Author Archives: Jeff Ambrose

Basic (Dungeons & Dragons) Fantasy RPG

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Next week, I’ll start leading my kids through the old Basic D&D module that came with the old blue-boxed Expert Set, The Isle of Dread. 

A few months ago we finished one of my all-time favorite adventures, The Keep on the Borderland.

Time will tell how my kids do with an outdoor adventure.

One thing I’d like to do with The Isle of Dread is to give it a better story. Borderlands is great, but it feels too much like a video game, moving from cavern to cavern, clearing out the monsters.

For Dread, I’m not going to invest too much time into creating a story line. I’m just going to make it up as I go, but there will be an overall goal to the adventure, not just tromping across mountains and through jungles all in the pursuit of gold.

To prepare for this adventure, I’ve been “updating” it to match the rules laid out in the Basic Fantasy RPG

sitecoverFor the most part, the merging of Basic D&D to Basic Fantasy is pretty seamless. The two big changes are 1) to make the old armor class system and transform to d20 rules and 2) to update the experience points, which are higher in Basic Fantasy, but then, treasure doesn’t go toward experience.

I’ll be the first to admit: D&D is Dad’s thing, but my kids are interested in playing … provided we play every other week. Any more than that, they get bored. And, frankly, so do I.

D&D is at its best when you’re gaming with good friends — that is, people of your maturity level. Only then is it possible to game for hours on end, day after day. Like I did a few summers of my youth.

My kids often rush in where angels would dare to tread, and they lack the attention necessary to take on some of the puzzles that makes D&D fun for adults. And I suppose, when I was their age, I just wanted to hack-and-slash my way through an adventure, too.

Still, it’s going to be fun. I can’t wait to see their expression when they encounter their first dinosaur.

New Writing Week, The End of School, and June Goals

It’s a new writing week, which means I’m looking at 50 pages. Which is daunting. So daunting that (to steal from Lawrence Block) it scars the adverbs out of me. Which is why it’s important not to look at those 50 pages, but, rather, at the work right in front of me. What’s in front of me? A 40-minute writing session. No more.

This sudden fear of the week’s work reminds me of something Dean Wesley Smith used to talk about on his blog: Eating the Elephant. Jerry Mundis, in his wonderful book, Break Writer’s Block Now! called it “the Baggage Train.” Both phrases mean the same thing: That you’re trying to do more than can possibly be done during any one morning of writing.

Eating the Elephant: That’s thinking of writing the novel rather than writing the scene or the  chapter at hand.

The Baggage Train: That’s thinking about establishing your career or supporting your family rather than on the words you’re putting on paper.

You can’t write a novel in a day (at least, I can’t), and you can’t establish a career in a day. The old cliché applies here: A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. The finishing of a novel (which is where I am right now) is still done one page at a time, and the establishment of a career is still done one day at a time.

Long-term thinking is important, but so is realizing that today’s work is just that: Today’s work.

It reminds me of something Jesus said: Don’t worry about tomorrow, for today has sufficient problems of it’s own.

* * *

School down here in Texas ends on Wednesday, June 4. Summer is a mixed blessing for me. I love the freedom summer brings: no more homework, school projects, practices, games, socials, picking up the kids every day after school, and the relentless making of lunches each morning. The change of schedule will be nice and much welcomed.

On the other hand, writing becomes more difficult. Right now, I have the freedom of the eight-hour school day to get my writing down. I admit, I probably don’t write as much as I could during these hours, and that’s something I hope to address next school year. But for the summer, my goal is still 10 pages a day. This is doable, so long as I remember to do a few things:

First: Write in 40-minute sessions.

Second: Spread those sessions throughout the day, writing early in the morning and late at night if necessary.

Third: Meditating for a few minutes before writing.

In fact, Number Three on this list may be the most important. Often on busy weekends, I can grab an hour or so to write both Saturday and Sunday. But I end up spending the first thirty minutes that writing time screwing around on the Internet. Again, Jerry Mundis’s Break Writer’s Block Now! helped me understand what I was doing.

The time on the Internet was a relaxation period I needed to shift from being “father” and “husband” to being “writer.” While Mundis didn’t say that himself, he did talk about the need to meditate before writing, especially if you have to write in the middle or the end of the day. You need something that severs you from ordinary life and gets you ready to write.

When it comes to work, my wife has this: She has to get into her car and drive somewhere. That simple activity of driving is a signal that it’s now time to get into “office” mode or “home” mode, depending if she’s coming or going.

This Saturday, when I sat down to write at 3 PM after a busy morning and early afternoon,  I tried to meditate before writing instead of jumping on the Internet. It worked! Instead of spending thirty minutes getting ready to write and thirty minutes writing, I spent ten minutes getting ready to write and forty-five minutes writing.

So: This summer, as my writing time gets spread throughout the day, meditating before writing is going to be The Key that either makes me or breaks me.

* * *

It’s June 2nd, so what are this months goals?

I’m going to keep things pretty simple.

Writing: I want to write 10 pages a day, 50 pages a week. I want to finish the current work in progress. I want to start something new.

Reading: I want to read 40 to 50 pages of fiction or a short story a day, 15 to 20 pages of nonfiction or an article a day, and one poem a day.

Learning: I have a  about 60 or 70 books on writing I’ve picked up at used book stores around Dallas, and at least that many on my Kindle. It’s time to forget workshops for a little while and get busy reading these books. So, three learning goals. First, I need to categorize these books according to topic. Second, I need to decide which topic I want to study first. Third, I need to start reading.

Now, it’s time to get ready for today’s first writing session.

Various Updates, 5/30 … With Cover Art

What’s been going on with me? A lot, thank you. Here’s a non-prioritized annotated list:

1. Writing Habits. Well, after a few months of playing around with different bits of software, different production goals, different time-based techniques, and when to take days off, here’s what I found to be the best fit for me. Software: Writer Pro, which I absolutely love, and which allows me to easily fall into the creative dream. Writing sessions: write in forty-minute chunks with a short break between sessions. I can write about 750 words in forty minutes, which means I need at least three full sessions plus an extra fifteen minutes or so to get in my 2,500 words. Days off: no days off while once I begin writing, but a few days off between projects is important. I could write a full blog post about each of these, and maybe I will someday. I’m sure some of my fellow writers might find my rationale for my choices interesting.

2. What I’ve Been Reading. Stephen King, mostly, continuing in The Dark Tower series. I’m almost finished with The Waste Lands – which is the last of the books I’ve read in the series, back when it first came out in the late 80s or early 90s (I was about 17, I suppose) – and looking forward to reading Wizard and Glass. In terms of story, I haven’t had this much fun reading King in a long time. Like many of his fans who were reading King in the 80s, I’ve lost interest in his more recent work; but unlike many of those fans, I don’t think King is loosing it as a writer. I think he’s changed as a writer, and I’ve changed as a reader, and the two no longer align.

On another note, summer is almost here, and I’ve decided on a summer project: for the first time, I’m going to read Dune! But I’m not just going to read it. I’m going to listen to the audiobook while following along in the print version. The audio has a full cast, with a narrator and various voice actors reading the dialogue parts, so it should be interesting.

3. What I’ve Been Writing. I’m still busy at work on the first book of The Tabard Cain Saga. About a month ago, I wrote a long post about re-visioning this story and decided to toss the 65,000 words I’d already written and start over. The decision has allowed me to re-pace the story and get deeper into my characters and their world. I’m about 40,000 words into the re-draft of The Kingless Warrior, and I probably have about 20,000 words left, though I’m typically not very good at judging this kind of stuff. My hope is to finish by mid-June. I’ll take a short writing break (just a few days) before starting work on what will most-likely be a sf series. My plan is to do something a bit different with this series; I’ll talk about it when I start writing.

And while we’re at it — here’s a sneak peak at the working cover for The Kingless Warrior:TC1 - The Kingless Warrior

4. What I’ve Been Watching. My oldest son and I have been watching Lost. We’re nearly done with Season 1, and Season 2 is sitting on my self. I watched Lost the summer after the series ended at a rate of three to four episodes a night through Netflix’s streaming. This time around, I’m watching two or three episodes a week. This much slower re-watch is interesting, and just in terms of writing, it’s given my some things to think about for a future, episodic story I’d like to tell. I might have to go back and watch it a third time with pen and paper in hand.

Anything else? Well, the month is almost over, so it’s time to think about June goals. But that’s for another post.

May 2014 Goals

It’s a new month, and so it’s time to think about a new set of goals. But first, here’s my April goals, with comments, italicized, with my comments in normal text.

  • Cut back on Internet time by limiting myself to no more than 30 minutes a day … LOL on this one! But really, somedays I limited myself to fewer than 30 minutes; other days, I wasted a lot of time. What made the difference? How quickly I turned on Freedom and locked myself out of the Internet.
  • Write at least 15,000 words of new fiction a week, which means I should be able to finish this novel by the end of the month … Wrote 15K the first week, but not the other weeks. Hitting 3,000 words a day, every day, is tough, and it may be a little too much.
  • Check sales only once a week — on Monday mornings … LOL. Complete and total fail.
  • Read at least 40 pages of fiction a day … I was better on this than I have been, and even finished a novel or two. But it’s something I need to do more of.
  • Start planning my next novel … Nope, but that’s because of some creative changes.
  • Revamp the Jeff Ambrose webstie and update the books … Yes and no: got the website up, but haven’t touched the books.

Okay. So: What does March 2014 look like?

  • Write 2,000 words a day, every day, even if that means waking early and/or staying up late. No exceptions.
  • Start Ray Bradbury’s “feeding a muse” plan — read one poem, some nonfiction, and some fiction, every day.
  • Keep a daily private writer’s journal.
  • Finish up Dean’s online workshops, and type up my notes.
  • Read Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl.
  • Don’t check sales — at all!
  • Blog more.

It’s late, I’m tired, so I’m going to post the goals then come back later next week and elaborate on what I’m doing and why.