I finished reading through the 4E Player’s Handbook last week. 4E introduced some significant changes in mechanics from the previous edition of Dungeons and Dragons. There are a lot of good reviews of the core rules, but seeing as this is a blog about writing fantasy fiction, I wanted to take a different tack.
D&D fantasy fiction is influenced by the rules of the game. Fans appreciate when authors ground their stories in the setting by referencing classes, spells and other game features–descriptively, if not literally–along with established world lore. I remember reading Dragons of Autumn Twilight as Raistlin tossed out a handful of sand, uttered his magic words and watched their pursuers drop to the ground, and thinking to myself, he just cast sleep. It’s a fine line for writers to tread; it’s supposed to be a novel, not a campaign log.
I didn’t fill out character record sheets as part of my process for writing Maiden of Pain or my short story in Realms of the Dragons II. My process for incorporating game mechanics involved forming the story and character concepts first then finding what features–feats, skills, spells or magic items–would produce similar effects. I’ll admit to some artistic license, but that’s where the separation between fiction and game comes into play. You’re telling a fantasy story, and capturing the feel of the game doesn’t require a strict interpretation or representation of the mechanics.
That said, fans of the various D&D novel lines are quick to spot (and point out) discrepancies in lore and mechanics. If an author takes too many liberties, they’re just slapping a generic fantasy story into the setting. Writing shared-world/media tie-in fiction demands loyalty to the source material, and that includes game mechanics in the case of D&D fiction.
I’m looking forward to reading (and maybe writing) post-Spellplague Forgotten Realms fiction, and seeing how the authors are incorporating the changes to the game. How do you think the 4E rules will affect the depiction of game mechanics in D&D fantasy fiction?