Friday, May 28, 2010

Nope, I lied.

No Storyteller post this week. But next week I'm guest blogging at Savvy Authors, and that'll be fun. For now, I give you this:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Postponed

This week's Storyteller blog is postponed until tomorrow. It's been a bad week, and I haven't had the time to finish it up. Sorry!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday is Made of Fail

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Today has not been a good day. Therefore, I give you this video, which shows what I have to look forward to.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Storyteller: Using Stats to Create Balanced Characters

Today is the first of the character creation section, and like any RPG, we’re starting with character stats. For the uninitiated, a character’s stats are the bare bones of what they’re good at, usually divided into categories like strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution and charisma (a sample blank character sheet is below, which I found here). New characters are either given a number of points to distribute across these stats, or the player makes a set of dice rolls to determine them.



Each character class relies on a specific stat, and that’s the stat that needs the highest number—wizards need high intelligence in order to cast more spells, fighters need high strength to deal more damage, etc. But unless you rolled really well, your character is going to be good at some things and average or below average at others. For example, we have my warlock in World of Warcraft.



Her stats are inside of the red box, with her main stats in green. You’ll notice that while she’s strong in stamina, intellect and spirit, her strength and agility are pathetic. This is normal of a spellcaster. She can rain down hellfire, but she can’t really fight hand-to-hand. (And isn’t that robe ugly?) Though a warrior might be strong enough to slay every orc in the room, he can’t cast spells or heal his wounds. This is where the importance of a group comes in: each character has a specific role, and together they’re a strong unit that can clear out any dungeon.

In terms of writing, one character’s weaknesses should be balanced by another character’s strengths. In romance you’ll often see this as the big, burly hero protecting the delicate flower heroine from danger, but she’ll be smart enough to figure out a clue that the hero can’t. While that’s a cheesy example, the point is that the hero and heroine are stronger together than they are apart (think “You complete me”). Deciding what the character’s strengths and weaknesses are can help you, the writer, figure out what they need to work on in the course of your story and what they can learn from each other.

I’m going to go through each stat, and as you read it think of what number you’d assign to your heroine, 1 being the worst, 10 average, and 20 the best. (Yes, you can have higher than 20 in a d20 system, I know, but we’re starting simple here.)

INT: Intelligence and wisdom often get confused, but to boil it down, intelligence is book smarts. If you’re good at Jeopardy! you have a high intelligence. This stat determines how many spells a wizard can know, how many he/she can cast, and how much extra damage the spell does. In traditional epic fantasy terms this is the wizard that carries a spell book and is well versed in arcane knowledge. Need a spell to open a magic door? There’s an app for that. Err, I mean he’ll have the spell for that. If your magic users need to do a great deal of studying, they should have high INT. If you’re looking to make a wizard’s life difficult, give him an average INT. Then he’ll have to work twice as hard.

WIS: Wisdom is street smarts, but it’s also knowledge of the natural world. Druids and clerics typically use wisdom for their magic—they don’t need to go to Hogwarts to study, because their wooj is natural or divine. Like the Force. Though casters often have high numbers in both stats (like my warlock’s INT and SPIRIT), they don’t always go hand-in-hand. The husband and I often joke about characters that are high INT but low WIS, like a character who figures out the difficult mystery but doesn’t think twice about walking alone down the dark alleyway.

CHA: Charisma covers a lot of bases. It’s the oomph behind a paladin’s holiness, the power of a bard’s performance, and the fast-talking persuasion of a thief’s bargaining. It’s a character’s good looks, and their ability to be charming. Every character needs a lot of this, right? Well…no. For a romance writer it’s easy to fall into the trap of having a hero who is the most gorgeous and charming man on the face of the earth or the heroine who is stunningly beautiful. Charisma doesn’t necessarily mean good looks; it can mean a strong presence. Someone who commands attention. Someone who people want to be around.

DEX: Dexterity. Every rogue’s friend; it’s the thing that makes her quick like a bunny. Need to pick a lock, throw a dagger, shoot a bow or dodge an attack? Then you need high DEX. This is for characters who are quick and wiry, not strong and brawny. In some games this is called agility (like in the WoW stats above). If you have a low DEX, you’re clumsy. Awkward. I’ve often read stories where the hero or heroine is clumsy as a way to make them imperfect. “Oh he’s gorgeous and smart, but he’s a klutz.” Yeah…resist the temptation, my friends. It’s been done.

STR: Strength, for when you need to slaughter every orc in the room. High STR lets your Wookiee tear the arms off people when he doesn’t win. It lets your hero pick up the heroine, throw her over his shoulder, and haul her back to his man cave o’ love. Low STR makes your heroine hit like a girl when she protests. If a character ends up with low STR, like a wizard who doesn’t need it, you might want to consider story reasons explaining why he/she doesn’t have it. Are they nobility, and thus manual labor is beneath them? Was your heroine born petite, and no matter how hard she works out she just can’t manage a bodybuilder’s physique?

CON: Constitution. No, not the document. We’re talking a person’s physical health. A high CON means you have a boatload of hit points and will be able to make it through a long battle. A low CON means you’re going to need a medic before you bleed to death after two hits. Or one hit. (I’ve had that happen in WoW, one minute you’re casting a spell and the next bam! Dead!) In romance, heroes tend to have a high CON, and heroines have a low CON (how many heroines have you seen get bonked over the head by a bad guy and are out like a light?). Constitution is also related to a character’s endurance and stamina. If she is swimming or running a great distance then she’ll get a CON check to make sure she can keep going and not collapse.

Reader participation time! Take one of your characters and assign them stats, and post it in the comments. You have 75 points to spend. I’ll start: Catherine Baker—INT 15 (she’s college educated and knows a thing or two about magic), WIS 12 (she’s not as street smart as she thinks she is), CHA 17 (if by charisma you mean snark, because Cat has some good lines), DEX 14 (she can handle a rapier by the end of the book, but she’s no expert), STR 9 (yeah, she’s not going to be punching through walls anytime soon), and CON 8 (Cat has a fainting problem, she may need physical therapy).

Next week we talk adding skills, feats, merits and flaws. All the good stuff to specialize your character.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: Ninja Interview



Today I'm being interviewed by author Keith Melton over at the Scribbling Ninjas blog. Prepare yourself to be dazzled by my geekdom. It is epic.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Storyteller: Your Princess is in Another Castle!

That's right, this week's post is over at the blog of the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal chapter of RWA. So you'll have to go there to enjoy it.

Thus our world building saga has ended. Next week will be part one of character creation section. We'll be talking about creating balanced characters. With dice. (Baby needs a new pair of shoes!)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday is RELEASE DAY!

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Today you can own your own shiny, electronic copy of Blood, Smoke and Mirrors, it's on sale at MBaM and Amazon. My mom actually bought a Kindle just to read the ebook (Hi, Ma!), now that's devotion.

To the rest of my family, who are all "What are these ebooks you speak of? Can you eat them?": Calm down, the print version will be out in March. I encourage my family to buy both versions, because if you don't, I may withhold Christmas cookies this year...

I'll be posting excerpts on the Samhain Cafe Yahoo Group today, and the first of two completely different excerpts is now up at the Samhain Spring Showers Promo at Coffee Time Romance. Leave a comment there and you're entered to win free stuff, who can ask for anything more?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Winnah!

As I mentioned in last week's Intarweb Tuesday, my cover was up at the Embrace the Shadows Cover Clash contest. And it won! w00t!

Here's the official word:
Not only did this beautiful cover by the artist Kanaxa win last week’s Clash…it broke our all time record for votes! Congratulations to the artist and the author:D Thorn-Worthy? Definitely!
You can read the whole entry here. Thank you to everyone who voted! I can now proudly display this half-nekkid hot guy on my website:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Storyteller: Creating a Monster Manual

In role playing games, if you’re not a monster, then you’re fighting monsters. Lots of monsters, in fact, because slaying bad guys is a player’s main source of gaining experience and progressing through the game. In my house, not only do we have Monster Manuals for Dungeons & Dragons, we have multiple ones. Monster variety is the spice of life. Also, for the record, even things that aren’t monsters can be found in a Monster Manual, such as angels and unicorns (unless, of course, they’re chainsaw unicorns, then they definitely belong in a MM). For this article I’m going with defining monster as any non-human being/creature/entity, whether it’s good, evil, neutral or any combination thereof.

The most important thing I’ve learned from these books is that monsters should have strengths and weaknesses. I’m going to go through several different types of monsters, but a well known example of this is the vampire (my favorite). Traditional vampires have, as a gamer might say, “kewl powerz.” They can fly, they can transform into bats, they can control the minds of minions (like Renfield), and they get all the cute girls. But they have to sleep in coffins, have no reflection, and sunlight makes them go up in smoke. Variations on this list of strengths/weaknesses can be found in just about every creature in every game, and not only does it create balance but it also creates variety. As a writer, your monsters should be distinctive to your setting—beautiful, unique snowflakes.

So let’s get started!

Undead: First, let me say that I own a lot of vampire romance. Shelves and shelves of it, and I bring more home with each trip to the bookstore, so if you’re afraid that vampire romance is dead (…snerk), I say if the story is strong, go with it. Now that that’s out of the way, there are many monsters that fall into the undead category: vampires, zombies, ghosts, ghouls, skeletons, etc. There are a few universal problems with dealing with undead, the most popular (and annoying if you’re not carrying an arsenal) is that because they’re dead, they don’t bleed, so stabbing/slashing weapons are right out, as are most guns (“Don’t shoot him, you’ll just make him mad.”). It’s worse when fighting ghosts, like banshees, because they’re incorporeal and a character needs a blessed or enchanted weapon or a spell to hit them. As for deciding strengths and weaknesses, it depends on how your undead are created. Traditionally undead are vulnerable to sunlight because undead are considered evil, and sunlight is seen as a holy, purifying, life-giving force. But what if your undead are created through biological means—a virus instead of a curse? Is there a cure or vaccine? What if they’re not evil? Maybe they’ve just gotten a bad reputation, and crosses and holy water don’t do a thing to them. Once you’ve decided how they’re made, you can decide how to kill them.

Shapeshifters: Werewolves are a close second to vampires in the paranormal market; I don’t know the stats, so it’s possible that they’ve even overtaken them by now. And it’s not just werewolves anymore, oh no. Werelions, weretigers, werebears, oh my! A whole furry/feathered/scaly rainbow. Whatever form they take, the biggest problem faced by shifters is to shift or not to shift. Old school werewolves were forced to change during the full moon, and in some myths they were actual wolves and in others half-wolf/half-man hybrids. In World of Warcraft there’s a town where the inhabitants are human by day and werewolves by night, and since time in WoW runs the same as realtime, you have to wait for actual nightfall to go whack those werewolves. It’s something to ponder when creating your shifters, because forcing them to change can be a fun way to torment them at inopportune times, especially if they might eat their friends and family while they’re shifted. But it’s also a fairly standard plot device, and if you’re heartset on being different, then you’ll need to come up with a new system, and again, how your shifters are created can determine those sort of details. Shifters affected by a magical curse will not have the same experience as those infected with a virus. The former might have a magical cure, while the latter needs a shot of penicillin.

Demons: I tried to play Diablo. I really did. But I kept getting killed by the Butcher on the first level of the dungeon, and after death 18 I decided the game wasn’t fun and said to hell with it, so I feel my opinion of demons has been tainted ever since. The only positive demon experience I’ve had while gaming was in WoW, where I have a warlock who commands demon pets to slay things for her while she stands around and looks fabulous in her pretty robes. What I’ve learned from her is that every demon is different, like an evil rainbow of diversity. They come in every shape, size, and flavor of attitude (“Can’t you fight your own battles?”). There are very few reader/player expectations of demons, other than the expectation that even if they look normal on the outside, their true form should be ugly, with fangs, horns, or other pointy accessories. This allows for epic author creativity. You want demons who are pink, feathered, and eat only Taco Bell? Go for it! Recently I’ve been reading the Demonica series by Larissa Ione and her demon worldbuilding is amazing. It’s also very complex, which I take as a good example of if you’re going to build an intricate world then you as an author need to take equally intricate notes, if only for your own reference. She includes a glossary in the books to help the readers keep track of what’s what, and I imagine her own personal notes must be ginormous. I have a glossary that grows larger with each new book (my editor has the second book now, by the way, so fingers crossed). Side note: Angels would probably fall into this discussion as being the anti-demon or as related to settings where demons are fallen angels, but they’re not in my area of expertise. They don’t come up often in the games I play (except for Heroes of Might and Magic 3, which had angles and archangels that kicked all available ass), and they don’t come up in my writing or the books I read. But you’re welcome to discuss them in the comments if you’re so inclined.

Fae: Fairies, pixies, elves, the fair folk, leprechauns, unicorns, and pretty much anything that is magical, pretty and/or mischievous falls into my fae category. Which sounds like “aww, look, it’s covered in glitter, isn’t it adorable?” but in many RPGs these things will wtfpwn you if you try to attack them. (Translation—You: “I’m going to attack the unicorn.” Your DM: “The unicorn does one million damage to you. Go make a new character.”) I like to think of this as Revenge of the Fae, and this is my challenge to you writers out there: Make your fae fight back. I’m tired of settings where the elves are made of sadness because the humans are taking their land, and they’re just fading away into extinction. Give your elves machine guns, and make them go Braveheart on those human jerks. (Picture Legolas with a claymore, yelling “Freeeeeedoommmmmm!” or Galadriel with a bandolier of shotgun shells, mowing down the world of men. Awesome, right? Right!) Fae are a perfect opportunity for you to take everything the reader thought he or she knew about fantasy and turn it completely on its ear.

Dragons: Why aren’t dragons in the fae or shapeshifter category? Because lately they’ve become their own thing in paranormal (the new Katie MacAlister is out this week people, I’m just sayin’). Plus, in RPGs, dragons are a Very Big Deal. They’re the second half of Dungeons and Dragons, the granddaddy of all RPGs, and if you’ve fought one you know what an epic pain in the butt it can be, and here’s why: Unless you’ve fought a dragon in an RPG, you might not realize just how many ways a dragon can kill your characters. Dragons have claws, they bite, they can knock you over with their wings or even just by the wind they generate, and then there is the all important breath weapon. Because dragons breathe fire, right? Oh, if only it was just fire. Acid, poison clouds, frost rays…one D&D dragon hocked up something that looked rather like a giant Halls cough drop. Dragons have a bucket of health and thick hides, and your character is soft and squishy and takes like ketchup. So should your characters decide to slay a dragon, that battle needs to be epic. Like maybe anvils should rain from the sky to help kill it…okay maybe not anvils. Meteorites. Of course, the trend is for your character to be dragons, and not slay dragons, and that entails a different set of problems, unless adventurers are constantly showing up and his or her apartment with torches and pitchforks. Dragons that spend time in human form start sliding into the shapeshifter category, so everything discussed in the section above would apply.

Talking Animals: Perhaps a squirrel with a flute? (“Monster! Very small monster!”)(It’s an Eddie Izzard reference, I couldn’t resist.) I have to say, one of the funniest characters I encountered in D&D was Scoot, the avatar of squirrelkind. In D&D druids (and I think rangers too) can have animals as pets, and our party had Scoot, the talking squirrel. We gave him a +1 arrow, and he used it as a magic spear. He begged our sorcerer to polymorph him into a dragon, which he did—an itty bitty fairy dragon, with butterfly wings. Scoot was very displeased. If you’re looking for comic relief for your adventure, you can’t go wrong with a wisecracking critter sidekick. Even if the animal doesn’t talk, it can still lighten a dark scene and show a different side of your hero/heroine. In the fantasy series I’ve been working on the heroine has a wolfhound, Grace, who endears herself to everyone, even the angsty wizards. Some of my favorite scenes involve Grace. What would Dorothy be without Toto? The Wicked Witch of the West without her flying monkeys? Han Solo without Chewbacca? (Yes, I know Chewie isn’t a critter, but if memory serves me right Lucas based him on the family dog.)

Mechanicals: So there we were, fighting this clockwork golem, a big, clunky tower of metal intent on pummeling us into adventurer pancakes. Problem was, you could only damage the thing with a magic weapon—which we didn’t have. But we had a magic shield, and like any armored vehicle the thing was slow, so our party tossed the shield from person to person like we were playing monkey-in-the-middle, and whapped the golem to death. It was one of the longest battles I’ve ever been in, but it’s a fine example of just how hard it is to kill a mechanical creature. Steampunk is, arguably, the Next Big Thing at the moment, and that opens up an opportunity to use plenty of mechanical creatures in your paranormal setting. Creatures that run on gears, steam, and whimsical science. You can probably take any standard fantasy monster and clockwork it out, like the golem that wouldn’t die, so have at it.

I was going to discuss elementals as well, but after pondering them for a bit I realized I didn’t have much to say about them aside that they also make good magical sidekicks. But, again, you’re welcome to discuss them in the comments. Speaking of comments, we’ve come to the participation portion of the post: What is your favorite monster, and why? Are there any monsters you’d like to see more of? Or any I didn’t discuss that you think deserve some love?

Next week I’ll be ending the world-building section by discussing maps, and the post will be featured at the blog of the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter of RWA.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: Muahaha!

Some days I wonder what my cat is thinking when he's looking out the window...























In other news, my book, Blood, Smoke and Mirrors, is in this week's Cover Clash at the Embrace the Shadows blog. I'm a big fan of their blog, and if you have a moment, please vote for my cover here. Thanks!