Lazy Blog #2

Welcome to the second installment of my lazy blog. BecauseI blog better when I’m on a roll, but I can’t get on a roll when I haven’t been blogging. Also because I never seem to answer forum questions without a huge multi-paragraph explanation, so why not make that work for me?

Here’s a pretty open-ended question from Demzer on Candlekeep forum. This was posted in my scroll in the Chamber of Sages, where you too can get long rambling answers to your questions about the Brimstone Angels Saga!

Originally posted by Demzer

quote:


Originally posted by ErinMEvans
… the Blood War … (which I can ramble on about a lot, but I will hold back until someone actually notes they want to talk about that) …


*raises hand*

Please!

And don’t worry if it’s 0.1% “canon” and 99.9% Erin-M-Evans-Awesomeness, i just care for your opinion as a knowledgeable author. I wrecked the Lower Planes in my campaign and hearing/reading what others (who know what they’re talking about) have in mind regarding demons, devils, their planar homes and the Blood War is always useful and fascinating.

So please, go ahead.


With the following enormous caveats:
1. This is how I make the Blood War work for me, because I don’t like the Blood War. I don’t get it on the level that makes it compelling. In fact, most of the designer-types I’ve discussed Blood War things with feel that way. It’s compelling in a meta-sense—two kinds of evil that are diametrically opposed is interesting!—and in a mythological sense, but D&D has a tendency to make things very real and explicit in the execution. If you already love the Blood War, this might annoy you.
2. I’m not a scholar of Planescape. I’ve certainly read a lot, but usually for the purposes of writing a book so there’s not a lot of leisurely study so much as “Where is this sentence?!” I’ve also always gotten conflicting answers about how much of Planescape is canonical for the Realms anyway. But there’s a chance there’s an incompatible error in this, and I know that.
3. All of this is predicated on the assumption that the 4E lore changes happened and have reasons. So if that gives you a rage stroke, go read something else. Life is too short, dear readers.

An unending war without a goal or a victory condition is interesting as a backdrop, but when you start to put characters into it, put situations together that focus on it as a war not a sort of cosmic reality, it loses it’s shine. Wars are major resource drains. Why are they doing this still? What are they trying to acheive? And when you look at the versions where there’s a particular battlefield-plane this happens on, why are they doing it there? The reality is that while ideology is used as an excuse for war, there are always resources at play and you tend to fight as near to those resources as you can. Even the Crusades boils down to territorial control. While demons would throw themselves against a devilish army for eternity, but devils are planners, calculators, risk-reward analysts. They’re going to need a reason eventually.

Access to souls is a pretty decent reason, actually. This is a resource both want and want in different ways. They can’t really share safely, and the ideological difference between their methods and uses becomes an easy way to make it ideological, right? Whatever started it, this is a solid potential core, and feeding that competition with hatred is easy. We have to stop them, or we lose what sustains us.

So look at the sides: Demons corrupt to cause chaos, right, which ultimately means destruction, entropy. Break it all down to it’s component molecules and move on. Slow or speedy, most demons follow this pattern. Which makes sense–they’re predators, devourers. They are the wolves and mortals are the sheep. They’ll tear through a flock and move on to the next (let’s call these fairy tale wolves for the sake of not making biologists twitch).

Devils, on the other hand, work when playing off the status quo. What do you want? What do you yearn for? What has the world kept from you? Who can you exploit and rule over? If society doesn’t create things for you to crave, create structures that keep you from grabbing what you want, then none of that can happen. They need dead souls but really they need the living too, where the demons don’t. So if the demons are the wolves, the devils are the shepherds. They want the flock to persist, so they can get their wool and lamb and mutton without too much work.

Which sounds all gentle and nice…but if you’re a sheep, the end of this story is fresh mutton whether the wolves get you or the shepherds do. The devils have the better party line, but if you think about it for a minute it’s not exactly better.

So instead of this:

Demons<—->Devils 
PMP

that I think a lot of people depict the Blood War as, it would look more like:

Demons—>Devils | PMP 

They become the kind of protectors you don’t really want, but maybe can’t afford to get rid of entirely. They’re the tyranny that’s holding the lunatics with guns running around the wilderness at bay, while squeezing you the people dry.

And that’s why I think it makes sense for Asmodeus to seek out and claim divinity. He needs societies of mortals to corrupt and then claim souls—why not make that pull power too? Power from worshippers, power from the dead. Feed the sort of structures that make it easier to claim souls. That’s why it also makes sense for one of his first god acts is to hurl the Abyss away. That’s not going to end the Blood War, and I think he’d know that, but it buys him time to build up. (See also, snatching tiefling bloodlines. Graz’zt is going to be pissed.)

But I do think the way his worship’s been depicted doesn’t work great for this. He needs to cast a wider net than “those of you interested in human sacrifice” to get going. Fortunately, that ought to be a devil’s wheelhouse. And so I would depict the wider worship of Asmodeus as being kind of apotropaic. “Save us from the worse things.” Or even something along the lines of “absolve or absorb this transgression I made so the good gods don’t notice.” Or even “Hey man, do what you want. The gods are asking a lot from you and all Asmodeus wants is for you to be happy.”

I had an idea once for a Asmodean paladin whose schtick was basically being a bounty hunter for the Nine Hells. People request them and they track down whatever horrible threat or criminal Asmodeus sets them after, sacrifice the puppy kicker and claim his or her soul for the Nine Hells. Much gold and many prayers later, everyone’s happy. Good gods frowning from the heavens aside.

To me, this also makes a clearer distinction between the two. (It makes me crazy how much people conflate devils and demons. Partly because I spent the better part of two years breaking myself of the habit.) And it leaves room for the yugoloths (and now the succubi) of course. (I love the new succubi vision)

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Lazy Blog #1

Good morning, readers.

I have an inertia problem. The longer I don’t post on this blog, the less I want to post on this blog. The more I imagine that it’s a pointless endeavor and the more I have flashbacks to trying to start conversations in the middle school lunch room.

Blech.

In order to break that inertia–because I know I should be blogging and I know that very few of you are scrutinizing my words for the merest hint of weakness, which you will seize upon in order to heave yourselves up the social hierarchy, if only for a moment–here’s something I’m calling a “lazy blog.”

Sometimes people ask me questions on forums. This often results in an enormous answer that might as well be a blog post. So I’m cheating and making a couple into blog posts, which is probably okay, since I suspect most of you don’t kick around those fora (and if you do, feel free to talk about Fire in the Blood more!).

Here’s Lazy Blog #1, a question from Entromancer on Candlekeep, a forum for Forgotten Realms fans.

quote:


Originally posted by Entromancer

Erin, I’d like to pick your brain on the writing process for the Brimstone Angels characters. How do you approach writing from the perspectives of the tieflings and dragonborn in such a way that someone couldn’t shrug any of these off as being interchangeable with humans?


There are four “directions” I think non-human characters ought to be considered from, assuming you want them to be relatable (e.g. if they have a point-of-view within a narrative, they ought to be relatable). To roughly sketch them out with categories I literally just made up:

Internal-Internal: This is who they are on the inside, their hopes and fears and goals and such. Their personality. This is the most “human” part, because again, we’re assuming relatability. Besides, when you’re talking about tieflings and dragonborn and even cambions, you’re talking about races that are part human. You can’t lose sight of that. Specifics here ought to broadly match up to the kinds of specifics you’d give a human character: What does she do to relieve stress? How does he react when a pretty/handsome counterpart flirts? Are they a morning person? Do they like snakes? What would make them barf? Etc.

But the next critical step to consider in terms of a non-human character is how socio-cultural pressures affect their personality.* The pitfall here is the PHB Prototype Trap: making your character The Tiefling or The Dragonborn or The Elf, even, instead of considering them as an individual within their culture/others’ culture. Characters shouldn’t exist solely to show off the PHB summary, you know? They need to have their own story, not just the story of their race.

The Brimstone Angels excerpt placed in the tiefling entry for the 5E PHB summarizes this: Tieflings don’t have a homogenous culture, but it’s fair to say many societies marginalize them in a predictable way and expect bad things from them. So what do you do? Do you fight that perception? Do you embrace it? Do you ignore it and push it all down? Do you happen to live in circumstances where you’re “normal” and you don’t need to think about what it’s like to be a tiefling somewhere else? The pressures on a tiefling in Calimshan aren’t going to be the pressures in Narfell or Impiltur or Aglarond or Neverwinter or Cormyr. Farideh’s grown up in a village full of tieflings who fled their home societies and so she’s been bombarded with a mix of internalized racism and kind of passive defiance. That shapes her.

Dragonborn in Djerad Thymar/Tymanther have most of my focus right now, and they actually have a greater risk of falling into the PHB Prototype Trap, because they do come from a really homogenous culture. The culture of DT is hugely structured. You have a place in a clan, which has a place in the whole of society, and signaling where you fit is a big deal. They wear the clan piercings, they have a strict division between adolescence and adulthood based on whether you’ve served in the Lance Defenders or earned your status weapon. There’s a kind of comfort for someone from this world in seeing these indicators, in knowing before you ever speak who someone is. That’s not a pressure that’s familiar in those terms to North American readers, but we might be familiar with the kind of conforming pressures that mean our outward appearance/dress fits us into a mold.

Someone like Mehen who’s clanless, who has no place in society, really agitates people. WHO ARE YOU EVEN? And that in turn agitates Mehen, because he grew up here. He used to have those same reactions. Being who he is, he kind of shrugs it off and gets more and more angry. On the other hand, someone like Kallan–who grew up in the homesteads raising sheep and became a sellsword–hasn’t really felt much pressure for lacking clan piercings. His society has been his family and maybe some far-flung neighbors who all know him personally as So-and-So’s boy. Followed by a life where very few people even know to look for piercings. It annoys him to have people act like he’s this unmoored ghost, because this is a new-fangled pressure, but to him, that’s just city-folk nuttery.

And then if you take them out of Tymanther, both of them get treated like novelties. Mehen uses that to intimidate people into leaving him alone, mostly. In Ashes of the Tyrant right now, he’s made Brin a sort of figurehead leader of the party, because he’s come to realize humans pay their own kind more fairly.

TL;DR: Think about ways that the character’s personality is shaped by the way the people they regularly interact with treat them.

External-Internal: This is the next step from the above. The people that your non-human characters interact with are going to notice that they’re not human. They will have a variety of opinions on this fact. Showcasing a variety of reactions and interactions helps shape the world the non-human characters live in. Whether that’s not-reacting (“What’ll it be?”), acting SUPER OKAY WITH IT (“I think it’s so cool you have a tail! My babysitter was a tiefling!”), getting skittish (“…Yeah, I’m going to need that coin up front. You know. Just in case.”), being a full-on bigot (“We don’t like your kind around here.”) or anything in between, people are complicated. And showing those interactions and your character’s reaction to those interactions is important. This, IMO, is the best way to display that PHB Prototype: reader’s will pick it up in the differences between the expectations and the realities of your character.

Internal-External: This is simpler. It boils down to remembering that physically, these characters have attributes that aren’t human. Farideh and Havilar’s tails. Mehen’s facial structure/teeth. Lorcan’s wings. These are all tools for signaling emotional reactions. Dragonborn in particular are hard to describe in ways that indicate emotional reactions. They don’t have human faces and so they can’t, say, wrinkle their noses or stick out their tongues the way we do or smile or frown in as subtle a way (assuming that your viewpoint character is a human; a dragonborn would likely pick up a lot of nuance a human would miss entirely).

And in a broader sense, just reminding readers that those parts exist (and are absolutely normal to those characters!) makes a difference.

Example: All my dragonborn tap their tongues against the roofs of their mouths when they’re nervous. Because I’ve seen people say that they’re functionally reptiles or functionally monotremes, this is me taking that to the logical step of giving them an enhanced Jacobsen’s organ, which lets them smell better. So, the biz gets tense, you introduce some air to that organ out of reflex, you taste that this dude you’re talking to is nervous, you react accordingly. Nothing more beneficial, really, than reading someone’s body language, but more tailored to a character who experiences the world in a very different body.

External-External: This is the inverse of the above. How do your non-human characters interact with the world beyond? Do they fit? How do they adapt to make themselves fit? What do they do to survive? What kind of jobs might be open to them and what would they never be able or willing to do?

A really obvious, basic example is furniture. Tieflings are going to be really good at sitting down carefully since their tails could easily get in the way. In Fire in the Blood Farideh gets strapped down to a chair and she can’t get comfortable because her tail doesn’t fit. They need room to either let it trail over the back, or to wrap alongside their leg. But they live like this so it’s something they consider—other places aren’t going to think about that. Similarly, dragonborn are sized like very big humans. Imagine going through doorways and using furniture as a 6’8”, 350 lb person. Not everything is going to fit you. So is this the kind of character who brings their own campstool with them? Is this the kind of character who wordlessly breaks off the arm rests of a chair so they can sit comfortably? Do they complain about it or suffer in silence? Do they just stand? Do they sit on the floor?

The takeaway here (but for all of this really) is to put yourself in the shoes of your character as much as possible, and think about them as an individual first and foremost.

Hope that helps!

Best,
Erin

*This is all important for human characters, too, by the way.

 

 

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Tome Show Interview

Hello, readers!

I have (obviously) been absent this winter. I am feverishly at work on Ashes of the Tyrant which many of you have informed me should have been done and in your hands yesterday–sorry! I’ve decided I will get back in the groove once the first draft is turned in in two weeks.

In the meantime, here is an interview I did with James Introcaso at The Tome Show. Give it a listen. (And don’t forget, those of you champing at the bit for Ashes of the Tyrants, to leave a review for Fire in the Blood.) 

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