R.A. Salvatore shares his secret work on Neverwinter

How would you like for one of your favorite authors to come in and pen content for your virtual world?

R.A. Salvatore fans get to experience just that in Neverwinter when Underdark releases this fall. This eighth expansion for the Dungeons & Dragons game set in Forgotten Realms is venturing deep into the dangers in the world beneath the world, and who better to be a part of it than the man who brought the Underdark to life with memorable characters over a number of novels?

The pairing of Salvatore and Cryptic couldn’t be any more natural, and as a fan myself, I was happy to sit down with the author and talk about this involvement in the expansion, discussing everything from his famous characters to storytelling through the medium of games to having to keep it all a secret for so long.

The secret’s out

Although players and fans are just now learning about Salvatore’s involvement with the game, it isn’t a recently hatched idea. In fact, Salvatore said that he’s been connected to the project since the beginning — a detail that he had to keep to himself for over a year and a half! After having to remain quiet about it for so long (and deflect many a fan’s query), Salvatore expressed he was excited to finally be talking about it. “Wizards of the Coast called me up and asked me if I planned on going to the Sword Coast in my next Dark Elf book,” he said.  “And I said I was planning on going to the Crags.”

Salvatore described a meeting he then attended with Wizards of the Coast and Cryptic that discussed the need for a basic setting before Neverwinter even began. He continued, “I had an idea how of I could accomplish that with a fire primordial and the volcano, and we agreed so I wrote the book off of there.” After that, Salvatore said the lines of communication stayed open so that if there were any characters whose lives or deaths weren’t vital to his book’s story, they could live or die based on the game’s needs. As it turns out, Cryptic really wanted one particular baddy, so Salvatore didn’t kill it off.

Salvatore’s influence on the game goes beyond collaboration now; this recent work was actually crafting a handful of quests in a chain that players will embark on down in the Underdark.

Cavorting with canonized characters

As a reader of his books, I had to ask the obvious question: Do any familiar faces from Salvatore’s stories make an appearance in this quest line? He chuckled, then responded, “In this one, there’s this Dwarf with some really weird armor, another Dwarf with a one-horned helm named Bruenor Battlehammer, and a little Halfling guy named Spider — who has a different name other than Spider. And there’s a certain Dark Elf that people kind of know who kind of makes an appearance.” In other words, yes! “People who have been following the Realms for a lot of years and who know my work in the Realms are going to get to see some characters that they probably know as well as I know at this point,” he told me.

And fans will get to more than just see their favorite characters; players will interact with them. Drizzt Do’Urden, Regis, Bruenor, and Thibbledorf Pwent’s appearances are more than just fleeting cameos. According to Salvatore, one character in particular will have quite a bit of interactions with players, and we also know that Drizzt is fighting alongside groups in the 10-man battle against Demogorgon, the Prince of Demons. However, Salvatore emphasized that players aren’t taking a back seat to his characters. He stated,

“From the very beginning what we didn’t want to do is have iconic characters lead your character around by the nose. The player is the one that is important in this. But, having a companion shield Dwarf to run around with for a little bit might be fun.  Things like that.  There’s a lot of interaction with the characters.”

Salvatore noted that the actual quest line was written some time ago. Of course, then came all of the development work to bring those quests to life. Again, Salvatore’s involvement didn’t end, as times came up that adjustments had to be made before the whole thing was a finished product.

Now that it is completed and ready to release with the next expansion, has Salvatore played through his creation and seen the in-game representations of his characters? “I played through them all,” he said, “and I was giggling like an idiot the whole time. I was having a blast.” After seeing them in game, how did the characters measure up visually to what he — as the creator who brought them to life through words — envisioned? “They did an amazing job,” was his response. Salvatore noted that over the years there have been tons of artistic renditions of the characters, from book covers to fan art to even tattoos, so “most people who know [his] characters have a general feel of what they should look like, and [Cryptic] captured it really well.” In fact, the visuals — getting to stand beside his creations virtually — made the experience even more enjoyable for him. Was there any voice work involved for the characters, and how did that compare to how he heard them in his own mind? Salvatore said that he didn’t experience any voices as that part has not yet been added to the quest line.

So what is this quest line all about? While it may sound awkward to think of Drizzt or his companions needing help, they do. Salvatore stated that the quests center on “a really cool dwarf who lost a really cool and important item that he shouldn’t have lost” — an item that has been passing through the hands of many bad people and really needs to be found and reclaimed.  Salvatore explained that the quests make sense in the context of what happened in the books. The quest line is a continuation of the Forgotten Realms Rage of Demons story that began with Salvatore’s recently release novel, Archmage. The author also revealed that his book, Maestro, will be the conclusion to that whole story arc.

Video games as storytelling

While the idea of getting more of their favorite characters wherever they can is a bonus for some fans, others might not be too sure about mixing media. Why would an author, who has complete control over the destiny of his characters in print (well, we aren’t counting editors here!) allow his creations to be utilized in a video game? Salvatore stated that he believes that video games are another story-telling medium. He said,

“I’ve worked a lot with video games over the last 10 years; I know the process, and I enjoy the process a lot.  And I have a lot of respect for video games. To me, video games are the new story-telling arc — every bit as valid as movies, TV, and novels at this point.  Because technology has gotten good enough to get you emotionally involved.

Salvatore expressed how he relishes being able to work in a vibrant universe that combines the work of many artists. He stated, “The way that Wizards of the Coast is handling the Realms right now is really very cool as you’ve got lots of different parts moving around now with video games, the novels, and the new D&D edition.” It’s not about affecting the stories that others are working on, but using each others work to add flavor and immersion into his own stories. “When everybody is on the same page and that big story is flowing the way it supposed to flow, that’s when as a reader — or player — you can believe it more.”

“As a writer it gives you incredible opportunity to put Easter eggs in the books that will resonate and that might be picked up on somewhere else.”
“As a writer it gives you incredible opportunity to put Easter eggs in the books that will resonate and that might be picked up on somewhere else,” he told me. “It just makes it feel like a shared world again. I’m really grateful for that because makes it more fun for me.” He offered an example: When he did the Companion Codex books, he already had a couple dragons in there. However, he didn’t know about the Tyranny of Dragons campaign until the summit with Cryptic. At that point, he said to himself, “I need to bring some other dragons in!” He explained that that is the point where the dragon sisters showed up in the books, which he didn’t expect. It also afforded him a way to have meaning and motivations behind the addition of the metallic and chromatic joining in. “It made more sense,” he said, “Now there was a reason the four dragons were there and so willing to go and duke it out where the Orcs and Dwarves were fighting.” He concluded his example by stating, “I was able to take that story, to stand on the shoulders of the giants who created that story, and bring it over to add a little extra dimension and flavor to my story.” He punctuated his remarks with “That’s when a shared world really sings — when you are standing on the shoulders of giants leaping higher than you could if you were standing on the ground.”

Readers shouldn’t worry about any deep inconsistencies or wild departures from the stories they know.  “Some things might be different in the way things are handled in the novels than the video game, but the general story is the same thing.” Salvatore explained. For instance, the focus could be on side stories, or different takes on things in books, but it all works in concert together. “It gives the reader/the player such a deeper experience of the whole thing. I know as a player of games myself, when these things — those kinds of Easter eggs — just make it so much more enjoyable for me.”

On the flip side, Salvatore hopes that Neverwinter players who are unfamiliar with his works might be enticed to check out the books that flesh out the lives of these characters they will meet. He believes that combining media enhances the experience for both sets of players, those who read the books first or go to them after playing the game.

Knowing that fans will be hungry for more, I asked if we can expect to see more concrete collaboration with Neverwinter in the future Will there be more quest lines? Salvatore answered that he honestly didn’t know. “We’ve talked about it. We’ll have to see how the schedules line up. I certainly wouldn’t be aderse to it; I really enjoyed working with Cryptic. We have a good relationship.”

If you want to hear more about Salvatore’s involvement, check out this Q&A with Cryptic. We thank him for speaking with us!

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