How do you deal with the tie-in rules?

I feel your pain, Gary.  Inevitably, I run into D&D rule problems when I’m working on a story in the Realms.  I’ll be going over edits, chugging along nicely and then, suddenly, a red comment will pop up in the text where my editor has left me a note.  “You can’t do that according to current edition rules/lore.”

Well, crap.

What’s helped me in the past with situations like this is I try to come at it from the other side, especially during the research phase.  When I’m brainstorming characters or monsters for a story, I’ll start with the books first and look to the rules for cool things I can take advantage of.  Stat blocks, unique powers, lore bits, artwork–anything is fair game in these early stages.

As an example, when I was researching Unbroken Chain, I read over the entry for shadar-kai in the Monster Manual, and the chain fighter immediately caught my eye.  I’d never tried to write a combat scene with that kind of complicated weapon before.  Then I read about their teleport/attack combination power, the name of which escapes me at the moment, but which basically lets the shadar-kai teleport several times in quick succession to attack multiple foes.  I loved  it and knew immediately that I had to use it in a combat scene.  It’s surprising, fun to visualize and describe, and requires a quick but deftly executed strategy by the shadar-kai using the power.  Integrating it into a combat scene while taking the surrounding environment into consideration would also be a challenge.  So, in the end I not only had my protagonist’s weapon of choice, I had a power that I could use in a big battle scene, a power I never would have thought of on my own.  And it all came from that one section of the Monster Manual.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of analyzing the existing rules and seeing how they can work to your advantage.

But not always.  No matter how much you plan for the rules, they will crop up when you least expect and want them to.  Healing magic is a good example.  Having healing readily available can make it difficult to for me as a writer to make people believe my characters are truly in danger of getting seriously hurt.  Because what does it matter if my hero got his pretty face smashed in during the last fight?  He pops a healing potion and everything’s better.  Didn’t even leave a mark.  How do you threaten a shadar-kai with pain when their entire race thrives on it?  Or, how do you make your main character forget something when she has a perfect memory???  Okay, that last one I did to myself.*

So yes, the rules can be a great source of inspiration when planning a story, but working within them is also one of the biggest challenges of writing tie-in fiction.  It’s also important not to become so bound to the rules that your story feels like one long D&D gaming session with the dice rolling in the background.  But that’s a whole other blog post.

*But seriously, don’t give one of your characters perfect recall unless you’re prepared to have it come back to bite you in the ass.

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