The Fall of 38 Studios, and DemonWars: More From R.A. Salvatore (Part 2)

David Craddock | 15 Oct 2014 12:00
Interviews - RSS 2.0
ra salvatore book signing

I asked Salvatore if, hypothetically, he would be interested in taking the Amalur IP and writing a series of books rather than video games, assuming he could get hold of the IP. He gave the matter some thought, then said, "No, I don't want to buy it. First of all, I couldn't afford it. [laughs] We're talking a lot of money. But second of all, the amount of work it would take to bring it to game form, in any way, would require a team. I'm a writer. I'm not going to make the same mistake that Curt [Schilling] made and think I can run a company."

If he were given the opportunity to pick and choose pieces of lore to retrieve from the debris of 38's remains, Salvatore would reclaim the short stories that he wrote to promote the game. "I wrote a story for Curt for his 40th birthday. I love those stories and I want them back, but I would have to buy them. As far as writing books, we'll see what happens. I'm just kind of sitting back and seeing what happens."

Shaking his head, Salvatore closed the book on the subject of 38 Studios by saying, "I think it was a case of innocence colliding with very sharp people. It's a very risky business to begin with. Computer-game companies get wiped out all the time, and this was just one of those situations."

All in the Family

the rule book for demonwars

We turned our attention to DemonWars: Reformation. The tabletop RPG was designed largely by Salvatore's son, Bryan, who had worked on game design at 38 Studios before the studio's demise. "By the time 38 Studios collapsed, Bryan was the guy working on all the classes, all the monster abilities, all the balancing on the MMO. His bosses, huge names in the computer-games industries, were coming up to me and saying, 'Bryan's our star. We throw everything at him and he just keeps hitting it.'"

When 38 Studios toppled, Salvatore went back to writing books full-time. Bryan, however, was unemployed. Salvatore came up with something to keep them both busy. "I said, 'Bryan, I designed this [tabletop] game in 1990. What do you think of it?' He looked at it and said, 'Well... it sucks. But I can fix it.' So I said, 'Well, fix it.' We had a blast."

The prototype Salvatore dug out of the closet was a standard dice-based game predicated on percentages. Bryan retooled the game, incorporating his father's DemonWars setting and designing a fast-paced style of play that appealed to the elder Salvatore's love of first-edition D&D. "In first-edition Dungeons & Dragons, you have to be able to think on your feet. That's what I liked about EverQuest: monsters could spawn unexpectedly and people could betray you. You had to be agile because the unexpected was going to happen. You had to think outside the box."

D&D's debut edition offered players and dungeon masters (DMs) nearly limitless flexibility. In Salvatore's opinion, future editions of the games restricted that freedom of choice. DemonWars: Reformation puts the players back in control. The game master (GM) can extend the rules to any off-the-cuff whim players come up with, keeping the pace snappy and the party engaged. "For example, if I'm on a staircase, and we're fighting, and I want to jump off the staircase, grab the chandelier, swing across, drop behind the monsters and pop them one--the GM can assign a difficulty to that," Salvatore said proudly. "I roll an agility to check and see if I can make it. Then I spend my balance to bring it up to the [agility] check so that I make it."

ra salvatore playing demonwars

Salvatore and Bryan are eyeing another Kickstarter campaign to add more characters, as well as add options for party sizes. They hope players will experiment by mixing together different types of characters. Knights, for example, wear heavy armor and will triumph in most one-on-one encounters. Monks work better in a group. Each monk added to a group increases their strength, so a group of monks will likely walk all over a group of knights.

DemonWars: Reformation also gave Salvatore the opportunity to partner with his son Geno, the primary author of the Stone of Tymora books, once again. "We love working together. We're doing another Kickstarter, and we might be doing some comics. 'The Education of Brother Thaddius,' the novella I wrote for the DemonWars Kickstarter, is going to Audible, to Kindle. There's a new imprint comic company that said, 'Are the comic rights available for that?' We said, 'Why yes, they are, and Geno and I would love to write it.' So it looks like we'll be working together a lot. It's very cool. I love working with my kids."

In the third and final installment of our interview with R.A. Salvatore, the author discusses the traumatic events that took place in his Transitions trilogy of Drizzt novels, and how he brought beloved characters back from the grave.

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