This is going to be one of my relatively rare gaming posts, but I think it also has some pertinence in fiction, so buckle up your Chain Mail +3 Vs Geekery and here we go:
I wanna complain for a while about Clerics in D&D.
Okay, okay – that was perhaps too harsh, allow me to rephrase: Clerics’ role in D&D parties is a terrible one and I hate them for it. I’m all for playing devoted followers of this or that god (you won’t hear me complaining about paladins, for instance) and I think a divine-oriented campaign or party or adventure is pretty cool. What I don’t like is all the healing magic.
One of my central tenets of GMing is that players have the most fun when they are the closest to destruction. The corollary to this rule is that players work the absolute hardest they can to avoid being close to destruction. This central paradox constitutes the GM’s primary obstacle to creating a fulfilling and sensational adventure. You want to press them, make them desperate, force them to come up with the most outlandish and riskiest possible solution to their problems while, at the same time, they are working feverishly to prevent that from ever happening.
If the players of the world had their way, every dungeon crawl would be a methodical slog in which everyone left with approximately the same hit points they had when they went in. They would win every combat by a country mile. They would save the day with effortless flair and exact revenge on their enemies exactly 24 hours after being wronged. And then gaming would be (and sometimes is) terribly, terribly boring.
The cleric aids and abets this goal of the players. Work really hard to get them desperate and clawing for supplies? The cleric’s gods waves away their exhaustion and heals their injuries. Blind a guy? The cleric’s gods give him back his sight. Kill a PC in an earth-shattering climax? The players are only a brief prayer session away from getting the dead guy right back.
Players love clerics. They love them to the point where, when a D&D party is forming and everybody is making their characters, there’s always somebody who looks around the table and asks “so…which one of us is gonna be the healer?”
Now, whenever this is said, I always (always) say “you don’t need a healer to be an effective team” or “sometimes it’s more fun to not have a healer.”
They never, ever believe me. Not once in 25 years of GMing.
And the real tragedy of it all is that, frequently, nobody really wants to be a healer. They’d much rather be a wizard or a rogue or a paladin or something. They had this cool idea for a halfling barbarian and then they looked around a realized they wouldn’t have anybody throwing healing spells and shrugged and said “well, all right – I guess I’ll be some guy with a bald head and a mace.” This is so, so sad. You’ve got this group of players who “take one for the team” so they can play a character class that actively reduces the chances of things ever getting interesting.
Now, I should point out that there are exceptions to this. There are players who cook up interesting cleric characters and play them in an interesting way (I just ran a campaign with a viking-esque tempest cleric who was pretty cool, it must be said), but these I’ve found to be in the minority. Instead of playing their hearts (and thereby being really, really invested), they play cautiously, making sure to heal up everybody before they get into a scrap, making sure they’re there to prevent anything dire from really happening.
As long as the cleric has spell slots, you are working with a net. As long as you are working with a net, things don’t get “real” (as the kids say). If all the damage you have sustained can be waved away, why were you scared of being gored by that minotaur in the first place? When you play a game like D&D strategically, you can very easily kill the drama. At minimum, you make it way, waaay more difficult for the DM to present you with challenges that test your ingenuity. And challenges that test your ingenuity are the things that you wind up telling stories about later – the sessions you remember forever and which you identify with the most excitement.
There is an analog here in writing, too. Beyond simply healing magic, you need to be cognizant of consequences in your fiction. You need to make sure that the danger is real and that your protagonists don’t deal with it too easily. You need to yank their safety nets away so the audience is hanging on the edge of their seats. So, if you do have world with magical healing, you need to make sure it is associated with the proper sets of complications and consequences that make things interesting. In my Saga of the Redeemed, for instance, I have Tyvian saddled with the Iron Ring, which has very, very potent powers of rejuvenation and endurance associated with it, but that power comes with strings attached (Tyvian’s behavior) and has a variety of costs. Even when he does heal people with it, it creates problems more than it solves them.
Now, such dramatic flourishes are difficult to accomplish in an RPG, but one thing is pretty easy: next time somebody asks who is going to be a healer, volunteer.
Make yourself a Trickster Cleric with NO healing magic.
Make a rogue who practices quack medicine.
Make a druid who specializes in health food (more goodberries, anybody?).
Go into battle without a cleric, and trust the GM and your fellow players to come up with some seriously memorable adventures that won’t be easy, but will be a hell of a lot of fun.
Hey, friends! I’m here to announce that my story “Lord of the Cul-de-sac” (which originally featured in Galaxy’s Edge last year) has just been sold to Digital Fiction’s Hic Sunt Dracones anthology. It’s been a little while since my last short fiction sale (back in the fall, I think it was) so this is especially welcome news. I’ll keep you all updated on when it publishes.
On that note, my short story “The Masochist’s Assistant” is set to be published in the July/August issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I’m especially excited about that one, as I think it is some of my finest work to date and is going to be in a major market like F&SF. For you Tyvian fans, it is a story also set in Alandar (Tyvian’s world) though, as usual with my short fiction, a different corner of it.
And on that note, some of you might be wondering a few things about this here blog:
Thing the First: Why haven’t you been posting as much, Habershaw?
Thing the Second: Is there ever going to be any more Saga of the Redeemed?
Well, the answer to those two things is related. I’ve been working feverishly on a few novel projects for the last 6-8 months or so which has cut into my blog-time. As of this writing, ink has fallen on contracts of various descriptions, but I have not, as yet, been given leave to openly discuss said contracts. When I do, you folks will be the first to know. Suffice to say I am very excited about them, very grateful to have the excellent agent that I do, and am almost certain when I say we haven’t seen the last of that scoundrel, Tyvian Reldamar.
Now then, back to outlining!
Hello, Friends! Happy New Year!
My, my, but I have been a busy little bee. When last we spoke, I told you I had writing to do. Well, over this break I have revised/rewritten some 100,000 words or so. Yes, I know. I am only about two and half chapters or so (not counting the Epilogue) away from finishing the fourth draft and third complete draft of All That Glitters – my sequel to The Iron Ring and Blood and Iron. It rocks. When this draft is done (ideally tomorrow), I will be sending it off to beta readers just to make sure my assessment of its quality isn’t some elaborate fever dream of my overtaxed imagination.
Speaking of The Iron Ring (release date is February 10th, 2015, so…a little over a month away!), I got to see some of the preliminary cover art a few weeks back. I’ve been sitting on it all this time, waiting for the finalized cover art to be confirmed, but I’m tired of waiting and I need something quick and simple to post on this blog to bring it back to life. So, without further ado, here is what the cover of my debut novel may look like:
Now, this is very exciting. I wasn’t sure what to expect for a cover, and this isn’t what I expected, to be honest (I had in my mind some Charlie’s Angels-
esque tableau of my main characters engaged in various acts of derring-do), but I do like this. It’s very striking and simple and I just love the font. Of note, as this is an e-book release, the simple elemental design makes a lot of sense. Everybody is going to see this thing as a thumbnail, which means an intricate art style would be wasted – this grabs the attention and displays a key plot element (Tyvian’s infernal, behavior-modifying iron ring).
Anyway, when the really super-official title art is released, I’ll be sure to let everybody know. For now, this post is just to say I’m back, I missed you all, and I’ve got a lot more stuff to do. Be seeing you around!
My book is called The Oldest Trick. It’s about Tyvian Reldamar, criminal mastermind, who is betrayed by his partner and then has this ring put on his finger that makes him do only good things. Then he needs to get revenge doing only good things.
God, that’s awful – nobody will think I’m a competent writer with a mealy pile of words like that. Try again.
The Oldest Trick is about Tyvian Reldamar, criminal mastermind and smuggler of the arcane. He’s been betrayed by his partner and afflicted with a magic ring that won’t let him misbehave. Now he wants revenge, but how do you get revenge without misbehavior?
Not bad, I guess. Too long, though. I’ve lost my theoretical ‘standing in an elevator making small talk’ audience. Of course, one wonders how someone with so sharply curtailed an attention span is going to read a book serialized into two parts, anyway. Hrmmm…
The Oldest Trick is about a criminal mastermind, Tyvian Reldamar, and his quest for revenge while being cursed by a magic ring that only lets him do good things.
Meh. It’s okay. Succinct, anyway. Straightforward.
It occurs to me that I haven’t mentioned the genre. Dammit.
The Oldest Trick is an epic fantasy about criminal mastermind Tyvian Reldamar and his quest to secure revenge against his former partner all while under the curse of a magic ring that won’t let him do bad things.
Yeah, that’s not bad. Wait…isn’t there other stuff I need to mention here? Like the publisher and the release date and stuff? Dammit!
My debut novel, The Oldest Trick, is an epic fantasy about Tyvian Reldamar, criminal mastermind, and his quest for revenge while afflicted with a magic ring that won’t let him do bad things. It will be released in February 2015 from Harper Voyager.
Hmmmm…that’s pretty good. Still, I can streamline a bit.
My debut novel, The Oldest Trick, is an epic fantasy about criminal mastermind Tyvian Reldamar and his quest for revenge while cursed with a magic ring that won’t let him do bad things. It will be released in February 2015 from Harper Voyager.
Yeah…yeah, I like it. Not too bad. Now I just need to memorize this thing for the next time somebody asks what my book is about. What I usually do is sputter for a while about how it’s fantasy but not like Game of Thrones except kind of only not really.
And let’s not even get into the part where I try to explain how the first book is serialized into two volumes (Part 1 to be released in February, Part 2 to be released in June 2015) but is really a single story and that it’s true sequel (All That Glitters) is scheduled for release sometime in Fall 2015.
Really, all this would be easier if I could just hand people a USB drive with a five minute powerpoint presentation on it. Or themed buttons. Or business cards with all of this printed in very, very small type.
Deep breaths, Auston. Deep breaths.
Some of you may remember when I hinted something big is in the works for me way back in March. Well, I’ve finally been given clearance to talk about it:
I have been offered, and have accepted, a 3-book deal with HarperVoyager to publish The Oldest Trick, my novel set in my fantasy world of Alandar and featuring Tyvian Reldamar. A little blurb about the book:
Almost three decades ago, the Battle of Calassa ended the ambitions of the wizard-dictator Banric Sahand. The war changed the world; sorcery, once the exclusive province of the Arcanostrum of Saldor, began to filter its way out into the hands of the common people. Though tightly regulated, the harnessing of the High Arts brought about a renaissance of practical magecraft, enhancing everything from transportation to health to communication, not to mention crime.
Enter Tyvian Reldamar — Arcanostrum drop-out, smuggler, and impeccable dresser. He’s just been betrayed by his longtime partner (naturally) and left for dead in a freezing river (as is customary). The one hiccup is this: some fool has affixed a magical ring to his finger that won’t let him ‘do evil’, whatever that means. To get even, Tyvian will have to use every dirty trick in the book to combat this ridiculous magical albatross, all the while drawing himself deeper and deeper into a vast conspiracy at the center of which is none other than old Banric Sahand himself. Faced with enemies on all sides and only the grubbiest of allies beside him, Tyvian will discover (with the ring’s help) that maybe—just maybe—he isn’t quite the evil villain he’s always thought himself to be.
The first book – The Oldest Trick – is to be serialized into two volumes (parts 1 and 2) while the third book, tentatively titled All That Glitters, will track Tyvian’s continuing adventures. Release for part one will likely be in February, 2015. This is a digital-only release with only a limited print run associated with the books, but it is extremely exciting for me and the culmination of a life-long dream and ambition. My heartfelt thanks to the good folks over at Harper Voyager for giving me this opportunity.
Here is a copy of the press release:
(not to quibble, but I won second place in the Writers of the Future. I mean, I still won, but they make it sound like I won the whole enchilada, which isn’t strictly true. This makes for better marketing copy, though, so far be it from me to complain!)
Thanks to all of you out there who have encouraged me, listened to me, and been kind enough to read what I’ve written over the years. Now, if you’ll just follow me a bit further, I promise to take us on an adventure we won’t soon forget.
P.S.: I will be certain to make lots and LOTS of noise about this when it is released, so don’t worry about missing it. Watch this space!
So, I was just puttering around the various outlets that have work of mine about to be released and lookee here! The Sword and Laser Anthology has just hit Lulu! Extra bonus: it can be purchased in both electronic and good, old fashioned paper! Getting your name in print is one thing, folks, but finding that print upon an actual physical page has just that much more of a visceral kick.
Anywho, check out the anthology. It’s got an introduction from none other than Patrick Rothfuss (which, if you haven’t read the Kingkiller Chronicles yet, you’re missing out) and a vast array of stories from relatively new and fledgling authors just like me. There are twenty stories altogether – ten fantasy stories and ten science fiction stories. It’s lots of fun and I recommend it highly! Yeah, you won’t like every single story (tastes vary, of course) but there’s a huge variety in this book. Thanks ever so much to Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt for putting it together!
Oh, and this is just by the way: my story in here, “Partly Petrified”, is a Tyvian Reldamar/Alandar adventure. So, if you’re at all curious about my fantasy world or my main protagonist, have a look.
This semester in my lit survey course, I decided to focus the theme of our readings around the idea of heroism, the hero’s journey, and the various and complicated ways heroics are played out in prose, poetry, and on screen. As it’s the first time I’m teaching the course in this way, there will be some wrinkles to iron out for the next time around, but thus far it has been fairly effective. My students have a working understanding of Campbell’s Monomyth and we’ve finally moved away from the stereotypical image of the hero as he (note the gender) who protects the weak and innocent from the wicked and powerful. There’s a lot more to it than that, as a cursory investigation into heroic figures will quickly show.
To wrap up the semester, we’re taking a look at two deconstructionist approaches to the heroic myth. First is Watchmen, the iconic graphic novel by Moore and Gibson. The second is The Big Lebowski by the Cohen brothers. Both stories feature ‘heroic’ characters in a certain sense – they solve the mystery, they save the world, they do justice to the unjust. However, there is an issue of intent and nature at play in both stories that holds the heroic acts (the external heroism, if you will) as suspect and hollow when taken in context of the personal intent of the heroes (the internal heroism of the characters). I don’t wish to ruin the ending of either tale, but it is hard to say that either the Dude or Rorschach are internally heroic or intend to do what is ‘right’ for the sake of it. If good comes of their behavior, it is primarily accidental or derivative.
So, that begs the question: Does a hero need intent? If you go out one morning and, purely by accident, foil a bank robbery by slipping on a banana peel and save the lives of seven people, are you a hero? Most of us would say no. Let me provide a different example: if you are forced, at gunpoint, to save a child from a burning house, are you a hero? The answer becomes less clear. Final example: If you are compelled by a psychological or social disorder to run around each evening beating up muggers and dragging them to jail, does that make you heroic? This last instance is where we so commonly come down on the side of ‘yes’, though we seldom have the question put to us so succinctly. Batman (and Rorschach) are compelled by trauma to do what they do in order to feel sane or whole. It can be convincingly argued that they don’t do it because of philosophical ideals any moreso than the guy who slips on the banana peel. If the outcome of the behavior in question is negative (the ‘hero’ does not run around bringing crooks to justice but rather assaults women in an attempt to steal their underwear), the insanity defense will readily and often successfully be deployed in their trial: “They are not responsible for their actions, your honor – this man is out of his freaking mind and needs intense psychiatric care.”
The issue of intent pivots around the long-standing debate over the existence of free will. Not to delve too deeply into philosophy and neuroscience, but in brief it goes like this: It is debatable that you make decisions based upon some concept of independent will. It can be argued that all of us are amalgams of environmental influence and genetic predisposition that dictates our behavior and that, outside of additional outside influence, we cannot change ourselves. Yes, yes – I know a lot of you disagree, and the argument in favor of free will is also robust, so this matter is very far from settled. The question, though, has a significant impact on how we identify heroism. Can you be a bad person but do good things and then be considered good? If I grudgingly agree to save the world, complaining about it the entire time, do I deserve the accolades of the masses for their salvation?
Furnishing answers to this question is far from easy. It is a concept I explore with my character, Tyvian Reldamar, in The Iron Ring. Like me, Tyvian doesn’t know either. Part of telling a story, though, is the exploration of our world, no matter of you set your tale in Alandar or alternate 1985 New York City or even in the City of Angels in the early 90s.
For Christmas, my wife got me the DVD set of every Star Trek: The Next Generation episode ever made. This was both unwise of her (she is going to be watching a lot of Star Trek now) and extremely kind (it’s amazing how much I miss that show). It has also made me keenly aware of how the show began airing in 1987, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the clothing worn by its civilians. Whether it’s Wesley’s ridiculous sweaters (seriously, kid, why do you constantly dress like a coffee-shop dwelling Maine hipster?) or whatever the hell thing Riker decides to wear off duty, everybody looks the stupidest they possibly could in clothing made from fabric. You suddenly understand why anyone in their right mind would want to join Starfleet – their primary color unitards are actually quite fetching by comparison.
But it’s the Future! Fashion Changes!
This is the common riposte here. In the 24th century, fashion has changed significantly and, therefore, the things they wear look strange and silly to us. The suit and tie, for instance, would likely look silly to people of the 18th century, western dress seems foolish to eastern eyes, and so on and so forth. Fair enough.
We should not and cannot forget, though, that works of science fiction and fantasy exist for and are created by modern society. It therefore follows that our modern cultural concepts of fashion have great influence, even if only subconsciously, on the clothing our characters are depicted as wearing. Even when we consciously deviate from it, we are deviating for a purpose. In Star Trek, it seemed as though the choice was made to make everybody’s clothing look comfortable and functional – a nod to the newfound utopian society that the Federation stands for, wherein social class and, therefore, status-as-image is a thing of the antiquated past.
Likewise, if I were to tell you that the fashions of my own fantasy setting, Alandar, are inspired by the clothing of the 17th-19th centuries in Europe, that is an admission that I’m discussing a society where status is deeply ingrained in clothing almost to the point of absurdity. Elaborate dress is important here on a variety of levels, and if I’m going to do the setting justice, I need to have some concept of what those levels are and how they are conveyed.
This, incidentally, is difficult work for someone not inherently concerned with fashion or clothing, such as myself. Indeed, I would say that I am far from alone in this regard: many men, and many of them geeks like myself, show only cursory awareness of fashionable trends, what they mean, how they are important, or why we should pay attention to them. My sense of style is primarily motivated by what I feel comfortable in (and what my job requires of me), and I give only scant attention to others in this regard. Tyvian, though, is quite the opposite – he judges people by their clothing regularly and incisively, to the point where he can judge a man’s prospects by the stitching in his doublet. Writing him in his world requires an attention to detail I typically overlook in my daily life.
As much as I might be alienated from the fashion world, I have to admit it has great power over how we see and understand others, even if we don’t comprehend or recognize that power ourselves. Accordingly, when creating fantastic or futuristic worlds, we need to be aware of two things: how fashion is understood in the world we’ve created AND how the real world will interpret that fashion. Let’s face it, it is difficult to take any of the civilians in Star Trek TNG seriously; they look like bozos. You meet a guy who’s supposed to be a gritty, self-reliant mercenary captain and he’s dressed like the owner of your local yoga studio, ‘intimidating’ is not the mood that will be expressed. It doesn’t matter how much you want to talk about ‘fashions changing’ and ‘their world isn’t like that’ – the effect of sartorial aesthetics is beyond your power to overcome, dear storyteller.
Even if we don’t care how we dress ourselves, we can’t ignore our characters own fashion decisions. At least not always. Clothing tells stories every bit as much as words do.