Kobold Press

Author Interview: J.F. Lewis (Part Two)

Grudgebearer

Why didn’t you include any maps in Grudgebearer?

Well, I drew a map, but I’m a terrible artist. If there are any readers who have cartography skills…

If the Aern had pet dogs, what breed would they be?

Akitas. A smart, loyal, capable breed that rarely has to be groomed (beyond the endless brushing when they blow their coat)… Totally the breed of choice for the Aern.

If Grudgebearer were going to be made into a movie, who would you cast in some of the major roles and why?

I’ve gone back and forth in my head about Kholster. Michael Fassbender sticks out in my head because of the predatory smile he can pull off, and he has no trouble being funny and serious, but Chris Hemsworth could also be awesome. Maybe one should play Vander and the other one should be Kholster? Natalie Dormer would make a great Wylant. I think she could manage the fine line Wylant has to tread between warrior and diplomat. Rae’en would be hard to cast… Maybe readers have a few ideas?

Grudgebearer seems to be full of subplots and side stories. Which of these turned out differently than you thought it would?

Kholster and Wylant constantly surprise me. I didn’t realize what a good father Kholster was going to be. I’ll avoid spoiling it completely, but the issues between the Aern and the Warsuits… I didn’t see those coming. This may seem pseudo-schizophrenic, but Kholster saw that coming long before I did. Wylant and Vax are complicated, but there are some wonderful scenes in book two where <spoiler redacted>.

Did you write the entire trilogy at once or are you writing the books one at time?

One at a time. I’m a seat-of-my-pants writer, but with these books, I know how they end and have certain specific events I know will happen along the way, but I’m not always certain how they will connect until the characters figure it out for themselves. Occasionally a character’s reaction will throw a serious kink in my plans, but I work around it, because nothing is worse than realizing a character made a mistake solely for the purposes of the plot—that is not allowed to happen.

What character do you think grows the most over the course of Grudgebearer?

Probably Rae’en. She certainly has the coming of age arc, but General Tsan may give her a run for her money in the next book. I hope Dolvek comes around a little more, but we’ll have to wait and see. Other than those there is another character I would mention, but that would be too spoilery.

I felt like you did a good job of portraying the attitudes of beings that were long-lived and almost immortal. How hard is it to get in the mind of someone who lives for hundreds or even thousands of years?

Getting Kholster right… ug. The temptation to have him make all the right decisions (or even all the wrong decisions) was there in every scene. In the end, I settled on basically making him the most understanding father I could. He has a hard-won knowledge of when it is okay to let the people he loves make mistakes. There are things he will never understand because of the way he is and grudges he can never let go, even though he knows he should… He still has an endless font of rage and depth of emotion, but he can keep a handle on it (most of the time). Hitting that balance between warrior, father, and husband was the source of many a revision.

The oldest character, Torgrimm (the god of birth and death), was actually the easiest. He basically finds something to love about everyone… like the best granddad you could imagine, only getting angry when someone interferes with his grandchildren… and he counts every mortal being under that heading.

Where did you get the idea of incorporating aspects of video games into a fantasy novel?

That came naturally. The fabulous Warsuits, soul-bonded weapons, the physical prowess aren’t what make the Aern so dangerous. Communication is. I was struck by how deadly a group of people who could use a level of communication beyond even what we have today would be in a medieval setting. From a gaming point of view, it’s like the difference between being on a raid in an MMORPG with a bunch of people who all know the fight, know their roles, and are using something like Team Speak versus a pick-up group all typing at each other. It was also just flat-out fun, and led to what, I hope are some of the most amusing moments in the book. (Wouldn’t you like to play a video game based on this series?)

If you were teaching an English class and they were studying Grudgebearer, what themes and symbolism would you focus on?

All the killing and eating people aside, Grudgebearer opens the door to some genuine discussion about slavery and gender equality. One of the hardest things to remember when writing from Wylant’s point of view was to have other Eldrennai react to her as they would. There is perfect gender equality among the Aern, but the Eldrennai are a pretty chauvinist society and at times it was uncomfortable to reflect that. Here is this marvelous general and so many of her peers or superiors dismiss her or condescend to her, even when they know better. But that is what happens far too often even in today’s society.

What can you tell us about the next novel in the series?

It’s awesome! Look forward to finding out more about General Tsan, more about how Vael society works, and more about Kholster’s Overwatches. Kholster mainly talks to Vander, but due to events in the first book, we’ll get to know the other Overwatchers a lot more. I’m particularly looking forward to having readers meet Glayne. He was blinded by Ghaiattri fire and has learned to see through his soul-bonded weaponry.

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Author Interview: J.F. Lewis (Part One)

Grudgebearer

I have read your bio in the back of your books. What else should readers know about you?

About me? Nothing. I’d rather readers know my characters. There’s a little bit of me in all of them. Hopefully there is more of me in Kholster than in Dolvek (or Eric from my Void City series). If you must have something more: I’ve recently gotten into fountain pens and I’m about halfway to black belt in tae kwon do.

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The Mischievous Art of Monster Infighting

WEIRD TALES: The Fire Of Asshurbanipal“Who dies first?” —Conan, “The Phoenix on the Sword”

Monsters have been teaming up since the dawn of D&D. We’ve seen unlikely allies emerge from the game’s rogues gallery as far back as the famed Keep on the Borderlands. But what happens when villains actually get in the way of each other’s ill-gotten gains? Well, brave readers, I hope to answer this question by taking a look at a few timeless tales from the pulp masters.

My previous essay, Eight Frightfully Eerie Pulp Fiction Adventure Hooks, offers a primer on the weirder side of the pulp genre with a selection of spine-tingling stories whose influence on the tabletop RPGs of today is resolute. Here, we’ll revisit one of those writers who defined the genre, Robert E. Howard, with what is perhaps his most accomplished Cthulhu Mythos tale — “The Fire of Asshurbanipal.” We’ll also take a quick look at a key scene from the 1958 classic The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, a film born of the pulp legacy but rather based on stories that influenced Howard and so many of his contemporaries.

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Collection of Curiosities: The Locket

Urartu LocketLockets secure all manner of small things, but not all of them have the usual items within them. You can roll randomly for a result below, or use the handy number provided with each entry to figure out your result on a d12. You can also pick the one that works for the area in which your characters currently linger.

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The Rise of Tiamat: A DM’s and Player’s Overview

Tiamat TuesdaysIdeally, players and Dungeon Masters (DMs) who sit down to tackle The Rise of Tiamat will already have played Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Rise is a continuation of Hoard’s story about the Cult of the Dragon, but they are very different adventures in style.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen is a big, sprawling adventure that spreads across hundreds of miles of territory and encompasses several distinct styles of play, from the short commando missions of “Greenest in Flames” to the dungeon crawl of “Dragon Hatchery” to the extended road trip of “On the Road” to the open-ended investigation of “Castle Naerytar.” But running through all that variety and tying it together is a unity of theme—the paired ideas that no one outside the Cult of the Dragon yet understands the full extent of the cult’s plot, and that the player characters, being brave but largely unknown, are good candidates to investigate and find out what’s up.

By the time The Rise of Tiamat kicks off, that situation is reversed. Through the player characters’ investigation and the cult’s own actions, the truth about Rezmir’s plans for the Sword Coast is revealed and the adventurers become famous heroes with well-known reputations. Those two changes lead to a noticeably different structure and tone in The Rise of Tiamat.

In Hoard, investigating the Cult of the Dragon was a sidelight for the factions, something that a few people with strong intuition (or who were just naturally suspicious) started looking into on their own initiative. With the full horror of the cult’s plan laid bare, the powers-that-be in Western Faerûn can’t ignore the danger anymore or push it toward the bottom of their priority lists. The situation becomes a matter of urgency for kings, generals, lord mayors, chief wizards, high priests, and rulers of every title. If the cult’s plan succeeds, there will be no more kingdoms, no more churches, no more merchants’ associations—there will be no power but Tiamat and her cabal of all-consuming dragons.

Faced with that threat, the movers and shakers of the Sword Coast convene a Council of Waterdeep to debate the proper response to the situation and to plan how best to oppose the cult. The council involves all five factions plus the most important rulers, nobility, and merchants of Western Faerûn. We’ll have much more to say about the council in a follow-up article. For now, it’s sufficient to state that, along with pursuing more traditional quests, player characters must also interact with the Council of Waterdeep, and that gives The Rise of Tiamat a political component seldom seen in D&D adventures.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen struck a balance between linear and nonlinear storytelling. It has a clear progression of events for characters to follow as they unravel the cult’s secret operation, but within those events, characters have enormous freedom of action. The Rise of Tiamat is structured differently. Specific events and situations are presented for characters to investigate or attack, but DMs aren’t required to run the episodes in a set order. The adventure suggests one sequence, but it’s not the only one possible. Many threats are developing at once around the Sword Coast. Characters learn about some of them through the Council of Waterdeep, some from other NPCs, some through informants or news brought by travelers, and some through their own effort. A DM who functions best when things are kept orderly can present just one or two situations at a time; a DM who’s comfortable with more chaos can present many leads and rumors and let players prioritize the risks themselves and tackle the episodes in whatever order they choose. This also means that most of the episodes are not restricted to a narrow range of character levels. Thanks to the way fifth edition D&D is built, it’s relatively easy to design situations that are just as challenging for 14th-level characters as they are for 10th-level characters.

Finally, there’s the finale—the great confrontation that everything builds toward. The situation we created for The Rise of Tiamat is not a typical boss fight. The fate of the entire Sword Coast and beyond is at stake, and it’s not up to the player characters alone to win this fight. The outcome of the final battle depends only partly on how well the characters fight that day. Equally important are how much damage they inflicted on the cult along the road to this point and how well they impressed members of the Council of Waterdeep to lend their support to the war. If the factions are feuding between themselves and the independent powers of the Sword Coast haven’t been influenced to take up the common cause, there’s every possibility that the Cult of the Dragon will win the day and bring ruin to Faerûn. If characters make their move against the cult in league with a strong alliance of powers, they have a solid shot at victory and at carving their names alongside some of the greatest heroes of the Forgotten Realms.

Steve Winter is one of the designers of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat adventures for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat are available in exclusive autographed collector’s editions with a patch available only through Kobold Press.

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