Saturday, April 25, 2015

5th Edition D&D: Thor, God of Thunder

This series will be 5th edition D&D characters I make up, just for the fun of it.  I haven't played the game in 1.5 decades but like to keep up with nerdly news and I do really like this new edition.  I'm hoping to make at least one character of each class, probably spread out over the long term as time and inspiration allow.

My character creation policy goes like this:

   (1) Ability score are rolled on 4d6, discard the lowest. 

   (2) Create them to d3+2 levels in the chosen class.

   (3) Give them an appropriate magic item, possibly two (at 3rd and maybe 5th levels).

   (4) I believe the PCs are the heroes of the story, so I generally give them max hit points, no rolling.  Though I do like the 5th edition roll or take better-than-half system.

   (5) While I like the personality traits, bonds, etc. of the background portion of the new creation process, I figure the write up I'm doing covers that stuff.

   (6)  I've also taken a shine to the optional "speed factor" rules in the new DM's guide, so you'll see those modifiers applied to combat initiative values.


I have been reading the Marvel trade paperback of the God Butcher series from the title Thor: God of Thunder.  And it has inspired me to make a 5th edition D&D character!  I thought, what if someone wanting to play Thor, or as close as they could get, how would I help them go about shaping that character’s stats and abilities?  Then I thought, What if the character himself mostly just believes he is Thor?  And we don’t know for sure if he is or not?

From there I also came up with a three-part series of short novels, which I’ll add to the queue for whenever I can get free of these day-job shackles and just write for a living (or maybe even before that).  The first novel’s first line might be something corny like this: “It began with his death…”

Without going too far into it, let’s just say that he started out as a Barbarian among his tribe of raging raiders, fighting some “civilized” army or something on the tundra of their nomadic homeland.  In a battle, he is mortally wounded and appears to eventually succumb to his wounds.  He seems to die.  Or perhaps he does die, who’s to say for sure?  After a brief bit of being dead, like minutes or an hour, he comes back and eventually makes a pretty remarkable recovery.  But when he comes back, this barbarian is convinced he is Thor, god of thunder.   Thus begins his experience as a 1st level player character.  His life up till now has been pretty mundane: hunt, kill, fight, drink, etc.  But now he’s inspired.  He believes he may be more than he has thus far been.

Fast forward to 5th level, where I have made this character now.  He’s multi-classed at Barbarian (2), Cleric (3).  Barbarian was his first class.  I’ve tweaked some of the standard stuff to befit the character, as described below.   
II. Game Stats

THOR, Godling of Thunder

Class: Barbarian (2nd), Cleric (3rd)
Align: NG


HP:  58
AC:  16 in half-plate, 14 unarmored
PROF:  +3
SAVES: STR (+7) CON (+5) WIS (+6) CHAR (+4) DEX (advant)
INIT: +1
SPD:  30 ft


War Hammer +1
Init +1
+8 to hit
D8+5 dmg
Versatile (d10), Rage +2 dmg
Thrown 20/60, crit spell
Battle Axe
Init +1
+7 to hit
D8+4 dmg
Versatile (d10), Rage+2 dmg
Short sword
Init +3
+7 to hit
D6+4 dmg
Light, Rage +2 dmg
Init +1 (- lvl)
+6 to hit
Save DC 14

RACE: Godling (modified from Dragonborne)
   * Str +2, Wis +1
   * Languages: Common, Celestial
   * Resistant to Lightning Dmg
   * Throw Lightning: 2D6 dmg, Dex Save DC (13) for half, 5x30 straight line. Short/Long rest to recover ability.

   * Event: Returned from the dead and became badass who helped repel invading army
   * “Hospitality/Following”

   * Rage (x2): Advant on Str checks/saves; +2 dmg; Resist weapon-type dmgs; cannot cast spells while raging.
   * Unarmored Defense (10 + Dex + Con)
   * Reckless Attack: gain advantage on hit roll for 1st round, but so do they
   * Danger Sense: Advant on Dex saves

   * Channel Divinity (x2): Turn Undead, Destructive Wrath (max out lightning/thunder dmg instead of rolling)
   * Wrath of the Storm (x3): reaction in combat to deal 2d8 thunder/lightning dmg
   * Can prepare 6 spells (+ domain spells)
   * Spell DC (14)  Spell Attack Mod (+6)
   * Spell Slots: 1st (4) 2nd (2)
   * Domain Spells: Fog Cloud, Thunderwave
   * Known Cantrips: Light, Thaumaturgy, Resistance

   * Animal Handling +6
   * Survival +6
   * Athletics +7
   * Intimidation +4
   * Brewing proficiency
   * Land Vehicles proficiency

   * Half-plate armor
   * basic survival gear, wolf pelt coat, and clothing
   * “Mjonir” – The magic Warhammer formerly known as “Thunderclap” was recovered by the self-named Thor and renamed Mjonir by him.  It is a Warhammer +1 with two magic properties.
   - Throwing: it can be thrown 20/60 range and automatically returns to the wielder.  The wielder then has a -5 Initiative penalty on the following round as it returns and is caught.
   - Thunderclap: On a critical hit, the hammer automatically casts Thunderous Smite (2d6 thunder dmg, Str save (10+Str mod = 14) or be knocked back 10 feet and prone)

III.  Design

I figured this kind of Thor D&D character would be part Barbarian and part Cleric of the Tempest (storms, lightning, and such).  For background I was thinking Outlander, as I was envisioning a barbarian of the tundra, but then I read the description of Folk Hero and decided I liked that one.  (For some reason I keep breezing over that one when I look through the Player’s Guide – I hadn’t even seen it in there for the first few months I owned the book.  Must be the weird low position on the page it starts at…?)  For the race I wanted to kind of make my own, but noticed that the Dragonborn was pretty darn close to what I wanted for this Thor anyway: Str+2, Char+1, and “breathes” lightning.  Doesn’t get much better than that!  So I modeled my “godling” race on that for sure, mostly removing the idea that he’s a reptilian and just sticking with the stats and abilities.

All three of these Thor images come from Marvel, though I noticed some nice indie artist ones too.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Avengers: Age of Savings!

In honor of the big Marvel sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron due out in about a week, I have put my superhero novel Hungry Gods on sale!  You can get the ebook version for 33% off now through...  well, for a limited time.  (I don't want to give a specific date because different retailers catch up to changes at different rates.)

So right now, Hungry Gods is available at $3.99 for a limited time!

I know for sure the current price is up on these major retailers.  If you have another favorite, it should be there now or soon as well.

See you all at the movies!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Writing Blurbs: Tarnish

Writing blurbs sucks.  It’s ten times harder than writing a novel.  Maybe a hundred times, because you have to take a book that required tens of thousands of words to write—maybe over a hundred thousand, as in the case of Tarnish—and sell it in only two or three hundred words.  I don’t know anyone who thinks that an easy task or actually enjoys it.  It is an interesting challenge, kind of a story puzzle to solve, but it's more stressful than enjoyable. 

This weekend I spent a few days reworking the blurb for my fantasy novel Tarnish.  This is a very long and complex book, layered with multiple view point characters and various subplots.  (Hmm, I need to take a look at how George R. R. Martin—or more likely, his publishers—handle Game of Thrones and the Song of Ice and Fire books.  Of course, those blurbs don't have to say squat anymore, everyone already knows what they are and they sell themselves.)  

So how to compress 130,000 words of story into an engaging paragraph or two that gives potential readers enough to decide they’d like the book? 

I don’t have a good answer.  But I do know the blurb needs to be engaging and offer the potential reader a taste of what they’ll like most in the book.  What is it about, who’s the main character, what’s the primary conflict?  But to say too much or ruin the surprises is not a good thing either.  Less is often more.  So here’s what I came up with and I think it’s a vast improvement over the last one (though there’s always room for more):

Being a hero isn’t as easy as the tavern tales would have you believe. 

Billy Cole has always been a quick study, be it at telling tales, brewing ale, or swordplay.  And yet it surprises Wil Thunderstrike, his alter ego, at just how hard and fast the lessons come on his first venture into the real world of back-alley thieves, traveling talespinners, and warriors of renown.   

Wil’s quest is to find epic heroes to save his home town, but it'll take more than a sword and the inspiring tales of his legendary idols to survive the harsh world beyond Redfield.  From the inns of Hobb’s Turn to the port city of Fellwater, he’ll chase brigands and join pickpockets, fight with constables and street thugs, find romance and fall from grace, all while trying to discover  his own true nature and forge his destiny.  Tarnish is a grittier coming-of-age story than you’re used to, blending elements of traditional high fantasy with a darker, less forgiving perspective on right and wrong. 

What kind of hero would you be?

Ancillary Justice: Book Review

One of my New Years Resolutions was to read at least four novels (at least one of them indie) and post reviews.  I know four doesn't sound like a lot, but it is for a life as busy as mine.  So here's the first:

Great original SF Lit, but doesn't fly at warp speed...

This is a multi-award winning novel, and it's easy to see why.  Leckie does an amazing job of creating a far-flung future empire with deep cultural details.  Her main character is a very cool kind of Pinocchio, a character who was previously an AI with control over hundreds of bodies simultaneously who, through events surrounding a similar kind of duplicitous conspiracy, has now been reduced to but a single body.  The plot of the book involves politics that reflect our own, with two forces that appear the same from the outside (are in fact the very same person with multiple bodies herself) waging a silent war against each other.  (Sounds like the parties within the U.S. government, doesn't it?)

It's an intelligent read with lots of cool SF aspects and steady character development.  My only big criticism is the pacing of this novel.  There were times in the middle and latter half of the book that I wanted to give up on it.  It just wasn't moving forward at a rewarding pace and at times felt bogged down in the details and traveling.  (And now that I say that, perhaps that makes it Tolkien-esque, which could be a high compliment, I suppose.)

A thoroughly developed, original book, but I sometimes found it challenging to stay invested in the story.  3.75 to 4 stars.

(And as a student and creator of cover art, I must say...  not impressed by this.  It certainly says "sci-fi space opera," though that may be misleading for what you actually get.  At no time are there any fighter craft in the book.  And yet it's an award-winning, best-selling, from a major publisher kind of book.  So take that for whatever it's worth to you.)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

My Mutant Methods… In Writing

I am continuously reevaluating my writing plans and process.  It is constantly changing (or mutating), as I learn about what is and isn’t working, not from what other indies are saying on forums, but from my own experiences.  So here’s some of what’s developing right now:

cover of Uncanny X-Men #14

Coming at everything as a short story, meaning I have to start in the middle (which you should always do anyway), move fast, and keep the plot idea fairly simple.  My latest two superhero stories both started out as short ones in my mind (like 5,000 each).  Hungry Gods turned into a novel at 55,000 and Invasion (first draft done now) is a big novella at 31,000. 

How does that happen?  I start writing with an idea of what the story is about and who the characters are, but I don’t outline anything.  I probably know some of the main scenes and plot points, but I don’t chart it all out ahead of time.  I can’t.  I don’t know what’s going to develop until we get there.  My “outlining” runs only two or three chapters ahead of where I am.  

Starting in the middle (en media res, if I remember correctly from my literature classes) means finding a point where the story has already been running and you’re already knee deep in the action.  This is usually recommended by gurus and authors for any story. With that in mind, Hungry Gods actually started out in the helicopter, which is now chapter 4.  After it turned into a full-blown novel, I decided to go back and add what are now the first 3 chapters to set it up a bit more. At that point, I figured, why not?  Invasion starts on board a space station with an alien attack already underway.  In both of these I knew what the main story was about, I just underestimated how long it would take to run its course.  After I was about 15,000 words into HG and was still just getting started, I knew it was going to be a novel. 

My current writing process (which I endeavor to stick with, despite the urge toward perfectionism) involves only three drafts. 

The first is obviously writing the thing.  This is an exploratory journey where even I don’t know what’s going to happen or who my characters will develop into. 

The second (which I am about to embark upon as I write this with Invasion) is going back to the beginning and fixing the things I left undone and updating old stuff with the new vision for the story.  Since Draft One is largely exploratory, things change throughout the course of the writing process.  Now that I’m done with the story, I know more about the heroes and what’s going to happen, so I need to go back and make sure everything is consistent throughout.  Names may change, colors may change, I might have left blank spots for me to fill later with research, like foreign words, names of places, an element from the periodic table, etc.  So that’s Draft Two: go through to update, correct, and fill in blanks. 

Then I send that draft off to a hired editor/proofreader, and when it comes back I only address the specific line edits and suggestions they have made, deciding if I agree or not and fixing them.  That’s Draft Three. 

Then it’s time to publish or submit that puppy and move on to the next story.  I am, of course, as insecure as any writer and I want to go over it a hundred times to make sure everything is perfect.  Even a second pair of eyes can miss things, after all.  But that’s just not worth the time and effort.  Three drafts is reasonable.  There will be mistakes.  You can read a professionally published book that’s several years old and STILL find mistakes.  That’s human.  And my time is better spent writing new material than going over the same one over and over again.  Between rereading and submitting to agents and publishers, it took me YEARS to finally get Tarnish published, and it’s a very long one at 130,000 words.  Most commercial novels are about 80,000 and a short novel is only 40,000 words—so Tarnish is like 2-3 novels in length.  That’s a lot to revise six times!  And even now, there are mistakes, but I have to live with them.  I have to move forward.

Marketing is another big time sink that just doesn’t seem worth it to me.  To spend precious time and money on advertising that maybe three people will respond to…  Just not worth it.  And even if it does generate some sales and bring in some readers, what good does it do if I only have one or two books for them to buy?  One five or six dollar sale doesn’t pay for the resources I put into getting that sale.  Without a series or two in full swing or a decent selection for readers to hop to next, marketing is pretty much pointless. 

So for right now, until I have half a million words in print (and yes, I’m counting, and about half way there now) there’s very little point to marketing my wares.  I’ll continue to do minimal, easy things, but that’s about it. 

In fact, I’m not even going to bother with Read and Review efforts anymore.  In my experience, only about 25% of the free books I give away results in reviews.  More of them probably end up on pirate sites than result in anything I intended. 

So my marketing plan is reduced to the following:
   1. Write more books.
   2. Ensure my books have covers, blurbs and pricing that reflects the professional level of their contents.
   3. Write more books.   

That’s me getting my current writing methodologies out into the world, as much for my own purposes as for you to read them.  They’ll continue to develop (or mutate). 

If anyone out there has any comments or strong feelings, I’d be glad to “hear” them.  Thanks for reading.