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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Editorial: Sharing a World, Part III


Nestled snugly in a reading chair in his father's library, content among hundreds of musty tomes crammed into bookcases that surrounded the reading chair like tall, wooden sentries, seven-year-old Ed Greenwood sulked. He had just finished another of one of his favorite stories, one containing dashing adventurers who embarked on perilous journeys. But the road, while long, epic, and fraught with danger, always came to an end on the book's final page, leaving young Greenwood to sit and wonder what might happen next. Because the authors of his favorite books had long since passed away or retired from penning quests, Greenwood knew he had but one method of discovering the fate of his cherished heroes: he would have to write their escapades himself.

Not long after he had begun easing other authors' character out of retirement and back into battle, an idea for a character of Greenwood's very own was born. That character, a rascally vagabond named Mirt, was the first to step into the now renowned fantasy world of the Forgotten Realms, a fantastical place that would become home to hundreds more of Greenwood's creations, as well as other characters such as R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt Do'Urden who, without the Realms, may very well never have come to be.

I was honored to receive the opportunity to chat with Ed Greenwood about the circumstances that led to the Forgotten Realms, as well as his book collection, his thoughts on the crotchety wizard Elminster, the writing process, and the gaming conventions he loves so much.

Do you remember the first idea you had for what would become the Forgotten Realms? Was it a character? A setting?

Back in the summer of 1966, at the ripe old age of 7 (yes, well before there was a D&D game, or a TSR, Inc. to publish it), I was reading a Glencannon omnibus and thought: what if this crafty, crusty, cunning old engineer (Glencannon) had a medieval ancestor? Like Shakespeare’s Falstaff? Only in a fantasy world where magic worked, like Leiber’s Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser tales?

I was also reading Poul Anderson’s [science fiction] stories about Nicholas van Rijn at the time, and thought about bolting some of his characteristics onto this character. So the character became a swindling trader (kind-hearted and sympathetic to the reader, but not exactly law-abiding). Soon I came up with a name: Mirt the Moneylender. Who traveled the trading cities of the Sword Coast, one step ahead of angry creditors, rivals, authorities, and hired bounty hunters. It was a year later, a year spent writing little episodes in the rather swashbuckling life of Mirt, before I had the name Forgotten Realms, and the reason for that name: the Realms were in a world linked to our Earth, but now the ways between them—magical gates, which I later explored in issue 37 of what was then called “The Dragon” magazine, and [then] much later, in what got called the third edition of the D&D game (though it is actually several editions beyond the third), got dubbed “portals” had been “forgotten” by those of us in the modern-day real world.

So the Realms began as a setting for telling my own fantasy short stories, not for gaming. I began writing stories at a very early age ... to create further adventures of characters I liked, in the books in my father’s library. Most of those books were by long-dead or inactive writers, so if I wanted more adventures of the characters, writing them myself was the only way to get them.

I LOVED reading. I also liked board games (and looking back, wanted them to have beautiful “map” boards and tactical terrain elements in play, not just “racetrack” boards or playing cards). I enjoyed camping (from fledgling Wolf Cub camps up through week-long canoe trips and long, long hikes as an adult), and like most Canadian boys, I loved hockey but wasn’t very good at it, in my case because I wasn’t a good skater (I usually ended up wearing boots and playing goal, which I very much enjoyed). I latter dabbled in fencing, and became an avid caver or spelunker, one of the founders of the Rattlesnake Point Caving Club. Most of my more physical activities are behind me now, thanks to bad knees (among other ailments).

How did the Realms grow from Mirt the Moneylender to a sprawling, living world inhabited by some of fantasy's most beloved characters?

Initially, it grew as Mirt wandered along the Sword Coast, south from Luskan -- and then inland as far as Zirta, which became the southern riverbank part of Scornubel -- into Amn and Tethyr.

Then along came D&D. Once regular roleplaying began in the Realms, my players forced me to detail a lot more of the Realms, because their characters were constantly peeking into caravan wagons wanting to know what was inside. So, goods moving from Somewhere to Somewhere Else, which meant a shortage or market in Somewhere Else, and a source of production or harvest in Somewhere, which in turn told me something of the geography of Somewhere, and I could extrapolate from that.

As the ideas started to come, how did you keep track of them?

I was a writer, so I wrote them down. I wanted Mirt to have recurring foes and rivals and trading partners, and wanted to keep them all straight, so I needed to record everything.

Once I started roleplaying in the Realms, I as DM wrote a running blow-by-blow overview of what happened in each play session, as we played, in a series of blank examination booklets my father (a university professor) brought home from work; I filled stacks of them with my increasingly-sloppy pencil scribbles

What does creating a new location, people, or individual character entail? Did you sit down and chart background history, defining life events, and so forth? Or did things come to you gradually over time?

The answer to this has to be: it depends. Meaning, it depends on why I’m creating something. Is it a character seen once, or someone a series of novels is going to be built around? A village on a road a band of Player Characters [PCs] will rush through, or the city they’re going to live in for play [sessions] lasting for the next ten years of real time? Is it for fiction, or roleplaying? Novels and short stories and published adventures have to be planned out, and things have to be specific (age, hair color, game statistics). Elements used in a roleplaying campaign can be left somewhat vague and then tweaked to match PC levels or current play directions when PCs come into contact with those elements. Also, if the campaign is to seem alive, then its events change things, so a given building or business or city or ruler isn’t going to remain unchanged over time. In those situations, yes, things do come to me, or get changed by me or by Player Character actions, gradually over time.

As your interests expanded, did you come to have a preferred method of experiencing adventures?

I don’t have a favorite or preferred way of adventuring, between real life, reading, or gaming, but on balance, over the years, I’ve done far more reading than the other two avenues to adventure. I’ve written or co-written or had a direct creative hand in well over two hundred books, have over 80,000 books crammed into my house, and during these last few years have read probably 20 books in a typical week (plus stints of “heavier” reading when I’ve been judging the World Fantasy Awards and Sunburst Awards, and had to read all the nominated works). Yes, I read quickly.

Do you remember your first roleplaying game experience? What hooked you on the concept of creating a character and living his/her/its life?

My first roleplaying experiences were at school, at a young age; Canadian teachers at that time (the 1960s) were very big on “let’s put you behind the desk of a particular historical figure, faced with this situation; what would YOU do?” So from Canada’s Fathers of Confederation to the builders of the early cross-continental railways to wartime situations and rural mayors trying to grapple with the effects of modernization and the arrival of railways and later good roads, I did a lot of roleplaying in the 1960s. (And out-and-out acting in school plays, too.) This is long before fantasy roleplaying, which came along in the mid-1970s.

My first gaming roleplaying experiences weren’t D&D or any of its imitators, either. They were several Kriegspiel exercises, played with adults, following a situation [arranged] by British miniatures gamer Donald Featherstone, wherein a map of an area to be fought over is divided into a grid, the grid becomes a miniature chest of drawers or dresser of matchboxes, and forces are moved from matchbox to matchbox as coins or poker chips until they meet in a drawer. When a meet happens (I open a matchbox to move my coin into it, and find an enemy coin already there), a sand table miniatures battle terrain is then made up to match that map section, and a battle occurs. A neutral umpire oversees things, but all of the other multiple players take on the roles of officers in the two opposing Napoleonic-era forces, and move from room to room going on missions, receiving and giving orders, conferring with other officers, etc.

My first fantasy roleplaying experience came later, involving a remarkable young lady named September. My account of that has been published in a First Quest column in issue 218 of DRAGON Magazine, back in 1995.

When and how did your venerable Elminster character come about?

Elminster first appeared in stories and story fragments of mine written in 1967, as a Merlin-like ancient, all-knowing wizard. Although he predates the film EXCALIBUR, Nicol Williamson’s portrayal of Merlin in that movie is very close to how I envisage and present Elminster: a cantankerous, occasionally foolish or overconfident, foresighted, loves-to-be-mysterious old wizard whose lifespan is longer than a normal man’s, who has powers most wizards of his day can’t get or have, and behaves in an odd manner because he’s pursuing aims and goals most folk don’t know or understand. It’s something of a stock figure of fantasy fiction (yes, long before Tolkien’s Gandalf), but my Elminster is far more of a whimsical rogue with flaws than most versions of the archetype.

In my early stories as well as later D&D roleplaying, I needed an “Old Storyteller” figure to set tales up or end them with sweeping powers, without being the hero or protagonist. So like Ronald Reagan’s character in the old television series DEATH VALLEY DAYS, Elminster introduces the tale to the reader, and the action then pans past his shoulder, on into the story. TSR (later Wizards of the Coast) wanted him to be used as far more of a hero, but here I’m relating the genesis of the character as I saw him.

What made Elminster so appealing that you decided to focus on him and his life?

I never decided to focus on Elminster; TSR (later Wizards of the Coast) did that. The conceit of the first release of the Realms as a product line (as opposed to featuring in a randomly-appearing series of freelance DRAGON articles) was that DMs could freely change the Realms for their home campaigns, because the published Realms wasn’t an omniscient overview, it was us writing down what Elminster (an unreliable narrator) or Volo (an even more unreliable narrator) was telling us about the Realms. That notion was my idea.

However, Elminster’s career as the main character of novels began when the fiction publishing arm of TSR demanded it, giving me the choice of writing Elminster books or watching someone else write Elminster books. There was a push to have “iconic” characters linked to their creators, who would write open-ended series of books about those characters (Drizzt, Elminster, and so on). I started in writing those books eagerly, mind you, because they gave me the chance to show lots of details of the Realms to readers, along the way.

Did you ever create other worlds besides the Realms? If so, did you ultimately decide to discard them in favor of the Realms? And if so, why?

I have created other worlds besides the Realms, and participated in the created worlds of others, too, such as Golarion from Paizo, Tolkien’s Middle-Earth as portrayed in a line of computer games, and many, many more.

I haven’t discarded any of the worlds I’ve created; I’m still at work on Castlemourn and Embersea (which hasn’t been published in any form yet). Mornmist (that I co-created with Lynn Abbey) is in limbo because it is owned by its publisher, who controls its activity and published appearances.

When did you begin writing for Dragon Magazine and Polyhedron Magazine? Also, what attracted you to those magazines?

My first regular monthly reading issue of the magazine that was then called “The Dragon” was issue 19. I was attracted to it because in those early days of D&D, with relatively few sourcebooks and adventure modules being published (and only a handful of competing magazines, too), long before the Internet or any electronic home games (let alone home computers!), the magazine was the hobby; it was the monthly lifeblood, source of ideas, and avid “fix” for all RPG gamers.

My first game-related publication was in 1979, in issue 30 of DRAGON (my Realms monster “The Curst”) although I’d actually submitted (and had accepted) an article on the DIVINE RIGHT board game earlier than I sent in the Curst (it was held [back] for a theme issue on the game, issue 34). I flooded DRAGON with articles (the Crawling Claws in 32, my article on Gates in 37, and so on; the Gates article impressed editor Kim Mohan because it was the first submission to DRAGON he’d ever seen that had footnotes. At an early GenCon he asked me (and Roger Moore, about five minutes before me) to become Contributing Editors (unpaid positions; it meant he wanted a flood of stuff from us, occasionally on topics he’d assign to us). Later, my position was renamed Creative Editor.

If anyone from Wizards of the Coast reads this, I’d like to remind them that I still have a lifetime subscription to both DRAGON and DUNGEON (which I started writing for because TSR asked me to, when they launched it).

I am a Charter Life Member of the RPGA, and eventually TSR staffers asked me to write a regular Realms column, “Elminster’s Everwinking Eye,” for POLYHEDRON because its pages were mainly filled by staff designers, and most of them were really too busy to consistently turn in columns (as I soon discovered, so was I!).

Besides Mirt and Elminster, what other character that you created stood out to you? What did you like/dislike about the character, and has that character lived on in any of your stories?

I created the vast majority of characters that appear in Realms game products, and a good percentage of those in the Realms novels, too, from Elaith “the Serpent” to King Azoun of Cormyr, and from Szass Tam to Manshoon to Fzoul to Storm Silverhand (not to mention most of the gods, who after all are characters, too). As a Dungeon Master, I have portrayed hundreds of these characters over the years in Realmsplay sessions of the “home” Realms campaign and in various “play D&D with Ed” events at many, many conventions. (Years ago, my wife idly started counting up conventions I’d attended over the years, and discovered she’d lost track somewhere around two hundred!)

I don’t like or dislike characters, so much as I see them as real people (though they may not be human), and—just like real people—covering a wide range of foibles, flaws, virtues, and characteristics. They’re all part of the vast tapestry, like a huge cast of actors (literally, a world full of actors) I can draw on, that all have ongoing lives, aims, and interests. The old “let me tell you about my character” joke doesn’t work for me; I carry them all in my head, all the time, but couldn't tell you the game stats—for any edition of the D&D game—for any of them, because the stats don’t matter; the stories do. I’ve had great fun playing over-the-top characters such as James Bond in a Fluffyquest RPGA round or Paul Stanley of Kiss in an Australian D&D tournament (I won a trophy!) or an earnest young explorer in a great Cthulhu adventure at GenCon UK—not to mention a lot of odd characters (new races and classes, prototype rules, and so on) in playtests for various game publishers. I won Best Player at the AD&D Open at GenCon back in (I think) 1984, so I can walk the walk, but in all of it I’ve never formed any likes or dislikes of characters I played.

How did the Realms become an official part of D&D?

One of the fun rewards of writing DRAGON articles, back in the early days, is that new monsters were considered official rules additions. Which meant I felt no compunction about using them in play sessions after they’d been published. Also, sneaking little details of the Realms into all sorts of DRAGON articles let me use the magazine as “general gossip and information your characters have picked up” sources for my players (again, everyone read the magazine, so I could expect that they might hazily remember something I’d written a few issues back). So from the beginning I put little Realms details into all of my DRAGON writing.

Unbeknownst to me, Jeff Grubb, one of the staff designers at TSR, was a regular reader of DRAGON and had noticed these details. He had just prepared a proposal for creating a new unified game world to be the home for the D&D game for its second edition, and TSR was world-shopping (Dragonlance had taken a huge amount of creative time from everyone on staff at the company, so it would be faster and easier to buy a world that someone else had mapped and detailed). Jeff got my phone number from the DRAGON editors (like all good writers, I made sure my name and address and phone number were on every page of every article I mailed in) and called me one day in 1985 to ask me if I had a complete, detailed world at home, or if I just made things up as I went along.

“Yes,” I replied, “and yes.”

“Good,” he replied. “Send it.”

Whereupon he then told me his boss, Mike Dobson, would contact me. TSR bought the Realms (in 1986), and my long, wild ride began.

What was entailed in merging the Forgotten Realms into D&D? What rights did you maintain to the world that had been yours since your childhood?

The moment I had the green light to do so, I started typing and photocopying huge weekly packages of Realms lore, and mailing them off to Jeff (until he finally called a halt to the flood). He, as a designer, and Karen Boomgaarden as editor went to work converting my world into D&D rules [and] terms; steering my incoming flood by asking for more on this topic or that one. TSR was awed by my maps; Jeff taped together my 55-page (8.5” by 11” pages) world map, and later my much larger Waterdeep city map (scaled so the base of an Airfix model figurine would fit into the rectangular outline of a typical city building, so I could use individual figures to represent a PC party or a Watch patrol or some villains the PCs were chasing or being chased by). That latter map filled the floor between where the cubicles ended and the door to the ladies’ washroom, causing some temporary consternation for some female staffers, but also making some of the top brass of the company very excited when they saw it. One of them, I was told, made a comment that can best be translated as “Holy manure! This is un-be-mating-believable! Who IS this guy?”

(By the way, that’s not a question I feel I can properly answer yet, even after all these years.)

And so the Realms began. I was given a crash course in TSR design protocol (by doing a D&D module, THE ENDLESS STAIR) and set to work churning out Realms source products—but the company didn’t want me (a freelancer, not a staffer) to be a “design bottleneck,” so my magic stuff was handed to Steve Perrin to turn into FR4 THE MAGISTER, my Sword Coast North lore to Paul Jacquays to become FR5 THE ENDLESS FRONTIER, and so on.

As for rights, TSR (now Wizards of the Coast, but my agreement is with TSR) owns the Realms and controls its publication and editorial direction and content. If more than a year ever passes without them publishing novel-length original Realms work—it doesn’t have to be fiction, though; it can be a game product—by me, the Realms revert to me (unless I agree to a hiatus), and I’m supposed to receive a copy of every TSR Realms publication (but not outside licenses such as computer games) and be told about Realms products and “in-world” decisions (just informed, mind you; I hold no veto over such things). Also, anything I say about the Realms is “true” until or unless contradicted by an official published product. (These days, of course, “publication” includes the Internet.)

I’ve never had any great tussles over the Realms with either TSR or Wizards (design disagreements, yes, but those are very different, more akin to two musicians playing the same piece of music together who want to do it in slightly different ways), and I hope I never do. It is, after all, supposed to be a fun place for everyone’s imagination to roam in, to enjoy a story or play a game.

Are you consulted on any major events that transpire in the Realms?

I’m supposed to be. Sometimes I have found out about events I consider major when I buy a new Realms novel in a store, or see a new Realms computer game, but for the most part, the busy people at TSR and Wizards have been very good about keeping me in the loop. Hasbro has more stringent guidelines regarding maintaining secrecy about Intellectual Properties (and I’m not now, and never have been, an employee of TSR or Wizards or Hasbro, though I’ve been a freelance designer, fiction writer, and consultant to all three corporations), but I find out about most things. The need to closely consult was crucial in the early days of the Realms, and is less so now that other creative people working on the Realms have a large body of published work they can examine. “Ask Ed” used to always be the wisest way to coordinate everything, but now it’s just one way.

How did/do you feel about other authors writing in the world you created?

Occasionally some of the things other authors have written have made me wince, or think “I’d certainly have done that another way,” but for the most part it’s been delightful. Here’s the problem, in a nutshell: I only have so much time in my life, and just can’t tell all the stories of the Realms I want to tell. Moreover, nothing I write or design can really surprise me: if there’s a detail around a corner, it’s there because I put it there.

So I have no regrets about signing away the Realms; there’s no way I could have reached so many gamers and readers by myself, and no way I could have had such great reading experiences over the years, or had the chance to travel the world, meet so many interesting people, have a writing career and immerse myself in fantasy and science fiction publishing, and make so many friends.

The friends are what really matter about all of this, and their shared joy in the Realms and in storytelling. My bookshelves are now full of really fun, and occasionally superb, Realms novels I couldn’t have written (because I write differently than the authors who did craft those books), and my world is much richer for the design contributions of many, many people who love and care about the Realms.

In life, you learn to live with the stuff you don’t like as much, and treasure the stuff you love—and by sharing the Realms, I’ve gained so many treasures.

So for me, I feel great about other authors writing in the Realms. I have just worked with a great editor, Susan Morris, on a line of novels, ED GREENWOOD PRESENTS WATERDEEP, every one of which has been a standout -- books I want to re-read and thrust into the hands of other readers.

So it’s been, and still is, that sort of excitement, and that sort of “great.”

I understand that TSR requested that you play Elminster at certain gaming conventions. Was this something you were excited to do?

Sure. I’m just as happy not to, now, because the costume is hot and because of hassles at Customs: apparently a wooden staff is and can only be a weapon, or perhaps importation of some nasty insect into the USA—and border agents just don’t seem to care that the stick of wood I’m toting back and forth came from the US Midwest and was given to me as a gift there; I hope I never have to use a wooden cane to walk with.

However, when we launched the Realms, it was great to walk into a room and have hundreds of people cheer and then hang on your every word for hours (usually four-hour-long sessions, in those days). I always had a TSR “straight man” (later, a “straight woman”) to play off of, and could be witty, rude, snide, and dispense all sorts of Realms lore in response to audience questions. I got asked to officiate at weddings, name babies, and even, yes, father babies (I regretfully declined). I got given keys to cities, was trusted to officiate at disagreements, and even, by police, to handle crowd control and, once, to direct traffic at a busy intersection after one of Milwaukee’s notorious downpours had knocked out traffic lights.

Most of all, every time I put on the costume was a chance to meet Realms fans again and enjoy the Realms together.

What was it like attending the conventions and interacting with fellow gamers?

It was great, and still is! I am so busy (and lack so much health and time off from my library day job and money) that I only attend four or so conventions a year now (and turn down most of those that involve lots of intercontinental travel), but I still love assembling somewhere with fellow gamers and fantasy/sci-fi fans and hanging out. There are games and games and more games to try and to buy that I’ll never see in the countryside where I live, food to eat and panels to be on or attend—and there are all the friends I’ve made in gaming; lots of them, now, after over twenty years of attending conventions. It’s a chance to catch up with them, dine with them, hug them, and talk with them face to face.

Conventions are where I really feel alive, and living the life I want to have.

Did any unscrupulous players attempt to kill Elminster?

Certainly. I myself have tried to kill off Elminster several times. He’s not my alter ego or wish-fulfillment bearded male “Mary Sue” or favorite character; he’s a powerful, annoying old wizard who meddles and makes infuriating comments and can generally be a pain in posterior. However, in the very rare situations in which he appears in play as an NPC, players who seek to have their characters butcher Elminster are usually succumbing to temptation they shouldn’t stoop to. As the Old Mage himself sometimes asks adventurers as they hurl fireballs at him and plunge swords through him, “Don’t all of you have something better to do?”

What does writing mean to you?

Writing is what I DO. Writing is my life, and a writer is what I am; I can’t NOT write. I write, or come up with ideas that I at least scribble down, every day. Writing is what my brain hums along doing, whenever I’m not asleep or reading. Yes, every moment. It might not be conscious (when I’m working at the library, I’m working at the library), but some part of my mind is always busy imagining. Writing is... everything.

Can you tell us more about your writing process?

I’m too busy to only write when I’m in the mood to do so, and I took a degree in journalism years ago (in the era when newrooms were noisy, bustling places dominated by pounding typewriters, with nary a computer in sight) so that I could write under almost any conditions.

Which is a good thing, because daily life (including a day job I enjoy very much; I am a clerk at a public library, and chair of the library board of a completely different public library system some forty miles away from the library I’m employed at) would interrupt any set writing schedule. These days, I write four or five books a year (gaming and fiction) plus about twice that many short stories, plus editing, plus writing monthly columns, and some other projects, too—so the real answer is: I write every spare moment I can grab. No, I can’t wait until the Muse visits me, when conditions are “just right.” I would prefer to keep a set writing schedule, yes—but that’s something only wealthy people who have a staff to take care of “the daily round” can manage, I’m afraid. I write when I can (and almost whenever I can).

Have you ever been afflicted with writers’ block?

People who write for a living can’t afford to have writers’ block, so I don’t ever let myself get blocked.

I’m not belittling the condition or deeming it mythical; I’m saying I dare not let myself fall prey to it, and I avoid it by constantly having three or four projects well and truly “on the go” at once (quite different ones, such as fantasy fiction, gaming writing, horror or science fiction, and a review or technical explanatory writing). Whenever I start to grind to a halt on one, I leap to another, and keep right at it, leaping back when I can.

An undisciplined writer could use this situation to avoid work on something that’s not going well, forever turning to more attractive alternatives, but I’ve done enough books by now to let my whims and feelings carry me, not govern me.

Do you prefer to outline stories, or freeform your way to an epilogue... or both?

Both. One of the ways I avoid boredom or falling into a creative rut is to constantly try new ways of telling stories, or at the very least not creating my current book the same way as I did my last one. The majority of my major publishers insist on outlines (that they approve, and that they use to write catalogue copy well before the book is written), so my preferences really don’t matter. Sometimes I’m writing just to please myself, or from a one-sentence idea approved by an editor, and I will either freeform the entire story (not knowing where it’s heading) or freeform it from a few set elements such as Character A, Situation B, Story Element C, and perhaps Known Ending D.

Some ways work better than others for me, at a particular time and for a particular project, but I’m never bored. I don’t happen to be one of those writers who loves BEING an author, but hates the process of writing.

As a freelance writer, do you still prefer to write Realms-oriented stories, or do you like to branch off into other worlds of your (or someone else’s) creation?

I like doing both.

Writing in the Realms is comfortable, familiar, and easy; I can concentrate on the story rather than on research or language or “getting the details right,” and there are so many not-yet-told Realms tales I want to do that I eagerly pounce on every chance to do another Realms story.

However, I very much like trying the new or different or offbeat. I have written for various James Lowder anthologies for years because Jim presents me with a chance to do a pulp story, or a zombie story, or Arthurian fantasy, or whatever, to this length and that deadline. Whee, I’m off and running!

Most anthology offers are like that, for me: an opportunity to try something or at least enjoy a little change of pace.

Which doesn’t leave me loving the Realms any less, or wanting to stay away from it for long.

Do you think you will ever retire from writing or game design?

If retire is spelled “die,” yes; otherwise, no. Whether or not I retire from published writing or game designing is up to publishers, of course, not me. Yet I’ll never stop designing or writing, even if it’s just for my friendly local gaming group, or to provide a new Christmas story every year to read at the library (watch for an anthology from me, one of these days, for schmaltzy, tear-jerking Christmas stories crafted to be easily read aloud, all proceeds to the library).

I don’t intend to die soon, mind you; I have way too many stories still left to tell. And as one of my editors told me recently: “Don’t you go and die on us, Ed! We need you to do so much, still, that if you die we’ll be forced to kill you!”

What do you feel has contributed to the Realms’ longevity?

I believe that the key to the lasting popularity of the Realms is that it feels like a real place, a living world, where what happens MATTERS. So readers and gamers come to care about Cormyr or Waterdeep or particular characters, and what happens to them.

In large part, the Realms feels real because so much is going on, because there is no one central story but rather countless stories all unfolding at once. The Realms is people, not places, but it’s also a setting with enough beauty and exotic touches and good triumphing from time to time over evil to be attractive to us—yet not a goody-goody place where heroes aren’t needed, either.

From the first, I have tried to provide detail, detail, and more detail for readers and gamers. You don’t need to use the details you don’t want, or sink into embellishments so deep that enjoyment is stifled, but the color and depth is there if you want it; I’ve done the work so you feel any money you spend on one of my Realms products has been worth it. The love of this shared world has spurred many other writers, designers, and artists to add their own contributions to the Realms, each of them in turn drawing in other fans. The scope and breadth of the setting tries to offer something for everyone, too, and that has also led to popularity. Finally, just staying on the scene for thirty years has built up a history of published lore that is itself an achievement and a lure for many; a world that has a history is, again, a setting where what happens matters, so the heroics of your characters mean something. If life is building memories, we who love the Realms have built a lot together.

Care to touch on anything I’ve forgotten? This is your platform to say whatever comes to mind!

Gaming is about sharing experiences and having fun with friends, not about winning or beating the other guy. Publishers may view this game setting as competing with that one, but as a gamer I want them all to succeed. I want to walk into a gaming store and be blown away by the broad choice, every time, not find myself looking in vain for something new.

There’s nothing un-cool about losing. What’s un-cool is not playing, or sneering at someone else for what they play or the books (and movies, and television shows, and hobbies) they prefer. Time and chance and the marketplace will thin out the choices we all have at the buffet table, but I always want to see the table loaded.

And no victory at any gaming table is worth losing a friend.

As eccentric and occasionally less than nice any large group of gamers are, I love going to large conventions like GenCon, because for a few days I’m back in the midst of the most creative and intelligent people in the world.

Writing fantasy and science fiction is a quieter, lonelier pursuit, but it’s about making friends just as much as gaming is. For one thing, a good book (“good” for you, that is; one reader’s tripe is the next reader’s great book, and thank goodness we all like different things, or books would all be boringly the same) can become a friend; writing books is the only way I know of to create a friend, all by yourself.

I could go on spouting profound-sounding sentences here, but I have another book to write! And more of the Realms to detail! Oh, and more games to play, too!

{About those Realms details: out on the Internet, Realms fans can ask me lore questions in my annual Questions for Ed Greenwood thread, in the Chamber of Sages, in the forums at Candlekeep at:

I try to answer as often as I can, and for most of the four-plus years I’ve been at it, I have been able to keep to a one-answer-per-day schedule, more or less.


Darkpowder said...

Well written up interview indeed with Ed Greenwood. Us folk dwelling in the fine Isle of Nelanther have read your interview with interest. Nicely done.


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