Dice Chewing with AJ Rettger

Holly: August is a busy month in our household. We have two birthdays, our wedding anniversary and this year, the added stress of preparing for the youngest of the nerd squad to fly the nest and head to university at the end of September. Between work, social engagements, weekend trips and trying to decide which Transformers figurines are heading to uni and which are heading to storage, it hasn’t left much time for gaming. Although, Baldurs Gate 3 is still dominating most of our dinner-time conversation. What do you mean you haven’t met the forge guardian yet? What have you been doing for the past week?

So, with little news to write about this time, it is time for me to turn once more to my fellow writers. As per the lore of fantasy, I sounded the call for help via a flaming beacon (or rather social media). This time, it’s AJ Rettger, author of Oathbreaker and Season of Kings, stepping into the spotlight to talk about all things fantasy, writing and gaming…

AJ: I have always been an avid gamer. My dad and older cousins introduced me to video games at a young age, and I got hooked immediately. The one genre in particular I fell in love with was role-playing games. Even when playing non-RPGs, I would make up new storylines to keep things interesting. However, as I got older, RPGs failed to scratch my itch. I found the confines of the algorithm and the coding restrictive. Then, I played my first game of Dungeons and Dragons when I was 20. 

Suddenly, surrounded by friends, I discovered the freedom in a role-playing game I always yearned for. I have been playing D&D for seven(ish) years for the same group (we go by the name of Team Bandit), and it is probably the hobby I most enjoy. In terms of other games, we recently branched out to play Warhammer 40, but it seems complicated – so we may have to work on that one.

The narrative in a game is extremely important. I find (especially from a DM perspective) that there has to be a hook or a sense of urgency that entices your players to take action. If you design a quest that doesn’t have an immediate objective, the party will muck about, causing chaos. (Holly’s note: I can confirm this is true).

The hooks that are the most successful are the ones that are rooted in the world’s lore. I ran a campaign based on Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld, and my players loved it. Having a rich tapestry of lore to fall back on as a dungeon master will only increase your players’ enjoyment of the game!

Playing games like D&D and other tabletop RPGs is probably the best way for an author to build the skills of world-building and character development. Before I wrote my books, I created a D&D campaign for my group to play. When we finished, I asked my players for notes and suggestions about the world, the characters, the lore, etc. I owe a lot of credit to my fellow members of Team Bandit. They have been a great group of people to have in my corner.

D&D has absolutely influenced me as a writer. My first book, Oathbreaker, was very much set up like a D&D campaign. Humble beginnings where the protagonist(s) go on a noble quest and quickly jump from encounter to encounter, trying to complete the said quest. Although it is a fun book, I have realized that having a book take the same pacing as a D&D campaign isn’t always the best idea. I wish I had slowed the action down a bit and allowed the characters to breathe more and develop more organically in their arcs.

In terms of games that I’m looking forward to, anyone who knows me knows I am a Witcher superfan. One of my friends showed me a Kickstarter for a Witcher tabletop game, and I am chomping at the bit to play that! It’s already fully funded, but as for a release date, I still have not heard anything. If I am lucky, I will get to play it before the end of 2024!

You can find out more about AJ at www.ajrettger.com

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Author: Holly Tinsley

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