A Night With Orcs

 

There’s this certain group of people with whom a close associate of mine is part of their circle. Friends of a friend, to be specific, the likes of whom we have taken to affectionately calling “a bunch of orcs.”

In my Fantasy Brain, comparing living people in my life to orcs is more a thing about demeanor and attitude (say, in comparison to calling someone a hobbit or a harpy…) and much less about physical appearance. It is not a form of disparagement or dehumanization, just a simple lens through which my mind observes the world.

Orcs are not known for their warmth in popular fantasy, characterized most commonly by jutting, boar-like teeth, green/gray/brown or even red skin, and, in some cases, upturned pig-like noses (early incarnations showed them in fact to basically be men with pig heads). They’re often depicted as primitive, savage, brutishly strong and generally unpleasant to be around. They’re common enemies in many settings, supplying players and protagonists with fodder for spells and weapons. But dig a little, and sometimes the lore of a given orc tribe will reveal a deep sense of loyalty, honor code, tradition and rich shamanistic and/or animistic culture.

Whether they’re categorized as resembling Tolkienien Orcs or Blizzard Orcs, they make for convenient enemies and obstacles. Personally I find their use in fiction to be tacky and lazy; they feel over done in most fantasy.

BlizzOrcTolkOrc

One might even be hard-pressed to even call these things by the same name.

In describing people I’ve met as “orcish,” what I mean is that they seem to follow the beat of their own drum, shirking what might otherwise be considered the norms of society and are generally unafraid to embrace the concept of “the human animal.” The true concept of orcs (if such a thing were ever to be considered true) is of course lost with the borderline-insulting parallels my brain makes between living people and fantasy tropes. When speaking of the specific group of people I met, I lean closer towards the Blizzard orcs, with their sense of honor and tradition.

Among the orcs I met were the equivalent of the shamans; philosophizers, theists, politically aware and well-read people whose conversation is more than worth the time to sit down and listen. I had the pleasure of observing one such individual, let’s imaginatively call him the Shaman, tell stories and weave his debates with the alacrity of a seasoned elder. The guy seemed to be one of those ‘integral players’ of the tribe; not that the party would be lacking in his absence, not exactly, but his presence is the type that helps determine what kind of night it will turn out to be. I felt an enriching aura exuded from the man.

Another individual, let’s call him the Chieftain, radiated a calm confidence that marked him, in my eyes,  as the leader of this band of orcs, though not in an authoritative, commanding sort of way. He was the outdoorsman, the one who just as naturally cut wood for the fire with his hand ax as some host of a dinner party might fetch wine for his guests from the cellar. His mate, also present, complemented him as a lady of the woods, taking it upon herself to routinely stoke the fire and ever lay more fuel to our night’s source of heat and light and comfort. I in fact helped with each of these tasks, able to exchange a few words with the orc Chieftain and his mate, and both (having met the Chieftain on one other occasion) were positively charming, welcoming people.

Granted, I would never have found myself in their presence were it not for being brought by another associate of mine – who I do not identify as an orc himself, but certainly a fire-bearded wildman capable of easily blending among them – and in chopping wood or stoking the fire they most certainly did not need my help. But seeing things like this in play reminded me of my younger days, having my own group of friends visiting – most of them not knowing the first thing about making and tending to fires in the woods – and it was my duty and pleasure to keep the fire going. The orcs obviously had everything well in hand, but it evoked old muscles and memories to partake in the ritual, triggering old woodsman instincts that had long since laid mostly dormant.

Perhaps most interesting of my observations of the Chieftain was the care and effort he had put into preparing the evening meal. Most folks had brought beer, and I, with my own dietary restrictions, had managed to brew up and share a meager portion of spicy vegetarian ramen soup. Most unOrcish. But more than the meal itself, the Chieftain prepared a couple of cornish hens (or something) in a large aluminum pan, and after hours of delicate patience and attentative cooking, he cut the pan in half, setting one portion aside for the tribe. The other half he took with him a safe distance away, where he and his mate enjoyed the delicacy. Those orcs who did not hear the designation were reminded.

“This one is ours,” he had said. The message was clear, and bereft of any negative inflection; the Chieftain had simply prepared a meal and by his generosity, had offered some of it up for the tribe, but this portion was designated for only himself and his mate. It was law, it was clear, and it was respected without the slightest hint of chagrin.

No one in their right minds (and many of the orcs were drunk, by the way), would question him – as might be seen in otherwise “normal” society – but it was entirely out of respect, rather than fear of embarrassment or reproach. It simply was, just as the orcs simply were.

I found watching that tiny exchange, the gesture of respect not only towards the Chieftain, but the respect the Chieftain showed towards his mate, to be a fascinating and overwhelmingly romantic thing to observe.

You won’t be finding bankers and CEO’s around this campfire. And while some of these “orcish” traits might be akin to “dwarvish” tendencies, the difference, I find, is attitude:

  • People who I’d recognize as “dwarven,” while just as capable of being wild and unpredictable and unconcerned with laying on bare earth, I see them as having much less of a propensity to go out and drink in the woods. People with classical dwarven tendencies would, in my mind, much prefer being rowdy and drunk in a tavern or a home, somewhere close to civilization and society.
  • Orcs, on the other hand, do it wherever the hell they want – but they prefer the company of trees and campfires simply because it’s more convenient for them to avoid otherwise less-than-cooperative authorities. There is more freedom the further away from other people you set foot. There is much more of a collective, tribal sense of “us” and “the rest of the world out there.”

Gatherings like this are things you may not recognize as common in your area, wherever you are, dear reader, but where I am as of this writing, it’s really not that unusual. The group I sat amongst consisted of around ten people, but I’ve been told the tribe has reached numbers as high as thirty-five closely connected individuals. You won’t find kindred folk like this in an office.

But what I’ve really come to recognize, and respect, is the simple genuineness of these people. These were folk with whom I confess I may not be able to mesh easily, but I easily get along with. I witnessed a group of friends who simply were who they were; I witnessed a complete absence of obeying typical societal polite discourse – they spoke their minds (did not dance around topics), they did not inhibit their flatulence, they lost their tempers in debates and quickly made amends over a drink not long after, and (I suspect) their dating/mating rituals probably don’t follow the same rules as set by society either. For all the rowdiness and self-indulgence I witnessed (and this event was comparatively tame), absolutely no one was phony. They were themselves, and whether by circumstance or mutual influence, they became who they were, and gathered, and shared stories, liquor, and laughs atop that mountain.

They also did not seem to give a damn that an outsider, some quietly observing bard such as myself, sat among them, partaking in the laughter, the jokes, the comfort.

Sure, this image seems about accurate. ((Art by Manzanedo @ http://manzanedo.deviantart.com/ ))

I’ll tell this: these people seemed, as far as I could tell, largely unconcerned, and thus unconstrained, by ideas such as putting on a show in order to “fit in.” With ideas of being politically correct for fear of offending someone (or, as was the topic of that particular night, perhaps they were simply venting suppressed un-PC things out into the night and to the stars). Even ideas of appearance, of society-deemed ‘style’ and ‘cool.’ People wore what they wanted, whether it was practical and worn or looked good and well-kept, and it’s not so much that I’m surprised by any of these traits – I’m simply impressed.

These are the kinds of people who will survive if society collapses, and not only because of their practical skills and familiarity with the wilds, but for their sense of community – cliche as that might sound.

There isn’t much room for orcs in the cities; there are too many laws and constraints. One of my closest friends growing up could best be described this way; when last I saw him, years ago (after perhaps half a decade of not seeing him before that), he had become significantly more orcish. It was a lifestyle that diverged our paths back in the day, his on his, mine on mine; and while I don’t consider myself one of them – I’m not nearly physically strong enough and far too preoccupied with keeping my hat clean – I do feel a kinship with them. Common roots, perhaps, sprouting into different trees.

There are much worse things than considering one’s self a friend of orcs.

~~~

Today’s track is brought to you by the Elder Scrolls VI: Skyrim – “02 – Awake.” This bit isn’t so much meant to pertain to the orcs with whom I shared company, per say, but rather the gorgeous sunrise we witnessed at 4:30am the following morning from the cliff near which we camped. Yes, you could play as an orc in that game (kudos to them), but this short track makes for an excellent start to many things – the start of a game, yes, or the start of a novel, a day, or a new chapter in one’s life.

Why I Hate Elves

The only reason to see the movie Elf was to watch Will Ferrel get drop kicked by Peter Dinklage.

So this is not so much a post designated to convince you of why you should hate elves as it is a simple rant. Let’s start with the basics.

At the very least, I despise the word ‘elf.’ Variations of long-eared humanoids are nifty, but for the most part they all follow the same Tolkienien tropes that are so overdone that I, personally, tend to lose interest very quickly. Along with Orcs and Dwarves, Elves are not what make a fantasy story a fantasy, yet all too often they make an appearance, as though there’s some recipe out there that says the formula is incomplete without a healthy dose of elf powder.

Fantasy is about imagination, about exploring worlds new and arguably familiar. To have your own world populated with carbon copies of what we’ve already seen in Faerun, Azeroth, Dominaria, Thedas, and countless bloody others doesn’t say much. They always have long lifespans, possess superior proportions, are almost unerringly attractive (so I hear), and are always better than you at everything. I get it, that’s what modern society seems to think elves are.

And it’s boring. I find hyper-sexualized characters to be irritating, however pleasant they are to look at and imagine.

Elves are more often used for fanservice than anything else, I’ve seen. They appear to have been fetishized, with effeminate men and blindingly attractive women. Practical armor optional (though, to the credit of some sources, they at least depict the men this way as well, so, yay for equal rights. I guess). Not that I have any particular problem with “effeminate men” or “scantily clad woman warriors,” rather, it’s just how those tropes appear to be what the world ‘elf’ means.

I get it. Fantasy. Exploring and/or depicting things we fantasize about. But since when does fantasy mean more of the same? I like looking at the shapely charms of well-defined female as much as the next guy, but what I don’t dig is when the woman’s body is essentially her primary (only?) asset as a character. Like, at the full expense of my willing suspension of disbelief.

Think Legolas would be as well-loved if he wasn’t some Aryan wet dream?

Maybe I should just accept that elves are just too nimble to actually get injured.

Originally, the word ‘elf’ was associated with something quite different. There’s quite the body of research behind the etymology and folklore of the old Germanic meaning – which has sorta been distilled from over a thousand years of folklore into a generalized understanding these days – and while I understand that language is a living, evolving thing, especially English, there’s something about the word elf that just bugs me.

Whether it’s the tiny little bell ringers at the north pole or archer princes sliding down the trunks of oliphants, I find myself over-saturated with the generalized and yet highly varied umbrella term of ‘elf.’

They come most often in three primary forms: we have the High Elves, the Wood Elves, and the Dark Elves (the most famous of these being the Drow. Don’t get me fucking started on Drizzt). They’re all essentially the same though, much like humans are all basically the same, with just a few tweaks of color and secondary physical features like ear length or height. I’ve always felt like usage of these, without distinguishing them in some form OTHER than slapping a different name on them, is just plain lazy.

And I know this because I used to be a much lazier writer.

Maybe certain writers love elves the way they are – and the market has told us what people like, so these depictions of elves aren’t going anywhere. I used to dig Blizzard Night Elves for awhile, because at the time they were new, and at the time I had my head stuck in the world of Azeroth. Once I actually began reading other sources and learning more, they lost their charm, becoming tropy as the rest of them – however I still dig their dress of quilts + feathers + antlers.

Honestly the most interesting elf variations that I’ve come across were the “City Elves” of Dragon Age (who were, in a drastic twist of events, depicted as petty and subhuman, rather than superior in every way possible), the elves of Lorwyn (which were cool because the creators A) hyper-expanded the trope by making their culture obsessed with superficial perfection and beauty – to the point of seeing themselves as natural “hunters of all things ugly,” and B) They actually possessed physical traits that made them unique – very satyrlike, with goat-legs and horns), and the Wood Elves from the 1977 Ranklin/Bass animated depiction of the Hobbit.

Get a load of these fair-haired bastards. Very fae-like, long before the explosion of D&D elves, followed by Blizzardian elves.

Now, with all that said, there are stories in which the common elf tropes have appeared that I have, in fact, very much adored. There have been numerous occasions where I totally dug the elves or elven characters of various mythos encountered. But as I grow older, I keep encountering the same things over and over. It gets kinda stale.

So what does this mean? It means that one must adopt the philosophy of “Writing What You Wish You Could Read.” After reading Dune, among other works, this is the story-writing philosophy that I’ve decided to adopt. I confess that I’ve fallen into the same pitfalls of writing elves the way everyone else does, which meant that for some bodies of work previously written, I had to rework quite a bit of the worldbuilding and lore. But it all came out for the better. What resulted (and admittedly, is still resulting, as more changes must be implemented) are cultures, creations, settings, and story elements that are mine.

That, I think, is more valuable than writing the same stuff you already see on the shelf.

What of you, dear readers? Tropes you see again and again that you’d rather have changed? Shaken up? Do you like elves the way we keep seeing them, or do you disagree with any of my point? Would love to hear it.

Today’s music is brought to you by Terraria, the track played when entering a Jungle zone. It hasn’t much to do with elves, exactly, but if you equate the usage of the word elf with anything lush or foresty, then there might be a connection in there somewhere.

 

Tidings 06/20/2014

 

  • Announcements

I guess what pertains most to you all, dear readers, is the mere fact that I’m reducing my twice-a-week posts down to the classic once-a-week variety. The simple reason for this is that I want to provide higher quality posts, and more than once I feel that I wrote posts on topics that served little purpose other than “filler.” They felt that way to me, anyway.

That word leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and it’s something I’m determined to not do again.

Also, though not particularly related to this blog, I’m expecting some big environmental changes soon. In other words, I’m moving. Like I said, this should not affect the blog all that much on account of the fact that none of you know where I live anyway. However, where I’m headed is a new and exotic place overseas, and the nature of a number of posts may reflect this for, as most of you know, I’m rather big on experience. I have no intentions of turning this into a travel blog or anything, but chances are I’ll come across something inspiring and related to writing and/or fantasy to share.

More on that in the future.

Cog-713x475

  • Writing Progress

It’s June, which means we’re nearing the end of yet another quarter for the Writer’s of the Future contest. I have a story ready, and have allocated some valuable feedback from a number of trusted associates. Typically I wait until the last day of the deadline, just in case I have any last-minute thoughts regarding the story, but this time around I’m thinking I should just submit it a week early and be done with it.

My other writing, the ever-ongoing novel project, progresses at a slow grind. I’ve reached a point where there remain but three chapters of raw text to be written out. Ideally, that will come out to another 30,000 words, but word count does not matter so much as the actual telling of the story. I’m finding that certain character perspectives involve a lot more detail, a lot more things to write about, than others, and wonder to myself whether there is any detriment to having characters’ chapters at 10,000 words while others, from other characters, are as low as 6,000. It doesn’t concern me that much, but just enough to make me wonder. The last thing I want to do is fill shorter chapters with fluff.

Then of course there’s refinement and editing. I think I actually prefer that part, though. The raw creative energy is lovely, don’t get me wrong, but getting the thoughts in place and the words down seems to be the longest part for me. I’ve read how other writers hate editing their own stuff. I rather enjoy it – as far as I’m concerned, the hard part’s over at that point, and it’s just a matter of organizing, trimming, refining.

I’ve noticed those are activities I enjoy doing in life.

Regardless, nearing completion of this novel is really quite exciting. When I finish the first draft, I’ll share the story (and believe me, there is one) for its inception and how I came about writing it (a third time). For now, though, suffice it to say it’s still in the works, and my goal of completing it this year is still very easily in sight. After all, 30,000 words really isn’t that much. Those of you familiar with NaNoWriMo know this to be true.

~~~

Today’s musical number is brought to you by a documentary I occasionally find myself returning to, called Wild China. As of this posting, it’s on Netflix, and Wild China is about exactly what it sounds; a National Geographic-styled production focusing on the wildlife and landscapes of China. It covers some of the peoples living out there, too, but mainly focuses on the natural science.

China is a big goddam place, with dozens of extremes in both animal life and environments; in terms of culture, what a lot of people don’t know is that China is more like Europe than a single unified country. Sure they’re under one flag at this moment in history, but they’ve 292 living languages today, including dialects spoken by 52 ethnic groups. Aside from some of the stunning imagery the documentary shows, we get to hear the narration of Bernard Hill (who us fantasy fans might recognize as King Théoden from the LotR movies.)

I couldn’t help but think of Théoden in his throne (post anti-aging), reading the script to this.

Class Progression: 3/3 Bards

“The bards were feared. They were respected, but more than that they were feared. …If you’d pissed off some witch, then what’s she gonna do, she’s gonna put a curse on you… no big deal. You piss off a bard, and forget about putting a curse on you, he might put a satire on you.
“And if he was a skilful bard, he puts a satire on you, it destroys you in the eyes of your community… and if it’s a particularly good bard, and he’s written a particularly good satire, then three hundred years after you’re dead, people are still gonna be laughing, at what a twat you were.”

Alan Moore

 

At last we come to the third and final of this little series. If you haven’t, check out the first and second posts I wrote leading up to this.

I’ve talked about in my earlier years, I had a preference for paladins, and how that preference evolved into my interest in druids. Today, we’ll talk about what I have come to understand as the player-class that most accurately describes “me,” this evolving collection of cells currently typing these words. It’s all in one’s mindset, I think, more than their physical talent or ability.

As a writer, a nonconformist, an independent thinker, my path throughout life never really had any particular essence of direction. Sure there was “finish highschool,” and not long after, “finish college.” Then there was “get a job.” You are not unfamiliar with this script. Throughout most of this time, I wrote stories, I made art, I underwent a variety of projects and ran with a variety of crowds – these were all things I did that came naturally, things I either enjoyed doing or felt some compulsion to express from within. And yes, wherever I went, whatever I did, whoever I met, I never really identified with something in particular truly being mine, or my place. I have acquired a host of rudimentary skills from a multitude of walks of life, and these days I have embraced part of my unchanged identity as a learning addict.

I have, it seems, become a jack of all trades, but not quite a master of any one particular thing. And I think in this society of hyper-specialization, I think I’m okay with that.

“A jack of all trades, but a master of none” was a phrase I used to despise when I was younger. I used to think that being a jack of all trades was inherently useless, as it meant you were not particularly good at any one thing. In a Head Full of Fantasy, where character class plays a roll in basic thought processes and group settings, I had never truly ascribed much value to rolling mixed or multi-class characters. Well, not until discovering that shapeshifting, slippery druid thing mentioned prior – I have no doubt that playing the “unclassable” druid laid a foundation of thinking for me. Funny, considering I never liked any bard-like characters most games I’ve played, and actually do not have any affinity for “folk music.”

These days, I see things a little differently.

As I have grown and matured, I have learned that my talents are not my strength, though I am not weak. So that rules out warrior – and what is a warrior in today’s modern world? A farmer, perhaps? Or a construction worker, an athlete, maybe even a soldier.

I have intellect at my disposal, but not the sort of memory or desire to spend hours researching something for the sake of knowledge, at the expense of one’s physical health or social skills. I would not make a good wizard/mage; and what are they? In today’s world, they are the programmers, the analysts, the scientists.

No, I am a writer, a storyteller, as might be evidenced by the existence of this blog (and, soon enough, my books). My strength is in my way of words, though not necessarily by way of song; I think many writers make modern-day bards. We collect stories, allocate our knowledge, invent our own. There are writers who travel from place to place, those who stay home and research and read and absorb, or those who put down on paper the experiences that they have simply witnessed. I may not brandish a lute or lyre and provide my allies with stat bonuses, but I wager telling a good story can have the same effect. Or better yet, writing it down for future readage, thus immortalizing the event.

These days, I’m more interested in adaptability, like I was saying in the druid post, than single-function. A bard is someone who is not a master swordsman, but they know how to wield a blade. They can’t cast a plethora of spells, but they have a few tricks at their disposal. A bard may not be able to move unseen or slit throats as quiet as a shadow, but they can pick a few locks/pockets and move about unnoticed when they wish.

I find this fascinating.

But the difference between being a bard and being a druid is that a bard feels real-life-applicable; a bard gets through life on wit and charm, and while I refuse to subject you fine readers as to why I am so witty and charming, I can tell you they’re among my better assets.

Also, they don’t offer shapeshifting courses at the colleges I’ve been to.

The bard is a traveler, a scribe, a storyteller. They have not always been used to great effectiveness in most videogames — often considered more masters of none as opposed to actual jack-of-all-trades. A common fault among the bard class, in terms of game-practicality, is that a bard can often do many things, but none of those things are generally strong enough to be of any real use during the game. One may be better off having a rogue for the sneaking, a mage for the casting, a priest for the healing, and so on.

There’ve been a multitude of attempts at making bards applicable, with varying results. But I’m not gonna get into gaming mechanics here; I’m more interested in the real-world concept, such as folk singers, or travel writers, or photographers for National Geographic. Hell, I distill the concept not so much to include music, but any form of art or creativity that involves charisma (see wit and charm).

Part of me wishes I dug bards before I quit League of Legends…

A wo/man who goes through life traveling from place to place, learning languages and local customs, picking up skills and experiences, discovering the world one village or adventure at a time. Sounds bloody romantic, doesn’t it?

Or, like a lot of people I know, it sounds like something they wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot-pole. “No thanks,” I know some folks think, subconsciously or otherwise. “I’ll take a safe, secure, complacent office job in a cubicle over the risk.”

Tell ya one thing. Having spent time in a cubicle (Where They Used To Think I Work) the life of a bard sounds significantly more appealing to me. Even if I’m not particularly musically inclined. Well, not on the production side anyway…though that, too, may change. Picking up a guitar and playing a few diddies hardly counts as bard-worthy.

But in my current state and life circumstances, I feel the bard truly fits my mindset. Perhaps that too will change in time, as things always do, but it is an oddly comforting, geeky sort of feeling to come to grips with being something of an categorizable enigma.

This is but one journey among billions. What character classes do you identify with? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Today’s music is brought to you by Final Fantasy XI, the first of Square-Enix’s attempts to cash in on the whole Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) genre. If there’s one thing they got right in that game, it was the music. Below you’ll find the theme for the area known as Ronfaure – a place in fact I’ve never been – and rather than throw some folky bardy taverny thing at you today, Ronfaure’s a slower beat that positively drips medieval kingdom. Have at it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Class Progression 2/3 : Druids

https://i.chzbgr.com/maxW500/5130951168/hB71D3D94/

Oh come on, this’s good.

For better context, be sure and read Part 1 of this series, where I focused on my fascination with paladins back when I was a sprout.

For the record, the concept of a paladin remains interesting to me today, but World of Warcraft pretty much destroyed my idea of what paladins represented. This was mostly on account of the people behind their avatars, and how a paladin was, and remains, basically “a knight who has holy magic but does what he wants regardless of the moral implications.”

At any rate, as I matured into that awkward stage of life where hundreds of other people my age, drunk to our gills in hormones, are stuffed together in small rooms (at least that’s how I remember high school), my interest in warrior-related class preferences went through a transition. I was exposed to other concepts of what it meant to be a warrior; I studied Buddhism and developed an interest in East-Asian cultures. As a teenager and with the limited resources available to me (the internet was new at the time), the most readily available media came from Japan. I discovered anime and a slew of games, and through it the exaggerated concepts of samurai swordsmanship. Rurouni Kenshin was a big influence.

https://i2.wp.com/cache.fighters.com.br/jogos/boxart/ec05d522056d6ceb3dc22d345028aaa30dc177dd.jpg

I played the hell out of this horribly mis-painted yet excellent game.

My interest in Eastern philosophies, cultures and traditions evolved, though in many video games I played, this manifested in the form of favoring any character who would/could carry a katana – or better yet, a no-dachi. But alongside them came a healthy respect for a class very often seen in fantasy media: the monk. Martial arts, though not a passion of mine, has remained a strong point of interest and respect for me.

These interests and preferences came from a common root arguably seen in a paladin; warriors who fought and employed abilities that came from an external source, a higher belief, in some form or another. No disrespect to the barbarians and berserkers out there reading this, but when it came to physical combat, I always found myself attracted to warrior-classes that fought for some kind of ideal — as opposed to a warrior that was just “badass.”

The monk, in it’s various incarnations throughout games over these last few decades, often exemplified this almost as perfectly as the paladin — except (usually) with that distinctive “Fantasy-Asian” flavor. I think my favorite monks were found in Final Fantasy Tactics (which also had samurai and holy knights, come to think of it), though I’ll enjoy most any character capable of standing toe-to-toe with opponents armed and armored in tempered steal, with little more than calloused knuckles and foot wraps.

https://i1.wp.com/www.finalfantasykingdom.net/tactics/tacticsmonk.jpg

They could punch through steel armor. That’s freaking awesome.

Yet the monk, and many martial artist-like characters and classes out there, did not quite resonate as “me,” not in the way paladins did when I was younger. Considering the area in which I grew up and the people I knew there, “Eastern” thoughts and “alternative thinking” kinda left me mostly on my own, save a few individuals. What this, and the appearance of certain influential Blizzard games, primed me for was my fascination with the druid.

I cannot remember the first time I had come across the concept of a druid. It might have been during Magic: The Gathering, where they were inarguably green, but at that time I was more drawn to angels. No, it was the Warcraft series, specifically the introduction of the Night Elves, that really got me into things druidic.

And yes, I’m well aware of the historical druids of our world.

Then of course Warcraft 3 followed by World of Warcraft came around, and having favored the Night Elf faction, I rolled a druid the moment I got my hands on WoW. I shan’t linger on the precise mechanics of that game, nor their place in the world lore. What I’m going to talk about is the concept of a druid, which at it’s core, holds strands in common with the druids of other universes, such as that of Dungeons & Dragons (in its many incarnations), Everquest, and others.

Now for those of you unfamiliar with what a druid actually is, here’s a nifty excerpt from TVtropes.org :

“In modern fiction, “druid” is typically used for a nature-themed magic-user that usually has flavour of priesthood, especially if they hail from pre-Christian Europe (or fantastical equivalent). Unlike standard issue Fighter, Mage, Thief or well-defined concepts such as The Paladin, druid capabilities may vary highly based on setting, although in principle it’s a very broad spectrum: their powers govern just about everything connected to living things and unliving manifestations of nature…”

Yup, totally what I saw myself as in WoW. At least when I wasn’t getting ganked.

What we have here is a warrior inspired and empowered by nature. Now there’s an ideal, the power of nature; a spiritual background that appealed to me — a boy raised in the woods by vegetarian hippy parents. A druid, whether a single individual or part of some circle, very ranger-like in their abstaining from society, and were very much outliers in most any given setting. They were loners, preservers, and really had a handle on “the big picture.”

Often enough, nature falls in that gray area between clearly defined Good and Evil, Black and White, Light and Darkness. Nature is its own thing.

These were ideas to which I could subscribe. The druid felt very “me,” and throughout my college years this could be seen in my work as an Art Major (examples of which I will spare you). But more than that, I learned about the concept of adaptability in terms of character class, and this served to develop my personal psychology to lasting effect. Allow me to paint for you a mental picture.

In World of Warcraft, druids were designed to be versatile; not counting actual in-game application (which was in a constant state of flux), the various animal forms a druid could assume allowed for adapting to almost any situation. Turning into a bear allowed for greater hit points and the ability to pull enemies away from your allies; turning into a panther/lion fulfilled the role of a rogue, allowing quick bursts of damage; a moonkin (owlbear to you D&Ders) that blasted enemies with nature magic; and even a tree form to enhance one’s healing spells. Hell, one could even assume the form of a fast beast (a cheetah in the early days, and lately it’s been a stag) for long distance travel comparable to riding a horse, or even take on the form of a bird to fly over mountains and buildings. Sea lion form was available as well, allowing for speeding up rivers and across lakes. One could switch between most of these animal forms in a matter of seconds, without any particular limitation, making druids very slippery and cunning.

With so many options available, I found it unfulfilling to play any of the ‘mimicked’ classes. Rogues and Warriors and Mages did their role arguably better than a druid, but that’s all they did. I wasn’t satisfied with that, and this reflected in my life choices as well.

How could I adhere to one single career path if it meant specializing in one thing for the next 10 years? Or worse, the rest of my life?

How gods awful boring is that?

In the next and final installment of  this series, I’ll discuss which class with which I most identify myself today, as a matured adult in a modern age.

Music selection today is brought to you by, I couldn’t resist, Blizzard. Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos to be precise, when the night elf race made their debut and druids became “a thing” in Blizzard games (we do not speak of the druids in Diablo 2). This music harkens back to the time before the fall of Blizzard, in the opinion of this humble gamer.

This track is known as “Awakening,” the second of the three original night elf tracks, and it was chosen not only because hey, guess what, I rambled on about Warcraft games again, but because this track is unique among “nature tracks” I know. It begins with a determined mood, accompanied by a peculiar blend of drums and mandolin, then fades into a serene, peaceful atmospheric verse. With your volume up high enough, you can hear birds in the back, can almost see the untouched glades hidden amongst pristine, ancient forests; the wild and magical places of the world that druids call home and swear to protect. Then the music builds once more, back into determined, warlike tones of a mindset aware that if one is to be a “nature lover” in a fantasy setting, one must come equip with a savage side.

Happy writing, dear readers!

 

Guest Post: How to Hone Writing Skills Through Fan Fiction

Today’s guest is the one, the only, Iscah, who will cover the benefits of writing Fan Fiction.
Take it away, Iscah!

~~~~~

 Fan Fiction is unauthorized stories written by fans based on their favorite shows, books, and films.

Many professional authors feel fan fiction is a waste of time, and yes, fan fiction is a violation of copyright.  However many copyright holders tolerate or encourage fan fiction, because it helps keep their fanbase engaged with the world/characters and busy between releases.  Fanlore has a partial list of various authors’ policies towards fan fiction and yes, I think you should respect their wishes.

But writing stories based on other’s work is long, proud literary tradition.  Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was based on a poem by Arthur Brooke.  Many modern, professional authors pay the bills by writing for establish franchises like Star Wars and Monk.

So this article is dedicated to tips for getting the most out of writing fan fiction for those of you hoping someday to go pro…or at least improve at your hobby.

Writing Fan Fiction is a Chance to Study a Popular Work – You know you like the world or characters you’re writing about, but stop to think why you and so many others like it.  What makes these characters interesting?  How is the plot structured that makes their struggles engaging?  What prose techniques does the author use to keep you turning pages?  Pay attention to the details and nuances of your source material.

Use Fan Fiction for Feedback – It’s much easier to get strangers to read your bad fan fiction than your great original story.  (Sad but true.)  Add a note encouraging readers to respond with their comments and suggestions, particularly in regards to your writing style.

Beta Other’s Fan Fiction to Improve Your Editing Skills – Reading and critiquing other writer’s work is a great way to train yourself to spot spelling, grammar, and logistical errors in your own.  While writing and editing are different skills, they compliment each other.  And you may discover you enjoy editing even more than writing.

Fan Fiction Betas Can Prepare You For Editors – Learning to accept and make good use of corrections and criticism is an important skill for a professional writer.  Your average beta won’t be as thorough as a professional editor, but when you’re starting out, that may be a good thing.

Use Fan Fiction to Learn Platform Building Skills – The most popular fan fiction authors tend to update regularly, finish what they start, use social media to gain new readers and keep in touch with current fans, and sometimes build websites and/or blogs to showcase their work and fan art based on it.  They may even appear as panel speakers at conventions (a volunteer role but good PR practice).  These are skills and habits that can translate well to professional work.

Use Fan Fiction to Focus on Plot and Style – Writing someone else’s characters in a believable way can be as big a challenge as writing something purely original.  However it is true in fan fiction that you’re already standing on the shoulder of the author(s) who originated the work.  Since your characters and settings are ready made, you can pay extra attention to honing your plot building and refining your writing style.  What new element can you bring to this established world?  What new territory can your explore that will engage your fellow fans?

OCs Don’t Have to Be Mary Sues – Fan fictions should rotate heavily around established characters and settings, otherwise I’d question why you tried to pass it off as fanfic and not just spin off into a $ellable original fiction.  However, smoothly interesting an OC (Original Character) or element into an established world can be a good test of writing skill.  If you do it well, readers will roll with it.  If you do it poorly they’ll gripe.  Just remember once you use an OC in a fanfic, you should expect to abandon them to that world.  If you’d like to use your OC elsewhere, best not to include them in a fan fiction.

Writing Sellable Fan Fiction With Kindle Worlds – As a general rule, you can not sell fan fiction.  However, Kindle Worlds has created a fan portal that will allow you to do so legally within certain guidelines.  I advise treading carefully and reading through all the legal.  But essentially it’s open (alternate universe) franchise writing, could be an interesting way for writers to connect with a ready fanbase.

For legal reasons, I write fan fiction under a different pen name than my original work.  I didn’t want to have to pull everything down like Cassandra Claire did once she went pro.  But it was a wonderful way for me to get five novels and a few short stories worth of experience in before releasing a novel to sell.

 

About Iscah

Iscah is the author of the fantasy novel Seventh Night  and the related novella The Girl With No Name. She was even kind enough to provide a Music of the Day!

Class Progression 1/3: Paladins

Throughout most of my gaming career, I played almost every classic character class under the sun, at least to some degree, in the majority of RPG’s out there. However, there were always certain classes to which I identified as “me,” the job, the career that I felt most represented who I, the Jesse, was and believed and went about life.

There are the archetypal roles in fantasy stories and games; the fighting warrior, the sneaky rogue, the scrutinizing mage, the stoic cleric. As other games came out over the ages, whether in my lifetime or otherwise, other playable classes emerged; things like rangers, paladins, monks, shamans, druids. Nothing here should be new to any experienced gamer, or roleplayer for that matter.

What I’m going to talk about today is how my preferences for certain classes changed as I aged. It came to my attention that there’s something of an arc happening here, as I mature(d). So let’s get right to it, eh?

In short, when I was young, I loved fighters, which eventually bled into paladins. After that, I became fascinated by the samurai, which led to monks, then eventually druids. These days, I favor the bard. It’s been quite the path.

During the earlier part of my life, I had a rosier look on things. I look back and recall that religion was never a central part of family life. I did not believe in a god because it was the tradition to follow, but because the concept was there and it’s something a small-minded child can easily grasp. I can’t say if this, a thing I can only describe loosely as “faith,” affected my decision-making when it came to choosing the character class I played as in games. I’ve known people like that; folks who played only paladins because they were, in life, so religious they could not even put themselves in the shoes of a nonfaithful.

Such people frighten me.

No, rather, I think it was the absence of real faith in my life that lead to my fascination with paladins at an early age. There is something that interests me, to this day, about a warrior who is no mere devotee (i.e., priest or cleric), but the closest thing to a mortal made into a weapon for a deity. Surely there are examples of this in both historical and modern concepts that are regrettably and profoundly stupid, but in a fantasy setting, where gods actually exist, this is big stuff.

I first came to practice the idea of a paladin while playing Diablo (the first one from 1996, not Diablo 2 in 2000, where an official paladin class was introduced). In Diablo, I played the warrior, and consumed as many tomes of Holy Bolt as I could find. At the time I thought turning the warrior into a “holy knight” was the coolest thing ever, even though in that particular game this decision would not be considered effective. But effective wasn’t the point; I loved it, I loved the concept.

https://redamnesia.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/f0fbf-diablooverlord.jpg

Hold on guys, lemme just dupe this Glorious Platemail of the Stars and I’ll be right with ya.

The sound, the feeling of drawing energy from a source beyond, a true source of good, a holy source… this is what I’ve come to understand was, and may still be, one of my deepest desires in life. I am not a man of faith. Heck, I’m not even spiritual.

But I almost envy those who believe, because they have a certain sense of assurance that I will never have. Being spiritual is interesting to me, though it is not me; not anymore. You will much more likely see me subscribe to Buddhism or shamanism/animism than anything else. We’ll get into that later.

Yet still, there remains a certain part of me that thinks, with a mental sigh, “It must be nice to feel one’s place in the universe assured by a cosmic being.”

Naturally, I played Paladin a lot in Diablo 2. But the most defining moment for my exposure to what paladins could be, what they meant, was in one of the most influential fantasy RPGs I’ve ever played.

No, not Cecil from Final Fantasy 4. No, not Arthas from Warcraft 3.

I’m talking about the paladin class from Baldur’s Gate (1998). I can’t say I played the class to its fullest potential, but I did rock that game, and I had a blast doing it; the paladin provided a single-use heal – which in that game was kinda hard to come by – among a couple of various spells that were not so much deity-fueled, but morally fueled. Spells like Detect Evil and Protection From Evil were real things, and to this day I think the Dungeon’s & Dragons description of Evil is the most well thought-out, at least in terms of storytelling.

But what had the greatest effect on me, personally, was the Baldur’s Gate paladin spell Holy Might. Activating this not only provided nifty bonuses, but a rocking sound effect that I can hear in my ears even now, almost fifteen years later. A sort of baleful, angelic warcry that, I imagine, is among the last things you ever want to hear before someone puts a sword through your skull. That one spell, that one effect … that one sound … defined what a paladin is to me.

To this day, I have been unable to locate that sound byte from the original game. When I do, you can be it will be safely stacked away with the others, possibly used as the alert sound for some kind of notification.

There was a paladin character named Bjornin in Baldur’s Gate, who acted as a quest-giver, and to bring him to your attention a scripted NPC would approach the player and complain about him. “He’s just staring at me. From across the (tavern) room. It’s like he’s judging me. Who gives him the right to judge anyone, eh?”

Well, in fact, a god somewhere, actually. A god that exists. And a good one, for that matter, because a paladin is not a paladin unless s/he remains Lawful Good, which is arguably the most boring of alignments, but certainly as Good as they get. Breaking that rule results in becoming a Fallen Paladin, at least according to D&D (I’ve yet to encounter a game where this has also happened, save perhaps Arthas from (World of) Warcraft, but Blizzard’s definition of paladinhood is vague and flimsy at best), which would essentially result in a disgraced being, reduced to a “normal” mortal for falling out of favor of their god, stripped of their power.

All this remains fascinating to me, but as I grew, my preference for such a class changed.

Next time, I’ll talk about the aspects of Eastern-styled fantasy warriors garnered my favor, as I went through a metamorphosis of my own.

Today’s music is brought to you fittingly from Baldur’s Gate, which will be mentioned again in future posts (though I promise not so excessively). This tracks is known as The Lady’s House, a bit that plays when entering certain temples in game. It’s a short piece, and in fact is not something I normally listen to except when in a very specific mood.

That mood? Something along the lines of a peaceful fantasy, letting my brain briefly drift into a state, into a world, where there are in fact anthrocentric self-serving deities out there looking out for us.

And then I come back to the real world. But it’s nice to dream.