Category Archives: RPG and Writing Tips

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.


Writing: Finding the Time

We’ve all heard the sayings: write everyday, even if it’s just three words. Set aside an hour to write everyday. Do what feels natural, even if it’s cramming everything out in three days (yikes! been there, but yikes!)… There’s a lot of them, and they sometimes seems to conflict with each other. If it just matters to put words to a page, why does it matter when we do it? If the words themselves do matter, then how do you feel productive?

I would love to say there’s a definitive answer on this one, but there really isn’t. You have to figure out your own rhythms, what makes you tick and what gives you the best response for your effort. I will break down some of these common sayings, and their equally common answers, and how I have interpreted these to help me. Some of this may work for you, some of it you may have to do the exact opposite. Do as you will.

The first myth: writing every day. There’s been some people who talk about jotting down a few sentences each days, some talk about waking up early to write first thing in the morning before the rest of the household is up and before work… I had a professor who subscribed that belief too, even had us keep a journal. In theory, I think it’s a great idea. In practice… Ugh. I don’t know about you all, but I’m a single female with two cats and a house to take care of, plus a day job and other responsibilities plus wanting to you know, have fun occasionally. Writing every single day just doesn’t happen.

That doesn’t mean I don’t work at writing every day. Here’s what I mean, take right now for an example. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, I have rehearsal from 7 to 9. That means my prime writing hours are taken up doing other things, and by the time I’m home, my brain has died and writing just isn’t going to happen, at least in a way that I won’t have to completely do over during the weekend. But you know what I do have enough brain for? Piecing together characters. Fleshing out world-building. Poking at my plots to make sure that no new sub plots have grown when I wasn’t looking. All of this goes into the work of writing, so that when the weekend comes along or I have a day off or–miracle of miracles–my brain hasn’t died after rehearsal yet, I can sit down and push out a couple of pages.

Any words are good words/progress. This one, I get where it’s coming from. Staring at a blank page is not going to help you get unstuck any faster, nor is it getting your book written. Some scenes are just emotionally difficult as a writer, whether it’s because you have something else you want to be working on or the characters are being difficult or you are just plain tired. Getting a few sentences deeper can (and should) feel like a major accomplishment, and each time you do that, you get a little bit further along, a little bit closer to getting to the finish line and the wonderful world of editing.

But where I disagree is the “any” part. This is how hokey scenes happen that somehow make it past your editor/beta reader and the rest of your audience is like, “WTF was that?!” Every time I’ve had to force a scene out, I write once more to get the pain over with and enjoy it again…and then go back and read that struggle-bug scene. What was making it so difficult? Was it because someone was acting out of character? Was it because it was a shoe-horned in subplot that really needs cut out? Is the scene just boring and needs to go away? Sometimes it’s because something REALLY IMPORTANT to the plot was happening there, but I was too vague about it and I really needed to work at fleshing it out in my head during my “working on writing” days and to figure out what it is better so I can fix the awkward scene.

Don’t edit, just write. This was the next logical one to cover, lol. I get the thought behind this one too. Going over the same three scenes to get them perfect isn’t going to help you. You need to keep progressing, keep the story moving. And to be honest, those three scenes are never going to be perfect. You have to keep pushing or else you’ll never get done, you’ll just have thirty odd unfinished drafts (no, I’m not calling out certain best friends, fanfiction doesn’t count and if it did I’d be a hypocrite)! So as bad as your sentence structures are, as many typos as you may see, just ignore them and keep going with the next scene, you can fix those later (hopefully…typos are sneaky).

I actually somewhat agree with this one, aside from what I stated just prior. Short of something being unnecessarily difficult and figuring out why, I am a big proponent of just go, go, go, write till you hit…the mid point. Once you hit the mid-point, of your plot, I advice a pause. Reread. Is your plot doing what you want it to do? THREE TIMES, I looked back at Sun’s Guard: Ten and went, “Nope. This ain’t doing it. Try again.” And each time, it got better, before I finished the book and suddenly had a huge amount of editing to do. It lets me catch big mistakes like wrong subplots or a character not getting enough “screen time” early so I can fix it sooner and then continue what I’m doing. I fix typos if I find them, but I don’t worry about structure or things like that, I’ll do a huge print out later for that.

It takes as long as it takes. This is someone wanting to take the pressure off of how long it can take to write a book, to free up pressure. And there is a point there, because if you rush, the writing isn’t as good and you’ll make more errors. But this one I really want to advice people to throw out. The publishing industry runs on deadlines. Even if you self-publish, you need to build some sort of momentum and can’t be dead silent for five years and only release a book that often. You will struggle with building an audience. So I have created a publishing schedule for Sun’s Guard and Truth in Justice. Sun’s Guard has it by the month, Truth in Justice just has a general year of when I expect to put each of those out and could obviously move around a bit. I now have internal deadlines that I need to meet. I know exactly how long it takes me to edit and to format, and how much space I need to take between edits to insure fresh eyes. This gives me a timeline that I need to adhere too, so I can build my audience at a consistent rate.

These are the most common bits of advice I’ve seen floating around. Anyone else have others you want my two cents on? Want me to collect them and do another post? Let me know!


Back-Up Characters, Yay or Nay?

We have all heard the horror stories of TPK–where the DM or the dice decided to just off the party. And sometimes it isn’t the whole party, just your character that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Depending on your level and how high the treasure is running, you may have no hopes of resurrection either. Even if you can afford it, you may not have someone able to cast it right away and what are you supposed to do in the meantime?

This is where it can be handy to have a back-up character. Thing of them as second-string, someone to run with the party until your main is brought back to life if they even can be. My group also uses them because sometimes, we get bored with our main or they aren’t the right fit with the party, or even because something story wise has come up that it makes more sense for them to leave the group (usually to settle down somewhere) because their goal has been accomplished or they have been thrust into a role of responsibility.

So this raises a question. What do you do for a back-up character?

I don’t like playing the exact same thing I’m replacing–it feels like cheating. But you have to think about your group dynamics. Do you need a tank, a healer, a damage per second, what? While there is a way around most gaps, it’s something to think about–you can have a party of entirely clerics, but you need to be different types of clerics. So keeping that in mind, then you need to decide what this character is going to be–a loner who is temporarily joining the group, either by their own will or being hired as a mercenary, a permanent addition. That will help you decide on backstory and class archetypes.

Whether or not I have a back-up character usually depends on the campaign. For example, Hekate is basically the linchpin for her campaign. If I lose her, I would need to consult with the DM on what exactly we could do. As a result, I haven’t built a back-up character and probably never will. But for Jadzia’s campaign, where death is a pretty constant threat? I’ve been contemplating a back up for a while, I just hadn’t settled on anything until the last couple of weeks. My new back-up in case of Jadzia retiring or dying is now Aurora, a Justice Archon Legate Paladin of Athena.

Now that I have a concept, the next question is how far should I go in building this character? There’s some schools of thought, such as waiting to build until you need them, but that could bring a session to a grinding halt if you die within the first hour of a planned four hour meeting with your group. (Or at least it would for me.) Sometimes the rest of the group can keep pushing on, sometimes they can’t and they have to wait for you to build. At the same time, your group is going to run into a lot of items that if your character dies, may be good to pass on to your new one. But if you’ve spent your gold on it already, it can become a headache to backtrack. Plus, gold for a new character scales with their level, more headaches.

My personal way is to get the backstory figured out. Race, name, age, family, home region, and class. Also go ahead and get my stats rolled up and assigned as needed. This lets me get my skills sorted, and I usually go ahead and pick out my feats. With all that figured out, I can level this character at the same time as my main, or at least close to it. That will make the needed character creation should something happen to my main limited to just buying items. (Which can also take forever, but once you get your basic kit, everything after that is just bonus.)

Like I said earlier, not all campaigns want or need a back-up character. And you should always talk to your DM if you want to retire your main, and give them plenty of warning. (I saw a tweet where someone had been setting up a character-centered arc for months, only for the player to change characters out of nowhere on them, I felt sooo bad…) If they know who your second string character is, they also know are prepared for what is coming with that new character and can keep in mind how to introduce them if needed.


Canon vs Fanon, Who Cares?

(I may have harped on this before. It’s still relevant, lol.)

Fanfiction is pretty much older than dirt–I would argue Homer was writing fanfic of the Trojan War since it was a) way before his time, b) he made a Turkish city Greek, and c) he brought in legendary heroes from a bunch of time periods together. But the point is, a lot of people accepted Homer’s stories as fact, without even questioning it.

They had accepted Homer’s story as their new canon, making it now what is commonly referred to as fanon.

For those who have no idea what I am talking about, canon means the information that comes directly from the source material. Now, what counts as source material can vary. Some people narrow their view to one specific source, such as the film series but not the comics or cartoon spin-offs. Others cherry pick, accepting all sources but not all episodes or facts. A lot of people you just have to ask or read their notes to figure out what they are treating as canon for any particular discussion.

Fanon has two separate meanings, depending on context, and I’m going to look to my Homer example again. The first definition is Homer’s work itself. Homer’s particular combination of characters, setting, and events is its own fanon. In his playground, you have both Ajax’s and yet more contemporary heroes, and the Trojans are a traditionally Greek society. Now, when a group of people argue that they are going to adopt Homer’s fanon as their own, that’s another–and the second meaning–of fanon.

Fanon can be over something small, such as one character having a particular hobby. Another fanon can be a lot bigger, such as how one character feels about another or even about themselves. Sometimes a consensus about names for background characters happens, and the rest of us are left confused. (Looking at you, Miraculous Ladybug with the concept-art Quadatic Kids or whatever they are.)

The trouble that fanon seems to run into is when the fans who create it forget to leave their fanon at the door when new material becomes available. Whether that’s the next movie in the franchise, new books set in the same world, or just a new season of the show, it’s hard on the fandom to make their own fanon and the new bits of canon to mesh sometimes. Long hiatuses make this worse, fyi. It’s why whenever I write fanfic for an unfinished series or I’m reading something in a fandom that is always evolving, I try to keep that in mind. It prevents me from being completely disappointed. It also gives me a refuge if the writing jumps a shark or two. (I refuse to acknowledge Season 8 of Game of Thrones unless it is to call out the mess and bad behavior and how nothing has changed. I literally only watched the series for Dany.)

So what can we interpret this all for as writers? Well, for one thing, it’s gonna happen. You just have to accept it, be amused by it when people ask you questions about it, but otherwise avoid participating in it. The other? Know where to have an answer and where to back away, which comes back to my Law of Writing: never lie to your fanbase. If you haven’t thought of a particular aspect of a character, admit to that if asked, and say it hasn’t come up yet and you wouldn’t want to make a decision without all your notes in front of you. Admit if something is a spoiler for later if it comes up. Some fans hate spoilers with a passion and want to see things in context. And too many spoilers, not only does it raise expectations to unrealistic level, but the fanon can work against you and come up with stuff waaaaay better than your own. (Again, looking at you Miraculous Ladybug and Zag.)

Or if it’s a fun detail that hasn’t come up yet in the books and is just extra, or you happen to know it…tell them. Yes, it’ll feed the fanon or maybe contradict it, but like I said, it’s going to be there regardless. The little facts can create whole spin-offs of ideas and thoughts, especially if your series is finished but you are writing in the same world. But J.K. Rowling has made a name for herself as being the worst example of this. Know when to back away and go, “You know, this is inappropriate for the age demo of these books,” or in her case, I swear she’s just making random stuff up as she thinks it up, which is hell on the rest of us since very bit takes away from the magic that we grew up with and makes it…more like the dirty reality we live in.

Anywho, that’s a whole bag of salt to unpack on another day. I just wanted to take a chance to talk about something I’ve been seeing on tumblr in a couple different fandoms. I’ll be back next week with…something, not sure what yet. Maybe review the new Fast and Furious spin off? It has Hobbs, I’m bound to be amused…


Tabletop RP: Let us play dragons, you cowards!

This is a personal complaint, but I can’t be the only one who gets frustrated about this mechanic in Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder, which if I am understanding correctly, stopped even including after 3.5. That’s the level adjustment to actually let players play dragons. You would think a game called Dungeons and Dragons would encourage encountering and playing with dragons, but really outside of encounters as enemies or people you have to persuade to help you, you don’t actually deal with dragons much unless your DM is kind.

And this drives me nuts.

I want to play a damn dragon! It is not my fault that they’ve overpowered their dragons to the degrees that they have. There has to be a way to create a scaled-back, but still reasonably powered, race of dragons that the player can play in combination with a class, even if it’s as simple as only allowing certain classes (like sorcerer and a few others) that have bloodline variants to dragons anyway.

There are two points that everyone who thinks I might be needlessly whining are going to bring up: Dragonborn/Half Dragons (let’s be honest, there’s not a huge amount of difference outside of lore and a few stats/attributes), and the level adjustments of older versions of the tabletop games. For some people, this may serve as a fix. For me, eh. I have issues with both.

First, the Dragonborn/Half-Dragon idea. It’s not a bad one. As they grow more powerful, depending on classes, they can become more and more draconic in appearance. It’s a peace offering, a way to try and let people play dragons without the power dynamic problems. Except it isn’t an actual dragon. I get stuck on this, because there’s a ton of world building that goes into most of the races and creatures. The Dragonborn/Half-Dragon cultures aren’t the same as the clans of dragons themselves, and each color of metallic has their own culture within themselves, and we don’t get to see it hardly at all as players. I want to tap into that, not just into looking aesthetically like a dragon.

3.5 did allow players to play dragons… to a point. If you were playing in a campaign that started at later levels (or had a pay off system that your DM arranged), you could play as a dragon. But the problem was that a) it wasn’t consistent between the colors of dragon as far as what you could play as age-wise, b) it was a high level adjustment because most campaigns didn’t start you past level 5, and those were pretty rare, and c) they were only for the stupid-young dragons. I mean, stupid-young. I’m talking freshly hatched to before puberty is even a dot on the horizon ages. Under ten in a human, ages.

Speaking as someone who has played that young of a character before in a joke campaign, it is so hard to get into the right mindset. Not to mention having a child-like character in the party can be super frustrating for the rest of the party. And at that age, per the own descriptions in the books, the baby dragons would want to stay close with their siblings, and there are at least two eggs. So what the heck is the party going to do with two of them? And that’s if you can convince one of your friends to play as your sibling, which is…very dependent on personalities.

By bending the rules a little bit (and starting our campaign stupid high in terms of level so the DM could be sure he wasn’t going to kill us), I’ve gotten to play Jadzia, a silver dragon sorceress. She is still, maturity speaking, about the same as a twelve year old human. I can play off her maturity versus her actual age a lot…but you know, my inner sap would really like to have to be dealing with being old enough to arrange her contract to a male, and how all her adventuring is affecting it, like how one of my fellow players is experiencing with their princess-rank character. I can’t expect it to happen like at all though, because of the age mechanics have pushed me down to, and I’ve made peace with it for this campaign…but it sucks that there isn’t even an option or mechanic if we wanted to.

I’m not sure what the answer is. Both of the current “solutions” have their pros and their cons, from a pure, “I want to play a dragon of some sort,” stand point. From my wants and desires, neither meets what I want. One solution is to use homebrew and playtesting with 5e or something to figure out how to make it work for an older dragon, or how running a campaign for all dragon characters would work. (Which is a possible solution, but I’m supposed to DM the first 5e campaign for our group, so still wouldn’t get to do what I wanted since I wouldn’t be the player.)

On the other hand, it would be a hell of a lot easier for the folks behind Dungeons and Dragons to come up with an expansion or something similar to let people like me have our fun with the dragons without it being a battle/counter diplomacy mess.


Writing: On Historical Horsemanship…

Odd little mini-rant time. (It came up somewhere else, and honestly I don’t see this compiled anywhere? Writers need resources!) So you have things set in a pre-autonomous vehicle time period, or at least the only one that exists is the train and it don’t go everywhere. Your hero has two options: his own two feet, or buy a horse. What does this mean for your timeline and what sort of details do you need to know?

First things first: please do not go by Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder. They don’t know how horses actually work, I swear, and it’s not worth the fight to try and make their mechanics apply to your story. (Seriously had to have a convo with a DM about why a harness isn’t helpful in a riding situation. It wasn’t his fault, the entry was just written very poorly and I was like, “My inner equestrian is offended.”) They also tend to box horses into neat categories, which allow me to laugh uproariously over that. If only it were that simple.

So what do you need to know? Okay, so let’s go into some pretty broad categories and we’ll go from there. You have a general, all purpose horse. A riding horse, something bred specifically for good paces and pretty looks. Your war horses, these are trained for combat situations and usually are some ugly buggers, so be prepared. And then your cart horses, which again come in two sorts depending on how heavy your load is. Yes, there are ponies, no, unless your character is under the age of 13 or so (or has never ridden before, period), they won’t be riding them. Being mounted on an actual horse was a really big thing for the nobility, the younger the better.

(There are multiple official terms I could be floating around here, but I’ll be honest. Most are French thanks to the Norman invasion of England. If you are writing before that invasion or in almost any other country, those terms would just sound weird.)

Your general all-purpose horse is just that. It can be trained to pull a cart or buggy, it can be trained to carry a person on saddle or serve as a pack horse.  Usually a combination of all three. This is what most merchants and lower owned, if they owned one at all. This horse would come up to about the chin of a grown-man, so around 15 hands or 5 feet tall. Unlike our current breed books, medieval horse breeders literally did not give a fig about colors, so they came in everything.

Now for your stupid expensive horses. A rich merchant might have nice riding horses, the nobility definitely would, but the war horses are going to be limited to those who serve in your military, whether that’s nobility or a combination of classes. Riding horses are leggy with good proportions, high spirits, and can turn on a dime. They can be the same height as a general horse, but they can also be taller, up to 18 hands, because of their legs. Warhorses, on the other hand, were stout, with lots of muscle and tended to look short in the waist and kinda awkward to watch outside of specific maneuvers. They were also remarkably calm animals, unless you threatened their rider and then all hell broke loose. Please note, these horses usually topped out at 16 hands. They weren’t tall, just strong.

So what should your horse be wearing? Believe it or not, you’re going to want to check out Western gear, it’s the closest analog we’ve got. A simple bit with headstall (no chin strap) is in line with what they wore as basics (unless you want to get fancy), and a Western saddle without a horn or quite as wide stirrup leg is more in line with what a medieval saddle tree would look like. Note, a jousting saddle would actually have an even higher front and back. They had breast collars, which I think is a very important tool because horses have slick backs. You wouldn’t see much of the fancy barding or cloth coverings outside of a joust, they just did nothing but make the horse hot.

So who is riding these horses and how fast? Having a horse at all was an expensive enterprise, but most families owned at least one because you had to get the produce to market somehow, and horses were faster than oxen (and oxen or mules weren’t always available). Please note, women would ride astride just like men. That’s why you’ll see skirts with riding slits–gaps in the fabric in the front and the back. This would let the fabric part enough to let the women sit comfortably in the saddle. The only type of side saddle that existed was basically a chair on a horse who would be led, as seen here in the Russell Crow version of Robin Hood, being used by an elderly Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Side Saddle

As for speed, well, you have options. The fastest two are the ones you’ll use in a chase scene, because they are literally only good for short bursts. A canter or lope will run you 12-15 miles per hour, and a full-out run will get you anywhere from 20 to 30 miles an hour, it just depends on the horse. But remember, short bursts. I’m talking half a minute at a run, you’d get about two minutes max at a lope, and that’s being probably overly generous. Your best bet is to alternate the slower of the two gates, trotting and walking. A trot runs about 8-12 miles per hour, and a walk is around 4 miles per hour. Some horses have what are called ambling gaits, but they slot in with canter and trot pretty seamlessly in terms of speed, they are mostly about comfort of the rider. Assume you are going to travel about 30 to 40 miles a day.

(As a note, that’s about how often you need a small roadside inn or tavern on a road. Despite what most DnD campaigns tell you, people didn’t camp out on the road very much. Even if it’s a farm that opens its barn up to travelers, there is a place to sleep for a bit of coin somewhere without camping.)

…Hopefully my horse nerd-knowledge is helpful, I just like having it all in one blog post instead of digging through seven different Wiki articles and tumblr.


Tabletop RP: Picking My Character Class

Okay, first of all, if you are a mechanic person who slaps a name, physical description (if that) and back story onto your character right before the session, turn your eyes away! The following post will horrify you!

Because I am a writer first, and damn it, I am going to pick my classes that way.

So what does that mean for me when I approach the table as a player? Well, I find what I want to emphasize. Whether that’s an interesting class, a racial variant, or if I have a personality type that I want to build, I have a “core part” that is my beginning. I’m going to use my newest character (who has yet to start her campaign) as an example. While I was browsing the races out of boredom, I stumbled upon the Vishkanya race for Pathfinder. They seemed pretty interesting, and then I saw they had a rogue archetype called a Deadly Courtesan. This class stayed in the back of my mind, and after Ginny went on a plunge into Indian mythology, I had to apply all of her babble that seeped into my brain somewhere, so I picked the Vishkanya Deadly Courtesan as my core beginning.

That being said, sometimes I’ll start with a concept I want to recreate. Hekate was actually me wanting to play a (sane) version of Diva from Blood + …she then spiraled off into her own thing, but that’s what I started with, and then she turned into this darkness specialist and I am now helplessly amused by her. Sometimes I have a personality or appearance first. I sketched out this emo-esque medieval character with some interesting jewelry, and eventually that person morphed into Jadzia as she was developed.

Alright, I have my core. Now I need to do a little fleshing out. If I don’t already have a class, this is where I figure out what class fits my core, what race, what variants do I want to apply? (This is where Hekate’s darkness specialty started.) I’m not building the character so much, because I’m not rolling stats or figuring out feats or buying items, but I’m getting a broad overview of my character. This will help me make the decisions later about skills and feats and everything else, so it’s a really important part of the character building process.

With my new rogue, I started by picking out where she was from, so I’d know what culture to do. Of the options at the time (which since shifted but my background survived), the one that made the most sense for what the heck I was doing so far from where my people would normally be, especially considering the core of a Deadly Courtesan, was for her to be a slave in a large empire. I started pulling every bit of culture I could find on the web for both the country and for her people, trying to get an idea of what her life would be like. And then I went digging for names that fit that culture. Danika. No last name.

With a name and her concept now firmly filled out in my head, I start with the mechanics. I start rolling stats, deciding what the key stats were going to be, and throwing in skill points to the skills that I think make the most sense. For a bit of random, I rolled some dice to establish her height and her weight, which ended up giving me a big clue as to her story. I mentioned to my DM that I wanted her to be literate only in her people’s language, though she can speak Common. I also decided she wasn’t just a slave, but a very recently escaped slave, based off of how underfed she was (her height and her weight were not in proportion at all), and as a result I gave her a bare minimum of supplies. I took a few Traits, just to make things interesting, and a racial variant. Since Deadly Courtesan is a bit odd, sort of a rogue/bard hybrid, I had to pick some performances. Thanks to mine and Ginny’s Lindsey Stirling obsession, those picks seemed obvious.

And then it was time for feats. Ya’ll, I suck with feats. Thankfully, because I was running Hekate around this time, I knew a bit about what I wanted to do to at least start with. I have no intention of making Danika a duplicate of a rogue I’m already running, but there are just some basics that it can’t hurt to take. I hate cross bows, so no point to the archery side of things. So Weapon Finesse and Two-Weapon Fighting it was. Planning the rest is going to have to wait until I see where the story took us, and which parts of her character I need to emphasize. (My fellow player is thinking we should take all the Teamwork Feats we can.)

So that’s the icky mechanic side done. Now I needed to decide how much fleshing out I wanted to do. Sometimes, I give my DMs a small book. Sometimes, I give them a few sentences. Danika ended up being pretty simple. She’s an escaped slave from Cheliax, very recent. I gave her parents information as well as some of her siblings (I rolled a dice for the number and sex of each, then found names). And that, I decided, was enough. In my head, her personality started to develop. She is very bitter and angry over her people being enslaved, and worse about the position she was pushed and trained into when she was a teenager. Now she’s determined to use those skills to earn her freedom, long enough for her to get her vengeance on all of Cheliax. So while she will dance and play for crowds to earn her dinner, any one stupid enough to grab her without her consent will find themselves stabbed with one of her poison kunai.

The last touch for me is a doll maker that lets me come up with a picture. Danika ended up with three, because I purchased two different head veils and a reversible cloak to help her hide from those who would turn her in as a runaway slave.

Danika Character Sheet

Danika All

Is this the only way to build a character? Not hardly. Is Vishkanya or Deadly Courtesan some favorite races and classes? Oh heck no. But for me, that’s not how I build my characters for a story, so why would I build them that way for the interactive, storytelling experience of DnD? Instead, I pick something that interests me, that I will enjoy playing.


Writing: What Your Writing Teacher Never Told You About Querying

Alright, buckle in folks, time to pour some tea and make a salt circle that is probably going to get me in loads of trouble later. But there’s some things that current professors don’t know about the querying process, because most of them have had agents for at least the last five to ten years, and thus aren’t aware of some of the new quirks. Let me tell you the myth as I heard it. Be prepared for lots of rejections, insert Stephen King story about the railroad spike here. Feel lucky to get even one agent’s attention, and then you can shop later once you have proven your books sell. Your relationship with your agent should be like finding a spouse, so feel free to be a little choosey and patience.

Let’s tackle this bit by bit. Let’s start with the rejections. I am going to say 60 to 75% of the time, you aren’t going to get a response at all. The silence is meant to be a rejection, but for those with outrageously long wait times, that can be painful as all get out. Sometimes, you’ll at least get an auto-response saying that your query was received and here’s how long you’ll have to wait, but don’t bet on it being accurate. The only part that is accurate is expect lots of either returned or ignored type rejections. There’s even more agents now than ever, so you’ll have a huge field to go through. You definitely need to verify every agent that you run across–there are a lot of predators out there taking advantage of the high numbers of agents.

As for lucky getting an agent… Okay, here’s a weird trend I noticed. Very rarely did anyone I hear squealing on Twitter or QueryTracker say they got one agent. Because the next step after one positive reaction…is tell everyone else that you got an offer. It became clear to me that agents rushed to anything anyone smelled at being decent. All it took was one offer, and you could end up with nine or ten offers because one person took the time to decide your book was worth something. It’s a lot like the pitch events on Twitter, with all the agents flocking to whatever someone else liked. It seems like a lot less investment in one person and a lot more following the pack. But because of this, and publishers only putting out a few new books a year and trusting too much in their best sellers and putting all their money in one basket, it’s a lot harder for good books to get read at all.

As for being choosey and patient, well, I agree with the patient part. I was perhaps overly patient. But choosey? That depends. As part of getting your query letter, synopsis, and first fifty pages prepped, you definitely also need to really boil down what you need from an agent. In my case, I had to have someone who enjoyed some element of fantasy. Everything else, I was a lot more flexible on, but I was aware of the “tags” in case it was on someone’s no list: LGBTA+ friendly, romance could go either way, female protagonist, young adult. Know what an agent absolutely has to have an interest in, and then be aware of the other aspects of your book in case it will turn an agent off. I would also look at other writers’ critique of querying an agent on Twitter or QueryTracker. Writers will usually post warnings, such as people never getting back to you even after you give them a full, or warnings of stuff going on in agent’s personal life so have extra patience. But after that? Keep the field as broad as you can. Once you are out of agents, you are out.

Back to me being too patient. I figured out in my process where my line in the sand was, and that was communication. I would wait and wait and wait, as long as the agent kept in touch with me and told me that they weren’t going to meet the deadline they gave me, but here was the updated one. I would wait for months if not a year if you kept in contact with me. Why? Because I understand that life happens. I’ve had the flu twice this year already, and I lost every pet but one last year. I know it dearly. As long as you are talking to me, I will give you the time you need. But ignoring me when I ask for updates after you’ve missed the deadline is now my newest pet peeve ever. I highly recommend that you figure out where your line is, so you can approach queries without it being a frustrating process. As soon as your line is crossed, withdraw your submission and move on.

I’m not really bitter about the querying process. Do I think it’s antiquated? Yes. Do I think it could be a lot better managed? Yes. Will I do it again for White Dragon, Black Lark? …Eh. It’s going to depend on if it is long enough to actually be considered by agents as a book, since most don’t represent novellas. It stands a better chance than Ten, which is the stepping stone of a series and it appears that agents aren’t playing with series anymore. But I will definitely be approaching querying from a different stand point, now that I know how things have changed. I’ll probably do the pitch events first for an initial interest, and then start combing Query Tracker.

Look, getting published is hard. It’s a constantly evolving game. I’m not mad at my professors for not preparing me–they are out of that game, and have been for a while. They all have agents, and can even play against them if they need to because they have the experience and contacts to do so. But someone starting out in this business doesn’t have that, and everywhere you go digging, you’ll find people looking to charge you hundreds of dollars to prep your book for agents, and that’s just crap. Unless your grammar or plot structure is just awful, it isn’t going to do anything except slap a coat of paint over a barn that your agent (if you do get one) will ask you to rebuild anyway.

So just go in with open eyes, and try to see what is trending or starting to trend for agents. I’m not saying write to trend, that’s near impossible. But it will at least let you know if you need to sit on a manuscript until series are big again (or give up and go self-published with that bit), or if fantasy has gone down a weird path you can’t follow and you need to wait for it to swing around your way again…or maybe the weird path is your way and you need to hurry and finish! Keeping your thumb on how the query game is changing is the biggest piece of advice I can give you. Otherwise, you are going to come in confused from the start like I did.