Thursday, 31 May 2012

Nissa: an Introduction and a Goodbye

For the last two years I've been lucky enough to take part in a tabletop RPG run by my friend Trent. It finally ended on Monday, after three years, well over twenty characters (not including cohorts), at least fourteen players at various times, two dragons, three mass battles, appearances from various gods and a  storm that destroyed the whole world forcing us into the place under the world where the scary things live.  And also that time we cast exploding runes in a paper fortune teller to kill a major boss. And that other time our ranger accidentally derailled a session by playing a prank that ended up setting the whole city on fire. And the time my character tried to explain feminism to a troll chieftan, without either of them actually knowing what feminism was (different world and all that). It's been a hell of a ride.

Two years of (intermittently) pretending to be someone else is going to have an effect on anyone. For me it sowed the seeds of a novel. My human ranger character Nissa is the most glorious ball of dysfunction, archery and barely compressed rage this side of Sherwood. She's an interesting character to write because she's as much defined by the things she doesn't say, the secrets she keeps, the fights she picks because it's easier than opening up. She's also very easy to play because she tends to keep out of the discussions and do what she's told during the fights (in-game she's spent time as a mercenary, you see). She's tough and closed off and walled in and kind of beat up (though not beaten down) from a life of sleeping in a different place every night and fighting three different monsters before lunch, not to mention since she ran away at fifteen, everyone she ever trusted has either died or walked out on her.

So it was nice, after we won the day and were given or heart's desire by the god we helped resurrect, when she did this:

GM (as Arodin): And you Nissa, what do you want?

Me (as Nissa): Well, um, a lot of us lost our families in the storm that engulfed the world. And I was wondering... I don't suppose... is there anything you can do for them?

[It's a tribute to Trent's storytelling that I can see this happening. What with the party being so large, me being so shy and Nissa being so reticent, I don't roleplay much but her words are coming out of my mouth and I can see her as she says them. Nissa looks dishevelled and blonde and not at all like me and she has this small, worried look on her face, as though Arodin's already apologising and talking about the natural order of things. Only he doesn't say that.]

GM: Certainly. Do you want them whole, or alive, or dead...?

Me: Alive please. [There's this hope on her face which is beautiful to see and a little part of me feels bad for all the crap that happens to her in the novel.] I'd like them to be alive.

And he said yes. Just like that. And I feel this massive weight lifting because the whole time I've been rewriting Nissa into my own setting (and it's a fairly different setting at that) and fleshing her family out into real people instead of unnamed characters in a backstory I've been dogged by the reminder that in-game all these people, parents and siblings and love interests and even the horse traders who took her in, are all dead.

Only now they're not. So when I got back in on Monday night I sat down and wrote myself a mini-epilogue. And everything fit together perfectly. The reason Game!Nissa always seemed older and more jaded than Book!Nissa: because the book, even the sequels I have sketched out, happened before the game. Why isn't Guy (her travelling compainion and kinda love interest) in the game: because he was one of the unnamed corpses of her former adventuring party they found when they discovered her.

So, while it feels counter-intuitive to introduce Nissa as her story in the campaign is ending, here is my take on What Happened Next:

Nissa tipped her head back so her hood fell back onto her shoulders and just stood, feeling the sunlight on her face. Every second she'd been in the Underdark she'd been antsy and unable to settle. She'd lived once without sunlight already but there had been survivors still down there and she was the only tracker. It felt strange to be needed. Stranger to be liked.

'It's safe,' she said quietly. Too quietly for human ears, but the elves heard anyway and passed the message back. Nissa noticed a lot for a human but half of that was because she was always on edge. For them it was always effortless. If a few years ago some god had stepped across planes and asked her what she wanted, elf senses would have been top of her list. Then a magical storm had engulfed the world, everyone but a few ragged survivors had been wiped out and Nissa had spent every night thinking of every place she'd ever been that could have still supported human life and if any of her family could be in them.

Then a god had risen and asked them what they wanted. Nissa had chosen her family. She'd been afraid it was too much but Arodin had just looked at her as though he'd been expecting something bigger and nodded once. And just like that, Nissa could sleep again.

Survivors were streaming out of the tunnel entrance, small children running ahead, anxious parents calling them back. Nissa stepped out of the cave and drew her bow. She had no idea what was even living up here after the world had been restored but there was no way she was bringing the survivors all this way back to the surface only to have them mauled by a bear.

There was a man coming out of the trees. Nissa lowered her bow, put a hand out to Aramis' shoulder then dropped it halfway. She didn't need a spyglass to recognise that limp.

'I'm going to scout ahead,' she said instead, and set off down the hill.

He's dead, her mind screamed at her with every other step. He died. You buried him.

I don't care, she answered.

By the time she reached the bottom of the hill she was running. She forced herself to stop twenty feet away, bow ready in her hand.

'You were dead,' she told him.

Guy looked down at his hands, turning the over as if he expected to see something else.

'I was,' he said. 'I suppose I still am. I mean, I saw you get frozen. Which afterlife is this?'

'I'm not dead,' Nissa replied, stumbling over her words. 'The dragon didn't kill me only... I escaped but you were dead. I'm really sorry. I paid the temple to keep a candle burning for you, but the place would have been raised with the storm and...'

'Nissa,' Guy said sadly. 'If we're alive then what happened to the world? It's empty.'

'A lot's happened these last few years,' Nissa told him, closing the gap between them, shouldering her bow. She took Guy's hand and guided it so it was pressed against her heart. The pulse at her throat or wrist would have made her point, though not half so well. Guy's hand was warm and she could feel the ligaments under the skin, stiffening in shock. 'But I'm still alive. See. And so are you.'

Guy grinned and wrapped his arms around her, lifting her off the ground and spinning her around. Nissa laughed and wrapped her legs around his, sending them both crashing to the ground because Nerissa of Hartly wasn't the sort of woman you could just pick up and carry off, even if you had just been brought back from the dead by a newly risen god. Guy yelped, tried and failed to flip her onto her back and Nissa strongly suspected that there might be tickling in her immediate future.

She looked up to see a circle of drawn swords.

'It's okay,' she said, standing up very quickly, her face burning. 'It's okay, he's not attacking me. I know him.'

Her party stared at her. The silence stretched.

'I should hope so,' Fauna said at last as Nissa helped Guy to his feet.

'So that's the person she's been blowing you off for,' Alphonse announced in the loudest stage whisper she'd ever heard, at least since her shirt got soaked fighting that water elemental that one time. 'You should be ashamed, brother.'

Aramis rolled his eyes. 'You're one to talk.'

Nissa didn't flatter herself that they'd have bothered if she hadn't been one of only two women they knew who wasn't related to them.

'Oh be quiet,' she told them. 'Some women like a man who'll remember their name the next morning.'

'I can do that,' Guy said. 'You're called Missy, right?'

Nissa kissed him so hard he nearly lost his footing again.

Faintly she could hear Gideon shepherding the others away. The Du Preyers were laughing amongst themselves and Elijah had a newly animated girlfriend of his own to contend with. Nissa ignored them all.

'Your friend seemed not to like the look of me,' Guy said when they broke apart. 'The youngish one with the swords.'

'Keth?' Nissa asked. 'He just thinks he owes it to me to save my life.'

'Did you save his?'

'He stabbed me,' Nissa told him. 'Five times in the chest. It was an accident. Well... an accident and a giant spider. And some hallucinogens.'

Guy cocked his head to look at her.

'What have you been doing while I've been gone?'

I've killed monsters, faced armies and fought the Queen of Cheliax. I shot the Spider Witch in the hand and stood before the gods more than once. I've ridden halfway across the world, been through the Test of the Starstone, escaped a castle as it collapsed around us.

'I'll tell you later,' she said. 'In a minute I'm going to have to go scouting.'

There was a lot you could do in a minute. She kissed him again. Somewhere her family would be coming back to life and Arodin had given Guy back to her. Above them the newly made sun shone in a clear sky.

I'll leave her there for now, because it's the happiest ending she's going to get. (I do have ideas for two others but one is bittersweet and the other starts with her getting punched and goes downhill from there. And since I'm not sparing her any trauma in the actual novel I'm going to leave her happy in the campaign.

Monday, 28 May 2012

A Song of Ice and Fire: Predictions and MASSIVE SPOILERS

Okay, so I'm finally up to date with A Song Of Ice And Fire. The books being what they are it's kind of impossible to talk about them without giving away MASSIVE SPOILERS up until the very last chapter. You have been warned.

Seriously, unless you've read up to part two of DWD I strongly recommend you don't read any further.

So I started off making cracky predictions during Clash of Kings and a surprising amount of them came true. I have no head for political intrigue but it turns out I am really, really good at spotting the relationships, whether it's 'I do not see good things happening between Petyr Baelish and Sansa' or 'OMG SEXUAL TENSION' between Jaime and Brienne.

Notable among my previous predictions are:

-Jaime and Brienne. I call them the Road Trip of Love.

-Arya and Gendry. I don't care if they've cast a Skins kid and an (I'm guessing) eleven year old in the series, these two have been my ship since Gendry told Arya to 'get her cock out'.

-Nymeria will arrive at the head of a MASSIVE ARMY OF WOLVES and save the day LIKE A BOSS. Still waiting.

-Every character with a claim to the Iron Throne will wind up dead until Gendry is declared Robert's rightful heir by process of elimination.

-Petyr Baelish did sleep with Lysa but not Cat (kind of guessed this one from the mention of them all practising kissing and Lysa getting into it).

Following in the spirit of half serious predictions, here are a new batch you can publically hold me to when the next book comes out, some time in the far distant future.

My current predictions:
-Catelyn Stark will wreck her zombie vengence on Petyr Baelish.

-Lord Ramsay's dogs will eventually tear him apart as karmic revenge for all the women he hunted and killed. Plus the dogs know and love Theon and will refuse to savage him at a pivotal moment.

-Hyle Hunt and Jaime will duel for Brienne's honour. And then she will promptly knock their heads together.

-The patriarchs will die. Just look at the death toll and count how many of them have been men in a position of power.

-Melisandre will do a Thoros of Myr and cure Jon Snow. He'll use this new common ground to bond with Lady Catelyn, forming the most touching stepmother and child setting aside their differences scene where both participants are zombies since the Addams Family directed Cinderella.
-Val will knife Queen Selyse in the eye during a lesson on table ettiquette. Everyone will rejoice.

-Asha and Theon Greyjoy will rule the Ironborn together through sheer force of their collective awesome.

-Jeyne Pool will bond with Theon over their shared horrible experiences and missing body parts. They will both make a huge deal out of her becoming Jeyne Greyjoy. You have to know your name.

-The last book will end with (or at least feature) Ned Stark's bones being brought home to Winterfell.

So yeah. Those are my predictions guys. What do you think is going to happen in the next book? It doesn't have a be a cast iron prophecy and time wasters are most definitely welcome. Because let's face it: most of my predictions are ridiculous.

Except the zombie reconciliation. That's totally going to happen.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Bonus post: In which Kate realises which 'Game of Thrones' House she does NOT belong to

In which Game of Thrones house do you belong?
Your Result: You belong in HOUSE LANNISTER - Hear Me Roar
resultHome to the wealthiest of the great houses, the keep at Casterly Rock sits literally on top of a gold mine, built into the very rock. From that lofty yet uncomfortable position, House Lannister rules over the Westerlands (and influences all of Westeros, by virtue of the kingdom’s purse strings). With the ascension of Lord Tywin to the house seat, the Lords of the Rock developed a reputation for ruthlessness as well as riches. This was due in part to Tywin’s remorseless efforts to keep his bannerhouses in line, but also because Aerys II was murdered by one of his own Kingsguard: Ser Jaime Lannister. Their unofficial motto states, "A Lannister always pays his debts."
You belong in HOUSE STARK - Winter is Coming
You belong in HOUSE ARRYN - As High as Honor
You belong in HOUSE TARGARYEN - Fire and Blood
You belong in HOUSE BARATHEON - Ours is the Fury
In which Game of Thrones house do you belong?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

So I got put in House Lannister and my first thought was 'Well that sucks, I can't hit on Jaime if I'm related to him'.

Clearly I don't belong in House Lannister.

Spellcheck, bane of the fantasy writer

EDIT: This post contains vague references to (but no spoilers for) A Song of Ice and Fire/ HBO's Game of Thrones. I'm halfway through book five so I'll make the same threat I did for Patrick Rothfuss' A Wise Man's Fear: anyone who spoils the plot for me will be beaten over the head with the complete series box set. Because this blog is a friendly blog.

Since writing is hard and procrastinating is easy, I've been drawing up a list of names my spellcheck doesn't recognise. So far I've counted:

-Eiya (not used for one but three characters, who form three generations of one family)
-Ketrinn "Ketry"
-Saire (pr. sigh-ear)

And that's just in one story. Don't even get me started on Nissa, Carys, Audric, Guy (who spellcheck does recognise, but I didn't want to leave out), Josn, Adaya, Ilyana, Aya, Hrolf.... Some of them are real names too obscure to make it into spellcheck. Some are existing names (like Adeline or Sylvianne) pronounced a little differently. Some of them are cool sounds I've overheard, or existing names I've mashed around and pronounced in various funny accents until I get something that looks and sounds cool. Looks is really important: as a kid reading fantasy I'd imagine the shapes of words I couldn't pronounce properly in my head instead of the sounds that went with them, kind of like someone momentarily breaking off conversation to use flashcards. It was jarring but it worked and I came to love 'well-shaped' names like Hermione (it was a while before anyone told me it wasn't pronounced 'Hermin') and hate messy ones like 'Birle' (pronounced like Beryl, I discovered halfway through but by then I was already rhyming it with 'churl'). Look at the two names: Hermione, Birle. I'm not the only one who sees it, right?

To me a really important part of world building is the pool of names available. Like in the real world, there's there's going to be more than one Emma (or regional variant) even if some of them are minor characters. George R.R. Martin has a profusion of girls called Jeyne (not to mention boys called Walder Frey) but few other fantasy writers seem to use the same name twice, even when logic dictates that there are a finite number of names (or do fantasy characters just mash together random syllables when they name their children?) Also important is a sense of etymology of names. I don't mean like in Tolkien's (in)famous appendices but a living etymology, the way GRRM has different names that sound like they came off the same branch of the Great Name Tree. What are Edmure and Brynden if not regional variations on Eddard and Brandon, for example. And of course the history of the North is peppered with Jons, Rikkards and Brandons, while down South the Targareans seem to recycle a limited number of syllables into a string of Aegons, Aemons, Rhaellas, Rhaegars, etc as though they're too inbred to even allow new names into the family. I spend too much time trying to guess where the stranger names come from, if they have roots in our world at all. Sansa might come from Susan (anyone who's read kids books from the first half of the 20th century will know what I mean when I say that Sansa is such a Susan), Arya might possibly come from Harriet (in my head she will always be ah-RYE-ah, no matter how the TV series chooses to pronounce it) but I kind of hope GRRM made it just for her because its so small and strong and perfect for her that it just feels right.

I also like the way strange names can be Anglicised (for want of a better word), how Guillaime becomes William because if most English people today struggle to fit their mouths around it then pity the English of 1066. And in 2012 a girl sits around typing blog posts in her pajamas and playing at making familiar names sound strange.

What kind of name schemes do you prefer? Do you generate names yourself? Should I just be quiet now? Comments, queries and complaints all welcome.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

HBO's Rome: The Drinking Game

So I wanted to start my new blog with something impressive. For weeks I put off writing anything because nothing I'd done recently seemed worth anyone's attention. Then my housemates cleared out for a weekend in London and I had a few friends around for afternoon cocktails and HBO's Rome.

Then we invented the Rome drinking game.

For anyone who wants to inflict this on themselves the rules are below, although iff you're pushed for time you could probably get the same effect from punching yourself repreatedly in the liver.



...every time you see a naked person

...every time you see people having sex

...if Octavian's in an uncomfortable situation (including ones he causes)

...the Vorenii are dysfunctional

...any time a characteris referred to by theri full name (e.g. Lucius Vorenus, Atia of the Julii)

...any time the Thirteenth are mentioned

Down your drink:

...if you are drinking an Orgasm/Screaming Orgasm when a character orgasms on screen

We survived three episodes of this y'all. I'd include the Buffy drinking game we made up next but honestly my only memory of it is yelling things like 'Willow's using too much magic!' or 'Giles is concerned!' and, of course, the good old staple 'EVERYBODY DRINK!'

Can you think of a rule we missed? Have you made a drinking game of your own? Were you there? Are you a neighbour after my blood? Comments, queries and complaints all welcome.

Unless you were actually there. I think it's probably best we don't speak of that night ever again...