Behind the Scenes: My Ideological Struggles with Graenas

Hello dear readers! I’m back with another real-world post peeking behinds the scenes at the creative process for writing the main story on this blog. I will note that today’s post may get a tiny bit spoiler-ish, as I might have to talk about choices I know my characters will face in the future. The good news is, while I know what choices they will have to choose between, I don’t really know what choices they will make. But at any rate, if you don’t even want to know that much about what’s yet to come, you might want to skip this post.

At some point last week, as I got thinking about Graenas, his story, and even his relationship with Urizenya, I started getting a troubled feeling. To put it succinctly, Graenas is not exactly a nice guy. He’s selfish. He’s learned to get what he wants through manipulation and often has little problems with that. And while he wants to resist (for now, at least) the complete evil that being a true champion of Auril would involve, he also makes a lot of excuses for the things he does.

Now, I have no intention of rewriting Graenas to make him the model citizen and goodness and sunshine. I think his flawed nature can and will make him an interesting character. But I also find myself wondering if I’m doing enough to make it clear that he really is a deeply flawed character. I mean, it’s one thing if Graenas makes excuses for his less ethical choices, but I don’t want to be making those same excuses or endorsing them.

In some ways, I’m glad I chose to narrate the this main story entry from Urizenya’s point of view. That way, when Graenas started making excuses for doing Auril’s bidding, Urizenya was able to express her concern about just how far Graenas might take those excuses and just what he’s willing to use them to justify. That hopefully helped to cast doubt on Graenas’s “innate goodness.”

In some ways, I think I need to use Urizenya’s point of view — and possibly Danny’s own comments (so glad Deb plays him as such a straight shooter) — to make sure that Graenas’s questionable behavior is seen as exactly that. Questionable.  I may end up doing quite a number of story installments from Urizenya’s point of view to help with that.

Of course, that brings up problems of its own. Urizenya needs a life, personality, and purpose beyond just attempting to mitigate her brother’s bad behavior. The last thing I want is a codependent Druid whose life is consumed by saving her brother. That’s one reason I’m actually glad I wrote the short story where she met Aurora, as it gives her more personality and something that’s all about her. And I trust Joe will work that and more into the overall campaign, which means it will show up in the main story at some point.

I also want to think about what happens as his story continues. Specifically, if Graenas eventually manages to get free of Auril’s influence, I need and want to take care that it doesn’t appear that any seedy shit he did before that point is magically forgotten and everything thinks he’s a great guy. There still has to be consequences, such as justified mistrust of those he swindled, manipulated, and otherwise hurt. And there has to be a sincere realization, acknowledgement, and remorse for what he’s done.

I still think Graenas is a great character and I think he offers great story-telling potential. But I still need to think about how I want to write that story so that it relays messages I’m comfortable with in the end. That may become and interesting journey in its own right.

 

Behind the Scenes: A Handy Online Gaming Resource

Hello, readers!  This is Jarred.  I’m afraid that I won’ t be posting the next installment of the main story today per my usual schedule. I was feeling rather off yesterday and did not feel I could be an attentive, involved, and creative player. I asked Deb and Joe if we could cancel yesterday’s D&D session, as I really didn’t want to engage in shitty role-playing, which would have then resulted in shitty writing today. It seemed better to postpone advancing the story for a week rather than disappoint Joe, Deb, you, and myself with substandard playing and writing.  So hopefully Urizenya, Graenas, and Danny will be able to stomach the stench of the gray-skinned gnome’s corpse for one more week and no random monsters will attack them in our absence.

Since I don’t want to leave you completely empty-handed, I thought I’d take a moment to share and talk about a gaming resource — one which does not sponsor or endorse this blog in away way (I doubt Guy even knows this blog exists) — that both Joe and I have personally enjoyed.  And that’s the site GreatGameMaster.com and the underlying YouTube channel.

Guy, the public face of GreatGM, does videos categorized into a number of series.  The two series that Joe and I are most interested in are How to be a Great GM (which I find interesting, but of somewhat limited value to me as a mere player) and How to be a Great Player. The thing that I like about Guy’s videos is that he focuses almost exclusively on the story-telling and character development aspects of role-playing. He’s not interested in game mechanics and frequently points out that there are other channels that cover game mechanics. As someone who is trying to turn his own gaming sessions into a narrative story, I appreciate his focus, as it helps me think of ways to put enough story elements into my game play to help flesh out the narrative afterward.

One (old) video from the Great Player series that I particularly liked was Guy’s discussion of player character quirks:

I haven’t actually developed any quirks for my characters (though Graenas’s love of sewing might turn into one, as it’s something I see him doing whenever he’s upset or stressed). But watching this video reaffirmed my idea that characters need little traits that go beyond just helping them in the next encounter or make them a better combatant. After all, I’m trying to tell a story and my characters need more depth than “I successfully collected the required number of bear rumps and am ready to receive the next quest.” Otherwise, it’s going to get awful boring for you, my readers. Not to mention terribly boring for me.

At any rate, that’s all I have for you today.  I hope to get back to sharing the twins’ and Danny’s story with you next week. In the meantime, do you have any favorite role-playing and story-telling resources? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

May all your adventures be compelling!

Jarred.

 

 

Behind The Scenes: Giving Birth to the Twins

GraenasCharacterSheetPage1
Page one of Graenas’s character sheet as printed from The D&D Adventurer’s League (not a sponsor).

Hello, dear readers!  Here’s your friendly blogger and author, Jarred, with another look behind the scenes of this blog’s main story. In the previous Behind the Scenes post, I talked about my choice to turn the sessions of the Dungeons and Dragons campaign I’m currently participating in into a fantasy fiction story. Today, I want to go into the mental processes and discussions I went through while creating my characters, Uri and Graenas.  (I should warn you, this post may give you insights into my characters that yet have to be revealed in the story itself. If that kind of information ahead of time bothers you or you think it might ruin your enjoyment of the story, I suggest you skip this post.)

When Joe, my husband, suggested we start a new D&D campaign, I told him that I wanted to focus more on building up the role-playing aspect of the game.  I wanted to act out dialogue more and give more character development. I also realized that to do this, I needed to do a better job envisioning my character. So rather than create a character and then try to fill in their backstory after the fact, I decided to build the character up with some sort of backstory from the beginning.

With that in mind, I picked up our print version of the Player’s Handbook and flipped through the classes, trying to decide what kind of character I wanted to play.  I’m a fan of spellcasters, so I decided to start looking at the warlock class. I immediately got thinking about my warlock’s patron. What kind of a patron would he have?  What kind of relationship would he have with that patron. I knew that i wanted him to have an uneasy relationship and I was leaning towards a fiendish patron. I also decided that I wanted my warlock to be a half-elf.  It seemed like a good choice, and gave him some extra characteristics. It also provided me with material for further developing the twins’ backstory, though i would realize that until later.

As I mentioned on the about page of this blog, I thought that we were going to need a tanky character for the campaign.  Rather than make Joe create an NPC for the party to take all our hits for us, I offered to play two characters. As a result, I decided that character would be a druid. Yes, poor Uri started out as little more than a utilitarian character and I actually still worry that it shows.  I don’t feel she’s quite as fleshed out as a full individual as Graenas is, though I keep trying to think of ways to improve on and more fully develop her character.

At any rate, as I considered my half-formed druid character, I thought it might make for some interesting storytelling and character development if these two characters were siblings, possibly with a competitive rivalry between the two of them.  I talked it over with Joe, who agreed it was a good idea and through our conversations, we decided the pair would be twins.

At some point, I had an epiphany.  I had already known that my warlock (neither character had been given a name at this point, mind you) would be gay and had considered making the siblings compete over romantic interests. Then I realized that some sort of fight between the twins over a boy would be the reason the brother would become a warlock. I spent twenty minutes writing a quick story about how a broken-hearted teen, Graenas — this is the story that also forced me to go the an online name generator and name the twins — ran off in tears because the boy he was crushing on had kissed Graenas’s own sister, Urizenya.  A fey deity (whose name was “XXXXX” in the story, I kid you not) found young Graenas and offered to help him gain his crush’s attention for “the occasional favor.” Out of love-sickness and youthful foolishness, he accepted and the pact was made.

As I wrote that story, I realized I needed to change my plans slightly.  While I had originally planned to have Graenas make his pact with a fiend, it seemed to me that an arch-fey patron made more sense for his backstory now.  It also got me thinking of how Graenas’s relationship with his patron would cause him to favor illusion, trickery, and persuasion as a means of getting what he wants and getting things accomplished.

I showed this very rough story (which I hope to polish someday and post to the blog as an extra) to Joe, who loved it.  We sat down to start doing some research and agreed that Auril would make a great patron for Graenas. She seems to both of us like the type that would latch onto a love-sick youth and give him what (he thinks) he wants in exchange for his servitude.  And it gave Joe all kinds of ideas for how that relationship might play out in the campaign. We’ve talked about it at a very abstract level. Let’s just say that we both agree that there will come a point in the campaign where Graenas is going to have to make a Very Big Choice™.  I’m honestly not sure what Graenas’s decision will be when we reach that point. It depends on how Graenas’s character develops over the course of the campaign and possibly what decision I think will make for a more interesting story when we reach that point.

At that point, i tried to think a bit more about Urizenya.  As I said, it’s been more difficult and tentative with her. At this point, I had decided that the twins would have grown up among the humans.  I recalled that both humans and elves are distrustful of half-elves and treat them as “the other,” so I pondered on that for a bit. I realized that humans may distrust and other half-elves, but young human boys might still find a half-elf girl their age very pretty and “exotic.”  So, it made sense to me that the human boys in their village would be constantly trying to pursue Urizenya. Uri, who would get the sense that these boys were only interested in her as an “exotic prize” to win, wanted nothing to do with it. She would cope with this by avoiding the village and the boys as much as possible. I realized that this meant that she would spend much of her time with her father, who was now an elven druid and her teacher in my mind. The boys’ treatment of her (and the men who would treat her the same way when she became an adult) gives her an extra reason to be distrustful of humans (especially human men) and much prefer her time among the plants and creatures she loves.

Joe and I are still working on figuring out what Uri’s personal quest in the campaign is or what motivates it.  We’ve toyed with the idea of giving her a malady of some sort for which there are rumors of an old druidic remedy that she can seek out, though we haven’t finalized that. For now, she’s just serving to maintain the natural order of things and make sure her brother doesn’t become a total tool for Auril.  But like I said, I hope her own voice and life story becomes stronger as we continue.

Anyway, that’s a look at what went into the creation and evolution of the twins before they even started their adventures at the virtual D&D table.  It’s not a full picture, mind you. For example, I haven’t even mentioned the significance of the sewing kit that Graenas carries or Uri’s relationship with and affinity for wolves (I haven’t fully figured that one out myself, but know it’s a thing with her).

Now it’s your turn, readers!  What are your experiences with character creation?  It doesn’t matter if it’s for writing fiction, playing RPG’s, or both.  Do you have a preferred process? What are the questions you ask yourself?  How important is backstory to you? Do you come up with first or fit it in later around your story and/or character sheet? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments.

May your adventures be epic!

Jarred

Behind the Scenes: Role-Playing and Storytelling

Hello, readers.  This is Jarred, your loyal blogger and the person who gives voice to the beloved (or at least I hope they’re beloved) Graenas and Urizenya.  The next D&D session, which will then move the main story on this blog forward, is only a few days away.   In the meantime, I wanted to reach out and share my thoughts on this writing project.  As a matter of fact, I’m hoping to establish a pattern where every Wednesday or Thursday, I add some sort of extra “goodie” to the blog that complements the main story, whose installments will be posted on Sundays or Mondays (depending on how much time I need to write and edit).  They might be a peek behind the scenes at my own creative process.  They might be a short story involving one or more of the characters. (For example, I will probably post a short story in which sixteen year old Graenas first meets and makes his deal with his patron, Auril.) I’ve even toyed with posting audio or video of me reading one of the installments.  (I read the first installment to my husband and dungeon master, Joe, while I was editing it and he loved the way I read it.)

These posts will be put in a special category according to their content type (Behind the Scenes, Short Extras, etc).  That same content type will also be part of the post title to make it easy to recognize.  Main story installments, on the other hand, will just have a title.  They will also be placed into the main story category, so you can easily find them if you don’t want to sort through the extra goodies.

Anyway, on to today’s topic.  I wanted to talk about my decision to turn our D&D campaign into a work of fiction and my thoughts and feelings about it.  I actually decided to do it at the recommendation of Joe.  He and I were originally planning to play a different campaign when he made the suggestion.  That campaign never got off the ground, and I think it might be interesting to explore the reasons for that and compare them to why I think things went differently this time in a future post.  Of course, I had heard of using role-playing for story-telling purposes before.  Most famously, I remember Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, authors of the Dragonlance Chronicles (and many of the books that came after the trilogy), wrote in an appendix (or was it an introduction?) of one their books a brief comment about how the character Raistlin Majere developed his identifying raspy voice because a friend (actually, as I looked up information for this post, I learned the man was actually a coworker at TSR) roleplaying him used the voice in a D&D session. I no longer have my copy of those books, so I don’t remember the full details.  But I was able to find an online post in which Hickman once again talked about it:

The first was Terry Phillip’s portrayal of Raistlin. Whenever Terry spoke ‘in character’ as Raistlin, he did so in a raspy, whispering voice. It was menacing and not just a little creepy to hear but what Margaret observed was that whenever Terry spoke in that voice, the rest of the room went silent in order to hear what he had to say. Margaret realized not only was this a quality that would have come from Raistlin’s background but it was also a manipulative technique of getting everyone’ attention and having them pay careful attention to him when he spoke. This, Margaret realized, was something which Raistlin would pick up on and use for his own gain. From Terry’s voice characterization that night, the essence of Raistlin drew life’s breath.

I recommend reading the whole post.  Anyway, as I created the twins, I thought back to both Joe’s suggestion and my recollection of the above anecdote.  I immediately became fascinated with the idea, and also saw it as a way of getting back into writing. It had been a few years since I worked on anything other than the rare writing exercise. Plus it already gave me an instant audience of two, as I was certain both Joe and my fellow player, Deb, would love to read how I narrate and interpret our adventures that we playe  at our (virtual) D&D table.

Since writing the first installment, I’ve been pondering (and impatiently waiting for Saturday to roll around so we can have our next session), and it occurs to me that for me, this approach to a fiction project works nicely for me because of my own strengths and weaknesses.  I’m great at character development.  I can generate enough backstory to understand how my character’s would act.  I can give them quirks and personality traits. My dialogue is pretty good, too, so if two (or more) of my characters get in a room together, I can make them talk with one another in engaging and interesting ways. I can even come up with some pretty cool “big picture” concepts.

The one thing I tend to struggle with is actual plot. My answer to the question “where are these fascinating characters headed and what’s going to happen to them along the way” is often “I’m not really sure.  It’s happened to a couple of my previous writing projects.  In one project, my main character went through countless scenes that were themselves pretty good, but I felt like it was going to meander forever and never really reach a conclusion.

Joe, on the other hand, is a plot-generating fiend (or maybe he’s an arch-fey).  It’s a skill that I think is one part natural for him and another part developed over two decades of creating and running D&D campaigns. The man has taken Deb’s and my character ideas and backstories and woven them into the campaign as personal story-lines in addition to the shared story-line.  That’s kind of cool, as it’s neat to know that the creation of my own characters have in turn shaped the story we’re going to end up telling.

But most importantly, it means that someone else is providing me the plot outline that I so often seen to struggle to figure out myself. I don’t have to come up with all the  situations and can focus on how my characters respond to each one, then turn the whole thing into a narrative someone might enjoy reading.  That’s something that has me very excited.

So that gives you, my readers, a brief glimpse into my own thoughts as I kick off the project.  I’d love to hear from you.  Maybe you’re a writer or a roleplayer who has an experience you share.  Maybe you’re a writer who has used roleplaying to help develop your stories (I get the impression it’s a rather common practice) and can share how that’s worked for you.  Maybe you can share you how make allowances for and/or overcome your own weaknesses in the writing and/or roleplaying experiences. I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!

Happy adventuring, whether it’s with dice, pen and paper, or a book and your own imagination!

— Jarred.