Posts Tagged ‘Dungeons & Dragons’

Honestly, this headline is a little deceptive. The iconic role-playing game never really went away, although it’s had waves of popularity like all cultural touchstones do. This article from a year ago in The New Yorker does a great job detailing some of the ups and downs. D&D is now in its 5th Edition, while another popular game called Pathfinder is a spin-off based on the 3rd Edition D&D rules.

As a role-player since 1981, I can attest that doomsayers have long predicted the end of our beloved paper-and-pencil games. Video games have risen to great prominence with their fast action and colorful presentation. Yet there still is a place for the wild creativity of a role-playing game. Much as I enjoy playing video games, I’m constantly chafing at the limited options when it comes to dialogue and decision making. With a good GM, video games just can’t compare with in-person games for spontaneity and nuance.

Most interesting, writer Neima Jaromi highlights a trend I’ve personally observed in schools when I worked as a substitute. Some classes use D&D to teach social lessons. Role-playing encourages kids to imagine themselves in a different life. If they want to have fun, they have to be flexible and work with a group. Role-playing also includes rewards, both as level-ups bringing new abilities, and with treasures found. More flexibility comes into play as the group must decide who gets to keep a certain item. They learn that the entire group can benefit from one character’s success.

I know I’m preaching to the choir, so go ahead and read the article here.

Coming Up

I will be at Fall Folk Festival this weekend, reading my stories and greeting the public. That makes this a perfect time for a guest post! Author J. Keller Ford, will be talking about the role of dragons in her Chronicles of Fallhallow series. I’m looking forward to that, and I hope you are, too.

Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

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Fairy dragons are a relatively modern iteration of the legendary dragon. The difference between fairy dragons and traditional dragons are obvious. Instead of being huge and dangerous, these dragons are little and cute. Fairy dragons are small enough to ride on wrists and shoulders. Rather than menacing people, they prefer to cuddle.

Miniature dragons first appeared in SF and fantasy fiction during the early 1970s. For example, Anne McCaffrey created “fire lizards” in her second Pern novel, Dragonquest, published in 1971. Alan Dean Foster introduced his “mini-dragon” Flinx, half of the Pip and Flinx duo, in 1972’s The Tar-Aiym Krang. 

Smaller dragons began to appear in wider circles. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons included “faerie dragons” in a 1982 issue of Dragon Magazine. By now these small dragons are part of many games, including World of Warcraft, and have become a perennial subject in fantasy art.

Most versions of a fairy dragons do have some powers. Flinx carries a deadly poison, while faerie dragons have the power to charm and confuse. This makes them more useful pets and companions than your typical dogs and cats. Still, I have to admit, something in me balks at turning the magnificent dragon into a mere plaything.

Sign up for my newsletter and win a free E-book, The Weight of Their Souls. Just to go my Facebook page, AuthorDebyFredericks, and click the link on the left that says “Join my mailing list.” Easy, right?

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Today I’m reviewing a new release by my friend, Charles Yallowitz. The Life and Times of Ichabod Brooks is a collection of fantasy short stories featuring an adventurer named… You probably guessed. Here’s the cover copy:

“Some heroes seek fame. Some seek fortune. Others want to save the world. Ichabod Brooks only wants to put food on the table for his family.” Through the 11 stories of this collection, he does just that. With uncommon humility, he attempts to discourage the ever-present bards who seek to make their own reputations by telling exaggerated tales of his exploits.

The stories are set in the same world as Yallowitz’s main series, Legends of Windermere, so many things will be familiar to anyone who has read the other books. For those unfamiliar, it’s similar to a certain role-playing game we all know and love. Ichabod rubs shoulders with races such as Halflings and Dwarves, plus a few new one like Calicos (cat people) and Chaos Elves.

The author does a good job capturing the free-wheeling feel of those role-playing sessions where spells are flying and every character has a bizarre collection of enchanted boots, weapons, cloaks, rings, necklaces, etc., etc. He keeps things moving with an almost-cartoonish combat style and plenty of humor.

Although Ichabod is joined by a few recurring friends, the action is mostly his. Each story contains a unique challenge and setting, so they don’t become redundant. There’s even an impressive sea serpent for those who need their daily dose of dragons.

The Life and Times of Ichabod Brooks is available through Amazon, and it’s a bargain at $2.99. I urge you to check it out.

Blog: http://www.legendsofwindemere.com
Twitter: @cyallowitz
Facebook: Charles Yallowitz
Website: http://www.charleseyallowitz.com


A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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Recently I came across an interesting blog about The Technical Aspects of Writing Dragons. How could I resist such a topic? It was written by Whitney Carter and published on The Writer’s Path. You should check it out. I’ll wait…

Doo dee doo doo, doo dee doo… (That’s the Jeopardy theme, if you couldn’t tell.)

Carter does a good job of breaking down the variety of dragons found in legend in her section on dragons, drakes, wyrms and wyverns. If you’ve been following Wyrmflight for a while, you probably know the sub-categories of dragons go even farther than that. Sea serpents, for instance, are aquatic rather than flying. Drakainas and Nagas are human/serpent hybrids. And then there are the mundane creatures that are just named after dragons: Komodo dragons, leafy sea dragons, dragon salamanders and dragon trees. Dragon space ships. Dragon sunglasses. You get the idea.

I do quibble a bit with her mention of colored dragons being evil and metallic dragons being good. This, actually, is not from traditional folklore at all. It comes from Dungeons and Dragons, the role-playing game. Obviously D&D was a huge success and its trappings have had a lot of influence in entertainment. Still, to me, D&D just doesn’t have the stature of myth where so many dragons were born.

Carter goes on to talk about life cycles (breeding, growth, aging) but I think you should read her blog and see where you agree or disagree. Any number of creative writers can take the same subject matter and all end up someplace really different. That’s the fun of it.

What stuck with me, as far as the technicality of writing dragons, is that your basic decision is between a) choosing a legend and basing your dragons on that, or b) totally making it up for yourself. Both options have their advantages. In choosing an existing legend or mythology, your potential readers may already know the tale and are likely to be comfortable with it. You can get on with the rest of your story, knowing the readers are with you on who or what a dragon is.

There isn’t a lot of surprise, though, since the underlying legend is already known. By making up your own variety of dragons, you have the option to surprise your readers and keep them intrigued. There is a bit more work involved, but if a story catches on, you might even add a new scale to the body of dragon lore.

Personally, I have used both approaches depending on the story. In my middle-grade novel, Masters of Air & Fire, I created a new type of dragon, complete with family structure and life cycles. But in my short story collection, Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, I have different dragons in different stories. “The Dragon King” and “The Dragon’s Ghost” feature fairly typical European dragons, while the sea dragon from “The Dragon Stone” is more unique.

When you’re writing dragons, do you adapt from legends or make up your own? I’m interested to hear what you think.

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Another longtime illustrator who’s been a big influence on our collective image of the dragon is Larry Elmore. I’ve been familiar with Elmore’s work since the early 1980s, when he provided art for TSR’s seminal role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. He went on to paint covers for books in the Dragonlance series, also for TSR, and did many illustrations for Magic the Gathering cards, as well.

You can always tell one of Larry Elmore’s dragons from the crowd. (Or perhaps I should say from the flock. From the flight? Anyhow!) They have distinctive horns, angled back from the skull but with a certain twist. Just take a look and you’ll know. His web site is right here.

These days, Elmore is semi-retired. Yet he’s made the short list for a Hugo in 2016, so perhaps the best is yet to come.

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We all have an image of the classic dragon: big and red, armored, fire breathing, malevolent. But way back at the dawn of role-playing games, the creators of D&D must have felt that dragons posed a difficult challenge. How could gamemasters keep players interested in fighting yet another dragon?

Their solution was to create a veritable spectrum of dragons. Evil dragons were not just red, but also blue, green, black and white. In homage to the more benevolent Asian style of dragon, metallic dragons could be gold, bronze, brass, silver or copper. These were potentially wise guides for players. As years passed, there were jewel dragons and fairy dragons and creatures part dragon and part something else. Because the challenge remained the same — to keep these creatures interesting.

Of all the D&D dragons, the white dragons were most obviously the opposite of a stereotypical dragon. White dragons loved high, cold, icy mountains. They lived in caverns near glaciers and breathed deadly frost instead of fire. It was said they were not as intelligent as some other dragon breeds and relied on savagery instead of spellcasting.

Despite these slurs, ice dragons have become some of the most popular subjects for artists. Any Internet search will turn up dozens of likenesses of ice dragons. There’s just something about them. The ice is hard, yet beautiful. It shines against sunlight or moonlight. Ice dragons posess a mystery and grace that the traditional sort simply don’t have.

Here’s a link to a funny cartoon about white dragons in D&D.

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Last time I mentioned Drakaina, dragon-like beings of Greek lore who are part woman and part snake. Possibly the most famous drakaina of legend is Lamia, the star of a lengthy poem by John Keats.

Lamia’s tale is a little bit complicated. The original character was one of Zeus’s lovers who had the misfortune to fall into Hera’s clutches. In some variations, Hera killed Lamia’s children. Lamia went mad and became a cannibal who preyed upon children. In other versions of the tale, Hera cursed Lamia into the form of a monstrous snake with a woman’s head, and Lamia devoured her own children. Also as part of this curse, Lamia was unable to close her eyes. She could never have rest, and this contributed to her madness.

These legends were passed down through Roman and into Medieval times. Lamia became a class of creature rather than an individual. Mothers told their children a lamia would get them if they didn’t behave, just as they might have said a witch or a goblin.

However, Lamia’s torment was not entirely forgotten. During the 1800s, in the Neoclassical and Regency periods, her tale was often repeated in paintings, poetry and drama. Of all these, the most influential edition was by John Keats, whose epic poem, “Lamia,” was written in 1819 and published in 1820.

Keats’s style is very different from what we consider good poetry nowadays. He’s lush and florid, giving so many details that it slows the narrative pace and in many places forcing his rhyme. Here’s an example, from Book I of “Lamia.”

She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue,
Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue;
Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard,
Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr’d;
And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed,
Dissolv’d, or brighter shone, or interwreathed
Their lustres with the gloomier tapestries—
So rainbow-sided, touch’d with miseries,
She seem’d, at once, some penanced lady elf,
Some demon’s mistress, or the demon’s self.

In Keats’s telling, the god Hermes is roaming on Crete in search of a gorgeous wood nymph when he hears Lamia bewailing her cursed state. Lamia may originally have been some sort of nymph herself, for she has magical and prophetic powers. Indeed, she foresaw that Hermes would come to Crete and waited there for him. Lamia offers to tell Hermes where the nymph is — if he will restore her to her original form. Hermes does so and goes off to dally with the nymph.

After writhing in agony, Lamia finds herself once again a lovely woman. She goes to find a man named Lycias, who she has watched with her magical powers for many years. Lycias immediately falls in love and takes Lamia to his home town, Corinth. Lamia uses her magic to construct a lavish palace, where the two live happily. They plan to marry, but alas, Lycias has a mentor named Apollonius who sees Lamia as she truly is. Lamia, foreseeing doom, wants to cancel the wedding, but Lycias persuades her of his love. Apollonius reveals Lamia at the wedding. Lamia vanishes with a shriek and Lycias falls dead, apparently of a broken heart.

This rendition was widely acclaimed. It influenced the work of Edgar Alan Poe and many others. Even into modern times, Lamia appears as a character in books like Rick Riordan’s Olympian series and the Neil Gaiman comic, Sandman. The original D&D game included lamia as a type of monster that charms and devours unsuspecting men.

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Here is the dragon that guards the entrance to Merlyn’s, a comic and gaming shop in my home town.

Merlyn's Dragon

This big boy is about 8 feet tall, made of foam rubber with a solid rubber exterior. It’s been in the shop for at least ten years, long enough that nobody remembers who made it, although I’m told the shop owner won it as a prize in a contest. Due to its age, it’s becoming a bit tattered around the wingtips and feet, but it’s still an imposing and atmospheric addition to the shop.

Do you have a local game shop that’s special in your memory? When I first moved here, in the early ’80s, Merlyn’s was the only game shop in town. Everyone who played D&D went there for supplies and friendship. Merlyn’s also ran Game Faire, a weekend-long gaming event that was the first thing resembling an SF convention.

The genre community has grown, and there are several competitors now. I like them and shop there, too, but Merlyn’s is my favorite. Places with a history should be treasured and supported, even guarded like a dragon’s hoard. Don’t you think?

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A separate category of tools/weapons used to successfully slay dragons are those magically created, blessed, etc., just for that purpose. Some examples include items in RPG and video games that do extra damage to dragons. Swords of Dragonslaying, if you will.

Many of you will recall the Dragonlance series, published by TSR starting in 1984. The titular weapon was magically blessed to kill dragons. Dragonlance was initially a campaign setting for D&D, but the writers hit upon the idea of also writing novels set in the land of Krynn. It became a shared world, similar to the anthology series Thieves World, which was highly influential in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Dragonlance introduced a couple of great writers, Tracy Weiss and Margaret Hickman. Many of their characters are beloved even today, like the tortured mage Raistlin. In addition, the series broke ground for the blossoming of secondary merchandise and story-telling attached to D&D. This kind of spinning-off is commonplace now, but it was an exciting development at the time.

If you want to know more, there’s a really good Dragonlance chronology here.

Another writer of the 1980s who dealt with dragonslaying is Barbara Hambly. In her 1985 novel Dragonsbane, a hedge witch (Jenny Waynest) and her fairly Scottish husband (John Aversin) bring a dragon (Morkeleb the Black) to the verge of death when Jenny treats John’s weapon with a virulent magical poison. However, John is also wounded by the same blade, and Jenny must heal Morkeleb in order to ensure John’s survival. Through this experience, Jenny’s minor magic is boosted considerably. For a time she assumes the shape of a dragon to travel the stars with Morkeleb. However, Jenny ultimately reclaims her humanity.

If you know of other books or movies incorporating special anti-dragon weapons, I’d love to hear about them!

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Goblin Quest, by Jim C. Hines, is home to one of the most impressive dragons of modern fiction: Straum. If you notice similarity to another famous dragon, it’s no coincidence. Hines writes funny fantasies that skewer popular stereotypes. His debut trilogy poked lots of fun at D&D and the whole dungeon-delving, treasure-grabbing mythos that goes along with it.

The star of the show is Jig, a little blue goblin who gets captured by a group of typical adventurers. You know… the warrior prince, the mad wizard, the dwarf cleric and the elfin thief. Instead of killing him — although there’s continual debate on that point — they opt to enlist hapless Jig as their native guide. Fortunately for them, Jig is smarter than the average goblin. In fact, in some ways, he’s smarter than the other four put together.

There are laughs and thrills, and some pointed questions along the way. Could an underground labyrinth actually function as an ecosystem? What gives those adventurers the right to come in, kill the “monsters” and steal their treasure? Is it really that easy to shoot an arrow into a giant monster’s eye? I’m sure you’ll all spot favorites from your D&D days.

But the main event is Straum, a black dragon who’s been trapped underground for more than 5,000 years. The greatest wizard in history stuck him down here to guard the Rod of Creation, and only the Rod can set him free… but Straum himself cannot use it. He has to lure in the right group of adventurers if he ever wants to be free.

This is a terrific book with an obvious love for what it lampoons. The sword fights are not handled in a grisly way, making it a safe read for all ages, though younger kids will need an adult’s help with vocabulary. Goblin Quest is highly recommended.

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