Thursday, August 5, 2010

From the Pages of Dungeons & Dragons #0—Dark Sun Q&A

Q&A with DARK SUN writer Alex Irvine and artist Peter Bergting

Alex Irvine
Tell us a bit more about the initial cast of characters. Who are they and what do they want?
Our two main characters are a mul gladiator named Grudvik and a dune trader named Aki, who comes into our story trying to catch Grudvik, who’s technically a runaway slave. Grudvik’s trying to figure out who had him arrested, re-enslaved, and separated from the woman he loves…who happens to be a noble in House Ianto of Tyr. Her name is Rubi, and she’s got a thing for gladiators and a history that surprises everyone. Aki’s always on the make, and he thinks that a medallion Rubi gave Grudvik will make them all rich. Of course they’re going to have to head down into the ruins below the city of Tyr first…

Can you give us a quick rundown of what we can expect in the series?
The series will feature (among other things): Grudvik wishing he had killed Aki; Aki continually inventing reasons for Grudvik not to kill him; a fight on top of an airborne cloud ray elder; an expedition to the deepest darkest corners of the Under-Tyr; the revelation of Veiled Alliance activity within Tyr; a bunch of monsters; and some unrequited love thrown in for good measure.

Will readers familiar with the roleplaying game see a lot of it reflected in the comics?
They sure will. Peter Bergting has done a great job of evoking the feel of the game, and I’ve tried to weave the story around all of the stuff that makes Athas such a compelling setting. It’s harsh, unforgiving, lethal territory, populated by unforgiving and lethal people, and some outstanding monsters. But one of the things I always loved about RPGs was the banter among the players, so I tried to preserve some of that in the interactions. Especially between Aki and Grudvik.

Did you ever play D&D yourself? If so, what was your favorite character?
I did. My dad showed me the very first edition, those little parchment-covered books in the box, when I was about seven years old. We put together a little dungeon, and we were off and running from there. Some of the best memories of my childhood involve playing D&D with my dad and all his hippie friends.
My favorite character was a fighter named Xela (yeah, I know, but I was a little kid) who later (when AD&D came out) became a bard. I played him off and on for years, and even ported him over into other games. There were versions of him in Gamma World, Traveller, even Bushido, I think.

What is it about D&D appeals to you and why do you think it has remained in pop culture for so long?
Who doesn’t love roleplaying? We all do it, whether it’s over a tabletop with hex paper and gem dice, or at the bar on Friday night. D&D puts that together with a fantasy setting that distills a lot of what’s great about our favorite quests and epic stories. We live in a culture that doesn’t give us chances to be heroic. So we have D&D and we have superheroes. I always loved the game because I loved making dungeons and creating little cities and counties. For me it was a way to tell stories… so I guess it’s no surprise that I ended up writing stories in D&D settings. To this day I don’t feel right if I don’t know where my pad of graph paper is.

Much of the popularity of D&D extends from players creating their own characters and building upon them. How does that aspect play into creating these comics and how do you offset the lack of interactivity?
That’s a big part of roleplaying’s appeal, sure. But D&D also provides a great set of stories built into the worlds and campaign settings. When I was a kid, I loved the modules because they were kickass world-building that I got to plug my characters into. Even today, I think of the Tomb of Horrors fondly. The great D&D worlds—Greyhawk, Athas, et al.—were more of the same, you know. (I was yelling about the Nyr Dyv to a friend not too long ago because he didn’t know it was modelled on Lake Superior.) Those places become some of our favorite places to tell stories. Athas is like that for sure, and these comics—like a Dark Sun campaign—are stories told in Athas, right?

The idea of the comics certainly appeals to many D&D fans, but what about those not familiar with the games? What aspects of the comic will draw their interest?
Even if you’ve never played D&D, this story will give you violence, sex, conspiracy, and adventure. How can you resist that? You don’t have to know the difference between a dune reaper and an id fiend to get a kick out of an adventure into the haunted ruins below an ancient city.

Peter Bergting
Tell us a bit more about our initial cast of characters. How did you go about designing their look?
There was a bit of back and forth with the characters, and it took a few weeks before they had found their respective races (mul and human) and professions, they even switched back and forth a couple of times. The only thing consistent was the mohawk on Grudvik. The look was challenging, I had a specific image in mind, but there was precious little reference material to go about in the beginning so I didn’t really know if I could take it in the direction I wanted. The one thing to keep in mind was that there was no metal in Dark Sun so I had to work around that. As soon as the reference material started to show up, the design process got easier and I was able to realize what I had wanted to do in the beginning. Grudvik was approved pretty much on the spot, and Aki just a little later after I had added a bit of armor to him. I like to keep a reference to a living person so I have something to come back to when I start to sway, and I envisioned Aki as Shane MacGowan, but heroic and with better teeth. I don’t like clean-cut heroes, but Grudvik is close. I love the way Alex writes him, which gives him a bit of a tragic slant that I can play with so he’s not just another Conan derivative.

Did you ever play D&D yourself? If so, tell us about your favorite character.
I did, back in my teens and then later in my 30s. We played classic AD&D, and I usually ended up being a chaotic neutral kind of character. I always spent too much time doodling and drawing while playing, which was a sure-fire way of getting killed. I remember one time when the party was out walking and we ran into a bunch of zombies. I uttered the line “come on, it’s just a bunch of zombies,” and then I died. I also played a halfling that annoyed the other characters so much they killed him just to shut me up. When I ended up trying the game again in my mid 30s, I had the unfortunate luck of ending up with a DM that was too picky with the rules and just sucked all the fun out of the game.

What is it about D&D appeals to you and why do you think it has remained in pop culture for so long?
I applied for freelance work with TSR, who were running the show back in the day, but I got turned down. Eventually I was lucky enough to end up with a small gig for Wizards of the Coast later on and did one of my career-turning pieces for Dragon Magazine. Paizo took over a few years later, and I ended up doing art for 40-plus consecutive issues of both Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine. So, I got to look at many aspects of the game. Remaining in the popular culture for all these years I think is a testament to the incredible attention to detail of the creative teams. D&D has always been a high quality brand. Being the de facto largest game out there coupled with actually being great is the way to keep it consistently entertaining and not only appeal to lifelong fans, but draw in new fans over and over again. I think time will tell if pen and paper will survive the digital revolution. Who knows? Maybe in a year we will have all our rulebooks on our iPads. But I digress, why D&D appeals to me is because I always found the worlds so open, this gigantic sandbox that was yours to play with. I tried many games growing up, I’d say pretty much all of them, but D&D is the one that has remained “up there” over all the years. Having worked with the franchise helps, I guess, but still D&D is and will always be D&D.

The idea of the comics certainly appeals to many D&D fans, but what about those not familiar with the games? What aspects of the comic will draw their interest?
I hope they will be sucked in by the art, which is what people will see when flipping through the book, and then get hooked on Alex’s awesome story and characters. Dark Sun is such a cool (hot) world that people not familiar with the game will find a refreshing take on the fantasy genre.

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