Author Archives: Rebecca M. Horner

About Rebecca M. Horner

A spinner of yarns (of the story sort, though I do crochet...and sew, and learning to make armor...)

Tabletop RP: My Top 10 Spells (Part 2)

Last time, I talked about my favorite spells, specifically arcane, and promised to do my favorite divine spells later. Well, it’s later. (Finally, I know.) I occasionally play oracles, which isn’t quite the same thing as your normal cleric, so I definitely just wanted to focus on the spell list rather than on the other tricks of the cleric class since… I wouldn’t know what I was talking about.

(What can I say, I hate having ALL THE SPELLS KNOWN but like five slots.)

So same as last time, I’ll be listing my favorite spells, at least one for each level (sorta), and why I enjoy them so much, therefore why you might like them for your character. You’ll need to double check domains and such to see if they will work for you. Now, when I play an oracle, I am usually filling a specific role. Healer, yes, but also seeing what other stop gabs. Sometimes I’m an overly practical and uptight kitsune which gives me mending-type spells, sometimes I am blasting as much as I am healing since we need magical back-up. So keep in mind, your build may vary, especially depending on the deity involved. Also, no healing spells listed because you basically can cast them without taking up slots for spells known in most campaigns we’ve run.

Zero Level Spells/Cantrips
….No one likes these, why would I pick one here…? These are little spells that really, I pick based on the campaign.

1st Level Spells
There’s a plethora of useful spells in here that you need to really cater to your party needs and wants. But something I always take is Shield of Faith. Some oracles/clerics can’t wear armor and cast spells. Shield of Faith gets you around that, big time, and grows stronger as your character levels. While your fellows may not need the bolster from a mass spell, you definitely need the protection of the self-aimed.

2nd Level Spells
Much like with arcana spells, about the time you start getting second level spells, you are trying to cover your bases with your party, especially in terms of needing mass protection if you’ve made an enemy. That being said, I have a personal attachment to Enthrall. I have used it once to great success and screwed over my DM in an epic but hysterical thing, and I think once or twice else wise in a way that was maybe not quite as epic but also useful.
My second favorite spell is Make Whole. I had a DM throw out a bridge, and while the rest of my party was figuring out how to down a tree and pull it over in a make-shift bridge, possibly several trees because of my blind Oracle self… So-said blind kitsune oracle toddles over in her kimono and starts casting Make Whole spells to repair the bridge. It was brilliant.

3rd Level Spells
OMG, Daylight. Remove Curse is also good, but definitely add Daylight to your needed list because of various undead, it is the only way to defeat them, much like golems require sonic damage. One of my DMs is big on undead and another uses them when appropriate, and I like having the weapons the second I can get my hand on them when appropriate, or else I pay the tax later and have to roll up a new character.

4th Level Spells
This is where you really have to cater to your campaign and your character, and it’s harder for me to give a more general “best spell” of the level, because if you are dealing with a lot of undead, there’s spells specifically to help with that, or if you are dealing with other enemies, again, spells specific to that. But there are two good options for almost any campaign: Air Walk or Water Walking (Mass). Obviously if you are in the desert, the latter doesn’t help you much, but otherwise both can be used to benefits otherwise in almost any campaign or character. I like Air Walk more just because of it being more universal.

5th Level Spells
Finally, powerful spells that aren’t related to healing or undead as much, lol. Depending on character aesthetic, you can go different routes. Me being me, I am almost always going to go down the realm of ice, so that means I take Holy Ice, which as a bonus, does two different functions–either a wall or javelins, so it’s both defensive and offensive. If I’ve taken a Bless Water as a first level spell at some point, and I should have, it’s even almost a freebie spell.

6th Level Spells
I actually really like Word of Recall. If your party doesn’t have a fast means of transport yet, this is a great way to cut travel in half as you level. It also serves as a good way to avoid a complete TPK, which is always a threat since dice can mess up any plans.

7th Level Spells
Restoration Greater, omg. Like, it seems really obvious, but I know people who forget and then one of their party members gets permanent ability score damage and it’s screams around the table. You would be surprised how often it comes up, at least in the games that we’re in, where one of the Restorations is needed. I mean yes, resurrection spells can be useful, but being able to prevent someone from dying by restoring them first is better.

8th Level Spells
For 8th Level, your spell options really start to narrow down. But in turn, you get to start doing some really awesome stuff. I like Discern Location, just because it cuts out a lot of trucking all over the place to find an object, only to find out it moved like three months ago and our intell was out of date. Nope, now I get to double check the DM, lol.

9th Level Spells
Much like with arcane spells, I only got here once before with a gestalt arcane/divine castor pairing, so I’m not as all-knowing about what is the most helpful or useful. Usually, I go straight for Miracle since it’s kind of a great catch-all. Unless my deities are known asses. Then it’s just an invitation for trouble, and I’m better off getting something like Overwhelming Presence or True Restoration. Of course, if you are playing a supreme loaner, being able to carve out your own demiplane can’t be spat at.


News: Back from Quarantine and Book Signing!

Thank you all for being understanding as I dealt with my various levels of stress, anxiety, and the various fall outs lately (among them involving a lot of my hair going into a fast shed, it was awful). I did okay with the whole shutting myself up in the house part, I’ve been sick the least amount I’ve been in the last few years actually, so you know, small bonuses. Karu and Kari are loving me being home, less so that they are being switched to pure-adult food because it is time they got off the combo kitten/adult food. Once I got a Switch and Animal Crossing: New Horizon (yes, I am one of those people) to be a stress relief and calming mechanism, things leveled out.

Originally, I had a book signing scheduled for April which canceled for…obvious reasons. Thankfully, Full Circle Books offered those of us in April first-dibs at slot for the June New Ink signings, and I jumped on it. I will hopefully be there in June (with a mask!!!) if things don’t spike outrageously here in the metro. I have the box of Sun’s Guard: Ten copies ready and everything… Oh shoot. Dara still has my good pens. I will buy new pens, and then I’ll be ready, lol. I’ll post announcements on Twitter and details on the homepage once I get them, right now I don’t know anything besides…June.

Speaking of book signings though, I am available for those and school visits if anyone wants to drop me a line at rebeccamhorner@yahoo.com to discuss details in the future once Covid isn’t making everything a nightmare. I’ll post that in the FAQ section at some point along with those details. We might even try some virtual meet ups!

I’ve also started to work on an audio reading of Sun’s Guard: Ten, which got waylaid because my desk chair revolted after working from home started with my day job. (I had to sit on a pillow to avoid splinters while tracking down a replacement.) But I have a new chair, so I’ll use this weekend to catch up on that, start getting some recording going on, and then hopefully we’ll have that ready to come out this fall. I’m excited to do a full-cast reading, inspired by Bruce Coville and Tamora Pierce because I am trash like that. And also theater trash, because I want all the characters to have different voices, drat it!

(I can’t get a braille copy going, but by golly, there will be an audio version going. Though if I spot typos in the original text, I might be updating the print copies to correct those because they may drive me nuts…)

Otherwise, I am poking away at a few projects. Right now my focus is on a fanfic that Ginny has outed me for writing on Twitter for Sly Cooper and getting an installment of that out, and then I’ll probably either work on the game or on Black Lark. Page is still on stand by, I believe I’ll start editing work in July…which means fixing my printer, joy. I also found the Ginny box! I need to pick a book and review it for you all, or watch a new movie instead of rewatching things. Sigh, that means making room for new characters. I think I’m still suffering from such high disappointment from Miraculous Ladybug turning sour after season one that it’s hard for me to make that leap again. But I’ll look!

In the meantime, I’ll see you all next weekend. Stay safe, stay inside if you can, and if you can’t, wear a mask and wash your hands.


Writing: How Many Drafts Is Enough?

The most recent controversy I’ve been seeing in my twitter feed is a lot of people complaining that other writers don’t go through enough drafts. It makes me ask questions, though, because I’m not sure I understand the problem. Is there a numerical requirement on the number of drafts you should have? Is there a limit? There’s a danger of applying a uniform writing process to everybody because it doesn’t always fit everybody. It’s like saying you have to outline, or outlining is a waste of time, or you have to write everyday. It also creates a false us vs. them paradigm that as aspiring writers or indie writers, we really don’t need to have to each other.

(Several traditionally published writers I’ve talked to like this war and already feel that way with them versus indie, on top of being a wee bit pretentious, so I have washed my hands of them. But the rest of us should make an effort!)

When it comes to the minimum of drafts, I always say at least two drafts are needed. Your first draft, you are just getting everything laid out that’s been up in your head. The second time, you need to look at it like a reader who doesn’t have the knowledge you do up in your brain. Do you explain everything, do you have a glaring hole in logic? Also, are you characters consistent, is your world explained enough? Your second draft can let you fill all that in, plus start on copy-edits. (No, I don’t count the various integrations of copy-editing as drafts.)

I do at least two drafts, though Sun’s Guard: Ten went through a handful as first I struggled with opening in the right place, then I cut out a subplot to save it for a later book than crowd the first book with characters who weren’t entirely needed yet. First draft I’m not worried about structure, I’m not worried overly much about descriptions for old characters or places, I’m not paying attention to my logic. I’m following the character and her goals, I’m following my villain and their goals, and the resulting conflict. That’s what I want written down. Then on my next read-through, I check for those things–descriptions, tags, logic–this one mostly summed up in making sure the reader is aware of Caley’s goals and also on Caley’s emotional positions in key scenes, which sometimes require some elaboration–that all the places are described in ways that invoke more than the visual senses if I can.

One person even asked a question (that I answered, though I suspect it was rhetorical) about why people do detailed outlines. Well, this is a form of drafting! I can use it as a sort of preliminary draft, to block out my character’s actions and know who goes where, or notice if we haven’t seen a side character in a while and I need to fix that. Remember, I’m holding two opposite goals in mind that I have to dovetail together–that requires planning, whether you do it in the moment or before you get started. By doing some very rough outlining, and then filling in more details with each “act” as I go, I can keep pace of myself as well as spot good places for emotional gut-punches. It also lets me treat my first draft as getting the story out, and then the second draft as adjusting the fit of the story over the outline. This keeps me from, to paraphrase another writer I heard speak in grad school, from having to change all the bones and organs under the same skin.

I don’t expect everyone to outline though. For some people, they can’t do it–I had grad school fellows who just couldn’t do it and that’s why they didn’t go with the advisor I did. Some have to outline more deeply than I do. I’m sort of a joint pantser-plotter (referred to as a plantser) at this stage in my writing career. I start with a paragraph of rambling that I know happens in the book, roughly. And then I plot each “act,” from Act I to Act II Part 1 to Act II Part 2 (which are divided by the midpoint where my protagonist’s goal has to change or their path to it alter) to Act III, one at a time, write it out, then plot the next while consulting my rambling paragraph and how the structure of the plot is working out. But that’s my approach. I’m not going to force it on someone else.

Much like I’m not going to tell someone they have to have at least four or five drafts of their book. They may not need it. I say at least two so you can at least objectively review what you have and see what needs changed (something always needs changed, whether that’s more description added or a plot hole that needs filled or a conversation that has to be restructured), but otherwise… It’s going to depend on you and your story. Ten took easily six or seven drafts by the time it was all said and done with all the restarting I did and an experiment to add length that ended up failing. Sun’s Guard: Page…doesn’t look like it’s going to have that problem, so I’ll probably just have my outline-draft and then the two normal ones. Some of my other stories I also don’t think will have that many drafts.

You know what my biggest piece of evidence for only two drafts being required is? None of my professors ever expected more than that in grad school. You’d submit the original story, get feedback, edit/adjust, and submit the second draft for your grade. Oh sure, you may still get notes back, and that’s not to say you didn’t do six or seven or twelve drafts on the side (…my horror short story and I were not friends…), but all you had to do was two, because my professors knew what I know now–you miss things in the first draft, so you got to do a second to fix them. Even the English professor I hate to this day only made two drafts a requirement…and then screwed your grade over so you had to do the third draft, but my point is made.

So how about we lay off of each other? So I only do two drafts and an outline, and someone else does eleven. This doesn’t mean there book is necessarily better than mine, or mine would be better if I worked at it more, or anything like that. All it says is we had a different experience writing our books, neither positive or negative unless we chose to view it that way.


On Writing Dumb Characters Who Aren’t Actually Dumb

(The title is weird, work with me here.)

So one of the “flaws” I’ve given my main character is that she’s a C student. She’s not in any honors classes, so I knew right away that half of the problem is effort since I didn’t give her a learning disability. Considering her defensively prickly personality, I knew it was a matter of whether she cared about who she was with or not. Most of the time, she doesn’t, so her grades are just enough to keep her out of trouble and then the rest of her time she can do what she wants. But I also knew even if she did try… That would get her to B with the occasional A territory, not Honors or AP courses. Just because she likes Shakespeare doesn’t mean she likes analyzing it or higher sciences/mathematics.

As a writer, I like this. Things like having your protagonist be a Dumb Jock (TM) so their Smart Friend (TM) can do their homework and you don’t have to think about it DRIVES ME NUTS. It also means you have to keep the action moving because those aren’t characters that sit and think about what to do, usually. Ginny loves action movies and their plots. I find them good brain relaxers, but they aren’t what I want to write. I want to write about characters who are balanced and like real people we see in reality, which means while some tropes are welcome, some aren’t. So even though I have a core trio (or two, depending on how how you count Moonshine), they all have to pull their thinking weight in different ways.

So for me this is a lot of balancing with my writing. If I make something pretty darn obvious, like it might be with one of my plot points for Page, I have to show that Caley is distracted is all to hell by something else because she has enough intelligence to add two and two and get four. She’s aware of human nature–she knows when someone feels wrong, and she’s good at figuring out what sort of awful things people will do to meet their goals because she’s seen a lot (she calls it having a doctorate in life). So sometimes, she’s more than smart enough to figure something out…she’s just distracted by someone being up to something that threatens her own choices in some way.

When I was building my trio (because YA series having a trio is a staple that I can respect and I’m not tossing out), I decided each character was going to have a different type of intelligence. All three have a heavy dose of common sense, though each can be distracted from it. One character is more emotionally intelligence, one is more book smart, and the other has social smarts. That isn’t to say the others don’t have the other types of intelligence, it just isn’t as strong with them or it’s in specific areas. Quiz Caley on types of dance and famous ballets, you’ll get a wildly different set of answers than you would out of the other two.

What I’m saying I guess is that I don’t like writing a character who is a smarty pants who has all the answers, because then it makes it hard to surprise them, but I don’t want to write the dumb jock who just punches his way through the plot. I think there should be balance, and sometimes that gets tricky to write. It’s hard, but I find it rewarding because I’m not just sticking to tropes or continuing to produce the same story that someone else has already done. (No shade meant.)

This probably comes from my own teen years. While I was in Honors classes, I didn’t always feel like I should be outside of the English or History classes. And while I have writer brain and know how a lot of things are going to end when I watch them, that only applies to genres I’ve analyzed. So when I’d go to a movie with friends and I’d get “caught,” by the ending…I’d feel really dumb when they’d tell me it was super obvious so they didn’t like the whole movie. Because they were used to consuming those types of movies, and they wanted the tropes they were highly familiar with to be subverted or changed. As someone who didn’t, the tropes played straight got me.

All of us were smart, my intelligence and consumption of media just shaped me differently. I shouldn’t have been made to feel stupid because I didn’t always follow the math or science that was math pretending to not be math, or because I didn’t track a twist to the story because it wasn’t my type of media. And I didn’t see this being portrayed in many YA books. So many just lump all the intelligence types together, so either your character is a genius and you’re beating emotional sense into them (which gets old fast), or while some characters do try and deal with the fact they aren’t considered bright, they don’t address a character who is smart in some ways and isn’t in others.

So even though it makes writing an absolute chore because I know I can only distract/drag out mysteries so long before getting Caley wise to them but I also have to give the right kind of clues or she won’t figure it out…I think it’s important to remember no character is truly dumb. Even the Dumb Jock (TM) knows things and skills that the Smart Friend (TM) doesn’t, and should be given the chance to show that instead of being spoon fed the answers.


Tabletop RPG: Serenity the RPG System Thoughts

(After a long drought, finally an RP post! Sorry ya’ll, I had the plague and it will not go away.)

So I had bought the Serenity the Roleplaying Game’s book ages ago, along with a big old Verse map and a giant book about a specific cargo run. Why? Because I was interested in seeing how playable it was. Now, the book itself isn’t laid out in the most logical of senses, and sometimes it seems a bit screwy to me. I’m not going to critique the system as a whole, but instead, talk about how it plays.

I ran it this last weekend for a group of three players. It was specifically meant to be short, one or two sessions, three at an absolute maximum that I didn’t see happening, and so in an effort to keep it short, I chose to use one of the episodes of the series (“The Train Job”) as my framework. Bonus, most of my players had either never seen the show, seen only a small percentage of it, or hadn’t seen it in well over ten years and had since forgotten a large chunk of it. I had no worries about them actually recognizing what I was up to.

The game started off a little shaky–I’m not used to DMing, and I was trying to think of how to describe something I had seen in a show to convey exactly the right tone. But as the players started to make their plan and I got comfortable, we all started to enjoy ourselves. This is where the good parts of the game really started to show themselves. It isn’t loaded down with rules and schematics, but instead relies on the imaginations of the players and the DM, and on the way that they RP things out. It also gives some players a bit of flux.

What I mean by that is the use of Plot Points. I know of other DMs who will deliberately fudge rolls if a character rolls poorly and it may lead to someone having a bad night, or for similar reasons. Serenity makes that almost unnecessary with the use of Plot Points, provided the characters haven’t been just slinging them around. By really using them when they can tell a roll is important, it lets them get the desierable outcome without some…somewhat shady but good intentioned shady…actions on behalf of a DM, which I can appreciate.

That being said, 1’s still happen, and critical failures can lead to problems. But I’ve taken the stance that just because you failed the roll it doesn’t mean something catastrophic has to happen, and depending on what it is, the party isn’t screwed. In my most memorable case from this last weekend, one failed the hiding roll with a 1 while the other did really well. So I did something like you’d see out of a comedy skit to explain how both got hidden because of how well the other person rolled covering for both of them. Everything still proceeds, and everyone at the table got a laugh out of it. Failures don’t have to mean instant-death, and I was glad to get to DM something like that.

Is the lack of detail sometimes annoying? Oh very. And the rate of lethal damage applied to the weapons, while realistic, means that combat is never going to go well, and I’m still thinking about how to balance that out in a longer game. I also have to figure out whether I’d want to do something similar to Whedon’s work, where there is a long arc that we’re building to but a lot of it plays out in small moments, or if I want the long arc to be the focus with occasional side jobs. But that comes back to the flexibility of the system. It really lets you run the type of game that you want to run.

I don’t know if I would recommend this system for a newbie DM and newbie group of players. It’s not laid out in a way that’s neat, there’s a lot of holes, and the combat is harsh. But for a group that has messed around with a few systems, it is pretty forgiving to let them let their hair down for a bit. As a newbie DM, I had the advantage of knowing the world best, which gave me the measure of control that as DM I need to have any kind of confidence. With a group of die-hard Firefly fanatics, that isn’t going to be the case…but other new DMs may not have my anxiety crutches, so your mileage is just going to vary on that front.

If I can trust my players to stay off my blog, I might talk about the planning I go into for longer campaigns, but that’s a big maybe. I wouldn’t want to accidentally spoil anyone’s backstory or arc for them, and that will cause sour feelings. (Plus some of the players are uber private, which I respect.) In the meantime, if you can get your hands on the book or a PDF of it, it’s worth a page-through at the very least.


2019, Year in Review

It’s New Year’s Eve. Time to reflect on our struggles, our accomplishments, and celebrate that we’re still here, and what all we’re going to do in the coming year. So yes, I decided to be THAT level of extra and publish this post right at midnight, my time, about my feelings.

Ugh, what do I have to say about the start of 2019? I was coming off of a bad year, losing 75% of my pets. I was also in a horrible place because of drama within my medieval group coming to a head, stretched beyond measure between projects, and work was just not helping. Add in my health deciding to revolt, and there’s just no where to go but up.

(Ironic that I’m writing this while home with an upper respiratory virus, but you know, I digress.)

So how did it go? Well, I survived getting out from under my medieval fair group, which was a huge stress relief. To help process that stress relief, I started going through stuff in the house that summer, which…unbelievable helped and I’ll probably do it this summer too, get through all these tubs of stuff and shredding in the office. It just helped me organize my head space after that organization being a good eightyish percent of my life and social circle. I didn’t feel tired all the time, both physically and emotionally.

Which is about when Kari started having separation anxiety from being home alone without me or Tsuki…bad. Thankfully we caught the bald spots before she was completely down to the skin, but it still wasn’t good. So she went on meds, and I went on a kitten/young cat hunt, which is how we got Karu in our lives. I think he was more than just healing for Kari, he also helped me remember that yes, I do know how to be a responsible pet parent, it was just a whole lot of bad timing. Also, he’s the little ambassador of the house which means Kari can hide from people while he accepts their offerings of affection. He’s a joy in both of our lives.

The blog has gone up and down a lot, but I think I had to sit down and think about it. I don’t consume books or movies like I used to. Oh, I go to Marvel movies and Fast and the Furious franchise films and the occasional Disney movie, but I don’t go out nearly as much. I am fed up with a lot of anime and female characters in them. I don’t have time for tons of video games. I’ve talked about everything about RP as I can unless something new comes up.

Work has also eased up. I’m still keeping a look out for work more in the direction I want to be going or uses my skill set better, but I no longer feel like it’s me or this job. Really, I have to stick with the university or the state until my student loans are forgiven. They are just growing too fast for me to keep up with, and I know it’s what makes the most financial sense for me to do. It’ll give me a lot of freedom to sit back at 35 and go, “Okay, I forgave my loans, I’m a third of the way to paying off my mortgage, what do I want to do with the rest of my life?” Some of this is going to depend on where I am with my projects, but I like having a loose plan to play with.

Speaking of projects, I am so proud of what I’ve accomplished this year and yay, the rest of this gets to blab. Sun’s Guard Ten is out and did better than I expected upon release. (I had a low bar, lol, still do because it’s easier when there are three of a series to suggest purchase to Amazon.) I’m super excited to be getting this world started and available to you all. I also got Sun’s Guard: Page started, though it hit a couple hiccups. Note to self, don’t expect to write around the holidays anymore. But it is shaping up really well, and I like that I don’t have to introduce these characters again, but instead I get to delve more into my core group for this book.

I’m going to continue working with Johnny for the book covers, and I will stay on him a little bit more this year, starting next weekend. At least unlike a sword, the next cover is more up his wheelhouse, so it shouldn’t take as long. I felt bad about that, since swords are trickier than they look, but we managed to collaborate really well I think. I’ve done a little spot editing–mostly formatting and changing colors/fonts on the back cover to make it readable–but Ten shouldn’t be touched anymore and it’s going to be my template for when I get to Page. I have a timeline laid out and I know that it’s publication date is in October of 2020, specific day going to depend on art.

Other projects of this last year include Mystic Riders. Ginny and I have put a lot of time and effort into this project already, and I thought we were ready to start the blog, which was a lot more my baby. It was a bit of a give and take, and eventually we figured out that the game mechanic blog posts are hard to write when you weren’t the one who figured them out/understand them as deeply. I know a lot, but there are some elements in video games that I don’t where Ginny had more experience. In the end, it made a lot more sense for us to divide and conquer again. We have a good plan now that makes me confident that the blog part is only going to grow.

On the flip side, we’ve also started getting some artwork in, so we’re getting more that we can present to potential studios or computer programmers. Our tentative “business plan” is to finish getting some of this artwork, work towards me getting a computer that can run Unreal, and then we can get a demo built. After that, we’ll start option one, which is finding a production studio who will hire us for working on this game–it works a lot like querying a book. Most statistics I’ve seen don’t rate the odds of success on this very high, just because neither Ginny or I have ever marketed games before. (I’ve made one, but you know, it was for class so it doesn’t count.) The other option is to build a game company ourselves. I’m hoping when I’m 35 and out of debt, I’ll be brave enough to run with that idea. In the meantime, I have plotting, writing, mapping, and all sorts of other work to do.

I started a stand alone book, which I’m hoping I’ll put out sometime within the next couple of years, but I’m not rushing it at this point. Same for these short stories Ginny recently tweeted about. They are meant more to be my, “I don’t want to throw Caley out the window, what can I do instead?” works, less on a schedule. I do have a schedule of deadlines now to try and hold myself too, though I had to give myself an extension already on Page since I had a learning curve with the holidays, lol. Hopefully everything else stays on target into 2020.


Review: Frozen 2

…Hey, I’m still doing the occasional review. Plus I figure it’s been long enough that no one will gripe at me about spoilers and still a chance for me to convince the few hold-outs to go see it. Because it is worth it.

Frozen 2 picks up two years after the original film, set in Arendelle’s autumn harvest festival. Elsa has been hearing a mysterious voice calling her, but she is so worried about messing up or not living up to her people’s expectations of her, she’s been ignoring it. But ignoring it is no longer an option when one interaction sparks ancient spirits her father told her about long ago to awaken in Arendelle…and they are not happy. The royal family goes on an adventure into the northern forests of Arendelle’s border, and into their parents’ pasts. Because when all is lost, all is found.

So first word of warning: do not go into this expecting a super intense story line. I’ve long since believed that the point of Frozen, the mini-adventures, and now this sequel isn’t some surprise ending or revelation, but instead about the emotional arcs they are guiding us through. Remember your target demo is like eight and lower your expectations a little for deep meaning/analogies and focus on what it is actually doing and how important that is. The first story focused on not only failed relationships, but how to recognize when to rebuild them and when to kick people to the curb, as well as moving on from past hurts.

Similarly, this movie seems to focus on the past a lot…but it’s more about what these characters are experiencing in the present. You have to look past we’re going from point a to point b. From worries about what the future holds, the pressures of expectations, discovering that the past they thought they knew was one-sided, the film is about coping with the shifting realities of your world. It even tackles acceptance of one’s self and grief, respectively, in ways that I don’t think a Disney film has tackled before. (Not gonna lie, these are the points where I started bawling in the theater. Twice.) Olaf has a whole song about it because, in many ways, he represents the age of the target audience and these are things that not only do they not know how to cope with, it is terrifying. And in balance, Elsa and Anna show that even adults struggle with these things, but give some strategies that are still simple enough for all sorts of people to relate to.

Characters, new characters. Okay, the Northuldra elder and the general were like my favorites of all time. I loved their interactions, and I am so happy with the direction they went with both of their characters. They could have made him a jerk, they could have made her even more uptight than she already was, but they didn’t. It was perfectly balanced. I do like the glimpses and history we see of the parents, but this is also slightly problematic for me? There’s something to be said about the emotional/mental abuse that Elsa went through, and while I hesitate to cast wrathful blame now on her parents after the nightmare that they met under, I also have to look at them, particularly their mother, and go, “Da faq? You should know better!” So yeah, trying to make those two characters from this new movie and from the first meet up is…Ugh. More work was needed.

World-building wise, we got a ton of lore and other info dumped on us. If you follow the Frozen mythos at all, not all of it is surprising–the Broadway musical brought in the Northuldra people or at least something similar to replace the trolls, and had the queen be from them, so that isn’t too shocking. The elements kinda make sense as you bring it in to the relationship with Elsa’s powers. We finally were really able to nail down a time period for the setting between Anna’s Victorian walking skirt in this film, the bicycle in the first film, and now the photographs in this one. Is it a lot? Oh yeah. Is it too much? Meh. For the younger kids who can’t follow that sort of thing, they don’t really care, it looks cool. For the older audience members, we’ve wanted answers so it is satisfying to have them. I’m not saying it’s done in the most elegant of fashions, but it got the job done and I am not going to bash on it for that.

The visuals and the music… Let me just die here. OMG. They did so many intricate touches with the visuals, and all those little touches really show. I wish there was some more in-world explanation for some of it (example: the friggin’ ponytail scene. I had to read an article to get commentary that revealed that Elsa’s braid is mostly ice and so she tied it back with something real before diving into the ocean, it was driving me nuts why they went through the wasted animation but now it makes sense), but the rest is just too cool to be punny. I appreciate the signs that they really consulted with the Sami representatives to get things right with the Northuldra and it shows.

And some of them, like even though I couldn’t understand everything being said on the water memory of the ship, I still go the feeling and it hit me right in the feels (and you know, set me up for more tears later). Also, the water fight with the water horse was brilliant and exactly what it should have been. That is totally how a pissed off horse would behave, especially with power over water and in its element. And then the ending where it got so excited to go for a run and not be sea/water locked? My heart! Speaking of water and memory and music, UGH THAT GLACIER SCENE. All about it. First scene I started crying in, and you know, it just stayed my favorite through both viewings I’ve had of it.

They did a ton more songs, but they ended up cutting so many and I think they really kept the ones that did the emotional work that they needed them to. “I Seek the Truth” is great, for example, but unneeded after the wreckage done to us on the boat. It really lets the others stand out. The only one I sorta wished stayed or had gotten reworked is “Unmeltable Me.” Does Olaf need a second song? No. But it includes some important info, like that Elsa’s powers have grown. We see it through the later half and she mentions it “Into the Unknown,” but still. I wanted to know more earlier on.

Overall, I think as long as you go in with an open mind and being prepared for a simpler story and yet a lot of info on the world being thrown at you, it works out. I didn’t touch on a lot of things, because I think they make some awesome surprises, especially for adult viewers. (I only had second hand embarrassment the first round, so they are probably just funny for everyone else.) Go see it if you haven’t already.


Writing: On Historical Fighting with a Pole Arm… (Part 2–Staff Tactics)

I had to scratch my head over the holiday to figure out the best way to write about fighting with/against someone wielding a pole arm, and I finally went with blocking it out. And then it went long so ha, more posts about me babbling about this. So there’s three parts, two blocks to each part and then an example paragraph. Hopefully it’ll make sense why I did it that way.

Part One: Plain staffs/balanced pole arm
Block 1: Fighting with
Otherwise known as fighting tactics, I know, but here we go. As previously discussed in the previous post, a plain staff, or even one with metal caps, is a primarily defensive weapon. So when you are swinging it around, you are trying to a) not tangle yourself up in it and b) tangle your opponent up in it instead so you can disarm them, smack them around, and then run away.

So about not tangling yourself in your own staff. Staff work relies a lot on aligning the weapon with your body. As an example, if you are striking at someone’s right shoulder with your left, the staff should be across your body to keep them from stabbing you in the meantime, your left hand and therefore the left part of the staff extended up and forward, and the right end of the staff and your corresponding limb, in this case your right leg, back and down. With a balanced weapon, it’s important to keep it in between your body and your opponent for defense because typically it’s the only thing you got–I’ve never seen one wielded with even a buckler shield. Separating from your body is also the fastest way for a disarm (see Part 2 below).

While occasionally you may see a pole arm with both ends capped with bladed heads, they aren’t common like at all and come with a new rush of difficulties. There’s no natural “resting” point because neither tip is blunt, so the only way to set it down is to lay the whole thing down, which means it takes more effort to pick up and move into a fight. You also lose some of your reach–you can’t swing these sorts of weapons into your own space like you do a blunt end because there’s a chance you’ll hurt yourself more than you’ll hurt your opponent. As a rule, I advice against trying to pull a medieval Darth Maul unless magic is involved as a result, and even then, it’s just more hassle than it is use. (This does not apply to two-bladed swords…but that’s a later post.)

Block 2: Fighting against
This time, the scenario is fighting against someone with a balanced staff or pole arm. There are two tactics to this fight that are simplest and don’t turn into a game of chess. They aren’t the only way, but they are the way to be quick and brutal about this and move on to the next. One is the rusher and the other is the leverage.

The rusher works best if you yourself are shorter than the person wielding the staff. The key to this one is that you are wielding a weapon that is proportionate to your own size and not a reach weapon, such as a sword, daggers, axe, etc. Shields help, but aren’t required. The rusher tactic uses the reach of the pole arm against their opponent, getting in close as fast and as often as possible so they have little room to maneuver. It also means that as fast as the pole arm wielder is, there’s chances to get a blow in because you are in their way of moving to the defense in time.

As you probably expect, the leverage is the exact opposite of the rusher. This works better if you are the same height or taller than the person wielding the staff, but bonus that it can work if you are wielding almost any type of weapon. Basically, by using the leverage of binding the staff with your own weapon, because of your height (or angle if you are having to do some extra manipulating), you’ll be able to “pop” the staff free and out of your opponent’s grip. I’ve even done a fancy pop that slide the opponent’s staff down mine so I could catch it and there was no chance of recovery. By applying either upward, downward, or diagonal pressure, you compromise your opponent’s grip. But you have to be fast and you have to be sneaky about it, or else they’ll realize what you are doing and get the heck out of the way.

Both of these tactics can also work if you aren’t the best case scenario, btw, but I’m just writing about what works best when because it takes less monkeying around.

Examples
The best example I have of the rusher is my scripted fight with one of my friends from medfair. (Or fights, plural.) She is much shorter than me, though of course I’m pushing the tall thing to freakish levels, so there is a marked difference in our statures from the get-go. She is very much a rusher in general–her primary fight tactic is to get in close, fast, and hard, since her opponent isn’t going to expect it. Most of our fights she was supposed to win, but it was easy to block those fights because her natural fighting style was an answer to my own.

She would get in close and tight, switching from one side to the other very quickly and not really going for over the head strikes much because they left her in a position of vulnerability more than they did me. She did however aim closer to the core and ground, because there was a lot more harm that she could do there. My defense was limited to trying to force distance between us by binding weapons over her head and then pushing her back with my own attacks, or trying to get her weapon tangled with mine to disarm here–harder to do because again, the weapon is proportionate to her size and not something I can get a grip on easily.

The other side of the coin was when I applied leverage to some of my staff fights. I’m almost always taller, so this is really my go-to strategy (when I’m not taking advantage of a ridiculous level of reach). I tend to aim high, going for the head or even above the head because I know they are going to have to bring their weapon or extend it up and further away from them. This gives you the opportunity to get either your body or your weapon in between your opponent’s weapon and body so you can pull it away from them. (Like that pop I mentioned above.)

If you want something visual to reference for your fighting scenes, I recommend either looking up martial artists (because a staff is a staff is a staff) or flag work with a color or winter guard if you want something with flourishes.


Writing: On Historical Fighting with a Pole Arm… (Part 1-Basics)

So, I’ve decided to do more posts like my equestrianism post because apparently you all liked it, it’s easier on me, and I have this wealth of knowledge that you won’t find outside of SCA groups and a couple of other small things you can find in your community, with some being more open to writer interviews than others. (Basically, your mileage may vary.)

A quick note on these types of posts: I am speaking from my personal experience, the words of others in my own medieval group, and my own readings. Again, your mileage may vary. (Maybe this will keep the Cranky [Old] Guys off this post griping about what’s wrong if I repeat it.) But if you are writing a character who fights only with a flag pole as a flash of brilliance, and then find yourself needing to actually write out the fight with no idea what to do, this is meant to give you something to think about.

(I’ll probably do a more advanced post on pole arms in the future going over the different heads/blade styles and their uses, because the French alone have like fifteen of them, and they all serve different functions better than others. This is just your basics.)

So by definition, what is a pole arm? Basically, a really long stick, not necessarily thick because you have to be able to wrap your hand around it. Optional are pieces of metal at one or either end of the stick, and the metal can or can not be sharp depending on preferences. How long a pole arm was depended a lot on function, such as if you are wielding it from the ground or on horse back or on ground against someone on horseback, but general rule of thumb is your average one was about as tall as you are, plus or minus a hand or two counting the metal bits, if you are on the ground, and the length of your horse plus half again to double your horse’s length if you were mounted or facing off against mounted fighters.

Why were the mounted ones so long? Because horses were expensive. If you could kill the rider or at least get him down to the ground and the horse could run off to survive, that was a lot of money on four hooves for the winning side to be able to collect later. Very rarely did tactics involve killing the horses, and usually only as a last resort. Your aim was for the rider. (Unless your character is particularly blood thirsty and sadistic, but you know, bloody ground is wet, slippery ground which sucks to fight on, and horses bleed a lot, so do with that what you will.)

What were the benefits to using a pole arm instead of a sword? The big one was reach, which means that rather than only being able to attack the person directly next to/in front of you, you could actually stop him from getting close enough to you to potentially injure you. This is not only a massive benefit to a taller person (who already has a lot of reach, so more reach makes things even better), but especially for a shorter person who normally wouldn’t have as much of a shot at defending themselves–though there are ways, more on this at a later post, I will talk about tactics at some point.

They are also a highly defensible weapon. I can’t tell you how many of my fights got to the disarm bit, but because I was using a staff, it was like, “Whelp. Hmmm. How?” You have more length available to block the strike, plus usually you are using one end to block the strike, giving you the other end to pivot and whack at your opponent with while their own weapon is engaged elsewhere. (Please note: if you take the route of a pole arm with metal bits, this is more difficult because of the weight, more on that later.) With more length, it can also be tricky for someone using a sword to even get close enough to get the proper leverage to disarm you. On horseback, it’s a bit easier because you are trying not to hit yourself or your horse, but your pole arm is more of a throw away weapon for you in that position anyway because…tactics.

The cons for a pole arm are both expected and not expected. First off, breakage. While at your local medfair, you have probably seen your fair share of shattered lances. Well, I promise you that in real battle, your pole arms aren’t that fragile. Those lances are usually made with woods inclined to splinter under force, and some companies even make marks in the lance so they will break on impact. Most of the wood for a real weapon would be treated and and of specific types of wood so it can take a sword blade to it a few times. (Mine has, even in stage choreography.) However, they will break eventually, unlike metal. Speak of metal, depending on the head, your staff could not only be top heavy (and it would be), but heavy period. Thus why the whole thing isn’t made of metal–you wouldn’t be able to use it effectively. With the balance thrown off by the head, your ability to manipulate the length of your weapon is slower than it would be with a staff or a normal sword. (But note without the metal bits, it’s harder to do more than give your opponent some bruises and broken bones, especially if they are in armor.)

The more unexpected problems includes the awkwardness. Not only do you have the weight to worry about and it slowing down your strikes, the footwork for a pole arm is slightly different from a sword, so depending on which way your natural instinct goes, you may have to be constantly thinking about it or risk losing your foot. Unlike a sword that has a built in grip, a pole arm usually doesn’t so you have to drill into your body where your hands go or risk getting your fingers broken or cut off. And if its a hot or rainy day? Be prepared for slipping around. Because it is so long, they can be hard to carry for long distances (unless you strap them to your back, then it takes a hot minute to get off and by then, you’re dead). They also can get too bound up if you are fighting in narrow quarters, since the reach does also require appropriate amount of space to move in.

Speaking of being bound up, many like to think a staff/glaive/pole arm as a woman’s weapon in addition to a mounted knight’s. While I know this is true in Japanese history, and feel free to research and run with it, I don’t think it was as common in European women, at least among nobility. Not to say they couldn’t, my natural fighting instinct leans towards pole arms. So why is that my opinion? Because unlike the traditional Japanese kimono, which binds the fabric to the form tightly but can be loosened and long sleeves tied back, European women’s attire involved long skirts that usually floated away from the body. Let me tell you, I have gotten my skirt tangled up in my staff more times than I can count, unless I put aggressive riding slits into it and wear trousers underneath. It can be kilted up, but the fabric is still there and the higher the class level of the woman involved, the more layers and other bits of fabric there are. While your average lower classes would use whatever they had on hand from farm tools, including pitch forks and others that could be considered pole arms, your merchants and nobility had other options that were better suited to their attire, but that’s another post.

Hopefully these bare basics and thoughts on fighting with a pole arm help someone. I’ll do another post next weekish on tactics of fighting with and against someone wielding a pole arm, as well as some basic blocking. Let me know if you want me to continue these types of posts too. 🙂


When Your Characters Rebel…

(I’m not saying this is Season 3 Miraculous Ladybug salt… But I am saying it is probably flavored liberally with it. I will avoid spoilers to the best of my abilities in terms of naming characters, but you know, you might get the gists of it anyway.)

So you have been working on this long running series–whether it’s for TV or a book series, comic run or insert other media here–and you have always had a couple in mind for your endgame. This is the pairing everyone needs to love, this is one that they need to get behind and want to be together. You have distractions and miscommunications in mind, whether you have an outline or just a vague concept in your head, but you also have key moments where they are meant to come together and prove that they can work.

So what do you do when they don’t do it organically, and worse yet, your audience soundly rejects it?

I’m not talking about the background characters that everyone is shipping together, cracky or not, or if the fans have decided your platonic best friends who are your main duo are meant to be, and I’m not talking about if you are dealing with a story that has no or only a very small romance plot and you can change the love interest without it changing the story one gram. This is a love-centric relationship that you, the writer, has built into the very premise, and the fans know this from day one. You may have even made the poor decision to use social media to assure everyone that yes, you know what you are doing, and yes, no matter what, the pairing will be endgame.

But remember those distractions I mentioned before? This is where things as a writer can get really gnarly. If I’ve spent time breaking my main pairing apart for the sake of time management, so they can get together in the final one or two chapters/episodes/issues/what-have-you and I have too much time to fill in between them, well… This pokes holes in why my audience is going to believe that this couple is going to work together in the end. (I am not touching my salty examples treatment and twisting of characters to make this possible.) If they fall out of love with this relationship as the characters question their feelings for each other, then when I provide a distraction in the form of new, alternative pairings… I’ve just split my fanbase.

Now, for some marketing people, they think this is a brilliant idea. Ever since Team Edward/Team Jacob, they have been gung-ho about love triangles, since marketing took what was previously a well known if slightly tired trope and fanned it into a fandom war that sold a ton of merchandise and kept people talking about a franchise that honestly didn’t deserve the level of hype and devotion it ended up spawning. See, once a fandom war starts, if you feed the fires right, fans will entrench themselves in their camp and will go out of their way to not prove the other side wrong, but spend a ton of money to show their support of their camp.

But notice my not so nice dig at the franchise? That’s because love triangles have to be written very carefully. In order to actually make sense as a plot device, there needs to be a very obvious reason why one side is better than the other, and writers usually get lazy with this, making it a matter of the nice guy being secretly violent or just saying that the jerkass was the one who really understood the girls promise (and in my opinion encourages abuse way too much). And that’s when they start at the same time! Many franchises spend whole books or seasons establishing a love interest, and then try to throw in a rival in the new season/sequel book. That only works if it’s quite clear to your fanbase that this isn’t meant to be a new romantic angle, and that the new rival is actually really unsuitable for the character he/she is pursuing. While some fans will hop on to the new camp with this rival (it’s inevitable), the majority will stay where you want it–with the mains.

This is where things can get hairy though. If you don’t make the new character unappealing, you can completely split your fanbase. My salty example here did this in two different ways and both failed. For one, they didn’t portray her personality consistently across her episodes, so despite having more screen time than the rival for the other side of the main pairing, it was so inconsistent that fans were irritable over it. That should have been enough by itself for fans to be split on her and to keep attention on their main couple. Except the boy is an oblivious idiot, no matter what the writers say on Twitter, and he has repeatedly stated that he can’t see the female lead as anything other than a friend, but he can see this new girl as a potential love interest to move on from his celebrity crush. For fans, that was digging a grave and a lot of them jumped ship.

But that left the other half of the pairing in the wind, right? Nope, insert our second rival. He didn’t get nearly the level of screen time, but what there is, it is consistent. Now, it’s also too perfect and two-dimensional, so some fans hate him for just that reason. Again, this should have kept everything split up and the focus on the main pairing. But our female lead is not only in the wind as far as her crush and trying to move past it, she has had so many responsibilities heaped on to her that it’s a miracle she’s still standing. And this boy has said that he loves her for who she is, just her, not her superhero self blinding him so badly he can’t see her, but her. And she doesn’t even have to explain everything to her (as our male lead has thrown a tantrum over in the past).

My friends, they not only dug the grave, they put in the final nails themselves. (Supposedly there are two episodes left that will revive it like a zombie, but I doubt it.)

At this point, if I was in that writing room, I would be looking over fan responses and questions, look at my team, and go, “Ya’ll, we have to either spend an entire season fixing this, which by our premise we can’t do… Or we may have to let go of the love square being endgame.” But of course, these are a bunch of men (and one woman) and I can’t see them doing that. What I can do though is take this as an object lesson myself. If you have a couple, it’s fine for there to be complications towards them ending up together–that’s life. There’s also a line in the sand where if you cross it, you won’t get your fanbase back. This is going to apply to me for Sun’s Guard, so I’m going to take this lesson and run.