I Will Not Relent
I will not relent.
My editor at Tor once shared with me that he read my duology several times…that as a career editor he didn’t have time for that sort of indulgence, but in my case, he loved the books so much that he made exception. I earned a Kirkus star for the first book, got nominated for a bunch of awards, and had a shiny blurb from Glen Cook on the back cover. But sales didn’t wow. I took home 20 grand for both books. You can’t survive for a year on 20 grand and I’d spent at least six writing that story. For Paul to tell me in the aftermath of that reality that he loved my words so much that he read my books multiple times…well that meant more to me than the money, or anything anyone else had (to this day) ever said about my accomplishment.
There was a day when Paul called me up a couple years after Black Bottle came out and asked me if I was working on anything. I said no. And I could hear in his voice the genuine desire. He suggested I do something mainstream, less niche, a series about dragons that might get me noticed. And I knew he was doing this because he loved my work and wanted my name to get the recognition he thought it deserved. I love Paul. My connection to him was a strange amalgamation of business and passion. But I couldn’t write those books about dragons.
Because my heart doesn’t live in the mainstream. My novels were dark, tortured and complicated. They fit into mainstream the way Black Sabbath fits into a baby shower.
So when I went back to RPGs, I looked at what everyone was playing. And at first, I tried to conform.
Here sits this blog. And it will only ever draw *some* of the grognards. My players (and other players) have told me that I should make 5th ed compatible offerings to draw a bigger audience and more money. But my heart is not in the mainstream. My heart is dark and tortured and complicated. And yet, what I’m writing now, contains dragons!
There is something wonderful about being famous enough to delight an intimate audience, and obscure enough to fly under the radar.
Nowadays,1st edition AD&D does that too. It’s dark. It’s complicated.
I told my story in a pair of novels. And I’m ever grateful to Tom Doherty and Tor for allowing me to do so. But now I’m doing this. Constructing dark, tragic settings for my players to inhabit and use as backgrounds to tell their own stories. My D&D game is kind of like a paint brush overloaded with black wash. Nearly every character has been cursed, driven insane or worse. But some of them have survived and recovered. Some of them have had moments of truly legendary heroism.
And of course, that’s why it works. Because if you go out at noon looking for a lantern in the hills you’ll never find it. But after nightfall, its beacon will be unmistakable.
AD&D is a game from another time. As I have mentioned in the forwards to my supplements, it is a game that saved my life. Gygax’s late brand of D&D was complicated enough to demand my full attention, dark enough to fulfill both my love and fear of monsters, tortured enough to require interpretation. It is a game that must be approached not simply with reasoning, but with wisdom and a game capable of teaching both.
AD&D is complicated enough, in fact, and defies modern game sensibilities of balance and fairness to such an extent that, in my opinion, it is less of a game than a simulation. One of my player’s characters was stricken by a ghost, made it safely back to the stronghold, but was so venerable that he then died in his sleep of old age. Another was consumed in a wildfire that raced over the plains when she failed to outrun it. Sometimes there are no saving throws. Death arrives at random on a die with as many sides as there are characters in the party. When your number’s up, your number’s up.
But in AD&D the twisting avenues of possibility lead into fractals of problem/solution without end. For every immunity there is an Achilles heel. For nearly every tragic end there is a lantern in the dark. And for every game session there are good friends to share these things.
I may never write another novel. But if I remain under the radar, I might get to keep making adventures for this nostalgic relic of a game.
Therefore, if you have wondered how easy it is to convert one my supplements to another system, I’m sorry. I don’t know the answer, but I wish you well.
I’m sure I could have had a wider audience for all the things I’ve made over the years if I’d just been willing to compromise a little bit. But fuck that. You make compromises with lovers and friends. Not with your creative vision.
So here’s to low view counts, an aging audience that will dwindle with the years, and things of beauty destined to be lost in dust. Here’s to the once-upon-a-decade king of role-playing games. The fallen titan, whose corpse was parceled out to feed a vivid horde of mutations. The legendary source of frantic mothers’ satanic hallucinations. And the very best way to forge lasting friendships that I have known in this relentless world.
I hope this backward-gazing blog makes a tiny audience smile and that this post serves as an open letter, answering the question posed to me recently by players seeking system-adaptations of my modules. I mean no disrespect to adherents of other systems. I simply intend to respect and adhere to the system of my choice.
Peace, and happy gaming.