I am so excited to join Runalong the Shelves, along with many other fantastic blogs, for Small Press, Big Stories. Runalong the Shelves has created this monthlong celebration of indie press and the plethora of great books they produce.
Today, I’m happy to talk about Campaigns and Companions by Andie Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett, illustrated by Calum Alexander Watt. Campaigns and Companions ponders the question: what would happen if your pets played Dungeons and Dragons. The results are hilarious.
I’ve shared my original rave below, but if you want to save yourself some time: just go buy the book. It’s fantastic.
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 andCompanions. 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 andCompanions (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.
Today I’m delighted to feature not one, but multiple creatures! Jeffrey Speight is the author of Paladin Unbound, a phenomenal fantasy book that features it all: amazing characters, awesome worldbuilding, and the sorts of creatures that would make any TTRPG campaign fantastic.
Living with Monsters
When I was young, my mom was absolutely obsessed with antiques. During the summer, she would often drag me to flea markets across Long Island in search of her next piece. One time, dying of boredom, I looked through a pile of dusty old books and found one called The FiendFolio. I had heard about Dungeons & Dragons through the older siblings of friends but had yet to play the roleplaying game that would prove to become a mainstay in my life.
The cover depicted a bejeweled, sword-wielding monster with evil red eyes and sharp teeth. I had to know more. Eagerly leafing through the pages, I admired the artwork and wondered what a world with Ettercaps, Githyanki, Hook Horrors, and Shadow Demons would be like.
I somehow talked my mom into buying it for me, and my journey into the world of Dungeons & Dragons began.
To be fair, my love affair with monsters started years earlier. Nearly every Halloween, as other kids ran from door-to-door dressed as Captain America and Spiderman, I would stalk my neighborhood dressed as Dracula with fake blood running from the corners of my mouth. One of my favorite toys was my Mighty Men & Monster Maker (if you didn’t have one, you really missed out), and nearly everything I read or watched was fantasy or “something spooky”.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about monsters and what the attraction was at that point in my life. The best I can explain it, dreaming of the monsters that lurked in the shadowy recesses of other worlds made our world less scary. Fighting them in D&D allowed me to be the hero I was incapable of being as an undersized, socially anxious kid. Monsters gave me the power I thought I lacked in real life.
Today, things are a little different. I have come to view monsters as the physical manifestation of the evils I, as an adult, seek to understand in the hearts of mankind. Storytelling, whether that be through running a D&D campaign or writing a fantasy novel, is a way to explore the human condition, and monsters are the embodiment of the struggles we face along the way. So, when I was asked by W&S Bookclub to take part in An Author’s Monster Manual, I jumped at the opportunity.
In Paladin Unbound, I adapted many of the monsters Umhra and his companions face from the D&D campaign from which the story grew. Early in the journey we encounter archetypical vampires, zombies, and dire wolves. There are, however, a few monsters Umhra comes across that are quite unique in their construction that I’d like to share with you.
Outside the Stoneheart Pass, the Barrow’s Pact is attacked by a myriapede. While I don’t give much backstory on this gigantic centipede-like creature, there is more than meets the eye. Bettle, as he is known, is the Guardian of the Waystone at the mouth of the Stoneheart Pass, the last known of its kind. Bound to protect the stone by an age-old contract, Bettle relentlessly pursues and attacks anything that comes too close. For this job, I wanted a monster that could not be reasoned with, that would strike fear into the hearts of travelers. If Bettle’s enormous mandibles don’t snap you in half, the formic acid he secretes just may dissolve you on contact. His countless legs end in razor-sharp spikes and his tail has two elongated hind legs tipped with hook-shaped stingers. It’s one thing to dispatch him above ground but, in his lair, he’s got a few other surprises for his enemies. Here’s a character sheet for whoever would like to include a myriapede like Bettle in their game.
Next, I’d like to look at something a little more twisted. Viewed as a side quest in PaladinUnbound, the Barrow’s Pact’s short stay in the cities of Amnesty and Retribution puts them in the path of the Three, estranged members of the royal bloodline. Our adventurers are asked by the stewards of the cities to investigate reports of an infant crying in the catacombs beneath the city streets. Here, they come upon an Anathema. A pile of quivering flesh with eight eyes, Anathemas are very rare and are indigenous only to the chaotic alternate plane of Wethryn. The monstrosity lures victims toward it by mimicking the cry of an infant, renders the victim unconscious with one of many glares from its eyes, and then consumes them. Anathemas are highly intelligent despite their appearance and are capable of teleporting over short distances as they are unable to physically move. This one definitely checked a major box for me in the gross category. I like to offer readers and players a variety of monsters—some cool and calculating, others brutish and overpowering, and some just disgusting.
Finally, I thought it would be fun to give you a little preview of Mystic Reborn, the sequel to Paladin Unbound, which will hopefully be out Spring 2023. In the book, we meet plenty of new monsters. One that I am particularly fond of, however, is the Melacrite. The inspiration for these nasty little guys was my desire for an enemy with an almost Alien-like feel to them. Something skittering in the darkness that would add a touch of horror to the story. I won’t give much away here, but these twelve-legged wolf-sized creatures are half hardened carapace and half tattered fur. Their front appendages are like curved daggers, and they spit a tar-like substance that can slow the progress of an enemy. Melacrites live in large nests coated with their sticky saliva that make entering their homes a very unwise choice. I’m personally looking forward to using Melacrites in a D&D campaign, myself. While they are individually not all that much to worry about, in numbers they can be a formidable enemy. Here are the stats if you’d like to give them a try at home.
Whether you are a fantasy writer, dungeon master, or both, creating interesting monsters is as much a worldbuilding tool as developing a magic system or pantheon. Sure, our characters can run around fighting other humans. In fact, these adversaries are often eviler than any monster you can throw in your hero’s path. For me, it’s just more fun when the evil lurking around the corner comes with fangs.
About the author:
Jeffrey Speight’s love of fantasy goes back to an early childhood viewing of the cartoon version of The Hobbit, when he first met an unsuspecting halfling that would change Middle Earth forever. Finding his own adventuring party in middle school, Jeff became an avid Dungeons & Dragons player and found a passion for worldbuilding and character creation. While he went on to a successful career as an investor, stories grew in his mind until he could no longer keep them inside. So began his passion for writing. Today, he lives in Connecticut with his wife, three boys (his current adventuring party), three dogs, and a bearded dragon. He has a firmly held belief that elves are cool, but half-orcs are cooler. While he once preferred rangers, he nearly always plays a paladin at the gaming table.
I am so excited about this blog series discussing book creatures as entries in an author’s Monster Manual! Each new creature is unique and so, so cool! Rob Edwards’ addition is no exception. His series, the Justice Academy, is excellent!
Hey Jodie, thanks for having me back. I’m excited to talk monsters, even if you’ve had to stretch the rules a little bit to include me!
I’m not a Rules Lawyer, but…
So, at first blush, it’s possible that my book, The Ascension Machine, was not a great fit for this blog series. Rules as written, “An Author’s Monster Manual” leans into a Dungeons and Dragons feel, and my books are sci-fi, not fantasy. Moreover, my books don’t really have monsters in them. Plenty of villains, several of whom are quite monstrous, but no actual bona fide monsters.
Fortunately, we can deal with both of these issues. As to the first, D&D recently released a 5e version of their Spelljammer setting, which lets you take the adventures to space (kind of, go with me here). So, for the monster I had in mind, I switched out their ray guns for hand crossbows, and we have problem one solved.
As for the monster part, I mean, when it comes down to it, what actually is a monster?
Well, according to the introduction of the 5e Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual, in the section “What Is a Monster?”, “A monster is defined as any creature that can be interacted with and potentially fought and killed.” And if that doesn’t convince, it goes on to say, “The term also applies to humans, elves, dwarves, and other civilised folk who might be friends or rivals to the player characters.”
I think that pretty clearly includes the Brontom Clone Warriors, so we’re in the game!
Begin these clone warriors did
I hadn’t originally intended to have the Brontom play a major part in my books. Originally, they were a throwaway gag in the opening scene. Our hero, Grey, tells a tall story about pretending to be a Brontom to fool an ATM. An unlikely story because Grey is not 7’ tall, green, and only has two arms instead of the Brontom’s normal four. But Brontom are all identical clones and the only way for an ATM to tell them apart is by scent, so you can fool them using perfume. Or so Grey claims.
It was a fun gag.
But the idea of this clone race started to tickle my imagination. There was no choice, but I’d have to introduce a Brontom in the main plot. And so, we meet Brontom Clone Warrior 4,923,016,734. Seventhirtyfour to his friends.
Yes, we are all different
The idea of a clone warrior race is hardly unique, I grant you. Star Wars has its clone troopers, Doctor Who has its Sontarans, but it remains a fascinating idea. What are the differences between the clones?
There’s a question of nurture versus nature here. Every Brontom is physically identical, receives the same training, goes through the same exercises, but even then, what happens to the clone who is always on the losing side of training exercises? The one who has an unlucky accident early on in their training, or a lucky one for that matter. How does that affect their personality, their outlook?
While they are all unique individuals, it’s conformity that is the Brontom’s greatest strength on the battlefield. They have been literally trained together since birth. They know what their squad mates will do, and how to take advantage of it.
And then there’s Seventhirtyfour, who is a mutant Brontom. He’s two inches too tall. For a human that may not mean anything, but for a Brontom every uniform, piece of equipment, every doorway is designed for someone exactly two inches shorter than you. You stand out. You probably hit your head a lot.
For some this could make you resentful and bitter. Not Seventhirtyfour. He rises to the challenge of leaving the barracks for the first time with a positivity that practically shines out of him. He makes friends quickly, and will defend them to the best of his considerable abilities, always.
The stat block in this article is not Seventhirtyfour, though, his abilities would be too spoilery to include. No, this is a standard Brontom Clone Warrior, right out of basic training and ready to crew a… Spelljammer ship. Sure, why not?
Rob Edwards is a British born writer and content creator, living in Finland. He writes about coffee, despite not drinking it, spaceships, despite being down-to-earth, and superheroes, despite everything.
His debut novel, The Ascension Machine was published in 2020. His short stories can be found in anthologies from Inklings Press and Rivenstone Press. A life-long gamer and self-professed geek, he is proud of his entry on Wookieepedia, the result of writing several Star Wars RPG scenarios in his youth.
Many years ago, I stumbled across a book called Dragons of Autum Twilight, book one in the Dragonlance Chronicles. There was a dragon on the front (I’m a sucker for dragons), and characters who looked right out of the cover at the reader, inviting them on an adventure. I opened the book and immediately fell in love with the world of Krynn, the characters, and the writing.
Fast forward more years than I’ll admit. I’ve read those books more times than I can count. I have devoured every new novel that takes place in Krynn, seen visions of the world painted by many authors. Each new novel adds to the lore and shows a new perspective. I like the majority of them, but the books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the creators of the world of Krynn, are special. I was ecstatic to hear the news that they were returning to the world they birthed.
Dragons of Deceit is the first of the new trilogy, Dragonlance Destinies. It’s been years since the last Dragonlance written by the masters was released, but they didn’t miss a beat. I wondered before reading it if this book would appeal more to new readers or to readers returning and hoping to see the characters they love.
The thing that I’ve always loved about the Dragonlance series is that it feels as though the world continues long after you’ve read the last sentence and closed the book. Reading Dragons of Deceit was like catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a while. They’ve had new adventures, met new people. The world has kept going, but it happily welcomed me back.
The book follows Destina, the daughter of a Solamnic knight. She loves her father, the knighthood, and all it stands for, until the oath all knights take (“My honor is my life”) causes her to lose him. Her life crumbles around her and she hatches a hare-brained scheme: travel back in time and save her dad. Of course, in order to do that, she’ll have to visit a certain well-traveled kender to acquire the Device of Time Journeying. That’s when things start to go sideways, as they always do when kender are involved.
Sometimes a long-running series finds itself in a bind. Do you continue with a storyline that new readers might be confused by, but rewards longtime readers? Or do you tell a story that has an entry point for new readers, risking alienating returning readers who want something new (I’m thinking of the multitude of Spiderman origin stories here)?
Weis and Hickman cleverly sidestepped this issue and wove a tale that will appeal to new readers and longtime fans alike. There is a mix of old and new characters, and a story arc that leans on already-established lore while still managing to be an entry point. All the important history is given throughout the book, while still somehow avoiding the dreaded info dump. New readers will be able to follow the plot without confusion, although there are things that returning readers will appreciate more.
Destina is an intriguing character, one at odds with herself. She is loyal and looks up to her father but is rather snotty toward her mom. She puts a huge burden of responsibility on herself, and it weighs her down until she has nothing left. I can’t say that I liked her in the usual sense; she was distinctly unlikable at times, which sometimes makes for a more complex story. I couldn’t fault her motivation. Wouldn’t we all do pretty much anything to help a loved one if we had the chance?
Tas was fantastic, of course. I really love that doorknob of a kender! He’s the perfect blend of innocence and unknowing wisdom. He provided laughs aplenty and a few moments that caused me to choke up a little. There’s a scene involving a helm topped with the hair from the mane of a griffin (if you know, you know) that caused my stone heart to melt.
The story was fast-paced and exciting, the sort of adventure I love reading about. It ended with a bang and left me wishing I had a Device of Time Journeying of my own, so that I could travel forward and read book two. Unsurprisingly, Dragons of Deceit was incredible. When I finished the last word, I was stymied: do I immediately reread it, or do I go back to the Chronicles– the original three that started it all- and reread every brilliant Dragonlance book written by Weis and Hickman? Deciding is nearly impossible, and that is the best kind of problem to have.
“You are in a darkened room, a shadow of its former glory. Around you huddle the remains of your party, their weapons dangling from tired hands. Danger besets you on all sides. The door slowly opens, revealing an unspeakable horror. What do you do?”
This could be setup from a Dungeon Master at any late-night D&D session. It could also easily describe the situations in Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons, although the “weapons” were creative minds, and the “unspeakable horror” was financial ruin, mismanaged products, and mistreated employees. I was fascinated and heartbroken in equal measure, reading the history of TSR, the company that once owned Dungeons and Dragons (as well as Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, among other things).
Every story has two (or more) sides. So many times, the narrative is “big, bad, Wizards of the Coast devoured the little guy”, but of course there’s more to it than that. This book delves into the state of TSR and explores why on earth it was in a position to be bought out anyway. It had so much going for it: a plethora of creative ideas, artists that are still seen as some of the best in the fantasy art genre, and a passion that many workplaces just don’t have. Sadly, it also had some of the worst financial management I’ve heard of and some higher ups that just didn’t understand what TSR was trying to do.
In many ways, it was a trainwreck of epic proportions, although it didn’t start out that way. The mess made for an incredible tale, though. As the saying about train wrecks goes, “it was impossible to look away”.
Slaying the Dragon is written in an easy-to-understand way. It’s well organized and doesn’t meander. There are a few parts that I would have loved to see expanded a little (the section on the Satanic Panic, for example, since there is a lot to unpack there), but it moved at a good pace. About halfway through, I wished it would slow down, just because what happened was so darn sad. It was hard to watch the book walk toward a disaster like that.
There were interviews throughout the book, which were fascinating and added a new level of clarity. It also broke up the author’s narration and kept it from ever becoming too dry. That personal angle was always there. I have to give Ben Riggs credit: he went above and beyond to get as many opinions of what happened as possible, and dug deep into his research as well.
Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons was a riveting look at the rise, fall, and reincarnation of TSR, the most honest one I’ve seen to date. I recommend this to anyone who remembers going into Walden books and seeing a treasure trove of creativity, and to D&D fans of all ages.
Book banning, the Salem Witch Trials, twenty-sided die, and the Satanic Panic: what do these things all have in common? Fear and misunderstanding. While everyone knows about the Salem Witch Trials, and the attempt to ban massive amounts of books is still alive and kicking, the Satanic Panic pretty much ended in the 90’s. Right? Unfortunately, while things evolve to fit the times, the Satanic Panic is alive and well and continues to target table-top roleplaying games.
TTRPGs, or table-top role-playing games, have found themselves in the mainstream recently. From streaming shows such as Critical Role to the Netflix hit Stranger Things, suddenly TTRPGs have stepped out of basements (or den, in my case) and into the limelight. While there are many positives to its recent popularity, it seems that those old fears and overreactions have made a resurgence as well.
I play TTRPGs. I use them in my homeschool. Let me tell you, I’ve never summoned so much as the bag of Doritos from the kitchen (or would that be using the Force?), much less a demonic entity. TTRPGs, simply put, are fun. They give adults permission to do what children do all the time: use their imaginations.
My love of Dungeons and Dragons started in the mid-to-late 90s, so I only caught echoes of the panic that seemed to be everywhere in the 80s. By the time it got to me, it seemed everyone knew someone who was related to someone who played with “a guy who got sucked into the occult through D&D”. Usually, these “true stories” ended with injury or disappearance. To me, these tales felt very similar to Bloody Mary or other stories told at sleepovers.
If a teenager can see the ridiculousness of some of these fears, why couldn’t adults? And why was Dungeons and Dragons such a big target?
Margaret Weis, author of several bestselling series, including Dragonlance, was in the middle of it from a creator’s standpoint. I asked her what the Satanic Panic looked like from her perspective, as someone involved in the growing popularity of both TTRPGs and fantasy in general.
She remembers, “I was working at TSR at the time. I remember we watched the 60 Minutes show where they interviewed a mother of a young man who committed suicide and she was blaming it on D&D because she found a lot of D&D books in his bedroom. His death was tragic, but when you listen to his mother, you start to realize he was suffering from a great many problems that went unrecognized. Then there was the religious tract “Dark Dungeons”. People would place those inside D&D books at the local bookstores. We read that and honestly couldn’t believe people would think that D&D would give a person real “evil powers”. As one of the game designers said, if we really could gain such powers, why would we be working? Why weren’t we ruling the world?”
The suicide in question, that of Patricia Pulling’s son, is absolutely a tragedy. However, while he did play D&D, there has been absolutely nothing to suggest that a game of imagination caused his death. Pat Pulling was a grieving mom looking for answers and I don’t fault her for that. The problem is the answers she chose had no basis in reality and ultimately led to a spike in fears over TTRPGs and their supposed role in the occult.
Patricia would go on to form Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (or BADD), a group that would fuel the flames that consumed reason and understanding in so many people. There was also a handy-dandy (and completely bonkers) pamphlet written by Patricia called Dungeons and Dragons: Witchcraft, Suicide, Violence. Thanks to The Escapist, I was able to get a look at this pamphlet. It’s so ridiculous, it would be funny if so many people hadn’t bought into it!
YoDanno, a Twitter friend who is incredibly knowledgeable on the history of Dungeons and Dragons, kindly sent me an article by Michael A. Stackpole, debunking her many claims in no uncertain terms (you can find that full article here). Not only did she make some choices of questionable legality, she also flat-out lied to add some semblance of credence to her accusations. Michael A. Stackpole concluded, “Her methods and tactics, at their very best, taint any evidence she might offer and, at their worst, construct a monster where none exists”.
Panic over the years often comes from a simple and even admirable trait: the desire to protect our children. Of course, we want our kids to be safe and loved. The problem arises when we have no idea of the reality of what we are condemning. How can anyone judge TTRPGs they’ve never played, or call for the banning of books they haven’t read with any sort of authority? (I’ll do my best to spare you my thoughts on book banning, but no promises because it is coming pretty dang close to the Satanic Panic in proportion).
“Experts” were quick to harshly judge what they had little to no experience in. According to Texe Marrs, author of Ravaged by the New Age: Satan’s Plan to Destroy Our Kids, “This game is nothing more than an introduction to the occult. Fantasies the players involve and indulge themselves in include murder, rape, arson, pillage, terrorism, brutal torture, etc. ” (Marrs). Um…no. Nothing in that statement is close to correct. I do my absolute best to avoid reading books with r**e in them; I definitely wouldn’t play a game that would glorify it or encourage my son to play.
I asked Ms. Weis, “Did stigma against your profession bleed over into your personal life and in what way?” Sadly, it did affect her on a personal level.
“I remember the elders in [coauthor] Tracy’s church (Mormon) wanted him to quit his job at TSR because they feared he was being corrupted. He invited them to play the game with him and if they still thought it was evil, he would quit. He ran an RPG for the elders one night. Not only did they not make him quit, they asked him if he would run a weekly game for them! My son came home from junior high one day to tell me that his teacher had asked if he tortured cats. He was astounded and asked why she would say such a thing. She said she assumed he must be a devil worshipper because his mother worked for TSR!”
All because people chose fear over an attempt to understand or learn something new.
I also asked Margaret Weis’ thoughts on why TTRPGs have been, and continue to be, such a target.
She answered, “I remember someone theorizing that the reason people latched onto D&D as being Satanic was that parents didn’t understand it and didn’t bother to take the time to learn about it. All they saw was their kids playing a strange fantasy game for hours or days, a game that didn’t have a board, used weird dice, and had its own language. The best way to deal with this is to invite these people to play! Like Tracy did!”
Of course, this article won’t stop the judgment that seems to once again be growing in volume. People are going to overreact and condemn what they really don’t understand. But here’s a thought; just ask. If you don’t know what playing a TTRPG entails (imagination and math, at its core), how on earth can you really judge it?
Marrs, Texe. Ravaged by the New Age Satan’s Plan to Destroy Our Kids. 1708 Patterson Road, Austin, Texas 78733, RiverCrest Publishers.
This is a repost, because I loved this series so much. This was originally published in February of 2021.
I’ve been talking about roleplaying classes in books. A “class” is a set of criteria that sort of shows what type of character someone is playing. For example, boiled down, a paladin is a holy warrior. Examples of different Dungeons and Dragons character classes can be found all throughout literature.
When I decided to tackle this subject, I knew that I wouldn’t do it well on my own. Some amazing bloggers and authors offered their expertise as well! Today, I’m talking about rogues and rangers. You can find my posts about fighters and barbarians here, and my post about paladins, clerics, and druids here. Now, on to today’s post!
Rogue: Rogues use stealth, and cunning to defeat their foes or prevail in a situation. Rather than rushing straight into danger, guns blazing (or giant swords decapitating), rogues prefer to use their own unique skill set to accurately assess the situation and shift the odds in their favor. Rogues can be thieves, assassins, or even con artists. If a rogue is around, best to keep your hands on your valuables!
The Irresponsible Reader has a great take on the subject of rogues: “When I sat down to think about rogue characters (they were still called “thieves” when I played, but changing times and all), I was more than a little surprised at how many came to mind. I’m not sure what it says about me that, in almost every genre, I can think of a handful of stellar examples. The character that created this appreciation in me is James “Slippery Jim” Bolivar deGriz, the Stainless Steel Rat.
Thirty thousand plus years from now, society is almost entirely crimeless. It’s orderly. It’s safe. It’s comfortable. It’s (arguably) boring. There’s some petty crime, but most of the criminals are caught quickly and dealt with by the law. Then there are what diGriz calls Stainless Steel Rats.
Jim is a thief, a con man, a non-violent criminal (unless he absolutely has to be, and then he can be ruthless). There’s no safe he can’t crack, no lock he can’t pick, no building he can’t get into, no artifact he can’t find a way to walk away with. He’s smooth, he’s witty, he’s charming, he’s…well, roguish. He’s a loving husband (utterly smitten with his wife, actually), a good father (if you grant training his sons to be criminals like he and his wife), and in return for not being in prison for the rest of his life, he’s working to bring down other criminals like him all over the galaxy. Think WhiteCollar or Catch Me If You Can. “
“…At a certain stage the realization strikes through that one must either live outside of society’s bonds or die of absolute boredom.” – Harry Harrison, The Stainless Steel Rat
Beneath a Thousand Skies explains why she thinks Thren Felhorn from the Shadowdance series by David Dalgish is a great rogue: “Rogues are fun. There’s nothing like rolling high and knowing that your target isn’t going to have a clue you’re there until you introduce them to your dagger, or slipping out of situations with nary a scratch because of evasion. Then there’s the sneaking, intrigue, and outright thievery because what better way is there to get what you want?
That is who Thren Felhorn is, and more. He’s the quintessential rogue- a thief, a survivor, an assassin- and he has a ruthless streak a mile wide when he needs it. He also blurs that line of living in the moment, focusing on the current situation or target, and looking to the future and clawing (and stabbing) his way to the top. There are moments when you’ll love him, moments when you’ll hate him, but you can’t help but be drawn to him and into his world.”
“‘That’s how you gut someone,” Thren whispered into the man’s ear as if he were a dying lover. A twist, a yank, and the sword came free.”-David Dalgish, Cloak and Spider
Behind the Pages has two great examples of rogue characters, starting with Jenks from The Hollow series by Kim Harrison: “Skilled at stealth, at a few inches tall this pixy is the perfect backup on a heist. He can detect electronics and is a pro at putting cameras on loop. While he isn’t a hardened criminal, Jenks has no problem helping his teammates steal for legitimate jobs. He specializes in aerial combat and has the ability to pix his enemies causing itching sores on exposed skin. Most overlook him due to his size, and it makes him the main scout for his party searching out traps and ambushes.”
“You can trust me to keep my word. I always keep my word, promises or threats.”– Kim Harrison, Dead Witch Walking
Behind the Pages also has some thoughts on Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: “After a tragedy left him on the streets, Kaz learned to steal to survive. Money is his motivator and if you offer enough, he will steal whatever your heart’s desire. Danger and consequences hold no bounds for Kaz. No lock can hold him back, and his quick mind enables his team to pull off the most complicated of heists.”
“‘I’m a businessman,” he’d told her. “No more, no less.” “You’re a thief, Kaz.” “Isn’t that what I just said?” – Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows
Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub gets on her soapbox: I love rogues so, so much! I almost always play a rogue of some sort when I’m gaming. In fact, a recent D&D character that I created just happened to be an assassin that had been hired to, um…eliminate a member of the party. The rest of the players were none the wiser. Good times. Everyone else has such great examples of rogues in books, but I want to add a couple more: Both Ardor Benn and Quarrah from TheThousand Deaths of Ardor Benn fit the bill. Ardor is a charismatic con artist, always a step ahead. He rolls with the punches and is able to think on his feet. Every time I thought one of his cons was going sideways, he’d turn it to his advantage. He would have been right at home planning the heist in Ocean’s Eleven. Then there’s Quarrah, a talented cat burglar (her eyesight is not the greatest, which I think is awesome in a thief). Together, they make for two very unique characters that show the range a roguish character has.
“‘That’s just it,” said Remaught. “I know exactly who you are. Ardor Benn, ruse artist.” “Extraordinaire,” said Ard. “Excuse me?” Remaught asked. “Ardor Benn, ruse artist extraordinaire,” Ard corrected.”
Ranger: Hunters, wilderness survivors, and protectors, rangers are often what stands between civilization and the monsters that live in the wild. They do well in game settings that require treks through the unknown, being more at home outside the comforts of civilization. Like druids, rangers have spells taken from nature’s power. These spells tend to focus on skills that will help with survival and with the fight against what pushes against the boundaries between nature and society.
Kerri McBookNerd has great experience with rangers: “I’ve been playing D&D for a minute and, though I’ve dabbled in almost all of the classes, my tried and true favorite has always been the ranger. I’ve always connected with characters that love to be out in nature and tend to face danger from a respectable distance, lol. Rangers in my mind tend to be outsiders who aren’t 100% comfortable in polite company and gravitate more towards four-legged friends. They’re good at tracking, they’re good at hiding, and they know how to live off the land. And, as anyone who has met one of the rangers I’ve played, they have quite a sarcastic mouth on them! That’s why I think Fie from The Merciful Crow series would make a great ranger! She has lots of experience fending for herself or her clan in the wilderness. She tends to get on with animals (especially cats) more than people. And her wit is sharp enough to draw blood! Though Fie and her clan are outcasts due to prejudices in the kingdom, she generally prefers to stay away from “civilized” society, anyways. She’s got a bit of magic, too, so I’m definitely sensing a sorcerer subclass here. I think she would make a fantastic ranger!”
“Pa’d taught her to watch the starving wolf. When beasts go hungry too long, he’d said, they forget what they ought to fear.”-Margaret Owen, The Merciful Crow
Ricard Victoria has a few good examples of rangers in literature: ” the most obvious option would be Aragorn [from The Lord of the Rings], but I think Jon Snow [from A Song of Ice and Fire] fits the role as well, especially during his time as a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch. He has a combat style of two-weapon fighting, which would help him to wield effectively Long Claw. His armor could be considered light. He also has an Animal Companion in Ghost. The Wild Empathy ability would account for his nascent warging powers (in a low-level campaign anyways). His time with the Wildlings would have given him good tracking skills as well as the endurance proper of a ranger. Talking about the Wildings, one could argue that they would be his Favored Enemy, but I think the White Walkers make for a better Favored Enemy. He would have also as part of his background (and this is a spoiler), some draconic blood (you know, because of who he really is son of). Longclaw would be a bastard sword with a Keen Edge enhancement that could evolve into a Vorpal sword. Jon could have high stats in Con, Char, and Dexterity. Decent intelligence and wisdom.”
“Yet even so, Jon Snow was not sorry he had come. There were wonders here as well. He had seen sunlight flashing on icy thin waterfalls as they plunged over the lips of sheer stone cliffs, and a mountain meadow full of autumn wildflowers, blue coldsnaps and bright scarlet frostfires and stands of piper’s grass in russet and gold. He had peered down ravines so deep and black they seemed certain to end in some hell, and he had ridden his garron over a wind-eaten bridge of natural stone with nothing but sky to either side. Eagles nested in the heights and came down to hunt the valleys, circling effortlessly on great blue-grey wings that seemed almost part of the sky.”– George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire
Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub gives her thoughts on rangers: Personally, I think Raven from The Black Company by Glen Cook is a good example of a ranger. Yes, he prefers to use a sharp knife over a bow (which is usually the ranger’s weapon of choice), but he can use a bow with the best of them. He’s a great tracker and even knows a little bit of magic.
“I can laugh at peasants and townies chained all their lives to a tiny corner of the earth while I roam its face and see its wonders, but when I go down, there will be no child to carry my name, no family to mourn me save my comrades, no one to remember, no one to raise a marker over my cold bit of ground.”– Glen Cook, ShadowsLinger
Meet the Contributors:
The Irresponsible Reader is one of my very favorite blogs. Covering a wide variety of genres from comics through biographies, the reviews on this blog are detailed and interesting. The Irresponsible Reader is responsible (ha!) for many additions to my “to be read” list.
Beneath a Thousand Skies talks about all things nerdy on her blog, including books and Dungeons and Dragons. A perfect haven for those with an eye toward imaginative books, Beneath a Thousand Skies is definitely a blog to follow.
Behind the Pagesis an excellent blog and beta reading site, run by the talented Tabitha. Her reviews are very insightful and incredibly well-written. She has excellent taste and never fails to review books that would have snuck under my radar, adding to my already way-too-long list of books to read.
Kerri McBookNerd is a great blogger. She’s my go-to for Young Adult Fantasy reviews (her other reviews are just as great)! Her reviews are creative and unique. You can’t go wrong, following her blog. I guarantee you’ll find some new gems to check out.
Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Tempest Blades fantasy series. Book one, The Withered King, (which I highly recommend reading), is available now. Book two, The Cursed Titans will be released this summer and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
Jodie is the creator of the Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub blog. She either lives in Florida with her husband and sons, or in a fantasy book-she’ll never tell which. When she’s not reading, Jodie balances her time between homeschooling her hooligans, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and lamenting her inability to pronounce “lozenge”. Find her online at http://www.wittyandsarcasticbookclub.home.blog or https://www.twitter.com/WS_BOOKCLUB.
I had the idea to discuss Dungeons and Dragons classes (which is very similar to the class system in most roleplaying games) and its similarity to characters in books. Basically, a “class” is a set group of skills that is generally used by a specific profession. For example, “fighter class” consists of excelling at some sort of combat.
I asked for contributions from book bloggers and authors and what they came up with is brilliant. What had started out as a single post has turned into a few, with each post discussing a different set of classes. You can find my post on Fighters and Barbarians here. Today, let’s talk about paladins, clerics, and druids. Here we go!
Paladin: Take a fighter and add a fair dose of religious fervor, a strong code of conduct, and an oath to fulfill, and you’ve got the general idea. Paladins get a power boost from either their god or their commitment to their cause. Boiled down: holy warrior. Or, if you’re feeling saucy, an unholy warrior.
“Firstly, I am delighted to be contributing to the Witty and Sarcastic Book club for the first time! It’s an amazing blog that I follow and when Jodie put out this interesting call, I just knew that I wanted to be a part of this post.
I have a feeling this is going to be a great post. Jodie’s request was to match a character from fiction to a Dungeons and Dragons class and I had so many ideas! I settled on something though, it seemed so bizarre but then thinking about it I just had to write about Murderbot from the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells as a Paladin!
Go with me on this one as Paladins are a holy warrior class in D&D, while Murderbot isn’t the major comparison is that it always tries to do the right thing. This is an important part of the books and the character, this part of the character drew comparisons to the Paladin class. It reminded me of one cool dude I am playing D&D with at the moment and guess what? He’s playing as a Paladin.
Doing the right thing or what you perceive to be the right thing is tough, Paladin’s can have a very hard time in D&D and Murderbot..well the character is an interesting one because it fights for what it believes, for it believes to be doing the right thing when it does. I can’t say too much without spoilers but I just knew that the character connotations were there.
Thank you to Jodie for allowing me to let loose my love of Murderbot and comparing it to a Paladin class, enjoy the rest of the post!”
Author Ricardo Victoria also has some thoughts on the paladin class: “This class gets a lot of flak due to its apparent rigidity, but I blame that more on the player (no offense) than on the class, as not many people know or like or can play a Lawful Good character without trying to make it a cardboard cutout. That’s why I think the best example of how a Paladin should be is Sgt. Carrot from Discworld. Strong as an ox? Check? Abides by the Law? Check. Charismatic? Check. Compassionate? Check. Innocent? Check. Can pound you to an inch of your life if you hurt an innocent? For sure. Carrot proves that a Paladin can abide by the spirit of the rule, rather than the letter, can be courteous yet dangerous, flexible when needed, and smart in an unexpected way, especially with clever interpretations of the law. But his most important trait is that he could have the power (it’s somewhat of a secret that he is the true heir to the crown of Ankh-Morpok, and he knows that). The thing is he doesn’t want it. He just wants to protect the innocent and then go home, even if he is pretty much married to his job. That, for me, is how a paladin should be played.”
Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub, on paladins: “For me, I picture Sir Gawain as the epitome of a holy warrior. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, he is very concerned with honor and adhering to the strict code he’s sworn to uphold. There are themes regarding service to the helpless, as well as to God. His sense of morality and his code of conduct guide him in every aspect of his life.
Cleric: More than a healer, but not quite a paladin, clerics are servants of their deities. Clerics have the ability to heal as well as possibly harm through magical means granted by their god. However, unlike a priest or acolyte (who usually stay in a town or temple), clerics take their skills to the frontlines, helping those such as paladins in their holy cause.
Geeky Galaxy has some great thoughts on clerics: “Trudi Canavan has a great many series that covers every angle of character archetypes, from rogues to magicians, and the one I’m going to talk about a little more, clerics. Age of the Five #1 is called Priestess of the White and features all manner of religious icons, from cults, to gods and of course, clerics. This series is perfect if you love a rich depth to your fantasy worlds with a particular focus on religion and politics. It’s perfect for the sort of person who wants to get lost in a book for hours at a time!
Beneath a Thousand Skies shares her thoughts on clerics: “Anyone who’s ever played D&D has likely has the cleric call them out on their nonsense at least once. The long-suffering cleric is part healer, part priestess/priest, part counsellor, and often (but not always0 the common sense of the party. They can also pack quite a punch when they want to.
For me, that is Gilda from the Godblind trilogy in a nutshell. In many ways, she’s central to the story and plays a pivotal role in the lives and stories of many of the characters. Yet she’s also an unsung hero, and she is a perfect example of someone straddling that line between priestess, counsellor, and
healer. She might not have magic, but she has powe, heart, and that all-important common sense and she has a mean right hook when needed (just ask Lanta).”
“There’s little I understand about your religion, about why you would choose a life of fear and of pain over a world of life and light and beauty and an afterlife of joy and oneness. Because life is hard, aye, but it isn’t brutal. Brutal’s what we do to each other. Hard is what the seasons do to us.”-Anna Stephens, Darksoul
Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub says: Clerics are probably the class that I have the least experience with. However, Melisandre from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series comes to mind. Her deity is called the Lord of Light and, to be honest, she really weirded me out.
Druid: Druids are representative of nature. They get their power- healing, magical spells, etc.- from either the land itself or from a nature deity. They can even shift into an animal form.
I love Bees and Books’ take on druids: “Were the Animorphs a huge part of your childhood? Those tattered, much loved paperbacks certainly were a staple in all of the school libraries I visited. Prepare yourselves for a Big Brain moment but the Animorphs were just like Druids in D&D. Take the primary power of an Animorph: the ability to morph into a creature they have seen and touched, thereby acquiring the DNA of the creature permanently. The Animorph in question then can use that shape for morphing at any time, though they are limited to the time period they can stay in shift otherwise they may become stuck as that creature. The Animorph power (given to them by the alien Andalites) is similar to a class feature of the D&D Druid, namely the Wildshape feature. Wildshape allows Druids to transform into a creature that they have seen–as opposed to touch/acquire DNA from. This mechanic limits Druids to only creatures from their region, or that they see while on their adventures at the DM’s discretion. Additionally, there are limitations that lift over time as the Druid levels up such as not being able to transform into flying or swimming creatures, and the difficulty rating that Druids can transform up to. It’s relatively easy to transform into a rat, but it takes a while before a Druid can be a giant eagle. These limitations for both Druids and Animorphs mean that they can really only transform into creatures they have access to, and have to be clever when thinking about what to transform into for fighting and other adventures. More experienced Druids also gain additional features, depending on their Druid Circle, that can boost their abilities while in Wildshape, increase the time they can be shifted, or broaden the options for what they can shift into. Similarly, as the Animorphs grow and learn their abilities in the books they become more proficient in shifting, and even find ways around tricky situations such as getting stuck in shift.”
Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub weighs in: Allanon from the Shanara series by Terry Brooks is a pretty good example of a typical druid.
Meet the contributors:
The Swordsmith is a wonderful blog focusing on fantasy literature. The posts are full of detail and so well-written! I highly suggest checking out The Swordsmith anytime you’re looking for a great new book to check out. You won’t be sorry!
Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Tempest Blades fantasy series. Book one, The Withered King, (which I highly recommend reading), is available now. Book two, The Cursed Titans will be released this summer and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
Beneath a Thousand Skies talks about all things nerdy on her blog, including books and Dungeons and Dragons. A perfect haven for those with an eye toward imaginative books, Beneath a Thousand Skies is definitely a blog to follow.
Geeky Galaxy is a great blog that covers a bit of everything, from book reviews to thoughts on book-to-movie adaptations. Her content is always fun to read, and her writer’s voice is a fantastic!
Bees and Books is a delightful blog, and one of my go-to’s for fantasy opinions. Bees and Books’ posts are so unique and always give me something to mull over.
Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed is a fun, lighthearted book with great D&D elements added. Perfect for upper elementary or middle grade readers, it is nonetheless equally entertaining to adults (or at least, to this adult).
The main character, Zelli, is a human in Dungeon Academy, where humans aren’t accepted. She has been disguised as a minotaur to circumvent this little problem. One day in history class, Zelli learns of a human adventurer who she seems to resemble and in true D&D fashion…embarks on an adventure!
Zelli is surrounded by a trusty group: a mimic, a scaredy-cat kobold, and an owlbear. Added to the fun are some adorable illustrations by Timothy Probert, which made this entertaining book even better.
The pacing was a little off here and there, but the overall product was good enough to ignore the hiccups. The illustrations pushed Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed firmly into the “cute and fun” category, making this a book I’d suggest picking up for any young budding gamers or new fantasy readers.
On the off chance you are unaware, there are three (incredibly obvious) things you should probably know about me:
1. I adore dragons in any form.
2. I quite enjoy roleplaying games, even (especially) when I roll badly.
3. I absolutely love the Dragonlance series. It was my gateway to fantasy, and I have reread the Chronicles every year since I first fell in love with them, much longer ago than I care to admit.
So, much like a certain kender, I had to “borrow” Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. I’m sure Fizban wouldn’t mind.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not particularly well-versed in fifth edition, 3.5 being where I’ve hung my hat the longest. However, a good chunk of what makes books like this great has nothing to do with the edition. It’s a jump-start in creativity. Looking through Fizaban’s Treasury of Dragons gave me several great ideas and got my mind working. In fact, I think I’m ready to attempt to conquer my nerves over being the DM and lead a Dragonlance campaign myself.
The book organizes and breaks down the different types of dragons often found in D&D, organizing stats, suggestions, spells, and more into easy-to-understand pages. Apart from the usual suspects, there are some new additions and some extra details given. Gem dragons! Faerie dragons! Clever, and sometimes funny, adventure hooks! When it comes to Dungeons and Dragons campaign books, there are a few different sorts: the D&D book that stays on the shelf; the trusty manual that is always consulted; and the fun extra that helps elevate a campaign in terms of creativity and enjoyment. Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons falls firmly in the last category.
Something that I found pretty interesting is the examples and tie-ins to other lines owned by Wizards of the Coast. There are examples from Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Eberron, and even a mention or two from Magic the Gathering. I sometimes found it odd to see how the book tried to tie everything up into one neat little “it’s all related” bow, but the information itself was still cool. Being a huge Dragonlance fan, I was really excited when mentions of Cyan Bloodbane and Fireflash popped up.
Oh, and here’s the best part: lots and lots of Fizban! I loved the little quotes attributed to him throughout the book. They range from advice (“To portray a convincing human, one must embody greed, selfishness, and vigilance. To portray a convincing dragon, one must relax.”) to very important observations (“…When it comes to my pudding, well, you can’t fix perfect.”), and everything in-between. They added fun and charm to an already-enjoyable manual.
I did have one little niggle, which actually had to do with how Fizban was referred to in the book. If you haven’t read the Dragonlance Chronicles yet (I demand to know why!), there’s a huge spoiler! So, for the Dragonlance uninitiated, be aware of that. Or try to be unaware. Or something.
Aside from that, Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons is excellent. I’d like to apologize in advance to the poor unfortunates who will be stuck playing in my Dragonlance campaign. It’s Fizban’s fault. Truly.