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The Worlds Inside R.A. Salvatore
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The Worlds Inside R.A. Salvatore

April 26, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

What are some of the things that designers need to keep in mind when they're creating worlds to set their games in?

RS: Whether it's writing a book or creating world for a game, the most important thing you're asking people for is their suspension of disbelief. That's the critical thing. You're all going to come up with different sweet spots that you want to work on in a world with a different tone.

And I think the key is really consistency. It's making the music fit the art, and the art fit the story, and the story fit the races, and the races fit the whole tone of the world.

The more consistency you have, the less you're going to be throwing people out of the world. The more they're immersed in it, the more they're gonna care about it. The more they care about it, you win. Whether it's a book or a game.

Does some of the world-building come out of role-playing sessions?

RS: No. Well, it might as we go along because they're playing what they're doing. They might come up with other things. But no.

To what extent does gaming influence the design or even your own writing?

RS: Probably different for everybody. You might see something in any game that reminds you of a game previous, if that game had a big influence on the person who was designing the game. For me, no, not a lot at all.

I have been a gamer since -- well, all my life -- but I really got into role-playing games with D&D around 1980. But I've been very good at keeping the games and the writing separate in my head. I might steal something from a session if somebody has a cool idea or a cool name for a character. Mike Leger (38 Studios) actually came up with the name Jarlaxle, who is one of the long-standing characters in my series. But other than that, no.

Are there any cultural or historical references that you find yourself going back to when you're creating these worlds?

RS: Yeah. Perfect example: After I wrote the first three books for TSR -- and I did the Crystal Shard, Streams of Silver, and Halfling's Gem -- they wanted me to go back and talk about where this Dark Elf character came from.

And so they wanted me to create this Dark Elf city. And that was quite a challenge because Dark Elves at that point were just these things in dungeons you run away from and I had to make a workable society out of that. So I actually went and got out my copy of Mario Puzo's The Godfather. That was actually the skeleton of the world I created.

Because I don't care whether you're writing about elves or dwarves; it has to make sense. And to make sense to people who are reading your books or playing your games -- they're not elves or halflings; they're people -- they have to have seen it in their experience. We all have an idea of how societies work, how civilizations work, whether it's a civilization like the Romans or Native American tribes.

We all have these images of how they work, and there are a lot of truths that we come to expect, things we take for granted. So, you want to draw on that. The races have to make sense within themselves. If the Dark Elves were just these killing machines, they wouldn't have a society. They wouldn't be powerful. They would all be dead.

Even when I wrote the orcs in the more recent books, I tried to do the same thing. There has to be some structure behind it. It can't just be pure evil people. People don't get up in the morning and say, "I'm gonna be evil today." So, for that, I used Mario Puzo.

The biggest influence on my DemonWars world was the Catholic Church. I'm a Catholic kid from New England. In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church, the schism of the church over money, the Franciscans, the Benedictines, that whole thing really resonated with me philosophically. So, when I was doing DemonWars, that was one of the structures I employed, except it was based on magic instead of money. I always go back to history.

When I was in college, I took a course called The Ascent of Man. It was based on the Jacob Bronowski documentary series that was on in the '70s. You know, one of those 13-part series on PBS, right? And what Bronowski did that I found really intriguing is he traced the history of man by inventions as opposed to by wars.

If you look at history, it's always about wars, right? We're going to pick the Civil War for these three months of American History. It's always about wars. Bronowski did it by inventions, and he talked about how these things changed society. So, when I was doing the history of Copernicus, that was one of the pieces that I used. In fact, I brought in my discs, and people would watch The Ascent of Man.

And then the other thing that I use a lot is a Time-Life series called The Enchanted World. It's a book series that I've gone back to a thousand times. If you read the book about giants, it shows you all the different giants, all the different fairy tales and myths of giants from all over Europe mostly, even the Far East sometimes. So, it really brings a flavor into it. You can understand how these myths formed, how folklore came to be. It's kind of fun to imagine what these people saw to make them think the elves took their babies to hollow hills or whatever.

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