One of the challenges of adapting a role-playing game campaign to a novel is getting the characters, settings, and events as close to the original as possible without bringing in details that are meaningless, contradictory, or just plain ridiculous. A lot of this is stuff I worked out before I even started the first draft, but since I had some dead time at the day job that won’t work for art writing, I thought it would be fun to talk about the process. I’m going to start with Shao Tsang instead of the story as a whole, because there were some additional labyrinths to thread surrounding his history.
Shao Tsang was my brother’s character in the game. His original thought was to create a monk but, after some unusually good attribute rolls, he decided to go with a psionicist. Monks in Second Edition AD&D were watered-down fighter or cleric characters, while psionicists had high requirements and much more interesting abilities.
Originally, he had telepathic powers similar to the ones we see in The Nameless Way. Not much later on, though, he wanted to switch to psychoportation and psychometabolism, which would, among other things, allow him to do more kung fu-ish stuff. This may have been driven partly by a new supplement purchase. I can’t remember. In any case, I indulged him with a quick diversion to work the change into the story and it was all settled.
Mike would later sell a couple of stories featuring this time-manipulating martial arts version of Shao Tsang. He also wrote a longer one which I don’t think has ever been published. This set of abilities presented some problems for my Shao Tsang, though. For one thing, I was bringing in Seisha, who also has martial arts skills and psionic abilities, earlier. I’ve downplayed the psychic abilities in my version, but that makes her talents more like martial arts Shao Tsang, not less. Sure, she’s sneaky too, but the stuff she does in a fight wouldn’t be nearly as impressive if Shao Tsang did it too.
Another problem is Mogdar. As a wizard specializing in time manipulation, a lot of the stuff that would be fun to develop for Mogdar would already be in Shao Tsang’s playbook. Mogdar won’t be doing silly Hong Kong movie stunts with it, but that barely helps. We would, again, have a character learning and showing off tricks that Shao Tsang was already doing.
Finally, the whole kung fu aesthetic is boring to me, especially as an element of sword and sorcery stories. The fact that "monks" weren’t too impressive in the version of D&D we were playing didn’t bother me at all. I even scrubbed a few of the far eastern trappings from Seisha. You won’t see the word "ninja" in this book, for example. That’s a minor obstacle, though. I probably would have left it in and found ways to make it fun if not for the issues with Seisha and Mogdar.
So my Shao Tsang isn’t much of a fighter, and he doesn’t distort time. Instead of being a "monk" he’s just a monk. He’ll keep the telepathic tricks, Seisha will keep the martial arts tricks (plus a few other surprises), and Mogdar will keep the temporal tricks. None of this affects their personalities, though. I kept almost all of that.
There’s another issue connected to one of Mike’s stories and one of mine, but it’s more about a particular set of events than about the character. I’ll talk about that in another post.