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Love, Cayce—Marie Brennan

I am very much a gamer -- to the point where (I kid you not) when I was in graduate school, my field of study was role-playing games. (They even paid me a fellowship to do it!) It's one of my favorite hobbies.

And yet for all of that, I've played very little Dungeons & Dragons.

This is largely because I like games for their narrative aspects: character, plot, and so on. D&D, as game systems go, is more oriented toward killing monsters and taking their stuff. If I want to do that, I'm generally going to do it in a video game, where the machine will run all the numbers for me and leave me free to enjoy the hack-n-slash.

But I did play in two D&D games for a while -- or perhaps I should say, two Forgotten Realms games, as they were much more about the love-caycesetting, much less about the usual D&D dungeon-crawling. (Seriously, we sometimes went entire sessions where the only roll anybody made was to see if your character noticed someone checking him out.) In the first one, we played a group of adventurers bound together by fate to do Great Deeds . . . and in the second, we played those adventurers' kids.

"Love, Cayce" is not based directly on that game; the characters are different, and so is the story. But that is where the idea came from. We got kidnapped by Shar early on, and ended up in the Underdark somehow, and when we finally got a chance to breathe I wrote a letter home to my parents, apologizing for having vanished out from under their noses, and giving a rather alarming summary of what had happened since then. It got me to thinking about what it would be like to live in a world like the Forgotten Realms -- and, more to the point, what it would be like to have kids there. I mean, being an adventurer is crazy enough: getting hauled off to other planes of existence, dying and being resurrected, all the rest of the insane stuff that's a day in the life of a D&D player-character. But what happens when it's your daughter doing those things? And then writing home to tell you all about it?

And you thought sending them off to college was bad.

The opening line wandered into my head, and then I had no choice but to write the story and find out just what had caused one or more people to be dead in the first place. Not to mention how they got not-dead afterward. Figuring out how to manage the story through letters was the hard part, especially once it became clear that it would be divided up into several missives. Soon I was having to wrangle two narrative timelines, one telling the parents about what had happened between the send-off at the Rose and Crown and people dying, and the other following ongoing events. But once I settled into the style of the thing, it was a sheer blast to write, with me constantly looking for ways to make the events more outrageous.

In fact, I enjoyed it enough that I kind of want to write a sequel story. The ending certainly leaves space for one. And I even have an opening line:

Dear Cayce,

I know you're tired of receiving Well-Intentioned Parental Advice, but there are a few things every young woman should know before she goes to Hell.

I want to know what happens at the wedding -- and the only way to find out is to write the story.

-- Marie Brennan

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September 2011

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