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Q: Okay, might as well kick things off.
Bruce, I admire your work with Mystara, especially the Savage Coast, where you created an entire sub-setting to go along with the Known World. I like how it had its own themes (e.g. the Red Curse and swashbuckling) but was neatly woven into the wider Mystara continuity. I also like how you stuck to the Known World model with tiny countries based on a kaleidoscope of real world cultures. Did you ever entertain thoughts about making another sub-setting on Mystara?
A: Not within the scope of the Princess Ark. By the time the PA series ended, the Mystara line had gone over to a different design group focused on the AD&D game. The passion just wasn't there. It pretty much ended any long term planning for this product line. By then TSR's finances also were at their worst which didn't help. If the PA series had continued, either Northwestern Davania would have become the next area of focus, or inland areas north of the Savage Coast.
Q: Bruce, over on this thread Geoff posed a question about the vaporware module X11: Blackheart, which was reportedly replaced by X11: Saga of the Shadow Lord. Can you shed any light on this?
A: Boy, this does go way back... Around that time period, there was a tendency at TSR to come up with product titles very early in the production process for the purpose of filling slots on TSR's yearly release catalog. In some cases, no author/in-house-advocate was attached to a project (hence the resulting vaporware when production hit the proverbial speedbump several months later).
Why did they do that?
100% of TSR sales relied on pre-sales to outside distributors up to about 15 months prior to release dates. If a product did not hit the shelves when promised to distributors, that product was 100% dead (hence the term "deadline"). This meant a total loss to TSR. As a result, products where planned way in advance, even to the point of dreaming up titles and module numbers sometimes without a clue as to what these products would be.
This changed a few years later for several reasons. The above was a big one.
Other reasons had to do with a much more aggressive/empowered management on the part of product managers (including myself when I took over Mystara's direction), and their conscious effort to make sure future products were actually integrated in a design strategy for their game worlds. For a few years Mystara/D&D was an orphan product line with no in-house advocate, which made it an ideal terrain for vaporware or purely "title-driven" designs. There was a number of these back then. Another factor was my involvement as director of production planning for all of TSR game products which prevented the emergence of vaporware and other undefined/unassigned/unbudgeted projects.
Q: Bruce, thanks for your response. Have you sketched out your ideas (even rough ideas) for these areas in your mind or on paper? If so, is there anything you can share, or would it be best to save them for any (hopefully) future VotPA adventures?
A: I maintained a sketch list of ideas for a few adventures ahead of time. These went from just a sentence or two to a couple paragraphs' worth of thoughts about a place or a general adventure theme. Some where pretty hare-brained ideas I dared not publish. Very often, adventure plots happened as the result of the magazine's editor-in-chief waving a magical wand called "DEADLINE" -- which suddenly made me very creative and industrious.
VotPA started out as something that no-one expected to see last very long in Dragon Magazine. As such, there never was any long term plans or serious concept development prior to the beginning of the series in the magazine. VotPA kind of invented itself along the way and was retained by the magazine as a regular feature because it quickly became very popular. There is something such as successful tapdancing when circumstances demand it. Don't try this at home. Usually, this does not work.
I think I still have some of these ideas... zipped, somewhere on my hard drive for the past 15 years, several new computer incarnations later. I hope...
Q: I have another question for Bruce:
My impression is that at the time of the Gazetteer line, you were mostly organizing freelancers to do the writing. Most of whom, possibly were not even in the same workplace as you. Was it lonely work? Did any of the other TSR designers pitch in with ideas now and then (even if not credited)? How was your working relationship with Aaron Allston?
A: This is correct. At the time of the Gazetteer launch my job was to manage freelance designers. In addition to this, I was also designated as the de-facto Basic D&D-guy since no one else at TSR gave a hoot about that product line. As a result of this, in the mid-80's nearly ALL of D&D/Mystara projects went to freelancers. A convenient thing since I managed freelancers.
It was almost a certainly that freelancers would operate from other places. One of the exceptions was... myself. I was a freelancer for my own products, under the approval of my direct report. The company trusted me enough to allow me that kind of latitude.
Aaron Allston was in Texas. A great guy, very patient with his demanding TSR contact. Aaron had a lot of impact on Mystara obviously. Ken Rolston was in New Jersey. Carl Sargent was in England. Ed Greenwood was in Canada. I had authors in West Virginia, Massachusetts, California, Colorado, etc. A few authors were staffers who ended up designing Mystara products as the result of budgeting, internal politics, misguided intentions, and so forth. These weren't successful with Mystara because they weren't familiar enough or honestly that interested in the series.
In-house staff had little to do with the actual writing of the products, especially early in the Gazetteer series. There was an in-house "team-Mystara" who got together to do some general concept work especially when putting together a product lineup for the next year, but they usually worked on other products. Their impact was limited, except for staffer Steven Schend who did an incredible job with the compilation of the Rules Compendium.
Q: I was wondering...is the Hollow World Reference Guide still extant?
A:Honestly I have no clue. I'm not sure I have this material.
Q: I have a question for Bruce. How do you envision the Temples of Rad in Glantri? For a nation that seems to be vehemently anti-religion, the Temples seem to be pretty standard religious institutions- they have services, clergy/shepherds who receive their commands from "on high" (the Brotherhood of the Radiance). Is it just that they don't worship named Immortals that sets them apart from other religious organizations in the Known World?
A: Temples of Rad are a cynical sham. They were put in place as an ersatz religion. They look like a religion, they taste like a religion, but... they're really not. They are a "place-holder" in case some people feel the need to honor a greater power, but they are really a front for the Brotherhood of the Radiance. They are an excuse for a religion in a place that does not tolerate clerical orders, and would never allow any kind of clergy developing political power that could potentially interfere with that of wizards. Temples of Rad are "OK" because they are an integral part of the power that emanates from beneath Glantri City, however secret it may be.
Q: Also, a second but related question- where did the Flaemish lack of tolerance for Immortals derive from? From their introduction in Gaz3, they seem to have had a degree of religious bent in their past (they call the time traveling students "infidels" and are preparing to sacrifice them to the Great Flame). Again, is it just a lack of tolerance for "named" Immortals as opposed to the elemental powers (like fire) more than anything else?
A: Immortals are responsible for the destruction of their original homeland, thus their current distrust of anything Immortal. Elements can be controlled. Immortals cannot. And since the Flaems are control freaks, you get the picture...
Q: I have quite a geeky question about an obscure point of VotPA. Sorry about it
It regards the "horrible monsters" that may be found in the Lost Valey east of N'djatwaland.
This is the sentence (VotPA, part 6):
To the west (of N'djatwaland) lies a very large mountain range, and to the east a land of horrible monsters. The latter is mostly surrounded with mountains, but occasionally monsters wander into their lands, near the Green River. The N'djatwa built fortified walls in several mountain passes to prevent these destructive incursions.
Most surprising was the old female's mention of the lands that lie farther to the east. Ngezitwa said that it was the realm of the titans, huge creatures that seem to spend their time fighting and destroying each other.
This is the only reference to the Lost Valley in the whole VotPA (and in the whole offical supplements, as far as I know). Now, I suppose that the "titans" may be identified with the Earthshkers of Vulcania described in your articles about Snartapolis and in the Book of Wondrous Inventions.
But what about the "horrible monsters"? Which kind of monsters you were thinking about? They are not mentioned anywhere else.
I think that these monsters should be quite a tough race (races?), given the fact that the N'djatwa (a race that has the best parts of the elven and ogrish heritages) need to build mountain fortresses to keep them at bay.
The question may seem (and actually is) of little importance, but it would be great to hear something from you. Thanks in advance.
A: You have to keep your tongue firmly planted in your cheek here. OK, we have natives guarding a mist-shrouded forgotten valley with big-huge wooden palissades, and even bigger-huger-sized "horrible monsters". Doesn't it ring a big-huge bell, hmmm?
Sounds like the kind of place where you ought to meet the likes of King Kong or Godzilla!
Q: Bruce, thanks for your responses.
I have some questions about the semi-Mystaran subsettings:
1) Do you recall any conversations among TSR designers about where Ghyr, Thunder Rift, and Karawenn (from Douglas Niles' First Quest Trilogy) may be located on Mystara?
2) Do you remember in which Mystaran ocean Islandia was going to be located prior to the cancellation of BX1: The Islandia Campaign?
3) Do you personally have any opinion on the inclusion of these subsettings in Mystara and their location therein?
A: Suure... toss me stuff that goes way, way back! Thunder Rift was never intended to be placed anywhere specifically. It was supposed to remain a generic entry-level adventure with some Mystara tie-in (essentially for the Marketing folks). You'll have to refresh my memory about Ghyr though. Karawenn was also supposed to be pretty generic, but I suspect it could be located somewhere in Norwold since this is the place Doug developed in Mystara. Islandia was never actually written as a product. This was a proposal submitted by outside people that a well-meaning in-house manager decided to summarily dump into Mystara since it didn't fit anywhere in the AD&D worlds (none of the AD&D product managers really wanted it so I got it instead, gee thanks)... and, following some major foot-dragging, the pesky proposal went away. As such it was never really incorporated into the Mystara world.
Q: Ghyr is the kingdom where the Quest for the Heartstone is set -- the one with those pregenerated characters, the Paladin Strongheart, Figgen Halffellow, etc, who later appeared in X10 as the rulers of Ierendi.
A: OK, thanks. The same can be said of Ghyr then. The pregen characters were actually trademarked action figure toys that were marketed in the mid 80's. Their kingdom eventually found its way into Mystara much in the same manner as other orphan projects did. They weren't originally conceived as Mystaran entities but became so by default since the toys were marketed for kids -- thus the Basic D&D Game.
Q: Bruce, I was wondering, what Real World country is Eusdria of the Savage Coast intended to evoke? The Realm of the Franks?
A: Yes, that would be the Franks --circa RW 800 AD. Good guess here!
Many fans go to at least 1 or 2 conventions each year. I have been fortunate enough to have met Mr. Gygax, had a conversation with Larry Elmore, and played in a game run by Dave Arneson (as well as meeting other people like Peter Jackson and Walter Koenig). I am, however, missing the one RPG-related person who I would like to have met--you! Do you visit many conventions, and if so, do you have a schedule of which cons you plan to attend? Of particular interest to me are any cons in Georgia or the Gulf Coast region (DragonCon, CoastCon & CC Jr., Crecent City Con, Mobicon, Exoticon)?
A: Well, Gawain, thanks for thinking of me in the same paragraph as Mr. Gygax and Dave Arneson! I'm flattered!
The last convention I attended was WindyCon last month. So far, I've only been attending local conventions in the Great Lakes area. Sorry, no travel plans for now. Generally, I'm just visiting and meeting friends. If you guys are interested, we can coordinate something for the next local convention, either as an official event (seminar or other), or just a get together for lunch or dinner in the area. That would be fun I think.
Q: Hi Bruce,
Good to have you here. I'm curious about whether anything was ever decided in TSR about one of the bigger 'open-ended mysteries' of the Poor Wizard's Almanac line - the identity of the never-before-seen Gareth. He showed up in Sind in AC 1010, started building a following on a platform of "Immortals shouldn't use mortals as pawns", and has been speculated by us to be... well, a whole lot of different possible folks. Everyone from Benekander to Loki or an Old One.
So was there ever anything decided in-house, by you, Ann Dupuis (who IIRC was the Almanacs' primary writer) or others? Anything that was definitely ruled out?
Thanks in advance.
A: This is an idea that never got fully developped, and unfortunately remained in the gray zone. Although nothing was decided or ruled out, my original penchant was for an Old One.
Q: Yes, Gareth is definitely one of those hobgoblins that have long haunted the Mystara net community
Another is the fate of Etienne d'Ambreville. He disappears at the end of WOTI, but reappears in the Mark of Amber adventure, though his status is left somewhat undecided at the end of that adventure. It would be really interesting to hear what, if any, insights you have on poor old Etienne and how he was going to be dealt with officially after Mark of Amber.
A: It's hard to give insight on a period time during which I was not directly involved with the development of Mystara products. I doubt very much that there was going to be any "official" answer to Etienne's fate after Mark of Amber. That's left to anyone's speculation. The bottom line is -- if you want Etienne, he's there. If he got disintegrated somehow, I'm sure there a way to bring him back, starting with time travel and such.