Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Seven Rules

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed earlier and I came across a photo that said, "Seven Rules I Learned About Storytelling by Playing Dungeons and Dragons." There were no rules listed with it. I took it that the readers were supposed to provide the rules ourselves. At least two others reached the same conclusion. Here are the rules I came up with and my justification for why they are important. Feel free to add your own and/or tell me I'm full of crap in the comments. I would seriously like to hear what everyone thinks.

1.) Every character should have a voice.

I guess I don't mean this literally. If the character goes to a restaurant and the only thing the server does is refill their cup, then the server shouldn't have anything to say. Any character that is a big part of your story should have a reason to be there and something to say though. Yes, I know that in many D+D groups, and this goes for other RPGs too, the healer is there because you needed him and you invited your dumb friend to play one because you needed one. He still gets a say in what happens to the group. 

This works in a book or movie too. There is often one side character who just seems to go along with the group. That's fine. Not everyone has a world-ending super powerful personality. They should still have something to say about what's going on, even if it's just to agree. How many people hear are Kevin Smith fans? Silent Bob doesn't usually have a lot to say but when he says things, people listen. If you have a character that is around a lot and doesn't say much it needs to matter more when they do. Leonard Nimoy refused to do Star Trek: Generations because his character had no voice and no purpose. He was an actor, author and director. I figure he knew what he was doing.

2.) Characters act in their own best interest.

Remember when the rogue (or thief depending on your edition) gouged the jewels out of the statues eyes and the paladin lost his mind? Both were doing what would benefit them: The rogue wanted to get rich and the paladin wanted to stay in good graces with his deity. Neither could be expected to act any other way. They both did what they perceived as benefitting them. That's not to say that characters won't help each other out, but how many times has everything gone to crap because a character did what was best for them? Whether it was Peter in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or Boromir trying to steal the ring in Lord of the Rings at some point someone is going to do something to benefit themselves.

If I'm reading a long story with a core group and nobody goes off the reservation it loses something. Keep this in mind if for no other reason than that a good story stays good when things go awry and this is a good way to MAKE them go awry.

3.) Failure is sometimes necessary to a good story.

A good way to ratchet up the tension is for something to go horrendously wrong. When your engineer is fixing the whatchamacallit and his thingambabobber gets stuck and tears it loose just as the bad guys are about to launch the gravity bomb and blow up the ship things get INTERESTING. When your main character is about to fight a kobold and the head of his warhammer pops off everyone starts to worry. (At least I like to think so. I actually used this one.)

Seriously. Things don't always go well. Luke Skywalker doesn't save his aunt and uncle. Kirk can't save his own son from the Klingons. Spock can't save Vulcan in the Trek reboots. The list goes on.

4.) Villains are often as intelligent as heroes.

This is important. I watched the GI Joe cartoon when I was a wee little Jimbo. I enjoyed it when I was nine.  GI Joe always found the obvious hole in Cobra Commander's plan and then they kicked his ass. It was great! My heroes won and it was easy. But here's the thing: I'm thirty-nine now. I don't necessarily get caught up in that crap anymore.  It's much better to see my heroes sweat.

In the Dragonlance Chronicles, Tanis Half-Elven finds himself face to face with Queen Takhisis, that universe's version of Satan. He knows that if he can't honestly worship her he won't survive. She can see into his soul and knows what he is thinking and feeling. He manages to pull it off but just barely. In the same series, Sturm Brightblade faces a determined enemy that it as smart as he is, and he watches two thirds of the Knights of Solamnia butchered when the good guys get suckered. That's an oh shit moment that I'll never forget. Weis and Hickman got this one right even if I am still bitter about what eventually happened to Sturm.

5.) The unexpected can be awesome.

And furthermore, it usually is. Something that MAKES SENSE but is unexpected can make a story. Seriously. Going back to the Dragonlance Chronicles, no one saw Tasslehoff Burrfoot breaking a Dragon Orb the way he did. No one expected Gollum to bite Frodo's finger off at the end of Return of the King. And, well, when Darth Vader looked at Luke Skywalker and said "No, I am your father" the whole world stopped and we all pooped our pants. See what I mean?

If you drop something in from seemingly out of left field and make it work your whole story can benefit greatly. That includes when the group in your D+D campaign finds itself trapped in a fairy ring, or popping up in Ravenloft, or wearing a really neat cloak and then the ship lifts out of the sea...

And yeah, your fiction can be made better with this as well.

6.) Never promise something and fail to deliver.

You remember that one time when your DM told you that the Grand Duke Whatshisname was supposed to award you the Awesome Thing of Coolness and a pile of gold when you completed your quest. Do you remember how badly you wanted to murder him when you found out that the town had been sacked and the Grand Duke beheaded while you were off risking your life to achieve the objective? Do you? I do. Any reader is going to feel the same if you screw the hero in the book. There are good reasons to do this sometimes but even then it should be more of a temporary setback than "Never, never gonna get it." I like En Vogue's music but I've never bought a book written by one of them.

If any of you are World of Warcraft players, think about the Lich King fight. You spent the entire expansion chasing this guy and defeating his minions. You found your way to his castle, Icecrown Citadel. You fought your way up to him by defeating waves of mobs, only God knows how many bosses, fighting a battle with another airship and killing dragons along the way. You finally get to his throne high atop ICC where you battle him... and watch someone else (Tirion Fording) kill him. Talk about ripped off. I get the fact that they wanted to match the book but COME ON. I spent the whole raid wanting to take this guy out. Why take that away from me and every other damn player that made it that far?

7.) The Law of Unintended Consequences applies in fiction as well as in fact.

Yay! The adventure is complete. You've rescued the princess, stolen the Orb of Ouchness and returned safely from the caper. You think everything is awesome. It's time to sun your buns, spend your gold and research your new spell. There's only one problem: That door you opened that didn't have anything behind it? It was a portal to The Sucky Place of Suckiness and now all of the evil Suckmonsters are here to suck the life out of everything. It's all your fault. That same guy who paid you to rescue his daughter and steal the Orb of Ouchness is now pissed at you because the Suckmonsters have consumed three villages worth of farmers and livestock. You're the one at fault because they're all coming from the place you just left and everyone knows it. Your life as you know it is about to be over and all because you opened a door... and had NO CLUE that any of this would happen.

It's a lot like when the Event Horizon (in the movie of the same name) tried to travel to another solar system... and went to hell. Apparently, folding space doesn't do what everyone thinks it should. In Robotech when the SDF III takes the Robotech Expeditionary Force to the other side of the universe, they left the Earth vulnerable to an enemy that they knew nothing about. They never meant to do that, but it spawned an entire part of a series. Stuff like this just works.

So that's my version of how to tell a good story as taught by playing RPGs. What isn't here that should be? What's here that should not be?

Some Dungeons and Dragons related products are available at the links below:

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Confused Host Says "Welcome"

Like a lot of bloggers I can be a bit obsessive about checking my stats. I mean, I write it and I hope you read it. I like to know that with the world wide web as my platform I can be read by people all over the world. I think it's awesome. I've gotten hits from all over the world. Whether it was when I had a run of readers from Australia after reviewing a book from an Australian writer, or the odd hit from Denmark or Germany, it's always a good time. I have to admit that I'm a bit confused by the latest development. I'm serious. I didn't see this one coming.

It seems that over the last few days, I've had a mass of hits from Russia. I'm not really sure why that would be. I don't write in Russian. I don't even know the Cyrillic alphabet. Admittedly, if someone wanted to teach me I'd love to learn but that does nothing to change what I've already written. I'm a little bit flattered and a lot lost. I'm not sure what the appeal of a blog written in English that consists primarily of reviews of works written in the English language would have there, so I'm just wondering if someone can tell me what the appeal is.

As an aside, I seriously mean it when I say I'd like to learn to speak and read Russian. I have a degree in history and a dream of writing some kind of masterwork about the world wars, with research done in English, Russian (which I don't speak or read), German (which I don't speak or read), French (which I don't speak or read) and Japanese (which I don't speak or read). Learning your language would be a step in the right direction. It would be pretty cool. Russian is the language of Peter the Great and Josef Stalin. It's the language of Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn and Leo Tolstoy. And I hear it's also a great language to swear in. Seriously. I'm not sure how realistic that would be, but it would be pretty cool.

So, I guess I'm wondering. If you're a Russian and you're reading my blog why? Don't take that as a bad comment I'm just wondering. Is there an American ex-patriot community there that is interested in American science fiction? Is there an interest in American authors in Russia? Is there something that appeals in Russia content wise? I'm trying to process this here. If you're a Russian and you're reading this blog please leave a comment and let me know why you're here.

There is another aspect to this. I'm a child of the Cold War. There is a strong distrust of a person like myself and the former Soviet Union. I know that the people of modern day Russia are not the Communists of the Eighties when I was a wee little Jimbo. Let's face it though. The memories are still there and as a kid who was reading way too much at far too early an age and who knew what a nuclear missile was before I knew that there was such a thing an attractive girl. This is a wee bit creepy as well. 

On the other hand, I've always been a fan of good vodka and conversation.  Also, although I have mentioned political opinions here this isn't really a political blog, nor have I mentioned anything about current day international relations that I remember. So it's not like Russians have any reason to hate me personally.  It's just weird.

So seriously, let's have a roll call. Sound off people. Tell me where you're from and what brings you here. I want to know what you're thinking. Let me know what brings you to my blog.

The following Russia related products are available at the links below:

Sunday, July 17, 2016

I Get it, But DUDE!

First off, the disclaimer: I'm not criticizing anyone for playing Pokemon Go. I'm just not. Granted, I have not played but that's weather related. The heat index in Tulsa has been 100+ pretty much every day since the game dropped last week and I am NOT taking my whiny bitch ass out into weather like that. It will make me whine and bitch too much. That being said,  I do have a similar hobby: I'm a pet collector in World of Warcraft.

Yup, that's me. Over 600 types of pets with many more captured and sold. I don't save doubles and some of them go for lots of gold. I love it. I've spent not just hours but days and probably weeks at my keyboard going all over Azeroth in search of rare pets. I've camped some places. I went to the same damn spawn point every day for two months to get one. Guys, I respect your hobby. I really, really do. If this is still popular come fall, I may very well play. Pokemon GO! sounds like a really awesome game.

There is, however,  something that I have to call you all out on. It's not the fact that you play a game. I know that most of the adults that play are gainfully employed and many of them are playing because they've finally found something their kids will do with them. THIS IS A GOOD THING. I get the desire to collect virtual stuff. I'm a hardcore WoWhead. I haven't even talked about my in-game toy or mount collections either. I'm with you. I'm a lot like you guys. Here's what I'm saying though:

PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT IS GOING ON AROUND YOU WHILE YOU'RE PLAYING. That's all. Don't be a danger to yourself or to others. The stories I've heard over the past few days amaze me. I've heard stories of car accidents. A life long friend almost ran over a kid that ran out in front of her.. and then got flipped off by the kids father. I know of a church that had to post signs in their parking lot about "Play at your own risk" because people were injuring themselves by WALKING INTO LIGHT POLES. People, help me out here.

I get the love of a cell phone. I sell them for a living. Seriously. I have one in my pocket. I have two chargers for it in case it runs down at work. I play Candy Crush to the point where I have all three apps and can't watch a TV episode without playing. I get it. But guys, really, it's not worth dying over.

Look, a lot of good can come from this game. I get that. People exercising is a good thing. (Yes, I'm a hypocrite here. So be it.) People socializing is a good thing. Increases in business are a good thing. Seriously. I have a friend who works in marketing. He went to one of the places where he works and set a couple of Pokemon lures in the parking lot. In an hour or so, twenty-seven people went past him playing. Twenty-three of them went into his store. If this keeps up (and who knows if it will) this game could be really good for the mass economy. I approve. As a guy who just spent a bunch of money at the urgent care clinic yesterday, I'm just not looking for it to add to the amount of money paid to the medical profession. Can we please set some common sense rules here? And no, I'm not talking about government regulation and asshattery. I'm talking about some basic stuff.

1.) Look where you are going.
Seriously. Running into stuff sucks. Walking out in front of a car can be fatal. So can running your car into something or having a car run into you because you were watching your screen instead of driving. Texting and driving kills and a game like Pokemon Go requires even more of your attention. Before you leave is good. After you get there is good. While you're driving is bad. The person you kill could be me and I'd be pretty pissed off if that happened. So would my kids.

2.) Use basic courtesy
Seriously, if you DO walk out in front of someone the proper response is "My bad." That's all it takes. There's no reason to get hostile with someone who is simply trying not to kill you.

3.) Ask permission before entering private property
For the record, yes, parking lots are private property but that's not what I'm talking about here. If you track a Pokemon into someone's back yard, ask if it's okay to go after it. And seriously, if it's three AM and you're out playing think about passing it up for now. See "basic courtesy" above.

4.) Be aware of suspicious people

I'm aware of at least two cases where people have been robbed when criminals downloaded the Pokemon Go app and used it to find a Pokemon... and then waited for people to show up and try to get it so they could rob them. I'm not a believer in blaming the victim but I do believe in using common sense. If there's a shady looking person standing on top of your Pokemon with his (or her I guess) hands out of sight looking tense, it might be a good idea to go catch some other Pokemon and no, I don't care if it's a Pikachu. If they rob you for your phone you're still not going to have it. And yes, I know that people shouldn't rob each other but that doesn't mean you don't need to use some common damn sense.

5.) Enjoy it!

Listen, I'm not trying to ruin your fun. Honestly, if I wasn't fat and lazy with a severe aversion to sun stroke and sunburn (and yes, my pasty white ass is easily scorched) I'd probably be out there with you. Actually, I'm trying to increase your fun. How much fun are you going to have if you walk off a curb and break your ankle? How much worse would it be if you walked out in front of a car and got run over? And let me mention something else.

I could be off base here, but this REALLY sounds like a good chance to trash talk your buddies. Lord knows what whould happen if I were hanging out with someone and they were tracking a rare... and then I caught it. Dude. Can you imagine? There would be no end to it. I'd be telling that story at my boy's funeral fifty years later. And don't let me find out that your wife/girlfriend plays and would get the story. That would just be epic. So, I'm going to encourage trash talk. It's a good time.

And yes, I know I'm a sanctimonious ass for telling people how to play a game I don't take part in. Frankly, I don't give a rat's ass. I'm not making fun of you. I'm not telling you not to play. I'm just asking you to be smart about it. That's all.

Some Pokemon related products are available at the links below: