Guest Blog: Darrin Drader Talks Rathorn
Recently I have invited several colleagues to submit guest blogs for me to highlight. The first one is by Darrin Drader, who I have known (and occasionally worked with) for around 20 years.
If you are involved, or getting involved, in tabletop games and are interested in having me feature a guest blog of yours, let me know! You can drop me a line at email@example.com.
Owen has invited me here to his blog to talk about my new Patreon project—Rathorn: Savage Adventures. In the interest of brevity, I’ll get the link out of the way right now: https://www.patreon.com/Rathorn Also in the interest of brevity, I’ll specify that it’s pronounced Ra-thorn, not Rat-horn. The entry tier for patronage is $3 a month, and what you get for backing is a monthly novella, or episode, consisting of a minimum of 50 novel-length pages. There are higher backer tiers for those who are interested. The first payment will come out on June 1st, at which time the first two episodes will be posted. You will have access to both at that time, and then you will gain access to one new episode per month.
Origins of Barbarism
Early this year, Jason Eric Nelson of Legendary Games invited me to write a 5e compatible supplement called Battlemasters & Berserkers. It just so happened that this aligned with a fiction project I was already working on. The two went together perfectly, so of course I accepted the offer. The fiction is Rathorn: Savage Adventures, a novella consisting of six chapters and about 20,000 words, or roughly sixty novel-length pages, and it was made available as a Kickstarter add-on. It did pretty well too.
An alternate “collector’s” cover.
That was never intended to be a standalone piece. But let’s go back to the beginning of the story first.
One of my best friends introduced me to D&D back in 1984. I was eleven years old at the time, and to say I was absolutely blown away by the game would be an understatement (I would later work for Wizards of the Coast, and work on several titles for D&D, including the Book of Exalted Deeds, Forgotten Realms: Serpent Kingdoms, Forgotten Realms: Mysteries of the Moonsea, and more articles than I can remember). Rathorn was a barbarian character dreamed up in the fall of 1988 shortly before a gaming convention in Spokane, Washington. By that time I was already reading and being heavily influenced by D&D tie-in fiction, so I began writing stories about him and his half-elven sometimes companion named Whisperfoot. By the time I graduated from high school and moved on to other things, I had filled a three-ring binder with stories.
Now obviously, those stories weren’t publishable. I’ve worked on my fiction for my entire life, and I didn’t publish any of it until about ten years ago. It’s a skill that takes a long time to develop, and in all honesty, a lot of people who try their hand at it find it much more difficult than expected. Anyway, I’ve always rather liked the characters, and sometimes considered doing something more with them. I made a Facebook post a while back, and none other than Peter Adkison chimed in and encouraged me to lean into it and do something new with the characters (I mean, who am I to argue with the man who started Wizards of the Coast?). What I ended up deciding to do is rewrite those stories from scratch—and I really mean scratch, because that three-ring binder ended up not making a move several years ago. In truth, these aren’t going to be faithful replications of the original stories. I’m thirty years older now than I was then, so these will be reimagined from a more mature and experienced point of view.
The Barbarian Sub-Genre
The promotional blurb for the Patreon reads as follows:
He came from the northern barbarian clans to claim vengeance against those who stole from his village and killed his best friend. But once entered, leaving civilization is far from easy. A hundred years removed from the fall of the Androsan Empire, fortunes are forged on the plunder of ruin, while lords from across the lands plot to reclaim lost glories, and death is merely is one blade away. These are the tales of Rathorn (Ra-thorn). Warrior. Barbarian. Adventurer.
If the premise sounds a bit like another barbarian from the golden age of pulp, you aren’t completely off-base. Then again, there’s something timeless and universal about that character archetype, which is one of the reasons Barbarian is a class in the Player’s Handbook. Currently, that famous mighty-thewed warrior is making a comeback via Marvel comics, and a new TV show in the works for Amazon original programming. But there are other barbarian characters in fiction, such as Skharr the Death Eater by the excellent Michael Anderle, who will soon be releasing his sixth book in the series. Others include Wulfgar by R.A. Salvatore, Cohen by Terry Pratchett, Fafhrd by Fritz Leiber, Stoick the Vast by Cressida Cowell, and of course Khal Drogo from George R.R. Martin. In other words, barbarians are a full sub-genre of fantasy literature unto themselves.
The Patreon Model
The Patreon model of fiction challenges both readers and writers to reimagine fiction as being more like a TV show than a movie. Traditional novel publishers used to restrict authors to one book per year, even if the authors are more prolific than that. In that way, novels are sort of like movies. They have high production values, they come out at a slow pace, and they tend to do things you can’t do in TV (though due to higher budgets and more affordable special effects, this is becoming less and less the case all the time).
By comparison, the short story can best be described as a tempest in a teacup. They’re so short that they’re meant to be read in one sitting. They are often published in magazines or anthologies, which means they don’t get their own covers. Also, due to the fact that they’re submitted to multiple outlets, the same author’s stories often have little to no continuity. In other words, while they’re their own art form, short stories aren’t the best type of vehicle for telling a continuing story. They aren’t like a TV show or a movie. Maybe they’re best likened to a short film.
The novella is a bit of a hybrid between the two, and it’s what an episode of Rathorn is. At 20,000 words, most people aren’t going to read the whole thing in one sitting. In fact, each novella is about a quarter the length of your average novel. Each one tells its own story, but it’s easy to string them together to tell a larger story over time. They can have unique covers, but like traditional TV shows with reliably consistent opening credits, they might all share one cover, each only differing in the title of that episode.
I first experimented with the continuing six chapter novella when I started writing Star Trek fanfic (yes, professional writers do sometimes write fanfic. Sometimes they even do it under their own names). The idea was to imitate a single episode of Star Trek in terms of scope and content in prose fiction. I ended up being very pleased with the final result, as were my readers, who found it to be long and meaty enough to be a satisfying read, while not being so long that they might give up on it because it’s too long or something new catches their attention.
As it turns out, the novella is the perfect length for Patreon because unlike a novel, it’s entirely possible to do the writing, get it through editing, and release one on a monthly schedule. Don’t get me wrong. It’s also possible to write a novel in a month—I wrote Nuclear Sunset: Legacy of Ruin in three weeks—but doing that consistently every month is very difficult. In fact, the only person I know who managed a schedule like that is Matt Forbeck, who ran a Kickstarter, earned enough to take a year off of his day job, and released one novel each month.
Rathorn doesn’t exist in your typical Howard inspired sword and sorcery setting where civilization is almost always wicked and magic is inherently evil. Rathorn is very much a part of The Cobalt Kingdoms, which is a 5e setting I’ve been slowly developing over the past several years. While it does draw on some ancient world motifs, it’s closer to your baseline D&D setting. In fact, the setting itself is one of the important features here.
As someone who used to greatly enjoy Forgotten Realms fiction, I was pretty disappointed when Wizards of the Coast decided to mostly stop publishing tie-in fiction. My goal with Cobalt Kingdoms is to create a new shared world. In other words, once the campaign setting is out, it will be open. Other writers and publishers will be able to create their own gaming products and fiction royalty free. If they follow the content guidelines and it’s of professional quality, their works can become recognized as canon.
The Puppy Dog Close
For those of you who have never done sales, the puppy dog close is where you basically beg the customer to buy the product you’ve been demoing. You say things like, “Hey, I really need this sale because I’m under my sales goal for the month, my boss is threatening to fire me, I have a kid at home and I really need to pay the rent. Whether that was actually true varied from salesperson to salesperson, but it is a remarkably effective closing technique.
So here’s my story. Three years ago I started my own small business in my hometown which happens to be seasonal. Covid has completely shut it down. In fact, there’s a very good chance it’s not going to reopen at this point. Our finances are not looking good. I have a wife and kids at home, including a five-year –old daughter, and an autistic stepson who is extremely low on the spectrum. Right now, writing is the only source of income I have, and because I’m a freelancer, it varies from month to month. This Patreon is my attempt to achieve a steady, regular income from the one thing I’m good at—writing. If you’re reading this and you can spare the cost of one cheeseburger a month in exchange for a regular dose of fantasy fiction, I would be forever grateful to you.
You can support Darrin Drader’s Rathorn Patreon here!
And, as always, you can support Owen K.C. Stephens’s Patreon here!