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Posts Tagged ‘l5r’

The Eternal Knot!

Publication is a bit of an odd beast when it isn’t going through normal book distribution channels, but as near as I can tell, today is the release date for The Eternal Knot, my Legend of the Five Rings novella! If you’re interested in the setting of Rokugan but don’t want to dive into the middle of the ongoing storyline, this makes a much better entry point; it clearly takes place in a much larger setting than is necessary for the story at hand, but it doesn’t require pre-existing knowledge of canon to make sense or be enjoyable. (And if you want more samples, flavored to the various clans, there are three other novellas out now: The Sword and the Spirits, Whispers of Shadow and Steel, and Across the Burning Sands.)

If you want to get this from a brick-and-mortar store (which is a very useful thing to do in general), you’re more likely to find it at your Friendly Local Gaming Store, though I think it’s possible that places like Barnes and Noble might be able to order it.

I had a lot of fun writing this one. The novellas are giving us L5R writers a chance to explore characters at greater depth, and to take the story into corners of the Empire that are too far off the beaten path to make it into the main story. And since mystical tattooed monks are basically how I got involved with L5R in the first place, it’s a pleasure to play around with their world in this story!

L5R novella!

I have been sitting on this news for A YEAR AND A HALF.

Not too long after relaunching the game Legend of the Five Rings (and its associated story), Fantasy Flight Games announced that they would be doing a line of related novellas, one per clan. Since most of the stories I’ve been writing for them have been about the Dragon Clan, I leapt on that immediately, with a pitch for a story about a character I helped develop for the story in the first place.

cover art for THE ETERNAL KNOT

The monks of the Togashi Order are known for their wisdom, their strength, their mystery, and the superhuman powers they gain from their unique tattoos. For Togashi Kazue, completing her training is only the beginning—discovering the true power of her enigmatic tattoo may be the true test.

Accompanied by the experienced monk Togashi Mitsu, Kazue embarks on a journey to learn the power of the newly acquired knot design on her forehead. When Kazue discovers the danger her tattoo poses to others, she contemplates the unthinkable. But she soon learns that attempting to deny her destiny is the truly dangerous path.

For those of you not familiar with L5R, The Eternal Knot is a reasonable entry point: it doesn’t require you to know anything about the setting or the ongoing story. It does very clearly take place in a world that’s much larger and more complex than this particular narrative needs, and there are some threads left dangling at the end in a way that is obviously bait for future fiction, but the story it tells is self-contained. So if mystical tattooed monks sound like your jam, you can pre-order it here!

Ten pounds of story in a five-pound sack

I can’t say a lot about the work I do for Legend of the Five Rings because I signed an NDA. But the most recent round of brainstorming for a fiction has me reflecting on what this job is teaching me about making sure that the material I write pulls as much weight per word as possible, and I want to discuss that a little. So let’s see what balance I can strike between specificity and deliberately vague generalities!

The context here is that I have a fairly strict word count for each of my fictions: 3000 words max if they’re going into a pack, and 3000 with some wiggle room if they’re being published on the website. That is . . . not a whole lot. And the story of L5R is so sprawling that even with a bunch of writers producing a bunch of fictions, making sure that everything gets mentioned and explored and moved forward means we can’t afford to waste words. It isn’t enough for a given fiction to do one thing; it needs to do at least two, more like three or four, as many as we can stuff in there at once. Ten pounds of story in a five-pound sack.

Take the one I’ve got on my plate right now. The original query from the person I work with Fantasy Flight Games was, “Are you willing to write a story about Character and Group? Something to flesh them out.”

Me: “Sure! What do you think of Scenario?”

FFG: “Sounds good. Maybe you could work in how Character feels about Key Theme, and also expand a bit on Group’s Main Focus.”

Me: “I lean toward having Character feel this way about Key Theme, because that lets me make a contrast with Previously Mentioned Backstory Character. And for Group, maybe Side Character says XYZ — that adds depth to their personality because of Probable Reader Interpretation. Heck, I could even put in Callback to Other Plot A, in a way that layers in some ambiguity.”

FFG: “Great!”

Me: “OOOH. And — just spitballing here — but given the timing, what if we say that Side Character also has Information about Other Plot B, which of course they interpret in Particular Way?”

FFG: “Go for it. But maybe spin it a bit more to the left to emphasize Aspect.”

Me: “Awesome. I’ll have an outline for you shortly.”

It could have just been a story about Character and Group. It probably would have been a perfectly fine story. But the more we can build up these elements, expanding on some things and contrasting with others, making callbacks to previous material and introducing points of linkage in all directions, the richer the fiction becomes.

Not all of this will stand out, of course. Sometimes the work the fiction is doing is fairly subterranean, and only somebody who’s digging into the craft of it will notice that, for example, we’re spinning that last bit to heighten a particular flavor. The overall effect is there, though, and in the long run it pays off: you can poll the readership and they’ll agree that Character Q would never do a particular thing, without you ever saying that outright, because you’ve put enough data points on the table that they can extrapolate as needed. Things become three-dimensional; they feel interconnected. The world feels real.

In my novels I have a lot more room to work with, but it’s still a good lesson to bear in mind. Why just have two characters converse with each other, when their conversation could also be making metaphorical allusions to something from earlier and enriching the reader’s understanding of someone else not present for that scene? Why solve conflicts one at a time, when the solution could be taking out two problems, creating a third, and sending a fourth in an unexpected new direction? This is pretty standard advice for writing, but I feel like the level to which I’m doing it here is higher than usual, and rewardingly so.

Sustaining that over the long run is tough, of course. On the other hand, this is like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it will get. So I’ll keep pumping narrative iron.


I’ve been sitting on this news for nearly a year, waiting for my first piece to go live so I can tell you all about it.

So there’s this game called Legend of the Five Rings. It was a collectible card game and RPG; I got involved with the RPG, doing some freelance work for the later parts of fourth edition, because it had sucked me in overnight. The setting, Rokugan, is inspired by Japanese history and culture, and it’s got the kind of rich worldbuilding that makes the place come to life for me. So when the parent company sold L5R off to Fantasy Flight Games, I was, shall we say, rather determined to stay involved.

And I am. But not writing for the RPG this time: instead I’m one of their fiction writers. You see, one of the defining characteristics for L5R has always been the ongoing narrative of the game, influenced by the winners of various tournaments, and expressed through official canon stories.

My first story is here!

I think it should be a decent introduction to the setting for those who aren’t familiar with it. (In fact, that’s one of the goals for this first set of stories: give newcomers an overview of Rokugan, clan by clan.) If you like what I wrote, you might find L5R overall interesting, and you can check out the other fictions here (those provide links to the pdfs if you want to see the pretty formatted versions).

Yeah . . . I’m pretty excited. 😀 The setting has been rebooted back to the Clan War, so there’s an opportunity to do all kinds of cool new things, and this story provided a really great chance to showcase that, with the Dragon facing two entirely fresh conflicts that don’t come with easy answers attached. And I’m working on more stuff as we speak, so my involvement will be ongoing. *\o/*

You’re a handsome devil. What’s your name?

This came up in the comments on Sovay’s LJ, and it turns out to be much too long to fit into the comment limits. Besides, I’ve told gaming stories here before and been assured that I can actually make them interesting, so why not share the story with all of you?

This is the tale of Hantei Seikiro Shosuro Arikoto the man currently known as Ensō, an NPC in my Legend of the Five Rings campaign. Also known as, my best effort to date at creating a Magnificent Bastard.


Books read, May 2014 (and other months, too)

April was another month where I was terrible about recording things, and then never even got around to posting about it. But the good news is, I remembered another book from January, which is the previous time I forgot to record stuff! So this post is mostly but not entirely from May.


Books read, July 2013

I forgot to record books this month until nearly the end of the month, which has left me with the nagging feeling that I missed one (or maybe more than one). But I can’t remember what it would have been, so if there is indeed something missing, then clearly it wasn’t very memorable to begin with.

(Except that possibly the thing I was forgetting was The Tropic of Serpents, which I just remembered to add. Um. Please disregard above statement about my own book not being very memorable. Please.)

The Tropic of Serpents, Marie Brennan. My own books don’t count, of course, but they get listed anyway. This was copy-editing, aka What I Did With My Early July.

The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, Margalit Fox. Very readable nonfiction about the decipherment of Linear B in the early-mid twentieth century. Its specific argument has to do with the significance of Alice Kober to that process, and more to the point, how Alice Kober’s contribution has not been sufficiently recognized (in large part because apparently her papers weren’t available until quite recently). It gets a bit depressing toward the end, because a) you know from the beginning of the book that Kober died before she could finish the job, so you’re sitting there watching the clock tick down and b) it’s the 1940s, so you get to watch her being jerked around by Penn professors pretending that no, no, the fact that she’s a woman has nothing to do with them questioning whether they want to hire her for a cool job, and for bonus frustration the guy who’s trying to finally publish all of Evans’ Linear B inscriptions is basically using Kober as his transatlantic secretary and wasting vast quantities of her time — time that could have been spent cracking the code. But anyway. If you like reading about extremely nerdy people (and oh, the nerds in this book), and the mechanics of deciphering a script when you don’t recognize either it or the language it’s being used to write, this is a fun read.

The Book of Fire. The most recent L5R release, and the first one for which I was an official freelancer (though my part in here is very minor). Not the sort of thing anybody will pick up who isn’t looking to play L5R, but I will say that the sections on sword-smithing and glass-blowing and poetry were quite nifty. (No, those aren’t the parts I wrote.)

The Magic Circle, Jenny Davidson. A novel I picked up at Writers with Drinks, because Davidson was one of the other people reading, and she billed this as a book about LARPs and the Bacchae and how could I say no to that? Alas, the book itself isn’t what I’d been hoping. The early part is more about ARGs than LARPs, and even the latter isn’t the kind of LARPing I’m used to. Furthermore, the characters and the story never really cohered for me.

Daily Life in Ottoman Turkey, Raphaela Lewis. One of the installments in that Dorset Books series — you know the ones I mean, with the solid-color covers and the little box with an image on the front. (Er, some of you know the ones I mean.) This was published in 1971, so take it with appropriate grains of salt, but on the whole it did what I needed it to, which was to give me a starting image of the society. And that’s pretty much what books like this exist for.

Secrets of the Empire. I bookended my month with proofreading. This book (another one for L5R) hasn’t been released yet, but as a freelancer I can and have signed up to proofread things before they go to press. It looks like it will be very shiny, but my NDA says I can’t say anything more about it. 😛

update on the Togashi Dynasty

I just sent in a draft of my L5R chapter, after beating my head bloody against it for the last week or so. Note to self: when estimating the amount of work involved in writing a chapter for a game book, word count on its own is not an adequate metric. This is not, repeat, not like writing fiction. It’s more like writing your undergraduate thesis.

I even have a bibliography. 4th edition books consulted in the writing of this chapter: core, Emerald Empire, Enemies of the Empire, Great Clans, Imperial Histories, Book of Air. Books consulted from previous editions: Way of the Dragon, Creatures of Rokugan, Legend of the Burning Sands. Also the L5R wiki. 4th edition books not consulted: Strongholds of the Empire. (And Second City, but that’s because my gaming store doesn’t have it in yet. Otherwise you bet your ass I’d have been eagerly looking up just what an Isawa Archaeologist does.)

Now I think I need to go feed myself and maybe drool at the TV for a little bit while I wait for my brain to regrow. I need it for some of these other projects whose deadlines are breathing down my neck . . . .