A Class Above: D&D Classes in Books-Rogues and Rangers (Repost)

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 White Collar 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 The Thousand 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, Shadows Linger

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 Pages is 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.

A Class Above: D&D Classes in Books- Paladins, Clerics, and Druids (Repost)

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.

I’m happy to have The Swordsmith joining in the conversation :

“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.


Dungeons and Dragons: Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed by Maleleine Roux

Welcome to Dungeon Academy, where monsters and creatures train for the dark world that awaits just beyond the dungeon walls! But Zellidora “Zelli” Stormclash is a bit—different. She’s the one thing monsters and creatures of the Forgotten Realms fear the most: Zelli is a human!
Knowing she’ll never be accepted, Zelli’s parents disguise her as a minotaur in hopes she’ll blend with the academy’s monstrous surroundings. Zelli does her work, keeps to herself, and becomes “invisible” to everyone. 
While in History of Horrible Humans class, Zelli learns of the great human adventurer, Allidora Steelstrike, who oddly resembles her. Could Zelli also be a Steelstrike? Seeking answers to her true lineage, Zelli embarks on a dangerous adventure.
But she won’t be alone. A vegan owlbear, a cowardly kobold, and a shapeshifting mimic will join Zelli on her quest for truth in a world that holds no place for them. And who knows? Perhaps these monstrous misfits may discover some truths of their own . . . (taken from Amazon)

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.

Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons (D&D Book)


Meet Fizban the Fabulous: doddering archmage, unlikely war hero, divine avatar of a dragon-god—and your guide to the mysteries of dragonkind.
 
What is the difference between a red dragon and a gold dragon? What is dragonsight? How does a dragon’s magic impact the world around them? This comprehensive guide provides Dungeon Masters with a rich hoard of tools and information for designing dragon-themed encounters, adventures, and campaigns. Dragonslayers and dragon scholars alike will also appreciate its insight into harnessing the power of dragon magic and options for players to create unique, memorable draconic characters.
 
    Introduces gem dragons to fifth edition!
    Provides Dungeon Masters with tools to craft adventures inspired by dragons, including dragon lair maps and detailed information about 20 different types of dragons
    Adds player character options, including dragon-themed subclasses for monks and rangers, unique draconic ancestries for dragonborn, additional spell options, and a feat
    Presents a complete dragon bestiary and introduces a variety of dragons and dragon-related creatures—including aspects of the dragon gods, dragon minions, and more
    Reveals the story of the First World and the role the dragon gods Bahamut and Tiamat played in its creation and destruction (taken from Amazon)

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.


(If you haven’t yet read Dragonlance, and would like to know where to start, you can find my opinion here: Dragonlance Books: Where on Krynn Should You Start?)

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- What You May Have Missed

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.

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs-Zack Argyle

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs-Geoff Habiger

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Dorian Hart

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Rowena Andrews and Jonathan Nevair

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Dan Fitzgerald

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Thomas Howard Riley

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Jeffrey Speight

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Ricardo Victoria

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Rob Edwards

TTRPGs that are Based on Books

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Rob Edwards

I’m so excited to be able to talk about D&D with author Rob Edwards today! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!

Will you tell me a little bit about your book, The Ascension Machine?

It’s a science fiction superhero novel, in which a young grifter impersonates a guy and in the process winds up enrolled at a college for alien superheroes. Grey, as he starts calling himself, stays for the novelty, but despite himself finds friends, and a place he belongs. It’s all based on his lie, so to stay at the Justice Academy Grey has to keep lying, even to his new friends. Things escalate, the team end up fighting gangsters and aliens, and investigate strange goings on. It’s an adventure romp with a large cast of characters all dealing with the difficult adjustment of starting college… with super powers.

How about your history with ttrpgs? When did you first start playing, and what drew you to it?

In 1983 I was about 12 or 13, and I came across an advert in some comic books which I became kind of obsessed with. A party of adventurers explore a dungeon, battle a monster then encounter some green slime. I cannot tell you for why, but when the elf rogue shouts “Look out, it’s dripping!” I knew I had to play this game.

I got the “Red Box” Basic set for my next birthday, and never looked back. I’ve played or run every edition of D&D since, as well as many many other systems. 

Here’s the list of some of the games I’ve played in the order of them occurring to me: GURPS, DC Heroes, TORG, Amber Diceless, Golden Heroes, Marvel, Mutants and Masterminds, Hero, Star Wars d6, Star Wars d20, Star Wars Edge of Empire, Ghostbusters, Pathfinder, Starfinder, Spycraft, Fantasycraft, Tunnels and Trolls, MERP, Doctor Who, Song of Ice and Fire, Babylon Project, Wheel of Time, Call of Cthulhu, Arcanis, Seventh Sea, Shadowrun, Twilight 2000, Top Secret SI, Judge Dredd, TMNT… plus a few more for one shots that I’m probably forgetting).

Oh, my greatest Geek pride (as it says in my bio): back when Wizards of the Coast had the Star Wars license and were running the Living Force campaign for convention play, I got to write seven modules for the campaign, meaning someone somewhere at Lucasfilm (probably an intern) read something I wrote in the Star Wars universe and said “OK”. Meaning that, until Disney bought Star Wars, I was briefly, obscurely, canon. 

Anyway, this answer is far too long. Suffice to say I’m almost always the DM these days, which I love, but my rare chances to play are solid gold for me.

That sounds like my husband. He always ends up being a DM. After a less-than -successful attempt on my part several years ago ( I failed to communicate to my players exactly what kind of campaign I was trying to run, which did not go well), I’m still working up my courage to try again. I might give it another go in a decade or so. 

As DM, do you feel like your writing affects how you tell the story? Did your experience with gaming play into your writing at all?

Interesting question. Firstly, I think over time I’ve come to realise that my writing and my DMing, at least for home brew things, come from a very similar place, creatively. I’ve found the more I’m writing, the less I have in the tank for coming up with my own worlds and plotlines for games. And vice versa. As a result, since taking my writing more seriously, I’ve tended to stick to prewritten adventures. Perhaps not as engaging as creating my own world, but still a lot of fun.

I’d say my experience gaming has absolutely everything to do with my writing. I’ve always been a writer, always been a storyteller, for as long as I can remember, but for the best part of four decades, I honed my skills as a storyteller on all my many players. Sometimes triumphantly, sometimes not. When I started writing professionally, I had all of that foundation to build on. A sense of how much foreshadowing is too much. A sense of when the story needs a kick from an action beat. Why world building is important and how too much can be a distraction and suck the pace out of a scene. All of my instinct for that comes from my gaming. (Also reading so very very much in my youth).

That said, I have a D&D campaign world that I’ve run different groups in for…. Wow, is it twenty years now? … There’s a story to be told there, there’s a novel, possibly a trilogy in it. But actually writing the book of the campaign(s)… I’ve tried starting a few times but so far it has totally stumped me.

Wow, twenty years is a huge accomplishment! I bet the world development for that campaign is incredible. Do the characters being played change as the players do, or does each player bring a new facet to the same characters?

Most of the active world building happened for the first campaign — that was a lot — and the original sequel campaign. Those campaigns had the same players, playing different characters two decades apart in the campaign timeline. Since then, I’ve run three variations on the original campaign, always with different characters, always bringing new wrinkles to the way the world works. New characters bring new focus, it’s interesting to see NPCs (non-player characters) who were hugely significant in the original run fading into the background or  taking very different actions and suffering very different fates in later playthroughs. By the same token, NPCs who barely got a name in the original version get the spotlight in later runs.

The most recent version of the campaign fell apart at about the time the pandemic hit. I’ve since decided it’s time to retire that campaign world and start something fresh. Though in this campaign, I’m trying to be a little more improvisational about it all, because I don’t want it to suck the energy out of my writing.

If anyone is super interested, you can get a hint of what some of the setting was like in my short story Virtue’s Blade in the Inklings Press anthology Tales of Magic and Destiny. It’s a new story not taken directly from any specific adventure in that world, but does give a flavour of some of the world building for that campaign. (Or listen to me read it on my podcast here: Episode 39: Virtue’s Pirate · StorycastRob (spotify.com))

You mentioned using your time as DM (Dungeon Master, for those who aren’t familiar with the lingo) to hone your storytelling skills, and how that helped with pacing and foreshadowing. One thing I really enjoyed about The Ascension Machine was that the pacing was never too rushed, nor was it too slow. Your practice definitely made perfect!

I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but Grey was an interesting character in that, while he was conning everyone, at his heart he had a strong moral compass. Is that sort of “alignment” your go-to when gaming? And dovetailing off of that, do you have a favorite character class? Or do you prefer to shake things up when creating your own character (obviously, prewritten adventures are a little different)?

Oh yeah. I know people can get very excited by evil campaigns or characters, but they don’t really interest me. I’m always the good guy in games as a player, if I ever feel the urge to be evil, I have my DMing for that!

As for character classes, I like my characters to be skilled and versatile. They don’t need to be The Best, but I do prefer competence. In pursuit of it, I’ve dabbled in just about every class over the years, but my big go-tos are Sorcerer, Fighter, Bard. My least travelled are probably Druid and Cleric. My current obsession is Artificer, and I think I might actually get to play one soon.

Grey in The Ascension Machine could absolutely be one of my characters in a game. I’ve played plenty of rogues, swindlers and con artists in all sorts of settings, from Jack “Ace” King, a gambler in a Wild West game, to Agent Duchess, my Spycraft “Face” character. In The Ascension Machine, Grey’s plan on Bantus (no details, read the book!) was basically something I pulled in-character for a D&D game one time. 

 I am almost obsessively honest in the real world, so these characters are pure escapism!

Ah, you claim you’re obsessively honest. Perhaps that is what a dishonest person would say? 😉 I must say, I’ve never played an artificer. I bet it would be a blast, though. What would you say to someone who is curious about playing ttrpgs, but has never played before?

Give it a go! The hobby isn’t for everyone, but the only way to find out if it’s for you is to try it for yourself. Oh there are plenty of YouTube shows and let’s plays out there that you can watch to get a sense of how things work (Including our own DragonLance play, right Jodie?) but really you have to play it to be sure. Just, try and find a good DM, they really do make all the difference. If someone is asking me, I might well offer to run a session, if we can find some more players.

But if you’re asking how would I describe ttrpgs to somebody…? The grand description is that it’s cooperative improvised storytelling (with dice). It’s “Let’s Pretend” for grown-ups and kids  (with dice).

Any other description can be contradicted (and even the dice thing, one of my favourite games is Amber, a diceless system based on Roger Zelazny’s books). 

Because, yes, it can be an epic tale of heroes battling monsters, saving the world and getting loot (with dice), if that’s the story your group wants to tell. But it could equally be a disturbing tale of standing against unspeakable horrors where only madness and death awaits (with dice), or a political intrigue with backstabbing (and dice), or… whatever else you need it to be.

It is such a versatile hobby. As long as you can find a group of people who want to tell the same kind of story you do, it can be whatever you want it to be. Usually with dice.

About the author:

Rob Edwards is a British born writer and content creator, living in Finland. His podcast, StorycastRob, features readings from his short stories and extracts from longer work. 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.

Links

Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/StorycastRob

Check out his Podcast: http://storycastrob.co.uk/

Or YouTube: Rob Edwards

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Ricardo Victoria

I’ve been talking about table-top roleplaying games with authors over the last few days. Today I’m joined by Ricardo Victoria, author of the Tempest Blades series.

Thank you for being willing to talk about D&D with me!

First, will you tell me a bit about The Tempest Blades series?

The Tempest Blades series is a story in progress (2 books published, 2-3 more to go, plus a few short stories) about this legendary hero Fionn, who after his final battle during the Great War found himself awakening 100 years later and  after a few years of adjustment is asked to return to the role of hero to stop an evil from his past. In the way, he is joined by a new band of heroes: Gaby, Alex, Sam (who is Fionn’s great granddaughter and adoptive daughter), Fionn’s best friend Harland and Sid the Samoharo (later joined by Kasumi the demonhunter, Joshua, a mysterious man and Yokoyawa, Sid’s cousin). And Fionn finds himself in the role of mentor to this new band, preparing them for the challenges that they will face from now on. Every action has a consequence both in the large scale of the world they live in, and in a personal level, which is reflected in the second book with the fallout of the first adventure and the toll in the mental health of Alex. All towards saving the world from looming menaces from beyond the physical realm.

Bottom line, Tempest Blades is a story about getting a second opportunity, finding redemption and your place in the world amidst action packed adventures that actually read like a ttrpg campaing! I have to note that I’m writing each book as self-contained, even if they are in the same continuity, so readers get a whole story in each book along a larger arc. Again, kinda like a ttrpg campaign, composed of smaller adventures all linked together.

Now that I think of… basically I’m writing my ideal ttrpg with me playing all the roles and the DM.

How about your history with ttrps? When did you first start playing and what drew you to it?

I always wanted to play since I saw the D&D cartoon as a kid, but never had the access to the books or with whom to play until I got to college. There I got my copies of the three core books of D&D 3e. and a few of a system called BESM (Big Eyes, Small Mouths, which is basically a system to play anime style adventures). Then my best friend, who already had his D&D group at the time, started to run a game at college with his classmates and I sorta, kinda ‘forced’ my way to join the group at their second adventure. And we kept playing for the next three years. Sometimes to give him a rest as DM I ran games in Stars Wars D20, or BESM, or another player ran his homebrew Saint Seiya game. We also played D20 modern, where our DM adapted the first Resident Evil game. It was awesome.

Then when I moved to UK for my Ph.D. I joined the Roleplay and Wargames Society, as a way to practice my English in an informal setting and to meet friends (and this incidentally got me to know the guys with whom we created Inklings Press, but that’s another story). There I played D&D, Exhalted and Bureau 13, and ran a few sessions of an improvised BESM game.

I haven’t played since I came back to Mexico since a) my best friend passed away, so his group simply disbanded and b) the downside of being an adult with responsibilities is that finding the time and someone play with. But I’m trying to create a new group with a  friend and his nephew and in the meantime I get my fix for ttrpg listening to a couple of live roleplay podcasts: The Dark Dice and Dumbgeons & Dragons, while I plan how to develop a ttrpg (or at least the setting for an established system) based on Tempest Blades.

Does your gaming experience have an effect on your writing?

I have come to realize that both follow the same kind of structured improvisation. I might have an overall plot I want to follow with a given story I’m working on, but how I go from the start to the end (and to the key scenes I have I mind) tends to be somewhat improvisational, just like in a game. The advantage of having a good grasp of who my characters are and how they tend to act allows me to improvise on the way to a key scene. Like the relationship between players and DM. Of course in this case my players are still me so there is nothing 100% unexpected about how things happen. Also I tend to world build my stories the same way I do for my games, creating the world as I’m needing it. And of course there is the fact that Fionn evolved from my first D&D character. On a more personal note, after my best friend suddenly passed away a few years ago, and with permission of the other players from the college group, I incorporated a few of his locations and characters into the world of Tempest Blades as a way to remember him and a homage. Fionn’s character arc was in part inspired by the plans we both had at the time of his passing to restart the campaign as I was ‘promoted’ to co-DM and was helping him with the world building and the plot of the campaign. Also Alex’s constant mentions in The Cursed Titans to a deceased friend are references to that personal event, because that’s the kind of things that remain with you, years after.

That absolutely stays with a person and I think it is a wonderful, very personal way to pay homage to your friend.

What would you say is your favorite thing about ttrpgs?

I love that for a couple of hours, you can be another person, with a different history and in a different world, able to have the adventures you won’t ever have in real life, just with the help of a set of dice, some pencils and paper and through the sheer power of imagination. For a moment you can be the hero (or the villain if you want), leave behind all the worries and weights on our shoulders and be as free as you imagined you would be when a kid. For me, that and the friendships you make through the game are what makes them truly special.

Yes, I agree that the camaraderie really is something special. And, as a reader, it’s already pretty obvious that I’m a big fan of escapism! 

What would you say to someone who has never played a ttrpg , but is curious about it?

The best way to learn about them is playing them. That said, nowadays ttrpg is not the niche hobby it was 20 years ago when I was in college, it has even been showcased in some tv shows like in Community (which I believe is the most “accurate” depiction so far). It has become more accessible and there are more resources to learn about them: facebook groups, your local hobby store, youtube videos, podcasts. Personally, if you are still curious about them but don’t want to commit to play just yet, you can listen to actual play podcasts of which I confess I’m a big fan and there are several good ones. My personal favorites by far are The Dark Dice (which is a D&D horror themed game that includes in its second season Jeff Goldblum. Yes, that Jeff), and Dumbgeons & Dragons, (a more traditional story of adventure but the chemistry between players is off the chart and their comments are hilarious. It’s my go to show to listen when I’m feeling down and it always manages me to cheer me up). Or if you are more visually inclined, check some of the gaming sessions by Critical Role or Acquisitions Incorporated (from the guys of Penny Arcade, which also from time to time featured Wil Wheaton) in YouTube. Many games as well offer free or really cheap starter kits on their website or Amazon, like the D&D starter set, so you can get a sense of how it works. 

Word of advice though: don’t believe that D&D is the beginning and the end of the hobby. There are tons of companies, games, settings to choose from: L5R for samurais/ninja, BESM/Anime 5e for anime inspired games, the White Wolf books for your supernatural or mythological inclined. Bureau 13 for those more into the X-Files/Supernatural kind of Stories. Basic Fantasy for a really simple game to play. Call of Cthulhu for classic cosmic horror or Cthulhutech for SF cosmic horror. There are as many settings as fiction subgenres there are, and within them, different settings to play with and within different price ranges for your needs.

But really, the only things you need to play are pencil, paper, a set of dice, friends and above all, a lot of imagination. No need for expensive hardware or software, just what your mind can create.

About the Author:

Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Tempest Blades fantasy series. You can find both The Withered King and The Cursed Titans (books one and two) now.

To purchase The Withered King:

Amazon

To purchase The Cursed Titans:

Amazon

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Jeffrey Speight

Continuing on with my series on great fantasy authors and table-top roleplaying games, I’m excited to be able to talk with Jeffrey Speight, author of the excellent Paladin Unbound. Thanks for taking the time to chat D&D!

Will you talk a little bit about your recently released fantasy book, Paladin Unbound?

I’d be happy to. Paladin Unbound is a fast-paced high fantasy adventure that follows a half-Orc mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker, as he uncovers an insidious plot to bring the natural order of Evelium to its knees. In the process, he suffers tremendous loss as a result of his own reluctance to show his true nature and risks his own life in coming forth about his secret to guarantee he never makes such a mistake again. It’s a tale of self-discovery, honor, and lots of action.   

How about your history with ttrpgs? Have you been playing for long?

I started playing D&D when I was in middle school in the late 80s. My first character was an elf ranger named Sage. I played rangers a lot growing up. Somewhere along the way, I shifted to preferring paladins. I’m a lawful good alignment, myself, so I think there’s a natural connection there. Several years ago, I started playing again to introduce my three sons to the game and get them off screens. Ugh. It got the creative bug going and led me to homebrewing Tyveriel (the planet where Evelium sits) and, eventually writing the book.

One of the things that I really loved about Paladin Unbound is that it has a bit of a classic D&D feel to it. Is any part of the book inspired by gaming at all?

Absolutely. As I said, the worldbuilding and some of the early character development came directly from a homebrewed D&D campaign for my kids. I way overbuilt for what they needed to learn the game and decided to keep going and really flesh it all out. I took a lot of what I had made for the campaign, elevated the worldbuilding and the characters and started writing Paladin Unbound. The book is very much a love letter to D&D. 

I’ve noticed that many great fantasy authors play D&D. Do you think there is a connection between gaming and writing?

Without a doubt. I think there is a natural connection between the world building, character creation, and fantasy backdrop of D&D and other TTRPGs and the writing process. For many, it’s a direct connection as was the case for Paladin Unbound. For others it’s looser. But let’s face it, if you are spending your time creating a conflicted Dwarvish Sorcerer with a rich backstory, you’re well on your way to writing a fantasy book.

What are some similarities and differences? 

I think the similarities are pretty straight forward. Creating a fantasy world with engaging characters and a storyline are critical to both. Where they diverge is in the craft of actually writing a book. It’s very different than designing, running, or playing a campaign. You can’t go off on silly side quests that don’t further the plot of the story (I totally endorse silly side quests that do further the plot of the story), you are seeing things from only one perspective per scene, you can provide the readers more context than the characters themselves are aware of, etc. 

Does gaming help with writing creativity or vice versa?

For me, it flows both ways. It’s like working out (I’m not an expert in the field) in that if you flex a muscle, it grows stronger over time. Creating a world and characters and stories, whether it is for D&D or writing, will make you better at doing those things in both venues. The more we create, the better we get at creating. A virtuous cycle.

What do you love about gaming?

Oh man, where do I start. I love sitting around the table with a group and experience a story built cooperatively. I love the unexpected twists and turns a game can take due to a single decision or roll of the dice. I love how real it can feel when you are in the middle of a great session. And dice…I love dice.

Yes, the surprise twists are the best! I always smile a little when I find out later that a campaign that someone was running went in a completely unexpected direction and the DM spent the last little bit pulling things out of thin air. With the best DMs, I can’t even tell. As for dice: a certain first-time paladin needed new dice. Absolutely needed them. Nowadays, do you DM more often, or are you a player?

I was so excited to hear you were going to play a paladin. You’ll be smiting evil in no time. As most of my D&D time is spent with my kids, I often find myself the DM. They will walk in the room and ask, Dad, can we play D&D? I’ll say sure. Then they’ll tell me about the new characters they built and that they want to have the campaign based in a flying city run by an evil wizard. They just expect me to have that ready to go. I’d definitely like to join up with a crew for some adult game time, though. Maybe as a player…

What first drew you to writing? 

The escape. I took up writing as a hobby and found that I really enjoyed and benefitted mentally from my time in Evelium. It’s relaxing to leave things behind for a moment and immerse yourself in another world. I had no intention of publishing a book. That came much later once the story was finished and a friend encouraged me to explore publication.

Is there a particular gaming memory that always makes you laugh or smile?

Every Halloween I do a one shot for my wife and kids. It’s usually a short, creepy storyline that involves us as the characters. We’ve built a lot of great memories around those sessions that I will always cherish. Then, there was the time my oldest son thought he could make friends with an orc guard. The party was hiding in the bushes and saw the orc guarding a keep we knew was hostile. He insisted on trying to persuade the orc to let us pass. I asked if he was sure and he said yes. He stood up and waved hello. He took a pretty bad hit from a javelin. We still laugh about that one.

That’s hilarious! Memories like that are the best. I remember the first time my husband and I gamed with my oldest. His wizard accidentally lit the tree my rogue was hiding in on fire. Surprisingly, that gets brought up a lot. Are the majority of your games homebrewed?

Yes. I’ve run a few modules for my kids. They are usually fun, but I actually prefer having more control over the world and the campaign plot. If I’m going to DM, I’d much rather build it all from the ground up.

What would you say to someone who hasn’t played before but is curious about it?

I think a lot of people don’t play TTRPGs because they seem so complicated. I’d say to go into it with an open mind, be willing to learn, and just have fun. A good DM and experienced players will help you out along the way. If you want to DM yourself, I wouldn’t get so wrapped up in all the rules. They are a guideline. Set the expectations accordingly for your table that you aren’t going strictly by the book and just go for it. You’ll have a blast and so will your friends/family. Oh. And be a Paladin…there aren’t enough of us.

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.

Website: https://www.jeffreyspeight.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeffspeight

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jeffsp8/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jeffreyspeightauthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21486809.Jeffrey_Speight

Where to find Paladin Unbound:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58022890-paladin-unbound

Literary Wanderlust: https://www.literarywanderlust.com/product-page/paladin-unbound

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1942856768

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/paladin-unbound-jeffrey-speight/1139410896

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Thomas Howard Riley

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

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Dan Fitzgerald

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