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Seven Questions for Jeff LaSala

“I have performed for the council of the Silver
Tree, the Queen of Dusk, and all Seven Brothers
of Night. I have recited epics for lordly centaurs
and lady satyrs, cried eulogies for hags and sang
dirges for cyclops in the realms below. But nothing
would give me greater honor, esteemed sirs, than
the opportunity to make sausage with your guts.
Hah-HAH!” 
- Marrot the Fool


One of my goals this year was to interview other contributors to Dungeons & Dragons and get to know them better as players, DM's and individuals in general.  This month, I interviewed Jeff LaSala, a real live author!  For those that don't know, Jeff has written the Eberron book The Darkwood Mask, and was even interviewed about in on WotC's website here.  He's also authored numerous DDI articles, the list of which can be found at this location.  Lastly, he's also involved with Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero.  In a nutshell, this book is a collection of short stories set in a futuristic world.  The cool part about the book is that it comes with a CD.  Each story has its own soundtrack to listen to, creating mood, tension, or just plain excitement.  For more information, check out the Foreshadows website here.

 
 
I first started talking to Jeff last November when I saw that the Tarrasque articles were going to be published on DDI.  Scanning through the November comments, I saw that Jeff responded to someone stating how excited they were to see the Tarrasque again.  I messaged Jeff introducing myself as another freelancer, and we started chatting from there.  We're also officially friends on Facebook, so I felt pretty cool about that.  Out of all the authors I've met, Jeff has been the one to give me the most advice about being a writer, and just how the business works in general.  I'm hoping to write a DDI article with him soon!
 
So, with that being said, let's get to the questions!
 
1. From reading your website and various "about the author" postings, your wife seems to be an incredible source of support for you. Does she game with you? How has she supported your love of gaming? I'm getting married this year, and my fiancee deserves a lot of credit for all my adventure planning, map-making, and overall daydreaming that I do. I figured your wife deserves the same.

A great leading question! Yes, Marisa’s awesome and has always been supportive of my writing. I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid, but never really took it seriously, or professionally, until she helped encourage me to do so. I wrote her a short story once, just for her, about a young explorer, an island, some evil, snake-bodied lamia, and the lamia’s “disfigured” sister who was born with the tail of a fish instead of a serpent. That helped quicken my interest again, and eventually I started submitting to the Wizards of the Coast open calls for novels.

She does indeed game with me. She played a half-elven monk named Aunyxia in my years-spanning Forgotten Realms-turned-Ravenloft campaign. Now she’s Elody Skullgrinder, a half-orc cleric in my 4th Edition Isle of Dread campaign; a big girl with a big mace, who has a sunny disposition and a fondness for halflings.

This is a great response!  Ironically, my fiancee was the one who kept encouraging me to submit my ideas as well.  Looks like you got yourself a great woman!
 
2. When did you first get into the Eberron campaign setting, and what about it makes it your favorite?

When I first saw bits and pieces of the upcoming Eberron campaign setting (back in...oh, 2003?), I was initially skeptical. Magic trains? Really? When it came out, I didn’t pay much attention to it. Then there came the open call for a novel in the War-Torn series of Eberron, and I wanted to try for it. So I bought the Eberron Campaign Guide and read it cover to cover and in so doing became an instant fan.

Eberron is a setting with depth. It’s a Dungeons & Dragons world that considers the societal and economic developments in a world where magic is accessible, even common. When spellcasters put their heads together, wondrous inventions—or whole industries—can come of it, and it will change the course of civilization. Eberron is not just a place where freewheeling wizards roam across a pseudo-medieval land and monsters lurk in dungeons for no reason—although that’s all still possible, if you want it. There are organizations and agencies about, mercantile houses, government spy networks, powerful factions and secret societies. There are universities for magic and archaeology. There is flightcraft (airships and soar sleds); mass communication (chronicles and speaking stones); living constructs (warforged); and organized systems of transportation (lightning rail and other elemental-powered vehicles). And none of these are cheap knock-offs of technology; they’re still magic-based, they’re still D&D.

Even the adventurer, as a character concept, makes good sense in the world. Adventurers might be veterans of the Last War, mercenaries hired to guard an archaeological expedition, scholars launching said expeditions, or inquisitives investigating nefarious crimes. And the classic, monster-infested, trap-filled dungeon—as a trope of roleplaying fantasy—still have a place in Eberron but they make better sense in context. Ruins of the Dhakaani Empire, of the fallen civilizations of the giants of Xen’drik, or ancient fortresses from the Age of Demons. And there’s a crazy ton of bad guys you can work with, if you’re a DM. The Lords of Dust, the daelkyr, the Aurum, the Quori...any of of these can be the overarching villains of a campaign.

Basically, Eberron’s got something for everyone. If you don’t want the complexities of urban intrigue, you can run off into the jungles of Xen’drik or Q’Barra for an Indiana Jones-esque treasure hunt or venture into the Demon Wastes and take on powerful fiends. Whatever, it’s all there. It’s a sad thing that Eberron doesn’t have the support it used to.
                                     

3. You're an author of Eberron as well as a fan. What has been the coolest part of that experience (besides having contributed to the world you love)?

Well, I became personally invested in the setting because I was eventually picked to write a novel there—specifically for the Inquisitives series—but I’ve stayed with it since first contact. Freelancers are hired guns; you write what you’re paid to write, then you move on. That’s what I’ve seen again and again. But when something’s really great, you don’t always want to just move on.

Really, just contributing to a D&D campaign world is the coolest part of the whole endeavor. I’m a little jealous of how Realms novelists were able to affect the game setting of the Forgotten Realms in their stories. But it was decided fairly early on that Eberron novels wouldn’t impact the canon of the Eberron sourcebooks—they would remain separate incarnations of the setting. But still, I enjoyed fleshing out one corner of the setting. Namely, Karrnath and Korth, with a bit of Sharn sprinkled in. I went on to do that sort of thing again with a second Eberron novel, but it was never released since the series it was to be part of was cancelled.


                                                      

4. You have a blog where you write about playing in Eberron with D&D Next rules. How has this DM experience gone for you? What are your thoughts on playtesting with the new rules?

Well, if you’re referring to the Winter Coalition site, it’s more of a blog recounting the sessions of the campaign than about trying out the new rules. My priority in this game is fun. All of my players were new to Eberron—some even new to D&D itself—so being too thorough with playtesting D&D Next mechanics is merely a second priority.

That said, I’ve got a lot of good things to say about D&D Next rules so far. But they’ve still got much to accomplish and iron out. I didn’t want to limit my players to the races and classes presented in the packets so far, so I’ve had to do a lot of filling in myself—some of it borrowed from 3.5 and some of it just my own designing. The party consists of:
  • dwarf cleric (Onatar)
  • drow wizard
  • human barbarian
  • half-orc fighter (dragonmarked; House Tharashk)
  • shifter ranger
  • warforged artificer

5. Who is your favorite NPC that you have ever played? What made them special?

Oh, I have a bunch of favorites, though I’m fairly sure that my favorites aren’t the same as my players’ favorites. I tend not to give NPCs a lot of “screen time,” though, because I never want to upstage the PCs. They’re usually temporary allies or shadow players who spend more time in my head than in actual gameplay.
            I guess if I had to pick one, I’d go with a current one, and it would have to be Histra. She’s a human necromancer in my play-by-post online Eberron game (which is a game where NPCs can have a wee bit more spotlight, since it’s easier to write about them than act them out in person; cheating because I’m a writer?). Histra is a “frenemy” in that she’s on the evil end of neutral but she dallies with the party’s warlock and hates the others characters. Ultimately, she’s on the good guys’ side but she’s on a whole different moral wavelength than they are and she thinks little of animating the dead or harming the innocent. To her, few people are innocent, anyway. She’s just got a different worldview and that makes her fun to depict. She’s also got a pact with the aforementioned warlock character: she gets to be the one to kill him some day, probably in some foul ritual. If he dies by some other means, she’ll be very angry with him. And you shouldn’t piss off a necromancer; death is no escape.
            Actually, there’s one other NPC in that game who’s even more complex that I’d love to talk about, but I can’t, because some of my players will be reading this and I don’t want them to learn the dark secret.

6. What happened in the best D&D session that you ever ran as a DM?

One of my friends, who played the party’s cleric (of Ilmater, god of suffering), had to leave our game because he was joining the Navy. In his final session, his character had to go his own way...and so the session was full of emotional portent, parting wisdom and advice, and real life tears. It was amazing to watch. But it didn’t have much to do with me as a DM, just all of us as a group who collectively made some memorable stories.

In general, my favorite moments as a DM are when I can sit back and watch the players and their characters discuss or argue a course of action. Every minute that passes when I’m doing nothing but observing feels like a little victory. It drives home the fact that the game is not, as many people say, the DM’s story. It’s everyone’s.

I would have to agree.  Watching the players interact with the scenarios the DM creates and talk amongst themselves is one of the most rewarding times at the table.
 
7. What's your favorite Dungeons and Dragons monster and why? Do you have any cool stories, as a player and a DM involving this monster?

The gargoyle. Which is almost a shame, because they’re not really an iconic D&D monster. They’ve just always been there. But the first short story I ever wrote, written for a class project when I was in 5th grade, involved the adventures of a gargoyle who decided to leave the castle he was perched on and see the world. Gargoyles also played the villains in one of my first D&D campaigns (“campaign” being a loose term when you’re a kid), when I was the DM and my only player was my brother. And I’ve used gargoyles one way or another in just about every game I’ve ever run.

But now that I’ve written about the tarrasque (in Dragon issue #418) and have its imminent rise as the backdrop of my current 4E Isle of Dread campaign, I’d say it’s a contender now, too, for the spot of favorite. But the tarrasque is more of a plot device, not a casual monster you just drop into a game. Although I would like to actually run a combat with it once. That would be awesome.

To represent how awesome the Tarrasque is, I've posted the art in gigantic format.  No blog border should hold the Tarrasque!!!

 

Thanks to Jeff for agreeing to an interview with me!  I hope everybody else enjoyed it as well.  Be sure to leave your comments below.  You can follow Jeff on Twitter @Jeff_LaSala. I'm always @artificeralf

Comments

  1. Very cool interview. I really dig Jeff's work. I am always in awe of gamers that can also write novels.

    Eberron is one of the campaign settings I arbitrarily decided not to jump into as a way to save money. I really want to play a campaign in Eberron some day. It is obviously such a cool setting.

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    Replies
    1. I feel like my home campaign setting is probably very close to Eberron. Lots politics, intrigue, and just fun use of magic. Jeff is supposed to recommend a book to me for as a newbie so I can get the basic layout of the world.

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