Celebrating the Rune Breaker 3 Launch
It’s been eleven months since I first put A Girl and Her Monster (Rune Breaker, #1) up for sale and two since it first started appearing on this site. Now I’m getting ready to put out Book 3, The Path of Destruction, and I’m hoping you, my wonderful readers will indulge me in a bit of nostalgia (and also naked self-promotion) regarding how this story came to be.
It all started with a Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
Yes, I know, ‘my book is a retelling of this D&D game I played once’ is how hack writers tell you not to buy their book, but there is both a reason why that is usually a bad idea and why Rune Breaker is different. It is the same reason games based on movies tend to stink and visa-versa: Games and movies (and books) work on extremely different levels.
A game of D&D is fun in part because of character creation. One might not actually enjoy character creation, but if you stop and think about it, part of the joy in the game comes from seeing that your decision to take copious, almost inadvisable levels of Bluff and Diplomacy (as I’m doing in a play-by-post) actually changes how the game plays out on a fundamental level. On top of that, almost every major action in D&D has an aspect of gambling to it because a roll of the dice mean the difference between great, epic success, and cartoonishly awful failure.
Natural 1’s in their native habitat.
If you’re a tabletop nerd, you no doubt are able to recall countless awesome stories you’ve accumulated both from your own experiences and from other gamers. I’m willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that a healthy percentage of those stories involve a well-timed 19, 20 or 1 and would completely fail to be anywhere near as interesting or fun if it had been a 10.
Both of these are elements that make the game a game. It’s something you interact with and play without a structured progression. No matter how much your DM loves railroading, they cannot control when the dice will make a scene super dramatic or comedic. Many a tense, thrilling scene at a game table has stopped being so because someone hit a crit that was so lucky that a villain who the party worked months to just reach is dead before they got initiative.
A book can’t do that and remain capable of making any sense. Even if the setting expressly makes the characters aware that their world is ruled by RPG mechanics, like Order of the Stick and Keychain of Creation, the plot still follows an actual, narrative structure and the natural 20’s and 1’s happen precisely when the author means. So no matter how hilarious or awesome it was for your halfling to split a Great Wyrm Red Dragon in half with a garden trowel via the magic of three 20’s in a row, it probably won’t work in an adventure book.
And that is the reason why the ‘solo game’ where Ru, Pele, Brin and many others were born started in 2003, but I only put pen to paper about it in 2011. While the story was always a favorite, I was well aware that a tale from the tabletop is a cool anecdote, but not the stuff of a fantasy novel.
By the by, I’d like you encourage you to share your own gaming anecdote in the comments below or on the forum. I’ll give a special prize to the best one posted within the next week.
So back to our tale of how Rune Breaker came to be. It was getting on toward the summer of 2003 and obligations on the part of the other players caused the end of the three-year old ‘Original Ere’ campaign, wherein I laid the groundwork for the Ere Campaign Setting. The story of the setting and that campaign is awesome enough that I might tell that on the blog sometime too.
After the last Original Ere game was canceled due to other players having to do other things, I ended up hanging out with my best friend, who you may know as Nyx, artist of my old webcomic, Ledgermain or as Pele on the forums. We both lamented the death of the game and I suggested that I could run a game with just myself and her, usually online, but in person on nights when Original Ere got canceled (as it increasingly was).
It was months later when it started and while the end product shares some stations of the canon with the original game, there were a LOT of differences. It is here where I must warn you that beyond this point lie NON-PLOT SPOILERS and people who haven’t read the first or second book and who want a completely fresh slate dealing with them should stop reading.
Have you stopped? Good.
The character who would become Taylin (I’ll just call her Taylin from here on out) was created and played by my friend. I’ll note here (and repeat later) that the character is being used not only with her blessing, but her urging. If she hadn’t kept pushing me to novelize this game, it would never have seen the light of day. The same can be said for Maya from Liedecker Institute, whom she also created, then insisted I use.
Right off the bat, the weirdness that lives in both our heads entered the story by way of a crazy DM fiat. You see both of us are suckers for the fish out of temporal water trope (wherein a person from one time period finds themselves in another), and the Original Ere campaign had already shaped many of the eras in the world’s past. The idea we came up with was that Taylin would be a slave aboard one of the hailene ships who was thrown through time by the cataclysm visited upon them by the Goddess Dey at the end of the War of Ascension.
Yes, originally, Taylin ended up in the future by a literal deus ex machina. At one point, she even met Dey and the actual mechanics of how this act worked was never discussed. This is another one of those things that makes D&D and other collaborative storytelling games fun that don’t fly in books: since you and the audience are working together to have fun, you can get away with just letting something stupid slide to get on with the fun stuff.
Because in the novel, Ru is necessary to get Taylin into the correct time, the actual order of events from the first book changes too. In the game, she is found half-drowned on the shore by the halflng child, Motsey who brings her to the attention of the halfling caravan. It is the halflings who mention to her rumors of the Rune Breaker’s resting place nearby.
The hounds in the beginning of Book 1 show up here as guardians of the Rune Breaker vault, who nearly kill Taylin before she finds the Rune Breaker and… things take a huge departure from what they came to be in the book.
While the actual fight with the hounds is pretty much shot-for shot, recreated from our AIM logs (except the dragon bit), Ru here is portrayed as a magic weapon that can turn into a monster. That’s even what he tells Taylin he is, and for quite a long time, she accepts that, wearing him as a bracelet when not in use.
At this point, I was actually messing with the player’s head, because Ru insisted he was just a magic item, but as they talked, it became clear that he was actually a person, cursed into servitude. When Taylin figured this out and ordered him to take his natural form, he lied to her (and I lied to the player), telling her that he was punished for pride, not unlike the Beast from Beauty and the Beast and that in order to free him of the curse, they needed to assemble his weapon (a scythe called Grace), which contained the rest of his power.
This was me being Devious DM and playing the long game. At the time, my favorite book was Legend of Nightfall by Mickey Zucker Reichert, about a villain forced to guide a hero. The player knew this, so I added a twist: Ru was really still full-on evil and using her to get his powers back. The plan was that he would be the big surprise end boss of the story arc. It was going to be so badass it would make Chuck Norris, Vin Diesel and Alton Brown weep.
…And it was not to be. See, I make it a point to make sure that role-playing counts for something in any game I run. Dice rolls be damned, sometimes things are said and done that effect the world in non-mechanical ways. And part of the reason why I offered to do a solo game with this player was that our role-playing philosophies and styles mesh really well together; we can play long, long sessions without rolling any dice; just having her character shopping and talking to shopkeepers—and still have a ton of fun.
And so it came to pass that Taylin spent time with Ru, sharing stories, discussion what they wanted out of the world, and also proving him so goddamn wrong about his assumptions of her that Ru couldn’t follow through on it when the time came to totally stab her in the back and let his chance at Real Ultimate Power slip through his fingers because it would have meant having to kill her.
That’s not to say Game!Ru really lost his edge. His go-to move is almost always murder and unlike Novel!Ru, he hadn’t been sapped of his humanity by a succession of masters, he was just a manipulative bastard who felt justified because everyone before Taylin was a petty and/or greedy jerk.
Of all the characters, Ru is the least changed in general. His internals changed, but the basic overview of an obviously evil guy who is completely okay with how evil he is didn’t change.
On the other hand, Taylin changed mostly because of the mythology her player and I built for her. She started out as a half-red dragon hailene and was a slave purely because the hailene did that to all half-breeds. This got filled out as we played, including the notion of ‘ang’hailene’ itself as we went along.
Initially very quick to dole out violence and incredibly vicious punishments (at one point she tricked a would-be slaver into kissing her and spit fire down his throat), Taylin softened into a more soulful, compassionate character, helped along by the quest to rescue Motsey and her expanding supporting cast.
For the book, I made her less of the sociopath every D&D character starts out as and added in a resentment toward having been used as a weapon for someone else. This doesn’t mean she shies away from battle, but she wants better reasons than money or orders. I doubt Book!Taylin would ever do the fire kiss thing.
One other difference is the origin of Taylin’s aversion to being touched. Her player originally came up with it (I suspect) as a justification for going apeshit on the above mentioned slavers, but we later established that she witness the forced breeding of the ang’hailene aboard the ships using magic items that possessed the females with succubae and, well, you can guess what came next.
For the book, I wanted to keep even the idea that she was sexually abused out of people’s heads (She wasn’t. Word of God, she wasn’t; neither in the game or in the book. The hailene wouldn’t have wanted her to breed anyway), so I removed that part and made it clear that it was the beatings and having her wings cut off that did it. In fact, that’s why Book! Taylin had her wings cut off in the first book; to set up just how traumatic life on the ships was.
There was quite a bit of shake-up in the supporting cast too. Raiteria and Bromun are new, wholecloth. In the game, halfling society raised children communally, but as I fleshed out the I liked the idea of a group that is a single strong family unit where each individual unit therein is also strong.
Layaka and Issacor are also new, but Layaka has a counterpart in the original game who also used a hawk was a weapon. Issacor’s faith, the Mother of Blades’ religion, is from the Original Ere campaign and is the result of that group meddling in the past where they shouldn’t.
Brin, meanwhile is new and largely unchanged. She’s less of a fawning love interest here mostly because I’ve matured. Her spirit companion, Reflair used to have more plot significance, as originally, Ru was partially a spirit creature and Reflair could speak with him. That’s one of the things that was lost that I genuinely regret.
As for Kaiel, he is a new character, but also a stand-in for another loreman who appeared in the story, Traceren Ridsekes. The history of Trace and therefore Kaiel, is actually pretty convoluted. Originally, a character by the name of Napier Ridsekes was created by me for a D&D game that lased only about a month. She was a bard who was chasing the shadow of her older brother Trace.
Trace, in turn, was created in the campaign that followed, a legendary tale itself which coined great in-jokes like the ‘Nazghul Sweep’ and ‘If I were a lesser man, I would make you sexually attracted to fire’ (if you want explanations, ask me about it on the forum :p).
Taylin’s player was so amused by my stories from that game that she asked me to include him the solo game, which I did. It was Trace that served as the intellectual anchor for the group and Taylin’s adviser, not to mention Brin’s love interest.
Years later, I would start writing Ridsekes, a story featuring (you guessed it) Trace. Here, he was divorced from all the gamed I’d run him through, but with the same personality. He had a new mission, a new love interest, and a new everything in general.
So when Taylin’s player finally wore me down and convinced me to just give adapting Rune Breaker to a novel, Trace was unavailable as a character. Enter Kaiel, who differs from Trace mostly in terms of bardic style (he plays a flute while Trace orates), place of origin, and stature. However, there is a reason for this and it is one that you’ll hear here first: Trace is actually one of Kaiel’s mentors at the Bardic College, and Ridsekes is actually a Rune Breaker prequel. All thanks to the magic of retcons.
Lastly, we have the demons. First, you’ll notice that I tend toward referring to the church of evil as the Threefold Moon instead of the name of their god, Kayda. Reason being, I came up with the name for these guys in mid-August 2001 while running the very first games of the Original Ere campaign. A month later, a group called Al-Queda (Pronounced either al-kai-duh or al-kay-duh) were suddenly big news. To be clear, Kayda is named as a corruption of ‘cicada’, a voracious insect species that breeds underground before sweeping the earth with its might progeny (they started out more zerg than Phyrexian).
Matasume the Wind and Zect of the Drinking Gourd were villains from Original Ere. The name scheme was inspired by Trigun, and both of them are remembered in that game for their spectacular defeats. The former had a stone altar dropped on her and the latter was doused in oil of slipperiness that the players bought in the very first session solely to make sex jokes, but had in their inventory nonetheless.
Bashurra shares a name with a fat messenger demon that originally announced the Motsey had been taken.
And then Immurai… sigh. Immurai was an animalistic, impossibly cruel beast that ambushed Taylin and Ru at the end of their first arc. Like Trace, he was then used in another story, one where my handle’s namesake, Vaalingrade Ashland was cursed by and is hunting him.
Book!Immurai is a different animal. His spiritual fore-bearers are Zelgadis Greywords from Slayers (well the first few episodes, anyway), and Slade Wilson from the Teen Titans animated series.
Any reason to show this again.
The result is an implacably calm villain who is inhuman and unsettling by design. This Immurai is a manipulator who prefers to work either as a subversive element or using catspaws. If a villain is defined by his major sin, Immurai would be Price. He truly believes he is the greatest of all demons, greater even than his creator, and that with enough fallbacks, all of his plans are unbeatable in the long term.
As for the plot itself, Rune Breaker follows the main thrust of the first arc of the game fairly closely: from the finding of the Rune Breaker to Motsey’s kidnapping, to the final battle on Mon Sulus Kime. A lot of side-quests are missing, of course.
Taylin originally spent a lot of time kicking the crap out of bandits before we settled into a real plot, and after the kidnapping, she traveled to the city of Spinar to hire help (Trace and Brin). There was a rivalry with Brin, a border dispute between the nations of Callen and Calderia (they and Spinar don’t show up at all in the novel), and some dealing with the Kimeans slave trade. Some of this might go into books sometime later.
I’ll also say that Mon Sulus Kime wasn’t the end of Taylin’s adventures. At the point, Taylin had hit epic level and we started exploring the multiverse with typical nerd abandon. A third of those stories can never be published as they were really just visiting fictional worlds like Pern, The 9 Kingdoms, or Dominaria. Another third involved a myth arc that really would spoil Book 3, and the final third was a sprawling epic in which Taylin started making a name for herself in the multiverse and taking care of planar refugees.
It really was a remarkable game and I enjoyed it immensely. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t be writing this or Rune Breaker.
Now there are some things you should know about this upcoming release. Namely, it isn’t like the previous books, which covered already printed material. The Path of Destruction is the entirety of Book 3, which is Chapter 29 – 42. The savvy among you will notice that next week’s update (It will be Wednesday, by the way, not Friday as Rune Breaker is now the 1st Wednesday update) is Chapter 38. This means that Book 3 won’t be fully posted on the site until October.
So if you want all of the story right now, the ebook is where it’s at. Just like the other books, you’ll also be getting free extras in the ebook version that aren’t available on the site. That’s a pretty good deal for three bucks, I’d say.
And three bucks for one of my books is a pretty good investment, by the way. While I will inevitably spend most of it on books and DVD of television shows I’ll inevitably plug like all the time on this blog, for the past year, the very website you’re reading has been funded entirely on sales of the ebooks. So even if you figure you can wait until October to see how Path of Destruction ends and don’t care about the magic system and jokes ad included in the ebook, that three dollars effectively pays for a week and a half of hosting here. So $3 now means more free content later.
Either way, I’m pretty excited about this and hope you are too.
Last time, I ran a contest for the new Descendants Book and had a lot of problems, so I’m not doing that again for some time (at least until I figure out Raffelcopter). What I will do though is: the first person who sends me (non-squicky) fan-fiction for any of the properties I have on the site (following my fan-fiction policy) gets a free copy of the new book and if they want, will have it posted as my next fifth-Wednesday update.
Sound like fun? Here’s hoping!
One last ebook-related tidbit, my bro-in-writing, Justin Childress (though now he is apparently J.A. Childress) has a new website and on it, he has a sample chapter for the upcoming sequel to his book The Steampunk. Give him a visit, why dontcha?
Questions, comments, verbal abuse? Please post them below in the comments, or the forum.
You can check in on what Vaal’s working on or just what’s on his mind by following @ParadoxOmni on Twitter, or using the hashtags #TheDescendants or #RuneBreaker. You can also browse books by Vaal by visiting his Author Page on Amazon.com.
Vaal’s latest book, The Path of Destruction (Rune Breaker, #3) will be available on Amazon.com starting June 1, 2013!
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