Monday, January 16, 2017

Bows in Dungeons and Dragons

Hello Readers,

Sorry I haven't been around in a while. What have I been up to? Writing. And playing Dungeons and Dragons. 

On writing: Book four is coming along very well. Still months away... but it is coming.

On D+D: Our group is on its third year together and it is going great. The campaign is based on the world of my novels, set 300 years after the events of the (not yet published) fifth novel. 

I recently saw a post on the Facebook Dungeons and Dragons 5e forum asking if a longbow could be shot from horseback. 

There were a lot of replies. Some were good. Some were bad. Clearly there was a lot of confusion about bows and archery. I thought that I'd take the time to write a short post about bows and clear up some of the confusion. 

I became interested in archery and bowmaking (bowyering) while writing my first fantasy novel over ten years ago. The research I did motivated me to make my own bows and it is a still a hobby of mine today. (Besides being a bowyer, I also wrote and taught a course in Military History. I also [used to be] a very active historical miniatures wargamer.)

Hadde the Landomeri wielding a heavy recurved composite short bow. Did you notice that she's using a thumb draw and that the arrow is on the right side of the bow? This is a horse-archer's draw. Most European cultures used a three finger Mediterranean draw and placed the arrow on the left side of the bow. Do you need this level of detail in your D+D adventures? Nope.

What does the D+D Player's Handbook have to say about bows?

There is a "shortbow." It is a "simple ranged weapon." It costs 25gp, does d6 piercing damage, and has a maximum short range of 80 feet and a maximum long range of 320 feet. 

There is a "longbow." It is a "martial ranged weapon."  It costs 50gp, does d8 piercing damage, and has a maximum short range of 150 feet and a maximum long range of 600 feet. 

What is wrong with the D+D bow? Nothing, and everything. 

How can it be both?

Well, nothing is wrong with the way D+D archery works if you want super-simplified archery. Is that ok? Absolutely! How much complexity do you want in your game? How slow and complicated do you want each round of combat to be? It is a fantasy role-playing game after all. It isn't a complex military simulation. 

However... with just a few changes, we can make bows in D+D much more interesting and realistic.

Let's talk about bows for just a few moments. The simplest form of bow is the "self bow." A self bow is made from a single piece of wood - and a string. That's it. Nothing fancy. How long is a self bow stave? It could be very short - just a few feet long - or up to seven feet long. A self bow can be a "shortbow" or a "longbow."

So what's the difference? Draw weight and draw length. A very short self bow cannot have either the same draw weight or draw length as a long self bow. What do draw weight and draw length do? Draw weight (the pounds of force needed to draw the bow to full draw) imparts greater initial velocity to the arrow. Draw length allows the arrow to be on the string longer - allowing for a longer period of acceleration imparted by the string. 

It is (basically) the thickness of the bowstave that gives greater draw weight. Why can't a short self bow have the same draw weight as a long self bow? Because a short, thick stave will break instead of bending. 

How should this affect the game? Well, self-bows come in many flavors. I'd propose three categories of self bow.

Light Self Bow (short or long): cost 20gp, d4 piercing damage, range 40/160, no minimum strength to use. (Less than 40 pounds real world draw weight.)

Medium Self Bow (long): cost 25gp, d6 piercing damage, range 80/320, minimum strength 10 to use. (40 to 80lbs real world draw weight). 

Heavy Self Bow (long): cost 30gp, d8 piercing damage, range 150/600, minimum strength 14 to use. (Greater than 80lbs draw weight). 

Personally, I'd allow for Warbows of >100 lbs draw weight to do +1 or more damage for exceptionally strong archers. 

Why are the costs so close? Speaking from experience, there is little difference in the effort to make a "light" self bow compared to the effort to make a "heavy" self bow. The tools and materials are identical. It is, however, more challenging to manufacture the heavy bow and there should be some higher cost involved.

The above image is of my @4' tall daughter shooting a light (short) self bow I made for her. The draw weight is under 20 pounds. It is so light I'd only let it do 1-2 points of D+D damage. [Halloween a few years ago.]

The  above image is of me shooting a medium weight (long) self bow I made. It is a 6'6" English longbow (Ash wood) that draws 50#. [The Red Knight's Deed of Arms - @4 years ago.]

Can you shoot a longbow from horseback? No! At least not at full draw. The draw length and size of the bow make it extremely difficult to draw and loose an arrow from horseback. It isn't (and wasn't in history) effective. English mounted longbowmen rode their horses to battle, but dismounted to fight. 

But I saw a guy do it on Youtube. Yeah, I saw the video. He isn't drawing the bow anything close to full draw. Look, it's your D+D campaign. If you want longbow horse archery, haflings to wear human sized plate, and for characters to eat mud pies for sustenance... go right ahead. Longbow horse archery isn't a thing.

What about Japanese Yumi longbows? Yes, the Japanese practiced longbow archery from horseback. However, a Yumi bow is held 1/3 of the way from the bottom - not half way like you would an English longbow. If your D+D culture allows for Yumi bows, go ahead and allow them. However, make sure they aren't allowed to be used inside. The bow tip will hit the ceiling. Look how high above my head the tip of the English longbow rises. The Yumi bow would be even higher. 

What about heavier short bows? Didn't the Mongols use very powerful bows? Didn't they shoot them from horseback?

You can make a very short bow very powerful. How do you do that? 

1) You can make a recurved bow. Using dry heat, steam, boiling, or by adding glued on siyahs, you can curve the tips of a bow forward. This makes the bow more efficient and adds velocity to the arrow being loosed. However... this can also stress the bow and can require the following at heavy draw weights....

2) You can add animal sinew to the "back" (forward facing) part of the bowstave. The flexible sinew stretches as the bow is drawn, adding greater draw weight to the bow. It also allows a short bow to be drawn much further without breaking the bow. The glued on sinew actually holds the bow together. 

3) You can add horn to the belly (the part that faces the archer) of the bow. Horn resists compression and adds draw weight to the bow. (There are some bows - some extremely short - that were made entirely from horn.)

By doing all of the above you have manufactured a composite bow. 

The above image shows the glued on siyahs on an unfinished bow I am currently working on. I will eventually add sinew and the bow should come in at a 65 pound draw weight. 

Great! I want a really short, really powerful bow! What's the problem?
Well, your really short, really powerful bow is going to be very expensive. Bending the tips/adding siyahs, gluing on sinew, and gluing on horn is very difficult and very time consuming. 

I'd propose the following:

Medium Composite Bow (short, sinew backed wood): cost 100gp, d6 piercing damage, range 80/320, minimum strength 10 to use. (40 to 80lbs real world draw weight). 

Heavy Composite Bow (short, sinew-wood-horn): cost 150gp, d8 piercing damage, range 150/600, minimum strength 14 to use. (Greater than 80lbs draw weight). 

Again, I'd allow for a super heavy composite. 

What about a composite longbow? Can't I make a SUPER powerful bow for my characters with 20 points in strength? Sorry, adding sinew and horn to a longbow just doesn't work. The added mass slows down the tips of the bow and you lose arrow velocity. 

In the above image I am shooting a Skythian composite short bow. [The bow is pretending to be a Turkish bow at this event.] The bow draws 50# - the same weight as the longbow above. However, due to superior construction, the bow looses an arrow at a much higher velocity. Note the size difference between the two bows. This bow is made for horse archery. It's small size allows for amazing trick shots and versatility of use. 

This image shows me ATTEMPTING to draw a Korean composite bow to full draw. The draw weight of this bow is 85 pounds at 28" draw length! It is a proper war-strength bow. At 33" this bow draws over 100 pounds!  It is the same size as both the Skythian bow in the picture above it and the self bow I made for my daughter. This bow was an extremely generous gift given to me by a reader - Chris Verwijmeren.

What about proficiency rules?
I'd make all of the medium and light bows "simple ranged weapons" and all of the heavy bows "martial" ranged weapons. Why? Because there's more to drawing and loosing a heavy bow than just pure strength. There is a lot of technique required as well. 

Do you need to do any of the above? NOPE! It's just what we do in our campaign. Hopefully it was informative and helpful for you. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

Further reading - I blogged about Archery Writing Don'ts a while ago. It might add some more realism to your campaign. (Or it will just be a buzzkill when you realize just how unrealistic some of the things you've been doing are.)

All my best,


Saturday, April 2, 2016

On Writing Goals

My dad works hard. Really, really hard.

He worked hard as a student. (Ha, ha, that part isn't true. He wasn't a very good student.)

He worked hard for his father doing construction work.

He worked hard as a baseball player.

He worked hard as a teacher.

He worked hard as a coach. (He's in the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame as a wrestling coach.)

And when he left teaching to become a financial planner... you guessed it... he worked hard.

When he made that switch (from teacher to financial planner), it was a REALLY big move. He was going from something very safe and secure to a job where his family would depend on his production alone. His income would be entirely based on sales.

My father read a lot of books to prepare him for this transition. Many of these books were self-help and motivational business books. I was only fifteen at the time, but my father would pass some of these books on to me and I would read them.

One of these books was Rhinoceros Success, by Scott Alexander.

In Rhinoceros Success, Alexander teaches you to charge after your goals like... you guessed it... a rhinoceros.

The book is cheesy. Parts of it are silly. There are religious elements to it.

When I was in ninth grade I loved it.

One of the best elements of the book was the lesson in goal-setting. Alexander tells you to write your goals on a 3x5 card (one goal per card) and place them on the night stand next to your bed. You write your goals as if they have already been accomplished and every night and every morning the first and last thing you do is to read your goals and visualize them.

The visualization part is really important. You have to picture yourself already accomplishing your goal. So I did it. I wrote a goal out and put it by my bed and started visualizing success.

I had just finished reading the book, so only had one week to visualize my goal before the first track meet of the season. It was the spring of my ninth grade year at Unami Junior High School. I decided that my goal was to break the 5 minute barrier in the mile run (1600 meters for you modern types).

To make my visualizations more specific, I wrote out my quarter mile splits for the four laps.


And what happened when race day arrived?

First quarter - hit my split.
Second quarter - one second slow.
Third quarter - one second fast.
Fourth quarter - well, check out what my dad wrote in the bottom corner of my goal card...

I hit my goal on the nose. I ran 4:54 and broke the school record for the mile! Here I am doing it...

By the end of of the season I'd run a 4:45 mile and took second place in the league championships!

Why am I sharing this with you? Because it's time for me to become more goal oriented with my writing. If I want to be a successful author, I need to first define what success is, and then I need to set the goals to make it happen.

Wanting to be successful is different from doing the things necessary to make it happen.

Signing off. I need to get a 3x5 card.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Promo Campaign

Today is day one of something I've never attempted before: a promotional campaign!

Last month (as most of you already know), I released Shadow of the Knight, the third novel in my epic fantasy series The Orb. Now it's time to kick the tires and light the fires and get this series airborne. 

For the next week books one and two (Eternal Knight and Child of the Knight) will be on sale for $.99. 

I have the following promoters lined up:

Today: me. Blog post, Facebook post, tweet.
Sunday: Book Barbarian (uh oh, Superbowl Sunday! Hope it doesn't burn me.)
Monday: Bargain Booksy
Tuesday: Ereader News Today
Wednesday: Books Butterfly
Thursday: BKnights
Friday: Open
Saturday: Open
Monday: Robin Reads

Hopefully the campaign will raise the visibility of The Orb and generate a lot of excitement for my novels. I'm very proud of my novels, and very happy with how they've done, but a guy can dream, can't he?

If you've enjoyed my novels please take a moment to let others know about the promotion. The $.99 price for the first two novels will only last for a week. And don't forget to review. Reviews are hugely helpful!

Here's a little bonus for you loyal blog readers... the original artwork for book four:

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

And off we go!

Well, I made it! Shadow of the Knight was published in 2015! Late in 2015...but still in 2015.

The ebook went live yesterday, but I didn't start screaming it from the hilltops because I wanted to make certain that it was glitch free. I also wanted to wait until the paperback was available.

All of my books are currently only available on If you want to know why, just check out this post I recently wrote.

It's impossible for me to judge my own work, but my beta-readers think this is the best book in the series so far. I hope you agree with them.

And look at that artwork! Dallas Williams did a great job.

Please consider leaving a review on Amazon. It makes a big difference. I'd also love to hear from you, so shoot me a message or post a comment below.



Saturday, December 19, 2015

Final Countdown

Well, just days to go before I push the send button and Shadow of the Knight goes live.

Here's a look at the full cover...

Today's the day for final edits and proofreading. It will be a marathon, but hopefully, by late this evening, I'll have the final manuscript ready to go. I'll hold off for a couple of days as I have a couple of Advanced Reader Copies out there and would like to hear back from the readers before I publish.

I have high hopes for this book. So far everyone who has read it has said that it's their favorite book yet.

This is a short post, but I have to get back to work!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

On Going Exclusive

Before I get to the main topic of this post, I thought I'd share the new Child of the Knight cover with you...

The artist, Dallas Williams, once again did a standout job creating this cover. Next post I'll reveal the Shadow of the Knight cover.

Now on to the main topic of this post... going exclusive.

A few weeks ago I made the decision to exclusively distribute my books through Now I know that Amazon brings out very strong (and mixed) emotions in people. For me, as an independent author, Amazon has been an incredible, positive force. I'll go as far as to say that I wouldn't be an author without Amazon.

It was Amazon that happily opened their doors to the independent author, democratizing the publishing process and allowing a whole new legion of writers to become published authors. With the gatekeepers bypassed, anyone who wanted to could publish their work. Now, to be honest, some of that work was awful. And the market place punished those authors. However, some of the work (passed over by agents and publishers) turned out to be wonderful. And the market rewarded them.

Having said this, I didn't go exclusive in order to reward Amazon for the opportunity they provided me. I'm doing it as a business decision.

By going exclusive my ebooks are now available to people who have signed up for the Kindle Unlimited program. It's a program that allows subscribers who pay $10 a month to borrow unlimited numbers of books enrolled in the KU program. I get paid for each of those borrowed books.

More importantly, each of those borrows counts as a sale towards my Amazon rankings. And this is REALLY important. Just as with any other best seller list, being higher on the list gets you noticed, and when you get noticed, your books are more likely to get purchased.

If you're really lucky, you become so big people start buying your book just because other people are buying your book.

There's a second benefit to going exclusive. By concentrating all of my sales in one market, I further push my way up the Amazon rankings. If people split their purchases of my books between Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and others, I gain little traction in each of those markets. By focusing all of my sales in one market (the biggest bookseller in the world) I further boost my visibility.

Do I fear that I'll lose sales because I'm not in the other markets? Not particularly. Just about any device can load a Kindle app, allowing people to shop for my books on Amazon. If you really want a Matt Heppe book, you'll be able to get one.

Will I stay exclusive? I'll give the economist's answer: it depends. The more successful I become the less likely it is that I'll stay exclusive. If I'm generating enough sales to sustain myself on the top 100 lists for my sub-genres, I'll "go wide." Until then I imagine I'll stay with Amazon.

Enough business talk. There's more editing to be done on Shadow of the Knight. I'm also deep into the outlining of book four, The Dromost Gate.

See you soon,


Monday, October 5, 2015

Getting Close

Hi Folks!

Making great progress lately. I just delivered Shadow of the Knight to my second round editors and can't wait to hear back from them. Part of the process involved me reading through the novel in one sweep. It was a great feeling to read it as one unified work instead of bits and pieces.

Here's a little treat for you... I went out and found an artist to do new covers for all three novels: Eternal Knight, Child of the Knight, and Shadow of the Knight. 

The new Eternal Knight cover....

The artist, Dallas Williams, did a wonderful job. He was great to work with and I love his work. As you might have recognized, this cover is the opening scene of Eternal Knight. Hadde is about to go into battle against the raiding varcolac as they head for Long Meadow.

I'll share the other covers with you as we get closer to publication. Barring any delays, I'm looking at a holiday release.

Really getting psyched. Getting close now!



Monday, August 24, 2015

More Shadow of the Knight Progress

Hello All!

I know it's been a while since I've written. Everything seems to slow down during the summer. Well, not everything... just writing.

I'm not very good at deadlines. Clearly. More accurately, I'm not very good at predicting progress. If I had real, actual deadlines forced on my by others, I'd probably make more progress.

Procrastination has always been an issue for me.

The good news is that progress is being made. I've done a lot of editing and rewriting of the last few chapters of Shadow of the Knight and I am very close to the finish line. Days away.

What still needs to be done?

1) I need to get this version into the hands of my second round of critique partners.
2) I need to get the next version into the hands of my beta readers.
3) I need to get the final version into the hands of my proofreaders.

How long will this take? I might have mentioned my inability to predict progress above! However, steps two and three are relatively fast.

Here's my goal. I will publish Shadow of the Knight by December 15th. 

I have high hopes for Shadow. Two big reasons...

1) It is the third book in a series. This generally bodes very well for novels.
2) I have AWESOME new covers for all three books. REALLY AWESOME. You'll see.

Anyway, the closer I get to the finish line, the more you'll hear from me.

See you soon!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Shadow of the Knight progress

Hi All,

I know I haven't written a post lately, but I've been very busy. Time I spend blogging is time I don't spend writing, and I've been doing a lot of writing lately. (Well, there's been some D+D playing in there as well, but that will wait for another blog).

Mike Shultz (my critique partner) and I have been hard at work on the manuscript of Shadow of the Knight. (My friend, Kemp Brinson, has also given a helpful hand with the first several chapters.)

I cannot stress enough how important it is go have a good critique partner, and Mike is a great one. So far we've...

1) Revamped a very rough chapter one. In Shadow of the Knight I am introducing a new major character, a new part of the world, a new culture, and a new magic system. This all appears in chapter one. It's a lot to get across to the reader without pulling a massive info-dump. After a lot of work, chapter one is in great shape.

2) Mike helped me re-arrange the chapter sequence to make the story flow better. This was done in two different points in the novel.

3) We found a way to tie two major plot elements together, instead of leaving them as separate story lines.

4) We took out a scene that very little tension and gave it a lot more zip. It also makes a lot more sense now.

I'm about 50% finished my edits based on Mike's critique. It will take me another week or so to finish it up. After that the novel goes to my beta-readers for another round of refining before a final proofread. I'd hoped for an early June release, but that probably won't happen. I'm looking at early July right now, and it seems like a solid bet.

Right now Shadow of the Knight is sitting at 142,000 words. Eternal Knight was 115,000 words and Child of the Knight weighed in at 117,000 words when they went to press. I don't think Shadow will lose much weight at this point.

As a final note, all three of my novels will be getting new covers. Here's a sneak peek at the rough draft of the Shadow of the Knight cover:

 I'm extremely excited about the new covers. I'll reveal them all in the weeks before publication!

All my best,


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Thank you, Ann

I went to a funeral today. It was the funeral of someone who has had a huge impact on my life. A bigger impact than maybe even she knew.

By 2003 I had finished writing the first draft of Eternal Knight. It was a monstrous 250,000 word manuscript. I had no idea what to do with it. I'd written the novel "in the blind," with no advice or support. I'd just wanted to write a novel.

From time to time I would mention my writing hobby to my students (mostly 9th graders taking Western Civilization). One day I brought up my book and one of my students said, "Mr. Heppe, Claire's mother is an author. She writes romance novels."

I turned to Claire and asked her if it was true. (For some reason, I thought the kids were pulling my leg.) Claire pointed me to her mother's website. There she was... not as Ann Emery, but as Ann Lawrence, her pseudonym.

I asked Claire if I could meet her mother and talk to her about writing. It didn't matter that she was a romance author, I just wanted to learn more about writing and getting published. I really had no clue and needed some help.

It took a little while to arrange, but a few months later I found myself sitting with Ann at her dining room table, talking about writing. I remember that day very clearly. Ann fed me angel food cake and tea and talked to me about writing, agents, and the publishing industry. It was eye-opening and informative. Ann was a wonderful host.

I'd brought a few chapters of  Eternal Knight with me, and Ann graciously offered to critique them. I was both excited and terrified by the offer. Nobody had ever seen a single word of my 250,000 word novel. I gave Ann the chapters, thanked her for her hospitality, and went home.

I then spent three weeks gnawing my fingernails. I'd put thirteen years of time into my manuscript. It wasn't an easy thirteen years, either. I had constantly started and stopped, losing faith in myself, and then being drawn back to the story again. That manuscript was filled with a lot of hours of work, hopes, and dreams.

Ann called me and invited me back again. She'd finished my chapters. When I arrived I saw more cake, more tea, and my chapters sitting on the dining room table. My eyes were immediately drawn to the first page of my novel.

There was more red ink on that page than I'd ever seen on a single piece of paper.

My heart sank.

After pouring some tea into me and stuffing some cake down my throat, Ann told me two things. She told me that my storytelling was very good. She also told me that my writing needed help. We then spent an hour going over every line of those first chapters in detail. It was an amazing experience. I learned more about writing fiction in that hour than I'd learned my entire life.

Before I left, Ann invited me to join her critique group.

"Of course!" I replied.

"What's a critique group?" I asked.

Apparently it was a group of four romance authors who would meet at Ann's house twice a month to exchange chapters and critiques of their work. Ann warned me that I'd be reading a lot of romance and would be expected to give helpful and honest critiques of the writing. In return, the other authors would read my monstrous epic fantasy and do the same for me.

The following months transformed me as a writer. It was Writing Boot Camp. There were four members of the group, and they each played a part reshaping my writng.

Sally (the Knife) Stotter: She'd send my work back with big red X marks over paragraphs (and sometimes entire pages). She took my 250,000 word beast and turned it into a svelte 115,000 word novel. Sometimes less is more.

Lena (the Queen of Grammar) Pinto: Grammar is still, obviously, not my strong suit. However, under Lena's tutelage, I made huge progress.

Lisa (the Sniper) Hollis McCulley: Lisa had a way of finding just right word and putting it just the right place. She commented less than any of the others, but when she did, her aim was dead on.

Ann (the Master) Emery: Ann was always right. I just accepted it. Sometimes she was stern, and sometimes she was funny, but she was always right. Ann had a wonderful eye for story and language. Her comments, suggestions, and criticism not only improved my book, but they taught me valuable lessons about writing and editing.

I have incredibly find memories of sitting around Ann's dining room table, eating cookies (and pizza, and lasagna, and pastries), and having my novel (and myself) transformed. I owe Ann, and the entire critique group, a debt of gratitude I can never repay. 

Even after I had left the critique group to pursue publication, Ann was willing to help me. Despite her illness, she found time to critique and edit my second novel. When I last saw her, she was so happy and enthusiastic it is hard for me to imagine how ill she really was.

Just a month ago, having finished the rough draft of my third novel, I was thinking I should give Ann a call. I would never consider publishing a novel without first seeking her advice.

Unfortunately, before I had the chance to make the call, I learned of Ann's death. The news was crushing. Ann had an enormous impact on me.

I don't know how to finish this. I'll just leave it at this...

Thank you, Ann. I'll miss you. I'll always remember you.