DAO City Elf: Women as Background

It won’t surprise anyone who reads my wall that I’m a fan of Sarkeesian’s work, particularly looking at the gameplay evidence she presents (which often leaves me wondering WTF?).

I want to make an observation about Dragon Age: Origins, a scene from which she (rather effectively) uses as a sound byte to start off this particular video. And it got me thinking about how female agency and sexual violence is utilize in what might be my favorite part of that game: the City Elf origin story.

The sequence does, indeed, deal with the issue of sexual violence in general and misogyny in particular, and I think that was a purposeful and interesting choice on the part of the game makers. It’s a gross scene full of slurs, implied sexual assault, and on-screen man-on-woman murder. It’s ugly and grotesque and paints entitled, spoiled rich humans in a very bad light. (And note, their anti-women actions are really only secondary to their already established evil–they don’t have to do what they do for you to hate them.)

This douche: Vaughn, son of the Arl of Denerim. Copyright (c) Bioware

This douche: Vaughn, son of the Arl of Denerim. Copyright (c) Bioware

The key here is that I think they at least make an attempt to deal with it in a responsible or at least not-thoughtless way, particularly depending on the gender of your character.

If you play a male city elf, the story unfolds predictably for any sort of action story that includes this tired old trope: you watch as the bad guys are being bad to a bunch of female NPCs, then they abduct your girlfriend, and you team up with another dude to go rescue her, finding some pretty awful s*** at the end of a trail of blood. (EDIT: I originally posted that your fiancee dies, but that’s apparently not true–at least one of the kidnapped women is murdered, though.) You kill the evil rapist-murderers (or strike a bad deal to let them live), and then have to flee the vengeful law. That’s pretty ho-hum “save the damsel in distress” as a story.

However, if you play as a female city elf, you first of all are in the center of the action the whole time and get to choose how defiant to be to your attackers (which is pretty cool), then the bad guys kidnap YOU and a bunch of your friends, and you have to fight your way out. True, the same male companion you would’ve had as a guy shows up, but it’s pretty obvious you’re the one saving HIM, not the other way around. So instead of men saving damsels in distress, we get damsels in distress throwing off their own shackles, empowering themselves, and taking their own justice from their oppressors/abusers.

Yeah, it's like that. Copyright (c) Bioware

Yeah, it’s like that. Copyright (c) Bioware

Also, Vaughn whines about his privilege all the way until you stab him.

That, I think, is a much better message, and while it doesn’t negate the fact that gendered violence was included in the game in the first place, at least puts it in a far better perspective.

Also, it’s a mark for DAO that they show the trauma that the sequence causes to the characters involved (particularly your female elf friend, who survives her abuse, becoming bitter and obviously permanently damaged). The tendency in games is to have this sort of violence transpire without genuine consequences in the rest of the narrative–not so in this case.

Shianni: the lens through which you see the true horror of this sequence. Copyright (c) Bioware

Shianni: the lens through which you see the true horror of this sequence. Copyright (c) Bioware

Also you can serve brandy doctored with rat poison to the racist human guards. Boom. :)

Anyway, here’s the video. Check it out. My commentary above is not to suggest disagreement with anything Sarkeesian says–it’s intended only as an expansion on one particular game.

(That God of War III thing is just disturbing.)


Dragon Age, Gaming, Rape Culture, Social Justice, Uncategorized

Monstrous! The 5e Monster Manual in Review

I’ve had this book since GenCon Indy actually, having received a shiny new, pre-release copy from the ever-excellent Trevor Kidd, one of my favorite people and recently elevated magister lord to the circle of Brand-omancers at Wizards of the Coast. Why I’ve waited a bit to post a review has two simple explanations: 1) it’s release day! and 2) more art is out and available online, so I can make with the linky-link without scanning anything. So without further ado:


The 5e Monster Manual is a fabulous book. It’s weighty, well-assembled, and has a certain heft that feels appropriate for the world’s most popular roleplaying game. I love the texture too.

The cover features a brilliant illustration by my good friend Raymond Swanland of a beholder (many of whose eyes are pointing directly at you, the reader, which is a nice touch). And . . . wait . . . is that . . .? I think it is.

5e Monster Manual cover, by Raymond Swanland

5e Monster Manual cover, by Raymond Swanland

A woman. Of indiscriminate ethnicity. Wearing headgear reminiscent of a turban. With no visible cleavage. And not touched up.

OMG it’s happening.

WotC’s artistic aesthetic is evolving.

(Shh. Don’t tell anyone.)

The dwarf fighter is pretty cool too.

Also, I’m totally going to interpret the lightning-blasting statue in the background as the Grim Statue, which features into my novel Downshadow. So there. :p


The interior of the book is an experience as well.

The background color is the off-white, faded hue of scrolls kept carefully preserved in a mostly-airtight scroll case in the grip of a skeleton impaled through the chest by a spike at the bottom of a cleverly disguised pit trap.

The illustrations are those of a widely traveled multi-class bard/ranger and gourmand who has borne witness to the awesome terror of these beasts and set down their glory in color. Some are sharp and distinct, some blurry (demons, invisible stalker) because that’s how they look when you’re standing against them, sword trembling in your hand, hoping not to die. All are mature and look like they’re drawn for hardened adventurers—the cartoony aesthetic that often prevailed in previous Monster Manuals (ahem, 4e) is gone. There are also little sketches of many of the creatures that highlight a specific spot or show an alternative view from a different angle, things like that. See the Piercer for the best example (no art online of it yet, but when you check out the book, you’ll see what I mean).

And IMO, the art generally doesn’t have sexist/racist problems, as it has in some past products. The Pixie, the Harpy, and the Succubus are probably the most risque of the images in this book, and they’re fairly tame.

Pixie, 5e Monster Manual

Pixie, 5e Monster Manual

(Do we need to see that much of her belly? I for one don’t, but hey, YMMV.)

This book also sees a return to what I *loved* about Monster Manuals of the past, which is to put in all manner of information about the various ecologies, motivations, habitats, origins, etc., of the monsters. For a while there, D&D had a tendency to boil monsters down almost entirely to what they could do in combat, and this provides a vast amount of flavorful context, all attached to short phrases that make it easy to remember. For instance:

Obsessive Collectors. Red dragons value wealth above all else, and their treasure hoards are legendary. They covet anything of monetary value, and can often judge the worth of a bauble to within a copper piece at a glance. A red dragon has a special affection for treasure claimed from powerful enemies it has slain, exhibiting that treasure to prove its superiority.” (5e Monster Manual p 99, Red Dragon entry)

It goes on, but the point is that you don’t have to remember all those details—you can just stick the mnemonic “obsessive collectors” in your mind, and it will remind you of those things.

There are also the occasional little green boxed text that tell you about examples of the creatures in WotC’s various campaign worlds, much how in the PHB there are examples of heroes from those worlds. It’s a nice flavorful touch that inspires ideas and stirs the creativity.

This is great monster design, and I’m so glad to see WotC embrace it.

Also, the statblocks are simplified, straight-forward, and easy to figure out on the fly. Basic statistics, some notes about interacting with them (in combat and otherwise), a list of actions and reactions that monsters can take, and you’re good.

I look forward to running some of these beasties.


Because three is a powerful number, I picked my three favorite monsters from the Monster Manual to highlight:

Death Knight, 5e Monster Manual

Death Knight, 5e Monster Manual

1) Death Knight

Man, I love these guys. The narrative construct surrounding them—the hero fallen from grace through his or her own folly—is fascinating and limitlessly compelling to me. They’re also fun to throw at players, and the 5e Death Knight does not disappoint in that regard (giant fireball, BOOM!). Also, it’s Lord Soth, who is the sample character in the little paragraph. How metal is that?

Succubus, 5e Monster Manual

Succubus, 5e Monster Manual

Incubus, 5e Monster Manual

Incubus, 5e Monster Manual

2) Succubus and Incubus

So these creatures are pretty classic and OMG SHE HAS CLOTHES ON.


This is an example of WotC doing art right. It’s tasteful, obviously a bit sexualized without being porn, and it’s equal opportunity for the male and female gazes. Beautiful.

Kraken, 5e Monster Manual

Kraken, 5e Monster Manual

3) Kraken

Release it! This thing is radically warped and weirded out from its previous iterations, but I still love it. Check out that art.

Shadow, 5 Monster Manual

Shadow, 5 Monster Manual

4) Shadow

OK, I lied. FOUR favorites. I love this art. Just check that out.



It’s not all fun and games until the monsters win initiative. There are a few things I’m not entirely sold on about the Monster Manual, and I think they’re a source of some good discussion and thought. Here are three of my concerns:

1) Dracolich and Shadow Dragon are both dragon templates you can add to any dragon

The Dracolich (a concept created by Ed Greenwood for the Forgotten Realms) used to be its own sort of monster, until gradually it became a template in 3e (much like lichdom could be slapped on to any character you built), so it’s not surprising to see that it’s still a template in 5e. All good there.

The Shadow Dragon, on the other hand, was its own sort of creature in 3e (a subterranean dweller, which is odd because there aren’t really that many shadows where there’s no light and—ok, let’s just roll with it), and now it’s been redefined to be any dragon that has basked too long in the chilling world of shadow just on the other side of the mirror.

(Which mirror? The mirror of shadows, duh.) Thus allowing shadowstuff to infuse it.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I wrote a third of The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond campaign setting, so I know all about 4e’s Shadowfell (the evolution of the demiplane of shadow), and while I personally think it is awesome, I can understand how this might throw some people.

2) No nymph.

What? No NYMPH?

Meh, maybe MM2.

Modrons compilation, 5e Monster Manual

Modrons compilation, 5e Monster Manual

3) The Modrons look really cartoony/bizarre.

I’m not a fan of modrons myself, have never used them in a game, and probably never will, but I know others whose tastes vary. Their inclusion in the Monster Manual isn’t a thing. But why did they have to look like a Tim Burton acid trip? I’ll post them here, and you can decide for yourself.



If you’re playing this game, buy this thing.

If you’re just a fan of fantasy, check this out. Even if you never play D&D 5e, it’s still a cool book to look through and read—the flavor makes it a fun read just in general.

So what are you waiting for? Here’s the Amazon link:

5e MM icon

Buy me, or I will eye-ray you!

D&D, Reviews

Mass Effect at PAX Prime

I ran a session of my Mass Effect tabletop RPG at the PAX Prime Pink Party last night for a couple of nice peeps, as well as this awesome lady:


Yes, that is Jennifer Hale, the voice of Commander Shepard, taking point as Commander Jane Shepard (as a vanguard, obviously), surrounded by geth with Jack (my friend David) and Wrex (my new friend Tracy) backing her up.

Seeing as she had about a thousand people to meet and a costume contest to judge, Jennifer could only play for a few minutes, but it was a good time. :)

And with that, I should go… :)



Comic Book Diversity: LET’S DO IT!

It’s audacious. It’s daring. It’s controversial.

It’s the right thing to do.

Art is a reflection of our world. As we enter a more multicultural world, our art should keep up. Art should embrace diversity. A lot already do, but not the majority, and until the majority do, we need to keep producing art that does.

I’m not here advocating some sort of checklist, or that you shouldn’t read artists who write, draw, film, and/or act only about one thing. There are plenty of books out there by white men about white men, and many of them are quite good and worthy of your time. And that’s totally cool.

I just don’t want ALL our art to be about white men.

I want to hear stories about and from the perspective of women, other ethnic groups, other sexualities, other sets of abilities, etc., basically, more stories from more perspectives. Because that’s where we get the best art: a multidimensional view from many perspectives.

Justice/Vengeance: Libations for the Dead (not final cover), art by Tangra and Robot Panda

Justice/Vengeance: Libations for the Dead (not final cover), art by Tangra and Robot Panda

This is one of the reasons I launched the Justice/Vengeance: Libations for the Dead Kickstarter: to amplify those perspectives in art that we don’t necessarily see as often. (The other reason is because the story is awesome and you’ll love it!)

I was talking to a friend the other day, and trying to identify a significant straight male white character in the book, and I was coming up a bit short. (Ironic, being as I’m about seven thousand feet tall.) My three main characters are all of mixed racial background, primarily black (Orestes), Hispanic (A-Girl), and Middle Eastern (Lady Vengeance). The first two of them are straight (at least mostly–they’re young yet), while the third is distinctly bisexual (Lady V has varied tastes).

Their supporting characters run the gamut of backgrounds and orientations, including the Raven (the Hispanic Batman/Iron Man), Big Head (the trans* super scientist, formerly Robert, now goes by female pronouns and the name “Lexi”), Nemesis (an African-born Elektra-type, with whom Lady V has had a love-hate relationship for a long time), and Chuck (Orestes’s very gay superhero fanboy roommate).

None of those characters look like me (a straight, cis-gendered, male, white, middle class writer), and yet all of their stories fascinate me. They’re the people I want to write about, and I think they’re people you’ll want to read about.

(Caveat: There are a couple of straight white male characters, but thus far in the story planning, they’ve all been either out-and-out villains or not terribly supportive support characters. That’s not intentional–that’s just how it has gone. And you know what? I don’t feel the need to add-in a straight white male hero. The story just doesn’t need it.)

I also believe very strongly in being fair and progressive in depicting characters of various genders, and by that I mean not treating any of my characters (especially women) like sex objects. Sex is an important part of what drives us as people, and most people participate in it to one degree or another (with the exception of asexual people, who emphatically do NOT participate). Characters will be sexy in my book–it’s gonna happen. But it’s not just going to be women being sexy–there will be an equal number of men being sexy. And none of my characters will be presented in a sexual way to no better purpose than appealing to the male gaze. This is a mature book, and there will be people having sex with other people. Not that that’s the focus, but it’s gonna happen.

I’m hoping my Kickstarter goes through. We have until Saturday to raise a good chunk of change, but I think we can do it.


Thank you for reading this, and if you’re interested in supporting Indie comics, bolstering the rise of diversity in our art, or just reading about some kick-ass heroes, please back my project and/or boost the signal. I really appreciate it!


A-Girl, Characters, Comics, Feminism, Justice/Vengeance, Kickstarter, Lady Vengeance, Orestes, Social Justice, Superheroes, Writing

Make Erik Write More!


You know how you enjoy my work and wish I’d write *more* for you to enjoy?

Why Help?

Well, aside from the fact that it’s in your best interest–because you’re getting more of what you like out of me–this is also setting me up to write what you want.

Want to see how Shadowbane continues, for instance?

Want to read the sequel to Shadow of the Winter King?

The key to these things is authorial success, and for that I need your help.

Here’s how!

Back my Comic Book Kickstarter!

Justice/Vengeance: Libations for the Dead Kickstarter

Justice/Vengeance: Libations for the Dead Kickstarter

My Kickstarter intends nothing less than the art, writing, and construction of the first five (or six, if we do that well) issues of my comic book, Justice/Vengeance. The first issue I already have written–it’s just waiting for the funding to be lettered and published–and the remainder are all set to go. (The deadline is 12:48 pm Saturday, August 30.)

Once Justice/Vengeance: Libations for the Dead funds, that locks me into producing over a hundred pages of comic book goodness. This is also an amazingly amazing way to get yourself a limited edition print version or even a compilation of all five (or six) issues!

Back Justice/Vengeance! Talk it up on social media! Tell your friends and/or family!

Buy My Latest Books!

I’ve published two books this summer and plan to put out a third this fall. These books are my main thing right now–the better they sell, the more likely publishers will hire me for more books. Check them out!

Shadow of the Winter King, by Erik Scott de Bie

Shadow of the Winter King, by Erik Scott de Bie

Want to read Shield of the Summer Prince, the sequel to Shadow of the Winter King? Buy the book!

Scourge of the Realm, by Erik Scott de Bie

Scourge of the Realm, by Erik Scott de Bie

Write Reviews!

Already read my books? Post reviews online! This is the second best way to draw new readers.

Here’s a convenient set of links:

Shadow of the Winter King, first book of the World of Ruin series, Dragon Moon Press, May 2014. Amazon Paperback, Amazon Kindle, B&N Paperback, B&N Nook.

Scourge of the Realm, Broken Eye Books, June 2014. Amazon Paperback, Amazon Hardcover, Amazon Kindle, B&N Paperback, B&N Hardcover

Shadowbane: Eye of Justice, Wizards of the Coast, September 2012 (sequel to Shadowbane). (Kindle, Nook, Audible Audiobook Edition)

Shadowbane, Wizards of the Coast, September 2011 (sequel to Downshadow). (KindleNookKobo, Audible Audiobook Edition)

Downshadow, Wizards of the Coast, April 2009. (Collected in Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep, Book 1 omnibus, July 2011.) (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Audible Audiobook edition)

Depths of Madness, Wizards of the Coast, March 2007. (Kindle, Nook, Audible Audiobook Edition)

Ghostwalker, Wizards of the Coast, December 2005. (Kindle, Nook, Audible Audiobook Edition)

“Eye for an Eye,” Cobalt City Double Features, Timid Pirate, July 2012. (KindleBundle from Timid Pirate)

Word of Mouth!

The best kind of promotion available is the glowing recommendation of a friend. Talk me up online! Tell your friends and family! Buy copies of my books and give them away!

Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or wherever! Participate in the conversations. Ask me questions. Don’t be a stranger! :)

Spread the Love!

Apply these tricks to your favorite authors. They don’t work only for me, but for other authors as well!



Announcements, Comics, Justice/Vengeance, Kickstarter, Scourge of the Realm, Shadow of the Winter King, Uncategorized, Writing

Justice/Vengeance Kickstarter

"We do it because it's the right thing to do." ~ Orestes by Tangra

“We do it because it’s the right thing to do.” ~ Orestes by Tangra

A young hero living up to a great destiny.

"Lights, Camera, A-Girl!" ~ A-Girl by Tangra

“Lights, Camera, A-Girl!” ~ A-Girl by Tangra

A celebrity heroine searching for her path.

"In retrospect, I could have been nicer about it." ~ Art by Tangra

“In retrospect, I could have been nicer about it.” ~ Lady Vengeance by Tangra

A former villain drinking away her demons.

"Ninjas? As in NINJAS?" (Orestes's escape by Tangra)

“Ninjas? As in NINJAS?” (Orestes’s escape by Tangra)

All the ninjas.

Title logo 4_3Justice/Vengeance Vol 1: Libations for the Dead

Back it today! Thanks for supporting indie comics!


Comics, Justice/Vengeance, Uncategorized

GenCon Indy 2014 Schedule

Here’s where I’ll be at GenCon next week, for those interested in signed books and/or in-person crazy:


10:00 AM JW :: 310 :: 2 Mass Effect Playtest RPG1460492
12:00 PM Dealer’s Room Signing
2:00 PM 245 Writer’s Craft: How much description?
3:00 PM 245 Writer’s Craft: Team Dynamics
4:00 PM 243 Writer’s Craft: Ye Olde Phantasy Speechcrafte*
*Slight conflict with this one, so I might not make it there.
7:30 PM Ball and Biscuit GenCon Meetup (Candlekeep)

9:00 AM JW :: 206 :: 4 Mass Effect Playtest RPG1459239
11:00 AM 245 Media Tie-In: Game to Story
12:00 PM 245 Media Tie-In: The Rules of Media Tie-In Fiction
2:00 PM Crowne Plaza : Grand Central D Vorpal Games Seminar SEM1454739*
*This was originally a Dealer’s Room signing, but I was summoned away. :)
4:00 PM 243 Business of Writing: Working with a Publisher

10:00 AM 245 Writer’s Life: Writer Support Networks
12:00 PM 245 Writer’s Life: Breaking Writer’s Block
1:00 PM 244 Publishing: Traditional Publishing
8:00 PM Crowne Plaza : Victoria Stn A/B Candlekeep Presents: Lords of Waterdeep SEM1458804

9:00 AM 245 Critique: Read & Critique
10:00 AM 245 Critique: Read & Critique

See you next week!


Conventions, GenCon, Uncategorized


The Kickstarter for my raucous, crazy, awesome comic book is live!


Back the Justice/Vengeance Kickstarter today!

Back the Justice/Vengeance Kickstarter today!

Go back it! Tell your friends! Hit the social media! Take to the streets!

Demand Justice!!!


Announcements, Comics, Justice/Vengeance

An Allegory about Inclusivity in D&D

From the D&D Next Player’s Handbook:

D&D Next: on character creation and inclusivity

D&D Next: on character creation and inclusivity*


I just spent entirely too much energy discussing why it’s important and good for WOTC to take this most recent step toward inclusivity of people on various parts of the gender and sexuality spectra. Mostly, I was talking with people who just don’t see the point, who see it as the “PC police” (ugh) cluttering up their game.

It inspired this story that I wrote, to try and put privileged people in the shoes of the unprivileged. An allegory, if you will (though it’s not an allegory–I just like that word):

Imagine that you are a straight white man, but most of the heroes you see in movies, TV, books, etc, are lesbian Asian women.*

(*Not that Asian lesbians aren’t awesome–they are–it’s just part of the analogy.)

It’s always been that way, as far as you know. 99% of the heroes you’re supposed to relate to are proud, strong, awesome Asian women. Occasionally there’ll be an Asian beta male, who’s generally reduced to one or two characteristics, like being handsome or stupid or whatever, and usually gets rescued, tortured, and/or dead, mostly as a way to make the Asian woman’s story better.

This is particularly true of your favorite genre, fantasy. All the book covers, the main characters, the movies, the example characters in D&D sourcebooks. You’ve been playing the game for most of your life, and still reading about and fighting or interacting with hordes of NPC Asian lesbians. Most of the example PC portraits are of Asian women, and it’s assumed they’re off to save the princess. You might even like lesbian Asian women, and you’re certainly willing to play one if it means a seat at the table, but you kinda want to play a character that looks like you but is equally respected.

And sure you CAN play a straight white dude. There’s no rule that says you can’t. But almost none of the art is of a white dude, and generally the few pictures that are depict guys who look a lot like Robert Redford. Not a caricature of a straight white dude, exactly, but you don’t look and act like RR, and it’s a little annoying that everyone thinks straight white dudes are supposed to look and act like that.

And maybe you’ve been in a couple gaming groups that were cool with you playing a straight white dude (while most of them played Asian women), but whenever you do so at a con people give you this *look* or just kind of ignore you. When you post about your neat straight white dude online, there are always people chiming in to say how you’re so PC, or that aren’t you so daring to do something so “unusual” or even “unnatural”–even though all you wanted to do was make a character that looked like you.

Then, 40 years into its history, your favorite RPG publishes a paragraph in the character creation section… Just 100 words or so… That specifically acknowledges that you should play whatever gender/sexuality/ethnicity you want, and even gives you some examples outside the norm (Asian lesbian). In fact, you can play a straight white male, it says!

How would you feel if, for the first time in your life of always feeling unwelcome, your favorite game (and the most well-known tabletop RPG in the world) explicitly welcomes you? Says “your vision? It belongs here.”

And how would you feel if immediately thereafter, a whole host of people flocked to the internet and said “this is pandering” and “this offends me as an Asian lesbian” and “this is unnecessary”?


Now, I’m not calling anyone out or meaning to imply that anyone is a bad person. That isn’t the case. I’m just saying, maybe try on those boots you just found for a couple rounds to see what they do–you know, the +5 boots of Walking in Someone Else’s Boots.

Or heels, if you like. :)


And no, the 5e PHB gender/sexuality statement isn’t perfect. It chooses examples of trans* or otherwise non-binary gendered characters that are all very, very specific and not particularly positive. A female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf aggravated by being mistaken for a man  are all specific stories about a character’s struggle being about his/her/their/zer/xer gender. Outside of an elven god (and it’s not made clear, rather just assumed that Corellon is down with his/her fierce self), nowhere do we see a more positive, accepting statement about a character who defies the binary gender configuration in favor of a continuum.  I get that the PHB is trying to discuss gender in a way that turns it into fuel for roleplaying and narration, but it would have been nice to see something like “or maybe you fully accept yourself for who and how you define yourself, and don’t make a thing about it.”

Ultimately, create and play the characters you want. You always have been able to, you always should be able to. But it’s really, really heartening to see a major gaming company like WotC stepping up to make that overt.

Kudos, D&D Next! I hope this leads to even more and better things.


D&D, Game Design, Social Justice, Uncategorized

Highlights from my Reddit AMA (6/18/14)

I had a great time on Reddit yesterday, and I wanted to share some of the conversation for those who might have missed it. Here are some of my favorite exchanges!


On Writing

elquesogrande: Thanks for joining us, Erik!

How do you find writing in a set world like in Wizards of The Coast or Neverwinter versus worlds where you create everything yourself? Challenges for either? Preferences?

What are your favorite comic series / graphic novels out there and why?

What does it take to be a good comic book writer versus writing novels or games? The differences among the three in order to be successful?

erikscottdebie: That’s a lot of questions! Let me field those one at a time. :)

1) Writing in a Shared World like the Realms vs. Creator-Owned: There are pros and cons to both. In a Shared World, typically a lot of the ground work is already there, meaning both that you have to do a lot of research (it’s like writing a historical fiction book) but also that you don’t have to spend a lot of time world-building (as much of that’s already done for you).

The fanbase is also a double-edged sword: they’re built-in, they care about the world, and they know enough to fill in any gaps that you leave in your writing, but at the same time, if you get it wrong, they skewer you. As well they should. :)

The primary reasons to write in a Shared World are twofold: 1) because you happen to love that setting, 2) because the money tends to be better.

When you’re working in an entirely self-generated, creator-owned setting, you’re on your own. There is no safety net. There’s no built in fanbase. Your book lives or dies on the strength of your world-building, skill, and talent alone.

I thoroughly enjoy both types of writing, and I put as much effort into my shared world stuff as I do my creator-owned stuff.

2) My favorite comic/graphic novel series: I really, really like Bendis’s POWERS, because of the tone and the unique way it looks at heroes-as-celebrities (something similar shows up in JUSTICE/VENGEANCE). For just plain superhero awesome, I can’t get enough of DeConnick’s CAPTAIN MARVEL, obviously (if you aren’t reading that, you really should). And I frequently find myself returning to the very intellectual look at heroes you find in Moore’s WATCHMEN. Basically, I really like comics that treat their heroes as people–good, bad, gray, flawed, with all the same concerns and characterization you find in yourself and others.

3) Justice/Vengeance is the first comic I’ve ever written, so I’m not particularly qualified to answer that question definitively.

What I will say is that the primary trait that any writer needs–whether it’s novels, comics, game design, etc.–is perseverance.

Before talent, before connections, before money (though that helps), you need to have an unstoppable drive (one that borders on obsession) that makes you just keep getting up no matter how many times you get knocked down. And make no mistake, you will get knocked down. You need to believe, deep in your heart and in your gut, in the value of your work and the value of you as a person, and you need to respect yourself and your craft enough to keep refining, keep pushing, and keep striving through all the rejections, all the stonewalls, and all the people telling you that you aren’t good enough.

My advice to would-be writers getting into this game:

Be unstoppable.


On Characters (particularly Fox-at-Twilight)

Snakeoilsage:Of all the characters you’ve written, which was the most fun?

erikscottdebie: Sophie’s Choice! Gah! :)

I just went with the first one that occurred to me, which is Lady Ilira “Fox-at-Twilight” Nathalan, from several of my Forgotten Realms books. There’s something deviously fun about writing a firmly chaotic sort of character–she’s unpredictable, mysterious, and can get away with just about anything (though it rarely goes exactly her way). Plus she’s sexy, determined, and has a cool set of magical powers that work well visually. I could write about her all day every day.

A close runner up is Mask, from Shadow of the Winter King, who is in a similar mold: devious, witty, and ruthless, and with a certain charisma that makes him/her/it glow on the page.

Snakeoilsage: So would you say you have a special place in your heart for tricksters?

erikscottdebie: Absolutely. :)

a_woodz: Can you please forward this to the appropriate parties at WotC?


(Not my call, Liam Neeson!)

(Not my call, Liam Neeson!)











Campbell5: Erik, how do you respond to criticism that certain characters of yours are too overtly sexual, particularly in the case of Fox-at-Twilight.

Also, you seem to have an attraction to writing about elves across settings. Confirmation/ Denial?

erikscottdebie: 1) When you’re talking to a sex-positive writer like me, there’s no such thing as “too sexual.” People have sexual impulses, and they have sex, and some of them do it more often than others and with partners other people might not consider. And I understand that not all fantasy readers like sex in their fantasy books. It’s a matter of personal preference.

Twilight is a very sexual person, as a bunch of my characters (both male and female and otherwise) are. In part, the choice to make her very sexual in her original incarnations in “The Greater Treasure” and Depths of Madness is a setup for her later appearances in the Shadowbane series, where physical expression of sexual feelings are not generally possible for her (or at least extremely limited). I set up that dynamic in her character, and I’m exploiting it to what I hope is good effect.

I also want to make a distinction between the term “sexual” (a perfectly fine and healthy characteristic of a character) and “sexualized” (a process by which a character is instilled with a sexual nature). And even that is ok–one can certainly sexualize a character in fantasy, just as in fantasies, one can sexualize a person in the real world. (See what I did there?)

“Overly sexualized” to me describes a character who is reduced primarily or only to his or her sexual characteristics/actions (such as many female characters in fantasy novels/movies and many of the minor female GoT characters). I try not to reduce characters to any dimension, whether it be sex, violence, physical appearance, good, or evil. And I don’t think any of my significant characters can reasonably be described as sexualized in this way. I’ll have the occasional prostitute or bedmate in one of my books whose only role in the narrative is a sexual one, but I give equal play to male and female and otherwise prostitutes in my fiction.

Also, if one is put off by sex in fantasy novels, REALLY don’t read my novel Scourge of the Realm. But if you DO like it, then definitely do. :)

2) I like elves. I relate to them more than the other fantasy tropes, being also tall and inclined to be slender.

Short people in my books (dwarves, halflings, etc.) rarely end up in good places. Infected by a demon and cut in half, eyes exploded, poisoned and left to die with a sucking gut wound, etc.

I will note, however, that I have not as yet published anything outside an existing Shared World with elves, dwarves, halflings, etc. The Realms, Immoren, Golarion, etc., sure, I’ll write about elves. But in my own Creator-owned stuff? No elves.

The closest I’ve come is a character in Scourge who is a “fey” creature, but she’s definitely not an elf.


On Writing for Games

mgallowglas: High Erik! Welcome and thanks for doing the AMA.

How did you get started in writing for game companies, both as a designer and as a novelist. What advice would you give to someone interested in breaking into game writing today?

erikscottdebie: Hey, how’s it going? :)

1) I started writing Realms novels through the Maiden of Pain open call back in 2003 or so. I didn’t win, but my submission was good enough that it warranted a second, closed-call (of like 20 people), which turned into my novel Ghostwalker. Thereafter, I wrote several novels for them, made friends at WotC, and eventually started designing with the D&D Encounters program and my first sourcebook, Plane Above.

As for getting into designing, look for open calls. Submit to game companies. Paizo is constantly looking for people, particularly through the RPG Superstar contest it puts on regularly. Go to Conventions. Interact with designers online. Show them your stuff. There’s no real trick to it–just meet people, keep practicing, and eventually someone will say yes.

As for writing for a game company, eh, I wouldn’t advise seeking it out. I mean, I’ve loved doing it, and obviously it’s a great fit, but it’s really, really difficult, and doesn’t do a lot to kickstart your writing career. You get money out of it, but not a lot of acclaim, and you may get stuck producing something you really want to use some day but can’t because it’s not your property. Why give them all your best ideas? My Realms work helped me make some connections and I have a number of devoted fans, but generally I’ve had to reinvent myself as a writer thereafter anyway.

My advice is: publish your own, Creator-owned stuff, and let the game companies come to you. Be cool on your own, and then you’ll be a shoe-in for when they need someone.


DancesWithPugs: Which is more likely: That a novel with an original setting helps launch a game system with the same setting, or vice versa? Is it worth developing both at the same time?

erikscottdebie: It’s very rare, in my experience, that a novel with an original setting launches a successful game system based on that setting. I mean, Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire has inspired dozens of game adaptations, but none of them have really caught on. I’d love to produce game material for my World of Ruin series, but I don’t really anticipate it taking off and founding a new game system.

Game settings derive great support from a dedicated fiction line, which initially appeals mostly (though not entirely) to people who play that game. As tie-in fiction is getting a better reputation and becoming more plentiful, more and more non-gamers are buying into it.

And yes, I think producing both at the same time is probably the best way to go. If the setting is a fledgling, you won’t turn away potential readers who would say “oh, these are D&D books,” and your gamers won’t be intimidated by your 200+ backlist of tie-in novels.

Not that they should be, obviously, but I think one of the mistakes game companies often make with their fiction is to drive the world through the fiction. Which makes gamers feel like they either have to read the novels (they shouldn’t have to) or fall behind.

I’m not saying significant stuff shouldn’t happen in the novels, it’s just that the novels shouldn’t be the driving force of change that’s then felt in the game world without any explanation other than “read the novels.” I prefer the concept of the players being in charge of changing things in the world, and that the novels should be more personal stories set on a smaller scale.


On the Mechanics of Game Design

DancesWithPugs: As a game designer, which do you find to be more important: accessibility or comprehensiveness? Is this answer completely different for the casual market and hobby game market (someone already familiar with RPGs, CCGs, and complex board games)?

erikscottdebie: Between those options, accessibility. I trust the human imagination to fill in gaps that I as a designer can’t necessarily foresee. I’d rather spend my word count inspiring you than setting out rules for every eventuality.

I’m a freelancer, not a full-time game designer, so I don’t generally consider marketing to casual gamers or hobby gamers. It seems like casual gamers tend to favor games that don’t require them to fill in so many gaps, but games where the rules are relatively simple and straight-forward. So with them you need to be comprehensive, but not intimidating in your design–enough that they know what they’re doing without being overwhelmed. If anyone’s played Marvel: Avengers Alliance, that’s an excellent example of a game that’s pretty good for casual gamers.

Hobby gamers generally know what they like and are flexible enough to ignore rules that don’t work for them. Most of my design is for hobbyists, and so I lean toward accessibility, trusting them to take what they need and make up the rest.


On Word Counts and Multiple Media

gabrielle_h: You’ve written novels, short stories, and now comics. How do you tailor your ideas so that they fit into the right word-count length for what you’re doing? Aside from the length, what would you say is the biggest difference between writing a short story and writing a novel?

erikscottdebie: Experience. I get to a point where I know what I can do in a certain amount of words and how to do it.

The big difference between a short story and a novel is scope. A short story is very efficient–it’s all building to a single effect. A novel, on the other hand, has room to flex and meander and might be building to multiple effects. A short story is much more limited, but can be quite powerful all the same.


On Becoming a Writer

BigDom2: Was there anything specific you did to become a writer? Was it something you were compelled to do?

erikscottdebie: Well, the required blood ritual went awry because I couldn’t find a unicorn to sacrifice to Gwilzagak, so instead I just kinda said “f*** it,” sat down, and did it.

Seriously, though, I was in my Honors Chem class back in High School, going nuts with all the vast amounts of homework, and somehow it occurred to me that instead of the copious other distractions I could indulge in–sports, girls, etc–I should write a novel. So I did. And I kept writing one consistently once a year after that.

I never really did it all that seriously–never intending my work for publication–but I had a pretty serious near-death experience my first year in college, and it instilled in me the understanding that life was short, and I had a responsibility to myself to tell these stories that were bubbling up inside me. And so here we are. :)


On Magic Swords

stk_kreations: Okay, random question time (this stems from me having just seen the Conan Atlantean sword pop up while looking at books). There are a lot of legendary, epic, memorable weapons throughout the fantasy world (books and games). So the question is: do you have a favorite fantasy weapon from fiction or gaming? and yes, it can be one of your own.

erikscottdebie: Magic swords! Magic swords! Yay!

It’s hard to go wrong with the Holy Avenger, which provides a bit of the mold for Vindicator, the sword my rogue-turned-paladin Kalen Dren wields in the Shadowbane series. And of course Elric’s Stormbringer, which is kind of the opposite in many ways.

From my own work, I particularly like Draca, Ovelia the Bloodbreaker’s relic sword in Shadow of the Winter King, a red steel flamberge that exudes crimson shadows that, in the hands of a trained user, reflect imminent danger, making her basically impossible to be surprised. The sword also absorbs magic, thus powering itself and making it a serious threat to sorcerers and those who rely on their power armor or thaumaturgical weapons.

stk_kreations: Awesome! I love when authors get creative with the weapons and turn them into characters in their own right.

Very good answer. I haven’t gotten to Shadow of the Winter King yet, but now I’m even more excited for it!

erikscottdebie: My other main character, Regel also is known for a magic sword, though it only appears in flashbacks in the first book. Frostburn is a falcat (a sword similar to a falcata in our world) whose blue steel blade is always covered in a layer of frost. It draws heat from those it touches–both victim and wielder–to feed its insatiable hunger for warmth and life. It is a blade made for reaping men, or so say the legendary Deathless who forged it.

Those are the only two properly magical swords as yet known in the world, any others having been lost in the calamity that destroyed the World of Wonders and ushered in the World of Ruin. People can imbue all manner of weapons with short term thaumaturgical magic, but it isn’t the real thing, and it tends to be much messier. (As a stand in for technology, magic in my setting causes pollution–smog, foul odors, etc.)

stk_kreations: Very cool Erik! Sounds very new and different than what I’ve been reading lately.


On Writing Speed and Quirky Fans

arzvi: What’s the timeframe for writing one book? from start to finish? do you work on multiple and choose one that inspires you – to finish and edit or take up one story and stop when it gets published?

Also, what is the funniest, quirkiest thing that happened when you spoke about self-publishing and generally during your first book?


1) It really varies. As I said above, I wrote the first 90k draft of Downshadow in 12 days, though I spent about a month of editing and rewriting to produce the second draft. Usually I do a book in about 2-3 months if I can focus on it most of the time.

If I’m working on multiple things (which is almost always the case), it takes longer, but I try to carve out time that is exclusively dedicated to one project or another.

2) I wouldn’t know, I’ve never self-published anything. :)

The funniest, quirkiest thing that happened at one of my first readings (back in 2006 or 2007) was when I talked about fencing, and this crazy lady in the audience misunderstood and assumed I was talking about building fences (which she mimed with some sort of hand-saw gesture). Apparently, later during the signing she got up and walked around looking at the bookshelves behind me, and my wife and a good friend were ready to tackle her if she made a wrong move. It was awesome. :)


On D&D Movies

rodtod: After the debacle of the Dungeons & Dragons film, is it time for a reboot?

erikscottdebie: Which one do you mean, the first one? The second one? The third one? (Wait, third one? Huh?)

Regardless, clearly they should make the Ghostwalker movie. High Plains Drifter in the Forgotten Realms. It’s a soft-Realms story–they don’t even have to introduce all the iconic things about the Realms, since it’s mostly in an obscure little town in the wilderness in the North, but it’s very, very Realmsy.

rodtod: Ghostwalker would make an excellent fantasy flick for the devout stealth and dagger viewer. Perhaps with Christophe Gans directing?

erikscottdebie: Gans? I don’t know. I mean, I enjoy *Brotherhood of the Wolf * as much as the next guy (hey look, boobs!), but the last thing WotC needs is a campy movie. But maybe. Get the people from the Game of Thrones show and let’s talk. :)


On the Realms

a_woodz: Loved your Neverwinter sourcebook. Any chance you’ll be fleshing out the Realms again in some 5E campaign settings or modules?

erikscottdebie: Thank you for the kind words. I’m so glad you enjoyed. I had a great time working on that book, and it was one of those projects that just came all together really well.

As for 5e, well, that’s the question, isn’t it? It’s hard to say what WotC plans to do as regards the Realms in D&D-Next. I rather suspect they’re in “wait-and-see” mode with the launch of 5e. If it proves a financial success, there will be stuff. They know I’m available and interested (and I love that world). Ball’s in their court.


Tysilio: Two years ago WTC released some Forgotten Realms novels in eBook format only. What was the story on that and are there any plans to release them in mass market paperback? I’d get an eReader and download them, but I don’t want to only find out soon after that they are being released in paperback. Now that the last Sundering novel is out, will we be seeing more Realms novels in the near future from you or any of the other authors, current and/or new?

erikscottdebie: I don’t know.

What I can tell you is that I’ve heard no word of any plans to bring the “e-book only” releases (of which my last two Shadowbane novels belong) to the physical world. It seems like they would, after leaving so much money on the table that they could have easily earned by printing physical books. I’m not privy to their plans.

At this point, AFAIK, there are only three novelists writing for WotC: Bob Salvatore (obviously), Ed Greenwood (it’s in his contract that he writes a book a year for them), and Erin Evans (whose Brimstone Angels series is quite awesome). Nothing from Paul Kemp, nothing from Richard Lee Byers, nothing from me, nothing from anyone else. Perhaps they have plans for other novels, but they haven’t told me.


GalufTheDwarf: Hey, there, Erik, old friend. I was curious what you consider to be your greatest contribution to the Forgotten Realms campaign setting thus far. I know you’ve been working with WoTC for almost 10 years now, so I’d love to hear your opinion on such.

erikscottdebie: Hail, Galuf! Great to see you.

I’ve made numerous minute contributions that have gone mostly unnoticed. For instance, I am the reason goliaths exist in the Realms (because I thought the race from Races of Stone was cool, so I included one in Depths of Madness), the reason half-elves can be bladesingers in 4e (initially design had them restricted only to elves until I pointed out that WotC had published a novel called Bladesinger in which the main character was a half-elf), I totally did the “last paladin of Helm” thing before it was cool (I published three novels about the last paladin of Helm before Denning wrote his novel The Sentinel about the last paladin of Helm) as well as a few others.

Above those, though, I think my involvement in the Realms just fleshed out the world and added another perspective (mine) as well as some cool characters. I like to think my enthusiasm for the setting (at a time when WotC has been steadily pruning it down) was useful, even if I’ve finally had to focus on other projects. And if WotC ever called, I would definitely write more for the Realms. It’s so closely tied up with what fantasy is to me, and I dearly wish to see it rise once more to a position of prominence in the industry.


Check out the full AMA on Reddit/r/Fantasy!