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The New World of Publishing: Book Length

Note - This is a reprint of Dean Wesley Smith's article from 2011, which is used with his permission, as part of our ongoing series about Fantasy Books, Writing and Publishing.

Dean Wesley Smith - March 2nd, 2011.

I’ve got lots of questions over the last few months from writers asking my opinion of book lengths in the future of publishing. So, let me haul out my old crystal ball, polish it up, and pretend like I honestly can see into the future.

I honestly can’t, but I can give you opinions based on history and some facts. So let me try that and then we can discuss in the comments how right or wrong my swirling crystal ball is compared to yours.

Some History of Book Lengths

For the longest time, meaning almost one hundred years, there were generally two types of novels being published in Western Literature. The larger ones were always hardback, usually dense, and designed only for the elite. The harder-to-read the better the book.  The rest, the vast majority of novels, were published in the magazines, pulps, self-published, and hardback second-run presses like Grosset up until the Second World War. These books were designed for the masses and were called “entertainment.”

Then the military paperback novel reprints taken to the war by the GIs caught on when they came home and mass market paperback books grew in popularity because they were cheap, usually just a quarter.

Most stories called novels from 1900 until the early 1970s were in the range of 30,000 to 50,000 words.  Sure, there were some longer, but not a large number except in the literature genre. Even early fantasy novels in the pulps were in that range.

Then one major factor started to hit home in publishing. The returns system and costs of overhead forced publishers to start charging more for their books to cover the costs. So publishers slowly, from the mid-1960s onward, asked authors for longer and longer books to give the readers the feeling they were getting more story for their money as the book prices went up and up and up. The cost of paper was a minor increase in cost, very minor.

Paperback book prices went from  25 to 35 cents in the early 1960s to the $8.99 range today. If publishing had just adjusted prices for inflation, a paperback book priced at 35 cents in 1960 would sell for $2.60 today. That’s how far traditional publishers pushed priced to pay for their expensive overhead and the returns system.

This upward trend in both book prices and book size continued for about 30 years. In the last ten years publishers found a point in book size that hit diminishing returns. Larger books were more expensive to distribute and ship and fewer books could be placed in a pocket or on a store shelf.  That meant less market penetration and less sales, and the mass market $8.99 paperback sales dropped dramatically as customers just started to say no to more price increases.

So book lengths for most genres suddenly had hit a ceiling of 90,000 to 100,000 words. Fantasy and some thrillers were still minor exceptions, allowing authors to go even higher.

When this sudden diminishing returns problem was figured out, publishers tried another “enlarging” trick with the “Quality Paperback” and that pretty much failed, even though publishers committed to it years ago are still putting them out. Buyers are just not that stupid.

(A Quality Paperback is just like a regular paperback, only taller and more expensive. A “trade paperback” is a paperback bound book (perfect binding) that is the same size as a hardback, only not cased in.)

Trade paperbacks actually give readers more value and thus even though prices of trade paperbacks tend to be around $15.00, readers went for them as a cheaper deal than hardbacks that have reached prices of $27.00 – $29.00.

So, in short, it was the publishers who forced writers into longer and longer books to justify the publisher’s increase in pricing. 

This left the 30,000 to 50,000 word novels in most genres way, way out of the picture. In fact, in the 1980s I think it was Stephen King that called the length between 15,000 words and 60,000 words “no-man’s land.” For thirty years he was right.

(Yes, I know that young adult, some category romance, and series westerns stayed around the 50,000-60,000 word length, but those were the exceptions.)

And when you ask how publishers could force writers to write longer books, realize it both took time and was very easy. They just put out the word they wanted longer books and rejected anything out of the new length range they were looking for. No one noticed the slow increase in size over the thirty years except for old pulp writers and those of us who like the history of publishing and collect the old paperbacks.

Like anything in this business, once new writers think that’s the only way things are done, they defend the practice like it’s a golden rule.  And since traditional publishing was the only game in town for the last forty years, writers really had no choice but to write longer and longer, even though in many cases, it wasn’t a natural length for the story being told.

Reader Expectations

A quick point about reader expectations right here and I will come back to this later. Readers (by this upward pressure by publishers on book length to justify their pricing) have also been trained to sometimes like longer books. Of course, they have had little if any choice to read a shorter novel, but the reader expectations are clear at the moment. That will also change with time.

Electronic Publishing Length Prediction

Now we have come to the new golden age of fiction that is dawning. Traditional publishers, moving quickly to electronic publishing, are going to start relaxing their length requirements, maybe even welcoming shorter novels due to less costs in production values. They haven’t yet reached that point, for the most part, but my bet is that they will. (Crystal ball polished.)

The reason novels got longer over the last thirty years was publishing overhead costs and shipping costs. In a world of diminishing shelf and rack space for books, it only makes sense to stuff more books into the same amount of space to make more sales. Thus thinner books and slightly lower cover prices, supported mostly by electronic publishing sales, could slowly become a norm again.
A publisher can ship almost twice as many 60,000 word novels in the same carton for the same price as they can a 120,000 word novel. Not exactly, but close. All for the same shelf space.

Putting an electronic sales cash flow base under a publishing house can also help publishers find more flexible size requirements for all their books. Again, that will take time as well and has not really started yet in most cases. Right now most publishers are still shocked at the speed this is all moving.

Downward Pricing Pressure Will Lead to Shorter Books

Yup, here I go again on the pricing topic. Can’t help it because book length and pricing are connected very tightly.

Electronic publishing was, in part, a reader rebellion against the high prices of traditional published books.

I’m not talking about the silliness of pricing a novel at 99 cents. There are lots of books out there in front of used bookstores in bins for 99 cents. Discount Dollar Store types of discounting of books has always been around. For example, in our discount mall here, we have a discount new bookstore. I can go in there and find a book that didn’t sell well two years ago, brand new, being cleared from a publisher’s warehouse, for 99 cents or $1.99. (Author makes little or no money on sales from that store, so I don’t go in there very often.)

In electronic publishing an author makes almost no money off a 99 cent book price. (35 cents for the most part.) If they had sold the book to a traditional publisher, they would have made 8% of $7.99 or 64 cents per sale. So 99 cent novel pricing of electronic books, as I have said over and over in many ways, makes no sense at all. Period. You are better off stuffing the book into the traditional publishing produce factory. You would make twice the money per copy sold.

However, talking about story length, a short story priced at 99 cents makes great sense. And readers are coming to expect short stories to be 99 cents. And shorter lengths are wonderful to read on phones or Kindles or other devices when waiting in line or at a doctor’s office. So the short story is coming back strong these days, both as a 99 cent stand-alone offering or in collections.

Novel pricing seems to be all over the map and chances are will not settle anytime in the near future. Traditional publishers, for the most part, are holding pricing of the longer novels in the range from $6.99 to $14.99.

(An electronic book at $14.99 is just as stupid as one at 99 cents in my opinion, but alas, that’s just my opinion. But do the math. $14.99 x 35% is $5.25 profit. A book priced at $9.99 x 70% is $6.99 profit. Charge five bucks more and make $1.74 less. Yeah, that’s smart. NOT!)

Indie publishers are taking their books for the most part around the $5.00 number, usually under, and traditional publishers are coming down to that impulse buy point as well in some cases. All of my traditionally published books now have electronic prices in the range of $6.99 to $9.99.

So now we are moving from a world where length of a book determined the price (or the need to increase the price determined the length of the book) to a world where you might as well toss a dart at a price-board to set your book price. But the dartboard approach will slowly move back to length pricing.

So let me give a suggestion of how I think this length/price might level out for both traditional publishers and indie publishers in Electronic Publishing. (Crystal ball polished and ready to roll.)

Traditional Publishers:

—Premium Books (Meaning new bestsellers). Length will remain for the near future at 80,000 to 120,000 words. Pricing at first will stay high, above $14.00 to not hurt the premium of the hardback release. This will change as electronic book sales go past 50% of the market share in the next three or four years.

—Standard paperback or trade paperback books. A length pressure to reduce size will start taking hold to allow publishers to get more books into the same shrinking bookstore shelf space. Electronic pricing will hover around the $7.00 number. Length size will start dropping toward the 60,000 length again in most genre fiction. (This will take years as it took years to build.)

Indie and Small Publishers

—Short fiction. Anything under 15,000 words.  99 cents price.

—Short novels and short collections. Anything from 15,000 words to 30,000 words. $2.99 price (gets 70% pricing structure.)

—Novels and long collections. Anything from 30,000 words and up. $3.99 to $5.99, with the higher price going to the longer books.

(Note: For POD pricing, length is everything. The shorter, the cheaper the cover price. So length for novels or collections for indie POD publishers really pushes books to be shorter as well.)

Length Restrictions

So it comes down to some basic questions.

Do authors have length restrictions now on what they write?

Simple answer: Yes and No. If the author wants to go traditional publishing, the answer is yes. If the author is small or indie publishing, no restrictions at all.

What length should a novel be?

Answer: That depends. Depends on where the author hopes to sell it, and more importantly what the story itself demands.

Can novels be longer now?

Answer: Yes. Not in traditional publishing, but in indie publishing a novel can be as long as you want to make it. I can’t see any reason why an author can’t publish a 300,000 word epic and then publish a 45,000 word novel. No rules, no cost restrictions dictating length as it has done for the past 50 years.

Should authors price their books with a consideration toward length?

Answer: Yes, to a degree. If you have a 300,000 word epic selling for $5.99, you might want to price your 45,000 word novel at $2.99 or $3.99 just to make sure reader expectations are met to a degree. Again, readers have been trained that longer novels are more expensive, shorter novels less so. That’s fifty years of training. Don’t fight it in the short term. And also realize readers have been trained in the same fifty years to think a book priced too low is also not of value. So caution on that side as well. All readers love discounts, just make sure there’s a solid reason besides fear that drives the discount. Readers, for the most part, can see right through anything else.

Summary

Length requirements are still in place for traditional publishing, but not for indie publishing. Writers are now free to write to the natural length of a story.

I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of freedom that gives me. I trained myself as a media writer that when I was hired to write a novel 90,000 words long, I turned in a novel within a few hundred words of 90,000 words. That always caused either slight expansion of a story-line or leaving a story-line out that belonged in the book. It felt like writing with one hand while wrapped in Glad Wrap.
Now, since I don’t write media and am doing a lot of indie publishing, the freedom feels wonderful. And that freedom has been part of what has brought the joy back to writing for me again.

There are no restrictions, no right lengths for novels anymore. Just write what the story demands to be written and then decide what to do with it.

Have I said lately how much I love this new world of publishing?

————————————————

Copyright 2011 Dean Wesley Smith


Note - You can check out D.W. Smith's novels at www.deanwesleysmith.com/novels/ if you are curious about his fictional work. (This is not an advertisement. I asked permission for reprinting his article on Nerdovore, and as part of that I enticed him with the promise of a bonus link to promote his fictional works. And that my friends is how you convince someone to do something: You offer them something they want. Plus, just maybe, he enjoys getting the word out on this topic.)

Fantasy Novels vs Novellas vs Novelettes

Hello Fantasy Readers!

By Charles Moffat - February 2019.
I have a question for you fantasy readers (and especially fantasy writers):

Does everyone agree with the following definitions?
  • Flash Fiction: 53 - 1,500 words
  • Short Stories: 1,500 - 7,500
  • Novelettes: 7,500 - 17,500
  • Novellas: 17,500 - 40,000
  • Novels: 40,000 + words

Because there used to be a time 25 years ago when the definition was this instead:
  • Flash Fiction: 53 - 1,500 words
  • Short Stories: 1,500 - 15,000
  • Novelettes: 15,000 - 30,000
  • Novellas: 30,000 - 90,000
  • Novels: 90,000 + words

Note - There are older definitions too. "Pulp Fiction" was considered to be anything in the 30,000 to 60,000 range. More serious books were always longer. Pulp Fiction writers were hemmed into that word count range due to deadlines where they were expected to write a new book every month, so they needed to keep the books shorter just to meet deadlines.

Apparently the definition of what counts as what has slid dramatically during the last 25 years, and is continually changing.

Novellas that were 40 to 90k are now considered to be full length novels.

Novelettes have shrunk to roughly half the size.

And the max length of a short story has likewise shrunk by half.

Now I have to wonder, how did these definitions change so much over the last 25 years? And the answer seems to be self publishing. Amazon Kindle, Kobo and other forms of self publishing.

If a fantasy writer can write 40,000 words and call it a fantasy novel... that helps their sales and it requires less work than 90,000 words.

Now I cannot say I mind too much. My fantasy novel count based on the new definitions has basically doubled from 4 novels to 8 novels, thanks to my old novellas now being redefined as novels. I can now market what was 25 years ago a 50,000 word novella as a full length novel, thanks to dropping standards.
To me back then, 90,000 words was "barely a novel", and any novel that really wanted to meet the definition had to be at least 100,000 words in length. I wrote four novels based on that word count requirement and my personal goal of reaching 100,000 words.

So should I be happy about this change in definitions? I don't know.

I wrote essays 18 years ago in university that went over 20,000 words. Should I edit and publish those essays as academic books? I could call them Treatises instead of essays. [Insert sarcasm here.]

What I do know is that I have old short stories that now count as novellas. Maybe it is time to go back, edit them, and publish them.

Is any other fantasy writers out there in the same boat? Have you realized the dropping standards mean you could simply edit some old stories (maybe make them a bit longer) and they now count as novelettes or novellas?
I am curious to hear from other fantasy writers (or writers in general) on this subject.
charlesmoffat {atsymbol} charlesmoffat dot com

If you want to check out my writing please visit fiction.charlesmoffat.com.

The Sorry State of Writer’s Craft in Canada

Note - This post was originally published in 2014 in a different source, but now that the source has been deleted I have decided to re-publish it here.


By Charles Moffat – November 2014.

Disclaimer – I should note that regardless of how bad I believe it is in Canada, it is likely worse in the USA.

I recall being at York University between 1999 and 2003 when my best friend was studying writing there – or more specifically she was studying English Literature until she could transfer into a different program that was specifically for aspiring writers seeking to hone their craft. I recall she had to make the attempt several times before she finally got into the writers craft program, which had very limited seats and many applicants. (Which makes me wonder, why the heck are they teaching English Literature if almost all the people in that program are actually trying to get into the writing program instead? Why don’t they just make the English Literature program smaller, and EXPAND the writing program? This makes more sense.)

I recall also writing numerous essays during my stay in university and thanking my lucky stars I had been whipped into shape during high school by Mrs Pletsch, not once but twice as I taken the Grade 11 English Writing course with her when I was in grade 10, and then the OAC English Writer’s Craft in grade 12. Obviously I had enjoyed having my writing skills challenged and “whipped into shape”. I say that in the nicest way possible as Mrs Pletsch was an older lady, nearing retirement, and she was very stern in her approach to writing. She accepted nothing less than perfection.

For my part I reached for the stars during her class. I wrote nothing less than a full length novel for the one assignment, which she was kind enough to edit for me.

During the grade 11 class she taught us the proper way to write essays and revisited that again in the OAC class. When I reached university and began writing essays regularly the essay drills we had completed in high school proved to be invaluable – as university professors want to be presented with perfectly written essays that make good logical sense. (For my sense of logic I will give thanks to the various science, math and philosophy classes I took in high school.)

Thus it was that when it came to essay writing assignments I did quite well in university.

Later in life I returned to fiction writing (try searching Charles Moffat on either Kindle or Kobo to find a selection of my works), but I also wrote numerous biographies, non-fiction pieces, and currently operating over 100 blogs on my various interests.

So now that I am done tooting my own horn – which was really a way of establishing my own credentials as a writer – let me get into the matter at hand.

Most students in Canadian universities don’t know how to write. A phenomenon which is getting worse according to educators, and is also present in American universities. Some educators point the finger at the internet, saying that people don’t read books as much as they used to. Some blame texting on cell phones as the reason why so many students have such poor writing skills, but that would only explain the poor spelling.

However we are not just talking spelling, grammar and sentence structure here, educators are also complaining that students seem to lack imagination, originality, that they are just ripping off other literary sources. Not fan fiction per se, but ripping off the plot, characters, etc.

For example, let us talk about The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Now I should admit first that Miss Collins is older than I am, and in theory might actually have a better education in the English language and writer’s craft than I do. Why then is her book series (which I have read and is somewhat poorly written) ripped off from the Japanese novels and/or films “Battle Royale” and “Battle Royale II: Requiem“? The Battle Royale novel was first published in 1999 and the film came out in 2000. If you are keeping track of the chronology, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Hunger Games books came out in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and the films came out in 2012, 2013, the third film – part one – will be released in theatres later this month, with part two to be released in November 2015.

I have two theories on how this happened. One, Battle Royale (both the books and the films) have a huge cult following and Suzanne Collins either read the books or watched the films, and thought “Hey, I should rip that off and change the setting to North America.” Or… Two, movie producers who had seen Battle Royale approached Suzanne Collins to write a series of books ripped off from Battle Royale. Since SC is a writer for TV shows option two is certainly plausible.

Regardless of how it came to be it is clear The Hunger Games is ripped off from Battle Royale. The plot of male and female contestants, equal numbers of teenage boys and girls, fighting to the death and then seeking to overthrow the corrupt and diabolical government, set against a dystopian future is almost identical.

Next, I shall point to a series of novels which even the author admits are completely ripped off. I am speaking of course of Eragon – which the YA author admits is a fantasy version of Star Wars Episode IV. Eragon and the other books from Christopher Paolini are all ripped off from Star Wars. He doesn’t even deny it. They even made a film of the first book back in 2006, but it was so horrible that critics and anyone who has ever seen the first Star Wars film instantly hated it.

Lastly, I want to touch on Harry Potter – and my own series of books Lilith Bloodstone. Both of which have some clear inspiration coming from Ursula Le Guin’s “A Wizard of Earthsea". The plot of “A Wizard of Earthsea” is about a young man who joins a school of wizardry, where his skill earns him both friends and enemies, later leaves the school – and, spoiler alert, there is a bit of a fractured soul in the plot. Le Guin’s book, published in 1968, is considered to be one of the most influential books in the history of fantasy writing – ranking up there with The Lord of the Rings and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Thus it is no surprise that when Harry Potter eventually appeared on the fantasy genre scene that fractured souls ended up being part of the story arc. (Harry Potter also rips off the 1986 film Troll, The Lord of the Rings and other sources too.)

And really, there is no shame admitting where your inspiration comes from.

For me I read “A Wizard of Earthsea” around 1994-95 and I began writing the Lilith Bloodstone series in 1999. In the very first adventure Lilith faces an undead spirit – the fractured remains of an ancient wizard’s soul, so fractured he doesn’t even remember his own name. Each adventure that Lilith has however stands alone and only a few of them have an overall story arc. My goal in writing them was to make her character one that could wander from place to place, having adventures, and each adventure would stand alone. Similar to the various Conan the Barbarian stories, The Hardy Boys, Lassie, etc. Thus I would be able to write as many stories as a felt like writing about the character until I bored of writing such stories, and if the event I was struck by the writing muse again I could always return and write more Lilith Bloodstone stories. It gave me much more creative freedom to have a character which I can use again and again, who I know intimately and I can focus on how she responds mentally to each set of circumstances. I only hint during the stories about the circumstances which led up to her father’s death, a story I know which will play out in time. I have put a lot of creativity into the development of her character, the secondary characters, her family history/origins, and so forth…

I can only imagine what teenagers are writing now: Stories ripped off from The Hunger Games, Harry Potter or other contemporary sources – which are themselves ripped off from other sources. It reminds me of how people in the 1980s sometimes made audio tapes that were copies of copies of copies of copies, and the more copies that were made the more the quality of the sound was degraded to the point it only vaguely sounded like the original. It is essentially the idea that if people keep copying things that the quality of the copying going inevitably will get worse if people are copying copies of copies.

You may have heard that there are actually a limited number of stories out there, and this is partially true. There are certain stories that people have a tendency to repeat again and again. Seven stories to be precise, which are the most frequently common. The exceptions to these popular stories are often stories based on true stories, which makes them more unique.

The Seven Plots are:

Overcoming the Monster / Villain – This is the classic Conan story, but also describes Hercules, Robin Hood, Spartacus, the plot of the film Jaws, and even various plots for Godzilla.

Rags to Riches – Cinderella, “Brewster’s Millions”, etc. (Note: There is also the reverse, Riches to Rags.)

The Long Quest – “Jason and the Argonauts”, “The Lord of the Rings”, etc. Heck, even various Star Trek plots use this one.

Voyage and Return – The Odyssey, the 2014 film “Interstellar” which I saw last Friday (it was awesome), the TV series “Lost in Space”, and the more modern TV series “Farscape”.

Comedy / Ridiculous Circumstances – William Shakespeare’s “The Twelfth Night”, the John Candy film “Delirious”, etc.

Tragedy – William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Pyramus and Thisbe, etc.

Rebirth / Redemption – A Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Macbeth fall into this category.

Some of the best plots often combine multiple different plots from above. For example the 2011 film “In Time” is basically a combination of Rags to Riches, a Robin Hood style quest to overthrow the monetary system (the monetary system is the monster) – and the hero and heroine are stuck in a Romeo and Juliet relationship which appears to be doomed from the beginning.

Now if you can come up with an eighth plot, one which has no villain, is not a comedy or tragedy, the hero doesn’t redeem themselves, there is no rags to riches or riches to rags, no voyage or return – well good luck trying to make such a story.

So if we are honest it is pretty uncommon for people to come up with an original plot.

Now back to Canada, and to a lesser extent Canadian universities.

Asides from Margaret Atwood, can you name a famous Canadian fiction writer who is a household name? (I don’t count, since I am writing this, plus I am not a household name.) Can you name one who is still alive today?

Unless you are extremely well versed on famous Canadian authors then you probably won’t be able to name more than one or two names from the list I compiled at the bottom. (Feel free to scroll down to the list after trying to think of a name or two, preferably ones who are still alive.

Okay, now that you’ve scrolled down and seen how short that list is (seriously, they are only authors worth mentioning, a testament to the shortage of Canadian authors of merit). And you will notice the small number who are still alive, excluding Margaret Atwood. That tells us that Canada isn’t really churning out high successful authors. So what are we doing wrong? Is is Canada’s education system, which for many authors is comprised of whatever they managed to learn in high school and maybe a few classes in university about the craft of writing (keeping in mind that Canadian universities are now flooded with companies that write essays for hire, and even do course work)? Or maybe it is on an institutional level, wherein publishing companies in Canada are rather weak, unprofitable… Can you name a Canadian publishing company? I cannot. Possibly because all of the truly profitable publishing companies are in the USA or UK.

What about awards for Canadian authors? The Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Awards, or the Trust Fiction Award. Rubbish awards in my opinion. If you want to make sure your book doesn’t sell much, win a Canadian fiction award. Winning or even competing in one of these rubbish contests is a sure sign a writer needs to go back to the proverbial drawing board, rethink their career and what they are writing about. If you provided a pile of books by past winners of those prizes to a group of people (teenagers, adults, it doesn’t matter) their response to being forced to read such books would be “Omigod, these books are sooooooo boring…”

Therein lies the problem with Canadian writers, regardless of whether the root of the problem is our education system, our horrid publishing industry or even our rubbish awards. The problem is that the vast majority of things Canadian writers seem to be churning out is BORING. (And I can prove they are boring using the Dumbbell Test described further below.)

Imagine you are a young writer who wants to become an author. Chances are likely you have dreams (delusions) of grandeur, becoming famous and a best-selling author. (And snubbing Margaret Atwood at a gala, if you plan on being a snobbish author.) If you think for an instant that your book idea is interesting and should be written, ask a friend to hold up a 5 to 10 lb dumbbell while you describe the plot of a story to them. Tell them that they should lower and (gently, don’t drop it) set down the dumbbell the moment they get bored of the plot. If your friend gets bored during the first minute of holding up the dumbbell and sets it down, you should come up with a better idea for your book. If after the minute they are still holding up the dumbbell and haven’t become bored, then absolutely, go ahead and write the proposed book.

For more guaranteed results, repeat this test several times with several other friends or colleagues. Then ask your friends at what point in the plot do they become bored. Their insights will give you a good idea as to what you are doing wrong.

Note – Only ask friends who read books from the genre you are writing in. Friends who only read fantasy fiction might get bored very easily if you try to tell them the plot of a murder mystery plot.

I could keep writing, but I think I have made my point clear. Most Canadian writers (and American writers, and sometimes even famous writers) are copying old plots too much, often lack writing skill, and it is small wonder so few Canadian writers become household names.



The List of Household Names of Canadian Authors

Margaret Atwood, still alive!

Lucy Maud Montgomery (oh yeah her!), died 1942.

Mordecai Richler, died 2001.

Margaret Laurence, died 1987.

Farley Mowat, died 2014.

Leonard Cohen, still alive!

Pierre Burton, died 2004.

Douglas Coupland, still alive!

William Gibson, still alive + I didn’t even know he was Canadian.

Anyone else not listed here is not famous enough to warrant being mentioned because they are not a household name – so don’t bother sending me emails saying “What about so-and-so!” I have never even heard of so-and-so. How can s0-and-so be a household name if I have never heard of them. Please look up the meaning of household name for pete’s sake. Pete, now there’s a guy who has a household name. Very famous. Saint Peter. I think he was in a very famous book and is considered to be one of the authors…

12 Week Course for Fantasy Writers

Are you a fantasy writer who is trying to improve the quality of your writing, from conception to completion?

Are you a fantasy writer who needs editorial feedback on your work?

Are you a fantasy writer who has difficulty finding colleagues who will give you useful and actionable feedback that will improve your work?

Are you a fantasy writer who works better when you have a 2 week deadline to get a draft done?

Perhaps what you need is to take part in a 12 week course on fantasy writing that will help you to hone your skills as a writer and world-builder, provide editorial feedback, and deadlines so that you force yourself to write and accomplish your tasks.



The Spring Course

Starts: March 1st 2019.
Assignments Due: March 15th, March 29th, April 12th, April 26th, May 10th, May 24th.
Course Fee: $210 USD via PayPal.
Space is Limited: Only 10 spaces available.



The Autumn Course

Starts September 6th 2019
September 20th, October 4th, October 18th, November 1st, November 15th, November 29th.
Course Fee: $210 USD via PayPal.
Space is Limited: Only 10 spaces available.






The Assignments

Assignment #1. World Building in a Sandbox

You will be challenged to create a new world by writing an origin story for your world and then focus on a specific small region of that world. How did your fantasy world come to be? What is unusual and different about your small region? What does the geography of the region look like? Where are the major points of interest? What are the languages spoken? What is the culture? What monsters or threats inhabit various regions? (Making a map of the region for this assignment is encouraged, but not mandatory.)

Note - You can later use this world for Assignments #2 to #6, but it is not mandatory.

Write 6 pages using Standard Manuscript Format*.

* See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_manuscript_format

Assignment #2. Finishing the Unfinished Piece

Using an older piece you started, but never finished, you will write / rewrite it and finish 6 pages of a new version of the piece. If you don't have a suitable piece you can rewrite / finish, you can also use an old idea for a short story that you have been wanting to work on eventually, but you never got around to writing it. Now is your chance to finally finish it. You have had the story in your mind for a long time, so it should be done cooking by now. How could you improve the plot? How can you improve the characters? Time to get it done. The story could be adapted to be in the same world you created in Assignment #1, but it doesn't have to be.

Write 6 pages using Standard Manuscript Format.

Assignment #3. The Villain's Mindset

You need to tell a story from the 3rd Person perspective, but targets only a specific person's actions and thoughts - specifically in this case, the villain. Is the villain human or are they a monster or beast? What motivates them to do what they do? What is their backstory? The villain could be in the same world you created in Assignment #1, but doesn't have to be.

Write 6 pages using Standard Manuscript Format.

Assignment #4. The Hero(es) Succeed or Fail

Write a story about a hero or a set of heroes. Are they common people thrust into a dangerous situation? Are they pros at what they do? Try to focus on creating multidimensional characters who have flaws. Do the hero or heroes change at all during the dangerous situation? What instigates them to change and succeed? Or do they refuse to change and then fail?

Write 6 pages using Standard Manuscript Format.

Assignment #5. The Climax of the Fight Scene

Write the fight scene between the villain and hero(es). Who has the upper hand? Who is the underdog? Who gets injured or defeated? Who dies? Are they using magic, weapons or fisticuffs? Is it a battle of wills or endurance or wits? Is it a clear victory or a battle of attrition? Does the villain get away? Do any of the heroes change during the climax in order to ensure a victory?

Write 6 pages using Standard Manuscript Format.

Assignment #6. The Ending of the Epilogue

How do you think your story should end? What happens to the Hero(es)? What happens to the Villain(s)? What happens to the common people? Does everyone live happily ever after, or is it a bittersweet victory with lasting repercussions?

Write 6 pages using Standard Manuscript Format.

Note - If you made all of your aspects of this story within the same world you created in Assignment #1, you should have 30 to 36 pages worth of story and background on your world. You may have even written more than that to expand the story to your personal needs.



The All-Important Feedback

The feedback you receive will be polite (unlike the internet trolls you might otherwise encounter) and focus on things like setting, plot, narrative, what makes sense, what doesn't work, and ways to improve the structure, feel and enjoyment of the piece.

The feedback you receive will talk about what doesn't work, this is true, but will include steps to improve it so that it does work. Specific examples will be highlighted on the text which are problematic and suggestions will be provided as to how you can improve that specific part of the text.

Specific examples will also be pointed out of parts that do work well, so that the writer can see how they did it well in one section and then can learn to do it better in the areas they did poorly in.

The instructor/editor will never say something like "If I were writing this book..." because that is a cop out. This isn't their book. It is yours. You are writing it. An instructor/editor has to remain at an editorial distance and should not be telling you how to rewrite it in a manner that pleases their ego. You are not taking this course to give them an ego boost. You are taking this course to get better at writing. (Sadly quite a few seasoned editors still fall into this egotistical mindset.)

The instructor/editor will sometimes provide examples of other fantasy writers and how they overcome obstacles. This doesn't mean you have to copy what others did. These are merely meant as educational examples.

The instructor/editor will never provide a long laundry of 24+ things that are wrong with your work. Nobody wants to read that, and frankly the instructor/editor doesn't want to write it either. Instead feedback will typically be broken down into 3 or 4 larger subjects that need to be addressed, with specific examples cited. Often these subjects will be topics like Setting, Plot, Narrative, etc.

So for example if you write a story where the plot is confusing, the instructor/editor will point out parts of the story which are confusing and provide examples for how the plot could be made more concrete so that it is more easily understood by readers.



About the Instructor/Editor

Charles Moffat is a Canadian fantasy writer who has written 4 novels, 2 books of poetry, 3 novellas, 3 anthologies, numerous short stories, and a slew of fables. He is currently working on a book of fables that is due out in 2020. He lives in Toronto with his wife and son, where he teaches archery from Spring to Autumn. Archery, a sport for perfectionists, is an obsession for him, and many of his stories contain archery in some manner. As an instructor he employs storytelling and humour as a teaching technique, and in November 2018 published an article on the topic in Archery Focus Magazine titled "Teaching Archery Through Narratives".





Prospector Henkins, Dwarf Alchemist - 2nd Edition Ally

Earlier this month I did a post about my 2nd Edition AD&D Alchemist Rogue Class , but I didn't show an example of a character designed using the special rogue class. Until now.

In the case below, the character is actually designed to be a NPC ally in my Friday game. He is a member of the local adventurers guild, which the party all recently joined, and as such can be used as a recurring ally. I am also a fan of using henchmen and hirelings in my games, but allies are different as they can team up with PCs temporarily and then leave later on when their goals no longer coincide.

In the case of Prospector Henkins, he has arrived at the same dungeon the party is currently at, following the same wanted poster from the Adventurers Guild - and being members of the same guild at the same dungeon, it makes sense they would team up.

In the past I have used henchmen regularly for when a PC gets knocked unconscious, severely injured, killed, etc - and then you hand the player the henchman's character sheet and say "Here you go! Play this until your character wakes up." And if your player still is hesitant remind them that any XP gained while playing the henchman goes to their regular character.

With henchmen however there is a tendency for players to try and use the henchmen to cast curing spells, detect magic and other things. This can be abused unfortunately, and thus having ally characters who can come and go, and not be abused by the "They are there, why can't they cast this for me?" argument.

Abusing a henchmen in that way just encourages the DM to eventually retire the henchman, have the henchman become a villain instead, kill off the henchman, etc. But with an ally who can come and go, the DM has more power to simply say no. The ally isn't available today. Gone fishing.


Prospector Henkins, level 6 Dwarf Alchemist CG
Greedy loudmouth, smokes pipe, strokes beard, dwarven quotes.

Str 11
Dex 15
Con 16
Int 15
Wis 10
Chr 12
Com 11 (Yes, I do use Comeliness in my game. It is worth it for the laughs alone.)

Windlass Heavy Crossbow, Spd 10, 1d12+1 dmg, Rate of Fire, 1 every 2 rounds!
  • Ammo 10 regular crossbow bolts
  • 10 ceramic crossbow bolts with poison powder
Note - I use house rules for different kinds of crossbows. See my 5th Edition Crossbow House Rules. For 1st/2nd Edition I use different damage values because the editions scale damage differently, but the concept is the same.

Grenade Type Weapons, Spd 6, Damage Varies (see items further below).

Chainmail/Shield/Helmet

Skills
  • Alchemy 15
  • Appraising 15
  • Brewing 15
  • Mining 7 (Yes, I find it ironic that he is a prospector who actually sucks at mining.)
  • Pottery 13
  • Set Snares 14
  • Swimming 11
Thief Skills

OL 45, FRT 50 (Only when not wearing armour. If wearing armour negatives apply.)

AC 2
HP 36

Thrown Grenade Type Weapons (2 of each)

2x Acid, 1d6 dmg + 1 splash, 5' radius.
2x Burning Oil, 1d4+1d4, no splash damage
2x Drowsy Dust, poison save vs Exhaustion.
2x Explosive Black Ball, 6d6 damage, 10' radius - takes a round just to light it and for the fuse to burn partially.
2x Poison Powder, save vs poison, 10 dmg.
2x Stink Bomb, save vs poison, nausea.
2x Sleep Smoke, save vs poison, only effects 5 HD or smaller creature.

Tools (2 of each)

2x Oil of Acid Resistance
2x Oil of Fire Resistance

Dwarf Quotes:
"I bet my beard..."
"Two broken hammers don't make a sword!"
"More than one way to break an anvil."
"If there is gold in there, I want some!"
"Don't count your gold before you find the goldmine!"
"I am Prospector Henkins, Grim Servant of Death... and Explosions!"
"Only a gnome would be that foolish!"
"Its a saying! Shutupaboutit!"

Motivations

Looking for a nice mine to settle down with and retire.
Looking for mercurial weapon designs.
Looking for ancient alchemical recipes.


Special Note

Yes, Prospector Henkins is totally ripped off from Prospector Jenkins of Puffin Forest. I just made him a dwarf, gave him the Alchemist rogue class and suddenly explosives made sense.



2nd Edition AD&D Alchemist Rogue Class

Alchemist, Rogue Class

Ability Requirements: Dexterity 12, Constitution 9, Intelligence 15
Prime Requisite: Intelligence
Races Allowed: All

The alchemist is a craftsman whose primary goal is to study the nature of substances, learn the properties, and combine them to make useful tools / weapons. Some alchemists even delve into the study of trying to turn lead into gold - which is believed to be possible by creating a Philosopher's Stone. While other classes can learn Alchemy as a skill, the Alchemist takes the craft more seriously as their primary profession.

Any race can learn the intricacies of alchemy, and there is no limit / max level to what they can achieve. They are only limited by their Intelligence, and thus Intelligence is the prime requisites of all Alchemists. An Alchemist with a 16 Intelligence or more gains a 10 percent bonus to the experience points he/she earns.

All Alchemists gain one six-sided Hit Die per level for levels 1 to 10. After 10th level they gain 2 hit points per level and no longer receive additional hit point bonuses for high Constitution scores.

Alchemists use the Rogue Experience Level chart, the same as Thief and Bard.

Alchemists use Rogue Thac0 progression, the same as Thief and Bard.

Alchemists use the Rogue Saving Throw progression chart.

Thief Skills

Alchemists dabble in Opening Locks and Finding/Removing Traps. They start play with a base 10% chance in each of these two thief skills, and they gain an additional 5% to both skills every time they reach a new level. Racial, Dexterity and Armor modifiers also apply.

When finding and removing an Alchemical Trap the Alchemist gains a 5% bonus to their FRT roll. If trying to open a lock which uses some kind of alchemical substance as part of the locking mechanism, they also gain a 5% bonus to their roll.

Like Thieves, the Alchemist can also Backstab opponents using a well-placed attack or grenade-style weapon. When backstabbing with a grenade-style weapon the Alchemist still needs to take their opponent unawares, but since they lack Move Silently / Hide in Shadows this will rarely be used. Rather their efforts are often more successful due to trickery rather than stealth.

Furthermore, the Alchemist's Backstab bonus only applies to their primary target, and only if they score a successful hit. Normal rules for grenade style attacks apply. eg. If attacking with Holy Water or Acid, the target successfully hit takes double, triple, quadruple or quintuple damage based on the Alchemist's level. Creatures that take splash damage are not effected by the Backstab effect.

Proficiencies

Weapon Proficiencies: 2
Non-Weapon Proficiencies: 6

Alchemists can learn any kind of weapon, but start play with only 2 Weapon Proficiencies and one of them must be "Grenade Style Weapon", which is useful for throwing Acid, Glue Bombs and similar alchemical concoctions at enemies.

Note - Alchemists are thus proficient at throwing Holy Water, even though they cannot make holy water. Only clerics or paladins can make Holy Water.

Alchemists are also fond of using other types of weapons to deliver their alchemical attacks. eg. Smoke Bomb Arrows.

The Alchemist starts with 6 NWP / Skill slots, but two of them are automatically used to gain the Alchemy Skill*. Learning to Read/Write is also recommended, but not mandatory. Various skills like Appraising, Brewing, Engineering, Herbalism, Pottery, and Set Snares are also useful.

eg. Pottery is very handy for creating containers just to store alchemical items within, and is suitably breakable when they need to be.

The Alchemist can choose NWP skills from the General, Priest and Rogue NWP lists.

Alchemists gain additional WP and NWP based on their level, at the same rate as other Rogue classes Thief and Bard.

Belongings

The Alchemist starts play with an Alchemy Tool Kit, which contains everything they need to create acid, alchemist's fire and other items. If they ever lose this tool kit and supplies and need to replace it, a new kit costs 100 gp.

* Alchemy Skill *
Slots Required: 2
Relevant Ability: Intelligence
Base Check Modifier: 0

The Alchemist is accomplished and well versed in alchemical recipes to create a variety of alchemical substances. They are also adept at recognizing alchemical substances, alchemical traps, and recognizing alchemical formulae.

Like a wizard who is memorizing spells daily, the Alchemist will likewise be making new alchemical items daily. At 1st level they should be able to make 3 small jugs of acid (or similar item) every morning while the wizard is memorizing his/her spells. The number they can make each morning improves at levels 3, 5, 7, 9 and every 2 levels thereafter.

The Alchemist also pays a materials upkeep based upon what they are making. The upkeep is their level multipled by their level in gold pieces. eg. A level 4 Alchemist pays 16 gp per day for materials to make their items. If they run out of materials, they cannot make any more items that day.

** The DM should give the alchemist some leeway (but not complete leeway) seeing as alchemy is their primary weapon. They should not however let the PC go hogwild with their creations. Alchemy items should never replicate magical effects. It should also never replicate Herbalism and both the DM / PC should be vigilant about making sure they are never making any alchemical substances that replicate something that a Herbalist could do instead.

The Alchemist starts play at 1st level knowing a number of Alchemical Recipes based on their Intelligence, equal to the number of Bonus Languages. eg. An Alchemist with a 15 Intelligence knows 4 recipes. An Alchemist with a 18 Intelligence knows 7 recipes.

Each time an Alchemist gains a level they learn 1 new recipe. They can also learn extra recipes by trading recipes with other alchemists, and by finding new recipes in books/scrolls/tablets/libraries/etc. If they are willing to spend gold, they can also research a new recipe in a similar manner that a wizard researches a new spell.

Not all alchemical recipes are available to a low level Alchemist. The DM should adjudicate which recipes are available to the Alchemist based on their level. Some of the items below are listed in the DMG as magical items, but for our purposes these items are actually non-magical. A few items are creations of my own.

So for example a 1st level Alchemist might start play with 4 recipes: Acid, Alchemist Fire, Smoke Bomb and Sleep Smoke.

Alchemist Recipes

  • Acid
  • Alchemist Fire
  • Drowsy Dust (causes exhaustion)
  • Dust of Sneezing / Choking
  • Explosives (something similar to dynamite perhaps, but the DM should adjudicate just how explosive this substance is)
  • Freezing Bellows (compressed CO2)
  • Glue Bomb
  • Laughing Gas
  • Mercurial Weapon (+1 weapon damage - Requires the Alchemist to partner with someone with the Weaponsmithing skill.)
  • Oil of Acid Resistance
  • Oil of Fiery Burning
  • Oil of Fire Resistance
  • Oil of Slipperiness
  • Philosopher's Stone * (The DM should allow this to 18th level Alchemists only)
  • Poison Liquid / Gas / Powder
  • Sleep Smoke (1 target must save vs poison or fall asleep)
  • Smoke Bomb (oil + sugar)
  • Smoke Powder** (Arquebus item - The DM may not allow this recipe.)
  • Soap of Massive Bubbles
  • Sovereign Glue
  • Universal Solvent


Character Class Creation Notes
(See the 2nd Edition Dungeon Master Guide)

1.0 Race, Any.
-1 Rogue Thac0.
0 Rogue Saving Throws.
0.75 Hit Dice 1d6.
-0.5 AC 5 Limited (Chainmail or worse).
0 All weapon types allowed.
1 Hit Points beyond level 9 = 2 per level.
1.5 Skill / NWP Proficiencies x6.
0.5 Weapon Proficiencies x2.
1 Backstab
1 FRT
1 OL

Total 6.25

6.25 = Rogue XP Progression Chart.


2nd Edition Potionmaking Skill / NWP

So I recently did a post about a 2nd Edition Scrollmaking Skill / NWP, which is a homebrew skill which allows PCs and NPCs to make scrolls even if they are levels 2 to 8. Normally a mage needs to be level 9 to do either potion-making or scroll-making.

Having the skills however allows the character to do scroll-making and potion-making at lower levels when having such things are more beneficial. However that doesn't mean that the task isn't still difficult.

If you read my previous post about Scrollmaking then you know it is still a daunting task just to make a single scroll, and that you need a recipe to find the necessary ink, quill and special paper to make the scroll. It is still possible to make scrolls without following a recipe precisely, but the PC's chance of success drops considerably.

The same goes with my homebrew Potionmaking Skill.

The goal here is to allow PCs to still make potions if they want to, but they will need to either find a recipe - or they need to experiment.

Unlike Scrollmaking, which can still be successful using cheap materials, Potionmaking must have the materials required for the potion to work. However, without a recipe it is still possible to make a potion without actually following a recipe. The problem is that it is trial and error as to whether their experiment actually works, and if it fails then they wasted both their time and materials and money. In this respect, experimenting with potionmaking is a bit like Wild Magic. There is no guarantee it will work, there is no guarantee it will make something you want. eg. The person might make a Firebreathing potion instead of a Resist Fire potion.

As per the DMG (page 87) creating a potion costs between 200 to 1000 gp, and this cost is associated with the level of the spell the creator is trying to imbue the potion with.

Thus here are the creation costs and brewing times for various potions:
  • Potion of Climbing - 200 gp, 2 days
  • Potion of Healing* - 200 gp, 2 days
  • Potion of ESP - 300 gp, 3 days
  • Potion of Invisibility - 300 gp, 3 days
  • Potion of Levitation - 300 gp, 3 days
  • Potion of Clairaudience - 400 gp, 4 days
  • Potion of Clairvoyance - 400 gp, 4 days
  • Potion of Flying - 400 gp, 4 days
  • Potion of Speed - 400 gp, 4 days
  • Potion of Waterbreathing - 400 gp, 4 days
  • Potion of Extra Healing* - 600 gp, 6 days
  • Elixir of Health - 700 gp, 7 days
  • Elixir of Youth - 1000 gp, 10 days

* Remember only clerics or druids can make Potions of Healing, Elixirs of Health, Potions of Extra Healing*, etc. Likewise clerics and druids cannot create potions that only wizards can create, unless the potion is part of their domain. eg. A cleric who worships a fire god could still make potions of Firebreathing. Or likewise a priest who worships a water god could create a Waterbreathing potion.

The creation cost is based on the bare minimum needed to create an equivalent magic. eg. A mage needs to be at least 5th level to cast Haste, thus they also need to be 5th level to be able to create a Potion of Speed.

Notice also that this is only the base creation cost. This does not include the cost of any special ingredients or the cost of making a laboratory for wizards/druids (or an altar for priests).

The base cost of a laboratory is a minimum of 2000 gp, + 10% / 200 gp per month to replace broken items. This only covers the costs of furnishings and equipment. The Potionmaker still needs a place to store their smelly creation factory.

The base cost of a special altar (for priests) is similarly 2000 gp + 10% / 200 gp per month for new candle, new incense, repairs, holy water, etc. It doesn't smell so bad, but since some people might worship other deities and interrupt the process it is usually best to build this altar in a place where the priest will not be distracted and interrupted.

eg. Building it in a cave sounds like a great idea until a sleepy bear shows up and wants to claim the cave for its new den.

The Chance of Success

70% base chance
+1% for every 2 levels of the spellcaster
-1% for every 100 gp cost (or days)
+5% for every Special Ingredient collected
+5% for having the Potionmaking Skill

eg. Making an Elixir of Youth (which requires the caster to be able to cast 9th level spells) would have the following chance:

70% + 9% for a 18th level mage -10% for the 1000 gp / 10 days it takes to create = 69% chance of success.

Remember the DM should be rolling in secret for the PC and writing down the number. They could make a cursed potion by accident.

With such a mediocre chance of success (and failure means a Cursed Elixir of Youth which ages the imbiber), the mage should really want to boost their chances by collecting as many Special Ingredients as they can, which is why it would be handy to find a Recipe of Elixir of Youth before attempting this process.

And having the Potionmaking Skill / NWP would also be handy, as it would also provide an extra 5% chance.

Potionmaking
Ability: Intelligence
Check Modifier: 0
Prerequisites: Must be at least level 2 spellcaster, Mages/Bards must have Herbalism or Alchemy*, Druids must have Healing or Herbalism, whereas Clerics must have either Religion, Herbalism, Astrology or Healing.

* Alchemy isn't listed in the PHB, but there are other sources. Some DMs may allow Alchemy as a skill by itself, which is useful for making acid, glue, alchemist's fire, and various other alchemical creations.

Note - Unlike Scrollmaking, being literate isn't necessary. Although being able to read/write is handy if the Potionmaker finds a recipe and needs to be able to read it.

Benefits
  • The potionmaker can make potions, philters, oils and elixirs starting at level 2 instead of the normal level 9 requirement. (They may want to leave a skill slot empty so they can take this skill at level 2, otherwise they may need to wait until level 3.)
  • The potionmaker gains +5% to their potionmaking check for each proficiency slot spent on their Potionmaking skill.
  • At levels 2, 4, 6 and every 2 levels afterwards the potionmaker chooses 1 new spell for which they have learned a new recipe for creating potions.
  • The potionmaker can find recipes for how to make scrolls at the DM's discretion. Libraries, sages, seers may be able to provide recipes, at the DM's discretion.
  • By sniffing a potion or daubing a tiny sample of it on their skin, the potionmaker can attempt to identify an unknown potion by making an Potionmaking check. If successful, they have guessed its usage. (Potions of Delusion and similar cursed potions may still confuse them however.)
  • The potionmaker can attempt an experiment to create a potion recipe using rare ingredients. Their base chance to succeed is 5% at level 2, which improves to 10% level 3, and improves 5% at each level thereafter. eg. A level 11 mage would have a 50% chance of discovering a new recipe. They still pay all the costs associated and the number of days conducting the experiment is still spent, regardless of whether they fail or succeed.
  • Even if their experiment failed, there is a 5% chance (96 to 100 on percentile dice) of creating something potentially useful. eg. A Firebreathing potion if they were trying to make a Resist Fire potion. Or perhaps they invented a new kind of poison.
  • Potion Recipes can only improve the potionmaker's chances by a combined maximum of 15% if they manage to collect all the ingredients (usually there is 3 or 4 ingredients).
  • Making a successful Potionmaking skill check can allow the potionmaker some useful knowledge when dealing with certain creatures. eg. They might remember that Su-Monster meat is mildly poisonous, and thus useful for making ingested poisons.

Sample Potion Recipes

Philter of Love Recipe
  1. Nymphs Tears*
  2. Sweat from a Noble Lamia
  3. Essence of a Blue Mountain Rose
  4. Potionmaker must have Charm Monster in their spellbook and be able to cast it.
* Page 270 of the Monster Manual, under Nymph Ecology "The tears of a nymph can be used to as an ingredient in a Philter of Love.


Paralyzing Poison Recipe
  1. The proboscis of a jungle stirge
  2. Ground wolfsbane or monkshood
  3. The poison glands of a desert heway
  4. Potionmaker must be at least level 7.
Note - All 3 of these things are already paralytic poisons, but combining all 3 together successfully will make a poison that has a -4 saving throw, and thus is more potent and useful. Furthermore it will have a better shelf-life than normal poisons which lose their potency over time. As a magical potion, this will never lose its potency.


Potion of ESP
  • The ground brain of a mindflayer
  • Boiled slime from a gray ooze
  • Two eyes from an elven cat
Note - Some PCs may object to taking the eyes of an elven cat, so remember they don't always have to follow the recipe completely. Having all 3 ingredients gives a +15% to the chance of successfully making the potion, but having only 2 ingredients will still provide a +10% chance of success.




Advanced Alchemy and Advanced Herbalism

At the DMs option they may also allow PCs to create specific alchemical recipes or herbalism recipes.

Example:

The players find both Belladonna flowers and Xarsian Red Turnips, both of which are poisonous when eaten. By mixing them however and making a Herbalism check they might be able to make an ingested poison with a -2 saving throw which has a combined dire effect and a better shelf life than other poisons (although not a permanent shelf life like a magical poison would have).

Likewise, an alchemist could find some magnesium, naphtha, tar and other chemicals which they can use for making alchemist's fire (Greek Fire was a closely guarded secret recipe). If they combine the ingredients using an Alchemy skill check they manage to make a jar of the stuff which can be thrown at enemies.



2nd Edition Scrollmaking Skill / NWP

Okay so in 2nd Edition AD&D (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons) there are already rules for scroll-making (and potion-making) outlined in the DMG on pages 85 to 87.

However in my Friday 2nd Edition AD&D game I have decided to introduce a new non-weapon proficiency (NWP) skill to be known simply as "Scrollmaking".

As per the normal rules all mages gain the ability to make potions and scrolls at level 9. Plus the ability to make other magical items when they gain the spell "Enchant an Item" when they reach level 12.

Having the following skill however boosts their ability with scrollmaking by 5%, and furthermore allows them to make scrolls at lower levels.

Also, the skill isn't limited to mages. Clerics, druids, bards, rangers and other spellcasters can also gain this proficiency, which means they can likewise follow the same rules for scrollmaking.

Note - I also made a separate post for the Potionmaking Skill.

So here we go...

Everything below here is at the DM's Option for whether they want this in their game.

Scrollmaking
Ability: Intelligence.
Check Modifier: 0.
Prerequisites: Reading/Writing*, and must be a minimum level 2 spellcaster**.

* Unlike most skills, Scrollmaking requires that the person is literate and knows how to read/write. Duh.
** Yep, I am still imposing that they must be at least a level 2 spellcaster. Which means many spellcasters cannot gain this proficiency until level 3 unless they deliberately leave a skill slot empty at level 1.

Benefits:
  • The scrollmaker can make scrolls using the following rules (further below);
  • The scrollmaker gains a +5% bonus to their Scrollmaking check for each proficiency slot they use on their Scrollmaking skill.
  • At levels 2, 4, 6 and every 2 levels afterwards the Scrollmaker chooses 1 spell in their spellbook and gains knowledge of 1 recipe for making a scroll of that particular spell.
  • The scrollmaker can find recipes for how to make scrolls at the DM's discretion. Libraries, sages, seers may be able to provide recipes, at the DM's discretion.
  • The Scrollmaker no longer needs to cast Read Magic when reading a scroll which was made by a different spellcaster, instead they can simply roll a 1d20 to do a Scrollmaking check. If they succeed, they can read the scroll without needing to cast Read Magic.
  • At level 9, the Scrollmaker now has a base 40% chance of guessing how to make a particular scroll. This chance improves 5% per spellcaster level. (Note that the DM does not have to tell the PC whether their guess is accurate. A bad guess results in a -10 to -60% chance to successfully making the scroll. Roll 1d6 to determine how bad the guess is.)


Making Scrolls

Base chance to succeed: 80%.

Level of Scroll: -1% for each level of the scroll.

Level of Spellcaster: +1% for each caster level of the PC.

Other Bonuses: If the PC has Artistic Ability (Calligraphy) they gain +5%. If the scroll is on a stone tablet, Artistic Ability (Stonecarving) would provide a +5%.

Quill or Brush or Chisel
  • Quill/Brush/Chisel made from exotic and relevant magical creature: +5%.
  • Quill/Brush/Chisel made from a magical creature: +0%.
  • Quill/Brush/Chisel made from a non-magical creature or material: -5%.
Scroll
  • Exotic Paper: +10%. (Exotic paper can only be made use magical plant fibres. eg. Paper made from treant pulp.)
  • Paper: +5%.
  • Exotic Parchment: +5%.
  • Parchment: +0%.
  • Exotic Papyrus: +0%.
  • Exotic Stone Tablet: +0%.
  • Papyrus: -5%.
  • Stone Tablet: -5%.
Ink
  • Super Exotic Ink: +5%.
  • Exotic Ink: +0%.
  • Lesser Quality Ink: -20%.
Other Factors

Not following a recipe correctly results in a -10% to -60% chance. You can skip 1 or 2 ingredients and substitute things that are similar (a quill made from salamander bone instead of red dragon bone), but completely ignoring the recipe really hurts the Scrollmaker's chances.

Thus if the Scrollmaker is level 5, and they are making a Magic Missile Scroll using an exotic quill, exotic paper, and super exotic ink their chance would be:

80% +5% -1% +5% (Scrollmaking NWP bonus) +5% +10% +5% = 109% chance of success.

The same Scrollmaker making a Fireball scroll using a non-magical quill, papyrus, cheap ink and is clearly not following a recipe would have the following chance:

80% +5% -3% +5% -5% -5% -20% -10 to 60% = 0% to 47% chance of success. On average they would have a 22% chance of success. Thus there would be an average 78% that the scroll is cursed.


Other Notes:

If you are familiar with the existing scrollmaking rules in the DMG, then you know this skill is really just expanding upon the rules already set in the DMG.

The scrollmaking process takes 1 day for each level of the spell.

If the Scrollmaker is interrupted during the process of making their scroll, their attempt is automatically ruined by spilling ink on the scroll, accidentally ripping the scroll, etc.

Rolling 96 to 100 ALWAYS FAILS.

The DM makes the scrollmaking roll in secret and writes down the number.

If they fail in the roll the scroll is cursed. See DMG, page 86.

A Remove Curse spell turns any cursed scroll into dust. Don't remind the PC however.

All the ink and the quill/brush/chisel are used during the creation of a single scroll.

DM's Notes

A Scrollmaker doesn't have to get the skill to use this skill. A mage would still gain this ability at level 9 regardless, in which case the DM needs a way to handle scrollmaking. Thus recipes are still handy from a DMing perspective, as it both limits the players ability to say "I want to spend 150 days making 50 Fireball scrolls!" because A) They don't have the recipe, and B) They have not spent time gathering the materials.

As a DM I like a "Carrot and Whip" approach to dealing with players who make such demands.

I give them a carrot:

"You find a recipe for how to make a Scroll of Strength."

And then they read the recipe (the whip) and learn what it entails.


Strength Scroll Recipe
  1. Hill Giant Bone Chisel.
  2. Stone Tablet made from a slain rock elemental or stone golem. (A clay tablet made from the dirt of a slain earth elemental will also suffice.)
  3. Ink brewed from the tears of a Roc mixed with dragon dung.
At which point the PC learns that it will take some effort to do all of this. Like how the heck do you get a Roc to shed tears?


More Recipes

Magic Missile Recipe
  1. Quill made from leg bone of an elf.
  2. Parchment from the skin of a green hag.
  3. Ink brewed from eye juice of a beholder.

Fireball Recipe
  1. Quill made from the bone of a red dragon.
  2. Parchment made from fire snakeskin.
  3. Ink brewed from the ashes of a slain pyromancer.
So just to make a Fireball scroll, they need to kill a red dragon, a fire snake, and a pyromancer.

Suddenly that player who wants to make 50 Fireball scrolls needs 50 red dragon bones, 50 dead fire snakes, and the ashes from 50 pyromancers.

Good luck with that.

Again, the PC doesn't have to follow the recipe perfectly. If they killed several pyromancers and fire snakes, they could skip the red dragon and use quills made from salamander bone instead. Their chance of success is 5% lower since it isn't exotic, but they are still following most of the recipe.

Thus the PC still gets to make some scrolls, but they realize there is limitations to how many they can make.

Likewise the DM now has opportunities to offer quests to the players from people making scrolls (and/or potions) who are looking for specific magical ingredients.

"Go bring me back the skins of 10 firesnakes and I will pay you 20 gp per skin, and reward you with a recipe for how to make Fireball scrolls."


D&D Miniatures, why are they so expensive?

Okay so I was browsing Amazon earlier today looking at D&D minis and I saw that the small box sets of random miniatures were typically $25 to $40 CDN each.

Now keep in mind, these small sets only contain 5 random miniatures.

So that is roughly $5 to $8 CDN per mini.

Years ago (not that long ago either) I remember a time when you could buy a random box of 5 minis for $15 (or less). So clearly the prices have gone up dramatically in recent years.



I also messed around on HeroForge for a bit, designing a custom minotaur mini. The end product would have cost me $19.99 to $29.99 USD depending on what kind of plastic you want it made out of.

Shipping the mini to Canada is an extra $15 USD by the way... So you are looking at $35 to $45 for a single custom mini.

Then I went on Etsy to see what other custom minis were going for...

Oh boy.

The following wolf mini was $41 CDN for the basic model. But if you wanted the "ultra detailing" it was $68.29 CDN for 1 mini.


Now I get it. It is hand painted by a professional artist. It makes sense that it should cost a lot more than standard minis.

Also on Etsy...

$205 CDN for a Spirit of the Forest.

$191 CDN for a fire giant.

$164 CDN for a set of 8 painted goblins.

And so forth.

And those all make sense.

The cost of the mini plus the cost of getting a custom paint job by a professional.

People have to eat. They have rent to pay. They are tired of living in their parents' basement while painting miniatures for a living.

So it makes sense that custom one-of-a-kind minis would be $80 each.

The wolf mini for only $41 is cheaper because it can be mass produced and isn't "custom" so much as it is hand painted.

Years ago I got a custom mini for Wrathgar from HeroForge, and then - being skilled with a brush - I painted it myself. Was still about $35-$40 at the time for the mini, and I have since used Wrathgar many times in D&D games - including a multitude of Adventurers League games.

So in that respect, getting Wrathgar as a custom mini was definitely worth it. I have been able to enjoy using the mini ever since.

Previous to that I had been using the Athasian Half-Giant for Wrathgar, which worked well enough. It was okay. But it was missing Wrathgar's iconic helmet.

Back in Summer 2018 I also had a custom digital portrait done for Wrathgar by an artist, Edgar Lopez, who can be found on Facebook. Cost for this digital colour sketch? A mere $20 USD.

Wrathgar Portrait by Edgar Lopez

Which was extremely reasonable.

For a sketch it was very well done. Makes me wonder what I would have got if I had gone for the detailed colour portrait for $55.


Anyway, I am way off topic.

Back to miniatures.

The skyrocketing price of miniatures should actually be going down thanks to the market being flooded years ago back around 1999-2004, back when minis were reasonably priced.

But instead the buying and selling of miniatures has caused speculation and a boom in miniature prices. Sort of like the real estate market bubble, the buying and selling of miniatures for a profit has created this artificial bubble.

And thus when a new company wants to make and sell miniatures, they are automatically insulated in that they can charge way more for their miniatures and make a bigger profit.

And to top it off, the demand for custom miniatures has never been higher.

Thus it has become a players market. The minis that are available are priced for players who only need to buy the one mini for their character... and players like myself are willing to pay extra for that 1 special custom mini.

In contrast however, this squeezes DMs out of the market.

DMs need to be able to buy large amounts of monster and NPC miniatures. The details on them don't really matter so much, they just need the minis in order to run battles and scenes.

But if the boxes of minis are costing $35 to $40 each, getting 100 minis so that the DM can run a variety of adventures is an expensive task - about $700 to $800 CDN, plus 13% HST.

And that price is frankly ridiculous.

The alternative for DMs is that they have to rethink how they get D&D miniatures...

  1. Make your own minis out of wood, clay, wire, glue, paint, etc.
  2. 3D print minis. (Helps if you already have a 3D printer.)
  3. Buy cheap minis like goblins because that is all you can afford for now.
  4. Make minis out of Lego.
  5. Make 2D paper minis on plastic stands, because you are too cheap.
  6. Use other toys for minis, from the Dollar Store and similar stores that sell cheap minis for kids.*

 * When you see how much the minis for kids cost, the level of quality and such, you have to wonder why D&D minis are so dang expensive. For example you can typically get a pretty nice dragon miniature at a toy store for $4 to $8, whereas a similarly sized D&D dragon miniature will cost you about $20 to $40.

Clearly what these companies should be doing is mass producing for kids to buy them, but also selling to adults.

Now speaking for myself, I already have lots of minis.

A whole display case full of them.

But what I need right now is more horses and griffons.

So I am also browsing websites like www.trollandtoad.com that buy and sell miniatures.

Horse miniatures are expensive BTW. A decent one costs $10 to $11 USD.

Griffons meanwhile are oddly only $4, $6 or $13.

Plus $3 for shipping. Probably more to ship to Canada.

And I wasn't happy with their horses. Seriously. They were sold out of draft horses, and I wasn't willing to spend $10 on a riding horse when I can probably get the same thing at a local gaming shop for $4 to $8.

Which for me means I need to take a trip to Hairy Tarantula in North York.

Hairy Tarantula Gaming Store
3456 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M4N 2N4
Open 12 to 10 PM weekdays, 11 to 10 Saturday, 11 to 7 Sunday.

Oh and yes, I did check Etsy. Horses on there cost $25 to $41 CDN, and are usually unicorns. The only warhorse on there was $27 and looked remarkably similar to a Dollar Store mini I bought years ago, put on a 1-inch base, and painted it myself... So if I had to, I could do that again.

So why do I need horses?

Because I am currently running a D&D game Fridays which has progressed to the point where there will be a heavier emphasis on horses and mounted combat. And I have been wanting to run a campaign with lots of horse combat for years, so now is my chance.

So if I cannot find what I need at Hairy T's, then perhaps I shall have to custom make my own horse minis using cheap minis from the Dollar Store.

Because Troll and Toad has limited options and is sold out of things.

Because Etsy is ridiculously over priced and only the warhorse is literally a Dollar Store horse.

Because Amazon comes up with lots of pink ponies and similar items when you search for D&D horse miniature, because it apparently thinks I am looking for 3D glass miniatures - the type people collect because they are cute and never play with.

And eBay???

eBay has lots of horse miniatures... often made of pewter... and the shipping is an extra $15 or $20. So yes, eBay has about 102 different horses for sale, about 98 are made of pewter, and those which are not are still overpriced and come with an added $15 to $20 just for the shipping.

So again, visiting my local Hairy Tarantula gaming store is still my best option.

Heck, I could go to other gaming stores and it would still be better than Etsy, eBay, Amazon, etc... but I wouldn't be guaranteed that their selection of minis is any good.

Which is disappointing because I was thinking of also ordering some xmas gifts off Amazon today, but maybe I will wait instead.

Conclusions

Clearly there is a market out there now for someone to be mass producing mid-range D&D miniatures which are affordable and could also be marketed at children in toy stores. The speculative market has driven prices online to ridiculousness.

The custom mini market won't be going away, but there has to be a middle ground for DMs to be able to buy monster minis.

Saturday Morning Writing Time, Part 1

By Charles Moffat.

So today was my last day going to a local writers group at my library here in Toronto. I am leaving the writers group because of the following reasons:

  1. The librarian who was responsible for running the writers group is leaving that library and switching to a different library in North York.
  2. The person replacing her is a cranky old lady named Marilynn who apparently hates me, is unnecessarily critical, and she has got upset because I brought my son to two of the meetings (my son is 16 months old, and I admit he can be a bit loud sometimes). While the librarian doesn't have a problem with me (or me sometimes bringing my son to meetings), it is pretty clear Marilynn doesn't want me there at all.
  3. If I was to show to future meetings I might get tempted to be overly critical Marilynn's poetry, which would combative and annoying, but frankly why bother? It just isn't worth it. I am not getting that much out of this group.
  4. To be honest, most of the time spent at these writing group meetings are used listening to other people's writing, doing writing exercises, and if I am lucky I might get 20 minutes to read something I wrote and get feedback on it. So there has to be a better way to get feedback on my writing.
  5. The group is somewhat crowded. On average about 10 people are there, but group size can vary from 8 to about 15 people depending on the day, time of year, weather conditions outside, whether it is a holiday, etc. This crowding puts the squeeze on time constraints at the meeting is only supposed to be 90 minutes, and often goes to 2 hours, at which point hungry people start leaving.
  6. You really do have to be early to get your work photocopied to be handed out and beat other people. Arriving late today I didn't even have a chance to submit my work to be photocopied.
  7. Listening to the drama and moanings of older women (most of them are between 40 to 80 years old) and the kind of writing they write gets rather boring after awhile. There are a few of them that can write things that are interesting and/or funny, but overall I cannot help but feel I am wasting two hours listening to the poetry and drama writing of middle-aged to elderly women as it rare there is another man present, and even more rare that there is someone under the age of 40 present.
  8. The group meets every two weeks on Saturdays, often on Saturdays when I am not available because I am working that day. So when I do get to go to these meetings, it can be rather discouraging if I don't get to go for awhile and then when I finally get to go I don't even get to read something I was hoping to share. It can be rather disappointing and frustrating.

So really what I need is something different...

A smaller writing group, perhaps 3 or 4 people, who preferably write fantasy, less formal, and the focus is on reading works and we can skip the whole writing exercises which to me feels like a waste of time.

Hence why I am proposing the following:

"Saturday Morning Writing Time"

I might change the name later. "The Fantasy, Fables and Poetry Writing Group"? I dunno. I need more time to work on a snappy title.

To take place at the local Starbucks on Bayview Avenue, north of Millwood Road.  Meetings start at 10:30 AM. Having them there at that time means people have had their breakfast, but if they get hungry they can still get food or drinks if they need to. It is a Starbucks after all.

Having only 3 to 4 people means everyone gets to share their work and get feedback on it.

Ideally I would like to find other people who are interested in fantasy, science fiction, fables, horror - shall we say the more nerdy side of writing. But that isn't to say I would be opposed to other topics.

What I did like about the writers group was that it forced me regularly to work with a deadline, to get pieces done that were a certain length, hence why I tended to write them in the form of fables, short stories and even poetry - and sometimes poetic fables. Sometimes I would write a single chapter from a longer work and present that. Having that deadline however helps to keep me productive, to get the writing done on time.

So to anyone in Toronto interested in joining, please contact me via charlesmoffat{atsymbol}charlesmoffat.com with the subject "Writers Group".

During meetings you will be asked to bring 4 copies of your work so you can share it with the other writers present, so they can write down edits, notes, feedback on your work and give it back to you.

I am going to ask my friend Meggles who went to university with me if she is interested in joining. She also writes more nerdy kind of works, including spy thrillers. Ooooo!

So if Meggles is available Saturday mornings and agrees then we only need 1 or 2 more people to turn this into a regular meeting.

I am hoping to have the first meeting in December 2018. To be determined.

Study Archery in Toronto

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