Hoping to capture the attention of both traditional pen-and-paper role-players and video game RPG fans, Wizards of the Coast wants to put the city of Neverwinter on the minds of fantasy fans everywhere. That's why they've called in the big guns: author R.A. Salvatore and his most famous creation, Drizzt Do'Urden.
A conflicted dark elf that fled the oppression of his matriarchal underground society to forge his own way in the world, Drizzt Do'Urden is one of the most beloved and popular figures in modern fantasy fiction. Books featuring him never fail to hit the New York Times Best Seller List, massively multiplayer online games are filled with dark-skinned elves bearing variations of his name, and it isn't a fantasy convention until someone shows up in poorly-applied dark makeup and a bad white wig.
He's so popular with role-playing fans that Wizards of the Coast tapped his creator, R.A. Salvatore, to help lead players to Cryptic Studios' upcoming online PC game Neverwinter in a series of new novels. I got a chance to speak to Mr. Salvatore last week about the new trilogy, the upcoming video game tie-in, the gaming history of his most famous creation, and how Drizzt got tied up in this Neverwinter nonsense in the first place.
He just happened to be in the neighbourhood.
While Neverwinter, the second book in R.A. Salvatore's Neverwinter Saga hits store shelves today, the author tells me that Neverwinter is only the frosting on top of the latest Drizzt tale.
"The core story isn't Neverwinter," Salvatore explained during a phone interview last Friday. "The core story is what happens to Drizzt when his world changes, and the feelings of recklessness, fear, anger, and also hope that maybe he'll be able to have another good life. That story was already in place. I knew what I wanted to write, and that's the cake.
"The frosting is Neverwinter."
According to the writer, Wizards of the Coast called him up and asked him if he would be in the area when he wrote his next Drizzt book, and as luck would have it, he would be. After a summit to determine how to logically tie the story together with the marketing push, The Neverwinter Saga was born.
The trilogy began in October of last year with the Gauntlgrym , in which Drizzt and his remaining companions search for the legendary home of the Delzoun dwarves. The novel also marked a major turning point for the dark elven ranger; the end of an era that began way back in 1988's Icewind Dale Trilogy from TSR and the beginning of a new and somewhat darker chapter in his life.
The trilogy, as the blurb on the back of my preview copy of Neverwinter reads, will set the stage for the "must-have PC gaming experience", Cryptic Studios' Neverwinter. Unrelated to the popular Neverwinter Nights series from Atari, this Neverwinter is story-based online game that sees players joining up in parties of five (with AI characters available for the solitary adventurer) to tackle a wide variety of premade adventures. A system similar to those in place in Cryptic's City of Heroes and Star Trek Online will allow players to create and share their own content with the community.
And who knows, perhaps a certain dark elf might be making an appearance?
"I think the plan is that he will (show up)" said Salvatore. While definite plans are in place to have other characters that survive the trilogy to act as non-player characters in the online game, Drizzt's appearance is still to be determined, though his creator is hopeful. "We haven't gotten to that point yet, or if we had I wouldn't tell you anyway, but I think they'll probably find ways to get him in the game. He's in the area, he might as well show up."
Drizzt is no stranger to video games, even outside the realm of massively multiplayer copycats. In SSI's 1994 PC adventure Menzoberranzan the famed drow elf could be a member of your adventuring party. In Stormfront Studio's action adventure Forgotten Realms: The Demon Stone, which Salvatore helped shaped the story for, Drizzt made a cameo as a playable character. But the most memorable appearance by the dark hero in a computer game, both for players and for R.A. himself, was the beloved Baldur's Gate series from BioWare.
"I wish I could take credit for those, because those games were awesome, but I had nothing to do with that. I was actually shocked when I was playing through Baldur's Gate and then ran into Drizzt and was like 'Now this guy looks familiar!'"
What would have infuriated other creators, Salvatore took in stride. "BioWare is just so darn good anyway. BioWare constantly raises the bar on everything they touch. Baldur's Gate to me lifted the bar so high for role-playing games. I wish I had been involved."
Of course R.A. Salvatore is more involved in gaming these days, working with The Elder Scrolls designer Ken Rolston and comic artist Todd McFarlane on Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning for Hothead and Big Huge Games, an epic action role-playing game. "For some people expectations were high," Salvatore says of the ambitious collaboration. "For others it was the Hindenburg; a disaster waiting to happen."
Now the game is right around the corner (February 7 release date), and Salvatore can't wait for us to play it. "For five years we've been building this incredible world, and we haven't been able to talk about it, and it's killing me. Finally when Reckoning comes out I'll be able to start blabbing about it. I can't wait."
His involvement in the Neverwinter game is someone less intense, but nonetheless important. Since his trilogy is essentially shaping a portion of that online world, Salvatore, Wizards of the Coast, and Cryptic Studios are collaborating to help keep characters and events straight. The close working relationship is due to a lesson the writer learned working on Kingdoms of Amalur.
"One thing that working with 38 Studios has taught me is I can change a description of a place in a paragraph; give me 15 minutes and I'll change the description. But for a computer game, if they've created an asset, it can cost tens of thousands of dollars to change that asset." So he's shaping the world his character lives in, but being mindful of Cryptic's development budget while doing so.
So R.A. Salvatore has a pretty full plate, as does his constant companion, Drizzt Do'Urden. What's next for the world's most famous dark elf? Will he find a new family? Will he even survive the next book? That's all up to him.
"When I write these books, I don't know what's going to happen on the next page." Really? "I write these books the way other people read them, which makes it more fun for me. The fact of the matter is if the story tells me he's going, he's going."
Want to meet R.A. Salvatore yourself? Be sure to check out his Facebook page for the schedule of his latest book tour.