, let me know what you think!
The Dresden Files:
I’ll be honest: I really haven’t read much Dresden Files. I think I’ve read one, maybe two books in the series. However, I know a lot of people would love gaming in this world.
I love Mouse Guard! This graphic novel series is a surprising combination of adorable illustrations and breathtaking, rather brutal, fantasy. I would expect the TTRPG to be just as great.
This particular TTRPG seems to be very loosely based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I think this could be a really interesting game setting, but I don’t expect it to be much like the original book. Either way, it’s intriguing.
These are only a few of the books that have been reinterpreted as roleplaying games. There are so many others: Watership Down, The Song of Ice and Fire, and others also have TTRPGs. And of course, there are gaming systems for series such as Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, and Ravenloft. These books were originally written to tie in with gaming systems, although they have their own self-contained storylines and don’t really fall into the RPGlit category.
What books would you love to see get the roleplaying game treatment? Have you played any of these?
Thank you to Rebellion Publishing for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Campaigns and Companions will be available on September 14th, although everyone really should go ahead and preorder it.
If you have played Dungeons and Dragons for long, you’ll notice that there are those things that just sort of go along with it. First, there were comics. The humor found in Dork Tower or Order of the Stick totally encapsulated the funny side of D&D. Later on, the guys at Penny Arcade starting bringing D&D into their own work. Well, make room next to your D&D sourcebooks: all ttrpg fans need to own Campaigns and Companions. It’s genius.
What would happen if cats, dogs, hamsters, and other critter companions picked up some dice and decided to go on a gaming adventure? Simply put, hilarity. This book is clever and snarky. It had me laughing out loud and showing my favorite pages to everyone in my house. Authors Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett perfectly captured the attitudes our animal friends show on a daily basis. From the cat who has a theologically-charged experience with a protection from evil circle, to the dog who gets…um, held up in a narrow passageway, each page offered a new laugh and more than a few knowing nods.
Of course, I have to talk about the art. The hilarious illustrations from Calum Alexander Watt elevated Campaigns and Companions to a whole new level. There’s something altogether too fitting about seeing a berserker rabbit. This book was everything I was hoping for and then some. I’m planning on buying this for some friends who I know will appreciate it as much as I did. Basically, I got a Nat 20 with Campaigns and Companions (those who know me know that I never roll 20s, so this is a momentous event).
This is perfect for pet owners as well, although the full brilliance behind the humor will be more fully appreciated by D&D players. In fact, I guarantee that by this time next year, Campaigns and Companions will be mentioned in regular conversation around many a gaming table. I can’t recommend it enough.
Thank you to the authors for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Loners is available for purchase now.
This book was so much fun! A rollicking adventure full of humor and heart, I had a blast reading the adventures (or misadventures?) of Jari and co. Loners follows a band of bounty hunters who have the audacity to want to retire. After all, they’ve been at the job for a while: over one hundred years, in fact. Jari and his violent band are given the opportunity to lay down arms and just relax- if they can track down and kill the evilest of evil dwarfs. Of course, they’ll need to survive in order to retire. Therein lies the rub.
There are a few characters that make Loners the highly enjoyable event that it is. There’s Jari, of course, the leader of the ragtag crew. Then there’s Toli Hookhand, another dwarf and the element of humor. And Bertha, a minotaur with some battle scars and a past that she really doesn’t like to talk about. While all of the characters added to the story, Bertha was my favorite. Her gruff exterior, and the way she interacted with everyone else, endeared me to her from the get-go.
It bears mentioning that this is one of two books I can think of that feature dwarfs in main character roles. I have a soft spot for fantasy dwarfs, so this made me extremely happy. They weren’t your usual fantasy dwarfs, however. The authors put their own unique spin on things and added a level of creativity that was a ton of fun to read.
The book was well written and fast moving. There wasn’t a ton of setup-but it wasn’t needed. Everything made perfect sense and things were explained as the story progressed. Loners is high on action, but also has an interesting plot and great characters. Basically, it’s the whole package. I recommend Loners to fans of rpgs, in particular, as it has that Dungeons and Dragons feel to it.
Where to purchase Loners:
Bookshop.org (I’d get a small kickback)