R.A. Salvatore is an author of over forty books as well as graphic novels, comic books, video game stories, as well as a self-confessed Dungeons & Dragons player and DM. Involved with several game titles over the years, both video and tabletop, he’s also a player of PC RPGs and MMOs. With a few things coming up, including the third entry into the Neverwinter books, Charon’s Claw, and Crpytic’s Neverwinter, I got the chance to interview R.A. Salvatore while he was prepping for his upcoming book tour that starts this week. After a few technical difficulties, between my audio recorder not working and his internet bugging out, I was finally able to interview R.A. Salvatore about his new book in the Neverwinter Saga, Charon’s Claw as well as some questions about gaming.
DHGF Ashe: Thanks for taking the time out of your day for the interview. We really appreciate it. I thought I’d start off with some gaming questions before we get into book questions if that’s ok.
R.A. SALVATORE: Sure
DHGF: You and I had talked last year about Kingdoms of Amalur, and I really enjoyed Reckoning, and I realize you weren’t too involved at 38 Studios towards the end, but what are your thoughts on the game and was there anything from the lore of that time period Reckoning was set in that didn’t make it that you would have liked to have seen?
RAS: Not from that time period, no. a lot of the lore in that game was created for that time period. I think the one thing I would have liked to have seen was, well we had an argument going back and forth, in a good way, a creative argument. We were kind of riffing off each other where to me the whole concept of fate that was presented in that game, was it really fate, or was fate being used as the opiate of the masses so that people in power and comfort could keep their power and comfort. And I really wish the game had explored that a little more deeply. But they were on tough time constraints and I loved the game so I’m trying not to be critical because I really did love the game.
The thing that kills me about Amalur is that is a very tiny, tiny slice of one tiny part of the world. And the meta-story for that world, the creation myths and all that I think is really cool, and I can’t ever touch it again since it’s buried in bankruptcy court. So that’s heart-breaking to me.
DHGF: We’d talked about games you played last year and you mentioned World of Warcraft and that you were shopping around for a new MMO and were interested in Star Wars The Old Republic. Had you gotten a chance to sit down with it or any other games and what’d you think?
RAS: I played The Old Republic for about three months, and it seemed very World of Warcraft to me in space, and to me, quite honestly, I just didn’t have time for an MMO. So I went to Reckoning when that came out, I’ve seen a little of Diablo III but I haven’t gotten into it yet. Too much has been going on between my schedule for writing and some personal family health issues, I just decided that this just wasn’t a good time to get immersed in a game so I took a little break. Then softball started with my softball team here in town, then I had another deadline coming up, another book tour coming up. I’ll be going back in September, back to gaming. Guild Wars is coming out, I definitely want to check that out, and I want to watch the update on World of Warcraft. Plus I’ve had a whole bunch of people tell me about this whole Project 1999 thing which is like an original Everquest type thing.
DHGF: Basically the original Everquest with a few tweaks?
RAS: Yeah I don’t know if it’s official or pirate, I’ll have to find that out. Or if it’s sanctioned or Sony doesn’t care because I don’t want to go into the pirate realm so to speak. But I like the idea of playing original Everquest, although I’ll probably hate it once I start playing because of the time lapses and stuff. That still remains my favorite game.
DHGF: Cryptic Studio’s Neverwinter game is looking like it’s on track for year end release. Did they get you involved to fine tune a few things, or have you change anything in the latest book coming out since it’s closer to release now?
RAS: No, no on the latter part, I mean. My work with that, really Gauntlgrym and Neverwinter were much more involved in where the game was gonna go, you know in setting up the area for the game. But they, actually someone at Cryptic, just reached out to me today and was asking, you know, if I’d be willing to go into a quest or do something with it, and I don’t know how official that was because it wasn’t a person in power, it was a friend of mine who’s got a job there. But all that stuff would have to go through Wizards of the Coast and it’s funny because that game had actually fallen off my radar. Cryptic had gotten sold to Perfect World, and all that stuff going on, and I was so involved with 38 Studios. And then E3 came around this year and I’ve gotten so many e-mails from people and texts from people who were at E3 telling me, ‘Oh my God, this game is really good.’ And then all of a sudden it’s on everyone’s radar again and now I can’t wait because if it’s like what I’m hearing, I can’t wait to play it.
DHGF: You run and play tabletop games on a regular basis and wrote up a Forgotten Realms adventure, The Accursed Tower, any chance we might see another module or adventure for the tabletop from you in the future?
RAS: Yeah, you know I’ve actually talked to them about that. With D&D Next coming, you know, if they plan on doing modules again I’d love to do one or two, or fifty. I love writing modules. I’m a DM by nature. So yeah, there’s definitely a possibility. I haven’t signed anything, there’s nothing, you know, set in stone, but it’s definitely a possibility.
DHGF: Any advice for Dungeon or Game Masters out there?
RAS: Well the best advice I can give when running a game is don’t lead your player’s characters around by the nose. You have to let the characters, the players, kind of make it their world, and their game and their adventure and you have to kind of be agile enough and quick enough to adapt your game to them. When I’m a player I hate it when I’m in the middle of a fight and all these NPCs show up and save the day. I just hate that. And when a DM starts going down that road then I just stop caring about the character and start murdering townsfolk or something so that he has to get rid of me.
DHGF: Charon’s Claw is the third part of the Neverwinter Saga and I’d read that you had signed on to write 6 Drizzt books around 2010, which I’m taking to mean we’re looking at three more books at least. Where are we headed next with the character or will there be more set in Neverwinter?
RAS: Well with the fourth book, it’ll be out next March, it’s called The Last Threshold, I’m already done with it and am just doing the edit on it now, is part of this series. But the books I had signed back in 2010, the six book deal I had signed, went beyond that. They’re Forgotten Realms books, but not necessarily taking place in Neverwinter. I’m not sure where I’m going after I get done. I’ve started the next book after The Last Threshold but I’m not sure where it’s going to take me. So I will be going back in the next one that’s coming out next March, and then I’ve got several more books to write after that. It’s actually, I actually, added two more books to the list and the contract. Yeah you heard it here first. So there will be lots of adventures coming. I don’t know if we’ll be back in Neverwinter or not.
DHGF: Just a fair warning, the next two questions involve some spoilers directly dealing with events in Charon’s Claw, so feel free to skip these if you don’t want a few surprises spoiled. I’d gotten a chance to read an advanced copy of Charon’s Claw, which is a very good read, but I was surprised by how desperate Artemis seemed to be to have Drizzt end it all. Was this something you had planned or did it evolve from his character and the situation he was stuck in?
RAS: It evolved. I really had no idea it was going to get to this point. I mean so much has evolved in this series and that’s why I know I’m doing it right when the characters are surprising me. Like I didn’t think Dahlia was going to get out of the first book alive, honestly. And here she is, you know, front and center in this book. The thing with Entreri is that I thought it was a nice twist. When I first plotted it out I thought the scene that happens at the end of the first half of the book in Neverwinter would be the end of the book and then as I realized this was more Entreri’s book than anyone else’s, I wanted to go on from there because that was only part one of what he had to accomplish.
DHGF: What kind of repercussions would you expect for a certain young Baenre for getting swindled by Drizzt and not knowing it until it was pointed out by what is essentially his blacksmith?
RAS: Repercussions or future story line is a better way to put it I think. I think Tiago has got an interesting road ahead of him. I gotta leave it at that, but he’s got an interesting road ahead of him.
DHGF: When you created the Drow city of Menzoberranzan for Homeland you used Mario Puzo’s The Godfather for inspiration. What other books, movies or games have influenced your writing over the years?
RAS: Well certainly Tolkien. Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books. That’s the best buddy fantasy ever written, in my opinion. I love those books. I think the structure of the Terry Brooks novels really taught me a lot about structuring a story and pacing a story. The melancholy of James Joyce. There’s a way that Joyce just goes to the sadness that is a part of this journey that seems to creep up in my life and in my writing. But as far as specific, structuring that city was Puzo. I don’t think I’ve gone to anything like that again in creating any fantasy worlds.
DHGF: Have you planned anything further for your Demon Wars setting?
RAS: I haven’t planned anything but I’m hoping to go back to it. I’m very excited because The Highwayman just came out on graphic audio and graphic audio does such a great job adapting the books to an audio format. They call it a movie in your mind and it really is. And I know I am going back to Demon Wars. There are eleven books set in that world now, and I know I’m going back to it eventually, because that’s my world. That’s my Forgotten Realms, my Middle-Earth, my Shannara. I haven’t planned anything out. I’m not sure the direction I want to go yet. There’s a couple different things floating out there before me, but right now I’m so buried in the Forgotten Realms and what I’m doing with that, that it’s just consuming all of my energy. In a good way, but.
DHGF: Where would you like to go with Drizzt and his new companions if you had total free reign to take them wherever you wanted?
RAS: Well I do have free reign, believe it or not. Wizards of the Coast has never, or very rarely says ‘No you can’t do that.’ I mean if I’m not blowing up Waterdeep or something like that they leave me alone. The thing is, this whole Neverwinter story is all about whether or not Drizzt is going to remain so true to the principles he thought were guiding him in his life and there’s such a cynicism around him now with Entreri and Dhalia and all the rest and the world itself which has gone so dark. There’s so many bad things going on right now. He runs into that band of highwaymen and these are outlaws and he should enforce the law on them but it’s really kind of like this Les Misérables theme going on where these people are just trying to survive cast out of society. They have nowhere to turn. So are they really doing something wrong or do they have the right to try to survive? And so there’s all these complicated questions that Drizzt thought things were very simple for most of his life when he was surrounded by people who shared his values and morals. Now all of a sudden he’s seeing that there’s a lot more grey to the world. That’s really the whole exploration that I’ve tried to do with this whole series. It’s just interesting for me to answer those questions of whether he would bring them up to his level or drag him down in their cynicism. And I think I finally know the answer but I won’t say it because there’s still a couple of books to go.
RAS: Well I’m doing some comics again with IDW, I think we’re going to do some more. I did the Neverwinter Tales with my son, new Drizzt stories in the comic format, I’m going to do some more of those. Right now, for the next year at least, my focus is going to be entirely on Forgotten Realms. And then, you know, we’ll see what happens. Honestly, I gotta see what happens with 38 Studios and this bankruptcy. That’ll probably take a year or so to sort out. But if someone else picks up Amalur, they’ll want me involved, I’m sure. And then we’ll see if we can make a deal and get that done. There are some other things I’ve thought about doing for a long time but I’ve kind of put on the back burner, but right now, for the time being, the safe place for me is the Forgotten Realms. I’m still a little bit reeling from what happened over at 38 Studios and that was kind of an unexpected hit. So right now the safe place for me is the Realms and I’m going at it with everything I’ve got.
DHGF: So being so immersed in the Forgotten Realms, and with Dungeons and Dragons Next coming, where do you find yourself, or rather, where does Wizards of the Coast stand as far as getting you involved?
RAS: I know what you’re trying to say. That depends on the people involved at the company at the time. When 4th Edition came out they made the decision to do x, y and z, including advancing the world a hundred years and then told us, ‘here’s what we’re doing.’ They took some input back from us, meaning the authors, but they really did what they wanted to do. I’m not criticizing, that’s their jobs, what they’re being paid to do. Now, with D&D Next coming, there’s been a major change in the way Wizards of the Coast is handling the author’s for the positive. Where they’ve really been bringing us in and not just asking us our opinions on their ideas but asking us for ideas. So it’s almost like the way the Realms were back in the 90′s, late 80′s, early 90′s when it first came out. Where it seems much more like it’s more of a cooperative effort now. And so, yeah, if they’re going to be doing something they’re much better about going, ‘Hey Bob, this might be kind of going where your books are going, what do you think? Do you think this works? Is there something you can do with this? Is there something we should be looking at?’ Questions like that are being asked much more often now and I think it’s a very good thing.
DHGF: So being involved with D&D Next and the Forgotten Realms do you have any input on the next set of D&D rules?
RAS: Very briefly. With the game, I’m not as concerned, or rather I shouldn’t say concerned, but what it really comes down to is they’ve got game designers. They’re going to make the decisions about the game, and they’ve asked some input from me, but with the world, they want more input from people like me and Ed Greenwood. That’s our expertise and that’s where all our products are set. So with the game, I have seen it, I do have the latest version like a lot of people have, and I’m giving them feedback as I go. That’s really their call. They’re the game designers. And us, and my sensibilities for that type of game are probably different from their audience as I’m older than their primary audience. I’m not really involved with that as far as what the game is going to look like. They are asking for opinions and I’m offering them.
DHGF: To wrap things up a bit, the book comes out next week and you’re starting on a book tour to go with it.
RAS: I’m leaving for L.A. on the 5th, and I have signings in the L.A. area on the 6th and 7th. I move up the West Coast to Palo Alto and C-Tac for Fort Louis, then down to Houston for a couple of days, then home for a day, then do laundry and then back on the road again on Monday for Lexington Kentucky and Cincinnati and Columbus and winding up in GenCon next week. SpaceCityCon, I’m actually going to be at SpaceCityCon in Houston next Saturday. I’m looking forward to that because Tracy Hickman is going to be there and I always like hanging out with Tracy. So yeah, on the road for the next couple of weeks, and then home for a couple of weeks and then down to DragonCon in Atlanta. They’re keeping me busy. It’s all good.
DHGF: Well thanks for taking the time for the interview. Your schedule is definitely full.
RAS: It’s off and running, here we go. I do my e-signing tomorrow. My web guy is coming up with about a thousand books for me to sign. It’s going to be a long day. (Laughs)
DHGF: Good luck and we really appreciate you taking the time.
RAS My pleasure, Ashe.
Charon’s Claw, Neverwinter Book III is now out in hardcover and the book tour is underway. Definitely check it out. I will be picking up my own copy soon.