Monday, January 27, 2014

A Writer's Sandbox: Dungeons and Dragons Turns 40 and Keeps on Rolling

Where it all started
Twenty years ago, I began playing Dungeons and Dragons. For the longest time, I had almost no interest in Fantasy as a genre, preferring Tom Clancy or Able Team or some dog-eared Vietnam memoir. But my friend Joey loaned me the first three Dragonlance novels, and I was weirdly hooked.

That of course is a real signifier as to the fact that I'm not an "old school" D&D gamer. many of them consider the mid-80's advent of the Dragonlance media tie-in fantasy novels, and the game setting they're based on, to be the game's true death-knell. To many, taking the game away from the small, grubby stories of treasure hunters and scoundrelous tomb-robbers and featuring epic, save-the-world style quests with Good and Evil standing against each other was anathema to what the game was all about.

Unfortunately for these grumbly grognards, this newer kind of gameplay not only became popular, it became, in a way, the de facto sort of game played by D&D groups. A ragtag band of heroes - a fellowship, if you will - comes together to take on a quest to defeat some ancient evil that threatens the land. As the characters grow in experience and become more badass, the threats they encounter likewise become more terrible, almost as if some higher power were making sure they were challenged, but not too challenged, in their adventures...

But that's a whole other article for another day.

Let's be honest. This is badass.
The summer of 1993, Joey and our friend Josh both brought over the "Big Black Box" version of the Basic D&D game, and my life changed forever. Although looking back on it we didn't actually game that much, I was immediately captivated by this thing, this systematic framework around which you could create characters and worlds and adventures. My interest in D&D quickly outstripped theirs, and within two years I'd bought almost every rule book and supplement published for what was then the second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (D&D would drop the "Advanced" after this edition, as by this time there was no real Basic vs. Advanced rules breakdown). I also bought a ridiculous amount of D&D media tie-in novels, most of which I've not cracked again in almost two decades (mostly because, frankly, a lot of them weren't that great).

For years before this, I'd been an amateur writer, penning or typing stories, usually (okay, always) of a violent nature. It was a perfectly healthy reflection of all the violent crap I read at the time, and when I started getting into D&D, I started writing fantasy stories as well. A lot of people take potshots at gaming fiction, painting those who play the game and build adventures as frustrated writers who can't actually commit to writing their own original material. While there is no doubt some merit to this, I actually think that gaming and writing can go hand in hand and be mutually supportive.

This is some epic-level shit going down.

I realize now, engaging in the world-building of creating a campaign setting, the D&D player is learning the same tools that writers need in order to flesh out the "worlds" they write, even if those worlds are historical or contemporary to the writer. You learn how to build characters, give them motivations, connect story lines and look back at the origin of a conflict, as well as forward to the inevitable resolution. You think of infrastructures and consequences, creating mood and drama, finding themes and setting tone.  You learn how to challenge your protagonists, and to make sure that the scale of the challenges they face falls within the sweet spot of tough enough to make things exciting and worthwhile, but not so hard that everyone gets slaughtered, or some deus ex machina is needed to pull everyone's bacon out of the fire. You learn that when a character dies, all the player (aka, reader) asks is that they die well, with a bloody sword in hand and a pile of foes all around. And when the bad guy gets his comeuppance, it's satisfying and worth all the trials and tribulations that came before.

So here's to you, Dungeons and Dragons. Forty years and still going strong, the grandfather of all role-playing games - including most modern video games - and the sandbox where so many writers created their first stories.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

IRON HEAD and Other Stories Charity Anthology on Sale Now
Click the Cover to See on Amazon
I'm happy to announce the first Fight Card charity anthology, IRON HEAD and Other Stories, is now live on as an ebook. This is the first of several charity anthologies to be published by the folks who've been bringing you two-fisted fight fiction for the last couple of years. Here's the product description: 

Fight Card Presents: Iron Head & Other Stories is the first in a series of charity anthologies from the Fight Card authors cooperative – a writers community featuring many of today’s finest fictioneers, including Jory Sherman, Ryan McFadden, Mark Finn, Troy D. Smith, Ed Greenwood,  Jack Badelaire, James Scott Bell, James Hopwood, Bowie V. Ibarra, and Matthew Pizzolato.

Compiled by Paul Bishop and Jeremy L. C. Jones, 100% of the proceeds from these anthologies will go directly to an author-in-need (in this case, revered western writer Jory Sherman) or a literacy charity. Words on paper are the life blood of a writer.  The writers in this volume were willing to bleed in order to give a transfusion to one of their own – and then continue to bleed to give a transfusion to literacy charities in support of that most precious of commodities ... readers.  They are true fighters, every one ...

I was lucky enough to be asked to write a fight story for the anthology, and not only was it accepted, but it was included in this, the first of (at least) four volumes. My story, "A Sergeant's Duty", features every COMMANDO fan's favorite Highlander Sergeant, Dougal McTeague, as he tries to find his sense of duty and purpose (and bash a few skulls along the way) after the British Expeditionary Force's defeat in 1940.

So, if you're looking to do your good deed for the day, you're a fan of pulpy fight stories, or (perhaps) you're a fan of my COMMANDO series, there's no better way to spend $1.99 today than picking up IRON HEAD & Other Stories. Great fiction for a great cause at an unbeatable price.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

SPIDERS AND FLIES Sword and Sorcery Fantasy Novella On Sale Now
Click the Cover to See on Amazon

Every writer has their “desk-drawer novel” written once upon a time but never brought out to see the light of day or the eyes of other readers. Spiders and Flies is my desk-drawer novel, or novella, rather, written in the spring and summer of 2001 as a means of establishing in my mind a world that would eventually become a role-playing game campaign setting. That campaign, which I named Year of the Blood Wolf, was one of my favorites as a game-master.

At the time, I wrote Spiders and Flies as an homage of sorts to the classic pulp tales of writers such as Robert E. Howard, Lin Carter, Karl Edward Wagner, and Gardner F. Fox. I wanted to create an exotic world of danger and adventure, swordplay and sorcery, hidden terrors and long-forgotten treasures. I wanted characters who lived somewhere in the grey area between hero and scoundrel, daring rogues who’d risk their lives for the thrill of adventure. 

Looking back on this story twelve years later, I’d like to think I’ve succeeded at that goal, although I leave it to the reader to decide on whether or not I was successful. Either way, I’m glad to be able to take this story out of the desk drawer, so to speak, and publish it at last.

Here's the product description for Spiders and Flies:
In a shady border-town tavern, the swordsman Rovan conspires with his old comrade Arvik Red-Hand to carry out a daring plan to pay off a blood-debt: ride deep into the desert and loot the abandoned temple of a long-dead spider god.

When old enemies come to collect Arvik's head, he and Rovan are rescued by Marquia, a mysterious sorceress, and Souvri, a cunning thief. Believing the two could prove valuable, Arvik and Rovan share the plan with their rescuers, who agree to join the adventure - for a healthy share of the spoils.

The four treasure-hunters face danger on every step of their journey, and finally they discover the spider god's temple might not be abandoned after all...

SPIDERS AND FLIES is a 20,000 word novella, written as an homage to classic Sword & Sorcery pulp fantasy stories filled with magic and monsters, thievery and swordplay, hidden horrors and forgotten treasures.
I'm working on the paperback version of S&F, which should be out in the next week or so. When it is, I'll let folks now.