Today marks the official kickoff of the The Ventifact Colossus Book Tour presented by Storytellers On Tour, and we’re beyond excited to welcome Dorian Hart for his first Storytellers event as the author in the spotlight! In celebration of the upcoming publication of the fourth novel of his Epic Fantasy The Heroes of Spira series, The Infinite Tower, we’ve got a great lineup helping us feature the series’ first book, The Ventifact Colossus. I can’t wait to hear what our hosts have to say in the coming days, so stay tuned for some incredible content!
Dorian also stopped by to give us really great insight into the pitfalls and challenges of using an RPG campaign as the basis for a fantasy series. So, keep scrolling for the tour schedule, more info about the book, and the guest post. Oh! And Dorian is giving away a paperback book bundle containing the first three books of the series (The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’s Maze, and The Greatwood Portal) to one lucky winner, so be sure to enter to win!
Be sure to pick up your copy of The Ventifact Colossus, which is on sale for $0.99 over on Amazon for the duration of the tour!
We’ve enlisted a group of wonderful and talented bloggers and Bookstagrammers to help us feature The Ventifact Colossus. This is what we have going on, so make sure to check out each and every one throughout the week for some brilliant content, including reviews and more.
FEBRUARY 21ST – THE WELCOMING
Whispers & Wonder
Fantasy Book Critic
Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub
Sadie’s Spotlight (IG: @sadiesspotlight)
Beneath A Thousand Skies
FEBRUARY 27TH – THE ENCORE
Queen’s Book Asylum
For more about this tour visit Storytellers On Tour.
Banished to an otherworldly prison for centuries, the monstrous Emperor Naradawk is about to break free and wreak havoc upon the world of Spira. The archmage Abernathy can no longer keep the monster at bay, and has summoned a collection of would-be heroes to help set things right.
Surely he made a mistake. These *can’t* be the right people.
Dranko is priest-turned-pickpocket, expelled from his church for his antics. Kibilhathur is a painfully shy craftsman who speaks to stones. Aravia is a wizard’s apprentice whose intellect is eclipsed only by her arrogance. Ernest is a terrified baker’s son. Morningstar is a priestess forbidden from daylight. Tor is a young nobleman with attention issues. Ysabel is an elderly farm woman. Grey Wolf is a hard-bitten mercenary.
None of them are qualified to save the world, but they’ll have to do. Even Abernathy himself seems uncertain as to why he chose them.
What starts with a simple scouting mission soon spirals into something more far-reaching and sinister. The heroes will contest with dream warriors, evil cultists, sentient gemstones, and a devious yet infuriatingly polite gentleman with a perfect mustache, on their way to a desperate encounter with the unstoppable: The Ventifact Colossus.
The Ventifact Colossus is Book One of the Heroes of Spira.
Meet the Author
Dorian Hart is the author of the Heroes of Spira epic fantasy series, which currently includes The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’s Maze, and The Greatwood Portal. The fourth book, The Infinite Tower, should be out in February or March of 2021.
In a bygone century, Dorian graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in creative writing. This led circuitously to a 20-year career as a video game designer, where he contributed to many award-winning titles including Thief, System Shock, System Shock 2, and BioShock.
Now he writes books in his Boston-area study, serves as the stay-at-home dad for his two teenage daughters, and happily allows his wife to drag him off on various wilderness adventures. He also spends time torturing his piano, playing the sport of pickleball, losing at board games, making terrible dad jokes, and trembling beneath the shadow of his towering TBR.
RPGs and Novels
by Dorian Hart
As you might imagine, I have plenty of thoughts on fantasy books inspired by role-playing-game campaigns. I’m writing a series of such books, following the trail blazed by Weis, Hickman, Erickson, Salvatore, Feist, and many others, so naturally this is a topic often on my mind.
For many years I resisted turning my long D&D campaign into novels, due in part to the tedium of stripping out proprietary content, but also because I wasn’t sure it was a transition that could work. When I eventually decided to take the plunge, it was with the understanding that I would not be transcribing game sessions into books, but rather using my decade-and-a-half of characters and plots as source material for a fantasy series.
It has been my observation that “this book feels like a D&D game” is usually meant as a pejorative. Writing instructors will often tell writers never to base novels on gaming campaigns. I want to explore a bit about why that is. What is it, specifically, that makes an RPG-feeling book rub people the wrong way? Are those fair criticisms? Where the pitfalls are real, how can they be avoided?
Here are some ponderings on a few of those pitfalls:
(1) THE PACING IS ALL WRONG.
Novels and RPG campaigns are not, and shouldn’t be, paced the same. A novel that was a transcript of a typical campaign would be riddled with irrelevant side-quests, extraneous combats, endless wrangling on how to divvy up treasure, and other things that would destroy the natural ebb and flow of a story.
I think if you’re going to turn a campaign into a book, you have to first understand the core of your tale. Strip out anything that doesn’t speak to the arc of your plot, the essence of your characters. Every author, in any genre, eventually wrestles with what to keep and what to pitch, but that becomes even more a priority when translating a game to a book. Sure, your players had fun hunting down the gnoll chieftain whose face they saw on a WANTED poster in town, but will readers care?
(2) LEVELING UP FEELS ARTIFICIAL.
In RPGs, characters have regular moments when their abilities improve. And, yes, if done clumsily, this can chafe against the internal realism of a novel. Why did a wizard wake up one day able to cast Fireball? How did a fighter learn a new maneuver without hours of practice? The whole “leveling up” process is a game system that represents what might be happening in fiction, but is not the fiction itself.
On the other hand, improving abilities through practice is how people operate in real life. I’ve seen complaints about books because “the characters keep getting better at stuff, just like in an RPG,” but that has always struck me as an odd general-case grievance. If your warrior keeps getting into fights with monsters, or gets regular instruction from a mentor while traveling, of course he or she will improve as a book or series progresses. And plenty of non-RPG-inspired books feature “zero to hero” arcs and student/master training montages.
The trick is, if your characters’ skills improve, the reader has to believe they’ve earned it.
(3) GAMES AND BOOKS HAVE DIFFERENT AUDIENCES.
A player’s priorities and desires are not a reader’s priorities and desires. Depending on the game, a player may want freedom to explore every tangent, or a constant stream of phat loot from taking down monsters, or opportunities to role play with every beggar, barkeep, nobleman, and neo-otyugh they encounter. What players don’t want is a feeling that everything has been planned out for them, such that they can’t affect the outcome.
But someone reading a novel probably wants the sense that the author is in control of the story. Readers want a cohesive narrative arc, plot twists, cliffhangers, all that good stuff. I’m not saying a D&D campaign can’t have those things too, but the DM is often not in control of if, when, and how they occur. An RPG-turned-novel can be dissatisfying because of this underlying incoherence. Any good “translation” should start with an understanding of its audience: readers, not players.
(4) LACK OF FOCUS ON CHARACTER.
It doesn’t matter how good a storyteller you are. If readers don’t care about your characters and what happens to them, a book has failed. But in an RPG, characters can often be (ahem) paper-thin. Some players are more into stats and lists of magic items, and treat personalities as a sidelight. When RPG’s are turned into novels, the characters can end up feeling hollow, one-dimensional, or interchangeable.
Furthermore, a DM probably doesn’t have much control over the character mix in the party. Is everyone a chaotic murder-hobo? Are there five fighters and one twinked-out monk/sorcerer/druid multiclass? I think if you want to turn a campaign into a novel, you need to start with the characters, understand their motivations, their arcs, their personalities at a deep level. Don’t settle for what the game gave you. Think about what set of protagonists serves your tale. Whose stories do you want to tell? Don’t be afraid to add or subtract characters, change their genders, alter their personalities, and rethink their relationships with one another.
Among the feedback I’ve received for my Heroes of Spira series, the most consistent positive opinions are about my characters. I’d like to believe that’s because I always have the heroes at the forefront of my mind as I write. Readers don’t want merely to know “what’s going to happen.” They want to know “what’s going to happen to characters I’m invested in.”
(5) SPECIFIC CHARACTER ROLES FEEL TOO TROPEY.
I confess I have trouble with this objection. I’ve read complaints of the sort: “Oh, in that book, I could tell who was the wizard, the cleric, the thief.” To which my answer is “Er…and that’s a problem why?” If the answer is “because it’s a trope,” then I’d ask why having a party with RPG-ish roles is a worse sin than having dragons, elves, or scheming nobles in your book. (Or, how is it different than a team in a modern thriller having a computer hacker, a strong-man, a schmoozer, etc.)
I say, if the characters are interesting and fun to read about, who cares if one is a religious healer, another is a wizard with a big conical hat, and a third is Conan the Barbarian’s beefier cousin?
(6) ABSENCE OF MOTIVATION AND BACKSTORY.
“So, you all meet up in a tavern, and a mysterious wizard offers you his Globe of Gastroturgy if you’ll descend into the Dungeon of the Bolus and bring him back his lost Enchanted Wheel of Banbury Cheese.” I can see how that might not make for the most compelling novel, because it leaves out any reason for why everyone was in the tavern in the first place, and why they’re willing to risk their lives for a wizard they’ve never met, to find a cheese they’ll never taste. But this is just another facet of the need for solid characters with real motiviation.
Heck, my own series starts with the (ahem) cheesiest, RPG-est opening imaginable: A mysterious wizard summons a bunch of seemingly random citizens to his tower, and announces he’s conscripting them as a team to go on quests for him while he attends to his mysterious business. But I also made sure to understand each of the characters, where they came from, what their place is in the story, and WHY they agree (or not) to this wizard’s demand. And the reason for the wizard choosing these specific people in the first place is a mystery I intend to maintain until the last chapter of the last book. My cheesy opening isn’t a mere contrivance; it’s built into the bones of my over-plot.
In my humble opinion, if you want examples of D&D-inspired stories done right, where character and story are front-and-center but you can still feel a campaign’s heart beating beneath, take a look at Mike Shel’s Aching God, Nicholas Eames’s Kings of the Wyld, and Rich Burlew’s webcomic Order of the Stick.
Enter to win yourself a The Heroes of Spira paperback book bundle containing The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’s Maze, and The Greatwood Portal by Dorian Hart! One bundle is ready to find its forever home!
(Ends February 28th, US + CA Only.)
That’s all I got for ya! Be sure to keep an eye on the official The Ventifact Colossus tour page over at Storytellers On Tour (https://www.storytellersontour.online/2021/01/27/tour-schedule-the-ventifact-colossus-by-dorian-hart/) to see what the other bloggers and Bookstagrammers have to say!