Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Why Dungeons and Dragons?

One of the classic covers from the 80s.
So you might be wondering why I decided to delve back into tabletop roleplaying. There are three big elements that appealed to me.

The first was the surprise and vitality of creating a story in a group environment. One of the biggest issues I have writing fiction is the lack of interest with the story after I finish writing the first draft. I find it very difficult to go back and edit and reedit the story. Part of the reason for this is that there are no further surprises in telling the story. With a tabletop roleplaying game you never know what can happen. You’ve got other players at the table playing a variety of characters that may do something you’d never expect. And a good DM will be crafting the story as it plays out around the character’s actions. So even if you think you know where the story is going, you are usually in for a surprise – not just as a player, but also as a DM. Because even though a DM is creating the adventure, the players always change everything.

Never argue with a well
armed rogue.
The second also goes back to editing. As a DM you tell the story a single time with the group of players (unless time travel is involved). There is no need to go back over the whole tale again to perfect dialogue or make sure a plot twist is foreshadowed well enough. This also means you need to be doing some of this on the fly while the game is happening. But that can be a thrilling experience. As a DM you don’t need to get every detail perfect for the game. But the game does encourage fleshing out aspects for the world for the players to discover. You focus on molding the tale to make it more engaging to all the players. It becomes a living thing, evolving over time and the need for editing is much much less.

The third reason to get back into the hobby is that the adventure results in immediate feedback as the story is told. The DM gets to see and hear immediately how the story evolution impacts the other players. You can tell when they engaged and having a good time, and you can tell when they are feeling like the tale is slogging a bit. This lets you adjust things on the fly, crank up the challenge or change up the way things are going if the players aren’t engaged. Best case scenario you everything trucking along because everyone is having a good time.

Don't even think about
tossing him.
As a player there is a lot of enjoyment when you are exploring the story, impacting it in surprising ways and engaging with other players to flesh out the story. As I mentioned before, it helps if you can easily imagine and put yourself into the character’s mind, but there are plenty of players content to just absorb the story and battle monsters when needed.

Each of these ended up enticing me to return to tabletop gaming. I ended up picking Dungeons and Dragons because it has the largest player base, the rules had been streamline in real attractive ways and I love a good fantasy adventure. So the time seemed to be right to try it again.

Monday, January 29, 2018

What is Dungeons and Dragons?

(blows the dust from this blog)

Been a while since I posted something here. Time for a little gear shift for this blog, and hopefully something you'll find interesting. As I mentioned in my Looking Back at 2017 post on my movie blog, I recently got back into Dungeons and Dragons as a hobby. Maybe it was nostalgia, maybe this is my mid-life crisis manifesting (perhaps both), but I really missed some of the exciting storytelling that occurs around a table with friends and dice and soda.

In this blog I'm going to be charting my adventure returning to the world of group storytelling and discussing what I like about it, what I don't like about it and some of the specific elements of the game as we go along. I'll do my best to keep it more focused on storytelling and less on dice mechanics.

But I figured that before I even really start, I should cover what Dungeons and Dragons is and the basics of how it is played.

Essentially Dungeons and Dragons is a game in which two to ten people sit at a table and tell a story set in a fantasy world together. One player is the Dungeon Master (DM). The DM is like the narrator, telling the other players about the setting, other characters they meet, playing the antagonists, telling them about treasures or secrets they find. If you think of it in video game terms, the DM is the game itself.

The rest of the players take on the role of player characters (PCs). They control one (sometimes two) character's actions in the game. This covers everything from dialogue to actions. The DM does not tell the PCs what to do, but will tell them how they are effected by events around them.

So the DM could say, "A hail of arrows rains down on your character." The PC says, "I dodge the arrows." Some dice are rolled. The DM says, "Alright you managed to dodge most of them, but a few hit your armor. Only one sinks in." The player replies, "I growl in pain and let out a sharp curse in Dwarfish." The DM smiles, "What does that translate to?" as she rolls some more dice.

About those dice... They are used to add some randomness to the game. In the example above the DM rolls for the skill of the archers. The PC has a set ability score to dodge, so the rolls have to be higher to miss. Only one archer was able to succeed, so now the DM rolls some dice to determine how much damage the heroic dwarf takes.

The random nature of the dice keeps things exciting. You never know how the dice may treat you that night. But even failure can lead to more storytelling.

In a recent game my character tried to swim across a river, but he wasn't very strong. A bad dice roll and the currents swept him away. Suddenly the other PCs were trying to figure out a way to save my character before he was carried away downriver to the monstrous waterfall roaring several yards away. I kept rolling to see if he could break free of the currents, and they were coming up with a plan to get a rope thrown out to me. But even that was going to be based on how well they rolled. In the end, I rolled well enough to get closer to them. They rolled well enough to throw the rope far enough to my character and haul his butt up the bank like a sad sack of potatoes. It created a memorable and tense moment for a simple river crossing.

The current edition of Dungeons and Dragons (the fifth edition or 5E) focuses much more on storytelling over pure action. This was one of the main reasons I was drawn back into the hobby. The Players Hand Book (PHB) is full of character generating ideas to give your character background and backstory elements to really give you an idea of who they are. It is up to the player to fill in those blanks and come up with someone who they know well enough to be able to play at the table.

That is another part of the fun, playing a character who may react to events very differently than you would. Maybe they are more heroic. Maybe they are more duplicitous. Maybe they are more dedicated. But you get to guide them on their path through the story. And if your DM is good he will weave elements of your backstory into the adventure. This not only makes the players feel like they are part of the world being created by the group, but it usually raises the stakes for the players. What do you do when that little sister you left back in your village is kidnapped by the evil sorcerer you've been hunting down?

So that is the basics of Dungeons and Dragons. You have a group of people telling a story together. To get the most out of the current game, you have to be someone with an imagination and be a bit of ham to act out the character. Luckily I'm a bit of both.

Have you ever played D&D before (or any other roleplaying game)? Every try a group storytelling exercise before? Is there any D&D related topics you'd like me to explore on this blog?

If you are curious about the rules, Wizards of the Coast has the basic rules available for free in PDF form. Check it out here: Basic Rules for Dungeons and Dragons.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

First Draft Completed !

I finally finished writing the first draft of my fantasy novel. It was a long road, but one that I enjoyed quite a bit. I haven't written a work this long in many year.  it did feel good to sit down with a long story and let it unfold.

Here are some stats for those who are interested, and for posterity.

Started prep work on August 1, 2016.
Started novel work on August 19, 2016
Completed first draft on May 9, 2017
134,016 Words in First Draft
21 Chapters with a prologue and epilogue that are both about half a page long.

There was a lull in there around December and January where I didn't work very much on the novel. I would probably have finished it in March or so if I had stuck with my schedule from NaNoWriMo. I'm curious to see if the break affected the writing at all.

I ran into my usual problem with long fiction. I started off full of enthusiasm and burned through the first third or so. After that it became a bit harder to work through. The final third was difficult because I had several action sequences. I find those very challenging to write because I am very conscious that I could be overwriting them. I usually end up just throwing down a bunch of stuff and figuring that I can work it all out in the second draft.

This  novel probably had the largest number of main characters in it since my first novel. That first novel was written back in the late 90s and was filled with youthful excitement and insanity. Kind of funny to go back and read now. But I kept piling on characters, and since it was inspired by anime series of the day, some of the characters and plot lines were just bizarre and in conflict with each other.

This time I worked out backgrounds for my eight primary characters, as well as some history about the main location of the story. I think that helped to have that all fully realized before I dove in. I didn't reference my "story bible" too often, but the work spent there made it quite clear in my head.

I am a bit worried that ending might feel anticlimactic. I also think that one of my characters came across as a bit too stereotypical. I'll probably have to do some work with her on the next pass. I'm looking forward to rereading it.

But I'm going to follow Mr. King's advice and let the story sit for about a month or so. I've done this in the past and it really does help when you go back and reread it. In the meantime I think I might work on some shorter fiction. Been a long time since I tackled a short story or two. While I was working on this novel, I actually had a couple of ideas I jotted down (that always happens, and they always seem better then what you are working on at the time).

But first time to celebrate.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016 - November 29

And tonight I crossed the fishline for National Novel Writing Month. It was a fun ride again this year, and I have to say that I feel like I got a good chunk of my novel completed because I had that driving deadline in front of me. Official total number of words for this year is 51583. But that only represents a portion of the total word count of the book. I had already written about 27000 words of the novel when I started, and doesn't sound the 30000 words spent on the world building and character creation work that I started in August. All told, that is a lot of material for just this one book.

What is great is that I haven't really felt any drag in writing this novel. Each time I sat down to work on it, it really felt like it was flowing pretty good. There were a couple days where it was tough to work, but I still met the minimum word count and was able to progress the story further.

At this point I'm still working away at Act 2 of the story. I'm going to toggle between the protagonists and antaongists as they continue their journey toward the goal. This means I'll continue working on the novel until it ends. At this point it could be mid-January when I finally wrap, depending on how busy December gets.

I will continue to post updates on this blog, but they will be a little less frequent and be more focused on the process of writing this novel and less on the word count goals. Speaking of that, here are the stats for the final night of writing for NaNoWriMo 2016.

Page Start: 177
Page End: 184
Word Count Start: 76163
Word Count End: 79194
Nanowrimo Word Count: 51562
Music:

  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Jeremy Soule
Thank you to everyone who has been reading and cheering me on. Your encouragement means a lot!

Monday, November 28, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016 - November 28

So yeah I took some time off from NaNoWriMo. I was doing so well, I figured I didn't have to sweat things too much during Thanksgiving. We had people over, so that meant time spent prepping, time spent cleaning up and time spent recovering from massive amounts of food. So five days without writing a word meant that I felt a little cold when I sat back down at the desk to start back in. But I did a quick bit of rereading the first three pages of the chapter I started and it was pretty easy to get back into the story.

Protagonists are entering some dangerous territory this time and are about to encounter their first major obstacle. I originally had an attack by panther happening in this sequence, but I switched it for something a bit more bizarre. I left an homage to the panther idea as the priestesses discover a strange panther statue that acts as a warning marker.

Today I was listening to The Golden Voyage of Sinbad one of my favorite Harryhausen scores and one of my favorite Harryhausen films. There is also a little homage to this film coming up too. So I thought it was fitting to listen to it while I wrote.

Looking at the word count I think I'm going to meet my goal in my next writing session. That might be tomorrow or Wednesday at the latest. Cutting this a bit close, but I'll still make it.

Tonight's stats:

Page Start: 169
Page End:n 177
Word Count Start: 72625
Word Count End: 76163
Nanowrimo Word Count: 48531
Music:
  • The Golden Voyage of Sinbad – Mikos Rozsa
  • Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion- Jeremy Soule

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016 - November 22

Another day I get a late start, but another day I don't let that stop me. I pressed ahead to finish may action scene. Gotta say that I could see this sequence appearing in a classic adventure film with the antagonists battling a stop motion Ray Harryhausen monster that emerges from the river and attacks. Had some fun coming up with a way for them to escape a bloody demise.

That chapter ends with the leader of the antagonists worrying about the toll the dangers are taking on the groups unity and if he has enough pull to keep them together to achieve his ends. Then I started in on the next chapter focusing on my protagonists as they begin their journey through the jungle to reach the same final location. Of course the path isn't going to be easy for them either. Some of the challenges will be geographical, but I have some monstrous elements in store for them too. Harryhausen creatures all around.

Of cours this meant I had to listen to some Harryhausen music. "Jason and the Argonauts" is one of Bernard Herrman's most bombastic and colorful adventure scores. Fit great with the monstrous creature attack that I started the writing out with, especially the music for the Talos scene in the film.

Stats for the evening:

11/22/16
Page Start: 161
Page End: 169
Word Count Start: 69360
Word Count End: 72625
Nanowrimo Word Count: 44993
Music:
  • Jason and the Argonauts – Bernard Herrmann
  • Fire and Ice – William Kraft

Monday, November 21, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016 - November 21

I got another late start today. We are hosting Thanksgiving again, so when I get home from the office I try to get some stuff down around the house. So I was messing around for a good while before I finally had dinner and then sat down to write. I was afraid I was going to end up barely meeting my goal, so I just focused on the task and kept writing.

I was even able to ignore the cat who came in to remind me when his snack time arrived with some yelling and a gentle tap on the arm. But other than a quick break for his snack, I kept writing and writing and writing. I actually passed by target by about 1000 words, which brings me ever so much closer to my final goal for the contest. That's great news, because I'm thinking that I'm not going to get much more writing done this week. We'll have to see.

What helped me keep writing was working on a pretty exciting action sequence, that popped into my head on break at the office. It made for a surprising peril and it actually leads directly into the original peril I thought up for this scene. Back to back dangers really put the characters on their toes. They were fracturing before, but now a couple of them are really questioning what the hell they are doing in this jungle hell.

As for the musical selections, well Goldsmith always writes great action cues. Both these scores deal with characters in and around water, so it seemed fitting for the writing tonight.

The stats:

Page Start: 153
Page End: 161
Word Count Start: 65513
Word Count End: 69360
Nanowrimo Word Count: 41728
Music:
  • Deep Rising – Jerry Goldsmith
  • Congo – Jerry Goldmith