Pathfinder Tales: Great Golem Sale

winter witch

Cover by Jesper Ejsing

The recent Paizo sale runs through Sunday, December 1. It includes the earliest Pathfinder Tales novels at a 50% discount.

Both Prince of Wolves and Elaine Cunningham’s Winter Witch are particularly close to my heart, so I hope you give them a try. But why stop there when for $25 you can have the first five novels in the line?

 

Know Direction Kickstarter

Dan Scott pits the boys against the Sczarni werewolves.

Cover art by Dan Scott

Jefferson Jay Thacker was one of the first people to interview me about the then-new Pathfinder Tales line and my first Radovan & the Count novel, Prince of Wolves. The circumstances weren’t ideal, since we started in a noisy convention hall and then moved across the street to a noisy restaurant, but it was cool to talk with someone who knew the setting and was excited about the new line of novels. And that, as we expats say, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Since then, Jefferson and his partner Ryan Costello, Jr. have invited me on their podcast, which is now a Youtube video channel, to talk about each new novel featuring the boys. Their knowledge of and love for Pathfinder make them some of my favorite ambassadors of the game and world, and before our conversations they’ve already read the book (more often than not), which makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable.

The boys (the other boys, I should say) are in the home stretch of their Kickstarter campaign to upgrade their equipment and host additional events. If you’ve never heard or listened to their ‘cast before, I encourage you to check it out at their website or on Youtube. If you like it as much as I do, consider sending a donation their way.

 

Radovan & the Count Week in Review

Did you happen to see the first part of Mordicai Knode’s interview of me at paizo.com?

How about the second part, right here on on this blog? I’d love to see some comments there.

Speaking of Mordicai, a few weeks back he posted a wonderful review of King of Chaos at tor.com, to go along with the one he did earlier of the first three novels. If you like his review, drop a comment over there and make him look like the big shot reviewer he is.

Perhaps you missed the first free chapter of King of Chaos, posted courtesy of the fine folks at Black Gate. More sample chapters are on their way.

And maybe you now have time to read the first chapter of “The Fencing Master,” also at paizo.com. Some readers say very kind things about it in the comments. Chapter Two comes next Wednesday, when the plot definitely thickens.

Finally, if you’re interested in the earliest tales of Radovan and the Count, I’ve pinned a reminiscence here. Once I see ten comments (from 10 different people, mind you, not 10 from one guy), I will put together one on the Master of Devils period.

 

Mordicai Knode Interviews Dave Gross, Part 2

Check out the first part of this interview at paizo.com.

 

How much leeway do you have for sweeping world changes? How “big” can you get without needing to check in with editorial?

Virtually none, and not big at all.

I can propose anything I like, but if it involves the death of an important campaign figure, a change in government, or even the appearance of certain powerful beings, the answer will almost always be “no.”

That said, I do occasionally propose biggish things and get approval on some of it. And I think in future, as the campaign setting progresses, they may tap novelists to write stories set during big events.

 

What was one monster that you wanted to have in there that you just couldn’t fit or had to edit out of Prince of Wolves?

You know, I don’t think there was one. I’m such a fan of gothic horror that I could write a dozen novels set in Ustalav, the way I could write a dozen novels set in Tian Xia, so there was never any impulse to cram in every possible trope and creature. You’ve got to leave some casting for later episodes.

However, months after finishing the novel, I realized that Prince of Wolves has several superficial similarities to one of my Forgotten Realms novels, Black Wolf. Among them were the presence of werewolves, a divine caster love interest, and an unorthodox vampire.

While I’ve nothing against the romantic version of the vampire, I’ve always preferred the monstrous aspects of the bloodsuckers. If those can be more viscerally horrifying than two neat puncture wounds on the neck, all the better.

 

Master of Devils: I think this one would make a hell of a comic, pun completely intended. If you had to pick a comic book artist and author to adapt it—and the guys doing the actual Pathfinder comic were busy—who’d you pick?

I would pick three different artists, one for each of the three POV characters’ stories.

For Radovan’s story, I’d pick Eduardo Risso. For Varian’s, Craig Russell. For Arnisant’s, Mark Nelson.

I can’t imagine who I’d choose to adapt my work. I’d much rather do it myself. But if the sky’s the limit and you put a gun to my head, I’d say Joss Whedon or one of his acolytes.

 

Queen of Thorns is all about genealogy, both Varian’s and Radovan’s. How far off the deep end have you gone with the family trees?

Not too far, but I have in mind the story behind Varian’s mother’s death, as well as the particular tragedies of several of Radovan’s ancestors, including his parents.

In my idea folder are a couple of flashback stories that could be revealed beside contemporary events. Several of them center on family matters.

 

King of Chaos: Okay Dave. You’ve just been made a Chaotic Evil Demon Prince, the whole package. What is your portfolio, what do you look like, and what is your level(s) of the Abyss like?

I’m full of phlegm today, so all I’ve got is “Demon Lord of Snot.”

 

Well, all right, if you were any demigod on any plane, what plane and what critter creature?

My celestial ambitions are modest. Put me in one with good alehouses that allow dogs.

Perhaps it’s the booster shot of Elysium, which we watched a few weeks ago, but I’ve no aspiration to live among the gods or the demons or any of those jerks. I’m a Prime Material boy.

Critters are all right, though. I like critters.

 

Okay, hot shot, pop quiz! Let’s have a soundtrack for each of your books.

My Ustalav Mix was full of Devotchka, Beirut, Gogol Bordello, Interpol, and Eivør Pálsdóttir, with occasional bursts of Lacuna Coil and Dream Theater and infrequent jolts of traditional Roma music.

Master of Devils folder started with the soundtracks for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hero; House of Flying Daggers; and Curse of the Yellow Flower and a little traditional mongolian, Japanese, and Chinese music. For Radovan’s chapters, I listened to a lot of Front Line Assembly, All That Remains, Alexisonfire, Bigelf, In Flames, Ivardensphere, Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, Taking Dawn, and assorted other metal.

I didn’t make a folder for Queen of Thorns, but I confess to breaking out some Enya, Clannad, Loreena McKennitt, and Mary Fahl when I didn’t feel sufficiently sylvan. To get in a demon mood, I sometimes broke out more metal or spooked myself with some Bill Laswell and Tetsuo Inoue or listened to Ligeti’s Requiem for as long as I could stand it without getting the shivers. I think there were days of nothing but trance and/or prog rock, too.

King of Chaos also didn’t have a dedicated folder, but I remember listening to Akira Ikufube’s Godzilla soundtrack, some Sigur Rós, Kenji Kawaii’s Ghost in the Shell soundtrack, Paul Ruskay’s haunting Homeworld soundtrack, and more of the above-mentioned metal and spooky stuff.

 

You recently had a Gencon panel with Elizabeth Vaughan, John Helfers, Lou Anders, and Brandon Sanderson on creating a system of magic and weaving the rules of a magic system into a story.  You’ve inherited a Vancian magic system from the Pathfinder rules, but you’ve managed to find the knife edge of paradox; that is, you’ve gone “off the reservation” with Varian’s riffle scrolls & Radovan’s transformations, neither of which fits into a neat little box of class mechanics, but you’ve done so in such a way that their unique abilities & drawbacks still follow the cosmological mechanics of the world (and the game world).  What are the pros and cons of this approach, and what do you think you have to learn from other writers in worlds with strong systems of the supernatural, like Sanderson?

Last question first: My sad confession is that I’m not up-to-date on what the current giants of fantasy fiction are doing. Most of my literary influences come from much earlier writers. I will remedy this failing over the winter, I promise!

In past work, I’ve sometimes offered characters who I felt were a little too “by the book.” Gradually I came to realize that what really makes an iconic fantasy protagonist is that he or she is an exception–not necessarily “the chosen one,” but a character who’s different from others. With that in mind, I sometimes push for a “house rules” approach to the game mechanics that provide the “magic physics” of the Pathfinder world.

But I don’t want to throw out the rules, of course. I just want to bend them sometimes, and never arbitrarily. For instance, even in the novella “Hell’s Pawns,” in which Count Varian Jeggare isn’t even a point-of-view character, I had a rationale for why he couldn’t cast spells like other wizards. I shared that reason with my editor, who generally approved of it, knowing that I wouldn’t reveal the truth until after I’d told a number of stories involving these characters. The time for the reveal–or most of it–came with King of Chaos. More of the rationale behind Count Jeggare’s unusual problem may unfold in later stories.

Likewise with Radovan’s unusual nature. I knew I wanted him to be different from other tief— I mean, hellspawn. “No horns, no tail” was the first rule I imposed on myself, but as I developed the plot of “Hell’s Pawns,” another idea occurred to me about why he might be unusual among his kind. That secret has unfolded a little more in virtually every book in the series, but there are still some fairly big revelations to come in future. I’m saving them for when the plot of a particular story intersects in the right way with his family tree.

And that’s the bottom line: I’m not bending the rules just to make the characters different. I try to do it only in ways that connect with the protagonists’ personalities or family histories, using magic to emphasize or mirror element of character or story. Since in a fantasy world metaphor is not always metaphor, it’s a fun way to connect literary devices to game mechanics.

 

Your novels generally have a colorful cast of supporting characters, whether they are strange elven nobility or a goblin who swallowed the spirit of the wind. Heck, Radovan’s had quite a few dalliances along the course of the story, from a werewolf fortune-teller to a holy dominatrix. Which of your minor characters are you favorites, and which are you waiting for an opportunity to take a second crack at?

I love all of them, but of course some more than others. It’s hard for me to write about a character until I find at least something to sympathize with. Every time I finish a novel, I feel I could write a dozen short stories—or sometimes full novels—about some of the secondary cast.

When James Sutter and I first discussed a sequel to Prince of Wolves, one of my ideas was a novel featuring Azra and Malena, with “the girls” taking the place of “the boys.” Soon after introducing her in the first novel, I envisioned a fairly long and involved origin story for Azra, but there was some concern about my writing a novel about a mute character. (Personally, I think it’d be a piece of cake, since as a POV character she wouldn’t have to be verbal, and half of the story I wanted to tell was of a time before she lost her tongue.) So Azra’s probably top of my list.

Count Jeggare has a long untold history, and plenty of unfinished business, with Paralictor Ivo Elliendo back in Egorian. Likewise, Radovan’s ties to Zandros the Fair and the rest of the Goatherds are not so easily severed as he might hope. As dangerous as the boys’ travels have been, their eventual homecoming might be far worse.

I fell in love with the kami of Master of Devils. In fact, when I finished that book I felt as though I could write nine more set in Tian Xia focusing on all the heroes who remained behind after the battle at the Gate of Heaven and Hell. But what I really wanted was to write an Arnisant novel in which he gathered another group of fae creatures to fight against goblin tribes—or maybe an “untold chapter” in which he teamed up with Oddnoggin from Queen of Thorns to fight the forces of the Witchbole.

When I began Queen of Thorns, I thought I’d like to write more stories about Kemeili, but by the time I finished the character I most wanted to revisit was Oparal. Because we saw her only through the POVs of Radovan and Jeggare, I felt she appeared far less sympathetic than I imagined her internal life. Fortunately, when James and I first discussed King of Chaos, Oparal was an obvious choice for a third POV character because of the Silver Crusade.

I also fell a little in love with Liane Merciel’s sorcerer Jelani, whom she graciously allowed me to borrow for King of Chaos. And I have an abiding affection for every one of the crusaders who follow Oparal into the Worldwound. Pity they didn’t all make it back. At the end of King of Chaos, the surviving heroes are about to embark on another battle. In my imagination I knew how it would turn out and what some of them might do afterward. I won’t spill it all because spoilers and because it’s possible I’ll return to some of those characters one day, but I did have the phrase “_______ Demon-Slayer” stuck in my head for weeks after finishing.

 

If you were making a library of “essential viewing” to really see the influences and references you make in your work, what movies would you put in it?

I’ve posted in various places about even more kung fu movies, but here’s a list of ten films or series that inspired the four novels, two novellas, and I forget how many short stories:

Brotherhood of the Wolf

Horror of Dracula (and many other Hammer/Universal films)

The Bride With White Hair

Green Snake

Indiana Jones series

Murder on the Orient Express

Nausicaa of the Valley of Winds (and more Miyazaki)

Aliens (and really any James Cameron film)

The Maltese Falcon (and many other film noir)

The Twilight Samurai (and its thematic sequels)

Mordicai Knode lives in Brooklyn, where he run campaigns involving generation ships haunted by vampires, samurai addicted to the spice melange and Neanderthals instead of orcs. He writes for Tor.com, most in a series exploring Appendix N, Advanced Readings in DandD. You can find him on Twitter and Tumblr.

 

Radovan and the Count Retrospective: “Hell’s Pawns” to Prince of Wolves

Since most readers first met the boys in Prince of Wolves or “Hell’s Pawns,” I’ve been waxing nostalgic about the times I wrote those stories. Here are a few thoughts on the first novella, novel, and short story featuring Radovan and the Count.

Hells Pawns

I thought of the Hellknights as 30s-era LA cops.

When James Sutter first asked me to pitch ideas for a Pathfinder Chronicle to accompany the Council of Thieves Adventure Path, I gave him four or five different ideas. One was a revision of a sketch I’d sent another editor a few years earlier. That editor failed to reply for eight months, then passed without explanation before quietly leaving the publisher. When James picked that revised pitch, I felt the hand of fate on my shoulder.

Originally inspired by an idea in Infernal Affairs, the Hong Kong movie that inspired Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, the resulting story, “Hell’s Pawns,” bore little resemblance to either film. In fact, more readers have pointed to Village of the Damned as an influence, which in retrospect is almost certainly true, although I wasn’t conscious of it at the time.

The femme fatale in the original outline was a vampire with her own agenda, but that subplot was one of the first elements to be discarded. Instead, because I’d been binging on film noir the month before James and I first talked, the plot took an even darker turn. Also, my original intention to tell the story in alternating points-of-view turned into the classic first-person, present-tense narration of a hardboiled anti-hero. Radovan’s voice emerged from those of about two dozen movie tough guys.

For thematic reasons, I wanted both of my protagonists to be half-human and of illegitimate parentage. In fact, I had thought to include the word “Bastards” in an early title, but “Bastards of Erebus” was already one of the Adventure Path titles, so that was another early change.

Radovan was originally a half-orc of Tian descent. Because Howard Andrew Jones had already called dibs on a half-orc character, and because my story was to be set in Cheliax, Empire of Devils, James suggested a tiefling or hellspawn, as we came to call them. That was the first of many good suggestions James offered, as well as the beginning of my speculation on what made Radovan different from others of his kind.

Radovan’s name changed a couple of times, first because James felt a Tian character would be too unusual in the Chelish setting, later because I picked a name that began with V, and we didn’t want V&V protagonists. I wanted Varian’s bodyguard to be an outsider even in his human ancestry, preferably from a country with a strikingly different culture from Cheliax. It took me a short time to decide on Ustalav as the birthplace of his parents. “Radovan” was my second or third name choice, but the moment I wrote it down, I couldn’t imagine any other name fitting the character.

Incidentally, both Radovan and Varian are real-world names. Most of the names I choose for Pathfinder Tales characters are real but less commonly used in North America.

Varian was always Varian and a half-elf, because I wanted a character who had lived through several generations of the great changes in Cheliax. I picked House Jeggare from the campaign setting because of their fabulous wealth and the family history linking Cheliax to Varisia. It tickled me to think my wealthy nobleman might visit places with rivers and streets named after him, not to mention encounter statues of his famous ancestor, Montlarion Jeggare. One of the early ideas for the first novel would have taken one or both of the boys to Varisia instead of Ustalav.

Starting Prince of Wolves was a struggle for a couple of reasons.

Dan Scott pits the boys against the Sczarni werewolves.

Dan Scott pits the boys against the Sczarni werewolves.

First, I had four early chapters that delayed the beginning of the plot for far too long. Two of them died in a fire, and the others eventually became the short story “The Lost Pathfinder.” A similar thing happened later in Queen of Thorns.

My other problem was deciding on the narrative style. I didn’t want to continue with the present-tense narration of “Hell’s Pawns.” At the same time, I was considering a shift to third-person narration. I had Radovan’s first-person voice and was happy with it, but it took me three revisions of the early chapters to decide. It was one of those instances in which James’ advice was, “Just figure out which works best.” That didn’t make things easier on me, but once I finally worked out Varian’s voice, I was glad James had left me to work it out on my own. Third-person would have been a safer choice, but I didn’t want to abandon the intimacy of Radovan’s first-person voice. What I needed was to find a voice for Varian that was equal to Radovan’s but completely different. This proved an even greater challenge when I introduced a third POV character in Master of Devils and then in King of Chaos.

I left the flash-forward, third-person, present-tense Radovan prologue in Prince of Wolves to act as a pointer past the exposition-heavy first chapter, a promise that action was coming. It makes the book asymmetrical, but I’m glad we left it in there. To me it feels like a movie trailer.

While those early Varian chapters now seem a bit thick with fancy vocabulary and complex sentences, I’m also glad of the decision to tell his half of the story in first-person POV. His diction has since lightened up, even by the end of Prince of Wolves, but in the struggle to find his voice in those early chapters, I began to understand much more about his character. The epistolary approach scared James in the beginning, but I’d always planned to abandon it at the right moment later in the book. I knew it was a trick that would grow tired if I tried to do it every novel.

Eric Belisle nailed the look of Count Jeggare.

Eric Belisle’s Count Jeggare is a perfect reflection of his character.

While it’s chronologically before the novel, I wrote “The Lost Pathfinder” after finishing Prince of Wolves. A few elements of it came from the first few chapters I outlined but later discarded before writing the novel. Sometimes I wince to think of readers first encountering Varian Jeggare through that story, since he’s pretty much at his worst.

“The Lost Pathfinder” was one of the early title ideas for Prince of Wolves. It seemed even more appropriate for the story leading into the novel.

I’ve often mentioned Universal and Hammer horror films as an influence on Prince of Wolves, and from the start I used “fantasy Holmes and Watson” as an elevator-pitch device to describe the boys. Only recently did I realize the influence of a similar heroic duo on the boys: Ham and Monk from the Doc Savage adventures. One is the slim, erudite man of letters, the other the brawny, crass man of action.

Of course, Arnisant is Habeus Corpus, the pig.

 

While I’m still suffering Con damage from Gen Con (with apologies to Robert Brookes for stealing his clever phrase), it’s time to get back to writing. In a few weeks, I’ll look back to writing Master of Devils. In the meantime, feel free to quiz me further, right here in comments.