Monday, December 30, 2013

Bullets vs Lasers

Realism in SF movies boils down entirely to bullets vs. lasers.

Shows with lasers include:

  • Star Wars
  • Star Trek
  • Babylon 5
  • Flash Gordon
  • Battlestar Galactica (1970's)

Meanwhile, shows with bullets include:

  • Battlestar Galactica (2000's)
  • Aliens
  • Stargate
  • The Terminator

These lists are not exhaustive, yet they are enough to point to something. Bullets equal gritty. Bullets imply realism.  Meanwhile, lasers imply fantasticalism. (Is that even a word?) Shields, energy, and whiz-bang rule the day in the laser SF genre.

Note that I'm not taking sides on which is best. Bullets vs Lasers is a tool to tell your watchers what kind of show they are watching and what they should expect.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Racism, Cultural Appropriation, and Poor Taste

Over the last few weeks, I've seen people crying "racism" and "cultural appropriation" incorrectly over certain fashion tempests. In most cases, these words were used incorrectly.

First, the use of another culture's clothing in fashion or entertainment is not necessarily racists, even if that clothing is used wrong or mushed together with another culture's clothing. What makes something racists? Racism is all about power. Racism pushes down one side. Racism is all about people being treated differently (better or worse) based on the color of their skin. So, blacks getting their own water fountains is racist, and so is whites getting their own water fountains. Better treatment due to race is racism just as mush as worse treatment.

In the case of fashion or entertainment, if there is no denigration, then I do not see their actions as racist. Does it get more complicated than that? Sure, of course it does. I'm not going to summarize racism perfectly in one paragraph.

Cultural appropriation is where you take something from another culture and make it your own. That is, you identify with the object or idea taken, and you make it part of yourself without the hard learning of actually acquiring the expertise of the foreign culture.

In the case of the entertainment and fashion industry, there was no attempt at saying, "we identify with this." Their only goal was to entertain us. If you dress up as Japanese and sing me a song, you are not saying, "I am Japanese," you are only dressing in the clothing. There is nothing special about the clothing. Anyone can order kimonos from the internet. You can even rent them.

In a second case, I saw a fashion designer put an Native American style headdress into a fashion show. Once again, there was no attempt to say, "This woman is an indian chief." If anything, the fashion show said, "This is beautiful and we want to show the world that this is beautiful."

Fortunately, there is a word that better describes what happened. That word is "poor taste" or "bad taste." They were in bad taste because ... some reason.

The Nutcracker has dancing ballerinas in Chinese costumes and this is in good taste. Meanwhile, a pop star has dancers in Chinese costumes and this is in bad taste because ... some reason.

The use of Native American headdresses in fashion is poor taste because those folks have had a really tough time for the last four hundred years, and for the most part they've lost control of their own symbols. We stay away from their most iconographic clothing as a matter of respect.

So, to summarize, racism separates, cultural appropriation self-identifies, and poor taste makes others unhappy. When it comes to fashion and entertainment, we usually see poor taste.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Google Book Scan

The judge has come down in favor of Google with their book scanning project. I think that the judge ruled correctly.

I never agreed with what the Author's Guild saw as issues, even after they explained those issues at great length. The very promise of digital implies such a thing as Google Books. On one hand, they expect that Google will make their home pages findable by readers, for which they pay Google nothing. On the other hand, they expect that Google will pay for the privilege of making their work searchable.

If authors could demand payment for indexing, then could not ALL AUTHORS demand that Google pay to index them? Think about that. Google would go bankrupt if it had to hand money over everyone. In such a case, the whole ecosystem would collapse, great woe would occur, bills would pass through congress (even this one) and Google would be allowed to index at no cost.

Better this way, I think. I sacrifice some small amount of profit in exchange for a working search engine that benefits me in many ways. That is a worthy bargain.

As for exclusivity, nobody is stopping other entities from scanning books. Expect more book repositories to appear now that Google has won.

Personally, I expect to see Amazon show up with a book indexer with a subscription. Like a library, you can peruse the entire book. They can also give authors money for clicks. They could likely put that infrastructure in in just a few months considering their vast digital holdings and existing author reward system.

The world will continue changing and becoming a more interesting place.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Big Mistakes of Beginning Writers

This is one of those obligatory posts that all writers must write to all other writers, for these are the big mistakes that other writers make, and they must be warned, by God. This might be useful advice, or it may just me stroking my own ego for a while. No matter the sucktitude, read on.

ONE -Write

The biggest of all writing errors is not writing at all. Beginning writers often talk about how much they want to write, if only ... something. Yeah, something. The truth is, writing isn't anything other than an act of will. Writing is something that you choose, and only happens when you choose it over everything else that is more interesting and rewarding. The rewards of not writing are no words, no learning, and nothing to read. That is the worst literature out there, or possibly the best, depending on your point of view.

TWO - Revise

I've advised many beginning writers. My advice usually begins thus: Congratulations, you've written a first draft. In another 5-7 drafts, you'll have a good story. I do this because beginning writers have no idea what it takes to create a finished story. Some pro out there might be able to write a story in two drafts, and congratulations if you get there yourself, but to begin with, you need to revise.

Revising isn't editing. It's not tweaking. It's not adjusting. Revising is rethinking. Revising is tearing out something. Revising is violence. Revising is the necessity of admitting that you were wrong. Revising dares to do what you didn't dare the first time.

THREE - Feedback

Beginning writers focus on whether their writing is good. That's bad, and it's bad because good/bad is a dichotomy. Is your writing good or bad? That doesn't leave any wiggle room. Worse, it doesn't provide the writer any useful feedback.

When getting early feedback on your writing, focus on what grabs the reader and what loses the reader, because no matter what you write, some parts will be bad, tedious, or just not work, while other parts will work.

FOUR - Practice Book

Beginning writers begin by writing the story that they most want to tell. That's a problem. The first time that you do anything is usually terrible and you just threw your baby into terrible. Instead, you should start with a practice book. The point of a practice book is practice. Writing is a complicated art, and all the coordination surrounding a book just takes time to develop. You could go to many writing seminars, I suppose, but it's cheaper and more effective to just write a bad book.

Your first book teaches you about more than writing. That's where you develop your discipline, style, and voice. That's where you develop your self-criticism. That's where you do thing wrong and figure out how to salvage what you've done. That's where you learn what you do well and what you do badly. That's where you learn how to handle a book as a whole.

After your practice book, your next book will come along far easier. Your anxiety level will be lower. You'll have a better eye for what to do. You'll make choices that account for your strengths and weaknesses, and you'll make some new mistakes.

You always make mistakes.

FIVE - Professional Quality

I've seen too many self-published books where the author never compared his quality against that of professional publications. Even simple things like formatting and paragraph spacing were not compared.

If you want to write with the big boys, you need to be able to compete with them. To do that, you need to reasonably match the quality level of those works. If that sounds hard, it is, but it's not impossible. It just takes attention and commitment. All you really need to do is to compare your book to that of a an appropriate professional and see where your work fails.

Visually matching your work to professional work is among the simplest things that you can do.

Why do you match professional works? Because readers are used to it. A reader is far more likely to lose herself in your story if the formatting is familiar. When the formatting is idiosyncratic, then your formatting grabs her attention rather than your story. The formatting keeps ripping at her attention, which is not what you want.

SIX - Avoiding Mistakes

Beginning writers seek to avoid mistakes, or so most advice givers presume. Fuck that. What makes a professional is not somebody that avoided mistakes, but someone who made them. Making mistakes is never a mistake. Go make mistakes. Make them on purpose. Make them egregiously. Misspell every freaking word in a manuscript. Put the end in the middle and the beginning at the end. Just go and make those mistakes.

Mistakes aren't bad. Mistakes are not shames. Mistakes don't hurt you. If mistakes hurt you, then we'd have no writers left. No, do not fear them. Mistakes are badges of honor that we wear with pride. They are the dues that we pay to produce quality work. They are the lessons that school us. They are the pain that unites us.

SEVEN - No Editor

Editors are not proofreaders. Proofreaders are technicians who make sure that the agreed upon rules of the language are followed. Editors are coaches. These are the people who stand back, examine what you are doing, and help you to improve your performance, whether it be by suggesting alterations to your stories or by pointing out sentences that read poorly.

There's a saying: those who can't do teach. Well, that's bullshit. Nobody would learn anything that way. Teaching is its own skill. A good editor means that your final product is substantially better than you would otherwise produce and you'll learn good stuff while you're at it. So get an editor.

EIGHT - Writer Groups

Until you establish a voice and a vibe, a writer's group is not good for you.

Each of us is a little alchemical factory, producing magic by our own unique little magical processes. Establishing how to work with that takes dedicated work. Some things will work for you while others don't. I can't tell you which. You need to navigate how to make those things work. A writer's group won't teach you that.

What a writer's group will teach you is the current group think about writing. That can be handy, but that doesn't help you at all. The group will point you in all sorts of directions, usually away from errors and mistakes, and that, we now know, is suboptimal. With some work and dedication, you will figure out how to make some difficult facet of writing work, because we all do. Every writer that I know writes in ways that I would fail at. Not being especially good editors, they will warn you away from their difficulties and solve problems as they would solve them.

You are better off with an editor that you work well with.

And that's my short list but useful list.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Change of Voice

I spent about five years writing my Endhaven novels. (Huzzah. Find them at Amazon.) They were great learning exercises, helping my general writing ability swell greatly during the series. At this point, though, I feel that I need to move onto something else, because my writing skills were stuck as well. Those books had a particular voice and a particular mode of storytelling, one which did not stretch me sufficiently any more. As much as I would like to write another work set in Endhaven, I also recognize that I must follow some different choices if I am to develop.

First, I am moving my fantasy writing to a more modern time period. I chose the 1920's for a variety of reasons, but I mostly chose it because that time is now fading from human memory. That means that it's ripe for fantasy. The thing about the 20's is that it doesn't have steampunk getting in my way, and just as important, dieselpunk is is not encompassing enough to fill in the era. I have room to innovate while never getting cornered by my reader's expectations.

Secondly, motion pictures are widely available from the 20's. I can see their storytelling style. I can see how sets look, how streets looks, and how America looked. This is all source material. In addition, I have access to the artifacts of the day. I can touch cars and their descendants. In many ways, the 20's are just like today, except less uptight (which is saying a whole lot).

Third, I knew people who were teenagers and young adults during those years. I saw how they acted and interacted, especially my grandparents. That culture, although foreign seeming, is part of my native culture.

Most importantly, I get to have my entire cultural lexicon to play with. I get to draw from my own experiences. I get to use the wealth of my own cultural knowledge. I even get the benefit of there being different expectations about how people should act in those times, which greatly affects the plots and occurrences in my writing.

I can't tell you that I am writing the most amazing book in the world, but I can tell you that I am writing a book significantly deeper and more human that my last books. The prose challenges are more difficult and the rewards are sweeter. I am proud of my writing in a way that I've not been before. I feel like I am running the edge of excellence, pushing for those last few psychological barriers to fall.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Selling Advice

The internet is full of selling advice to us poor indie authors. We need it, of course, but that doesn't mean that the advice is any good.

For example, take this advice. "Beginning writers should leverage crowdsourcing." That sounds simple, right? Well, if you mean simple in the same way as splitting uranium atoms, then yes, I guess its simple.

Objectively, I don't even know what that sentence means. I know what crowdsourcing is, but since that contains diverse set of techniques, it would really help me to know which crowdsourcing technique that you are talking about. I don't think that she means I should crowdsource writing my next novel, nor do I think that she means that I should crowdsource the fundraising. Fortunately, we can reasonably conclude, for we are reasonable people, that we should crowdsource our advertising. Simple and easily done?


You see, we authors down here at the bottom of the heap don't have many resources to leverage. We can get some folks to fly our flags for us, and for that I am grateful, but beyond a certain point, we simply don't have a large enough mass of followers, readers, or friends to make that leverage go very far. Getting that crowd, that mass, is entirely our problem.

Most indie authors sell a certain number of books. That number coincides with the size of their social circle. The larger that circle, the more that they sell, and beyond that, not so very much. Those are just the numbers, folks. Most indie selling happens precisely DUE TO crowdsourcing.

Now, let's look down the list. "Most authors go where other authors are. They should go where the readers are." Once again, that look like great advice, but this quickly breaks down into nightmarish absurdity once you begin thinking about it.

If readers predominate a board, and then authors come along trying to sell their wares, then quite quickly, either the readers get swamped out due to the number of writers coming along trying to be seen, or the readers make rules against self-advertising. I've seen this happen again and again. Usually, the group makes rules against the authors. On some boards, indie authors have made themselves so unwelcome that they are one step below pond scum. (Pond scum isn't trying to sell anything.)

Once again, my fine friends, the lessons here are simple: any one technique used to sell books will become swamped if that technique is reliable, thus wrecking the technique. The only caveat to this is that those techniques that require money, such as advertising, won't get swamped, but even that is no panacea.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The (Sometimes) Stupidity of Cyberpunk

I'm not the judgmental type, but sometimes, I have to call stupid, well, stupid.

The other day, I saw a cyberpunk steam engine. Now, I want you to think about this. The steam engine existed in the age of steam. In fact, if there is any more powerful symbol of the age of steam than the steam engine, I want to know what it is. Yet, somehow, even the god emperor of steam devices isn't steampunk enough for steampunk. No, it had to get more gears and brass on it to be truly steampunk, because ... I really don't fucking know.

Listen steampunkers, I'm begging you, find out what the real steam devices were in the day. These steam power devices don't need to get steampunked because they are already steampunked. Really. Adding all those steampunk fiddly bits merely guilds the lily. Those devices are already steampunk sexy.

If you really want to be cool, expand on steampunk. Make a steampunky copy machine, a steampunk coffee maker, or a steampunk waffle iron. There's lots of creative room out there. The sheer amount of equipment begging to get steampunked is vast.

There's no need to steampunk period steam equipment, because that just makes you look ignorant.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

New Era

With my compilation of the Jura City series into one volume, I am off to new things. I may return to Jura City in the future, but developing those stories takes a huge amount of thinking and reconsidering, and I am ready for new things. Sales continue to crawl, but at least I've now got a kick ass cover.

With the previous series done, I feel free to do so many other things that have me exciting. My current work in progress is a more socially based fantasy set in an alternate 20's. I'm having fun matching the style of that era. I am also investigating a story set around 1980. My other work in progress is a modernization of a public domain work. Both are interim works to get me to my next novel, which is currently undetermined. Both are novellas at the moment. I don't see getting much longer than that.

For my own novels, I find that there is a certain amount of pre-thinking involved. The IP work can also be fairly intensive, so much so that doing nothing is often more fruitful than doing something. As long as I'm working, I'm coming up with new ideas.

I may just wind up writing the schlockiest thing that I can imaging, filled with every trope that I can lay a hand on. To be honest, I'm no longer afraid of writing crap. I can now hurl myself into a swimming pool of the stuff with manic glee, giving a middle finger to the literarati who didn't bother coming to my party anyway.

And one of these days, I'll make some money.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Vast Bottom of the Pyramid

In any endeavor, there is a vast pyramid ranging from the least successful to the most successful. By all measures, it is not a fair pyramid. By that, I mean that any two writers of equal skill and measure can have fantastically different outcomes to their writing careers simply because chance, personality, and serendipity play such a huge part in who becomes successful and who does not.

In traditional print, any single publisher can only handle a finite number of books per year. Who do they sign? Given a host of potential writers, they must choose. A few will win contracts, but most won't. Many will be sorted out due to merit, but many will also be sorted out simply because the pool of good writers is bigger than the pool for published writers.

Success works the same in the self-published world. I sell very few books. My works hover at 1 million on the Amazon best seller list. If I sell one book, I jump up to #100,000 on the best seller list. That is to say, one sale beats out 900,000 other competing titles.

I want you to consider that. One sale puts me in the top tiers of the pyramid. However, one sale does not make for a successful publication. There are many folks out there who get more sales and get them easier and get them harder. That's the vagaries of the marketplace. The pro writers chase the market, writing for what's hot. Some writers are good at picking up social media followers. Some writers are pros who've begun self-publishing, and so already have a fan base. Other writers are just unlucky, writing good books that don't have popular appeal. Some writers are terrible writers. Many simply get lost in the shuffle as there are always new books showing up.

For whatever reason, I sit here at the bottom of this pyramid scheming. How do I go from down here to up there? That's the question that all of us down here want answered, so we read and learn from success. The problem with this is that so many people are learning from success that any single successful vector will soon be flooded and so become useless.

To those who have found some measure of success, I honor you. I do not sit here in (too much) jealousy. The simple truth of the self-publishing game is that rewards are few and far between, and those with any success should count your good fortunes. You may be doing the right things, and work hard at those things, but even the right things fail more people than they reward.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Describing vs Evoking

Any fool can describe a scene as they write. They often write something like this:

Sally walked in wearing a blue coat, her her long blond hair running down her back. The blue made her pretty face look that much prettier. She was so pretty that men watched her as she walked by.

Technically, those are accurate sentences. However, these sentences fail to bring an image to mind. There is nothing in them that would grab a reader. In essence, they are a checklist of facts.

The thing about the written word is that it is TERRIBLE at accurate description. The more that you work for accurate description, the more bogged down you will be in facts. You can sit down and write me ten thousand words on the beautiful Helen of Troy and I still won't really know what she looks like, nor will I be struck by her beauty.

The power of the written word is the human mind. If you give a person some facts, that mind will stitch those facts together into wholly new information. What excellent writers do is skip the checklist of facts and go straight for evocation.

For example:

Sally walked in wearing that blue coat that Henry so adored. When she wore that coat, there was something special that showed in her face that cried Helen of Troy. In those moments, he knew what Paris felt. Other knew it too, for every eye of every man followed her through the room. 

I won't win awards with that description, but I do demonstrate a few things.

First, your descriptions do not need to be impartial. The writer is not required to be neutral on their subject. In fact, I assert that being partial is a vital part of the writing process.

The second trick that I use here is a simple comparison. By comparing her to Helen of Troy, I tell you that she is a great beauty without having to tell you that she is a beauty.

Third, I spoke about Sally's emotional impact on Henry. Events have emotional feels. You can't see emotion, because this is writing, so you must remember to write it in. In that respect, you are a puppeteer giving your character form. Without you, a puppet is just a puppet, but with you, that puppet becomes a distinct character.

Once you get the hand of evoking, it becomes dirt simple. You use such techniques all the time in real life. All that you are doing here is wiring the rest of your life into your writing.

We can go to an extreme when using first person point of view.

Sally walked in wearing that blue coat that I so adored. When she walked in, I felt like Paris, and just as lucky, but as I saw all the other men stare at her, I had to wonder. Would someone steal her away, and I found myself Menaleus or whoever that ancient king was, and was someone else Paris? You may think me a fool for thinking so, but I'd be a fool not to. The mistake that Menaleus made was that he did not value what he had, and so she fled away with someone who did. The Trojan War happened after that. It was a ten year long divorce that made all other divorces look like cakewalks.

Again, I won't win awards for that, but Gawd-Damn, that was FUN to write.

Don't forget folks, part of writing is fun, and if you aren't having a hoot of a time writing it, nobody will have a hoot reading it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Unrequested Critique - Unconscious Lies

Unconscious Lies, D.W. Brown,  2013. 274 pages. DW has three books in publication.

I picked this book from the G+ Fantasy Writing community.


The cover depicts a red and brown cover, with some benches as illustration.


The books is formatted correctly.

Thumbnail Description

A man doubts the world that he is in. His memory is apparently faulty.


What does it mean when only you can see the strange people inhabiting your home? When you call out to your wife to un-strap you from your bed, but she seems not to hear? This is what is happening to Peter Lawson. He can’t seem to remember anything from his past, and has to rely on the words that his wife is telling him. 

Since he can't remember anything about his past, Pete must take his wife's word for everything. But can she be trusted? Why hasn't anyone around town heard of the firm where she claims to work? What is she hiding?

The dreams Pete keeps having about murdering six people seem too real not to be true. The feeling of sticking his blade into the old man's chest should've been something he disliked, but the fact that he enjoyed it was undeniable. Still, why would a simple woodworker enjoy taking another man's life?

Opening Sentences

After following the old man back from the upscale restaurant where he had feasted on a large salad, a Filet and baked potato, I stood patiently in his backyard, waiting for his driver to turn out the lights for the night. Two hours later, the house was completely quiet and I heard no movement coming from within.

This paragraph is supposed to hook me. Instead, it falls flat. These sentence contain far too much unproductive detail.


This book needs work. By work, I mean it nasty back alley fight with a chainsaw. That's not a condemnation. That's just the writing process. The manuscript needs a few significant rounds of hard work polishing.

Surprising enough, there's some style under all this mess. The writer does sometimes compose good sentences and paragraphs, but I don't think that he knows why some paragraphs are good while others are not. Quality seems happenstance where it ought to be planned.

The writer is striving to write a very difficult to pull off book, one that would give even a very good writer pause. The protagonist's myopic world is entirely underplayed. The writer leaves so many cards on the table. The human experience here, even if dulled by drugs or mental illness, must be vivid to catch the attention of the reader.

Overall flow is poor. That kills this sort of narrative. If the writer is to get lost, then the flow must carry him along. As it is, the flow stomps a bit this way and that, always walking ahead of the reader and stopping rather unexpectedly. Rather than help the reader, the flow irritates him.

Character development is almost nonexistant. The whole world seems to be made of cutouts, which is good if that is the intended purpose of the author, in which case I would say that the intent doesn't work. That sort of novel would be even more difficult than the one already proposed. I shudder to think of the difficulty.

The writer has a difficult time determining what is important, what is entertaining, what is informative, and what is excruciatingly tedious detail. We spend far too much time in the tedious detail section of the narrative.

Additional Comments

Get thyself a proofreader.

The protagonist, the person who tells this story from the first person perspective, needs to have opinions. He shows, which is great, but showing is the least powerful of all writing's powers. A first person perspective is, in the end, a discussion with the reader.

When writing from such a personal perspective, then the person narrating must be gripping. This sort of narrative is possible, so you should find a few writers who do this well and learn from them. All writing is derivative, so take is from Groucho Marx: steal from the best.

If nothing else remember: entertain the reader with relevant details, if not, entertain the reader with irrelevant details, but don't ever not entertain the reader.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Double Jack, Draft 3

I've wrapped up Draft #3 of Double Jack, my primary work in progress (WIP).

So far, this is the easiest story that I've told, yet also the hardest. Stylistically, it's a leap off a cliff with all the faith that I would make it work. That is mostly works gratifies me, but in writing, if something isn't totally working, you have a problem. At this point, I don't know whether I've written something wonderful or something overly pretentious. I don't think that I will ever know. I suspect that some people will always love it for what it is, while many are turned off for the exact same reason.

Th novel is set in a mildly fantasy 1920's. Added to this mix are has-been wizards, some alternate timelining, and all the sensibilities of a 1920's novel. Those sensibilities turned out to have a huge impact on the work.

Since a 1920s novel that I've read have no presumption of violence, my story likewise has no presumption of violence. I found that amazing. For my Endhaven series, I had wrestled with how to make a less violent fantasy novel, but Double Jack skipped merrily to my destination then splashed in the birdbath. In such a novel, the mere threat of violence often serves the same function, with the added bonus that losing the fight doesn't kill any of my characters.

I also found a modern novel much easier to write. I didn't have to make everything up. Where before I would poke along at 500 words a day, I suddenly found myself dumping 2000 words with ease. I had the whole world as my backstory and mining it was easy. Unfortunately, Double Jack is not easy to sequel.

I still wrestle with the novel's length. At this point, it's a novella at 40k words. I am not sure how to increase the word count. It may just be a novella.

Now that I've finished draft #3, it's off to my few readers. I don't call them beta readers as they comment on many drafts, not just final ones. They really help spot big things early, but more importantly, they point to things that work well and stand out.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

How I Learned to Write Novels

How do you learn to write a novel? This was my adventure.

I began writing in college. I was awarded a big, clear F+ on my first paper. Yes, my friends, I was a terrible writer. Talent? I definitely proved that I had no special talent. In order to rectify this, I took each paper, looked it over for errors and comments that the teacher made, and took those lessons to heart. My goal was no never repeat errors. By the time that I got out of college, I could churn out an A paper reliably. If anything, my papers earned A's merely by the quality of my writing.

After college, I did quite a few different projects. I wrote several user manuals for software. I wrote for LARPS, such as Tales From the Floating Vagabond and Murder Mystery Weekend. I also coined the word microLARP for my short LARP Bus Stop. To day, Bus Stop has been my most successful project, being played countless times, translated in multiple languages, and even used as a conversational English exercise in Singapore.

For a while, I wrote round-robin style stories with my friends. Someone started a story, then the storyteller kept changing. That is a sub-optimal way to tell a story, I admit, but quite fun and definitely good and developing my adaptability.

Around 2000, I decided to write a novel. I was finally going to do it. I gave it the working title of "My First Bad Novel." These days, I refer to it as Four Characters Searching For a Plot. I wrote out a draft by longhand, then typed that draft in and began making changes. I never did finish it. It has issues that I will never resolve. Yet, it represents my first novel. When I look back on it, my style was there, but I still lacked tools for dealing with an 80k word story.

Years went by, and after the birth of my daughter, I decided that I would write a novel and see it through. I chose to base it in my Endhaven RPG setting. I would squeeze in writing time as I could. I started a first draft, but I got stuck on what the characters were going to do after the introductory adventure. I did a thorough rewrite, threw out many characters, rewrote the villains, and rewrote the villain. I had improved the story, but the work simply did not pass professional muster, so I went in a third time and rewrote the story again. I changed more things around.

For the fourth draft, I looked hard at my novel and saw that I still wasn't up to professional standards. I rushed through too many scenes, barely bringing my reader along with me. My characters were not interacting properly. Some characters had already had three or four revisions on their personalities. Determined to see this project through, I was now writing at 6am and writing for 30 minutes. I can't emphasise that enough. I was DETERMINED to see this novel though to the end. If you learn nothing else, learn that. Writing happens because you choose to make it happen. The muses may help, but when they fail you, determination sees you through.

On the fourth draft, I made a fateful decision. I determined that an ensemble work did not work for me. I would focus on one character. Most books are written with one or two leads for just that reason. Ensemble books blossom into behemoths, and I was not prepared to write a behemoth.

"I'll take my character through Jura City," I said to myself. I thought that she would visit the city, but then move onto the real adventure. The city surprised me. Jura City, the place on my map with almost no words to its name, became a real place. That town grabbed a hold on my novel so fierce that the two follow-on novels could not break its grip.

Even as I wrestled with this city, a new realization hit me: my primary characters were not at all interested in fighting. What does a fantasy novel with little or no fighting look like? I had no idea, but that's the direction that the book too, and I followed along, having no idea where it was going.

I also made a choice to make the novel more character based than plot based. I listened to many criticisms of my writing, but I notices that nobody, even when pushed, had anything bad to say about my characters. Knowing this, I decided to make the book a heavier character work.

At the end of the fourth draft, I had the beginnings of a real novel. From then on, it was write, change, and rewrite. I yanked out whole sections without knowing how I would replace them. By the end, which required three more drafts, I piled up 130k words in removed and rewritten prose. My cutting room floor had more words than the novel had. I did not let that deter me. I pushed on.

At the end of three and a half years, and a total of seven revisions, I had my first novel, Weeds Among Stone. I followed that up eighteen months later with Standing Between Earth and Heaven, then this year with A Touch of Genius, each work an improvement on the last while requiring less time to produce.

If there's one technique that I want to leave you with, it's this: hold your work up against a professional's work. Your determination to meet that standard is what takes your writing to a professional level. Your goal, with each additional work, is to improve upon your quality every time.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Rethinking the D&D Paradigm

In D&D, you have a DM, some players going through the adventure, and unknown encounters before you. I think that's rather odd, because most games and theater forms don't include either of these elements.

In a game, you know the game ahead of you. The rules don't change. You know what to expect.

With a play or a TV show, you may watch something novel, but many people like watching their favorite plays and movies over and over again. How many theater companies have done Hamlet or MacBeth? Still, after all these years, people go back to see that. Even more importantly, the actors know the play that they are about to perform in and rehearse and develop their characters with full knowledge of their impending doom.

So, if we want D&D to act as a theatrical form, why does the adventure remain a secret? The game side will always remain the game side. The rules don't change. The fights will still be challenging. The drama side can only be enhanced by knowing about the adventure ahead. Why not change the paradigm?

What I would like to do, sometime in my busy schedule, is to run a game where the players brainstorm with me to create an adventure. The players also brainstorm how their characters can interact, and various ways that they can improv during the adventure. I then run that adventure, administering the rules, while the players play to the adventure before them.

To me, that sounds like a wonderful game.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Unrequested Critique - The Nan Tu - Southern Swallow Book II (Nan Ya) 

The Nan Tu, Author,  Edward C. Patterson, 2009. 482 pages.

Selection Method: I picked the most recent book posted in the Amazon Fantasy blurb thread.

Author has published 22 books and it shows.


The cover shows some traditional Chinese art collaged artfully.


Formatting is excellent.

Thumbnail Description

People living in an interesting time.


"We all lived in the shadow of K’ai-feng’s ashes now. No denying it. However safe we felt, the world hung by a silken thread." So begins the second book of the Southern Swallow series - The Nan Tu (The Southern Migration) and, like the first book, The Academician, it is told by K’u Ko-ling, servant to the Grand Tutor, Li K’ai-men. The Emperor Kao has proclaimed that his court and government will migrate to the south, a progress filled with adventure, intrigue, war and tragedy, thus setting a series of events in play that shaped the Middle Kingdom. 

Set on the broad canvas of Sung Dynasty China, The Nan Tu is a tale of love, separation and sacrifice. Yet heroes emerge from the ashes and restoration is within their grasp. From the mountain lairs of bandits to the sweep of the fleet at sea, The Nan Tu will transport you to a world that should have never been forgotten. Still, there are more important things than empires and history. There’s love and destiny - the destiny of Li K’ai-men’s relics and the enlistment of his helpmates to guard over the membrane of time.

Opening Sentences

We all lived in the shadow of K’ai-feng’s ashes now. No denying it. However safe we felt, the world hung by a silken thread.

Excellently done. The first sentence brings up a subject, then the following sentences talk about it, all the while avoiding any visualization or explanation. 


This writing is excellent. I am out of my league with any critique of this work.

Additional Comments

People, learn from this person. He shows that the ONLY point of any good story is the people in it. I saw many tropes in the preview and none of them mattered.

Bravo, sir. Bravo!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Unrequested Critique – Dragon Blade

Unrequested Critique – Dragon Blade

Dragon Blade, by J.D. Hallowell, being part of the War of the Blades, published December, 2012. 383 pages.

His author page shows one previous book in War of the Blades.

Selection Method: I picked the most recent book posted in the Amazon Fantasy blurb thread.


The well laid out cover features a dragon in silhouette.


The book follows proper formatting.

Thumbnail Description

Kingdom Defends Good!


Dragon Blade, the final book in The War of the Blades, is the epic sequel to the story begun in Dragon Fate. Delno Okonan, his draconic bond-mate, Geneva, and their allies among the Dragons and Riders are once again caught up in events controlled by unseen forces. They must uncover the real secrets behind Corolan's death and the Rorack insurgency to defeat a threat that could destroy them all and leave the world they know forever altered.

Opening Paragraph

The old man walked up behind Delno and hit him in the back of the head with the wand he carried everywhere.
Ow, damn it, that hurts!” Delno yelled.

The author has the decency to hit the ground running, but the first sentence could use a hook.

I would suggest something stronger.

Old Jhren walked up behind a soldier and slapped him upside head with a wand. “You weren't concentrating on your lesson.”

In this rewrite, we begin with a character who does something unexpected. The reader wants to know why this just happened. There's your hook. I used “soldier” instead of “Delno” because its more important to know that Delno is a grown man and not a child.


What we have here is a screenplay adapted into a novel. This is normal.Visual storytelling is our native medium by a considerable margin. We suckled our storytelling skills from CRTs, cellulose, and flat screens over thousands of hours. The only other media that comes close is radio.

So what's wrong with visual media? Nothing. The problem isn't visual media. The problem is that books are written media, and the strengths of written media are different than visual media. The author needs to sit down and consider the strengths of written media and embrace them.

As an analogy, any workman changes his tools based on the job that he is doing. In the same way, the author needs to add some tools to his toolbox. Written media relies on a different tool set. Tool set produces a higher quality product for less work.

The characters speak from their own perspectives. That's good. I pegged Delno as far younger than he was. His voice needs to be revised to reflect his age, and we need a better indication of his age earlier in the conversation.

When switching character in and out of the scene, switch at the beginning of paragraphs. Readers tend to skim, so having characters walk on or off in the beginning of a paragraph helps them to keep track. When a paragraph begins with one character and ends with a different character, readers get understandably confused.

The author needs to take some time and tell us about WHERE we are. We don't need a twenty page description of the local outhouses, but some landmarks would be good. I was a few pages in and was still figuring out that we were in some sort of military base or fortress. 

Digressions between conversations is useful, as that gives us space between conversations while it also tells us useful things to know.

The work needs more fleshing out. We jump from one conversation to another at a frantic pace. Almost all characterization is by conversation. The author needs to more put more tools in his character building toolbox. I found the characters more asserted than developed. Because the author has so few tools, he must turn up the volume to get proper character building, which winds up a bit cartoonish.

This all FEELS McCaffrey derivative. If you want that direction, sit down and work out what makes a McCaffrey novel tick. What techniques does she use that you don't? Steal from the best and steal shamelessly.

Additional Comments

Ladies and gentlemen, find this author a good editor. The author has all the skills necessary to take his writing to the next level. A good editor is like a coach who takes in players with potential and pushes them to achieve that potential. All good players have coaches, and so do all good writers. The right editor will be worth your  money.

I look forward to more publications.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Unrequested Critique - Nayko Island

I've been ripping CD's lately, which gives me some downtime. That's how I carved out time to do some critiques. I think that I need to make some stock answers, or build a web site, or something, because I keep coming up with the same comments.

Unrequested Critique - Nayko Island 

I picked the most recent book posted in the Amazon Fantasy blurb thread.

Nayko Island is by Mikaela Misti-Taylor. Her author page lists this as her only book, published Decmember, 2012. The work is a novella.


The rough, mildly out-of-focus cover displays fairies and a unicorn, along with text in an obligatory fancy font. I will assume that the author used her own skills to produce the cover.


The manuscript follows normal formatting.

Thumbnail Description

Doorway to an alternate universe for kids.


Justin and Alex find a magical world through the swimming pool in the basement of their new home. This world gets turned upside-down when Alex gets kidnapped. Panic-stricken Justin has to go to extreme lengths to rescue his sister. He sets off in search of her, meeting several strange creatures, having to decide which ones to trust and learning to use his newfound magical powers along the way. Justin gets taught a lesson from the most unlikely sources. This is a story of magic, friendship, trust and a brother’s love.

Opening Paragraph

“Jenny!” called Mr Johnson. “Send in Mr Trigg and get me a double espresso with extra cream”
“Mr Trigg!” called Jenny over the PA system. “Mr Johnson would like to see you in his office, right away.”

Send this woman a proofreader. If I'm detecting proofreading issues, there's a problem.

The author should skip digression about the double-espresso. It's an unnecessary distraction. I would suggest a rewrite, but the entire preview needs a rethink far in excess of the first paragraph. The author should really start with the protagonists.


By the fourth paragraph, I had trouble following the story. The apparent jumps confused me. That's not good. Page one is where the author cakewalk the reader into the narrative. Instead, I was cakewalked into a confusing candy factory of no plot. In a work this short, you don't have time to ease the reader in. You drop the reader straight into the main characters.

I do like the authors voice when it comes through. Unfortunately, she writes with one hand over her mouth, making everything a bit of a mumble. No, text doesn't actually mumble, but she makes a valiant effort anyway.

If you remember three rules about writing, keep in mind:


Clarity is high-upkeep woman. She is a merciless mistress who abandons you at the least provocation. I know this from personal experience. I've had a rocky affair with her for years. I can't tell you how often she's abandoned me in the middle of a paragraph. In the end, you suck it up and rewrite until Clarity is happy.

The author needs to hire a proofreader. (Note: Real writers use proofreaders. Proofing is an entirely different skill from writing.) LEARN from the proofreader. Note that I am not nitpicking. I don't' ding self-publishers for an error here and there. There were too many for me to ignore.

The overall work needs WORK. If this is the author's best foot forward, she needs a new foot. Writing is all about the reader. Have you delivered a good experience to the reader? The answer better be “hell yes” or the reader will walk away.

The author needs to think about what's important and not important in the narrative. That's always a hard question to ask of your baby, yet it is the only question that really matters. In short, we all need to take a chainsaw to our literary baby and do what's necessary. Our baby will be better off for it.

While this work accomplishes a successful first draft, needs many more revisions. Although some writers can write novel in two drafts, they are mutants. Most writers most can't produce a book in two revisions. I figure that 5-10 revisions is normal.

Additional Comments

At this point, I suggest that the author sit herself down and compare her novel to any professional novel and ask herself, “Does my work match professional quality?” If the answer is anything but, “Hell yes,” she needs to rewrite her story.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Unrequested Critique - Bond of Terror

I've decided to change gears on the blog and do some unrequested critiquing. I feel like developing my book doctor skills. Hopefully I help others along the way.

Ready? Here we go.


Today's first installment, merely because it is the latest posting, is Bond of Terror by Sara Jane Avory, book one of The Stone of Argentos.

Method of Choosing

I picked the most recent book posted in the Amazon Fantasy blurb thread.


The cover depicts a medieval middle-eastern city, a big cat, and a crown of some sort bearing a sparkly blue stone. The “O” of “Terror” boasts a sparkly red effect. The title is clear and easy to read.

The cover comes across as a 3rd tier cover. It was clearly assembled from stock images and the cover maker had limited skills.


Formatting is acceptable. At a glance, it meets standards. That's good.

Thumbnail Summary

Chosen one goes to a different world.


The orphan Tracy Lupin, now a grown young woman of eighteen, hates men, all men... except her uncle. Ever since being attacked two years ago she has steered well clear of them, kept herself safe... until the Stone Of Argentos comes into her possession and she is forced into another world...

The world of Esgar is crumbling, the fragile peace between Emencia and Suboria threatened by war. Powerful monsters roam the forests in ever increasing numbers and only the Defenders of the Realms have any hope of stopping them. But Defenders are also on the lookout for Outworlders, auburn-haired girls pulled from other worlds and brought to Esgar to commit acts of destruction...

Lost in a strange world and chased by the forces of evil, steered down an ever darkening path for reasons unknown, Tracy just wants to return home. But she is terrified, haunted by the pursuing image of a blood-red monster and hounded by the Defenders. And deep down she knows that time is running out...

Opening Paragraph

I found the opening paragraph weak. I fight through the sentences. There is no flow, no idea leading me from one sentence to another.

'Shit!' Tracy Lupin hurried past the row of rusted park railings, her shoulder bag clasped tight against her body.

Tracy says, “Shit”, but the text doesn't follow up on that reaction. Instead, the text talks about hurrying. The next sentence leads you no better.

First paragraphs are sneaky. That's why they are the hardest paragraphs to write. A first paragraph should begin a series of ideas that read from one another, each begging completion. The desire to complete the idea is what carries the reader forward.

I will clip a few sentences from Sara's beginning and make a better opening:

'Shit!' Uncle was gonna be pissed. Tracy Lupin hurried as the gathering darkness heralded the onset of night.

“Shit” leads to “Uncle was gonna be pissed,” which leads to Tracy's situation. That won't win a Pulitzer, but it might win a reader, which is what matters.

Writing Style

The writing is early draft quality. Although there is a story here, Sara has not sufficiently beaten this draft with a revision stick. Everything needs a firm second, third, and fourth look. Just about every paragraph needs to be rewritten and repaced. The story stumbles forward at every step. (5-8 significant drafts for a book is quite normal.)

Character need more design work.

The author is stuck in TV mode. Like all modern humans, the author learned storytelling from the TV screen. Such techniques works well for TV but not for the written word. Once you think about this, this makes sense. Two different media should have different strengths. Simply by embracing the strengths of the written word, which are all those non-visual components of the human experience, any writer immediately elevate the quality of his writing.

The work reads like a romance novel. That doesn't quite work. The purpose of a romance novel is arousel. By the romance author's very physical words and descriptions, the reader is made aware of her own body and so becomes more receptive to her own physical reactions. This is why the romance novel dwells in the physical. Its purpose is to bring the reader into the physical. In this fantasy novel, the physical distracts the reader.

Tropes are wonderful, tropes are good, and the author must also provide the gentle reader with novelties and originalities.

The work needs a proofread, but only after significant revision. There's no use proofreading an early draft. (Note: Real writers use proofreaders. Proofing is an entirely different skill from writing.)

Far too many paragraphs are bags of sentences, which is a problem. Paragraphs are more than a bag of sentences. Paragraphs are a SEQUENCED series of sentences. If you get the sequence right, the paragraph reads smoothly. If you get the sequence wrong, the reader's mind jumps around a lot, which is fatiguing to the reader and causes them to put down books.

Additional Comments

At this point, I suggest that Sara sit herself down and compare her novel to any professional novel and ask herself, “Does my work match professional quality?” If the answer is anything but, “Hell yes,” she needs to rewrite her story.

I have every confidence that the Sara can bring up the quality of her next release.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Big Bruiser Pt. 1

What should a big bruiser class look like?

First off, big bruisers are intimidating. So they need Intimidation as a class skill, and it should be based on their Strength. They aren't charismatic. To give the class full flavor, the class can use Intimidate once per round as a free action. Alternatively, we could give him an aura of intimidation, requiring any creature that attacks him to face an Intimidation check.

Power Attack, Cleave, and Great Cleave should be the basis of the class.

The class should push around its enemies. A successful hit should count as a Bull Rush against the opponent.

The Big Bruiser may be treated as +1 size category when advantageous to the character.

Aside from that, the class is a shoe-in for two-handed weapons, which already work pretty well in 3.x.

Next week, I'll try to turn these ideas into a class.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Mapping Out the Future

Where should I go from here? Right now, I think I'll do a few more fighter, this time based on fighter archetypes.

The Big Bruiser - Little John
The Archer - Robin Hood
The Old Master - Cyrano De Bergerac
The Up and Comer - D'Artagnon
The Leader of Men - So many to choose from.
The Scrapper - Dangerous when cornered.

Certain types aren't worth my consideration. What's important to me is how easily your fellow players understand your character interacts in battle and in the world, and how easily that leads to designing a class based on that.

I am sure that there are more good archetypes, but I haven't identified them yet.

And just to be cool, let's do Star Wars.

Big Bruiser - Chewbacca
Old Master - Ben Kenobi
Up and Comer - Luke Skywalker
Scrapper - Han Solo

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Let's have some fun with inventing an artifact.

Armor of Achilles - Forged by Hephaestus himself, the armor of Achilles is leaps and bound better than any moral armor. This adamantine armor provides a +10 armor class and a +5 enchantment bonus. The armor is so amazing that the wearer can nullify one melee attack or magical effect per round. What would normall be a hit is instead reduced to a miss. Any magic effect about to affect the wearer, or already affecting the wearer, is also nullified.

Bow of Ulysses - This bow requires an 18 strength to use. The bow is +5 to hit and damage, and adjusts its pull to the strength of the user. In addition, once per day, the bow can fire any arrow as an Arrow of Slaying.

The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg - This goose lays one golden egg per day. Each egg is worth 10 gp. If eaten, the goose feeds 4-6 people and, being dead, lays no more eggs.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Fighter (Water Elemental Ally)

Fighter (Water Elemental Ally)

Water Elemental Ally - At first level, you gain an Water elemental ally. Once per day, as a move action, you may summon this ally, and it will remain for one minute per level. It fights independently under your direction.

Level Size
1 Small
4 Medium
8 Large
12 Huge
16 Greater
20 Elder

Walk on Water - As a free action, you can walk on water at will.

Cold Resistance - You gain cold resistance equal to your fighter level.

Breathe Water - You can breath water.

Ice Equipment - You can manufacture weapons out of water and ice. Beginning at third level, the item has a +1 enchantement, increasing to +2 at 6th, +3 at 9th, +4 at 12, and +5 at 15th. The equipment melts or disperses in the hands of another person. You can create one item per round. As a free action, you can reform these items into other weapons.

Additionally, these weapons are cold, giving +1d6 cold damage at 5th level, +2d6 at 10th, +3d6 at 15th, and +4d6 at 20th.

Ice equipment never counts against your swim skill.

Swim - You gain Swim 20.

Tidal Surge - A water elemental can become a swirling mass of water around you. Each round, the water elemental gets a free trip attack against anyone within its reach. Additionally, any damage that would normally go to you goes to the water elemental.


Water wanted to be much like the other elemental powers. It can become like ice, so could be ice armor, it could be like fire, and it could be like a tornado. It’s quite polymorphic, which water should be.

On the whole, I drew a blank with this design. I think it’s meh. Maybe I’ll come back to it one day.

So, what does this make? Eight fighter designs in eight weeks.

I have no idea what I will write next week.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Fighter (Air Elemental Ally)

Fighter (Air Elemental Ally)

Some fighters form allies with air elementals, giving them strange and unique powers.

Air Elemental Ally - At first level, you gain an air elemental ally. Once per day, as a move action, you may summon this ally, and it will remain for one minute per level. It fights independently under your direction.

Level Size
1 Small
4 Medium
8 Large
12 Huge
16 Greater
20 Elder

Break Like the Wind - While not flat footed, the fighter may include his armor and shield bonuses when determining his dodge armor class. The fighter ignores any movement penalties due to armor.

Not At All Shocking - The fighter gains electricity resistance equal to his fighter level.

Defying Gravity - The fighter subtracts 5 from all Jump checks and ignores any penalties associated with weight, encumberance, or armor. All his jumps are considered running jumps, even vertical jumps. The fighter subtracts ten feet from any falling damage. This increases to fifteen feet at 5th level, 20 feet at 10th level, and an additional five feet per level above ten.

Additionally, the fighter activates no foot/weight based traps when he walks on them.

Mac the Knife - Beginning at 3rd level, the fighter may treat light weapons as if they were not light when favorable. This allows the fighter to use his full strength bonus with such weapons.

Ride the Whirlwind - The fighter may use an air elemental ally to fly. The air elemental forms a cone under the fighter and is otherwise is unable to attack while carrying the fighter. The fighter gains all air elemental feats (flyby attack, finesse, etc) while riding the whirlwind. Any damage to fighter is applied to his elemental before he takes the damage.

Shocking Truth - Beginning at 5th level, the fighter gains +1d6 electrical damage when using a metal weapon. This increases to 2d6 at 10th, 3d6 at 15th, and 4d6 at 20th.

Wire Fu - Beginning at 7th level, as a free action, the fighter can fly for this round. He must touch at least one solid object during the round to maintain flight. Hitting an opponent counts as touching a solid object.

Cloud Step - Beginning at 12th level, the fighter may jump onto a cloud and overland flight at will. His flight speed is equal to his fighter level squared.


The air elemental ally begged wushu to me. Who else should go bouncing about on wires?

This design begged elusiveness to me, so I made sure it had a great dodge AC.

‘Cloud Step’ is from Journey to the West. Brothers Monkey, Pig, and Sand all have this wushu ability.

I’m not sure that I covered everything well. This would be quite the disruptive design in a game.

As usual, this is entirely unplaytested. Use at your own risk/reward. I don’t pretend that the class will be playable up to 20th level.

This is my 26th post. I'm halfway through the year. I've given myself one year to get somewhere with this blog. At the end of the year, we'll see if I've accomplished anything.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fighter (Fire Elemental Ally)

Fighter (Fire Elemental Ally)

At first level, you gain the multiattack feat in addition to any other feats that you may gain.

Fire Elemental Ally - At first level, you gain an fire elemental ally. Once per day, as a move action, you may summon this ally, and it will remain for one minute per level. It fights independently under your direction.

Level Size
1 Small
4 Medium
8 Large
12 Huge
16 Greater
20 Elder

Fire Elemental Aura - As a free action, any fire elemental can form fire aura around you.

- In reaction to any melee attack against you, your fire elemental can damage that creature’s weapon. Your fire elemental makes a sunder roll against your opponent’s weapon. Weapons are destroyed and limbs are disabled.

- Beginning at 6th level, any metal weapon used to attack you is subject to the heat metal spell. If you are grappling, your opponent’s armor heats up. Damage per round is equal to your fire elemental’s base attack.

Fire Resistance - You gain Elemental Resistance to fire equal to your fighter level.

Flaming Weapon - At will, you can cause your weapon to flame. Your weapon now shines like a torch and does fire damage.

Flame Blade - For one round per fighter level, as a free action, you can create a flame blade. It otherwise acts as the spell flame blade.


So far, this writeup is not quite as useful as the Earth Elemental version of this fighter. It has cool stuff. The guy is hell to attack when he wants to be. He can switch to a touch attack at times. He’s very resistant to fire.

I think this particular design needs more work and some playtesting to see how the ideas really hold up.

I think that this fighter works as in the 1-10 range, which is all that I'm concerned about. The fighter would have significant issues at 15-20th level.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Fighter (Earth Elemental Ally)

OK, folks, this is a fighter design that I’m excited about.

Fighter (Earth Elemental Ally)

At first level, you gain the multiattack feat in addition to any other feats that you may gain.

Earth Elemental Ally - At first level, you gain an earth elemental ally. Once per day, as a move action, you may summon this ally, and it will remain for one minute per level. It fights independently under your direction.

Level Size
1 Small (11 hp)
4 Medium (30 hp)
8 Large (68 hp)
12 Huge (152 hp)
16 Greater (199 hp)
20 Elder (228 hp)

Earth Elemental Armor - As a free action, any earth elemental can form a suit of armor about you. Use the armor table below for your armor. All damage to you applies to your elemental before it applies to you. You gain the size of your elemental if the elemental is larger. You are considered to be wearing heavy armor.

You gain the advantage of the following earth elemental traits while wearing the armor:

  • Darkvision out to 60 feet.
  • Immunity to poison, sleep effects, paralysis, and stunning.
  • Not subject to critical hits or flanking.

Level Size Strength Attacks Reach Armor
1 Small 17 (+3) 1d6 5 ft +7 (speed 20)
4 Medium 21 (+5) 1d8 5 ft +9 (speed 20)
8 Large 25 (+7) 2d8 10 ft +10 (-1 size, speed 20)
12 Huge 29 (+9) 2d10 15 ft +11 (-2 size, speed 30)
16 Greater 31 (+10) 2d10 15 ft +13 (-2 size, speed 30)
20 Elder 33 (+11) 2d10 15 ft +15 (-2 size, speed 30)

In addition, you can use the feats of your earth elemental while wearing earth elemental armor.

You gain the push ability while in earth elemental armor. Your sheer mass lets you push other creatures around. You create no attacks of opportunity and need not move to bull rush.

Optionally, the armor can form size appropriate version of your melee or hurled weapons. These weapons will have all the properties of your chosen weapon and do damage appropriate to their size.

Stone Armor - You have a special suit of stone armor tuned to you. You can summon this armor out of the ground in one minutes, as long as there is stone nearby. This armor is too massive for others to use, but for you gives you the following AC:

1 +6 armor
2 +7 armor
3 +8 armor, fist +1 enchantment
4 +1 enhancement
5 DR 1/-
6 fist +2 enchantment
7 +2 enhancement
8 DR 2/-
9 fist +3 enchantment
10 +3 enhancement
11 DR 3/-
12 fist +4 enchantment
13 +4 enhancement
14 DR 4/-
15 fist +5 enchantment
16 +5 enhancement
17 DR 5/-


I was excited to do this design. Freaking fantasy power-armor. Why hasn’t anyone done this before? Oh, yeah, right, fighters don’t get nice stuff.

Anyhow, did I say freaking fantasy POWER ARMOR? Yeah, I did.

OK, I admit that the class is a bit focused. It’s not quite so flexible, but it solves many fighter problems in unique ways. Get grappled? Call in a friend. Get swallowed? Call in a friend. Need a knock spell? Call in a friend. Need to intimidate a small army? Call in a friend. So, it might be a one trick pony class, but by God Almighty, it’s a mighty fine pony.

As usual, use this unplaytested class at your own hazard. It doesn’t work past level 12 because the earth elementals themselves sorta peter out. Still, suddenly becoming 40 feet tall at 20th level is really cool. How many fighters get to punch out a titan without having the word "realistic" bandied about?

Note that this fighter can use any earth elemental for his earth elemental armor. If the wizard summons him another earth elemental (up to the maximum size that he can summon), he can use that one just as readily. Importantly, he will control the armor while the wizard loses control of it. If you want to get technical, while in armor form, his earth elemental has no actions so it can’t actually do anything.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Fighter (Wild Magic)

Here is yet another variant fighter mash up. Let’s have some fun with a fighter based on WILD MAGIC.

Blurb: You were raised in an area of wild magic. Wild magic is part of  your nature. Although not a spellcaster yourself, you have found that your very presence warps the expression of magic in your proximity. In a magical world, where wizards are real, this greatly helps the man who lives by the sword. It also makes you a hazard to any adventuring party that you join. You are a walking time bomb.

Disruptive Aura - Your very presence causes magic to go haywire. Beginning at first level, you destabilize the magical field in your personal proximity. A spellcaster or creature must overcome a DC 10 + Fighter Level in order to affect you with magic. You always have this aura raised. You may drop this field as a swift action, but raising it again is a standard action. Any spellcaster who has spent a week or more in your presence gains a +5 bonus to this roll. Any spellcaster who succeeds in this DC quells your aura and you must raise it again as a standard action.

If a creature uses a spell-like ability against this aura and fails to overcome your DC, the creature is unable to use any spell-like ability for one round.

Beginning at fifth level, this aura extends one square, at tenth level, two squares, and at fifteenth level, three squares.

Unpredictable Amplifier - Beginning at first level, wild magic might help your party, or then again, it may not.

As a swift action, help an ally. Roll d20 on the following chart:
1-3 Add your strength bonus to the caster level of the spell
4-6 Add your strength bonus to the DC of the spell
7-9 Add your strength bonus to the duration of the spell
10 The caster does not lose the spell in his spell slot
11 Single target spells are affected by the split metamagic feat. Area spells are enlarged as per the metamagic feat.
12 Maximize the indicated spell.
13-19 Roll on the strange presence table.
20 Roll twice on this table, apply any result again (even this one)

Strange Presence - Beginning at second level, you can make your disruptive aura do strange things to spells and spell-like effects. You may choose to subtract your Constitution bonus from the duration of any spell that you interact with, subtract your Constitution bonus from the caster level, or subtract your constitution bonus from the spell’s DC.

Roll d20 on the following table to determine the exact effect:
1-5 - Reduce duration
6-10 Reduce caster level
11-15 Reduce DC
16-17 All die rolls in spell equal 1
18-19 Roll twice, rerolling anything 16 or above. Effects stack.
20 Apply all three reduction

Accidental Evocation - Beginning at 4th level, once per day as a swift action, you may release an accidental evocation. Roll as if you just used a wand of wonder.

Disrupt Magic - Beginning at 6th level, you can disrupt a non-permanent magical effect. As a swift action, make an opposed check against the target spell. You use 4 + Fighter Level + Strength against the spell. If successful, you take damage equal to the spell’s DC. If unsuccessful, you take no damage.

Tap Magic Device - Beginning at 8th level, as a swift action, you can disenchant any permanent magic device to create unpredictable spell effects. Roll on the table below to see what happens. Your caster level is equal to your fighter level. Your DC is equal to the spells level + your Strength modifier.

This ability may even work while you are unconscious or dead (but not if disintegrated). If conscious, you can use this ability as a swift action. If unconscious, this ability begins working, one piece of equipment at a time, once each round, until you are restored to consciousness. Any spell is centered on you, roll randomly when in doubt, and any creature summoned is uncontrolled.

1 Heal or raise dead, whichever is more beneficial.
2 Glitterdust
3 Darkness
4 Magic Circle against X
5 Fireball
6 Minor Globe of Invulnerability
7 Evard’s Black Tentacles
8 Solid Fog
9 Ice Storm
10 Cloudkill
11 Symbol of Pain
12 Antimagic Field
13 Acid Fog
14 Freezing Sphere
15 Circle of Death
16 Spell Turning
17-19 Summon Monster (Fighter Level/2)
20 Roll Twice on this table. Apply any results again (including this one).


This class if for the player who just likes to mess with everything and everybody. Nobody is safe from the mischief of this character. I quite purposely pushed the envelope on this design into “not a good idea at all” territory. Only a madman or Chris Perkins would allow such class into their game, although I’m not sure about the madman.

I had fun with this fighter design. The whole idea is based on the truism, “Lean into disaster.” If that saying is true, this class takes a flying leap off of disaster and swan dives while yelling “Gygax Lives!”

For the first time ever, we have a character class that will want every +1 dagger that he finds.

As usual, I did not design for the upper levels because they don’t interest me.

The tables could use some work. The random spell table could really use some jiggering to better match the character’s level or the level of item sacrificed. The Magic Item Compendium’s tables would be really handy for this class.

All in all, I am very happy with this design’s idea, but I am unhappy with my own rules. However, not being one to limit myself in the face of lunacy, I present these rules anyone. Maybe one day I’ll playtest my way through this and actually make it work.

If somebody does actually play this character class, please drop me a line.

So far, after having done four of these more magical fighter designs, I am well pleased. The concepts behind each have been different, yet they each came out feeling like a fighter.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Fighter (Insane)

You have been to the edge of insanity and now you see the world and understand it in a new and horrifying way. You understand what lies beyond the stars and the secrets that those stars behold and never again can you forget. Reality is now different to you and you are different to reality.

Voices in My Head - Beginning at first level, once per day, you may add your fighter level to any knowledge roll.

Insane Savant - Swift action. Beginning at first level, you see the paths before you and you pick the best. One action action this round does not trigger an attack of opportunity or any other sort of reactive action (even spells, such as traps). This action may be used at will but not in consecutive rounds.

Not Quite There - Beginning at first level, your unpredictability challenges your opponents. Any melee or ranged attack against you has a 20% chance to miss you. Roll after your opponent scores a hit.

Alien Mind - Beginning at third level, your mind is a terrible thing to attack. If you are the target of a mind-affecting spell spell-like ability and you make your save, the caster takes 1d6 damage per fighter level. In addition, if the spell was cast, the caster must make a spellcasting check with an increase in DC equal to your fighter level.

My Life is an Illusion - Beginning at 4th level, you become insensible to extreme environmental conditions. You are not affected by extreme (but normal) heat or cold.

Labyrinthine Soul- Beginning at fifth level, you may add your fighter level to any save against psionics or psionics-like spells and effects.

A Different Path - Beginning at 6th level, you may ignore one prerequisite required by a feat.

Touch of Madness - Once per day, beginning at 7th level, your strike confuses an opponent for one round, as per the spell confusion. Your DC is 10 + Fighter Level. This increases to twice at 13th level and three times at 17th level.

A Shadow of Yourself - Beginning at ninth level, your unpredictability has exceeded all normal bounds. Any melee or ranged attack now has a 50% chance to miss you.

Totally Gone - Beginning at 11th level, all mind-affect spells or effects cease working on you.


All in all, I think that this is an interesting build, but also the least powerful of all the ones that I’ve designed so far. Interestingly, it is also unusually survivable.

This is the kind of character that can get away with the craziest things. He can do all the normal fighter tricks because he’s crazy. Not knowing these feats is not a problem to him.

I think that the character’s abilities really help define the insanity of the character. These are not just crazy things that the character does. These are integral parts of the character’s success. That is to say, the crazy is not just a character wandering about acting randomly.

Even so, I’m not altogether please. It needs work.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Fighter (Warlock Pact)

Fighter (Warlock Pact)

In a magical world, you are a fool if you don’t get magic on your side. If warlocks can make pacts with strange beings from beyond, so can you, and you did. With that, you have been rewarded with strange and magnificent powers that aid you in beating the tar out of your enemies.

Replace all Fighter granted feats with the following powers:

Accursed Strike - Beginning at first level, once per round, when you hit an opponent with a melee attack, that opponent becomes cursed. You begin with a Basic Curse. Any opponent can bear only one curse. You do not need to damage the opponent to curse them. For each additional level you take in Fighter, you may choose an additional curse to use:

  • Basic Curse - You must take this curse for your first curse. Opponent makes all rolls at -2, including damage, saves, and attacks. The effect lasts until the end of your next turn.
  • Cursed Strength - Opponent loses all Strength bonuses until the end of your next turn.
  • Cursed Dexterity - Opponent loses all Dexterity bonuses until the end of your next turn.
  • Cursed Wisdom - Opponent loses all Wisdom bonuses until the end of your next turn.
  • Cursed Casting - Any DC generated by opponent reduced by five until the end of your next turn. Any spellcasting check or psionic check is increased by your Strength bonus.
  • Cursed Ability - Choose one attack or ability. Opponent unable to use that until the end of your next turn.
  • Cursed Fortune - Opponent gains a 20% miss rate on any attack. If chosen a second time, opponent misses 50% of all attacks.
  • Karmic Curse - If you lay no curse, your may substitute your Fortitude save for any save against any magical effect. (If you have not yet acted in an encounter, this effect is active.) You choose this curse a second time, you may instead reflect one magical effect per round, targeted against you, back at the originator. You may still affected by the spell. Taken a third time, you reflect any magical effect back upon the caster. You may still be affected by the spell.
  • Temporary Insanity - Target makes its best available attack against an ally.

Beginning at 6th level, you may lay curses on two opponent in the same round. That number increase to three opponents at 11th, and four at 16th. Beginning at 10th level, a single opponent can bear two curses, but not of the same type.

Magical Affinity - Beginning at 2nd level, add your Constitution bonus onto the caster level for any beneficial spell placed upon you (except those cast by yourself). This includes wands and potions that you use to your own benefit.

Inexplicable Affinity - Beginning at 7th level, casters may place spells upon you that are range “self” or “caster only.”

Warped Soul - Beginning at fifth level, may use your Fortitude save against any mind-affecting, psionic, or psionic-like effect.

Curse Immunity - Beginning at 7th level, you are immune to the curses born by magic items.

Design Notes

I think there are cool things to be done with this concept, but I’m not the one doing them. I think that I’ve done a so-so job designing through this idea.

What I wound up doing was designing a debuffer and a shutdown artist. That seemed to align with curses. This results in a fighter that you want right up in front handling the biggest, meanest monsters. His debuffing will greatly increase the party’s chance of success, and the moment that he is not debuffing, the situation gets rapidly worse.

I don’t require saving throws for the curses because fighter must get within the danger zone and hit his opponent. He’s already had to roll. He’s already risking a great deal. Such danger is not required of a spellcaster who can stand back and cast with minimal threat.

This fighter should be a magnificent dragon hunter. In general, this design is highly effective against solo encounters, dragons included. Against multiple opponents, the class is generally less awesome.

This fighter is also the most effective anti-mage design I’ve ever seen, but not by design.

The class slows down around 10th-12th level. It doesn’t gain much after that.