May is National Get Caught Reading Month! As writers, we love to read although we aren’t able to as often as we’d like (does anyone?). To celebrate, we are listing some of our favorite books that have stuck with us!
The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud
This is the only series that Talia has read more than once from cover to cover. She first discovered them while working as a library aide in high school. They’ve stuck with her after that, and she got Dorian to be a fan of them, as well! The witty characters, fully realized world, and fun adventures with heart and soul makes them a top read!
The Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale
Talia found these books during her early adolescent years when only the first couple of a nine-book series were out. She followed them throughout the years, feeling almost as if she grew up with Bobby Pendragon. The main character’s humor makes him easily likeable, and the grand adventures across diverse worlds keep each book feeling fresh and fun.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit has always been Dorian’s favorite book. He has owned multiple copies of it over the years with a variety of beautiful covers. We were both definitely excited to watch The Hobbit trilogy, as well! It’s a classic, fun, and timeless adventure story.
Heir Apparent & The Book of Mordred by Vivian Vande Velde
Heir Apparent was recommended to Talia by a teacher in sixth grade. She fell in love with Velde’s books after that, and The Book of Mordred was another top favorite. The style of writing is engaging and fun, and the characters are easily memorable. For fans of medieval-era stories, these are great reads!
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S Lewis
This is another book that has stuck around with Dorian since childhood. One of the things he connected to was the use of music in the book, as he later grew up to learn to play many instruments! This is the first in the Chronicles of Narnia series, which are charming children’s fantasy books.
Here is our first map exploration post in what will be many more in the future! For this first one we are doing a deep dive into a location often traveled to in the books: the Expanse. This vast desert exists on the southernmost edge of the Korventine Empire, and it is the southwest corner of Corventos.
The Expanse is famous across Corventos for being the stage for the Day of Sealing. The day in which Corventos was rid of dragons. This all happened around Soleia. While it is a legendary day in history, the king of Soleia has since disappeared, and the city has now fallen to ruin. The only operational city within the Expanse is the port city of Vonkai.
The port city of Vonkai is a colorful and vibrant coastal home. Mostly Humans live there, but there are a variety of other races. About two days north are the ruins of Soleia. It is a road sometimes traveled by camel, and there is a small settlement of people that live around these ruins. To get to these ruins, travelers must cross the Golden Valleys sand dunes, as well as the general wasteland of the Expanse.
Further north past Soleia is the Gates of Remembrance, a site dedicated to all those who lost their lives in the Day of Sealing. Not far from that is the King’s Oasis, named for Vicrum Grodstrum, king over Soleia. That far east, it is the only comfort a traveler will find. If they venture even further east to Pirate’s Coast, they find themselves on the Bay of Thieves and dangerous waters, indeed.
If we look to the western side of the Expanse, there is a marker for the strange pyramid that Brother Zok ran past during the events of Ash & Thunder. Our heroes did not venture further west, for there are no settlements out there. The Celestial Mesas reach high into the blank blue sky, and the Badlands is not a friendly place for any well-meaning traveler or trader.
The Expanse is bordered on the north by the Black Reach Mountains, the place Jade was born and raised. The Millenium Sea borders the western coast, and it was that route that Sen sailed the Scarlet Maiden down during the voyage in Phantom Five.
The Expanse is a harsh environment and not much exists within it since Soleia, the City of the Sun, is no more. But Vonkai is a popular port for merchants, and the people there are open and friendly. Only the bravest risk sailing deep into the Bay of Thieves, but otherwise the waters remain good for sea travel. It is a location our heroes traveled to in Phantom Five, seeking answers regarding High Priest Amon’s death. It was also journeyed to again in Ash & Thunder, following rumors of a storm that never moved. While it was not visited in Path of the Spiders, perhaps it will return again in future installments of Thread of Souls!
Ever since we started playing our ttrpg campaign in 2015, we felt it could be so much more. We knew it would make an amazing fantasy novel. We always have an incredible amount of fun around the table and it’s been exciting to transpose our sessions to a book format. We wanted to share our process for doing so and how you can do so yourself. There’s a lot more to it than copying and pasting what happened word for word in game.
A lot can happen in a tabletop campaign and it can be a lot to keep track of when it’s time to translate it to a book. We’ve come up with a few tips we use when writing Thread of Souls. It helps us streamline the process and make everything more detailed, efficient, and easier to comprehend for the reader.
1. Don’t worry about side quests
Side quests or quests that don’t focus on the main story should be left out of the book. They may be great for a ttrpg session but can take up space and time when copied to the book.
They may help fill out the world and its lore, introduce the characters to NPCs, and reward them with fun new gear, but they slow down the overall pace. There are two ways we suggest inserting a side quest if you absolutely must. The first is to introduce a new main character. Say, for instance, a new player joined the game. The party may need to break away from the main plot for a brief moment to find this person, but to make it more interesting, you should always find a way to loop their story with the main narrative.
The second way to include side quests is if they are linked to the main narrative. As long as the reader learns — either through the quest or later on — it is connected to the main narrative, it can be included.
2. Keep combat short and quick
Ah, combat. What takes several hours at the table is only a few minutes in terms of game time. Typically, one round of combat for everyone involved is just a few seconds. While it can be engaging at the table, long-winded fight scenes can drag on and on and can become rather dull, especially in a book.
Fights are fast. The more time that passes, the more exhausted the characters will get. So while your fights can be hours long around the table, they should be short in the book.
Taliesin rolled onto his back as the creatures swarmed him. The cave lit with silvery light as magic burst forth from his hands, incinerating the undead it touched. But they kept coming and coming, a wave of bones and screams. He shouted in pain as blows rained down on him and sharp fingers tore at his skin and clothes, scraping across scale armor.
A good rule of thumb is to keep your fights to around two to three pages long.
3. Add more in-depth descriptions.
Sometimes all it takes to describe a location in a ttrpg game is short sentences to get your players caught up. But in a book, you need to add more sensory information to really bring the reader into the scene. By focusing on the five senses, you’ll be able to paint a better picture. Take for instance Thread of Souls. Ruuda and Taliesin are investigating necromantic magic coming from a hole in the ground.
He climbed down, vanishing from sight. She hesitated before following, using the roots and rocks to support her weight. A strong smell of mud and earth hit her, and it almost reminded her of the Deep Hollows. It was still too fresh of a scent, though. The darkness was a welcome relief to her eyes as she found herself in an open cavern nearly thirty feet in length. Taliesin stood in the center of it, surveying a floor that was covered in bones.
At the table, the scene was described as Taliesin could feel an odd magical sensation coming from near a boulder. As both characters walk around it they saw a hole in the ground. They could just make out the rocky ground, spiking out in various directions. The players can fill in the rest as they see fit in their imagination and describe what they want to do. But the reader needs a bit more information.
4. Focus on the characters
The story should be driven by the characters. As readers, we connect with people. By knowing how certain characters think, move, and act, we can get a much better understanding of them. At the table, you may know what your character looks like and thinks in their head but the audience won’t, not unless you describe it to them. Readers should get more insight into the characters they are following. Hearing their inner dialogue will help better connect them.
This also comes into play with minor characters the party may meet in the game. Unless they are important to the plot, unnecessary characters should probably be removed from the book. Phil the bartender doesn’t really need to come up multiple times in the pages of your book. You can always add them into a compendium later on.
5. Focus on storytelling
When we say focus on storytelling, we mean to stick with the main plot and the elements that drive the narrative. If you deviate from the overall arc you’ll pull readers away. They need to be invested in the story and its characters.
Thread of Souls, we follow several characters as they investigate mysterious happenings with planer travel and missing spiders. If we were to suddenly shift the focus to political intrigue and assassinations of rulers, it wouldn’t really match the theme we’ve built and would end up being confusing.
Also, don’t take up a lot of time by having characters go on side missions or shop. If it doesn’t have anything to do with the plot, it should be altered or left out of the book. If you absolutely love a character or NPC in the game and want them in the book, give them a good reason to interact with the characters.
Once you get a rough idea down, you can really start to write. To learn more about turning your tabletop game into a book series, we’ve put together a video of our writing and editing process.
Let us know your thoughts and if you’ve ever wanted to write your own fantasy book?
We list some of the best songs to use while you and your players explore the Feywild in Dungeons & Dragons.
Dungeons & Dragons released its latest book, Wild Beyond the Witchlight. It’s all about the mysterious and wonderful plane known as the Feywild. While it may sound like a fantastical place to visit, it’s not all fairies and unicorns and not all of them are kind. There are also sinister creatures that fight over control of the Feywild and those who live there.
The Feywild is ruled by creatures called archfey; incredibly powerful spellcasters or tricksters who may be good or evil. It’s a land of enchantment, nature, and mystical creatures. You’ll find hags, giants, walking and talking trees and plants, pixies, rabbitfolk, and many other animals now able to speak.
So, what music would work best for a setting such as the Feywild? We’ve got a few of our favorites all on Spotify.
“Deku Palace” is for those wild and crazy nights in the Feywild. It also works well as an introduction for characters getting there. Maybe they’re at a party that gets a bit out of hand and something pulls them there. Perhaps an archfey casts dancing magic upon the party and they are forced to dance to the beat, or it serves as the backdrop of a magnificent tree castle.
“Gruntilda’s Lair” from Banjo-Kazooie is all about the main antagonist, a witch/hag. As hags can be found in the Feywild it’s fitting for meeting a hag who may or may not be evil.
“Dalentarth” from Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is practically made for the Feywild. The game is set in a world that is similar to the chaotic plane. It’s full of archfey, unique creatures, and magical artifacts that fit in nicely with any campaign set in the Feywild.
The entire soundtrack pairs nicely with the overall Feywild theme.
With that being the case, we also suggest “Alabastra”. It goes well with meeting mysterious people or entering a dark and spooky area such as a corrupted forest or hag’s lair.
“Faren’s Flier” from Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns is great for describing areas of the Feywild the party is about to visit. It can also make for a great backdrop to traveling.
Sticking with Guild Wars, “Auric Wilds” is one we use quite often for traversing dense jungles or overgrown ruins.
In related Dungeons & Dragons news, the “Future of D&D” panel at this year’s D&D Celebration revealed a look at what’s next for D&D. Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse, is a collection of an assortment of art, stats, and upgraded information regarding monsters, creatures, and more. Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse releases in January 2022.
D&D is also working on a brand new set releasing in 2024.
Plot is important to keep the narrative moving. We discuss ways you can push forward the story to keep readers, viewers, and players engaged.
There have been times when we watch a movie or play a game where the plot just bogs down. It may not pull us out of the immersion but it can make things a little less fun and interesting. Stories should constantly be developing and shifting. It’s what makes them captivating and intriguing.
As fantasy authors, we fell in love with Lord of the Rings. While watching Fellowship for the thousandth time the other day we noticed ways the movie progresses the story. There is always something else that happens to advance the plot. We’re not talking about how Frodo has to take the ring to Mordor. It’s deeper than that.
It’s in the moments where the crebain from Dunland arrive and the party is forced to take cover. Or when the Fellowship must choose between going over the pass of Caradhras, through the Gap of Rohan, or into the Mines of Moria. There are multiple examples in the films that constantly usher the narrative forward. Without these moments, the story falls flat. It would just be a montage of the main characters traveling from point A to point B.
Beginning – End
Having a starting point and an endpoint should be the first things you come up with. Knowing where you want your story to go will help you fill out everything in the middle. This works for novels, movies, Dungeons & Dragons, and comics.
Like with Lord of the Rings: The Ring of Power has returned and found itself in the hands of a hobbit. The main characters learn it must be destroyed within the fires of Mt. Doom where it was created.
Everything in the middle is where you develop characters and introduce obstacles. These can be summed up as encounters.
Encounters, Encounters, Encounters
When you think about structuring a story like a game of D&D it makes it a bit more simple. Encounters are designed to challenge characters. They can range from social interactions, combat, and travel. One of the most important factors of an encounter is it should always advance the plot.
For example. In the Two Towers when the refugees are traveling to Helm’s Deep the caravan is attacked by orcs and wargs. It lets the viewer and characters know Sauron is watching them. He knows their plans and is actively trying to stop them. If it were just some random orc attack it wouldn’t mean much for the story. If that were the case it would be an inconvenience and readers wouldn’t connect with it.
Every encounter your characters come across should revolve around the story. Whether it lets the characters know the enemy is onto them or reveals a detail about a character, plot thread, or villain.
Encounters are also great ways to introduce lore. If you’re writing a book, it makes more sense to tell a streamlined story without filler or fluff. But there are times when even the best of novels introduce threads that lead nowhere. It’s best to avoid these altogether so you don’t leave your viewers confused.
This can best be summed up with random encounter tables in D&D. They have their place but we’re not big fans of them. If you do end up using a random encounter table make sure it is connected to your story. It could be connected to a character, NPC, or the overarching plot.
We’ll pull an example from our fantasy series Thread of Souls. In book two Ash & Thunder, a few characters find themselves in ancient elven ruins. Brought there by Jade’s brother to investigate a strange creature.
“As they turned into another room, they pulled up short and stifled surprised gasps. Curled in the far corner was a giant spider. The size of a horse, it was clearly dead and had been for some time. The torchlight cast its twisted shadow three times as big on the wall behind it.“Yuck,” Heron shivered.
“I have never seen one so big!” Skar gasped. “I am going to take one of its hairs.” He shuffled over, already getting out a pouch. Artemis glanced sidelong at Jade. “Do you get big spiders in Oceala?” The Druid stared at the dead creature, perplexed. “Well, no. But come to think of it . . . It has been awhile since I’ve seen a spider.” “One this size?” Unolé clarified. Jade shook her head, chewing on her lip in consideration. “No, any spiders.”
The missing spiders are the driving force of our story. Instead of delving into some unknown ruin, this reveal makes the story feel much more connected. While other characters may have known this information, Jade and the others just learned it.
In the case of the mysterious creature, it helps paint a better picture of the Deep Hollows where the spiders have the largest presence.
Here are some quick ways you can advance the plot:
We share our tips for running Dungeons & Dragons scenarios without focusing on Initiative.
Initiative is a concept in games such as Dungeons & Dragons that decides who acts when in combat. Players and enemies roll a d20 and add their Dexterity then a fight begins. It works well but it isn’t something we’ve come to rely on and niether should you.
Frankly, Initiative can bog down a game. Fights can take hours whereas traveling from point A to point B can take a manner of minutes. Not only does opting not to use Initiatve speed things up it allows everyone at the table to pay more attention. By not knowing when they are up, they may not dissappear into their phone. It’s a great way to ensure everyone, including the dungeon master, pays attention and is engaged.
Fights tend to take a bit of time. Player turns can be lengthy and other players may tune out while it isn’t their turn. The next time you have an encounter try forgoing Initiatve altogether. Instead, narrate what is happening and ask the players what they want their characters to do. It’s best to still stick with standard action economy – action, bonus action, move, reaction – but instead of acting in turn, they act after the enemy does their action.
For instance, if the group is up against a villain who is trying to get away with an artifact. Rather then go into Initiative, have them grab it as an action then run away. Then ask the players what they want to do. By not being in Initiative, they may think differently and not necessarily jump to fight mode.
Asking players what they want to do gives them more freedom. They don’t necessarily have to worry about waiting for another player to act before they do. No one is tied down by an order. As long as they act after the enemy or opposing force.
It’s a great time for players to try new things as well. Not being restrained by Initiative can open up some new opporunities in working together and thinking of unique ways to handle situations. It’s an idea that can really change the flow of any session and make encounters more freeing and cinematic.
Initiative Shouldn’t Mean Combat
The definition of Initiative according to the Player’s Handbook states,
“Initiative determines the order of turns during combat. When combat starts, every participant makes a Dexterity check to determine their place in the initiative order.”
Saying ‘roll for Initiative’ may cause players to automatically think they should engage instant kill mode. That shouldn’t always be the case.
When you break away from thinking of Initiative as strictly combat you start to see everything in a more cinematic view. Action movies all have intense scenes but think about all of the stuff that happens. They are generally more than just fast punches, swift kicks, car chases, and bullets. Villains monologue and characters react. Everything is so alive. By using these alternate rules, you can make more engaging encounters that don’t end in a blood bath. Why you Shouldn’t Rely on Initiative
We create a few cards we think would make perfect additions to the Lord of the Rings Magic: The Gathering card set.
We are rather fond of Lord of the Rings and watch it a few times throughout the year. We also recently got back into Magic: The Gathering with the release of the Dungeons & Dragons: Forgotten Realms set. As storytellers and game designers, we’ve also created our own board games and thought we’d try our hand at making a few Magic cards for the future Lord of the Rings set.
Magic includes Lands, Artifacts, Creatures, Sorcery, Planeswalkers, Instants, and Enchantments. We’re going to talk about four of these that have been on our minds ever since the announcement at Magic Showcase 2021.
Planeswalker: Gandalf the Grey
Gandalf the Grey
Mana Cost: 2 Plains, 2 colorless
First Ability +1: Place a +1/+1 counter on Gandalf.
Second Ability – X: Counters act as hobbits or dwarves. Subtract counters to reduce damage to life points or Gandalf.
Third Ability – 7: Create an artifact creature token that is either a dwarf or hobbit. It has “This creature’s power and toughness are each equal to the number of counters on Gandalf .” This creature has first strike and lifelink.
Enchantment: The Fellowship
Mana Cost: 1 Plains, 1 Mountain, 1 Forest, 1 Island, 1 Swamp, 1 colorless
Ability: Enchant creature gets +X /+X per named creature you control. Enchanted creature has vigilance as long as you control all members of the Fellowship.
Mana Cost: 3 Mountain
Gollum is a +4/+1 creature with first strike and vigilance.
We discuss some big fantasy news of the week as Magic: The Gathering announced it is making a Lord of the Rings card set.
When Magic: The Gathering announced a Dungeons & Dragons set we ordered 500 cards as soon as possible. One of the game makers’ next crossovers is Lord of the Rings and we couldn’t be more excited. Announced during Magic Showcase 2021, the set will release in 2023.
That’s a long way off from now but it gives us time to speculate on what kind of cards will be included. Characters like Gandalf, Galadriel, and Elrond have great potential to be planeswalkers as do Saruman and Sauron. Whereas heroes such as Frodo, Samwise, Gimli, and the rest of the Fellowship would make great legendary creatures.
“It is such a big world. So many stories, so many characters…and the only way we could pull it off was to do a full set.” Said Mark Heggen product architect for Magic the Gathering. “We have these characters with so much backstory and their own personality and their own history and now we get to put them on a Magic card and we want to both be true to their spirit and put a little Magic twist on them.”
The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth will also be releasing on MTG Arena and Magic Online.
We list our favorite fantasy comics fantasy fans should totally check out. From Dungeons & Dragons to Isola and Monstress.
Every Wednesday we like to peruse the latest comic books to hit Comixology and comic stores. As authors, we are always looking to read new books and comics to get us inspired to create. Comic books provide stunning visuals to go along with the story so you get a clearer picture of what is going on. They’re great for light reading and for those who want long story arcs with fully developed characters.
While superhero stories may be the most popular comic book genre, they aren’t the only ones. We much more prefer to sit down with a fantasy comic to fuel our writing for our book Thread of Souls and D&D game. Here are seven of our favorite fantasy comic books that we think any fan of fantasy will enjoy.
1. Dungeons & Dragons: A Darkened Wish
A Darkened Wish follows an adventuring party from level one to level 20. It’s about as close as you can get to translating a game of D&D into a comic book. It is written by B. Dave Walters with art by Tess Fowler.
Monstress takes place in alternate matriarchal Asia in the 1900s. It’s a dark and gritty story of gods, magic, and war. It follows Maika Halfwolf as she struggles to survive in the war-torn world and her mysterious link with a powerful monster that acts as her missing arm. Monstress is written by Marjorie Li with art by Sana Takeda
If you’re looking for an entertaining fantasy comic about a cat made out of ink then Inkblot is for you. It’s about a magical cat formed out of a drop of ink that leads characters to adventurers. Some are hilarious while others are full of action. All of them, however, tell a larger story about character growth and development. There are also dragons and mystical creatures. Inkblot is written and drawn by Rusty Gladd and Emma Kubert.
4. Rat Queens
Rat Queens is another example of a TTRPG game transformed into a comic book series. It follows the adventuring party known as the Rat Queens as they take contracts, fight monsters, and get into trouble. It’s a great example of a tabletop game gone of the rails due to its sarcastic but captivating characters and engaging plot. Rat Queens is written by Kurtis J. Wiebe with art by Roc Upchurch and Stjepan Sejic.
Isola was the comic that got me into fantasy comics. The art is pleasing and soothing to look at and is great for inspiring creativity. The story involves Captain of the Guard Rook as she figures out how to reverse a spell on the queen. It’s also inspired by Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki who understand how to make a great story. Isola is written by Brendon Fletcher and Karl Kerschl with art by MSASSYK and Kersch.
A Comixology original, Delver is about a dungeon magically appearing outside of a small town and the adventurers who dive into it. Some win big while others don’t return. It’s got monsters, creepy caves, and lovable characters. We’re really hoping for a follow-up series. Delver is written by MK Reed and C. Spike Trotman with art by Clive Hawken.
7. Critical Role
The Vox Machina Origins stories are fun and thrilling. The comics are built for avid fans of Critical Role and those just joining the party. If you like rolling dice and role-playing this comic is for you. But it’s also for anyone who enjoys Lord of the Rings. It’s an epic tale of heroes who may not be all that heroic but are still likable in a strange way. Critical Role is written by Matthew Colville and Matthew Mercer with art by Olivia Samson.
It’s comic book Wednesday! This week we’re taking a look at Dragon Age: Dark Fortress
Written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir, Dark Fortress is a three-issue series packed with familiar faces and an engaging story. It follows several characters from the Dragon Age games and comics like fan-favorite Fenris. Its fast-paced action and detailed characters drive the plot and build upon previously placed lore elements to tell a truly fantastic story.
Returning to the narrative are (my favorite characters) Vaea and Ser Aaron Hawthorne – introduced in Dragon Age: Knight Errant – along with Tessa and Marius – introduced in Dragon Age: Magekiller – and Francesca the mage – introduced in Dragon Age: Deception. Yes, there are a lot of people to follow and you don’t necessarily have to read any previous material to follow along – though it helps – and I highly recommend you do so.
They team up with Fenris – albeit hesitantly – as he hunts down a Tevinter mage. Something Fenris does quite often and quite well. The group is searching for a magical artifact in the possession of an Orlesian dignitary. It has the capabilities to create a powerful warrior similar to Fenris. The Qunari also join in on the action as they do in just about every situation involving mages and things get worse for everyone involved.
The story manages to tell quite a lot in a short amount of time. The villain and his motivations are developed quickly and effectively and the stakes are high. The writing is smooth and flows well with the art and all together tells a wonderful story that sets up future events. From epic backdrops to individual character portraits, everything artist Fernando Heinz Furukawa draws is stunning and full of life.
What is so fascinating about the Dragon Age series as a whole is how it treats its characters. While they are capable warriors and magic practitioners they each feel real and have their own motivations. The comics get to dive into them more so than the games as well. Dark Fortress sheds more light on Fenris even though Dragon Age 2 told a lot of his story. The writers do a fantastic job at showing his emotions through the way he acts and speaks. It’s something they do well with each one of the characters.
Each character also gets a moment to shine throughout the short three-arc story. Vaea shows off her rogue skills, the charismatic Ser Aaron distracts and outwits opponents, and Francesca learns to utilize her magic and grow more powerful. These details are typically something you see in a lengthy game or movie but the comics do it just as well if not better.
It’s more than a story about fighting evil and stopping the villain. Dragon Age has always been about character development and it’s nice to see it carried out throughout the comics. You really get to feel and understand each person.
Dragon Age: Dark Fortress is highly recommended for fantasy fans! It is thrilling, beautiful, and tells a great story with an even better cast of characters. We give it a 10 on a d10.