Orctober: James Jakins, D&D, and Writing

James Jakins is joining us once more to talk about the effects D&D had on writing Jack Bloodfist: Fixer.


I released Jack Bloodfist: Fixer in October of 2015. In the two years since I introduced Jack to the world I’ve thought a lot about that book and its characters. I’ve come to realize a lot of things that, as I wrote the book, were only present in the back of my mind.

So, to stick with the theme of D&D that this Orctober is taking, I am going to admit something that a lot of my readers have probably already realized: Fixer is basically a D&D novel.

There was one aspect of the book, while writing, that I consciously borrowed from tabletop gaming(Other than the classic Fantasy Races): There is a squad of mercenaries that Jack encounters. When I developed those characters I specifically chose classes for them. There was a healer, a ranger, a fighter, a wizard, a barbarian. It was all under the shiny veneer required for them to fit into the Urban Fantasy setting, but ostensibly they were the traditional adventuring party.

But other than that, everything else that happens in the story is my attempt at subverting the common tropes found in your standard campaign.

The most obvious is the characters.

My hero is an orc. Half-orc, half-goblin. Two races traditionally only used as fodder for a party of heroes to cut their way through for the purposes of getting EXP and loot.

The other characters that round out his inner circle are more likely to be found in the Monster Manual than the Player’s Handbook.

The antagonist is a paladin in the service of a god of justice. The type of character more likely to be represented as a hero. Hell, his motivation is even revenge for the desecration of his temple. I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I think I took that from a “Cool character backstories” article or something. But he’s the villain of this story. His methods are more monstrous than any the orcs might resort to.

The point is, that in one way or another, every character was inspired by my time sitting around a table rolling dice with friends.

I’m going to just focus on Jack for now, and discuss how my experience as a player and Gamemaster shaped who and what Jack became as I wrote Fixer.

I’ve shared the story of why I wrote Jack as an orc before, but I’ll share it again, just in case. I had just finished a project I’d been working on for a while, and wanted to write something fast-paced and fun. I had a few ideas and pitched them all to a friend of mine using one line hooks. One of these pitches was “A thriller with goblins.”

He asked if the goblins were the good guys. They weren’t, and I realized that was a mistake on my part, so I began the process of creating a story where the goblins could be the heroes.

Eventually, as the process continued, my hero became an orc.

The orcs of Summervale are, for the most part, honest and hardworking. They’ve found their niche in the hierarchy of their home and are comfortable there. But that wasn’t always the case. The orcs in Fixer aren’t native to the world they live in. Before coming to Earth they lived as bandits. They were exactly what orcs always are in most RPG campaigns.

Why? Because the world they lived in was the generic fantasy setting. They didn’t want to be the villains, but they also didn’t want to starve. Their choices were to become mercenaries and fight in wars they had no stake in or to be their own masters and carve out a small piece of the pie by taking from others.

That trope is something that has always bothered me a little bit whenever I’ve played fantasy RPGs. Why should the orcs and goblins always be the first choice whenever a party of PCs needs a sidequest?

So, in Fixer, I included the story of Jack’s father, Garack, the infamous bandit, as he played his part to protect his people. It was him that brought the orcs and goblins to Earth so they wouldn’t have to be what their world wanted them to be.

So, Jack is an orc living in a world that, for the most part, lets an orc be whatever he wants to be. That’s the world I want to live in, so it’s the one I created.

Then there’s the issue of Jack’s “class.” I’ve always believed that bards are the best. Don’t argue, you know I’m right.

My original intent hadn’t really been to give Jack a class. My plan had been for him to be a classic adventure/thriller protagonist. A resourceful-but-still-regular guy up against impossible odds.

Then he started acting like a dork in his narration. Without quite realizing it, in creating Jack’s unique voice, I made him as big of a nerd as I am. He was quoting comic books, referencing anime, collecting RPG rulebooks for “research” purposes.

In short, he was the bard of his little party.

When I first started playing D&D I learned quickly that every campaign starts out with the intent of being a sweeping epic full of action and drama, but usually end up being something else entirely.(See meme below)

Orctober-pic
How most D&D groups being (Lord of the Rings vs how most groups end (Monty Python)

It was patiently explained to me that while every other class has to at least pretend to accept the seriousness of their quest, the bard is allowed to acknowledge, from the start, that they’re stuck in a comedy. They’re the class made for breaking the fourth wall.

At least, that’s how it is at my table.

Jack is more aware than he probably has any right to be that he is telling the reader a story. He’s a storyteller and he wants you to be entertained.

He also happens to have magic singing powers, but that’s not really the point.

The point is that he’s an orc bard that has to save his family from murderous paladins. You gotta admit that sounds like something you might hear around a game table.

You can find James around the web at www.jamesjakins.com, on twitter @bethteva, or on Patreon.

Orctober: Amalia Dillin’s Orc Clans

Amalia Dillin is back with us this year to celebrate and has decided to talk about the differences in the clans featured in her Orcs Saga books.

The Orc Clans of the Orc Saga

In my Orc Saga, there are two major clans of orc – the mountain orcs, called the
Hrimthursar for the rime that coats their skin and protects them from the winter winds; and the forest orcs, called Vidthursar, who are named for the trees in which they live. But simply being born on the Mountain or beneath it in the trees isn’t the only factor in determining an orc’s clan, either. It’s not really about geography at all so much as it’s about culture, perception, and the influence of outside forces on the clans themselves. Among all orcs, to be of mixed race is a blessing, hearkening back to the earliest days after their creation and subsequent rescue from the sorceress, Sinmarra, who had stolen them away as elves and twisted them into beasts. Because it wasn’t until the immortal elf Vanadis came to the orcs, who had been barred from returning to Elvish lands for fear they would do injury and harm to the Elvish people and because their hard won freedom had cost the elves their king, that they remembered how to live as people again after their ordeal, to build relationships with one another of friendship and family and love. It wasn’t until Vanadis retaught them the values that Sinmarra had worked so hard to strip from them, that the clans were born at all.

The more physically powerful orcs, the orcs who preferred the cold and the isolation of
the mountain, separated then, taking upon themselves the duty of guarding the boundary between Elf and Human lands. It was a service they could perform easily enough, a task which gave their shattered lives purpose, and kept them from the sight of the majority of the elves, who found their appearance and their monstrous existence too painful, under the best of circumstances, and too distasteful at worst.

The orcs who were not quite so ruined, who perhaps had not suffered the same torturous treatments before they were freed, remained in the forest just outside the Elvish lands. Led by Vanadis, whose husband had been stolen and turned orc, and for whom she had given up her place among the elves, they prospered, too – but living so near to the elves, always, in everything, still striving and yearning to become elf once more. To return home again, and be made welcome by the elves who had rejected them so completely.

For the Hrimthursar, it was different. Isolated for months during the year when the winter storms and the endless night made movement up and down the steep stone cliffs treacherous and all but impossible, the mountain became their home. Even those rare few born with Elvish blood from illicit love affairs did not often seek to leave it. Some, less suited to the winter cold, or less adept at climbing the rock and ice, migrated south to live among the Vidthursar, instead, but by Bolthorn’s time, there were not many who did not take pride in being Hrimthursar–or in being orc.

Ultimately, more than anything else, the fundamental acceptance of themselves as orc,
became the greatest cultural division between the two clans. Those who wished still, after generations of orc children born, that they might one day still become elf enough to return home most often joined the Vidthursar in the forest; and those who simply wished to live as they were, who found their lives no less fulfilling than that of any elf’s, or who had resigned themselves to the fate the ancestors had thrust upon them and their offspring, lived upon the mountain, becoming Hrimthursar.

But it was not until Bolthorn, clan chieftain of the Hrimthursar, brought Arianna, a
human princess, across the mountain, that the ties that bound the two clans were truly tested, and the Vidthursar forced to decide where their loyalties truly lie: With their fellow orcs on the mountain, or with the elves?

***

Amalia Dillin is the author of the ongoing Orc Saga, the completed Fate of the Gods
trilogy, and as Amalia Carosella, also writes Bronze Age Greek and Viking Age historical
fiction. Once upon a time, she dreamed of being a zookeeper, but she’s settled for two house cats and a husband instead. You can learn more about her and her work at www.amaliadillin.com, follow her on twitter at @AmaliaTd, or subscribe to her newsletter, The Amaliad, to stay up to date on her authorish adventures!

Orctober – Creator Spotlight – James Jakins

orctober

Welcome to the first Orctober, here in my little plot of cyberspace! For the month of October, we’ll be celebrating Orcs and the people who create art with them. It’s Monday and that means the first Orctober post and the first Creator Spotlight post. Let’s kick things off with a peer of mine in the Fantasy Literature world, James Jakins!

 

I met James on Twitter, I think after he found A Demon in the Desert. Like me, he’s someone who decided he needed to write something starring an orc. What he made was Jack Bloodfist: Fixer. He’s a pretty nice dude with the usual geeky interests. He was nice enough to answer my little Orctober survey. Here’s what he had to say.

When did you start creating?
I started writing when I was 11 or 12(none of those creations will see the light of day) but I only really made the conscious decision to pursue it in my early twenties. So I’ve spent close to a decade trying my best to create something that anyone other than myself would give a damn about.

Why do you love orcs?
My love for orcs goes back to the original Warcraft. I always started a human campaign out of some weird race loyalty, then I’d dump that campaign and start an orc one because they had badass green dudes riding giant black wolves, and you really can’t beat that.
Then years later I started reading more Fantasy and was told that orcs are supposed to be the bad guys, which bummed me out a little, but I accepted it(I was a dumb kid). Then, six years ago, I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons(way too late in life, I know). Orcs are supposedly the bad guys in there, too, but my DM had a tendency of introducing us to orc NPCs that reminded my why I used to love the old green-skins.

As I get older, and now as I try my best to write orc characters, I think I love orcs because in a lot of ways they’re a blank canvas. Yeah, there’s a lot of lore there from games and books and all that, but most people don’t think of that when they think of orcs. They see the big, probably dumb brutes, or Tolkien’s orcs, and I love being able to take those conceptions and change them. Creating something new, but still familiar. That’s fun.

What’s your favorite piece of your work?
That’s a really hard question… Generally, my favorite piece is always the one I’m excited to write next, until I actually start it. But out of things that actually exist… I have a novel that I trunked a few years ago because I realized I hadn’t leveled up enough as a writer to do it justice. Some of the characters and scenes in that book are my all time favorites. Hopefully in a few years I’ll be able to share it and not feel immense shame.
But after that, I think Jack Bloodfist: Fixer is my favorite. I set out to write something fun and I think I actually pulled it off. Plus it’s out in the world so I’m able to read the nice things people say about it. So until another of my books gets better reviews, he’s the favorite child.

What’s your favorite piece of someone else’s work?
I have a growing list of orc related reads that I really want to get to. Grey Bastards by Jonathan French looks great, and the little I read of it really got me interested in his Sons of Anarchy inspired orc world. Scott Oden’s A Gathering of Ravens is currently one of my most anticipated releases next year. And I’m still missing a few of the classics, Stan Nichols is still on my to read list, for which I feel shame, so I can’t speak for everything out there, but I actually really enjoyed A Demon in the Desert. I felt like I was reading a weird west themed D&D campaign, which for me, at least, is a huge sell. And, Grimluk just felt like an orc.

What’s your biggest hope for orcs in media?
A Jack Bloodfist TV series? Other than that, I think things are definitely moving in the right direction. More and more books are being released starring the handsome devils. We had the Warcraft movie, which I haven’t seen yet, but it at least exposed a good chunk of the world to them, and I’ve heard rumors of other properties that may or may not actually see the light of day.

High up on my wishlist would be for Wizards of the Coast to make Orcs a default playable race instead of just the go to baddies. Half-orcs are cool and all, but I want a full-blooded orc barbarian in my party.

But seriously, Jack Bloodfist TV series.

That’s James, everyone. You can find him on Twitter @bethteva. Stay tuned for my review of Fixer this month as well. And Wednesday will be ORC FACTS, where I share some wonderful bit of lore from already established franchises like Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls, Warhammer, etc., as well as lore about Grimluk and his world. And don’t worry, no spoilers for Grimluk.