For a long time, RPG was a foreign word to me. I knew it from my so called geek friends, from the newest CGI games, and from hearing references of classics like Dungeons & Dragons. But I didn’t really know what it meant.
This summer, I was introduced to Hearthstone. It had something to do with the universe of World of Warcraft. Ok: a familiar name. I had never played it myself, but had seen people addicted to it and talking about how awesome it was.
My first reaction: cool graphics, but… so many cards with… numbers… and what do they all mean? There’s the little diamond shape thingy and then the other two on the bottom… And the ones with a skull have “Deathrattle”? My inner monologues ended pretty much with “Wait. Why did that monster die? No! Wh-why am I dead?!?”
Yup. Not the easiest game ever, I give you that. Especially if you have no experience with card games or RPGs in general. But I was hooked. I continued to try. I had help building my first decks and got used to playing with the same character: Mage (c’mon, you’ve got to love a good Flamestrike!).
Flamestrike: Deal 4 damage to all enemy minions
But besides the everyday ranked games, daily challenges and solo adventures, there’s something that, sometimes, is incredible: the Tavern Brawls!
These consist of a weekly challenge that changes its rules every time and is only available for three days. You get games that go from cooperating with the other player in order to destroy a common enemy to using only one type of card to destroy your enemy—or even to using chess pieces.
Something that captured my attention was the cooperation game. In a question of seconds—and without the use of chat—strategies were made and put into action. Just by playing a certain card and maybe highlighting your partner’s hero power, you gave each other signals and you were in fact working towards a common goal from across the world. It seems something ridiculous, right? What’s so important about destroying an imaginary monster in a fantasy game?
Well, picture this: it’s not a random monster, it’s a problem that two people who have never met are joining forces to solve. Within seconds, tactics are created and acted upon.
This shows how we are more than capable of solving problems and collaborating. We just have to be on the same side—and that’s the tricky part of any conflict.
See how this quickly went from mere game to world cooperation? Ok, ok, I’m not preaching RPGs as a solution to World Peace—everyone knows that the answer to that is tickling; we are just afraid because it’s so obvious, as comedian T.J. Miller pointed out.
Anyway, back to Hearthstone!
I am now proud to say that I have conquered my good share of victories, currently trying to push myself beyond my comfort zone by playing with other characters. I know the difference between a Battlecry and a Deathrattle and more or less how to prioritize my mana spending and energy losses.
Deathrattles and Battlecries: let’s mix it up!
I love that it is a game that needs more than sheer luck, that you have to actually think when playing if you want to create certain combos and get cool cards.
But there was another thing that helped me get addicted: the possibility of playing with friends from around the world! It’s fine to chat on a regular basis to keep tabs on how everyone’s doing, but it’s much cooler when you’re able to share these funny moments in an RPG. Challenging your friends for battles, arguing about what characters have the best powers and cards, giving tips and advice on how to improve your decks or what web pages to visit for extra news—it’s all part of a shareable experience. It’s something that takes the game to a new level and makes it less impersonal.
It’s almost like having that cosy boardgame night where you just goof around and have fun, using the game as an excuse.
The funny characters, the subtle humor on the card descriptions, and the whole sound and graphic landscape make Hearthstone an enjoyable experience for anyone wanting to give the digital RPG world a try. It’s free, so why not take a chance?
Are you an avid player of online RPGs? Which ones would you recommend?
Let us know! I’ll be playing the ones you suggest and writing my impressions here. Yes, I’m a complete newbie but that’s why it’s going to be fun for you to hear the struggles and nonsenses of a rookie in worlds you’ve traveled so many times.
Alana Joli Abbott has recently joined Outland Entertainment‘s as Editor in chief, but you’ve probably heard her name long before this new gig. Be it for her novels, her interactive games or her award winning game writing, Alana continues to amaze us with her talent. Let’s try and find out more from Abbott herself!
Who’s Alana Joli Abbott?
Starting off with an existential question like that? This interview’s going to be a stumper! I guess I’m a writer, editor, mother, wife, martial artist, and lapsed musician. I’m passionate about stories and the way that telling stories—and consuming stories—shapes the world we live in. Being a mom has changed the way I see storytelling happening around me, because I look at what stories I’m feeding my kids, and what stories they’re taking in from the world around them. There’s so much power in the way we tell our truths and our fictions, and I try to make sure I’m always on the side of using that power for good!
What was the first thing you ever wrote? Was it a school assignment or something you did on your free time?
The first thing I have a concrete memory of writing was a school assignment in third grade, but it was also fan fiction. It was a short story based on a comic book that my mom had kept from when she was a kid about a group of children and their dog. (Not Peanuts or I’d remember the title!) I inserted myself into their world and wrote a story about playing baseball with them. (I didn’t play baseball. That’s where the fiction comes in.) I think there might have been a rainstorm. Not too long after that I wrote an epic episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, based on the cartoon, because I followed that devotedly, on my father’s electronic typewriter. We didn’t get a computer until the next year or two, and sometime in there I started writing a really long Star Wars piece that’s now long gone. At the time, I was sure that LucasFilm would somehow discover me and publish it in the Expanded Universe. My first “original” novel was a riff on the Indiana Jones pulp style archeologist adventures featuring an Egyptologist with powers she’d gotten from a scarab staff, which I wrote as part of a contest in the old Disney Adventures magazine. As part of a project in for my gifted and talented class, I submitted it out to publishers and learned for the first time how the submission/rejection process goes. It was a definite learning experience!
When the moment came, did you need someone else uttering “You are a writer.” or did you know it already?
I don’t think I ever needed that validation, but I also don’t remember a time when I wasn’t receiving it. I was very lucky to have teachers who supported me throughout elementary school, allowing me to put on a play I’d written, starring members of my class, for the grade below us. In high school I had friends who would read my short stories and trade fiction set in the world I’d created back and forth with me. I didn’t realize at the time how exceptional that was, but it definitely established in me that this was something I could do, and would always do, professionally or not.
From novels, to comics passing through short fiction, games, interactive novels and numerous articles, we can say you’ve tried nearly every front of the creative and factual side of writing.
Among these different experiences what striking disparities do you notice from the creative point of view? And how about the actual writing approach?
The big question is about interactivity: if other people are involved in the storytelling, you have to leave room for them to tell their own stories, despite the fact that you’re the one writing it. So with the interactive novels and roleplaying games, there’s a lot of leaving doors open and thinking about multiple options for every scenario. I don’t ever get the feeling that I know the main characters of the story very well, because the main characters are the players. The story has to be about them, and I’m just creating the window dressing. Pretty extensive dressing, but dressing nonetheless. The story is a vehicle for their adventure, not my own vision. The writing format reflects that, too, most significantly in the interactive novel apps I write, which are written in a programming language called ChoiceScript. That’s much, much different from writing in straight prose!
By contrast, with my fiction I almost always start from the characters and then figure out what’s going on with them. The characters propel that story forward, so I get to know them very well, and it’s the motivations of my own characters who drive the plot.
Articles, of course, have completely different rules, and usually start from the research, even in (sometimes especially in) the short blog posts I do. If the data or history doesn’t support the article I thought I was going to write, I have to figure out a different angle. I call this kind of work analysis-synthesis writing: take apart the information from other sources and then put it together in a new and different way that’s interesting to my audience.
Do you have a favorite project? Why that one in particular?
There’s always some project I’m super excited about, and I’m proud of a lot of the work that I’ve done, but the story I’ve written that’s closest to my heart is “Nomi’s Wish,” which was very loosely based on two true events: one, a trip my sister and I took to the Isle of Man (where neither of us fell into the Chasms), and two, a wish that was given to me by Naomi Lewis, this amazing writer and translator of fairy tales who I worked with when I was an in-house editor in Detroit. Over a phone conversation, she told me she sometimes gave young people she liked a wish, and she gave me one. (I used it, and it came true, though whether that’s to the credit of the wish, I can’t say!)
My second favorite might be “Don’t Let Go,” which was published in the now-out-of-print Ransom: The Anthology. I’d always wanted to tackle the Tam Lin story, and I ended up liking my version quite a bit. It might be part of a larger world in which this sort of fairy thing happens more frequently, but none of those stories have been finished yet.
You’ve recently release “Choice of the Pirate”, your third interactive novel game for Choice of Games. How did you decide to enter this gamified format of novel?
I was approached by the publisher for Choice of Games, because he knew me, through friends, as a game writer and a fiction writer; having both backgrounds is incredibly helpful for writing interactive novels! On the one hand, the prose has to be really strong; on the other hand, there has to be a lot of room for the player to experience the story the way they want to, which means the story can’t dominate over the player’s choices. The juxtaposition of both skill sets sounded like a lot of fun, and it has been! I don’t mind telling you it’s also the most challenging kind of writing that I do (and probably the format of that the fewest people are familiar with!). But when I phrase it, “Oh, yes, I had an app come out this year,” people get very excited thinking I’m a video game designer. I suppose that technically I am, but it’s very different from what people expect from video games as well! It’s really this niche format that’s wonderful to play with and work in, and I hope that a lot of people keep getting excited about it.
This methodology resembles a lot the “Choose your own Adventure” books. Were you a fan of these growing up?
I read so many of them! I think a lot of us who work in gaming came from that background. There was one I remember very specifically about finding a hidden utopia—maybe Shangri-La?—where you couldn’t find the city except by paging through the book. There was no in-story route to get there, and it was only by sheer persistence that I got to it. It was both rewarding and kind of a cheat! But it stuck with me.
One might say your fiction work delves mostly on fantasy and sci-fi backgrounds. Do you agree with that?
Oh gosh, yes. I wrote Showdown at Willow Creek for Choice of Games as a non-fantastical interactive novel and didn’t realize how much I relied on fantastical elements to move me through a story and to help design my worlds! A friend of mine who playtested Choice of the Pirate said, on first run-through, “Why does my pirate have magic?” And I said, “Because magic is awesome. Now play.” Storytelling doesn’t need magic or futuristic science to work, but isn’t it more fun if it’s there?
Is there a reason why you’re more drawn towards these genres?
I read pretty exhaustively in science fiction and fantasy and always have, and most of my favorite stories (books or films) have either an SFF element or an SFF atmosphere. I realized a few years back that one of my favorite childhood books, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope technically isn’t SFF; it’s historical, and the faeire court involved in the tale isn’t technically magical, just a dispossessed group of humans. But it’s a Tam Lin story, which gives it the flavor of fantasy, even if it technically doesn’t fit. My other very favorite books that have always stuck with me are A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle and Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith. I think that’s a pretty good window on how my worldview on storytelling got shaped.
You’ve done quite an extensive research in Mythology. How did you first enter this world?
Don’t all kids get into Egyptology at some point? That was the entry point for me, and then in high school the drama club at some point assigned Greek gods and goddesses to all the usual suspects. But it wasn’t until college that I realized this was actually a field of study that was valued in an academic sphere. My creative writing prof, Mark Vecchio, taught a course called “Mythic Imagination” that I waited far too long to take. The impact of that course on my outlook and writing cannot be overstated. After I graduated, I went first as a student and then later as a teaching assistant on Mark’s study tours (which he still offers as OCaptain Tours), and through those I studied Arthurian/British, Irish, and Greek mythology in the actual locations where those stories were birthed. Once you start seeing stories in the landscape, you don’t stop. I now live within 20 or so miles of Sleeping Giant mountain and Tuxis Island, both of which have giant legends from the local Quinnipiac people (often much filtered through the Puritan worldview that recorded them). Like many places in England, my area of New England is a land of giants, and though I don’t entirely know the significance of that, it feels significant, deep into the earth around me.
Moving to another very relevant theme nowadays, diversity in writing is one of your battles. How do you feel about the efforts that have been made in this area these past few years?
It’s so nice to have someone give me credit for that, when really I feel on the periphery of the people doing the really important work! I care very deeply about representation in fiction, because, for one, it’s boring to read the same old stories about the same old characters retold with different hair colors or different towns but the same basic tropes. (Of course, after having just talked about how much I love Tam Lin retellings, I probably contradict myself a bit!) I don’t think there’s anything wrong with loving stories that fit into the traditional pattern. I love a lot of farmboy-becomes-hero stories. But I think there are so many other possibilities out there for stories that don’t share the same basic assumptions about the world as that farmboy destined for greatness. And that’s just from my own selfish perspective. It’s so much more important to value representation for readers who don’t see themselves reflected on the covers of novels. I was very lucky to come of age when Alanna: The First Adventure was on the bookshelves of my library’s budding YA section. I think I cut my hair to look like the character on the book jacket, and while I didn’t have copper hair or purple eyes, I saw my name (differently spelled) and a face that could have been mine right on the jacket of my favorite book. That’s an experience that a lot of kids don’t have, especially given how miserable the stats are when it comes to children’s books featuring protagonists of color right on the cover. And this is all just tip of the iceberg stuff. I can’t recommend enough good articles on this topic, so I’ll link to just a few.
That said, I’m a white female writer and I know I come from a position of privilege. As much as I try to be inclusive and critical of colonialist viewpoints in my fiction, I am sure I mess up. I remember when I was working on Cowboys and Aliens 2 and one of the commenter called me out on using the word “yella” to mean coward, thinking it was a slur against the Asian railroad workers. Having grown up with Western movies, it never even occurred to me that someone could read it that way! I did some research and found out that the term came from a different root—but sometimes, that’s not what’s relevant. The way that people perceive what’s written is what they bring to the story, and it’s important not to create a situation where readers feel alienated by a story they love. I just keep trying to fail better the next time.
Do you think we’ve achieved any real progress? Would you say more in terms of gender or race equality?
I want to believe that there’s been progress, but I think that the news lately would tell me that it’s a tough hope to hold onto. And just in games and SFF there’s been this backlash, especially over the Internet, against inclusivity. I want to believe that the reason the backlash is occurring is because there has been progress made that some of the Old Guard don’t like. But the fact that it’s there means that the struggle has to continue, and we’ve all got to keep fighting the good fight so that those undertold stories can reach a wider audience.
And how about the backstage: do you agree that the works we get are a reflection of the lack of diversity of the actual writers?
I think less the writers than on the in house side, honestly. There are many, many excellent writers from all walks of life: race, gender, class, sexuality. One of the big problems, as Daniel José Older has written about (in one of my links above) is that the gatekeepers of writing tend to lack diversity. I know that Lee & Low books and Simmons College have a scholarship for further study in children’s literature for “students from diverse backgrounds.” To carry the metaphor, it’s not just the people backstage, but also the people producing the show. I’m not pointing fingers here, because there are a lot of reasons this situation is what it is (and I certainly want to keep my own job!), but I think if we really want diverse books, we have to have diverse agents, editors, publishers, filmmakers, directors, showrunners, Broadway creators… the list goes on and on.
Then I get all bogged down in it and think, let’s just tell each other some stories! I want to hear them all.
Thank you, Alana, for sharing a little bit of your world with us!
P.S.: Check out all the other interviews with illustrators, writers, game-designers and other authors!
You may think it’s heartless. Someone turning on the TV just a day after losing a loved one. Don’t judge so easily. Take a moment.
You lose someone and everyone has some advice, a kind word, a gesture. After the initial shock you might be able to be at home, maybe with people suffering along with you. And if you see one of them turning the TV on for a slapstick sitcom, what is your reaction? Shout at the absurdity of that? Think they’re heartless? Don’t be so hard on them.
Each person grieves in their own intrinsic way and fiction universes are often the exact company they crave on that moment:
– Background noise: people talking about something else than the huge lump in their hearts;
– Evasion/Escapism: obviously, seeing what some random character is facing distracts you.
But there is a more important effect:
It might help you process your grief.
By watching the characters face similar problems or even mundane ones you relive certain moments. It may hurt. It is not a fail proof help, but while watching the characters walking around moving on with their lives, suffering, avenging, simply mourning or even if they’re far from any problem of that sort you manage to have let yourself ease a bit.
While you care for their silly fictional problems, your brain will be back processing your own emotions so you’re dealing with them but in a more…indirect way.
This may not work for you. And sometimes crying for a character will surely not be enough to bring you peace. But for some, those minutes of passive consuming a narrative are the only ones that allow them to slowly gather the strength to move forward.
Just cut some slack and let the TV be on.
P.S.: For more (cheerful) articles check out our extensive archive.
Holiday Season is upon us. Stop trying to kid yourself by saying “It was just Thanksgiving, there’s nearly a whole month till Christmas. There’s plenty of time to get in the mood.”. December is here. You’ve already been engulfed by the holiday lights, carols, flyers with perfect gifts for your loved ones and yourself.
Maybe what’s missing is the actual “Holiday Spirit”.
You know? Hanging out with your family, whispering about what the kids are getting from Santa this year. Is [insert correct relative here] going to fall asleep before supper as usual?
Thanksgiving was your thermometer: maybe you got the chance to be with relatives who come from afar – they might be working or living away from you and these occasions are always a nice moment to catch up – or you just had a quite dinner with your immediate family, savoring the turkey and watching the game.
But then you had the List of all the things you absolutely needed to get on Black Friday and then, of course, Cyber Monday rolled in. So instead of still having that warm and fuzzy feeling inside from being with the ones you love, playing dull charades, watching cheesy movies, eating the last piece of pie with your kid sleeping on your lap (and your stomach bursting…), you are angry because you forgot the website that had that deal for that webinar and the toaster you wanted was grabbed by that stuffy old woman who stumped on your right foot.
So first holiday aftermath for many: headaches, sore feet, too many extra pounds to count and only half of the things you wanted to buy.
Not that “warm and fuzzy” after all, is it?
There are exceptions! And if you’re one of the lucky ones who didn’t get swayed by the “buy,buy,buy” urges of this past weekend, I salute you.
Yes, the perfect present is important (let’s not kid ourselves, your wife has been repeatedly saying the name of that perfume and pointing to it in every department store for a reason) BUT don’t forget that the memories from these days, being that uncle who always drinks a tad too much or the crazy baby cousin who just doesn’t stop crying, they will be your best gift. No, you can’t exchange them for another item or ask for a refund, but that’s the beauty of it!
So, turn on that radio, blast some “Jingle Bell Rock” and make sure that you don’t let the Holiday season go to waste.
I won’t pretend to be an expert on RPG, let alone live action role-playing or “LARPing”. However, even I can easily see why LARP is considered a descendant of games like Dungeons & Dragons. The catch? Here the players physically act out their characters’ actions. [ Awesome, right? ]
Fortunately, a few weeks ago I saw myself in the middle of a LARP for the first time.
I have to say I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the whole process from building the setting to fleshing out your own character.
There was so much to explore after you got the little paper with your character’s description! It didn’t just motivate me to pursue the tasks I was given, it made me want to explore the other characters involved in the game. And not only the ones I was directly connected to, but everyone that crossed my path.
For as little as an hour and a half I was someone else, living in a post-apocalyptic world – yes, you guessed it: there was a zombie threat. I wasn’t seeing my friends running around in extravagant outfits and saying the most weird things. No, on the contrary, I saw people starving, people looking for jobs that didn’t exist. I watched refugees seeking shelter afraid of being sent back to the outside where the zombies were waiting. I didn’t trust people easily. In a camp like this, inhabitants could be persuaded to work for the enemy, be it an outside emissary that says they have better military skills or even your brother who unfortunately has just brought the first zombie into the camp.
But setting all of this aside, it’s not just the story we built together during that period of time. What matters is the fact that we were putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. On that moment, we were living in a camp, there was little to no hope for a better future and what shaped our reactions were the problems of this post-apocalyptic existence.
I’m sure that if you have taken part in a LARP before, you will identify with at least one or two things I’ve mentioned. I believe that there is much more to it and that my experience was very limited compared to the five hours even the whole day LARPs that exist out there. But for me, as a newbie in this gaming world, I found it extremely interesting to say the least and it has made me look for other LARP experiences for sure.
None of this would have been possible without the people who wrote the setting and the characters and, of course, the awesome group who played it all out and made the game as crazy and funny as it was.
And how about you?
Have you ever taken part in a LARP? If so what was your favorite one? And how about the worst…hmmm…I mean your least favorite?
Tell us all about it in the comments and if you’ve got pictures don’t hesitate to share them on our Pinterest board or on any of our social media platforms!
We want to see YOU in character!