What To Replace Fiends With?

Regardless of what you are worldbuilding, whether it’s for a novel or an RPG game, you often need an end-stage villain like a Fiend (demons, devils, or what-have-you). But as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, you might want to shy away from using “real-life” Fiends. You might want to avoid using “entities” that can be traced back to real world religions like Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, or whatever.


Why Should You Replace Fiends?

There is a slew of reasons involved with, for lack of a better term, “political correctness.” Do you want to offend a billion+ Christian by using demons/devils like Asmodeus and Mammon, or do the same to a billion+ Muslims for their religious figures, etc….? I’m inclined to think you shouldn’t, at least not without weighing the pros and cons of such.

Anyway, I really don’t want to discuss “political correctness” issues, because, well, I’ve never really been a fan of “political correctness,” and I think, in the end, the GM should be able to do whatever he/she wants. Having said that, I want to focus, instead, on the issue of your personal creativity.

Using Your Creativity

Ignoring the aforementioned “politically correct issues,” you can use whatever creatures and beings you want to pilfer from the collective mythology of our planet (just respect copyright issues, of course). But, at some level, that’s kind of “easy” to do and, I think, kind of wastes an opportunity to “stretch your creative muscles.”


Let’s look at a few examples from fantasy literature of the past. Consider, the Balrogs of J.R.R. Tolkien – although they were called demons, and they were clearly influenced by Judeo-Christian mythology, they are very unique creations and highly memorable. Who can forget Gandalf facing off against the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-dum?


Next on the list, I think, is H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos. This, in my view, is even more conceptually distant from any other mythology I am aware of. The gods of that mythos are, again, very unique and highly memorable.

Tad Williams

Next up, is Tad Williams’ Sithi from his series “Sorrow, Memory, and Thorn.” They are, pretty much, derived from European myths based around Elves and similar beings, but again, they do come across as pretty original and memorable.

Other Religious Mythos

Other options might include something derived from Islamic Jinn – but only after you research and understand the Islamic conception of such, and not the Western bastardization of such. However, in the end, you kind of want to put some distance between your creation and its source of inspiration. You probably should avoid creating a Jinn like Ibliss (Satan), for example, but instead do your own thing.

My Own Works

It is difficult. But I think it is worth it. In my own series of books (“From the Ashes of Ruin”), to be honest, I’m a little disappointed in my own interpretation of demons (Yeah, I know -that’s poor marketing to admit that – I still think the series is great overall, though). I like many of the names (Lubrochius, for example, is my favorite demon name of my own creation), but when it came to describing the demons, I fell back on the standard lizard-ish physical descriptions for most of the demons – although there are a few exceptions.

Be Memorable

The goal is to create something “memorable.” In my own books, I think I have some really good names like “Drasmyr” and “Lubrochius” and a few others, here and there, but I kind of wish I’d gone in another direction with the natures and descriptions of the demons. The vampire is fine. I always wanted to write a book about the traditional, Dracula-esque version of a vampire. And Drasmyr does just that. But the demons … well, I have some reservations.


Anyway, as I said, when it comes to Fiends or other end-game villains, be memorable. Your readers and/or players will be grateful for it.

Silver Weapons

Anyone who’s watched a werewolf movie has probably heard of silver bullets. According to werewolf lore, werewolves can only be killed with a silver bullet.

D & D, and many other fantasy games, novels and worlds, expand on that concept. It is commonly held that werewolves can be harmed by silver weapons as well as, perhaps, magical and supernatural effects – spells, other special creatures, etc… Of course, the first step D & D takes is the expansion of the concept of a were-creature.

Let’s look into it.


Lycanthrope is the technical name for what is more crudely called “Werewolfism.” It is the disease/curse that causes an individual to become a werewolf. In actual modern psychology, there is an actual mental disease called lycanthrope.  According to the psychologists, a person suffering from lycanthrope believes he/she is a wolf or other animal. In fantasy settings like D & D, a person suffering from lycanthrope actually becomes a wolf or other animal with the rising of the full moon.

The Different Types of Lycanthropes

In the book, The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien introduced a character called Beorn who was, for all intents and purposes, a lycanthrope. Specifically, I think he was a werebear – a man who could turn into a bear as needed. As a result, the notion of lycanthropes can be expanded to include not only werewolves but werebears as well.

From at least 1st edition, Dungeons and Dragons has had a fairly extensive list of lycanthropes. These include not only werewolves and werebears, but wererats, wereboars, and weretigers, if I recall correctly. In the years since then, I’ve seen other additions like wereravens and more. I’ve even seen some reversals like “wolfweres” which are very much like werewolves but sworn enemies of such for some reason.

Lycanthropes and Their Weakness to Silver

One of the universal features of lycanthropes in D & D is their weakness with respect to silver. In 5th edition, non-magical silvered weapons can harm any lycanthrope they hit. But, I have misgivings about that particular weakness.

I prefer the idea where lycanthropes can only be harmed by silver weapons not silvered weapons. I think the weapons should be made of pure silver rather than permitting them to be diluted with other metals  and still be effective. I think this leads to interesting intricacies in adventures that involve lycanthropes.

For example, I once ran a 2nd edition D & D adventure in Ravenloft in a domain run by wererats where that particular detail was true. In light of that, I threw in, what I thought was a neat, intriguing little twist: The Electrum Guild.

The Electrum Guild

Electrum is a metal made from combining silver with gold. Basically, since wererats were lycanthropes they could be harmed by weapons fashioned from pure silver, but NOT silvered weapons or electrum weapons or any weapon made from silver mixed with any other material. And the wererats knew that.

How Intellignent Lycanthropes  Can Eliminate Silver

So, they set up and ran an electrum guild that, conveniently, served to inflate the value of electrum. Because of the Electrum Guild, electrum in that particular Ravenloft Domain was significantly more valuable than gold. Think about it. If you have 10 sps and 10 gps, and you can mix them together and make 20 eps and the eps are worth , say, 2 gp each instead of the usual ½ gp, what will you likely do? 10 sps and 10 gps left as is is worth 11 gps. But 20 eps is worth 40 gp.

So, the wererats, at the cost of a little gold, had set up a system that provided an extreme monetary incentive for the surrounding population to change their silver into electrum thereby taking the silver out of circulation. That makes pure silver weapons all the more rare. Much to the wererats’ delight.

Limiting the Usefulness of Silver Weapons

Of course, silver is a softer metal so the weapons made from it probably aren’t as durable as normal weapons, but I kind of think that silver weapons are only likely to be used against lycanthropes and, maybe, certain undead. After all, in the original Dracula, Count Dracula was susceptible to silver weapons just like a lycanthrope.

Anyway, I like the twist using pure silver weapons instead of merely silvered weapons against lycanthropes. I thought the Electrum Guild was a cool idea. Unfortunately, the group I was DMing for figured out the Electrum Guild a little too quickly. But I still think it was cool.


Silver weapons are a great tool for Dungeon Masters. It gives a little flavor and spice to campaigns or adventures that revolve around lycanthropes or, alternatively, undead. It also serves as a great example on how to incorporate special weaknesses to certain creatures for those DMs who like to create their own creatures.

GM Tips: Dealing with the Unexpected from Your Players

Anyone who has been GMing for any length of time understands how difficult it can be to predict the actions of your players.

This is a problem in campaigns that take place in vast complicated worlds where the options before the PCs is nearly limitless. Of course, “problem” might not be the right word. It is, rather, a feature that must be accounted for. Typically, players don’t like games where they are compelled by the GM on a particular course of action regardless of how they feel.

That’s not a good way to GM.

The Problem of Free Will

The PCs can go north, south, east, or west. They can go investigate the ruined citadel or explore the deadly dessert of the East. That broad scope of options creates problems for the GM.

How do you prepare an adventure when you don’t know what the players will do?

The Floating Encounter

One solution, that I mentioned previously, is the idea of the “Floating Encounter.” Basically, the idea is to create an adventure that you can just drop in anywhere on the map and go from there. Is the ruined tower on the north road? Or in the heart of the forest? For your purposes, it lies in whatever direction the PCs decide to take.

But there are issues besides simply getting players enmeshed in the adventure you want. There are the surprise instances of PC ingenuity. As well as the reverse: instances of PC stupidity. How do you react?

Dealing with PC Ingenuity and Creativity

Consider this example drawn from my own experience. In this situation, I was not the GM, but a player. And I think I had a particularly good idea in a particularly difficult situation. I was playing a low-level cleric. Our party of, like, four 2nd level characters engaged a group of Sahuagin who were attacking a boat captain (our ride off an island we were exploring). The boat captain was pretty formidable – probably a couple levels higher than any of us PCs.

Anyway, we heard the sounds of the battle when the Sahuagin engaged the boat captain and we rushed to help him. We arrived on the scene just as the boat captain fell down unconscious/dead/whatever. Before falling, he had taken out two of the five Sahuagin leaving us with three to deal with.

So, we engaged the Sahuagin.

The Battle Begins

We were pretty evenly matched, but then I had a spark of genius, if I do say so myself 😊 . In the midst of the combat, I cast Healing Word (a long distance healing spell), not on any of the party members, but on the boat captain. He’d only been down one round, so, he was technically unconscious – not dead. The spell brought him up to like 9 hps.

I reasoned that, the captain was pretty formidable as he had held his own against five Sahuagin and managed to take down two in the battle. I figured, even if he just held back and attacked from a distance with his crossbow, he could really turn the tide of the battle.

A PC Action Thwarted

Unfortunately, the GM had different ideas. The boat captain stayed out of the battle entirely. Although I saved his life and preserved our ride off the island, we didn’t gain any tactical advantage against the Sahuagin.

I kind of suspect that the boat captain’s assistance would have turned a difficult encounter into a really easy one. And the GM did not want that. He wanted the encounter to be a little more hair-raising and difficult. In the end, we won the battle anyway. But I think this encounter illustrates the point I’m trying to make.

The GM’s Options Analyzed

Of course, every GM is different and each one has his own preferences, but I think it would have been better to let the partially healed boat captain engage the Sahuagin and turn the difficult encounter into a simple one.

This would have rewarded the party (and me) for a clever tactical move that really changed the scales of balance in the battle.

In other words, I think it best for GMs to let the party reap the rewards of their ingenuity.

Of course, the reverse of this, reaping the results of their stupidity … not so much.

Dealing with PC Stupidity and/or Bad Luck

Well, there may be situations where the party does something so colossally stupid that the GM should stay out it and just let the dice fall where they may. Having said that, though, there is a difference between suffering an ill effect from a bad decision and letting the whole party get wiped out.  

A character that suffers a permanent loss of a few hit points or stat points might learn a lesson from the encounter, but if everyone’s dead, no one enjoys the game. And enjoying the game is the ultimate goal, is it not?  

The Benevolent GM Intervention

For myself, I have GMed games where I’ve manipulated a few die rolls here and there – all unbeknownst to the players. I remember, years ago, a PC was hit by a crawling claw for double damage. She was already wounded and near death. And the claw rolled maximum damage.

This was back in 2nd edition when you went unconscious at 0 hps and died at -10 or something like that. The claw rolled an 8 for damage, I think. It would have killed the character outright. So, I just pretended the 8 was already doubled. The PC was knocked unconscious, but she survived.


To sum up, I would say that the GM’s relationship with the players should be neutral leaning toward helpful. He/she shouldn’t be too adversarial and “out to get” the players. Nor should he/she be so altruistic toward the players that nothing is a challenge. And being perfectly neutral isn’t ideal either. He/she must strike the right balance. And let the good surprises from the players play out. Bad surprises … well, those you might have to mitigate.         

2 GM Tips for Wilderness Encounters

Here’s a couple quick tips for GMs when running adventures in the wilderness.

I’ll start with my own experience. Back in the day, when I was first learning how to play RPGs and GM for them as well, I had a little difficulty getting the hang of wilderness adventures. Why? Primarily, because the first types of adventures I went on were all simple dungeon adventures.

Plus, I tend to have a very structured, inflexible mind/perspective. This made it difficult to “go with the flow.”

Wilderness Versus Dungeon

I think I just had grown too accustomed to the standard dungeon crawl. In such an adventure, there are a limited number of decisions for the players to make. They can choose either the door on the east wall, the north wall, or the west wall and go from there. It’s a very controlled space in which the GM can prepare for each of the obvious number of finite decisions the players have. Room 1 has a troll, room 2 has an ancient statue, and so on.

The wilderness is different. The players can go virtually anywhere they want. That makes it hard to prepare encounters without infringing on the players’ free will. You write an adventure that takes place in a ruined village in the south, and, for some other reason, the players head north. What to do?

1) The Floating Encounter

Although this wouldn’t work for major adventures, it finally occurred to me to use, what I would call, “Floating Encounters.” Basically, you write up an encounter and don’t place it on a specific location on your map. You pull it out in lieu of a random encounter and put it wherever it fits.

So, say, for example, you write up this short encounter involving an ancient, ruined statue on the side of a forest road that holds some horrible curse or has a secret compartment with some lost treasure or map to some lost treasure of some sort.

You can place the statue and use it on any forest road you want. Maybe it’s also the lair of a pack of wild dogs or what-have-you. The point is, it doesn’t need to be designated as being on the road to city A or city B or city C – until the party is traveling on whichever one of those roads they decide to travel on. It is, for all intents and purposes, a fixed encounter in time, but not in space.

If the party travels to city A, they encounter the statue halfway along the trip. If, instead, they intend to travel to city B, maybe they encounter the statue one third of the way along on the trip. The only thing you have to realize is that once it’s placed and they encounter it, it is there for good (barring magical disappearing statues, etc….).

You don’t have to place the statue before the adventure and meticulously track the party through the wilderness hoping they stumble across it by chance. Just throw it in their path whenever and wherever you deem it appropriate.

The other thing that took me a long time to realize was the importance of … spice.

2) Adding a Bit of Spice to Wilderness Adventures

For the longest time, wilderness encounters in the games I played usually consisted of a blank wet-erasable hexagonal or graph map upon which the encounters played out. Say, your party of five characters encounter six hyenas in the plains. There’s the map. Placed on it are the five miniatures for the player characters. And, about ten spaces away there are the six tokens or miniatures for the hyenas. Nothing else.

That’s all well and good. But what if there was a road crossing the map? Or a stream? A random couple boulders, perhaps. A couple bushes or a copse of trees. An ancient ruined stone wall. You would be surprised how much a few extra dashes of detail can enhance the quality of an encounter. It will make it far more memorable. It will also make the battle more tactical and strategic as the details create a more interactive slice of terrain. You can hide or take cover behind a boulder or climb a tree. Options like these are lost on a blank map.


Anyway, neither of those things are huge tips for GMs. And I’m sure many GMs have already figured such things out. But, in the event you are new to the GMing endeavor, I offer those tips freely.

8 Important Traits of Vampires

Vampires are one of my favorite creatures of myth and legend. I’m not sure exactly why.

 I, by far, prefer the traditional sinister quasi-demonic type of vampire over the more modern “romantic” vampires of Twilight or even the brooding vampires of Anne Rice’s works. Regardless, the vampire as a powerful evil undead is a far better fit for fantasy RPG’s like D & D and such.

I wrote a book about a vampire called “Drasmyr” with a fantasy setting. But that’s just a shameless plug. Let’s get into the intricate details.

Vampires and Religion

I think I’m partly attracted to the vampire myth because of how it can be interpreted in a Christian religious perspective. Much like Bram Stoker’s original “Dracula”, vampires in D & D have always been evil undead creatures of the night. As such, many holy symbols can be used by clerics to turn them.

Although D & D typically doesn’t relate vampires to Christianity specifically, let’s look at some of the connections to Christianity vampires can have. Realize some of this was inspired by Wes Craven’s movie Dracula 2000.

1) Blood

Blood and blood sacrifice has particular significance in Judaism and Christianity. The basis of Christianity is that Jesus of Nazareth atoned for humanity’s sins by offering his blood (The blood of the Lamb) as a sacrifice to God. With that background, one can look at the vampire’s thirst for blood as a type of sacrilegious perversion. This enhances the demonic aspect of this particular undead creature.

2) Silver

Another connection to Christianity comes from the vampire’s weakness against silver. Although in SRD rules I don’t think Vampires are vulnerable to silver, in many myths they are. Much like the werewolf, a vampire can be slain by silver weapons. The connection here (as Wes Craven made in Dracula 2000, many years ago) is the 30 pieces of silver given to Judas to betray Christ.

3) Wooden Stakes

Wooden stakes, of course, remind one of the wood of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. A vampire, naturally, is vulnerable to a stake through the heart because the stake is typically made of wood and the heart is the seat of love.

4) Roses

A vampire’s weakness against roses is an often overlooked characteristic. It certainly makes no appearance in D & D. However, in the original “Dracula” by Bram Stoker, a rose placed on a vampire’s coffin would keep the vampire confined within as long as the rose remained in place. And what do roses have? Why, thorns, of course. And this can suggest the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head.

5) Sunlight

Sunlight or light, rather, has often been considered symbolic of the truth, goodness, and the divine. In Christianity, Jesus is often called “The Light of the World.” So, of course, vampires are susceptible to sunlight. It can burn them to a crisp, or at least weaken them considerably. In the original Dracula legend sunlight simply weakened the vampire. It did not destroy them.

6) Shapechange

Many vampire myths portray vampires as shapechangers. Most often, vampires can take the form of a bat, a wolf, a man/vampire, or a cloud of mist. In Dracula, the vampire can also take the form of specks of dust. Some traditions might (like Plato/Socrates) associate the ability to change shape with evil. Why? Because shapeshifting is a form of deception. And only evil beings deceive.

7) Invitations

The matter of invitations might be another perversion of Christianity. In the Christian religion, you are supposed to invite Christ into your life. And, according to the vampire myth, a vampire cannot enter a building unless you invite it in. That may be a stretch. But not too much of one, I think.

8) Ravens

Typically, vampires are not associated with ravens except, perhaps, for the setting of mood and atmosphere. Perhaps thanks to Ravenloft, the notion of sinister ravens with black plumage just seems appropriate for a vampire’s castle. In any event, I don’t think ravens have a connection to Christianity or any other religion, but I do kind of connect them with vampires nonetheless.

Anyway. in D & D the Christian connections to vampires are rarely realized. However, in my view, vampires provide a kind of worldbuilding template for the creation of other monsters. The strengths and weaknesses aren’t just a slew of stats and features, but they have real symbolic heft to them and a meaning that is deeper than just modifiers to a die roll.


I find the connections of the vampire to Christianity incredibly interesting. They give the vampire a mythological substance and force that other creatures lack. All those weaknesses and strengths tied to a particular religion make it far more intriguing to me.


Using Fiends as Monsters in Fantasy RPGs

I mentioned in a previous post that back in the 1990’s Tipper Gore got all bent out of shape because  D&D used demons and devils as types of monsters. At the time, I dismissed her concerns. Nowadays, some 25ish years later, I think she may have had a legitimate concern.

In the intervening years, D & D has developed a significant body of information about the demons and devils it uses. Devils have talismans, and demons have amulets. Players that get a hold of such things, bathe them in blood, or perform some other hideous ritual, can gain power over these fiends.

Honestly, going into that much detail about fiends is something I find a little ill-advised. At least for children.

Fiends and the Real World

Of course, most people in the developed world these days do not believe in demons or devils. This is largely because of the success of science of having explained so much. And most scientists don’t give demons or devils a second thought.

However, in my personal experience “paranormal” phenomena, at least, are real. As to demons and devils, I wouldn’t rule them out. I do have unusual beliefs about Satan, though, but let’s jump off the real world discussion of fiends and get back to fantasy.

As far as the real world is concerned, I wouldn’t mind if the demons and devils in D & D were excised from material intended for children (and probably teens, too). Adults … well, I don’t know. Adults should be able to handle just about anything.

Fiends and the Fantasy World

Anyway, on to fantasy and using fiends.

The most common use of a fiend in D & D is as a powerful foe. 5th edition fiends are no different. Demogorgon, The Prince of Demons, for example, is challenge rating 26, I think. That makes him incredibly difficult to defeat. Likewise, for Orcus and a number of powerful Archdevils. They are all designed to be a challenge for even 20th level characters to take on.

The usual story is that there is a cult of demon or devil worshipers who must be destroyed bv the PCs. They might first encounter members of the cult as a low-level group. The demon cult might be the primary focus of a series of adventures. Or, the cult might linger in the background, its full scope and nature a secret, always intimated at but never fully divulged – until a final battle that exposes the fiend’s high priest. The priest is defeated, but now the PCs must seek out and destroy the fiend itself. Truly, a herculean task.

Warlocks and Fiends in 5th Edition D & D

Then there is the Warlock character class. Who, honestly, even for adults seems like a case in point of Tipper Gore’s concerns. I can see using the Warlock (Fiend) as an NPC, but a PC? Um, no. I would have no compunction against restricting Warlock PCs from making pacts with Fiends … actually, Warlocks, in general, rub me the wrong way. I probably wouldn’t allow them at all for PC’s in an adventure I DM’d.

Real World Sources for Fantasy Fiends

Of course, there are fiends that are completely disconnected from the real world. While you can find real world source material for Asmodeus (the Bible), Mammon (also, the Bible), Demogorgon (a misreading of the Greek demiurge – which comes from Plato’s Timaeus, I think), Orcus (Roman myth), and a host of other demons and devils, I think there are a number whose names were simply made up. For example, I don’t think there are real world sources on Yugoloths (or whatever they are), although I could be wrong.

Fiends as the Final Villain in a Campaign

In the end, though, I think something like fiends is really necessary for D & D. There has to be an end-level bad guy. Liches are fine, of course. As are ancient dragons. But, when presented as a foe, a powerful demon prince or Archdevil makes for a great finale. I mean, after that, what else can you fight? A Tarrasque, maybe? Or, I guess, an evil deity. But that, all things considered, is just about the same thing as a fiend.

Fiends and Worldbuilding

When building a world most DMs and authors prefer to develop their own fiends . And, I think, I would encourage that. Take it as an opportunity to stretch your creative muscles. Try to avoid using real world fiends, as tempting as they may be. Although many people probably don’t take exception to talk of demons and devils, there are some who might. Plus, when you start throwing in different cultures, there is a lot of opportunity to unwittingly cause problems. I mean, according to the Muslims, Satan was a Jinn.


RPGs, in my view, are the pinnacle of the “game” concept. Chess and Go and similar games, although great for strategy, don’t really incorporate chance. RPGs have everything. Strategy. Chance. Action. Mystery. Whatever you want. Don’t spoil it by unnecessarily invoking unsavory real world nasties. The more that comes from your own imagination, the better.  

2 Real World Elements Needed In Fantasy Worldbuilding: Influences from Earth, and Morality

Ugh. When was the last time I posted here? What? Like two years ago almost now. Well, let’s at least wrap up my series of posts on general topics and ideas for fantasy worldbuilding in novels and RPG games.

Today, I’m going to discuss the relationship between fantasy worlds and the “real” world. In other words, how much is a fantasy world like the real world and vice versa. These days, I like to tell myself that we don’t live in a “D & D world.”

Let me explain.

Influences from Earth

As all of us gamemasters, players, authors, and readers alike have grown up on this remarkable little planet called Earth, we have all been significantly influenced by the lives we have led here. Naturally, the worlds we create while worldbuilding have been influenced by our real-life experience on Earth. But, the reverse is also true, to a certain extent.

I am not saying that our imaginary worlds influence the real world itself around us, but, rather, they influence us and how we experience the world as we explore it. It’s kind of a feedback loop.

Pen and Paper RPGs

Magic, for example, is the lifeblood of virtually every fantasy RPG. There are wizards and witches and spell-wielding monsters galore. Naturally, much of this is derived from the myths and legends of bygone ages here on Earth.

In the Medieval era, most of the Western real-world population believed in the power of witches and magical creatures like dragons, elves, and fairies. The Arabic culture gave birth to the notion of jinn. Stories of the vampire and similar such creatures can be found in various cultures across the globe.

And then, there are the various pantheons of deities from Zeus of the Greeks to Odin of the Norsemen, and many, many more.


Oddly enough, the only religion I’ve never seen a parallel for in gaming is Christianity. This is not true for novels. Tad Williams’ “Sorrow, Memory, and Thorn” series had a Christ figure in Usires Aedon and a corresponding equivalent to the Catholic Church. I’ve never seen that in a pen & paper RPG – of course, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist – I’ve just never encountered it.

Regardless, just like RPGs, the development of a novel is significantly influenced by life here in the real world. Often in ways you won’t expect. This includes things like the length and divisions of calendars, the types and passing of seasons, and a host of other issues. At a certain level, some things have to come from this world.

Unless you are a master linguist like J.R.R. Tolkien, you really don’t have the ability to invent your own language/s (he did with his Elvish language). So, you will most likely fall back on the language of your own culture. For example, I have written several fantasy novels and, naturally, all of them, used the English language.

In many fantasy novels, authors will sprinkle a few words or phrases from a made-up magical or fantastical language but, and I include myself in this, the corresponding words usually sound crude and made up themselves. Because of his linguistic skill, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Elvish is probably the one and only exception to this.


Back in the 1990’s, I think, Tipper Gore (the wife of Al Gore) was very concerned about the influence of AD & D on the moral character of the young. At the time, I, like many other people my age, were very much “into” the game. I, like many others, dismissed her concerns. After all, D & D was just a harmless, made-up game.

Since that time. I watched one friend become a witch (i.e. Wiccan) and another become a pagan. Both of my then-friends were free to do so, of course, but I do wonder about the influence D & D played in their respective conversions to such religions.

In any event, there’s more to morality than just a choice of religion. Both of my friends were good people and I hardly expect them to start ritually sacrificing children underneath a blood moon or something.

However, I do think the possibility of influence by a steady fantasy diet is there. Although, in the case of adults, that’s totally on them, parents of younger children might want to be a little better informed about certain RPG games.

Pen and Paper RPGs

A demon worshiper, for example, is often presented as an adversary to the players in an RPG game. However, the rules of some systems do allow a player character to actually worship demons and gain corresponding power. Depending upon your belief in whether demons actually exist or not, you might not want your children playing said game.

Back in the 90’s, I would have scoffed at you for doing such. Now, some 30+ years later, I think I’m on your side in that debate. I remember an adventure, years ago, where one of the PCs started worshiping Demogorgon. I think we were like 16 years old, at the time. I didn’t think much of it then. But now … yeah, I don’t think that’s healthy.


Novels, I think, are a little safer than RPG’s in this respect. This is because the reader is simply a consumer. He/she simply follows the story along. Neither he/she actually chooses anything in the novel (except in a which way book). Although they may identify with a character, the barrier between reality and fantasy is a trifle bit thicker.

Still, many people and parents have concerns about exposing their children to certain books. And they have every right to be so concerned. Some parents don’t want to have their children reading books about demons, demon-worshiping (like my own books, for example) or books graphically describing sex and such. Or violence or theft or whatever.

And if it is their kids, I think they are well within their rights to be so concerned. And that should be obvious. Some books, games, and other activities may be fine for adults, but ill-advisable for children. You might be able to solve this issue by giving ratings or age-recommendations for books (that’s the route I took for my own, although in hindsight, I might have been better off adding 2 or 3 more years to my cutoff), but I’m not sure how to solve it when it comes to gaming.


Anyway, that’s my two cents on a very old debate. And so, I finish my starting post. Two years after I first started it. Next week (I hope), I should have a completely different post topic.

3 Essential Elements for Fantasy Worldbuilding: Institutions, Nations, and Monsters

It’s time for another post on fantasy worldbuilding in both novels and pen and paper RPG games. Nothing too earth-shattering just me rambling as I always do.

In my last post, we discussed several topics and ideas most often incorporated in the fantasy worldbuilding of novels and pen and paper RPG games. As noted in that post, many of the ideas involved are shared, but many also differ in subtle, nuanced ways.

As before we will discuss three general topics subdividing each one into separate subtopics on fantasy novels and pen and paper RPG games.

Fantasy Worldbuilding and Institutions

I’m not sure if there is a precise technical definition of the term “institution” but what I mean when I use the term is, roughly, “A collection of people of indeterminate number gathered together for a common purpose.” On modern Earth the FBI and the UN would be examples of institutions.

In a fantasy setting, an institution might be a Wizards’ College, a Sages’ Library, or a Thieves Guild. That last, of course, is likely only known in the “underworld” but that’s fine. There is no reason why an institution need be officially sanctioned by a government.

Pen and Paper RPG’s

When developing an institution for a pen and paper RPG the level of detail needed is determined, to a certain extent, by the expected level of interaction the institution will have with the party of player characters.

For example, one probably wouldn’t need details of the spell capabilities of the head wizard of a Wizards’ College unless the players were going to be pitted against said college and likely come to blows. Failing such, you can probably get away with just the head wizard is powerful or a 20th level wizard or what-have-you.

A Thieves Guild, on the other hand, would probably require details down to the most granular level. You will likely need all the stats on all the thieves.


Institutions in novels are another area where the level of detail is completely determined by the author and the story’s needs. Generally speaking, the interaction between the “party” and the institution happens at a more qualitative level instead of quantitative. You won’t need to know the Thief Lord’s stats in a novel as dice-controlled combat never comes into play.

In all likelihood, the “party’s” level of interaction with a Wizard College and a Thieves Guild would be the same: incomplete because it is controlled entirely by the needs of the story. A minor thief henchman who has no role in story need never be developed.

Fantasy Worldbuilding and Nations

In a lot of ways, fantasy worldbuilding for nations is very similar to fantasy worldbuilding for cultures (described in the previous post) as most nations are either an entire culture themselves, subdivided into a number of distinct cultures, or a part of a larger multi-national culture. The point is that, like a culture, certain geographical considerations come into play.

At a certain level, there may be a great deal of interplay between a nation being developed and the culture/s present within its confines. Each may influence the other sometimes in mundane ways, other times in a quite startling fashion.

Pen and Paper RPGs

Nations in pen and paper RPGs are usually developed only superficially just because the massive scope of such a thing makes granular development a monumental task. The worldbuilder will probably list the nation in question, describe its major cities, the races that populate it, the cultural influences, and provide a few other details.

Unless it’s a commercial product it will probably be only a handful of pages. Adventures in cities of that nation will probably be run by gamemasters who largely “wing it” using the information from worldbuilding as mere guidelines.


Again, development of a nation in a novel will be as detailed and as granular as the story requires. The worldbuilder may wind up writing fifty pages on one nation and only two on another because the characters in the story may spend a large amount of time in the first nation and merely pass through the second.

Knowing this as he or she writes the book, the author need only develop the material that he or she needs to complete the story. Nothing more. Nothing less.


Monsters are the bread and butter of a fantasy world. No fantasy worldbuilding is complete without some effort being put into the development of a cast of monsters be they orcs or goblins, trolls or ogres, or, perhaps even, the mighty dragon.

As the fantasy genre matures, the number of monsters that worldbuilders have produced has exploded. Naturally. There are many fantasy enthusiasts these days each with their own collection of self-developed critters they like to throw at their characters.

Pen and Paper RPG

Worldbuilding for fantasy pen and paper RPGs usually involve the development of a vast number of monsters. The more, the merrier. This is because pitting different monsters with different abilities against the characters in session after session is a great way to add novelty and excitement to each gaming session.

But in an RPG the monsters must be fully developed. You can’t get away with a three sentence description because unlike most of the other aspects of the fantasy world, monsters usually require stats because encounters with them form the backbone of the game.


Developing monsters for fantasy novels is profoundly different than it is for pen and paper RPGs. This is because there are no dice in a normal novel so there is no need to create stats. The monster sheet consists of a purely literary description. It is as powerful or as weak as the author wishes it to be.

A lucky puny goblin could slay the most powerful knight if such was the author’s whim. There is another difference as well: quantity. It is, in my opinion, a bad idea to develop a large number of monsters for any single given novel, particularly if the monsters are fantastical and magical. Why? Because it might be too difficult for the reader to keep track of them if there are too many.

I would recommend limiting the population of new monsters to maybe five per novel, certainly no more than ten—unless you want your precious monsters forgotten within twenty minutes of having the book put down. This, of course, does not hold true with RPGs.


Well, there you go. We discussed, in brief, fantasy worldbuilding of institutions, nations, and monsters. Most of the information I gave is readily evident with a little bit of thought but I hope you derived some benefit. Until next time. Ta ta.

3 Critical Ideas for Fantasy Worldbuilding: Races, Cultures, and Religions

I wanted to post this quite some time ago, but life intervened. New job. That sort of thing. Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

We were discussing the topics and ideas that are most often incorporated in the fantasy worldbuilding of novels and pen and paper RPG games. As noted in the prior post, many of the ideas are shared, but many also differ in subtle, nuanced ways.

So, let’s discuss three more critical ideas for fantasy worldbuilding.

Fantasy Worldbuilding and Races

The first thing to realize regarding race in fantasy is that it is a different concept than the one used in the modern world. You must try to “suspend” or “suppress” your modern notions of race, racism, and such when dealing with a fantasy world.

In a fantasy world, race is often closer in meaning to the term “species” we use in real life. There is a much larger difference between orcs and elves than you would find between Caucasians and Asians here on Earth. There is also a rich history of alignment differences based on race in a fantasy world that has no realistic counterpart here on Earth.

For example, orcs are usually regarded as an “evil” race in fantasy. Elves are usually “good.” Obviously, you can reverse that if you want to be creative or mix things up a bit in other ways, but categorizing Asians as “evil” and Caucasians as “good” or vice versa is hopelessly naive.

Anyway, I just want to say that it is probably silly to accuse J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth of being racist because the norm for his totally imaginary race of orcs is savagery and cruelty. And his elves are elegant and noble. However, his Haradrim might be a different story.

Pen and Paper RPG

So, what are the Pen and Paper RPG differences? I think the most notable one is the alignment issue we touched on in the preceding paragraph. Having entire races of “evil” creatures is almost a necessity in an RPG, at least in the ones I’ve played. Indeed, almost every session involves someone saying, “Let’s go kill something and take it’s stuff.”

Obviously, that is morally questionable at best, unless you can reasonably categorize the thing killed as “evil.”

No, we are not trying to discuss and ruminate upon complex political or social issues when gaming. There may be some influence, but really, I think even more than in a novel, the point of a pen and paper RPG fantasy game is pure escapism. Why ruin that by dwelling on serious cultural and political issues?


On the other hand, novels of all kinds have been used to make complex social and political points for serious discussion. The aforementioned J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” is often used as a metaphor for the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

As a result of this, the expectations for a novel are different. Indeed, novels that don’t try to make “deep” points are usually dismissed for that very reason. Similarly, the control the novelist has over the development of the story in a novel allows him/her to make metaphors and analogies with deeper meanings in a manner that is not available to a gamemaster.

Okay, that was less about race and more about political commentary in the two fantasy worldbuilding genres than I intended. Oh, well.

Fantasy Worldbuilding and Cultures

Cultures are an integral part of any world. They can be tied to a particular race, but usually, it’s more than that. Specific cultures usually revolve around specific geographic locations and even historical contexts as well as race.

The worldbuilder must set up customs, traditions, legends, and a myriad other aspects of every culture he/she designs.

Pen and Paper RPG

Cultures in Pen and Paper RPG’s are usually not as “deep” as they are in novels. That’s because, at least in my experience, the players usually only scratch the surface of a particular culture in a RPG. They might, perhaps, slide through more cultures over a certain period of time, but I think the nature of gaming is such, that there just isn’t a need for serious depth.

The gamemaster will likely have a few paragraphs outlining a culture with a few unique traditions and institutions, but when it comes down to it, RPG’s usually involve, as noted previously, a lot of “let’s kill it, and take its stuff.”


I would say a fantasy novel is a far more likely genre to develop a culture “deeply”, if that makes sense. A particular culture might dominate several chapters, or even an entire book or books. As a result, the fantasy novelist must really stretch the creative muscles in such situations. The more he/she develops the culture in question, the richer and more rewarding the reader’s experience will be.

Indeed, if well done, the reader may remember the culture described in a book years after having read said book. That is an achievement for an author: to get that kind of mindshare in another person’s brain. It is remarkable.

Fantasy Worldbuilding and Religions

The last aspect of fantasy worldbuilding we will discuss today is religion. Religions are important if for no other reason than that they are nearly ubiquitous. Religions influence both cultures and characters. They are an aspect of an individual that is responsible for the core elements of their personality and belief structure.

A dominant religion makes its influence felt throughout an entire culture. What would ancient Rome be, if Christianity had never held sway over it? History, I think, would be a much different tale.

Pen and Paper RPG’s

The first thing I think of on the topic of religion in pen and paper fantasy RPG’s is the priest or cleric class that many a player might play. They usually provide a source of healing for a party of characters. But they shouldn’t be regarded as strictly healing bots. No, their influence can be much richer.

The development of such, though, like any other character type, is dependent upon both the gamemaster and the player that plays that character. The gamemaster provides the skeleton of the priest’s personality. The player provides the flesh and skin.

Like any other character type, a well-played priest can have a powerful impact on an RPG game and make the gaming sessions that much more fun. Indeed, the influence of the player as opposed to the worldbuilding gamemaster is quite pronounced here. However, the player uses what the gamemaster has developed for race and culture as well as religion.


The difference for incorporating religion in novels is that the entirety of the development of a religion, even more so than race or culture, rests on the worldbuilder’s shoulders. The novelist does everything. There is no player to take over and flesh out diaphanous details.

This makes the task of developing a religion in a novel that much more difficult. As in the RPG, the impact of a religion can be felt in a culture or a character or even a nation. Empires have gone to war over religion. It is a powerful tool for a storyteller.


All right, we touched on three more worldbuilding topics in this post. Hopefully, the next post won’t be so long in coming. But until next time … ta ta!

3 Fantasy Worldbuilding Tips: Time, Place, and The Magic/Science Distinction

Okay, so you’ve decided you want to build a fantasy world. You’re just not sure where to begin. You know you need to brainstorm a few ideas and topics relevant to the world, but that’s it.

As we said in our previous post, when you are worldbuilding, all the topics and ideas involved are usually interrelated. The world is like a spiderweb of factors. So, let’s discuss a few of the basic ideas we listed in the previous post.

RPG Game vs. Novel

You probably made this decision before you even decided to worldbuild, but in case you didn’t, you must choose between worldbuilding for a fantasy RPG game or a fantasy novel.

That distinction may seem small, but it has several specific subtle consequences. Writing a fantasy novel is usually more focused in some respects, and yet broader in others. You will ask several similar questions whichever path you follow.

The most obvious distinction between the two tasks is that you usually know what you’ll need for the novel. In a game world, you have to prepare for the unexpected actions of the players.

As a result, you need a more complete world, if you wish to avoid “winging it.” For now, though, we will leave the discussion of that issue to a future post. Let’s move on to the next worldbuilding topic.


How long is a year? Is time actually even measured in years? Here on Earth, some calendars use segments of time both longer than the year (the Mayan calendar) and shorter than the year (Jewish and Arabic).

For example, you could base a calendar on a year consisting of thirteen months that were 28 days long apiece. This would give you a year of 364 days in length. Pretty close to our Earth year which makes timekeeping somewhat comfortable.

Or, you could do a year of twelve months each 30 days in length. This gives a year that lasts 360 days. If you add in 5 inter-month holidays you get a 365 day year. Again very comfortable and familiar to our Western Civilization.

–Pen and Paper RPG:

In an RPG, timekeeping is usually done in the background. Characters in the game may travel from city to city, from dungeon to dungeon, or what-have-you. On a macro-temporal scale, this is rarely noted by the actual players.

Whether the journey takes five days or fifteen days isn’t too important. What matters is the encounters the characters have along the way. At least, I’ve never been in an RPG campaign where we actually tracked our ages as the time passed. I find that tedious and unnecessary.

Instead of the macro-temporal scale, the RPG focuses on the micro-temporal scale. Characters remember the battles or the clever encounters that last only a few minutes of game time but may take as long as an hour or more of real-life time. That’s the reality of the RPG structure.


In the novel, the relationship between macro-time and micro-time is more nuanced. Most often, like the RPG, important encounters don’t occur in macro-time. Rather, macro-time advances setting, plot, tone, or character arc. Micro-time is where the results of such work become manifest.

Macro-time develops the potential; micro-time develops the actual. You’ll see subtle changes in the character from scene to scene (micro-time). You’ll feel the tension build in micro-time. Finally, the most dramatic events of the story are usually resolved in micro-time.

Physical World

Unless you are writing a really bizarre story, or creating a really bizarre game, the task of worldbuilding involves physical and geographical considerations.

First, is the universe in which this world exists like ours? Are there stars in the sky? Is the world a sphere like Earth? Or is it, as the ancients once thought, flat? Are there even stars in your universe? Or is it completely alien?

Those are some of the questions you’ll have to answer.

–Pen and Paper RPG

The importance of the structure of a physical world in the RPG setting is similar to the significance such plays in the novel. In the RPG setting, though, the structure of the world may influence or be influenced by the game mechanics of the system.

If it is a flat world, how does gravity operate? What happens when a character falls in a pit? It’s easy to take the commonplace of everyday life for granted. It can be difficult to think beyond such and build a whole world working from different assumptions.


In the novel, the author has somewhat more freedom. In the above case with a pit, the author can come up with an answer that doesn’t influence a system of structured rules. He doesn’t have to worry about things like falling damage—except in terms of language as opposed to numbers.

He just has to work the event into the story for that one time. To some extent, he’s got to worry about consistency, but only in a more conceptual sense. He doesn’t have to incorporate numerical information at all. He doesn’t have to pore through a series of rules that may change.

He’s in control of everything. Most ideas need only be addressed qualitatively as opposed to quantitatively.

Magic, Science, or Both

Generally speaking, most fantasy endeavors involve magic in some form or other. If it does not, and instead relies exclusively on science, then it probably more properly falls in the genre of sci-fi (science fiction). So, I would assume most fantasy gamers and novelists are more interested in magic. But not always. You might use both in your world.

–Pen and Paper RPG

Using both magic and science will be very challenging whichever task you choose. The difficulty with the RPG is the game mechanics. If you need game mechanics for both science and magic, developing such will be a bear.

It can be done, but it won’t be easy. There is always a certain level of assumed science in the background of most fantasy games. A crossbow involves at least a little bit of physics even if it was designed merely by trial and error (or however). You can remove such assumptions, if you wish, but the result will likely be difficult to play in.


Using science and magic in a novel is a little easier than in an RPG setting. This is because you focus on those aspects of each feature that you actually use and ignore the ones you don’t.

For example, if you use laser weapons, you need to know a little about the behavior of light and physics. Geology, on the other hand, you may not need at all–unless you choose to incorporate that science as well. Magic, of course, is entirely a product of your imagination.

Okay, we’ll leave it there for now. Next time, we’ll discuss a few more topics.