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 second entry into the Neverwinter books, aptly titled Neverwinter, as well as an upcoming set of video games, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and Crpytic’s Neverwinter, I got the chance to interview R.A. Salvatore in-between book signings and while he was prepping for his upcoming book tour that starts this week.
DHGF ASHE: Just wanted to thank you for taking the time to chat with me today. My wife and I are both long time fans so this is a great opportunity for me.
RA SALVATORE: Cool.
DHGF: I’d actually like to start a bit with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. How involved were you or are you still with the development of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning?
R.A. SALVATORE: Quite a bit. My official title at 38 Studios is Creator Of Worlds. So, basically what I did was I created this ten thousand year history for the World of Amalur, and really where the races are, why they’re there, what the economies are, how everything ties together. The consistency of the world if you will. So for several years I was in there working on this with the teams, the art teams and the design team. Then when we acquired Big Huge Games, and decided to do an open world RPG as our first product while we continue to work on the MMO, they had to look at that history and pull out a time in that history that would be a good time to set their game and then come up with a storyline.
I had to go down there and approve it and work on it with them and, you know, help them edit it and get it to where they wanted it to be. So I’ve been very involved. This has been a five year project and counting for me.
DHGF: I’ll be honest, our interest piqued a bit when I saw the first ad for the game and saw you and Todd McFarlane were attached.
SALVATORE: I’ve been dying for it to come out, since for five years I haven’t been able to talk about the world. And now it’s coming out, finally. Cause we want the products to speak for themselves and I think it’s going to be amazing and I can’t wait for it to come out.
DHGF: So will this be something of a familiar setting for fantasy fans, or is this something completely new?
SALVATORE: It’s got a lot of the old elements, but if it’s eighty percent the same, it’s twenty percent new, that type of thing. We’ve got a lot of the classic fantasy elements and archetypes that people expect in a fantasy world and then we’ve pushed the envelope with it in a lot of different places. And it has a meta story that I think is very, very cool but I can’t talk about that.
SALVATORE: Actually both my sons work there now. Geno just went on as a Narrative Designer recently. But, yeah, I’ve been able to work with some old friends as well who are now employed at 38 Studios and I’ve got to make a lot of new friends, which was great because we pulled people in from some of the best gaming companies in the world and some very talented and cool people.
What’s been really great about this experience has being able to widen my circle of friends so much. I got to know Curt Schilling and Todd McFarlane. I’ve known Todd for a long time but only in passing at conventions and now I actually get to know the guy, ya know. And of course I met Ken Rolston, who is a legend in gaming, and got to work with him on Reckoning. So, it’s been an incredible experience.
My son Brian is a Mechanics Designer down there and he has a ton of things on his plate. They just keep giving him more and more responsibilities, he’s doing an amazing job, and my son Geno, the one I wrote the books with is now a Narrative Designer down there as well.
DHGF: Moving on to Neverwinter a bit. You’ve been given an interesting opportunity in the books to shape the face of Neverwinter as its being rebuilt. How much free reign did you have in first destroying Neverwinter in Gauntlgrym and now rebuilding it in the rest of the novels in the series?
SALVATORE: Well, basically that was my task, which was to flatten it and then to build it anew to get it into place for the Cryptic Studios Neverwinter game. Free reign? More like everything I was going to do had to be approved. They had to look at it and make sure it was all going to fit. But I wasn’t very constrained at all. I understand my roll on the team. I know that if I have a description in a book and if they have an asset that’s already built, like a visual, a painting, then it’s a lot easier for me to go and change a paragraph in the book. That type of thing.
Because I understand video games and the process of making them now, very well with my role at 38 Studios, it worked out quite well. I wasn’t tied into any boxes because I understood what they had to know about what I was doing.
DHGF: Cryptic’s Neverwinter title has been pushed back to next year so they can expand the game a bit, are you involved with that process at all and how were you involved before they pushed the release date back?
SALVATORE: I’m not involved in it at the moment. I probably will get pulled back in as they start tying things together a little bit more. I was involved in determining how Neverwinter would get wiped out. Also when I was writing the book, if I came up with some very cool villains who were going to survive, or could survive the book, I would bounce that by Cryptic and say, “Hey, would you like this character for an NPC in your game?”Â And if they said yes, I’d let the villain live.
That type of thing. So there was a lot of back and forth, mostly it started from me and went out to them because my timeline is set before theirs.
DHGF: So all three books you’re working on will take place before Cryptic’s Neverwinter title?
SALVATORE: It leaves the region where they need it.
DHGF: Character spoilers ahead for those who haven’t read the first Neverwinter book, Gauntlgrym, which I highly recommend, what led to the decision to kill off the last of Drizzt original traveling companions, Bruenor Battlehammer?
SALATORE: Well, Forgotten Realms is not my world, and I don’t control it. They decided they were going to fast forward it a hundred years. And so, in doing that it almost gave me the obligation to, and the opportunity, to wipe the slate clean. And, that presents all kinds of new possibilities for me. But because they had advanced it a hundred years it didn’t make sense for a lot of those characters to stick around.
DHGF: So it was more or less out of your hands?
SALVATORE: Right, the events of the world kind of caught up to me and my books. I can’t be writing books set a hundred years ago. They don’t want that.
DHGF: So we won’t necessarily see, when they first left to go searching for Gauntlgrym, Drizzt and Bruenor had a couple of different companions with them. We’re not necessarily going to go back and see those adventures then?
SALVATORE: You’re not necessarily going to, but you’re not necessarily not going to either. Right now, no. But going forward, who knows. So many things happen and the doors are always open, it’s very possible. I want to find out where Drizzt got his unicorn. The only way to find out about it is to write about it. Short stories in the future or novels, you never know what’s going to happen.
DHGF: Dahlia is kind of an interesting companion for Drizzt, while she’s not a Drow, she has many of their qualities or personality, even more so than Jarlaxle did in Gauntlgrym. How much is she going to be affecting the way Drizzt sees things and could we be looking at a new romantic angle for Drizzt?
SALVATORE: I wouldn’t rule it out. I guess that’s the question isn’t it. That’s the book I was going to write even before Neverwinter came on the scene and I was asked to set it there. The question now is, Drizzt for all his life has been surrounding himself of people of like-moral character. All of his friends would take an arrow for him like he would take an arrow for them.
Now all of a sudden he’s finding himself around all these intriguing, reckless, dangerous people who aren’t of like-morale character, so the question is, does he bring them up to his level or do they drag him down to theirs? And I don’t know the answer to that. That’s why I’m having so much fun writing the books, because that’s what I’m exploring now.
DHGF: Is there anything you can tease us with for the upcoming book in the series?
SALVATORE: The book is a road to revenge. That’s set up pretty clearly at the end of Gauntlgrym. So we know they’re on the road to revenge and what they’re going to find on that road is that the dynamics of the area are even more complex than they thought they were and things aren’t always what they seem. I really don’t want to say more than that because I really don’t want to give away some of the plot twists.
DHGF: There’s a comic series that you’re also involved with, The Legend of Drizzt: Neverwinter Tales. What are some of the differences writing for a comic book versus writing for a novel or a video game?
SALVATORE: They’re very different. Writing for a comic book you’re story-boarding as much as you’re writing. What you’re really doing is giving instructions to the artist what you want to convey with the scene. It’s very different. The amount of space you have is very limiting, obviously, in a comic. I find comics really great for telling the little side stories that I could have told as part of a book, but instead just pulling them out and making them a major factor, the main story of a comic series.
It’s a very different type of writing though. That’s why I’m doing it with my son again because he’s more familiar with this format than I am.
DHGF: You’ve long been associated with the Forgotten Realms and you play Dungeons and Dragons yourself. Do any of your gaming experiences make it into your novels?
SALVATORE: Some of the usually goofier anecdotes from the games will make their way into the books. Generally speaking I keep them separate. They’re two different experiences and a lot of the things that might come off really well in a game, that’s because of the atmosphere of the game. They might not work nearly as well in a novel, and because I’m writing the books professionally, I’m not going to be stealing too much from my friends even though I do steal a little bit here and there. So every now and then you’ll some amusing anecdote that actually happened in the game, but generally, no I don’t. I keep them separated.
DHGF: First Edition Dungeons & Dragons is actually your favorite if you’re running it as Dungeon Master. What’s your favorite campaign setting to run in or play Dungeons and Dragons and how often do you play?
SALVATORE: Play every week. We took the summer off because everybody was just too busy between softball and kids everywhere. But we play every week. My favorite setting was actually my own Demon Wars world. I ran a campaign there and it worked really well with the magical gemstones. We had to, of course, come up with all these side rules for the gemstones but, Fast Forward Games actually did a D20 game for Demon Wars a few years ago and I still have those books. I like using Demon Wars because it’s a world that I built and I know it very, very well. When I’m running a game that one works for me.
DHGF: Any favorite class?
SALVATORE: My favorite class to play is the monk. I love the first edition monk. The progression is perfect for me and my sensibilities, and if I’m not playing a monk I’m usually playing a wizard of some sort.
DHGF: Legend of Drizzt is getting a board game, also coming out in October, were you involved in that at all?
SALVATORE: No, I wasn’t. I played it out at GenCon and held my breath the whole time hoping that they got it right, and I’m happy to report they got it right, because no I wasn’t involved in that.
DHGF: You’ve written so many stories with the same characters over the years, do you ever get writer’s block when trying to come up with new adventures, and if so, how do you break it?
SALVATORE: I don’t believe in writer’s block. Writer’s block is lack of confidence. If you want to compete in this market you have to be able to get past that fairly quickly. For me, the story is about the characters, and I don’t want to say the plot is secondary. But the fact of the matter is, whatever I’m doing with these characters, what’s going on with them and in their heads is the most important part of the book. Getting to know them, as well as I have, watching them change and putting them under pressure, those kinds of things, I understand a lot of what they’re going to do, but they keep surprising me. As long as they keep surprising me, I’ll keep writing about them.
DHGF: Any advice for aspiring writer’s or world designers out there?
SALVATORE: Absolutely, especially for authors. If you can quit, quit. And I mean that. Because, writing isn’t something you’re doing to become famous and make a lot of money, that’s not the point. Writing is something you’re doing because you have to. If you’re not writing you won’t be happy. You know, you have all these stories looking to get out and if you don’t let them out you’ll never be happy. That’s why you write. If that’s why you’re writing then, you’re a writer, so you can’t quit. But, if you can quit, quit because you’re not a writer.
And then on a more practical level, for anyone, whether its a writer or game designer, read everything you’ve written out loud, back to yourself. It sounds trite, but it honestly allows you to catch the typos, the awkward sentences, to feel the pacing of your story the same way the reader will. If you just read it in your head, while you’re going, you’re so familiar with it, you’ll go way too fast to catch the mistakes. So read it out loud. You can’t be lazy if you’re going to be a writer. There are too many people that want your job, all the time.
DHGF: Last but not least, other than Kingdoms of Amalur coming out next year, what other games are you looking forward to?
SALVATORE: The Old Republic. I’m kind of looking for a new MMO now. I’ve been playing World of Warcraft for a long, long time. So I want to see what Bioware does with The Old Republic. That’s one. I’m looking forward to Guild Wars 2. I know a lot of people, have a lot of old friends working over there. I’m hoping it’ll be great. Anything that Bioware does is always a favorite with me, so, Dragon Age II I haven’t gotten to yet. I know, it’s already out, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. I think that’s about it for now, I usually get a game and then stick with it. I’m mainly an MMO player so most of my gaming has been World of Warcraft.
DHGF: That’s all the questions I had, but I do understand you’re going on a book tour as well for the new Neverwinter book.
SALVATORE: I’m on tour starting next week on October 4th. I’ll be going up and down the West Coast and then through Chicago and back through the Mid-Atlantic and into New York Comic Con. And for people who want details of the tour, they can get it at R.A. Salvatore on Facebook, that’s my Facebook page, come on over. It’s in the notes section. The entire tour is detailed where the stores are and telephone numbers and everything. And it’s also up at rasalvatore.com and at wizards.com. So I hope I can see people out on the road, if you’re in the area I hope you have some time and can come out and have some fun.
DHGF: Thank you again for taking the time out of your day. I know you must be busy prepping for the tour and with the book coming out.
SALVATORE: I’m actually doing the e-signing right now. We did an e-signing on my website and there’s about a thousand books for me waiting to sign upstairs. Off I go.
DHGF: Good luck with that and see you on tour.