Once upon a time, there was a socially awkward, book-obsessed nerd. This nerd (let’s call her Jodie, shall we?) loved to read. I mean, loved it! Her house was filled with books, her mind was filled with books, and she loved talking about books with everyone she knew. Now, every main character has a flaw (or two, or three) and one of Jodie’s flaws was that she had a hard time not talking about books. This could easily make her an incredibly annoying person to be around. Fortunately, she happened to know a wise wizard. This wizard (also known as her husband) suggested a magical cure to Jodie’s fatal flaw: start a book blog!
Now that we’ve all learned why I am not an author, let me sum up the rest of the story: today is my third blogging birthday. After nearly seven hundred posts, let me share a bit of knowledge with you: I am not an expert. At all. What I am, though, is grateful. I was completely surprised to realize that blogs don’t have to exist in a vacuum. I’ve met some amazing people and read some incredible books thanks to book blogging. I’ve been fortunate to have authors and publishers trust me to review their books, and I’ve tried genres that I didn’t even know existed a few years ago.
I have noticed a fair bit of discouragement lately from bloggers (I’ve been discouraged myself). Imposter Syndrome seems to be rearing its ugly head a lot. So, here is a short sampling of some of the amazing reviews that have caused me to spend way too much money on books. This is nowhere near a complete list, but you all rock. If you happen to find yourself on this list, please consider adding your own list of book bloggers who have added to your reading enjoyment.
Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. – Laurie Halse Anderson
Ah, it’s that lovely time of year. The time of year where I pull out my soapbox, climb on it, and start yelling about how much I disagree with the banning and censoring of books. That’s right- it’s Banned Books Week!
According to the American Library Association, “a challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.” I think most people can understand why this is a dangerous concept. Banning a book allows us to silence people we disagree with. It allows history to be ignored. It takes away the chance to learn from or connect with a different point of view.
Let me start with a little backstory here. The banning of books is nothing new. In fact, it’s believed that the first widely banned book in the U.S. was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, banned for having a “pro-abolitionist agenda”. (via lithub) Howl was actually put on trial. The defendants were told to prove that the book had “literary merit”. Ender’s Game was challenged in 2012 for pornographic content despite that fact that there is no sexual content in the book at all, much less content of a pornographic nature. Even the children’s book Where the Wild Things are has been banned in the past.
Books are banned and challenged for a myriad of reasons. These include sexual issues, the idea that a book has content that is unsuitable for its intended age group, language that is considered offensive, LBTQIA+ content, or any topic that might be considered divisive, really.
The banning and challenging of books still happens. In fact, you can read about a recent incident involving a full list of books being banned in a York, PA school district. Incidentally, every single book was either by or about a person of color. ( via Penn Live Patriot News) Thankfully, the huge public outcry pressured the schoolboard into reversing the ban. While authors including Brian Meltzer were closely involved in the protest, it was originally led by students. How cool is that? I tell you, the younger generation will shake this world.
When you ban a book, you reveal yourself.– Brad Meltzer
The list of banned and challenged books is huge. It includes ‘classics’ such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Catch 22. Children’s books as ubiquitous as Where’s Waldo and A Light in the Attic have also made the list. Some of the most commonly challenged books in recent years include And Tango Makes Three, the Harry Potter series, The Hate You Give, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the Captain Underpants series. To Kill a Mockingbird seems to be constantly challenged or banned. The reasons are varied, but I think they all have something in common: those who are challenging are doing so because they are scared. They are scared of reading things they don’t understand, don’t agree with, or don’t want to think about.
Choosing not to read a book is always an option, of course, which leads into a conversation on canceling, as the words canceling and banning tend to get a little confused. I think we’re all familiar with the term “cancel culture” by now. According to Miriam-Webster, cancel culture is “the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.” Canceling and banning a book are two very different things. Canceling is basically a boycott and it is a personal choice. Book banning involves having your choice to read or not read a book taken from you by others. I am unequivocally against the banning of books. No group of people should be able to deny others the opportunity to read books.
So, what can we do? Read banned books. Buy banned books. Speak out against the banning of books. You can find an excellent list of commonly banned books to get you started here. I also went to social media to see what people’s favorite banned books are. You can find the results of that at the end of this post. It’s a great list, and there are a few on there that I haven’t read yet (I plan to change that).
There are many experiences that I haven’t had, shoes that I haven’t walked in, or situations that I haven’t dealt with…but books can help me understand and empathize with those who have. They teach us compassion and broaden our horizons. So, are they dangerous? I should hope so. After all, growth and change generally are.
Live dangerously. Read.
Social media’s favorite banned and/or challenged books:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Peig: The Autobiography of Peig Sayers of the Great Blasket Island by Peig Sayers
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair by Mariko Tamaki
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Howl and other Poems by Allen Ginsberg
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
I was joined by several excellent authors, to talk about any possible connections between great fantasy writing and table top roleplaying games. I’ve gathered the posts here, so you can easily find any that you may have missed.
I’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.
This week on Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub, I’m talking about authors and the love of ttrpgs. I’m fortunate to have several great guests throughout the week. Today I have the privilege to talk with Dorian Hart, author of one of my favorite fantasy series.
Thanks for being willing to chat with me about D&D and great fantasy. First of all, would you tell me a little bit about the Heroes of Spira series?
The Heroes of Spira is Hopeful Ensemble Epic Quest Fantasy, a subgenre I probably just made up but which describes the series pretty well.
Hopeful, because there’s a core of decency, humor, and optimism running through all the books, even when things seem bleak and perilous. My characters are flawed, but you’ll cheer for them the whole way. Ensemble, because it features a group of would-be heroes that mostly stays together, working as a team, across all five books. Epic, because the stakes are high, and the scope becomes quite wide by the end. Quest, because the aforementioned heroes are usually on some quest or other, many of them involving strange and wondrous locales, while helping save the world. And fantasy, because it has swords and wizards and talking gemstones and giant monsters and mysterious artifacts and magical towers and dire prophecies and dream-warriors and evil math-priests and a side-trip to hell and, eventually, a nine-foot-tall oracular toad. Also some other stuff, but that should give you a general idea.
The finished series will be five books. I’ve published four of them already, and am about halfway through the first draft of the fifth. The first four, should anyone be interested are: The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’sMaze, The Greatwood Portal, and The Infinite Tower.
Regarding Dungeons and Dragons: When did you start playing? What first drew you to ttrpgs?
My D&D/TTRPG journey has been ongoing for 43 years now, and featured two specific days of special significance set 16 years apart.
The first was in 1978, when as a 9-year-old I visited a book fair at my elementary school. I was there to browse the fantasy and science fiction section, but nestled among the books was the original “blue box” Dungeons and Dragons basic set. I read the back and realized it was a game, not a book, where you pretended to be a fantasy hero. Cool! I bought it (hoping my parents wouldn’t mind that I used my book fair money for a game), took it home, and showed it to my friend John who lived across the street. On that day, my love for fantasy TTRPGs (along with an unquenchable need for dice) was born. A year later, I convinced my parents to get me the PH and DMG hardbacks for Christmas, and that really cemented my D&D geekery in place.
Fast forward to 1994, when I was 25 years old. I hadn’t played much D&D in high school and college, lacking the time more than the interest, but on one fateful day some mutual friends introduced me to Kevin Kulp. Kevin is a brilliant game designer (his credits include TimeWatch and Swords of the Serpentine), a great friend, and, it turns out, a wonderfully talented GM. He invited me to play in his campaign, and watching his table technique inspired me to run a game of my own. My campaign, whose plots and characters inspired the Heroes of Spira series, lasted 15 years over about 300 sessions, and was one of the great experiences of my life.
I love that the first moment you were introduced to D&D was so memorable! What’s doubly great about your two special moments is that one took place in your childhood and the other as an adult. I think it’s kind of sad that, as children, we are encouraged to use our imaginations, but adults are sort of expected to set those things aside. I think that’s one of my favorite things about gaming: the ability to keep using our imaginations. But I digress.
It is so cool that the Heroes of Spira was inspired by your campaign! Was it tough to gather such a long campaign into a cohesive narrative? Or wasit easier because you had so much history to jump off from?
My journey from D&D campaign to novels was highly unusual and probably not generally reproducible.
When I was running the game, I’d write up a summary of events after every session to help myself maintain continuity and consistency, not to mention recall the names of random NPC’s I’d made up on the spot. Eventually one of my players (the aforementioned Kevin Kulp) convinced me to post these summaries to ENWorld, a popular D&D message board that had a specific forum for “Story Hours” – basically campaign journals presented to the public. While at first my posts were extremely dry and not meant to be read as fiction per se, they inexplicably grew in popularity, and the more people were reading, the more I wanted to give them something entertaining to read.
As a result, over time, I started writing the campaign summaries more like they were chapters of an epic fantasy novel. With my players’ permission, I audio-recorded my sessions, so that I could play back the tape for more fidelity while I wrote up the summaries. A few years in, I was essentially writing a serialized novel that was also an accurate account of the game! It helped that my D&D style is very DM-story-driven, which I know is not for everyone, but my players bought into it wholeheartedly. I gave them a detailed, complex narrative, and they tacitly agreed to go where my adventure led them.
By the time I was done, Sagiro’s Story Hour (as it was called) had hundreds of regular readers, and I had written about 750,000 words of fantasy-novel-ish content.
So, in that sense, it was easy to go from games to books, but that coin had another side to it. Over the many years I posted my campaign’s story, lots of my readers urged me to turn the account into actual novels. I resisted, time after time, for a number of reasons. For one, the story was loaded with WotC proprietary terms, monsters, etc. For another, D&D campaigns don’t naturally translate into books; their pacing is all wrong, and their focus is often on combats and stats and character sheets, while going light on characterization, dramatic arcs, foreshadowing, all that good stuff. For yet another, it sure sounded like a lot of work!
Over the years, though, I came around to the idea. I worked out how I could strip out all of the explicitly D&D-ish terminology. I outlined and took notes and figured out what needed to be dropped, changed, or moved around chronologically. I mapped out character arcs, and how the books would move the focus of everything onto the characters and their development. I have spent a LOT of time figuring how to turn a TTRPG campaign into books so that they don’t *feel* merely like someone’s campaign notes written down.
It helped immensely that, as I said, I ran a very novel-like D&D campaign. In one case, I literally set up a moment that had been foreshadowed nine years earlier in real time, to the great astonishment (and joy, I hope) of my players. The game had emotional moments and lots of character development already baked in, because my players were all wonderful role-players who were just as invested in the game as I was.
And then, sometime in 2012 or 2013, I wrote the first words of the first draft of The Ventifact Colossus.
Wow, that is incredibly cool! It definitely seems like a ton of effort (not that there’s necessarily an easy way to write a book) , but as someone who’s read the books, I think it really paid off. It reads like old-school fantasy to me, but not as a campaign, if that makes sense.
Do you have a favorite character class to play, or do you like to switch things around?
I like variety, though it’s a quirk of my adult D&D career that I’ve played very few characters. That’s because the campaigns I’ve been in have been extremely long. The first, in which I played an old, crotchety, high-wis-low-str cleric, lasted 17 years. Following that I played a low-wis kick-in-every-door fighter in a “short” game that lasted only a decade or so. But I love playing anything, really, as long as I’m with a group of friends and having a good time.
The time spent goofing aroundwith friends and kind of telling a group story is something special, I think. Is there a particular gaming memory that really makes you smile or laugh?
There are more than I can count, so I’ll just pick one.
During my long campaign, one of the characters suffered from a strange and sporadic magical effect: bits of a second world would sometimes manifest in his vicinity, overlapping with his own world. So, he might be out in a street, and then a forest would appear around him, with trees and buildings and roads and people all kind of mingled together.
I had that happen while the party was in an inn; for a few minutes, a wild jungle overlapped the rooms and hallways. Among the details of the jungle I provided was a monkey running loose in the corridors, and while I may lack any number of practical skills, I am a master of making realistic monkey noises.
Foolishly, I decided that when the jungle vanished and things returned to normal, the monkey would be left behind. A few extra minutes of silliness, I thought, before the adventure I had planned for the day would continue.
That’s not what happened. Instead, my players decided to spend THREE HOURS interacting with that monkey – chasing it around, feeding it, playing with it, teaching it tricks, involving it in some practical jokes, all obliging me to make myself hoarse from making monkey noises.
At the end of the session, one of my players asked me if that was how I intended the evening to go. I sighed, shook my papers at them all, and lamented “There’s no monkey in my notes!” We still use that phrase on occasion to denote when things don’t go as planned.
Ok… one more, since I can’t resist, and DMs out there, this is one you can use! The party was confronted with a password-protected tower door, and had just slain the beholder that was guarding it. One of the clerics cast speak with dead to learn what they could, and naturally one of their questions was “What is the password to get into this tower?” The dead beholder answered “I cannot remember the password.”
My players then spent about two hours trying to figure it out, becoming more and more frazzled and weary, until one of them had the lightbulb moment. Turns out, it was more of a pass phrase, and the phrase, of course, was “I cannot remember the password.”
My players literally threw bread rolls at me for that one.
I must admit, I would probably have reacted in the same way. Bread throwing seems like a perfectly reasonable response. I am awful at puzzling things out.
Switching gears a little bit, I’ve noticed that a lot of authors play D&D. Do you think there’s any correlation between writing and gaming? Does one strengthen the other?
While I haven’t done any scientific studies on the subject, I’d say it makes good sense that there would be such a correlation. After all, what is TTRPGaming if not storytelling by another means? I imagine that the type of person who wants to write stories will naturally search out other ways to be involved in storytelling, and D&D can be a very strong experience in that regard.
And I’m quite sure that gaming strengthens writing, because almost any consumption or creation of stories, in any medium or genre, will make one a better writer.
Good point! That makes perfect sense that they would sort of leapfrog off of each other. What would you say to someone who hasn’t played before but is curious about it?
The first thing I would say is “There’s no single correct way to play D&D. If everyone is having fun, you’re doing it right.” As a corollary, I would say “Try your best to play with people who you’d enjoy hanging out with if you were doing something else.” D&D is a social experience at its heart, and if you’re going to spend several hours hanging around with other folks being social, it’s better if you get along.
As for the game itself, I’d offer this additional advice: Try to make sure the DM and the players agree about what kind of experience they want, especially on the player-driven vs. DM-driven axis. Do you want the DM to craft a specific adventure for you? Or do you want a “sandbox” where the DM turns you loose to do whatever you want? Similarly, do you want a game where the players are Good and Righteous Heroes™ or ne’er-do-wells who scoff at the law and revel in violence? It can be off-putting for a new player if they go in expecting one thing and end up getting the opposite. D&D games work best when everyone’s expectations are understood.
That’s a good point regarding playing with people you like spending time with. I know every gaming group is different, but with the people that I’ve gamed with for years, we spend about half the time just joking around and half the time playing. Friendships forged in the heat of battle (or around a table rolling dice) are lasting friendships.
I agree that communicating expectations is important. I once created a homebrew campaign that I was very excited about and ended up being very discouraged when each player managed to make characters that would most definitely not work in that world. The fault was mine for not communicating and finding out what the players were looking for. That being said, I am much better at participating than I am at DM’ing. I have a knack for rolling low at the most hilarious of times.
Ha! In my gaming groups, we have two important rules. Rule 1 is: “Don’t give the DM ideas you’ll come to regret.” But Rule 2 — relevant to your last observation — is “Don’t gloat before you roll.” I’m personally (in)famous for uttering statements like “The only way I can miss this attack is if I roll below a 3!” Saying something like that increases my odds of failure by an order of magnitude, but I can’t stop myself..
Now I’m curious: do you prefer sandbox campaigns or specific crafted adventures?
As you might guess, I prefer the crafted adventure to the open sandbox — both as a player and as a DM. Not that there’s a single thing wrong with liking sandboxes! It’s an entirely subjective preference. But I’m partial to long-term plots, full of foreshadowing and recurring villains and a sense that there’s a deep, underlying narrative to everything. Those are easier to create in a less sandbox-y environment, I think.
Also, as a DM, my weakest “stat” — monkey noises aside — is improvisation. I spent way more time prepping my sessions than was probably healthy, and counted heavily on my players buying into my vision of the game’s story. Again, I know that’s not for everyone, and there are players out there who would become very frustrated with my style. But where a sandbox asks players “What problems would you like to solve?” I skip to “Here is a problem to solve. How would you like to solve it?”
One of the things I’ve loved about the Heroes of Spira series is the foreshadowing. There were a few times that left me floored at how things had been set up.
That was a huge advantage of having the entire five-book series (mostly) outlined before I started the first book. I’m writing the final book now, and it feels like the whole thing is scene after scene of paying off arcs started in earlier books.
[Minor spoiler example: One character has a habit, first seen in the third chapter of the first book, of writing his name on little pieces of paper, putting them in vials, and tossing them into rivers and oceans. It’s a half-hearted way in which he hopes to be famous someday. It’s not until book five that I finally pay that off in full, but I’ve known exactly where it was heading the whole time.]
I’ve been wondering why Dranko does that since the third chapter of book one! I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Thank you so much for talking D&D and writing with me! I’ve enjoyed it so much! Do you have any closing thoughts?
First, thank you so much for inviting me to be part of this event! It’s been a real pleasure chatting with you about something that’s been such an important part of my life. Second: I know there are readers for whom “based on a D&D game” carries a huge stigma when it comes to fantasy books. To those people, I would say: Remember, some of the genre’s most beloved works had humble tabletop origins: Erikson’s Malazan, Feist’s Riftwar Saga, Brust’s Vlad Taltos series, even Tchaikovsky’s excellent Shadows of the Apt series, not to mention all the books by Hickman & Weis, and Salvatore.
I understand the concerns, since there are some potential pitfalls in translating a TTRPG campaign into novels. But if an author is aware of them, and understands what makes the two different, a fantasy series born from a campaign can be as good as any other.
Dorian Hart wrote an excellent essay on this subject for Storytellers on Tour. They have graciously allowed me to post the link here, if you would like to read it:RPGs and Novels.
About the author:
Dorian Hart is the author of the Heroes of Spira epic fantasy series, which currently includes The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’s Maze, and The Greatwood Portal. He also wrote the interactive science fiction novella Choice of the Star Captain for Choice of Games.
In a bygone century, Dorian graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in creative writing. This led circuitously to a 20-year career as a video game designer, where he contributed to many award-winning titles including Thief, System Shock, System Shock 2, and BioShock.
Now he writes books in his Boston-area study, serves as the stay-at-home dad for his two teenage daughters, and happily allows his wife to drag him off on various wilderness adventures.
Tomorrow marks the beginning of a week of interviews with authors who enjoy table top role playing games, or TTRPGs. In many ways, TTRPGs and books go hand-in-hand. While the most well known TTRPG is Dungeons and Dragons, you can find books as TTRPGs as well. So, after you’ve read and enjoyed the book, maybe play in its world yourself. Here are just a few:
The Lord of the Rings
Who wouldn’t want to adventure in Middle Earth? Tolkien created a rich setting that is perfect to explore in. There are several different editions of LotR roleplaying books, ranging from affordable to “well, let me sell my kidney so I can buy this book”. I’d suggest grabbing the affordable ones and keeping your eyes peeled the next time you’re used book buying.
Who says classics can’t be played? This is a pre-order right now: the game should be available in October. This has some definite potential and it’s an indie game! If you decide to give it a go, let me know what you think!
This particular TTRPG seems to be very loosely based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I think this could be a really interesting game setting, but I don’t expect it to be much like the original book. Either way, it’s intriguing.
These are only a few of the books that have been reinterpreted as roleplaying games. There are so many others: Watership Down, The Song of Ice and Fire, and others also have TTRPGs. And of course, there are gaming systems for series such as Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, and Ravenloft. These books were originally written to tie in with gaming systems, although they have their own self-contained storylines and don’t really fall into the RPGlit category.
What books would you love to see get the roleplaying game treatment? Have you played any of these?
A while back, I thought it might be cool to do a week of reviews, cover reveals, and book spotlights focused solely on self-published authors. I shared this little idea with some others, and Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week was born. So many people joined in and made it amazing! I tried to gather (hopefully all of) the posts in one place, which you can find here: Self-published Authors Appreciation Week. The fun isn’t over, though. Let’s talk about Indie August!
I am not the originator or organizer of Indie August. That credit goes to the fantastic Literature & Lofi. While Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week focused the spotlight on self-published authors, Indie August includes indie and small press as well. It also runs for the entirety of August!
How can you participate in Indie August?
1. Whenever you write a blog post/review/cover reveal etc. about an indie or self-published book, use the hashtag #IndieAugust.
2. Buy indie books!
3. Practice safe social distancing: yell loudly from your window at random passersby, sharing (or bombarding them with) the love of great indie books.
I can’t wait to read all the fantastic posts that will be coming out during Indie August.
This week Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub has been the host of many discussions on magic systems in fantasy. I’ve been joined by some amazing contributors, both bookbloggers and authors. Before I close out the week, though, I have to talk about The Night Circus.
I love this book! I mean rereading, paraphernalia-owning love. Reading The Night Circus is like wandering though a beautiful dream. I’m going to attempt to talk about magic in the world of The Night Circus, but please forgive me if the post rapidly dissolves into gushing. I promise I’ll try to keep it in check.
What makes the magic in The Night Circus different from other magic systems is not the how but the what. Magic doesn’t exist in the world of The Night Circus, magic is the world. The stage is set, the circus a playing board for a duel between two separate schools of thought. Two powerful magicians battle each other to see whose magic is better- that of Marco, who uses glyphs and symbols; or Celia, who uses her own mind as the focal point.
There are rules to how the magic works, but the reader is drawn into the magic itself. Everything is a product of one magician or the other, from the black-and-white striped tents, to the cloud maze, and everything in-between. Words and creativity become real. And, holy crow, author Erin Morgenstern is creative! Her words themselves weave a magic spell around the reader.
“When the battle are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang Souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they could never predict. From the mundane to the profound.”-Erin Morgenstern
And here’s the crux of it: every book is magic. Every author has the power to draw a reader into a world both different and new. As readers we know the power of words. The books we’ve talked about this week are samplings of some of the incredible magic that words can cast on the reader. A book can entertain, it can teach. It can open a path to new worlds, or comfort someone during a difficult time.
I am incredibly grateful to bloggers who gave their time and energy to a discussion on magic, and to the authors who were willing to talk about their magic systems. Each book we focused on has a unique, creative magic system. I hope you found some new books to add to your tbr and some new bloggers to follow.
What magic system has completely floored you? Tell me what you loved about it. I’m a glutton for punishment, go ahead and add to my tbr!
“There are many kinds of magic, after all.”– Erin Morgenstern
About the blogger:
Jodie is the creator of the Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub blog and a contributor to Grimdark Magazine. 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”.
Over the last week, I’ve been focusing on magic in fantasy. I am in no way an expert, just an appreciative fantasy fan. I have been fortunate in that many amazing authors and bloggers have been generous with their time and have talked about some great examples of magic in fantasy.
Today, Beth from Before We Go Blog makes a compelling case for moving Jim C. Hine’s Magic ex Libris series to the top of the never ending to be read pile.
As a huge lover of fantasy novels, I have read about a magic system or two. There are some that stick out that have been extraordinary in one way or another.
One often mentioned is the magic of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. He created the magic called allomancy, where the ingestion of certain metals gives the user certain powers. How much metal is consumed, and who consumed them, and whether they can be digested is where things get interesting. Not everyone can walk up to an ingot of silver, chow down, and hope to digest it. The powers are all different with different combinations of things. It gets fascinating, and the possibilities are endless. It is an excellent example of the creativity that magic systems can have. However, it is not as cool as Jim C. Hines’s series, Magic ex Libris.
“…bookstores, libraries… they’re the closest thing I have to a church.”
It is essential to call out again; I am a big reader. I love escaping into books, literally escaping into new worlds. But what if, instead of escaping into a world, I can pull something from stories into reality? It seems like the ultimate expression of power. For example, I am battling a foe. We are sizing each other up as foes are want to do. This person has really pissed me off by eating my favorite silver necklace. Grabbed it right off my neck and started swallowing it. “You wanna battle do you? I liked that necklace.” We happen to be battling in a library. Don’t laugh; lots of rough people go to libraries. I reach into Harry Potter and grab harry’s wand from inside of the book. I use that to whip up a wind vortex, then I grab Peter Bentley’s Jaws off of the shelf, and pull the entire great white shark out of the book and drop it on their head. I am sorry for the whale. Sacrifices need to be made. Don’t worry, I know my foe is still chewing a piece of silver and wouldn’t notice the giant shark that I lofted them.
“Two libriomancers had been disciplined for trying to get an early copy of the last Harry Potter book.”
Or maybe I am feeling sassy and grab Moby Dick instead of Jaws, and I drop a whale on them. Oops, darn it. I grabbed the wrong book. This whale said, “Oh no, not again.” Before falling from a great height, followed by a very confused flower pot. Same effect. I have the power and the entirety of literature to pull from, and right now, I am just working with aquatic animals. Maybe, they would like a kracken instead? There are plenty of those in literature.
All I am saying is they can go ahead and eat their piece of metal. I’ll throw a shark at them, followed by a whale, then another whale, and a flowerpot. Don’t get me started on movie adaptions, Sharknado anyone? Then I will pull the tea and the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland and have a nice lunch.
Obviously, there is some plotting that Hines does around this brilliant magic system. It isn’t all fun. Pulling whales from books does take some work. But I love that at its core, this magic system speaks to lovers of reading. It feels like being a well-read person is rewarded with the ability to do magic, and that is amazing. That is pretty much living the dream, reading a book, taking knowledge from the book, and becoming a badass. This is why Magic ex Libris is my favorite system, and I recommend it to anyone who is a big reader. Where else would trivial knowledge of Jaws, Moby Dick, and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy come into use all at once?!
It’s been a magical week on Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub! Magic is often a staple in a good fantasy world. One of the many things I love about magic in urban fantasy is the dichotomy between magic and machine. Can they coexist? And if so, how would one interact with the other?
Tabitha from Behind the Pages weighs in on magic in the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews.
When I found out Jodie over at Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub was doing a project based on magic systems I had to join in! Unique magic systems are a key element to the fantasy books I truly enjoy. While characters certainly play a large part in what I love, I need the magic system to be a worthy component as well. Today we’ll take a look at the magic in the urban fantasy Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews.
The series takes place in Atlanta, Georgia after a magical apocalypse has accosted the world. People tried to advance technology and did not take the proper precautions. Now waves of magic are tearing the world apart. When a wave of magic hits, all technology dies. Cars, phones, guns, electricity you name it. When the magic is up, the tech is down. And the skyscrapers that cities were known for? Those have been turned to rubble unless enough people shell out the money and magic to protect them. People have developed magical vehicles (noisy as hell), that can clunk around and run when the magic is high. But when the magic wave ends, you’ll still be stranded.
The main rule of magic in the world of Kate Daniels is that technology and magic cannot coexist. Anyone with the slightest bit of power can use magic, and sometimes that means those who are a bit foolhardy may summon nasty creatures from another world. You might even wake up a God who starts destroying the city. My advice is to not dabble in magic unless you know what you are doing.
And while there aren’t exactly spells, wards can be drawn for protection and certain individuals can use their magic in specialized ways. Take for instance the vampires. They are undead mindless killers. However, if you can use your magic to pilot them, they are weapons and tools. The Masters of the Dead are a group of magic users who keep hoards of vampires locked up for their uses. While piloting a vampire they can see and hear everything their chosen vessel can see, and they can even use its vocal cords to talk. But sending a vampire into battle can be tricky. If it is destroyed and the magic user piloting it does not remove their mind from the vampire in time, it could have devastating results for the magic user.
Then you have Kate Daniels, whose magic is in her blood. As part of the mercenary guild, she is called in to clean up the magical messes the police can’t handle. She can manipulate a vast amount of magic due to her heritage, and she has an affinity for the undead she is loath to use. As the series progresses, you’ll find that her blood can be used in a variety of ways. For the sake of keeping this a spoiler-free post, you’ll just have to read the series to find out. 😉 But it’s never a good idea to only rely on magic, so Kate is a skilled swordswoman for when the magic is down.
The magic system of the Kate Daniels series increases in intensity with each book. Ilona Andrews has paced the series to gradually show the increased strength and chaos of the magic that has been unleashed. As readers progress, they will find all manner of supernatural creatures and magical mayhem cropping up from the magic waves. And Kate Daniels is right there in the thick of it trying to keep her city together as best she can.
About the blogger:
Hello everyone! My name is Tabitha and I run a review blog called Behind the Pages. It’s my little corner of the internet where I geek out about books. I’m an avid fantasy reader, but dabble in other genres from time to time. Book blogging has allowed me to connect with so many other people who love reading as much as I do. I hope you enjoy this snippet of my bookish thoughts!