Categorized | Blogs

Narrative Taxes by Gabriel Hatcher

Posted on December 6, 2022 by Flames

With the recent release of Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen the Dragonlance campaign setting was unlocked for community content creators over at Community content creators have already launched some really great supplements helping D&D fans around the world explore Krynn and all of its mysteries.

Gabriel Hatcher, author of Astinus’ Ledger of Unknowns, stopped by to tell us a bit about what it is like writing a new Dragonlance supplement and bit about the thought process that went into this new project.

Narrative Taxes

    Astinus Ledger CoverLearning how to play 5e, or any roleplaying game for that matter, is sort of like doing your taxes. Not only do you have to understand your own little world, but as a DM, and sometimes even as a player, you need to filter that world through complicated and overlapping sets of rules. Whose turn is it, what actions can they take, what order do these actions happen in, are there local customs that prevent street-fighting, etc. This is compounded by the sheer mass of creative energy it takes to upkeep an imaginary fantasy world. NPCs, items, monsters, history, locations, it all stacks up quick, which is of course where supplements like mine come in. 

    With the first two supplements that I wrote, I leaned heavily into the less is more mentality of creation. I tried to keep fluff text to a minimum, wrote descriptions that were practical and short, and just generally eschewed flavor. Part of this was a result of getting my feet under me in writing a supplement in general. I come from a fiction background and I have years of experience creating D&D campaigns, but all of that translates a little differently when setting mechanics into a book. I think both of my first two supplements turned out well, and I would stand by the mechanics inside, but they’re rule books, forms designed to make tax day that much easier. They aren’t gorgeous, and more than that they aren’t really meant to be. I wrote them to accomplish a task and provide value, and they do. 

    When I started on Astinus’ Ledger of Unknowns, I knew two things: it was going to be based in Krynn, and I didn’t have nearly as much time as I wanted. I had recently finished my book of curses, Strangely Changed, and knew I would be a fool not to throw out a supplement for Dragonlance’s entry into 5e, a universe I hold near and dear. But that presented a problem: launch day was closing in, and I didn’t even know what I was writing about yet. So without thinking about how I’d actually get it done in time, I began throwing ideas against the wall. 

    After about a week, I had gotten together a fairly vague idea: items! I would make a compendium of items for every aspect of life in Krynn. When DM’s wanted any item they couldn’t find in generic D&D they would read my work and pick out exactly what they needed. I segmented this idea into parts: trinkets, magical items, general items, and artifacts. Without giving it too much thought, I threw together an outline and got to work. 

    After a few days I presented my mockup to my resident Krynn expert, who… tore it apart. They hated what I had done not because they disliked the ideas, but because I had flown too close to the sun. My items were too popular and either already had existing rules that could conflict or would definitely have future rules that would conflict with my own. It was at this time that I considered giving up on the idea entirely. I was exhausted (I had given myself no breaks between this and the last two publications), uninspired, and beginning to sense I should just let this one go. Even so, I had already set up a rough draft of trinkets that I really liked, and I wasn’t quite ready to call it quits. The first thing I did was scrap a ton of items, taking any of the usable drafts and piling them in a sad little section of my work to hopefully be saved. Then I started to think. What gave this work purpose? Meaning? Value? I might be able to vomit up enough mechanics to satisfy a few buyers, but it would be ugly work, and I would come out with an ugly product. 

    And that’s when I got a fantastic idea. The entire time I had been working on this particular project I had been down in the mechanical weeds, creating items that fit culturally into Krynn, mechanically into 5e, and practically into such a magically constricted world. But not once had I thought about the artistic value of the piece itself. I was so worried about finishing the project that I had barely thought about if it was worth finishing. So I took a step back, and I analyzed what I wanted from the project. What did I like about Krynn? What did I want to write about? Could that coincide with the items I had already made?

    I happen to be a huge fan of experimental literature. I love the desire to push the boundaries of narrative art. For a few years I have been (and still am) obsessed with finding an even deeper and greater form of experimental writing, one that transcends narrative in new ways. I’ve researched experimentalism across history, and even gone so far as to build a hierarchy of experimental value and structure, attempting to predict its next evolution. Now you may not even know what I am talking about, but it actually isn’t super complicated. Experimental literature has been around for a long while, and has recently grown quite a bit in popularity. Chances are you’ve even read something a little experimental without knowing it. Books like Infinite Jest, House of Leaves, and S. have all brought experimentalism in writing into the public eye. These books will do things like writing in the margins of the book (ergodic literature), having multiple narrators, flipping norms of narrative on their heads, and even can be as simple as talking to the audience with meta-commentary. Simply put, experimental fiction is anything that breaks the bounds of the expected in narrative or the form of a written book. 

    But where does that fit in with my work? Well, as I said, I’ve always been fascinated with these ideas and techniques, and I’ve wanted for years to employ them in my writing. And here I thought of a way to do so that was not too intrusive and fit very well aesthetically with the world of Krynn. So Astinus’ Ledger was born, a fun mimicry of towering tomes of experimentalism. Building on the legend of the scribe Astinus from Krynn’s lore, I wove a tale of a lost accounting of the world’s great secrets. I knew from starting this process I wanted a secondary narrator, and while it took a bit to find they’re voice, I eventually settled on this skittish, fearful laborer, who dreams of being a great scholar and scribe like Astinus is. Having found the book, they bring it back home and even though the name on the cover is destroyed, they immediately assume it must come straight from Astinus himself. 

    I began piecing together little tid bits and pieces of their ideas and their story into the margins of the book. I tailored the items to become more and more mysterious as the book goes on, ending in a section of complete mystery. This section has no real mechanics to speak of, but it is set up to provide story hooks for those looking to write their own adventures in Krynn. I thought for a while about really going in deep with the mystery and the notes, creating a grand puzzle for readers to solve. But at the end of the day, that isn’t what people are reading for. So I kept it simple, adding in little pieces of ergodic writing, and some secondary narration. It turned out as more of a homage to experimentalism than true experimental fiction itself, but I think it’s given me a lot of excitement to try other little tidbits of experimental work in upcoming releases for 5e. And, of course, whenever I get around to writing another full length novel, I expect some form of experimentalism to be heavily involved.  

    This isn’t really a call for more people to be experimental with their D&D supplements. One of the foundations of a good supplement is readability and clarity, which flies directly in the face of most literary experimentalism. But I guess it’s a reminder to all of those writers out there to write what they want to write. Part of what makes a writer great is subverting expectations and innovating your work to be even better than what people expect. Even something as simple as a 30-page supplement can leave people with that unique feeling only good stories can give. 

    By the end, I came away with a tidy little book. It’s not groundbreaking, but unlike my previous works, it is art in its way. It’s nicely illustrated, and a bit crowded so as to make you as claustrophobic as my narrator is. The story will make some smile, some laugh (hopefully), and probably leave a few disappointed, but I guess that’s sort of the point. People buying the book are doing their 5e taxes, feeding the machine of creativity that is D&D, but I wanted to leave people with a little sense of the real Krynn. Krynn isn’t a set of mechanics; it’s dire tension and heartache, intrigue and horror, all ending in a cozy tavern and a warm feeling. Krynn is the hero we all want to be coming back to our very human level at every turn. I think Astinus’ Ledger of Unknowns will make people feel a little bit of that, (plus provide them with a ton of amazing items!) and I accomplished it in a way that let me create what I enjoy. Thanks for reading.

    Gabriel Hatcher

    About the Author:

    Gabriel Hatcher is an author and editor currently working on RPG supplements and small works of fiction. Gabriel lives in Pennsylvania and am happily married with one son. You can check out some of Gabriel’s recent work on

    Tags | ,

    Print This Post

    Leave a Reply

    Email Newsletter Sign Up

    Click Here to Sign Up for's Weekly Newsletter.

    You will receive horror and dark fantasy updates, news, and more once a week!

    11 Tales of Ghostly Horror

      Reviews Wanted!

      The new Review Guidelines have been posted on the Flames Rising website. We are currently seeking a few good reviewers to help us expand our collection of horror and dark fantasy reviews. RPGs, fiction, movies, video games and more are all welcome on the site...

      What do you get out of it?

      Beyond helping out fellow Flames Rising readers by letting them know what you think of these products, we're giving away some pretty cool stuff. Regular Reviewers can earn free products to review, which is their to keep after the review is submitted to the site.

      Note: We are especially looking for folks interested in reviewing eBooks (both Fiction & Comics). We have lots of great titles in digital format and even get advance copies sometimes.

      Use the Contact Page to submit reviews or let us know if you have any questions.

      The Devil’s Night WoD SAS

      Free Devil's Night | White Wolf