Category Archives: RPG and Writing Tips

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.

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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.


Tabletop RP: My Top 10 Spells

Everyone has favorite spells that they use, and thankfully most of them transition between editions without losing too much of the fun. Some spells are good for causing shenanigans, like Grease, others just do an insane level of damage that is always fun to inflict on enemies. I decided to list 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.

Please note that this list is for arcane casters only, such as wizards, sorcerers, warmages, etc. I’ll do another list of my favorite divine spells later, since I do enjoy playing oracles mixed in with my rogues and sorcerer types. I am also a bit of a blaster-type mage when I have magic (thus why I like warmages so much). My lists rarely have things that just entangle somebody or create alarms, and are more likely to cause maximum amount of damage that fits within the character’s particular theme (because sometimes, you gotta pick something besides fireball because it offends the ice mage).

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
Magic Missile is a must have. It’s a guaranteed hit whenever any enemy is annoying as hell, and you can shape them to reflect your character. I always approve of customization options.
Snowball is a Pathfinder spell of this level that has been a go-to for one of my characters too, it does some decent damage and has additional affects that can go in hand. Perfect for the ice mage, lol.

2nd Level Spells
In your early levels, you are working to maximize your spell selection so not only are you strong in your specialty, but you aren’t completely screwed if your DM throws something your way. Now, Jadzia didn’t bother learning Shatter because one of my party members already had it, but as Psyche, it was one of the first things I picked because if we met a golem, I wanted to be able to fight it. So definitely my first pick for 2nd Level.

3rd Level Spells
…Sadly, my favorite spell is a homebrew creation because I am playing an ice specialist and the DM thought it hysterical to create “Iceball” which functions exactly like Fireball, just with ice. That being said, Fireball is also a great spell, so if your DM won’t go for the giant snow/ice ball of doom, it is your first chance to really start slinging damage around.

4th Level Spells
There’s a series of spells that I used with Psyche that were by far my favorite spells. Different spells, there was one for each element, including Force and Sound, and they had additional affects depending on the element. I loved those damn things, plus I always knew how much damage I was dealing, I just had to look up the effect, and I could cater it to sensitives if the enemy had any.

5th Level Spells
Oddly enough, my favorite 5th level spell is defensive. At this point, I usually have a solid base of offensive spells, and I’m ready for something that not only defends my squish mage butt, but will also help my fellow players. Fire Shield, Mass, gives the entire party a line of defense, as well as attacking enemies.

6th Level Spells
Dude, Chain Lightning all the way. It does lots of damage, it continues to do more damage as you level, and can attack more targets or the same target multiple times. And if you are facing foes in metal armor, it does even more damage. I love it.

7th Level Spells
Here is where it really starts to depend on what problems my mage has run into when fighting. Do we keep getting hoards that attack us and we are way out numbered? Or is it something really big that we have to hammer through? Usually, this is why I take a mass-area spell, because I have enough one-on-one spells and could use a wide-coverage. So go with Fire Storm or something similar.

8th Level Spells
For 8th Level, your spell options really start to narrow down. You don’t learn as many of them, and you don’t get to cast as many times per day for spontaneous casters. For my favorite, gotta go with the multi-tasker and use Great Shout. It’ll damage golems, traps, and other objects, as well as doing a good chunk of damage to enemies even before you apply meta-magic to it.

9th Level Spells
Really, I have only gotten here once before, so it’s harder for me to pick a favorite or one that I am most likely to use. (Jadzia may yet get there and I’ll change my mind, but eh, we’ll see.) Considering the celestial theme that Psyche had going on… Gotta go with Meteor Swarm as my go-to final spell for this list.


Writing: Teenage Characters and Aesthetics

Sponsored by last night’s DnD session and poor Jadzia, who gained two items. Now, for beginning reference, Jadzia is a juvenile silver dragon whose favorite form when she’s shape changed is a late-adolescent human with silver dragon bloodline traits. An elegant goth late-adolescent human. She actually hoards gem stones of a very specific series of colors (no yellows, oranges, bright or true greens although super dark or milky and pale greens are fine, or reds, unless they are the deepest, darkest shades of red like her lipstick), and rejects anything with gold metal work. Her primary hoard items feature star sapphires (her favorite) and are a belt of magical gem stones that fit these rules. She dresses in a flowy pretty dress with vest and corset work to add structure all in black and charcoal grey.

Her first newly gained item last night I tweeted about, a lesser ironward diamond. It basically is a different type of magical gem stone, and being a smokey grey diamond, it fits just fine. The problem is that second item, which as a player, I wanted. I wanted badly. It was a rod of Piercing Cold. This lets me ignore or at least help combat with benefits Jadzia herself has so if we’re ever in a fight against her brothers or other family who we haven’t met yet, I’m not screwed with her being specialized in cold/ice themed spells to a high extent.

The staff part was fine–it was ice blue. The topper, though… The topper was deliberately made to rub her the wrong way. It’s an angry snowman with a knife.

Jadzia was balking so bad, ya’ll. I wanted it, but she was going, “SNOWMAN! NO!” and ugh. It was a long few minutes and we had to poke at dragon greed to get her to take it. Thankfully, her trying to change it to match her aesthetic is actually planned into the DM’s goal for the thing, so no hurt feelings. But there was some confusion when I mentioned the twelve year old was THAT attached to her aesthetic. Some of it was fellow players forgetting, which considering how she normally looks and her usual maturity, it’s hard to remember that she’s only 48 and that’s barely entering puberty by dragon standards. But I think a little bit of it is that for male writers, even the best ones, they don’t quite understand it.

I’m not saying aesthetic isn’t important to pre-teens and teenagers in general. I know for some boys, it’s just as important as breathing. But then I also know that there are people like my brother, who can and will wear warm colors with cool in such a way that if he was doing it with super nice clothes, I’d cringe. Even I can get pretty lax when I’m in casual mode. But for some people, it is life, and the truth is, many of those people are preteen and teenage girls.

Some of that is cultural. We have most of our societal pressure about our appearance pushed onto us as girls between the ages of 11 and 19…which is cruel and unusual, because that is when your hormones and body are doing weird things and you have very little control over anything, yet have to start planning for the rest of your life. Fretting over how you dress and what colors you can’t stand anymore is an easy way to re-establish that control. Some of it is personality. I am naturally an extremely fussy person about color because I can tell dye lots apart even with the smallest of differences, and that’s about the age that people really start taking an interest in fashion, and apply themselves to a very specific look.

As a juvenile dragon, Jadzia is not only in that mindset, she is stuck in it for the next several decades…if not centuries, I’ve not looked at the higher dragon age categories. So for me, I really have to keep it in mind that she is very concerned with appearances and how she is perceived. Particularly with her high level of responsibility, since she’s the most powerful of her clutch and the only female on top of it. She has decided for whatever reason that the gothic look is how she wants to be seen–possibly because she wants to be seen as serious and grown-up, overcompensating for her real place in development. To her, this is just as important as any moral or ethical question she could be put in, because at her age, it is just as important.

In case people still don’t get it, let me explain it in terms of an appropriate holiday metaphor. Intellectually, I can acknowledge that a green, gold, and red Christmas tree is pretty and festive. I will compliment it and may even investigate for reference for a character who might like it. I still want it no where in my home. My Christmas colors are silver and blue and I decorate more with snowflakes and plain deer than Santa Claus or snowmen. (An occasional penguin might sneak by, but shhhh.) Am I so set in my ways that I won’t accept a pretty gift? No. But will that gift actually get hung up in the house? I’ll wait and see if I change my mind, but it’s a no promises situation. I’m also double the maturity level of a teenager.

A lot of male writers do a good job of understanding that this is a thing for young girls, including the guys that I play DnD with. Even some girls don’t experience it and can be confused, depending on how they grew up and their personalities, and then have to try and write it correctly. But sometimes I don’t think writers completely understand it, and that’s what I hoped to try and explain better.

Happy holidays, everyone, and I’ll see you on the cusps of the New Year.


Early Close to NaNo ’18

Well, this is not how I intended my try at this year to go.

Admittedly, 2018 has been a hard year for me. Lost my dog, lost my older cat. And while I am going to keep out details for privacy reasons, I have a relative that it is past the point of dreading a call if it will be bad…and knowing that the next could be the call saying it’s over. My mother had surgery around her throat, which is terrifying. I am going through a rather painful part in your late twenties that no one tells you about, where you no longer have the energy to maintain ALL THE THINGS, especially with difficult relationships. Basically the last, oh, six months or so have either been me being an emotional wreck, or me trying to be emotional support. Sometimes within a week of each other!

But despite all of that, I thought that NaNo would actually help me recharge my batteries. My goals for NaNo are never about the word count. For me, it’s about writing everyday, even if it’s just a few words. It’s about focusing on one project primarily over others. It’s basically calibrating my writing habits so for the next year or so, I am in a better place than I was.

Here is where things went wrong this year. For me, writing is emotional work. You have to have something to start with. And I’m running on empty, between all the sheer crap that has happened in the last six months, in addition to work and all my projects in the fire. I just don’t have the energy. I went through what I had in stores…and ran out. Which now leaves me in a problem of not wanting to write at all, and I have too many projects on the burner to let that happen.

So what’s the solution? Well, I’m calling this year early. I’d rather revert back to posting reviews and commentary once a week than leaving you all with no content for another few weeks. (Plus I have a new Amaranthine Saga book burning in my pocket for a review.) I should know what is going on with Sun’s Guard sometime before the end of the New Year (or so I HOPE, jeebus), and can get a plan/timeline set up accordingly–that dragging out as long as it has is not helping with my stress level. And I can start pulling some irons out of the fire so I’m not so exhausted emotionally that I have no stores.

One thing I’m definitely doing is finishing playing the game and getting graphics for the posts built. I’ve hit the point where I really need to start adding my own side-flavor and arcs to the characters, and until I finish the game, I don’t know where to put them. And with the graphics done, that’s less busywork for me to get distracted with. Also, I can return the game I borrowed, because I’ve had it way too long as it is. That’ll aid my ability to succeed at this whole thing I’m doing.

I hate admitting to something like this. I’m your stereotypical Capricorn–perfectionist, wants to succeed, will push and push and push until the job is done. But that isn’t going to work this time. I’ll stop writing for a huge stretch afterwards if I push to work on Evangeline despite not being a place creatively to do so. (Look at that, we’ve learned since grad school!) But as much as I want to put that story out for you all, it isn’t original work, and as a result, the MMO project with Ginny and (more importantly) my books have to take priority.

There is some sort of Camp NaNo, which I think is like NaNo just in April? Oh well, I can make it work like that, or at least dedicate the month to the Nuzlocke if the timing is right. I’ll keep you all informed if it looks like I’m in any condition to continue then. Hopefully before then I’ll have news on Sun’s Guard: Ten, have finished the first draft and possible edit of Sun’s Guard: Page, and have made some decent progress on the MMO. Come back next weekend for a review!


Character Study: Arianna Silverkin a.k.a. Anna

Anna is probably my favorite of my rogue-types that I’ve played, if only because of how much she’s influenced so many of my other rogues. She really was me pushing myself to play something different than I usually do, and I’ve found that it was a lot of fun! Though calling her a rogue-type is a little…misleading.

Abandoned at a temple dedicated to the goddess of luck, Anna was raised by priests of a different temple that was the goddess of children along with other orphans. But she hated the rules and structure, and quickly fell into a little gang of children thieves. She even got very close to her best friend’s family, making it like the family she’d always wanted. Except there was an accident with the guards, who caught part of the group and killed the rest. Anna did all she could to keep them all alive…revealing that she was a spontaneous divine caster. So rather than sending her to prison, she was handed over to the temples (specifically the same temple she was abandoned as) and forced into getting trained as a cleric, hoping it would turn her towards a better path. (Nope.) She did make a new friend who helped her inch towards respectability, convincing his family to formally adopt her. Though rather than as a child, she insisted on taking the last name Silverkin, to indicate she was just related to the Silvers by law and sentiment than blood.

So for those keeping score at home, she grew up as a rogue, but was trained as a cleric. None of which is what she actually was–a favored soul of the goddess of luck. And, as I managed to pry out of the DM once that campaign fell apart, she is actually the daughter of that goddess.

Part of what made Anna so much fun was her items. I started the campaign later than the other members of the party, and so I had a lot of gold to play with. The results ended up being a bit like a Mary Poppins bag, and was a running joke through the campaign. Between her stash of odds and ends and a case of scrolls that she looted from somewhere, she started to be a little ridiculous. Her spells ended up running the same gambit. Yes, she was a healer, but I occasionally took some spells that had…interesting effects on the plot. (Enthrall has become one of my secret favorite spells ever sense.) She also later ended up with a sword that was tied to her goddess, and eventually grew a little as the story advanced.

(Pause. Okay, I’m getting deja vu, maybe Anna has infected Hekate a lot more than I thought…)

She was also more of a flirt and a downright selfish character than I had ever played in a DnD setting. The poor DM spent a lot of time wrangling Anna, and it was not helped that due to her mercurial nature and identity issues, the other player’s character found her amusing as all get out so he let her get away with a lot or found a way to make it work towards the group…or helped with the wrangling, lol. It was a crazy good time. She also went through a turning point, where she started to treat everything more seriously as she was forced to deal with her guilt and her grief from her past.

At some point, I’d like to play with Anna’s story a little. There was a lot of need for her goddess in the city where Anna grew up, and there’s a part of me that is intrigued by what happens after she finishes her journey (and level path) and becomes fully her mother’s daughter. What happens when she returns to her home, to try and make it better in anyway she could? I even have an image in my head of what demi-goddess Anna looks like, and some of the struggles that she most likely would have.

Anna really gave me my courage to play a bolder character than my prior types, since while Chocho was bubbly (and admittedly annoying) and Bevan was my go-to, silent and efficient. It’s not something I want to do a lot, because uh, that’s uncomfortable. And I do prefer to do it with Skype/Steam campaigns rather than in person. Because I will turn into a tomato. (Or at least do a very good impersonation of one.) I’m pushing myself to try something in Anna’s vein, just a lot more angsty, but you know, we’ll see how that goes. But for now, she’s sitting on a shelf, waiting for me to find the right story for her.


Character Study: Carol Danvers

Okay, for the record, this is my version of Carol for my X-Men RP. We obviously don’t know what direction the movies are going to go in, so I can’t make commentary on that yet. But since I play her on the RP and have for several years, with the drop of the new trailer, I thought it a good idea to talk about what I love about the character, and what some of the pitfalls are.

My first introduction into Carol Danvers was actually the animated X-Men cartoon from the 90’s, where she was in a coma and a spectra in Rogue’s head that first hinted at Rogue’s backstory. And that was a really baaaad intro to her, because that version of Carol, for sake of plot, was angry, vengeful, and not very understanding. It was all of her bad traits, and none of her good ones. Many of my early fanfic readings concurred with this interpretation of the character, so I obviously wasn’t her biggest fan.

But then we were figuring out how to do Carol’s plot for our X-Men RP, and since the original plan was to kill Carol, I decided I had better play her in order to avoid upsetting someone. This required me to figure out a lot more about this character and what her overall personality was like. Some of the other cartoons I saw didn’t help much, they fell right in line with what I already knew, but then I started to finally hit a groove that helped me understand the character better. (Reading the Mockingverse fanfiction for the MCU has helped confirm that, the writer does an excellent job with Carol.)

What I found was a very confident and yet self-aware person. She had to be, in order to thumb her nose at the idea that she wasn’t going to have her parents’ help to go to college because she was a girl, which got her into the Air Force and finding her love of flying. It was really easy for me to weave in a fear of being found out about being a mutant into that background (we have a firm no-alien policy in the RP, so her powers became a mutation rather than alien shenanigans). Her confidence and leadership abilities are a completely unapologetic part of her personality–she will take control of a situation if someone else doesn’t beat her to it, and even if they do, if they are going to be a dumb ass about it, she’s going to stage a coup.

So bossy and vengeful is how an outsider would view this character if they didn’t like her, right? Except that still wasn’t the complete picture of Carol, and boiling her down to just that isn’t fair. It’s part of why she comes across as either a great character or a pretentious bitch, the latter happens when writers stop at the worst of her personality traits and her leadership capabilities. Because while she is all these things, there is also a layer of humor and playfulness that while we only see flashes of it or too much of it in other heroes in Marvel, Carol has it in this perfect balance with the rest of her personality that knows when to be serious and when she can relax with her friends.

Mind, Carol’s humor also usually lines up with mine. It’s sass and sarcasm, teasing and ruffling feathers in ways that won’t offend someone to having a fit, which requires a very good perception of personalities. I’ve also made her an absolutely outrageous flirt if she’s interested in someone, something that she’s currently been keeping toned-down for her interest’s sensibilities, but since he’s being a doofus, she’s going to have to take the lid off and push him a bit.

Alright, now to some specifics here to the RP. What part of Carol’s power set stayed? I wanted to avoid overpowering here, since we are working with the idea that mutants come in classes, with Class 5 like Phoenix, Rogue, and Remy being very rare, and that’s normally where Carol’s powers would lump her. Of all the classes we had (err, I had, I world-built like a nut), we really didn’t have someone with a Class 2 mutation–something completely totally passive, with Class 1 being a purely physical mutation such as Hank’s blue fur or Kurt’s appearance. So I kept her super strength, flight, and six-sense of immediate danger/threats for her mutation, sending the rest to the trash bin, and made them all passive mutations. What that means is Carol doesn’t know when her physical, muscular strength turns into her mutation’s super strength, and that if she goes to jump, she might also fly.

(Yeah, I cut all her energy absorption/bolts/redirection. It was way too similar to other X-Men powers that we already had, and like I said, Carol can very easily lean towards overpowered, so some nerfing was required.)

I mentioned a love interest up above, but I highly recommend not looking too much into it. Carol Danvers doesn’t have much going for her as far as romance is concerned, which you know, I’m actually okay with? She’s had a lot of bad luck, but I think it’s great that she has all of this story going on for her without romance being a key part of it. But I’ll be honest, romance is what saved her from death in the RP. For some bizarre reason that I can’t remember, I decided to give her an unrequited crush on Hank McCoy, a.k.a. Beast. And now this has blossomed into a whole THING, and while I am about crying in amusement over what happens to get them from Point A to Point B, it is also the crackiest of all crackships, and I’m okay with that.


Writing: Thoughts on Love Squares and Other Shapes

Maybe it’s because I was sucked into Miraculous Ladybug Season 1 like the sappy nerd I am, maybe it’s the fact that Caley (through no fault of her own) ends up in a love-shape drama. But I’ve been pondering on this trope, and why it is awesome and yet awful all at once (because it can be both!).

Why are these things so friggin’ popular? Well, some of it is that I believe we (both the writers and the audience) like to see the characters suffer before they get their chance at happiness. Otherwise, there isn’t much investment in what happens in the end. There is also the fact that no matter how well you do your job to convey the characters, they are still moderately malleable to the reader, who may see the protag better with Love Interest A or Love Interest B or the random character in the diner in chapter three–which is how shipping wars are born. It is the reader’s prerogative and can’t really be argued with (George Lucas tried).

The hardest part about writing a love-shape comes in two parts. On one hand, you have to keep the feelings conveyed as being sincere. If the reader/audience stops believing the love interest really cares for and about the protag, the ship is sunk. This can, however, be a useful tool for the second part–resolving all sides of the love-shape-of-choice. No one can be left hanging alone and heartbroken, but it has to be done in a way that makes sense. You also have to either ease the audience into getting in the same OTP boat (fat chance) or use a shocking event to drive a big wedge between participants.

I am very cautious about the shocking event part of the trope. It can be a good plot point, or it can come out of left field entirely. A good example of the latter is the original Star Wars trilogy, thus my digs at Lucas. The shippers weren’t letting Luke/Leia go, so she was turned into his twin sister (and the writer has since tried to retcon this as being his original intent, which makes it worse really). Did it make Han/Leia easier? Yes. Did it make a  lot of sense? No, but it’s Lucas. Lucas can’t keep any of his shit straight.

As much as it kills me to give the series any good press, the sparkle-vampire series actually did a better job of the surprising event. The wedding put a nail in the werewolf-shippers’ coffin, and while its way of resolving all the sides was full of ick, she did resolve them. This doesn’t comment on any of the other numerous problems, but the writer knew how to manage the relationships to milk the drama. I will say her stand alone book (last I checked it was stand alone, anyway), The Host, actually handled the resolving the sides a lot neater, and in a way that was both sad and satisfying.

This gives shows like Miraculous an interesting twist. One of the sides is suddenly two, and makes things so much more complicated. But this can quickly go from humerous and cute to stressful and frustrating for the characters and audience members alike. I think ending the love-shape is a clear sign the series is ending as a whole, because it resolves a plot-line and eases some of the tension. But you could phase it into new drama, depending on the situation, making it more of a season-ender than series as a whole.

Now we get to the worst example of that. Comic books. I don’t care if it’s DC or Marvel, they are notoriously bad about breaking up characters in established relationships on a whim, whether it’s by killing characters for emotional impact, moving the survivor on, and then bringing the victim back to life, or just causing really dumb out of character responses to drama, it’s a vicious cycle. Now, I will say that some of the characters, they make it actually work–Remy and Rogue have never exactly been “easy to handle” in terms of personality, and both are hot-heads. Them going hot-and-cold makes sense. And if the Bartons had divorced much earlier (rather than the shitty timing of it, especially with Bobbi coming off of a form of PTSD and the list is a mile long on the bad set up here), they also would have made sense–they got married within days! Obviously that didn’t happen, but you know, benefit of the doubt here this once.

But others are just flash fiction for no reason. Why? Because some writers just don’t know how to keep the tension going if they are in a long-running series. And that’s fine! If you don’t know how to handle them, you don’t know. But that’s what blogs like this for, and others who are more knowledgeable than me. My biggest advice is this: remember that love squares are tricky to manage, so plan accordingly. Know how it’s resolving, and when and in what way/fallout if you can. If you get an unexpected extension, evaluate what happened previously with your love square. Are there still underlying trust issues? Did someone go from attracted to one person to another, because that’s grounds for serious jealousy problems. Does someone have bad habits or experiences that are coloring the relationship? Falling in love and winning their affections in return isn’t the solution to your problems–it’s only the beginning.


Writing: Unicorns Need a Publicist

…Okay, stay with me on this one.

While I spent the last weekend sick, I had time to do some musing on my novel getting type-casted as being middle-grade, despite knowing my prose is at 9th grade reading level, my main characters are seventeen (if sometimes decidedly immature, but…teenagers), and while the goblins are ridiculous, the hobgoblin is a real threat. I also knew most of the elements I used in my query/first 10 appear in other YA and even adult fiction books, so it couldn’t be them. What did that leave me with?

Unicorns.

Now, I don’t know about all of you, but I grew up watching The Last Unicorn on repeat from the ages of 6 or 7 till…present. I love that movie. I can quote that movie from memory, and I’m due for a rewatch. And I can quote most of the Butterfly’s speech at that. Around 10, I found Bruce Coville’s A Glory of Unicorns and then his Unicorn Chronicles series. (I discovered The Unicorns of Balinor too young for it to click with me, the shortness started driving me nuts.) As a teenager, I kept hoping unicorns would feature more prominently in the Harry Potter series or in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books since they keep getting name-dropped along with the werewolves. I read the Acorna series by McCaffery, but it wasn’t the best thing ever since it was very much sci-fi and that isn’t my cup of cocoa most of the time (plus I got bored about the time the lead got a girl and gave up).

And now as an adult writer who keeps getting told her YA book is too MG in sheer concept, I have to wonder. At one point was it decided that after the age of 12, we no longer like unicorns? That they are meant to be cutsey and wootsey and pretty, but we have to grow up and start liking “serious” books that talk about the world around us, or that if we must do fantasy, shouldn’t we read about dragons, who can be both good or bad or neither and be beasts or companion?*

When I googled unicorns, I didn’t pull up images of Amalthea. I didn’t pull up pictures of fantasy artwork featuring them, like the poster that was in my childhood bedroom up until my mother sold her house four years ago. I didn’t even pull up pictures from old medieval texts, where they were trying to hash together what a unicorn looked like, and boy, were those a mess.

I pulled up My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic characters. I pulled up cute, stout little chibi figures. I pulled up rainbow and glitter silhouettes. I even pull up a couple of collections of Unicornos, a collection of figurines big out of Asia with different crazy designs that reminds me of MLP in a lot of ways. Or I pull up the horn with a smile and big eyelashes underneath, which is the latest fad, particularly for these “unicorn” cakes. Worse, I pull up super cheap figurines and stuffed toys that are fine for those about age 9 and younger, but any older and you will get some funny looks.

This strikes me as odd. Now, I liked the first two seasons of MLP, but let me tell you, I’d have never admitted to that in high school. (Especially since the show got increasingly juvenile after Faust left.) And as for what I did have… Amalthea faced hardship, and had to change the fundamental core of what she was in order to save the others. Lightfoot and his people went to war, so people could continue to be happy, could continue to have art and music and joy to their lives, for without them, humans were a sad, miserable lot. I wasn’t embarrassed about enjoying those characters, because I knew that they could withstand the scrutiny. Yes, I was able to immerse myself in a fantasy about unicorns, about creatures called to young girls mostly, but they weren’t these one-dimensional ideas, they were actually people with personalities and flaws and growth.

So that now leaves me with a question. Has the world changed? Have teenagers decided they are too old for unicorns, that they don’t need the ideals but instead need the dark and the gritty reality of their world, or only knights and dragons? Or have we, the adults, just decided that they don’t need it anymore? That it’s just a security blanket of childhood, and that there is no depth to be found there?

I hope it’s the latter, and that we can change it. Because I don’t know about you all, but I still need unicorns. I still need to believe in something fundamentally good…even if some of them are jerks, like Moonshine, or a little too interested in fighting, like Sunny will grow up to be.


Tabletop RP: 3.5 versus Pathfinder

My group had mostly been playing Dungeons and Dragons v 3.5 when we first started out. And like any game, you play it enough times you start finding holes in the nuances of the game. Not necessarily flaws, I hesitate to say that, but rather places that because the writers/creators were so deep in the woods, they couldn’t see the trees. (Hey, it happens to all of us, even me! That’s why I have a dev-partner.)

But when the difference in classes (some of it admittedly on my shoulders, I didn’t do as much in-depth research on classes, I just picked something fun to try) started biting us in the butt and making the power balance between players kinda funky. So after a couple campaigns, we decided to try Pathfinder. There was a bit of a learning curve, because not everything is the same, but we quickly fell into using it.

So what are some of the key differences between the two? Like we moved over for, the big thing is classes. Things progress a little faster–you get more feats in general, there are more traits to classes to try and balance them out. They also introduced archetypes and variations, so you don’t have to bounce around and multi-class, take prestige classes, and God knows what else in order to build the type of characters you want. Fighters, rogues, and some of the other fighter based classes got evened out with the sorcerers, clerics, and other magic classes in later levels.

Bad side: prestige classes are basically useless at this point. I haven’t seen a single one that was worth the buy-out for advancing through a prestige rather than continuing into the upper levels of the class I was already in, at least in my current campaigns. (I made a character to deliberately aggrevate one of Ginny’s werewolves who hosts a DnD session.) And if you do need to do a multi-class character, you are screwed, the new system is so messed up. We honestly homeruled it out and said just to use 3.5, because otherwise it’s almost impossible.

What about races? There was a somewhat complicated way of figuring out if a race was playable in 3.5, I rarely messed with it because it was all the eww. I wanted to keep things simple for my own insanity. Pathfinder makes it much easier, helping identify what creatures are possible player characters as well as introducing a bunch of new races to play. I played several outside of my elven standards, and had fun with them all, for different reasons, in different settings.

That being said, some of it seems…random? I remember certain creatures being playable in 3.5 that aren’t available in Pathfinder, I guess to prevent being over powered. But the big one (my silver dragon) wasn’t that powerful with her base classes helping her out, not when you weighed in how much she paid in levels in her class in order to be that race. And some of it is very…weebo. I mean, I enjoyed playing a kitsune, don’t get me wrong, but in combination with a lot of stuff that was added to Pathfinder, it definitely feels like it is catering more to anime, I want to play a ninja/samurai/whathaveyou like out of such-and-such show, rather than the more traditional fantasy crowd of usual Dungeons and Dragons. I don’t mind the representation, I mind that it seems more like catering to a particular fanbase instead of acknowledging another world culture.

What about the worlds in general? Well, general rule of thumb, we tended to play Homebrew worlds for 3.5. I don’t think I even ever learned the “official” canon of the world for 3.5. And while we sometimes headcanon something or adjust a rule to suit our playing styles better, for the most part, we are playing Pathfinder a lot more straight to the actual information in the books. So I can’t really comment on whether the world-building/religion is better or not.

As for mechanics, not a lot has changed, and even if one thing is easier, something else is more difficult. On one hand, yay, there isn’t this ridiculousness of seeing something but you don’t hear it, everything is tied to Perception. On the other hand, I have no idea what this CMB or whatever it’s called is. (Which is bad, I am currently playing a rogue!) So for every step forward, there was a step back in terms of general mechanics. I prefer elements of both…and still hate non-spontaneous spell castors, so really, there wasn’t a huge enough difference for me to reconsider how things work and slate my preference.

So what is the end result? Well, we haven’t fully converted. My solo campaign with the rogue is being run Pathfinder, as is a future campaign with another rogue-variant type. But my silver dragon is being played in a campaign that mixes elements of both 3.5 and Pathfinder together depending on what is easier/suits the character better, which I think is brilliant, though there are obviously still issues. That one is also being run with Greek mythology for the religion, it’s awesome. And as for me… I’m going to look into Dungeons and Dragons v 5 to see if it’s any good for running a short campaign.