What do you listen to, read, or watch, to inspire you to write?

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The reason I started this blog is because of the movie 8 Mile. And the reason is every time I watch it, or at least certain scenes, it helps motivate me to write.

Yes, Eminem. I know if I bring him up you might object to him out of one of two camps (some might bleed into each other but who cares).  I know to some he’s not what you would call…reputable in his attitude.  But according to others, he’s a genius.  And yes there could be called into term his use of slurs and how he treats others.  I’m not gonna excuse him, or be his apologist.  Considering his background, it’s a very complex story.   I have not even made my final judgement on him as a human being.  All I’m saying is that by watching 8 Mile I get inspiration and motivation, and I will just leave that here.  I appreciate aspects of him as an artist.

But mainly I’m drawing from the movie; you get inspiration from everywhere. And because of this I might start individual blogs on certain scenes from a movie or a TV show, or even a comic book that might inspire the writer in me and keep me pumped.  Because encouragement is hard enough in the everyday, when you find something that sparks you, I encourage embracing it and even sharing it.  You never know when it might inspire something in another writer or artist.

So anyway, the story of 8 Mile is that of a young white man (with the nickname of B-Rabbit) who is hoping to make it in the world of hip-hop that is normally dominated by African-Americans. He lives in Detroit, Michigan, and the title of the movie comes from 8 Mile Road, the highway between the predominantly black city of Detroit and Wayne County and the predominantly White Oakland County and Macomb County suburbs.

It’s gritty at times, but also funny, and poignant in the fact you have a young man who has a dream and wants to follow it, but he doubts his skill and talent. Hmmm, I wonder if anyone can relate to that.

The scene in particular that always sparks me and inspires me not only as a writer, but to write, is when Eminem’s character Rabbit is on a bus on his way to work. He has his headphones on and he’s listening to music and as he listens he pulls out several pieces of paper from his pocket and a pen.  It looks like there are scribbles, probably lyrics, on the sheets.  As he rides, he starts writing down more lyrics.  You see with his free hand that he’s counting down beats; he’s a songwriter, so in his head he probably has a melody as he puts down words on paper.

That is probably one of the purest forms of the writing process I can imagine. Who knows what he’s putting down?  It could be an idea or even a complete song or rap.  I can remember commuting from Indiana to Chicago where for almost two hours a day somebody else did all the driving while I had my head phones on and I worked on story ideas or poems, or worked on my first book – At Heaven’s Door – putting down ideas or  revising.  So whenever I see that scene or think about it, I’m inspired to keep going.  Honestly, that scene pumps me up and makes me want to work harder and keep pushing.  It also reminds me that some things are universal and certain quiet times can be used to work on your piece of the puzzle.

That moment is important to me. And I’m sharing that with you for two reasons, one is that I hope it inspires you.  But the second thing is, if there was a scene that inspired you to keep writing or pumps up you, I hope you’ll share it with me.  Who knows, I might find inspiration in something else to keep the fire going.

So my questions this week: If you watch this scene would it inspire you? What scenes do you watch to pump you up?  Do you ever hope you write something that would inspire others?

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When does research stop helping you?

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I know many writers ask themselves, “How much research should I put into my book?” But what about the other end of things, when does research go too far?  The reason I’m asking that question is because, at the moment of my writing this, I’m stuck on my latest novel and I’m afraid I’m going to crash and burn like I have with previous projects.

Now I’m still writing, right now I’m working on blogs, a couple of essays, all while I’m researching my current book. But I’m not writing the book.

It’s taken me weeks to read a book about Vegas when it should have taken days. So that’s why I’m writing this now, because I know what I’m doing and I can’t get out of this loop.  When does research become a crutch?  When are you using work to keep you from work?

Sometimes I hate the fact that when it comes to writing, I can be my own worst enemy.

So I guess why I’m writing this is to ask other writers some questions. Such as, what are the things you do – that you know – get in the way of your writing?  Is it…hey, ironing and housework?  Or is it that you want to get through all 9 seasons of Scrubs…just because?  Perhaps it’s starting another blog to avoid working on a novel?

Sure, putting words down on paper or typing on a keyboard is writing, but it’s not work, well not work on the novel you’re supposed to be pounding out.

Last question: What do you do in order to get out of your way?

A shot in the dark too (Cardassian Enigma Tale)

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One of the ways a writer can train themselves, expand their skillset, and go past their boundaries, is to do something scary. And one really good way is to write something that’s out of their comfort zone.  Usually a good way to do that is to participate in writing exercises.

You can get them assigned to you in a writing class, or even if you’re in a writer’s group, or even pick one up from a magazine or book about…well, writing.

But sometimes I think there are some exercises that, even though you want to try them, you realize they might be out of your pay grade. In other words, you feel you don’t have the guns for it.  As much as you want to, you probably won’t.  Yes, it’s a coward’s act that many won’t cop to.  But you know what; my job on this blog is to be honest, brutally honest, especially with myself.  So this blog is about my shame, and I’m going to own it, and I’ll even admit why: because I don’t think I’m ruthless enough to pull this off.  Yep, I’m going to use the good guy excuse.  But I think I can still help others.  Or I might release a group of psychopaths on society.  At least, in the end, I’ve contributed.

Perhaps you’ll take it as a morality lesson for yourself and you will cross over and take on something you thought you would not try or do. So if this helps you to not be me, huzzah!

There was a Star Trek television show – ST: Deep Space Nine – and it was probably my favorite of all the Trek shows. So now we go into confession time.  I have never been a big Star Trek fan.  To be honest I find most of it boring. Now, some aspects are cool, but I would probably put Star Wars or even the Stargate franchise ahead of that (I had a period of time where I couldn’t work because of my immigration status in Canada, so I started watching the Stargate TV shows while I was puttering around the apartment and started getting into that story universe and thought they were cool).  And I’ll go one further on my geek meter.  To me the best – BEST – Sci-Fi television show ever is Babylon 5.  Yeah motherfucker got a problem with that!  Step on me Trek Mo-Fo and I’ll Vorlon your ass.

But I digress. Now I think the main reason I got into Deep Space Nine is because it was a radically different show from the previous two Star Trek shows, the original and ST: The Next Generation.  They had the same premise, futuristic starship travelling and exploring the galaxy in search of new hopeful adventures.  And because a lot of my friends were into the first two shows I would watch and yeah, I liked some of the episodes but I did not go out of my way to watch.  Part of the problem is that they were idealized, and they were also bright and optimistic and cheery.  Meanwhile, Deep Space Nine started in the ass end of space in a solar system full of people who were suffering and stripped of their resources.  The Federation (the star trekkers) sent a team and they were there to help, but at first the people they were trying to help didn’t really want them.  Also, the guy in charge didn’t even want to be there.  Everybody hated each other, or they wanted to be elsewhere, or they hated each other, yes I’m repeating, but it’s also true.

Regardless, this was not the Star Trek Federation Shiny Happy People we were used to, this was something different, and thus enjoyable for me. Also because it was a space station and not a starship you had people from all walks of life who visited or lived on the station that were not part of the Star Trek Earth organization called Starfleet and so they lived in a much greyer area in terms of morality.

And because of that we are introduced, thanks to ST: Deep Space Nine (from here known as ST: DSP), to one of my favorite characters ever. And I’m not talking about favorite in the Star Trek franchise, no this character is one of my all-time top five characters ever in any fictional media.  In books, or comics, or movies/television, this guy stands out.  And the ironic thing is, he’s just a humble tailor.  Well not really, but hey, why spoil his fun.  The character’s name is Elim Garak, or as he would say, “Oh, it’s just Garak. Plain, simple Garak.”  His race or people are called Cardassians (no, not Kardashians, but very close) and they once conquered a planet called Bajor and enslaved the people who lived there, where they built a space station that was abandoned when the Cardassians left.  This place was now being used by the good guys, the Federation, so they could help the Bajorans recover from the occupation.  Thus setting the stage for the show.

He was the only Cardassian left on Bajor; it was because he was exiled from his home planet to pay for some crime he committed against his former mentor. See, besides being a tailor, he was also a former spy.  And a very good one, thus he was a mystery to the members of the station who were intrigued by him, and also skeptical of his intensions.  Eventually he would befriend one of the members of the station.  Part of their friendship included a weekly lunch date where they would talk about current events on the station, music, and books.  They traded literature between species.

I’m going into extensive backstory for two reasons, one to fill pages in between writing projects so I can claim I’m writing, but also to talk about an episode of the show: Distant Voices – Season 3 episode 18, where the concept of my failed writing exercise was born. Having this information is helpful if you’re unfamiliar with the show.

So they share books, and Garak introduces his friend to the Cardassian genre called Enigma Tales. Now you might think it’s his people’s version of a mystery novel.  And you’re not too off, but there’s a twist.  Back to the Cardassians being conquerors; this meant they were not the nice guys in this TV show.  Their society was stringent, orderly, and very draconian.  The society was so oppressive that if you were accused of a crime by the state then you were considered guilty until proven guilty.  No ifs ands or buts.  Which means if you are a writer, assuming you’re not rotting in some prison, you are adhering to the customs of your people, thus when writing a mystery, everyone, once someone is accused, is guilty.  When you go into earth mysteries, part of the fun is guessing who did the crime, but it’s pretty easy to figure out the criminals since they’re all guilty regardless.

Right?

Wrong!

And that’s where we get into the ‘why’ of these mysteries, or as Garak’s friend (Dr. Julian Bashair if you’re really curious) remarks, all Enigma Tales are the same; all the suspects are always guilty. To which Garak responds: “Yes, but the challenge is determining who is guilty of what.”  Aye, there’s the rub.

Now we’re onto something; this is where we get into a very cool concept. I was intrigued and honestly, the second I heard his words I thought, I want to write an Enigma Tale.  A mystery where all the players did something, all you have to do is figure out who did what.

But the more I started thinking about this type of project the more I was trying to figure out how to pull something like this off. Then I lost my smile.  See, one aspect of writing is putting yourself in a hole and seeing if you can dig yourself out.  Oh child, I am not that writer, at least not now.  And while I would love the concept of writing this type of tale, I don’t think I could pull it off.  I know, and yet you say…but Vince, that is why you try writing exercises, to stretch yourself and try something different.  And you’re right.  But there are a couple of reasons as to why I don’t want to try.

Part of my reasoning is pragmatic. Chances are I would never try to publish it.  The concept of writing a mystery has never interested me.  I love ‘em but not enough to dedicate myself to such a story, especially if it’s going to take time away from vital projects.

Also, while I enjoy a good mystery, I’ve never been good at writing them; my concepts or ideas always come off as hackneyed and overwrought (yep, digging out the thesaurus for this one) clichés. Now I have to admit I’m good at figuring mysteries out; I’ve been a big reader of Sherlock Homes since I was a kid (also love Benjamin Cumberbatch’s version; haven’t seen Elementary, but I hear good things).  And if you ask my wife, when it comes to watching a cop or spy flick/TV show I can figure out the twist.  So much that at times she asked if I’ve seen it before (no Bev, I haven’t, while you have book smarts, I have street smarts).

Maybe I’m using the above to justify my laziness as a writer. And maybe I’m uncomfortable showing one of my many, many (many) flaws as a writer, but when I started writing this blog I promised myself I would be honest with you, and with me.  I want to show both the good and the bad parts of myself so that perhaps you’ll take something out of it for yourself and avoid my pitfalls.  And maybe by exposing myself to you (not that way, you pervert), I might be able to shame myself into following up on yet another half fulfilled writing project I started or was thinking of and then let it go…

Still, the concept does intrigue me, and if I were to do it, I’d have to do a lot of planning. Obviously it would have to be grand and epic, sprawling over several characters.  Too few and it’s really obvious, too many and it’s comical and a farce.  And a parody of a parody is never funny.

Next you need a setting. Do I do old fashioned with established “pillars” of society in a haunted mansion like an Agatha Christie tale, or modern jet set at a dinner party in Manhattan?  Maybe a military base on lockdown.  Get funky, survivors of a zombie apocalypse, or a plague.  It could be at the end of an event, or the start.

And it’s not just about the perpetrators. What about the crimes they committed?  Obviously I need at least one murder (maybe more because, why not), but there has to be other violations otherwise it will get really dull.  And also perhaps one or two, or even all of the perpetrators, might have a justifiable reason for their crimes.

Who knows, I might have it in me after all, who can say?

Was there ever a writing project you wanted to do but were too afraid or intimidated by? Did you punch your way through and succeed?  What are your thoughts on an Enigma Tale?

Role Playing Games and Writing Part III

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This is part three of a three part series so I’m continuing from Part II.

Also I want to recognize the following – A resource I used for this series of blogs: http://www.dandwiki.com/wiki/Main_Page

Also special thanks to gamers and inspiration – Kris, K Noel and Greg Ivy, but especially to one of my favorite gaming partners and fellow blogger Richard Asplund Jr. – catch https://rasplundjr.wordpress.com/  and https://randompimpage.wordpress.com/

The last two blogs were about character creation for gaming in Dungeon’s and Dragons, so now that you have a character it’s time to do something with it (or him/her as it were).

That means while you control your character there is someone who is controlling the world you’re in. So now here is where we turn things over to the one running the game; in D&D he’s called the Dungeon Master.  In other games you can call that person either the Storyteller or the Games Master.  But for now we’re going to refer to the person running this game as the DM (short for…well, you know).

This is how I can justify using a forum for creative writing (or any kind of writing really), because the person running the game has to be creative and good on their feet since in this type of game you get a lot curve balls. Yes there are rules, but it’s tempered by creativity and the decisions your players make.  So no matter how well you structure things, if the players decide to go off the rails you have to make changes to keep up.  So ultimately not only is this an exercise in creativity but also in writing overall because when writing a story you might hit a curve ball and have to adapt.

But I’m getting ahead of myself on the creative writing part; let’s start at the beginning so you get the whole picture.

Let’s get back to the Dungeon Master, or DM. When you’re adventuring you have someone who’s not playing alongside as a character.  Rather he is the one who creates your end goal and obstacles.  He uses a setting on a grand scale, and creates non-player characters you and your party interact with, and sometimes battle.  He is behind the creatures and monsters you ultimately find yourself destroying.  S/He concocts the type of quest you are on and depending on how well versed he is with the game system he might even create it from scratch.

Now if you’re a first time DM, or thinking about it, you might be a bit intimidated by the concept of running these games. No worries; there are resources and materials out there that you can use.  That includes game modules, and even whole gaming worlds that you can use as a setting for your adventurers.  These are provided by the same people who created the gaming system you’re playing in.

Later on as you get more experience you can start creating your own gaming modules and adventures. And if you’re really into it like I was, you might even decide to create your own world that everyone is going to be playing in.  As you go through putting together your adventuring world you might want to enlist the help of your players to help develop the world with the backgrounds they’ve created so you can make this a true creative collaboration.

And speaking of experience, we’re going to go back into one of the aspects of character creation – your character’s level – because that helps determine the toughness of the games you’re going to be playing.  As also by how you handle these gaming sessions and the type of victories and prizes you gain, that also affects you earning Experience Points (XP for short).  The more you survive and accomplish, the more points you earn and the higher you can go.  And of course the higher level you play, the more dangerous and daring your adventures become, increasing the fun.  It is an important part of your character’s development and game play.

The reasons character levels exist is because obviously you’re not going to battle demi-gods and demon lords at first level. And at 30th level, rescuing a kitten from a tree might be a little below your pay grade.  Though if you can, always rescue kittens, or at least send your 1st level apprentice to do it.

Let’s start with the published adventure and gaming worlds created and then go into the concept of creating your own modules and universe.

Now some background. Gaming Modules are Dungeons and Dragons adventures published by the makers of the game – at the time, TSR.  These quests/adventures were created to help players and DM’s.  Everything was pre-packaged with various obstacles to overcome, monsters for you to battle, and treasures to be won.  The best part is that they ran across all spectrums of player levels and abilities, from beginners to seasoned players, so first timers or long tooth vets could get something from these games.

Truth be told, and this is a personal opinion, but I think the best part of these modules has to go to beginning DM’s. If you didn’t have any experience these modules would be your guide in running your first games and help you get used to the system.  This was helpful for gamers that were starting out as well players in the same boat.  They figured these people would need a guiding hand, and structure is a great thing.

But they did not just help out the beginners. The company developed and created multiple quests and adventures that covered all levels of experience and gaming.  In this way you could have a balanced way of playing and challenging your players.  And if you live a busy lifestyle you can keep games going even if you couldn’t invest a lot of time creating your own modules.  They would have something for everyone.

The limitation to these is that because they were published, anyone had access to them, including your players. That meant if you had a spoiler in your group i.e. someone who had to know everything before they played, they could read the module and know ahead of time what calamities awaited them and plan accordingly, even blurt out plots and surprises, which could very well drain the fun out of the game.  These guys were a close relative of the rule mongers.  They knew everything about the game, all the monsters and their strengths and weaknesses, and these people would go out of their way to argue everything if the DM did not adhere to the guidelines in the rule book.  Because some people have to win, even in a game where there was no real winner, just continual play.  So if you ran a game and you did something that didn’t fit into their concept of the game they would argue until the sun died.  But there’s a solution to that, which we’ll talk about later.

But still the cool thing about these modules is that they had weren’t cookie cut or did the same thing. There was enough variety to cover a multitude of tastes.  Some were high combat while others could be themed like a caper like Ocean’s 11, or even a mystery if that was more to your interest.  They could also cover a realm (a territory or kingdom) that might cover a specific genre or setting.  Because of this the gaming world opens up and evolves into something more then you ever expected.  One of those adventures that comes to mind is a gaming module that eventually became a world filled with supernatural quests and terrors, called Ravenloft.  The main driver in that was a vampire who ruled the land.  So if fighting things that go bump in the night was your thing you were in luck.

I remember one module I was given as a gift was in a desert setting…which was different, but took me out of my safety zone and helped me develop a world with cross cultures.

If you were feeling a little bolder and wanted to expand beyond the local dungeon or cave, or if you enjoyed a particular setting from a particular module but wanted to go beyond the adventure held in the book, you might consider using published source material established by the creators of the game and play in a gaming world. One of the first I played in and eventually started using was The World of Greyhawk.  To explain, I took the following from the Wikipedia post of said world: The world itself started as a simple dungeon under a castle designed by Gary Gygax (the co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons who wrote and developed much of the source material) for the amusement of his children and friends, but it rapidly expanded to include not only a complex multi-layered dungeon environment, but also the nearby city of Greyhawk, and eventually an entire world.  Thanks to Gary it expanded the game on a greater scale beyond just a simple quest or dungeon.  Soon your character could travel over lands or great seas and explore more than just a local threat.  Now they could change the course of countries or empires and their future.  You can crumble regimes or help build a dynasty.  Again if you’re going to play, go big.  I mean, look at the Hobbit.  The effect that adventure had was limited, but then you had the sequel and the fate of the entire “Middle Earth” was in jeopardy.  The heroes weren’t in it to save one nation state or region; they were in it to rescue their world from evil.

I say, if you can, your gaming group should save the universe at least once.

But back to what I was saying, that by using gaming modules you can expand to worlds with different dimensions and structures. These realms include Greyhawk, Ravenloft, and The Forgotten Realms.  Oh and one more really cool gaming world that I really enjoyed because of the fictional books based on game play, a trilogy called The Dragonlance Saga.

What made the Dragonlance world really cool was the back story. The writers of this world (Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis) started by making adventures that were specific to this realm and had friends who played characters who contributed to the game with their ideas and the quirks on the characters they played.  The players contributed to the story which contributed to the player module, and then novels and a franchise, and finally a full-fledged gaming world.

And this is just the drop in the bucket. There were/are plenty of other gaming worlds a Dungeon Master can use to run a game and make hours of fun play.  This of course leads to the second (well technically fourth) part of this blog.

I started using gaming modules and worlds – I had Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms in the beginning. But eventually I decided I wanted to run a game set in a world I developed.  Part of it was because I had plans to write a series of books.  As a game runner who also has a writing impulse, you start to feel constrained by the rules and the worlds you’re playing in.  I think if you use Dungeons and Dragons the right way you have a way to flex some creative muscles that no one expected.

But also, and this is the main reason I started my own gaming world. I know the gaming systems and the rules surrounding them very well. I know the nation states and the politics as well.  I wasn’t the only one.  And because of that you eventually have some frustrating situations that influence the game.

In just about every group, or gathering, and especially in gaming, you have different personalities that collide. Some of those people you’re not going to get along with, some for legitimate reasons, some not.

For me the two problem players I have are the power gamers and the know-it-alls. The power gamer always has to be the biggest, baddest, grandest.  They have 18 across all stats, their skills are flawless, and they have unlimited funds plus the best weapons and magic items.  They just want to fight their way across the realms and the only solution is by the sword or wand, not using their brains.  I knew whole gaming groups who lived on those mottos.  Part of the blame is the game runner (DM) who lets this happen.  Usually it’s a hive mind and they all take turns running the game allowing the group to amass more power.  I find these games lack finesse and storytelling/actual roleplaying components.  I just walk away because I know I can’t control these groups and I don’t want to.  And when I have a power gamer who joins one of my groups and tries to keep their gaming expectations I defuse it very quickly.  I either limit their weapons or magic items or have them create a new character with reasonable abilities and powers.  Two things happen then: they either stomp away because the game is no fun – no problem, good riddance – or they stick around and have fun and realize you don’t need to be decked out to the max to play a game – if anything, there is a chance they fail and make the game more thrilling.  Once they realize they need a new style of game play, they adapt, have fun, and start contributing.  Then it’s a good game.

Next we have the rule lawyers. They know the game back and forth.  Even if they fail a roll on something they can cite obscure rules to get their way.  Or they argue, argue, and argue some more; with the DM, with other players and they won’t stop until they get their way.  They know all the adventures (having read them all) and so they know all the traps and where the secret treasure room is.  They also know the abilities of all the monsters and creatures you encounter.  So that means they know the weaknesses and all the tricks.  And to me this ruins the game play.  It gets tiring to the point I don’t want to run the game, much less play the game.

So I came up with a solution. I created my own world.  My roof, my rules, well it’s my world my…you know the rest.  And perhaps in my own way I’m coming off as a power gamer/rule lawyer, but I wanted to create a space where all can be safe and just concentrate on the fun of the game and not the rules.  And because of that I warn all new players that we are using a modified version of AD&D which was a mix of 1st and 2nd editions.  Also I warned them that no dragons existed in this world (until they did – yep I’m a sneak).

What I could do was start working and creating a background for this game to use in my (now aborted) book. I could also modify some of the monsters or creates or races in the game, so if a rule lawyer would say Orcs can’t use silver (not true, only using as an example), I would reply that in this realm they can.  And we move on.  I could have different regions for different gameplay: a city and an urban adventure, deserts and tribes of nomads, arctic wastelands with frost giants and dwarves, etc. but then add my own twist (the Giants are slaves and the Dwarves are the harsh master to all).  So in anything they’ve read or played in before they would have no knowledge of this world and everything would be new.

I also had the perfect foil for my players and their characters if they got too powerful and could beat Owlbears* and Orge-Mages* with ease; I would create counter characters. Your Wizard is level 30, they fight one who’s level 40.  You have a sword +2 on rolls to hit and damage, the anti-knight would have a +3 sword.

*These are just some of many magical creatures the players might encounter.

So being a writer means I’m a control freak, but it also meant I can have a well-balanced world that everyone enjoys because it was new and they helped me develop it. And I enjoyed it because it helped me stretch my creative muscles too.

But hey, if you do think I’m a jerk with control issues I just want to let you know I have had curveballs thrown at me by my players that would turn the game up on its head. I had plans and expectations and they would do things that completely took me out of my safe zone, and you know what, that was a lot of fun for me.

Once I had the group attacked by a hunter (a variation on the ranger class). This guy used tricks and poisonous darts that paralyzed players.  He took out all of the fighters in the group early or he tricked them to be in another part of the town.  The two characters who were not warriors took him on and rolled several natural 20’s – which means that they hit and do double damage.  The plan was to capture half the group and lead the other half into a trap but because of this I had to change the story, which was good because inadvertently I created what I think was my best campaign.

I say take it in stride because if you’re a good writer you’ll do that as well. I’ve had stories or ideas that would go one way and then after I wrote it, it wasn’t very good or I had one of the characters talk to me and tell me no, I wouldn’t do that…I would do this.

Remember, one of the first things AD&D states: These rules are not concrete and are only guidelines for the DM and the Players. Something most of the gaming lawyers forget.

There you have it, DnD character creation step by step and how it helped me with developing characters for books. Another game that was fantastic on how to measure abilities and translate them from the book to play was Marvel Superheroes Advanced Set. It came out in the 80’s and I loved playing it, but also I was able to finally use that system to classify powers and how they worked, thus when I create or write characters with fantastic abilities I use AD&D and Marvel Superheroes Advanced Set.

I said in the previous blog that giving limitations to your characters adds tension and suspense, which is a great tool in storytelling and it leads for better play. It makes everything more enjoyable if you’re using that with your stories.  Well, the one where good battles evil.

I know for much of my fiction I do, and it’s because of these aspects of the various games I played that I was able to learn how to use them in my own writing.   Part of that is because I ran the games, so I had to create and keep the players motivated and wanting to play every week.  But I also played and observed others in their running of the game and giving us the adventures and thus we were in their story.  It made me think outside my own realms and also to enjoy myself because I wasn’t the one running everything.  So I could kick back, relax, and try not to be a gaming lawyer myself.  Usually.

Playing RPG’s has helped me as a writer in ways that I’m grateful for. It expanded my days of youth where I would take over the house with my toys and tell a story.  I had an endless canvas to create something incredible and wonderful and I felt free.  And ideas are great, a world is terrific, but if you don’t have characters, characters that your readers are invested in, care about, or want dead…then you got nothing.

Did you find this helpful? If so, how?  Was there something I could have shortened or expanded on?  To any experienced players out there, did I miss anything?

Thank you for your time.

The Mechanics of Role Playing Games Part II

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Sorry for the delay, but I think it was worth it.  Please remember that I’m human and I have faults, but more importantly…life happens.  If you are continuing thank you.

This is part two of a three part series so I’m continuing from Part I.

Also I want to recognize the following – A resource I used for this series of blogs: http://www.dandwiki.com/wiki/Main_Page

Also special thanks to gamers and inspiration – Kris, K Noel and Greg Ivy, but especially to one of my favorite gaming partners and fellow blogger Richard Asplund Jr. – catch https://rasplundjr.wordpress.com/  and https://randompimpage.wordpress.com/

So now Part II –

So since I made my decision, it’s time to go into character class, i.e. what your character is going to be. The gaming books give structure so you don’t go off the rails.  It’s a start and you can use it to further develop your characters using templates on what they can and cannot do.  The four initials are Fighter, Wizard, Thief, or Cleric.  Later you can even specialize (like a doctor, only more thrilling and dangerous, i.e. a really drunk doctor).  You might decide to become a fighter who thrives in the forest or frontier (they are called Rangers), or a spell caster that uses magic to create complex illusions that fool the senses (they are called…Illusionists). The gaming systems are creative, not the titles.

I’ll do a quick explanation of the original classes:

Fighters are warriors and they get to use all types of weapons, so they have no weapon restrictions. Their best friends are their sword and their courage.  They are the front line and take point.  They can be men at arms, or barbarians, or knights.  They can be heroic leaders, or mercenaries of questionable morals.  And as they adventure into the outer realms they gain combat skills.  They have no magical or mystical abilities, but through travel, exploration, and quests they can gain magical weapons and items.  It helps to have high strength and constitution, and dexterity is a plus.  The cool thing about them is that no matter the race, the stats or abilities, just about anybody can be a fighter.  Maybe not a successful one, but still just pick up a sword, learn to fight, and live another day.

Note: I’m not trying to be a gaming snob, but in my opinion to anyone starting out wanting to try role playing games and who is not quite committed yet and wants to see how things work, I recommend playing a warrior first. At an early level they are usually a bit stronger with fewer rules to learn.  Hack and slash as they say, and I’m not knocking it because I understand.  With anything new, as you play you learn more about the system and even the world you’re playing in; you can be overwhelmed and might even get bored if it’s too rule heavy in the beginning.  I feel with a Fighter you can watch what the more experienced players do and learn from them.  Again with other character classes, certain rules or complicated skills might be too much for newbies and might make them lose interest in the game.  And I always thought of RPG’s as a means of bringing people together (certain extremists may disagree, but then every culture has those who tend to ruin things for everyone…so we’ll ignore them, for now).  Again, playing a fighter for your first time is just my recommendation.  But also for some, jumping in and learning something beyond your comfort level can work too.  I like to learn as I go along and gain experience doing it instead of just reading about it, which can be the heart of the game.  So if you want to try something new and odd, go for it, because new is cool too.  In the end go with your interest, but if it’s on the verge of light casual I think Fighter is the way to go.

Wizards are magic users and their vast knowledge of arcane lore allows them to manipulate mystical energies and cast various spells. They have to study so that means to be a wizard you need high intelligence.  And honestly, unlike a lot of other characters, you do need to be a thinker to play one.  You see when it comes to playing a Wizard, especially one that starts out at Level 1 (I will get more into character levels and experience/experience points a little later in this – considering how long this is starting to go I might split this blog into 3 sections), you have to realize you are probably one of the weaker character classes, to start.  The hit points you get (again we’ll chat later) are the lowest, and the requirements for this character in a very physically active world are the lowest.  And at the beginning you’re limited to the number of spells you can cast and how powerful they will be.  So that means you have to be careful and plan ahead.  You can’t just power through…to start.  Still, if you play and survive to the higher levels you obtain more powerful spells and can be a very dangerous opponent to your enemies.  So while you start off slow, as you rise in ability you stand very high.  Keep in mind that as a Wizard you also have a very small weapon selection.  You are limited to daggers and/or a staff.  But honestly, as spell caster you should be concentrating on magic, not fighting.  Still, if you feel truly adventurous and want to really cut your teeth on the game, then maybe becoming a Wizard is your thing.

Thieves (or Burglars as they were called in The Hobbit) are…well, thieves. Seems simple, but it’s also complex.  They steal to make money, but they do a lot more.  See, the first part of DnD stands for Dungeons, exploring underground ruins or fortresses left from fallen kingdoms. They also invade the lairs of various monsters that hoard the treasures of their fallen victims.  And do you think these places are left undefended or open for anybody to just plunder them?  Nope.  One of the strengths of the Thief is that they detect traps and snares, and unlock things that are locked.  And this helps a thief aid his fellow party members in their quests and adventures.  They find the nasty ugly things and help the fighters and wizards through obstacles that they can’t punch or finagle their way out of.  Also, the thief can pick pockets and backstab.  In terms of stats, they are a mix of physical and mental.  Strength isn’t a major requirement, but it helps to be nimble, so high dexterity helps.  Also, a high wisdom and intelligence helps them detect the various traps, because once they break in they can obtain their dream of finding vast fortunes and retiring into the good life.  I think a Thief is another good starter character.  You can be more relaxed than a fighter, and while you need smarts you don’t have to be so tactical.  You have slightly more skills than a fighter and some unexpected advantages, but you don’t have quite as many restrictions as a wizard.  Also with weapons you tend to go with daggers, clubs and short swords.  You don’t want big weapons to carry around because when it comes time to deal with traps, snares, and a gold heavy purse, you don’t need a lot of things rattling around.  You might also use a bow and arrow or an axe that you can throw.  Just about any race can play a thief; it has something for everyone.

Clerics (and Druids as well), are the unsung medics who save the others in the adventure party, or they might have been the downfall of humankind in the real world. This is an interesting character class and if I may be controversial I believe that all the “DnD is a Satanic game” came from them.  See, remember that the basis of this game is mythical and magical,  and with myth you usually deal with a pantheon of gods.  And considering the current state of modern religion you can see why some people might be opposed to a character that worships either a different god or a multitude of gods that go against real life spiritual beliefs.  I say so what!  It’s just a game, get over it and yourself.  So you have a play world and in that world you have a multitude of gods and goddesses who watch over those who worship them.  And to facilitate them you need their priests and priestesses.  Hence we have Clerics who are the spiritual members of your party who invoke certain mystical energies of healing and other variations of spells by praying to their gods.  And again because of that, some gamers consider them the medics of the gaming world.  They would be wrong.  Clerics are so much more.  Yes they do spells (really prayers), but because of their reliance on their gods that make them holy men and women this makes them very effective against the undead and supernatural monsters that plague the party.  That includes demons and devils (yeah I see why some people had their neck hair up with gaming – I don’t agree at all with that but I can see where the small minded get ludicrous ideas).  I think Clerics are really versatile and even though they do a form of spell casting they have better hit points (we’ll get to that later) than Wizards and a better weapon selection.  Now keep in mind you won’t be able to use anything bladed or edged so no swords, bows, or axes.  You tend to use blunt weapons like war hammers or maces.  But one of the reasons is when fighting a skeleton or ghoul; those weapons are more effective than a bladed weapon.  And again you start slow in the prayers/spells you use, but as you grow you gain a better selection, or the ones you already know are more effective.

So I’m thinking with what I have and the race I picked, I’m going to go with a Cleric. Think about it, they are the healers and fight the undead.  And as a Dwarf I’d probably prefer a war hammer or mace anyways.

So now I have a Dwarf who is a Cleric. Let’s continue.  In the course of the game you encounter opponents and you fight them using a complex fighting system the creators of the game developed.  You give damage but you also take damage.  So a system was put in place on exactly how much damage you take until you are knocked unconscious or are dead.  In this particular game it’s called Hit Points.

How many hit points you get is determined by your character class. The more physical means the more hit points you start out with.  Keep in mind that as you progress in the game the more hit points you earn.  But back to your class; fighters start with and gain more hit points as they progress in levels (we’ll get into that one later…are you starting to notice a trend?), while wizards start off with the least, and thieves and clerics are in between.  In the game itself when you start off (especially with level one) you’re supposed to roll a dice (remember those?) and from that you get your hit points.  Honestly, one of my house rules (I’ll get into that too) is that for the first few levels, 3 or 5, I forget, you get full hit points because it’s a vicious game and well, remember you’re heroes, so we go epic.  Once I feel they are on a good foot I’ll revert to rolling to determine your hit points.  Now here are the initial hit points each base class gets:

 

Fighter: d10 plus constitution bonus – see below.

Cleric: d8 plus non-fighter constitution bonus.

Wizard: d4 plus non-fighter constitution bonus.

Thief: d6 plus non-fighter constitution bonus.

 

Note: A fighter con bonus is one point per point of constitution over 14 up through 19; at 19 or 20, no 1’s can be rolled for hit points, but should be treated as 2’s. Non-fighter con bonus is +1 point at constitution 15, +2 points at 16 and above.

So you can see Clerics are pretty tough.

So next – and here’s where we get philosophical with your character in regards to his or her ethics and morality. Are you going to be a true hero, pure and unselfish?  Are you a devilish rogue with a heart of gold?  Yes you seem morally ambiguous (and in the end you might still do the dirty jobs that the nicer hero might not do) but in the end you do good.  Or do you see the law as something you do not wavier from, so even if something might seem unfair, because it’s the law of the land you will obey?  Perhaps you are a jerk flavored jerk in a jerk coating with a soft gooey jerk center and that’s the end of it.   See in a world of swords and sorcery, if you’re playing a knight who pick-pockets widows and orphans then you’re not playing to type.  So for your character you get to pick what’s called an alignment.

Alignment, in gaming terms means (thank you Wikipedia) a categorization of the ethical and moral perspective of player characters, non-player characters, and creatures. The original version of D&D allowed players to choose among three alignments when creating a character: lawful, implying honor and respect for society’s rules; chaotic, implying rebelliousness and individualism; and neutral, seeking a balance between the extremes.

When I played there were nine, which I’ll go into: Lawful good – Neutral good – Chaotic good – Lawful neutral – (True) neutral – Chaotic neutral – Lawful evil – Neutral evil – Chaotic evil. *Whew* To see the differential I recommend reading this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alignment_(Dungeons_%26_Dragons)

You can see just how your character might act and how you’ll role-play that character. So if you’re playing a chaotic evil necromancer but rescue puppies, give money to widows and orphans, you’re not doing it right.  As a game master I found it best if the group tends to go in the same direction.  Unless you have extraordinary reasons to have a lawful good warrior and a chaotic evil conqueror in the same adventuring party, they are going to go into conflict and they are going kill each other.  I mean, that’s the game.

So I think I’ll go midway on the good scale, and be neutral good. Helpful and kind, but not so wrapped up in rules that it will keep me from doing the right thing.  So I might steal money from someone, but in order to give it to widows and orphans.  Now this is a personal thing for me, but I prefer my adventures to be based on a heroics spectrum, good versus evil with me being on the good side.  That’s generally how I ran my games.  I know there are some gaming groups that will do an evil party, but I find that (and this is just my opinion) it just leads to your going to a town and killing everyone and I also find it lacks finesse and takes away from acting out a character, the roleplaying part, thus reducing the fun for me.  Ultimately I see these games turning into a power gaming nightmare.

And now let’s go into power gaming. In the past I’ve talked about it without really talking about it.  Power gaming is basically when you play the game you want with all the cheat codes while in god mode and at the end you get a trophy and an ice cream sundae.  Sometimes it’s a trophy made of your favorite ice cream.  You play the biggest baddest meanest character on the block.  You are powerful and nothing gets in your way.  You and your fellow characters can do anything you want without worry and no obstacle is too big.  You battle gods and defeat them because…well, you might actually be one.  You crush all and while it might be great for your ego, I think it leads to boring game play.  Can you image your life if you got everything you ever wanted with no question?  At first it’s great, but eventually it gets tedious and stagnant.  Again this is my opinion.  Also my opinion, I think the best stories are when the heroes come from behind the odds and win by daring and courage.  You fight for what’s right and you narrowly win.  As a storyteller that’s so much more satisfying, but again I state this as a preference.  But think about the first Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, The Matrix – rising to meet the challenge, completing a hero’s journey and winning.

What can I say, I’m a romantic.

Alright time to cut the shit and get on with it; back to character creating, we’re in the home stretch. Once you have all the other stuff in line the next thing you work on is background.  Some games the GM (or DM) might do that for you.  Others give you a free hand.  I’m wary of GM’s that do it for characters, mainly because I think it’s better to let the creative juices flow with everyone.  It will inspire the writer as GM and vice versa.  It will also inspire the player because I think the more a player invests in their character, the more they will get out of the game and the more they will add to it for others.  Thus making it a great experience for both the player and the GM, because in the end, even with the rules and charts, the reason you’re playing is because you want to have fun.  If you’re not, why do it?

Now keep in mind you are using the world you are playing in to base your background, and if it’s the GM’s world, then yes a conversation with him is in order, but GM please give freedom to your player so they can help the creative process of gameplay. And lastly, if you have a clueless new player and they want a background, then go with it.  Hopefully as they evolve as a player they will want to add their voice.

With the statistics and the background you chose you use that information to create the bare bones of a character and then flesh it out…so to speak.

So I am a Dwarf Cleric, I’m going to say Mountain Dwarf because why not. Now it depends on the world I’m playing in and the way the game is tilted, but let’s says someone similar to my mindset is running the game.  That means I’m aiming for heroic play, so I’m going to make my alignment Neutral Good.  I will say I’m a newly graduated student who spreads the word of his god while helping those in need with healing and mercy but I won’t take any crap.  Good start.

And if you’re into word play, well ladies and gents you’ve come to the right place because “Speaking of Start” we’re now going to start talking about levels and experience points. So that makes me a Neutral Good Dwarf Cleric, Level One.

Oh yeah, this is a main factor, the level of your character.  When you start it’s at level one – remember we’re going with the whole new player on all aspects.  More experienced players can create higher level characters to fit campaign needs, but I think to really appreciate this game you should play as a level one at least once.  Now what’s great about the game is, as you advance in skills, gain treasure, and win victories, you start advancing to higher levels – from level one to level two and onwards.  In many ways this matches real life.  After each adventure you become a better fighter or thief, or become a more powerful wizard or cleric while playing.  Simple, as a character progresses, you gain experience points, thus making you more powerful.

Since we’re technically starting out we’ll start you off at level one. And remember the more adventures your character takes part in, the more proficiency they gain and the more skill they advance.  While adventuring you gain, in gaming terms, something called Experience Points (XP is the shorthand).  You need to gather so many points to go to the next level.  These points are determined by the person running the game.  They award you points based on your actions and how inline you are with your character and what they do with their background, race, and alignment along with the number of quests you complete or the enemies you slay.  The more you do the more you earn.  But if you’re a good aligned fighter who burns down the orphanage to get their gold, you lose points.  But say you’re a wizard and you use a spell and knowledge to solve a puzzle, you earn more points.

Here are some examples on how Experience Points work. At level one you have 0XP.  Remember I’m going by 1st edition.  To gain the next level you need, say for a fighter to reach level 2, 1750XP.  For a Cleric they need 2,250XP.  A Thief needs 1600XP, and a Wizard needs 2600XP.  As you progress higher you need to earn more points, much higher than at an early level.  It’s a classic Catch-22.  You’re stronger and more powerful, so your quests are more dangerous, thus gaining you more points which you need to advance…and so on.

I can admit it could be very clinical and number crunching at times, but ultimately the more you play the more experience you earn and the better you become. Works the same way in real life, first on a gaming level because I think the more you play the more you enjoy things and become a better gamer.  But secondly, this works as a life lesson in everything you do.

I’ll talk more about how levels and experience points are an important factor in the type of adventures you play in part 3 of this blog.  Let’s hope I can produce this sooner that three months.  I appreciate your patience.

 

So right now we’re at level one, but that will change, presuming you make it past your first adventure.

Oh and before I forget, you need to name your character. After all the other players can’t just call out “Hey you!”  Again I say go epic and have some fun.  Sure I can call myself Bob or Ted,  but no when you’re doing a quest having a guy named Frank leading the team is not inspiring.  You need something like Tygray the Powerful, the Agnar the Avenger.

Now I just need to meet a party and go on. Once you do that it looks like we’re set to play.

It’s that easy (sort of) and thus a new beginning for a character who is beginning his journey of adventure and doing good. Think again of the Hobbit, in the beginning Bilbo was a hot mess, but as he keeps going he gains skills (oh and a magic ring) and becomes an expert burglar by the end.

D&D was very helpful to me as a writer. I learned a lot about character creation thanks to playing this and other Role Playing games and going back I used this to help me when I created my characters in many of my novels.  I started files and gave them a skillset and background.

What I’ve written just scratches the surface about the AD&D gaming system. Using RPG’s you could play a variety of characters in a variety of genres with the only limit your imagination. Cliché, but also true.  As a fiction writer how could you not be into fantasy role playing?

Next week I will follow up with how this process helped my writing process. Hope you’re sticking around.

The Mechanics of Role Playing Games Part I

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A resource I used for this series of blogs: http://www.dandwiki.com/wiki/Main_Page

Also special thanks to gamers and inspiration – Kris, K Noel and Greg Ivy, but especially to one of my favorite gaming partners and fellow blogger Richard Asplund Jr. – catch https://rasplundjr.wordpress.com/  and https://randompimpage.wordpress.com/

 

In many ways using my blog on creative writing on this particular subject might be pushing it. But I honestly think all types of creative writing, in multiple forms, counts and is useful to the whole creative process.  I think immersing yourself in this type of practice helps you on other projects.

Starting off as a player in Role Playing Games eventually led me into running games, and I know that helped me in my “real” writing because I’ve started putting plots and stories together. I’ve talked about that in past blogs.  But I actually want to get into a particular aspect that’s more mechanical but in the end led to creativity.  Thus bringing up another thing I mentioned in previous blogs: mechanics can have a practical hand in writing.

Think about it, if you cannot write a correct descriptive sentence or organize your thoughts in a way that conveys your message, you will not be able to put together a cohesive story outside of your mind that can be shared.

Now another point and a warning: I am talking about this from a point of view that you might be unfamiliar with – RPG’s (Role Playing Games,) so bear with me. But if you are familiar with this process, please read it as well, so if I missed anything you can correct me, because as of most of this is from memory or using online guides.

Note: One of the reasons I’m writing this stems from a previous blog about character creation and the classes you can play, and it got so rule heavy that I felt it distracted from the concept of character development so I thought I would move that aspect to this blog.

(Another note [sorry]: Keep in mind I write these things in advance so quite a little bit of time might pass before I post it, but after writing this blog I received a generous gift of 5th edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons books for my birthday and I’m reintroducing myself to this gaming system – life is strange).

Please be patient as it’s a long ride. As I mentioned before, perhaps it’s not writing in the traditional sense but if there are any people who run games, and are creating their own adventures i.e. developing RPG modules, this can be considered a form of writing, so it could be used in this forum as well.

I mean I’m pretty sure the people who develop the storyline for video games are considered writers, so how about the table top enthusiast? I know guys who spend days developing their gaming world and their stories…plus they have to deal with swerves and curveballs that are thrown at them by their players.  So these guys and girls are royalty.  But we’ll go into that later, for now we’ll deal with the mechanics of the game and how it influences the writer.

The other thing is if you never played before, or were thinking of getting into roleplaying games, I think this blog will help. Even better, it’s for those who’ve heard of these gaming systems but are confused as to how they would go about using them.  By reading this blog you can learn and if you like, perhaps this might inspire you to try out a Role Playing Game with a group of friends, or venture out into strange territory and find an established group and ask to join them.

They’re fun, different from conventional board games, and if you’re a writer who runs the game, or a player who is into the actual role-playing a character aspect of the game, I think this will stimulate your creative side.

So let’s go into the game and stats:

The game is Dungeons and Dragons (or as I call it, D&D) – actually the version I’m talking about is Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D – but I’ll stick with just D&D for simplicity). The general premise is that you play a character you create that explores and goes on adventures in a fantastic world of myth and legends.  This character usually joins a group or party of other adventurers as they explore.  They are played by others who created characters like you are about to.

Now if you’re a stringent player like I was (yeah I know, weep for me) know that I’m pulling mostly from memory – sadly a lot of my gaming books are in America. Next trip, I’ll pick them up.  So in terms of the rules I’m using, let’s just say I’m pulling from a combination of 1st and 2nd editions.  As gaming systems evolved, the rules have too, but I’m just using what I remember.  So if you’re a current player and I’m straying from what you know, please cut me a little slack.  The ultimate intent is the same.

In Dungeons and Dragons, to create your character takes several steps. Often the type of character you end up using depends on how you roll the dice.  And ultimately, I think that’s cool.  Depending on the rolls you might have to play, even if you’re a hard core gamer, something new and unexpected.  Thus taking you out of your safety zone, which makes for more interesting play time.

Using the tried and true method of character creation from Role Playing Games, particularly Dungeons and Dragons, I’m going to help you – the writer – who never played RPGs create a character that you never thought you would make, much less care about. I think it would be best if I take this moment to give you some abbreviations I’m going to use in this and the next blog.  When you understand the terms and why we use them, it will make for easier reading.

RPG is short for Role Playing Game – various gaming systems and in-game worlds where a player will be adventuring. (A)D&D stands for (Advanced) Dungeons and Dragons, a popular gaming system set in mythical realms with…umm dungeons and dragons.  DM/GM stands for Dungeon Master/Game Master.

We’re the guys who come up with the story the players will be involved in. We are also the ones who make sure the characters follow the rules set up by whoever created the games.  We create the conflict, but we also control the non-player characters that you, the player, interact with, perhaps a villager with information or the town magistrate who asks that you perform a quest in order to save the town.  We are also the antagonists that oppose you so that you might not succeed at a quest.  So beware.

Now you will need some physical tools and imagination to succeed. Here’s a quick list: A blank piece of paper – grid paper if you have it and want to go old school.  A pencil with a good eraser, not the kind that’s smears the paper.  Better to have a mechanical pencil with a draftsmen eraser in my opinion.  You also want to get a set of gaming dice, so take a look at this pick:

Actually, in the long term you will need a complete set of gaming dice. Not just for AD&D, but other gaming systems if you become a fan.  Now I was a hard core player so I actually own several sets.  The reason I did was because sometimes you need multiples of a certain die.  At the very least you need 4-6 6-sided dice and 2 10-sided dice of different colour.  The reasons for the 6-sided ones are coming up in the next paragraph.  But why 2x 10-side is because of rolling percentage.  One die is the 1 to 100, the second makes up the second set of numbers.  You pick one die in the 10’s and the other as the 1’s.  Example: you have a blue and a red.  The blue roll is 4, the red is 7…and when you present that number to others its 47 or even 47%.  Does that make sense?  You sometimes have challenges, and depending on how skilled you are you have a number to beat.  The better you are the lower the challenge number.  To open a door you need to roll 10% or higher.  That’s part of the game, you get challenges and you take a chance on winning or losing.  Hence the dice; different dice are used for different challenges. I promise I’ll get to that a bit later.  For now we’re just working on creation and how you use the most common set of dice to build your character that you’re going to use to play.

Initially you’re going to start with what most consider conventional dice, so you want 4x six sided dice. You know these dice because these are usually what you use in most conventional board games and for playing craps at the casino. The style I’m showing you is tradition for me.

So let’s start putting all this together.   We start with the stats for your character.  It’s usually divided into physical and mental.  From there you can go into the use of dice for stats.  And as you progress you flesh out what they can do and also not do, which for storytelling is important.  Because giving limitations to your characters help advance the plots and adds tension and suspense.  More on that later as to how that helped me advance as a writer. (Sorry if I keep putting you off, I promise it will all come together eventually).

Depending on how high or low a particular stat is, that could determine the kind of character you will be playing. Obviously if you have higher stats in one area you’ll be better with them as the type of character that you will play. Higher physical, like strength, means you’ll probably be a good fighter.  If you’re quick and nimble you’ll be a thief, or very smart, perhaps a wizard.

After step by step you pick a race, then a character class. As you progress through the games you develop your skills and get better.  That’s life.  But let’s start with stats.

Before I go on, and this is strictly for the hard core player, I know there are other systems. This is the one I used so I’m sticking with this.  So let’s start, take the four dice and roll.  Of those you take the top three highest dice.  You can now also use a random roll generator that you can probably find online (here is one I picked out of a hat: https://rolz.org/).  Then you do it a second time for the same stats and take the higher of the two, and yes I know I am being generous.  But when it comes to game playing and storytelling, you want to go epic every time.  Also I had a house rule (as in each house has their own rule and you just go with it) – if you rolled a one, you get to re-roll it.  Again, your character is supposed to be anything but mundane.

Next I need you to write down on the paper on the upper left hand side the following – and it’s best three of four rolls of the 6-sided dice:

STR     (Strength)

INT     (Intelligence)

WIS     (Wisdom)

DEX    (Dexterity)

CON   (Constitution)

CHR    (Charisma)

With me so far? Most of the stats are self-explanatory, strength and constitution is how strong and how tough you are, perfect for a Warrior type.  Intelligence and Wisdom, ie: smarts and wit, are better suited for a magic user or a thief type.  Next dexterity, how nimble and swift you are, again a good thing for a thief or someone who likes to use a bow and arrow.  Lastly is charisma, how inspiring you are to other characters and also to the non-player characters you meet.  Will you woo them to your side, or repulse them so much they keep their distance?

So you put down the highest stats per each stat. You know what, I’m going to do this with you so we can have a shared experience.  Of course taking out my dice bag makes me realize that this blog is now probably going to extend into three parts.  Also I have some dice so old they are worn at the edges.

And of course I now have to go into this kind of humor. Your dice is so old that your first dungeon master was Lazarus.

Hey don’t go talking about my dice…let’s get on with this.

So for STR I have on the first roll 10 and then second roll 16 – so the best is 16

So for INT I have on the first roll 11 and then second roll 15 – 15

So for WIS I have on the first roll 10, that roll includes a 1, so I reroll and get an 13 and then second roll 17 – 17

(Btw this is where we introduce the rule that you can reroll 1’s on a die roll – again going epic).

For DEX I have on the first roll 16 and then 14 – 16

For CON I have on the first roll 15 and then 14 – 15

For CHR I have on the first roll 12 and then 14 – 14

I’m thinking his stats are not overly physical or mental, but a great wisdom, so I’m thinking Cleric and Druid. You can use the book to determine which best suits you.  I mean you can still try for a certain character class, but one of the aspects of the game is that they give you limits and minimums for what you want to try and play.

From here you pick your race. It’s a fantasy world we are in, and this is borrowed heavily from Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’.  Now here is the thing, depending on the race, you might get a plus or minus on your rolled stats.  That’s right; you might still get the class you want by using a certain race to up your stats.  Cool.

Let’s go into the basics. So we have the humans – I think it goes without saying being a human means you neither have advantages or disadvantages on your stats.  That’s right; depending on your race you might get pluses or minuses on your attributes that you rolled, thus meaning you might be able to shift your stats to eventually sway what class you will be.  But as a human you don’t get this.

The next race we have are Elves. They are an ethereal species who are wise and beautiful.  They exist in forest cities and depending on the world, they may only tolerate humans, but they can be great allies.  They are also long lived and can exist for centuries beyond centuries.  So here are some of the following racial traits that Elves possess.  It includes +2 Dexterity, –2 Constitution.  Thus the change in physical stats.  They also have an immunity to sleep spells and effects, and a +2 racial saving throw bonus against enchantment spells or effects.  They have low-light vision, allowing them to see in near dark.  Also they have weapon Proficiency: Elves are automatically proficient with the longsword, rapier, longbow, composite longbow, short bow, and composite short bow.  Next are the languages they speak…another subject of gaming development.  Automatic Languages: Common, Elven. Bonus Languages: Draconic, Gnoll, Gnome, Goblin, Orc, Sylvan.  Favored Class: Wizard.

I already have a weak constitution, and my dexterity is pretty high. So no to the elves.  At least not for this one.

By the way, I know this is getting gaming term heavy. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me either via this blog or PM.

So next is the dwarf race. Short in height but not in ability.  They are stout warriors, proud and strong.  They prefer mountains and are minders and craftsmen.  On physical stats their Constitution score increases by 2.  Dwarves mature at the same rate as humans, but they’re considered young until they reach the age of 50. On average, they live about 350 years.  Most dwarves are lawful, believing firmly in the benefits of a well-ordered society. They tend toward good as well, with a strong sense of fair play and a belief that everyone deserves to share in the benefits of a just order.  I think this is a good way to start out a character for me at least, as most of the games I run are heroic in nature.  So now we get to size.  There’s a reason they are called Dwarves.  They stand between 4 and 5 feet tall and average about 150 pounds.  They are not as fast as Elves, but one advantage of the constitution increase, when wearing heavy armor they are not encumbered.  They have something called dark vision.  Because they are accustomed to life underground, they have superior vision in dark and dim conditions which means they can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light.  So they see a little better than even the elves.  Now as to special racial advantages, beyond, or because of, higher constitution they have Dwarven Resilience.  So they get an advantage on saving throws against poison.  Also because of the nature of their culture, at a young age they go through Dwarven Combat Training.  They prefer battle-axe, hand axe, light war hammers, and heavy war hammers.  Not many distance weapons as they prefer hand to hand.  They also are skilled using tools and are great Stonecutters.   As to their languages, they speak, read, and write Common (a universal language shared by all races including humans) and Dwarvish.

So far I’m liking the idea of a Dwarf character.

Now next is a the race called Halflings; they were of course inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic story ‘The Hobbit’ and they appeared in the ‘Lord of the Ring’s’ trilogy. The unique thing about Halflings is that unlike elves or dwarves, there was no lore in mythology about them.  Tolkien created them and the gamers wanted to put them into D&D, so not to abuse copyright they were dubbed Halflings.  Basically they are short, many shorter than dwarves, but not as stout because they are half-humans really which is why they were called…exactly.  Because they are very nimble, Halflings have their Dexterity score increased by 2.  They are a little longer lived than humans but really closer to humans than all the other races.  A Halfling reaches adulthood at the age of 20 and generally lives into the middle of his or her second century.   With Halflings we go into the concept of alignment (which I will get into later – but basically you choose an aspect of your character and how they will act).  Most Halflings are lawful and good. As a rule, they are good-hearted and kind, hate to see others in pain, and have no tolerance for oppression. They are also very orderly and traditional, leaning heavily on the support of their community and the comfort of their old ways.  And again, one of main aspects of Halflings is their size; they average about 3 feet tall and weigh about 40 pounds.  Now here is the cool thing, and even I never realized this, but the race of Halflings is very lucky. When a character you play rolls a 1 on the d20 for an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw, they can re-roll the die and must use the new roll.  And despite the fact they are small in size they are also brave. They have an advantage on saving throws against being frightened.  They can move through the space of any creature that is of a size larger than them.

Quick note – Halflings (i.e. Hobbits) were very instrumental as well as the works of Tolkien in helping to get this genre of games started. Also from my studies they have no analogy in myth and thus are Tolkien’s invention (hey if you know better please let me know, I love learning new things).  Perhaps you might refer to fairies, but honestly that’s stretching it.  I like to think of Hobbits/Halflings as the ideal that Prof. Tolkien wanted to return home to after World War I.  England as it was and should be.  But alas, romance.

I don’t really have an interest in a thief nor being a Halfling, nor a human, or Elf, so I’m going to go with Dwarf. Okay I think that’s enough this week.  We’re going to break here and give your eyes a rest.

When we return we will go into character class i.e. what you do in the fantasy realm to survive. We are going through that process next and more – like some of the core concepts to develop a fully formed character that when you finally play, even though it’s on paper, it will seem 3-dimensional.

 

People watching

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Several months ago I wrote a blog about the concept of character creation. I talked about my process on how I created and developed the various characters in my stories.  I talked about the evolution of that process.  What I may not have mentioned, is part of that comes from observing my fellow human beings.  Yep, I’m a people watcher.

I believe that most artists (I’m going to include myself in that list, c’mon, indulge me) like to people watch. Not just writers, but painters, photographers, anyone with an artistic soul actually.  That or I’m just a pretentious prick; either way I’m good.

Back to the concept of artists as people watchers. I think they are interested in the outside world and the people who inhabit it, or perhaps I’m just being a romantic.

As a writer I look at people and if someone catches my interest then I keep internal notes for later. Honestly when I think about them I try to imagine their story; of course I’m probably off by 1000%.  But that’s the cool thing about being a writer, even when you’re wrong no one cares as long as it’s a good story.

But still I use my initial instincts as I think about them and their lives and wonder who they are or who they want to be. Odd, yet a safe way to be a stalker, unless it gets dangerous…oh story idea!

*evil grin*

Okay, all jokes aside, back to what I’m actually trying to say…

I know that some of my friends who have artistic skills also like to people watch. I think even the introverted artists observe from their silent perches.  I think introverts have something special to contribute because they look beyond the noise and the rush.  And when they do contribute, their insight is astounding.  What do people say about the quiet ones?

A while ago I wrote several blogs about character creation/development. I went with the whole aspect that they come from people you know, yet I didn’t want to come off saying that’s the only way you can create characters.  As a writer I evolved and so have my abilities to create characters, and as I’ve grown as a person I have learned to not just internalize my world.  I look around and observe, and take things as they come.  I see someone interesting and my imagination takes off, sometimes in different directions at the same time.

I think I have had a privileged life because I have worked or lived in two of the greatest cities in the world, Chicago and Toronto. A lot of people, hence a lot of watching.  And yeah with my headphones and either a book or newspaper in my hand it looks like I’m not observing, but I often watch and think about the people around me.

Now to the interesting (and by interesting I mean messed up) part. It’s funny that while I love to watch people, I also have to confess something.  As much as I love people I also hate them.  It’s one of the weird ironic conflicts that rage in my minds.  So I sit, I observe, I record.  And I judge.  Yep it’s one of those weird things that might make me come off a little petty.  But you know what, I’m okay with that.  I’m human, just like those I spy on.

So I observe and think of a story to carry with me. But again as you create an arc for them and perhaps take it away and put it in your writing, you’re going with what you think you know of them, not the real them.  And that’s okay, because it’s called fiction.

I often have an idea of what a character looks like to me – I visualize from people I know personally, but also celebrities, or even pictures in a newspaper or magazine. I have pictures saved in my files that I refer to from time to time. It helps me visualize better and thus it also helps me write better because I have a grasp on what they look like and it makes it easier to write them.  I hope that makes sense.

Once I have the concept or the character developed, I then use visualization to help me keep hold of that. So by watching and observing you see the world and then translate it into words.  So people, paintings, or a picture sometimes helps me keep it in place.  The end result, I’m writing.  Hopefully good writing.

Am I correct in the concept that artists are avid people watchers? If I’m wrong, why?  For the writers or others artists that read this blog, what do you get out of people watching?