Monday, July 11, 2011

A brief interview with Elaine Cunningham

We recently had the exciting opportunity to pick the brain of one of fantasy literature's all-time greats; Elaine Cunningham!

GMK: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
 ec:   Someone once described me as having “eclectic curiosity.”  That works. I’m interested in a lot of things, most of them wildly impractical.  I’m a history geek--16th century Scotland is a particular obsession.  Once upon a time I was a classically trained soprano with a  degree in music education.  I still have the degree, I suppose, but my current musical preference is traditional folk music.   My favorite instrument these days is the Celtic harp, though I also play around a bit with Irish fiddle and tin whistle.  I’m fascinated by linguistics, folklore, mythology and more modern belief systems, the Scottish reign of James VI and I, the Matter of Britain, the mystery surrounding Tycho Brahe’s death, organic gardening, mead making, psychic phenomenon, and how recent advances in neuroscience are changing our understanding of how the brain works.  I’m a voracious reader and I make a great apple pie. I’m married to my high school sweetheart. We have two sons, a garden that needs more attention than it gets, and an eccentric Siamese cat.  

GMK: What was it like to make the transition from music teacher to author?
ec:  It wasn’t a direct transition.  I spent four years doing office work and taking classes, trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I was working toward an MBA when my first son was born. The idea of putting Andrew in daycare was heartbreaking, so my husband said, “You’re always reading. Why don’t you try writing?”  The idea had never occurred to me, but it felt right.  I started reading stacks of books on the craft of writing. I also approached writing the way musicians learn composition:  Analyze music to learn the rules and understand the structure.  I took books I admired and outlined them in detail. After a few of these, I began to understand the bones of a story.  I wrote several manuscripts and began to understand that theory and practice are, in writing as in art and music, two very different things.  My first book sale didn’t come until Andrew was three years old and his brother, Sean, was an infant.  Needless to say, I did most of my writing during naps, nights, and weekends.  

GMK: So shortly after you were published, you started living the  life of  Richard Castle, right? 
ec:  Of course!  Well, there are some minor differences.  I write fantasy novels, not murder mysteries, so instead of following a homicide detective around, I stalk dwarf warriors. You would not believe what I spend on ale on any given work day.

GMK: Can you tell us about your process?
ec:   I usually start with characters, then come up with a basic conflict and figure out their response, which in turn tells me more about the character, which suggests more plot complications.  Story planning is a very circular process, tied together with considerable amount of patchwork.  But it boils down to a few basic questions:  What does this person want, what is he willing to do to get it, and who/what stands in his way?  I  go through this process with the antagonist as well the protagonist, because a hero is only as interesting as the villains he faces.  Then I write a narrative outline to nail down the overall shape of the story.  Then comes the working outline—chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene.  Once I start writing, my inclination is to tinker endlessly, but that’s a terrible habit. I try to work straight through a rough draft, then revise.  The revised first draft goes to the editor, who suggests revisions that might be substantial or might, as with one book, consist of two typos. 

GMK: What is your ideal day off?
ec:   Assuming this ideal day takes place in Scotland, I’d start with an early morning walk along the Tweed, past the 15th century Needpath castle and up to the Roman ruins.  Lunch would be “haggis, neeps, and tatties” and a pint of Guinness at a pub in Peebles.  More exploring in the afternoon--visiting some historic sites, doing some research.  Traditional Celtic music in the evening.

GMK: I've heard a rumor that you're going to be moving on from writing stories set in the Forgotten Realms. True or false?
ec:  Not true.  The Serpent’s Daughter, a novel focusing on Azariah Craulnober, will be out in 2012 or thereabouts.

GMK: Are you currently involved in any gaming?
ec:  I’m not playing RPGs at present. It’s too difficult to find a group of geezer-gamers in the New England suburbs. We do a lot of family game nights, though, and we play Settlers of Catan several times a week.

GMK: Ever played any of the characters you've written about?
ec:  Not yet!

GMK: Who is your favorite and why?
ec:  Hmm. That’s like asking a parent to name their favorite child.  I appreciate Elaith’s complexity, Azariah’s devious intelligence, Danilo’s sense of humor, Liriel’s combination of fun-loving nature and single-minded intensity, and Arilyn and Honor’s devotion to the elven people.  But I’m just as fond of several other protagonists, a few villains, and many secondary characters.

GMK: What projects are on the horizon?
I’ve started a new and very different project:  a series of “e-riginal” fantasy novels in a world of my own creation.  The first, Honor Among Thieves, is available now at all the usual e-booksellers:, Barnes & Noble Nook Bookstore, iTunes, Smashwords, and so on.  I wrote the outline for this story years ago. Since it was planned as a novella, that’s how I wrote it.  It’s only 35,000 words, a little less than half the length of some of my Forgotten Realms books.  Honor Among Thieves is the first story in the Starsinger trilogy. The next two, Honor Bound and Word of Honor, will be novel-length stories.  In addition to the ebooks, I’m posting daily articles about the setting, Sevrin, on my author website,  The Prologue and first six chapters of Honor Among Thieves are also available on the website. 

GMK: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Elaine! 
ec:  My pleasure. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

PM 9; Inexorable Apparatus

Name: Inexorable Apparatus
Classes: Construct (16 HD)
Alignment: N
Size: Gargantuan
Appearance: This massive war machine thunders across the battlefield on two huge spike-covered metal cylinders, spitting fire and lightning from it's various weapons. Most ominously, a mighty throwing arm holds a single hunk of dark gray metal at the adamantine boulder, capable of blasting through stone as though it were stand.


STR 24 [+7]

Speed 50 feet
Initiative -2
BAB 12

AC 15
Flat Footed 15, Touch 4

HP 164
Hardness 10
SR 12

Fort 5
Ref 3
Will 0

Scorching Crossbow (4), +10 to hit Touch AC, 4d6 fire damage, range 60
Rate of fire - once per round

Lightning Ballista (2), 5d6 electricity damage, DC 14 Reflex save for half, 60 foot line
Rate of fire - once every 5 rounds

Main Catapult [Maximum range 1,250 feet. minimum range 125 feet, range increment 250 feet]
Returning Large Adamantine Stone - +12 to hit, ignores DR less than 20 14d6 damage to targeted square and all adjacent squares, DC15 Reflex save for half
Rate of fire - once every other round, though acquiring a new target takes an additional round
Special: Once every 10 rounds, the stone can be charged with necrotic energy. The next time it is fired, it animates all corpses within 60 feet of the impact zone as up to 20 HD worth of uncontrolled zombies. These zombies remain active for the next 10 rounds, after which time they fall inanimate once more.

Slam, +15 melee 2d8+10
Special: Trample (Ex)
An Inexorable Apparatus can trample creatures two or more sizes smaller than itself, dealing damage equal to it’s slam damage + 1½ times its Strength bonus. Opponents who do not make attacks of opportunity against the Apparatus can attempt Reflex saves (DC 25) to halve the damage.

Class/Racial/Extraordinary/Supernatural Abilities
Construct traits are as follows;

Low-light vision.
Darkvision out to 60 feet.
Immunity to all mind-affecting effects (charms, compulsions, phantasms, patterns, and morale effects).
Immunity to poison, sleep effects, paralysis, stunning, disease, death effects, and necromancy effects.
Cannot heal damage on their own, but often can be repaired by exposing them to a certain kind of effect (see the creature’s description for details) or through the use of the Craft Construct feat. A construct with the fast healing special quality still benefits from that quality.
Not subject to critical hits, nonlethal damage, ability damage, ability drain, fatigue, exhaustion, or energy drain.
Immunity to any effect that requires a Fortitude save (unless the effect also works on objects, or is harmless).
Not at risk of death from massive damage. Immediately destroyed when reduced to 0 hit points or less.
Since it was never alive, a construct cannot be raised or resurrected.
Constructs do not eat, sleep, or breathe.

Improved Toughness
Improved Natural Attack (Catapult)
Improved Natural Armor (x3)

Sense Motive - 7


Goramas' forces make use of many conventional siege engines, but none of them compare to the might of the Inexorable Apparatus. Designed by the Iron Baron himself, these machines are nearly invincible on the battlefield, providing long range support, siege capability, and cover for archers. The scorching crossbows are located at each corner of the 20 foot long base, and can swivel 360 degrees about. The ballistae are forward-facing, and cannot turn more than 90 degrees, which is the same range of motion possessed by the main catapult. The Apparatus has two modes.

The first is the transportation mode, which is how it spends most of it's time. There is enough room for six riders, and it is the only way that it is able to perform it's ram and trample attacks.

The second form is the siege configuration. It's wheels dig into the ground as it seems to unfurl lengthwise from either side, forming itself into a massive "T" shape. This ensures that the crossbows have full forward coverage, and provides cover (+4 AC) for up to 8 archers (4 on each side) who climb up the struts into position.

The Apparatuses are just intelligent enough to know friend from foe, though a convincing disguise (DC 15) might be enough to get up close. If attacked however, it will retaliate.

While it is certainly possible to attack indiscriminately, clever adventurers will probably want to focus on the individual weapons.
The scorching crossbows have 15 HP and 10 hardness. If removed (DC 20 Disable Device check while active, DC 10 while inert), they deactivate instantly, though a DC 15 Spellcraft check can permanently "trick" it into reactivating.
The lightning ballistae have 30 HP and 10 hardness. If removed (DC 20 Disable Device check while active, DC 10 while inert), they deactivate instantly, though a DC 15 Spellcraft check can permanently "trick" it into reactivating. It should be noted, however, that these weigh 500 lbs each, and so would prove very difficult for most adventurers to make regular use of.
The catapult has 60 HP and 10 hardness. (No you can't remove it. Yes I know you've got 20 ranks in Disable Device. No, that doesn't mean you can "jury rig it" with a dagger.)