In this month's exclusive interview, game designer Jason Carl offers his insight into the creation of the new Lords of Darkness sourcebook and talks about how bad guys can have more fun.
Wizards of the Coast: How did you and co-designer Sean Reynolds begin to put Lords of Darkness together?
Jason Carl: To be honest, the seeds for my contributions to the book were planted in my mind long before I ever set pen to paper -- or, rather, fingers to keyboard -- because I've always been interested in the role of "the bad guy" in stories, in film, and especially in roleplaying games. I'm of the opinion that a detailed and believable antagonist adds depth and resonance to a D&D campaign, which I why I tend to lavish attention on the individuals and groups that oppose the heroes in the campaigns I run at home. So, when I was tapped to collaborate with Sean on Lords of Darkness, I was quite thrilled.
More practically, I reviewed and read a great deal of the material that had been published for the Forgotten Realms campaign setting in both 1st and 2nd Edition AD&D, paying particular attention to the villains and villainous organizations as I went along. I made notes as I read, and tried to envision and outline how these groups and their leaders might be reflected in the newest edition of the campaign setting.
Wizards:What sort of boundaries and parameters did you establish early on for what could or couldn't be included in the book?
Jason: Frankly, we gave ourselves pretty broad license. We definitely wanted the content of the book to reflect a Faerûn that was, if not overwhelmed, then definitely beleaguered by groups dedicated to the pursuit of evil deeds. Likewise, we wanted to offer DMs the opportunity to use, and players the opportunity to confront, organizations that were even more dangerous and monstrous than those seen previously. Consequently, we took some risks in portraying some of the NPCs and organizations in Lords of Darkness, pushing the boundaries of evil deeds and motivations, but I think the end result was worth it.
Wizards:How did you and Sean divide up the research and design?
Jason: We met one gray, rainy afternoon -- perfect villain weather! -- to divide up the content between us. We both chose certain organizations that we really wanted to work on, and then separated the rest evenly. By the time we met to accomplish this, I, for example, very much wanted to sink my teeth into the Shades, while Sean was already dreaming up new and malevolent uses for the Red Wizards.
Wizards:Was early development of the book complicated or simplified by previously published material?
Jason: I think the answer has to be: both.
Wizards:In general, what does the book introduce to players for the first time?
Jason: The book introduces several brand-new, never-before-seen evil organizations into the campaign setting, such as the Shades, the Kir-Lanan Gargoyles, and the Monks of the Long Death. Several groups that existed in previous editions of the Forgotten Realms, like the Red Wizards, the Illithids (Mind Flayers), the Arcane Brotherhood, and the Drow undergo significant changes -- some alterations are mere face-lifts, but others amount to a major paradigm shift. Without exception, I think these changes enhance the enjoyment that players and DMs will get from using the book, and make the Forgotten Realms a richer, deeper campaign setting. The book also introduces players to a host of totally new spells, magic items, traps, and political machinations . . . all held firmly in the grasp of antagonists!
Wizards:How do you anticipate DMs will use the book?
Jason: I anticipate that each DM will use the book according to his or her needs. For many long-time Forgotten Realms DMs, the material will enable them to surprise and excite their players by throwing some serious surprises into their home campaigns and giving old favorites a new, unexpected twist. They'll be able to beef up some evil organizations that have until now been lacking the firepower and motivation to take a larger role in the day-to-day political life of Faerûn. If you thought that Zhentil Keep was evil before, you haven't seen anything yet!
I also suspect that the book will prove invaluable to the DM who is just getting to know the Forgotten Realms. Faerûn is a big place, and sometimes it's tough to know exactly what challenges to present to group of novice heroes. Lords of Darkness aids the DM by offering not only several dozen highly detailed antagonistic groups but also many sample ready-to-run NPCs and plot hooks. For many new DMs who are running Forgotten Realms campaigns, Lords of Darkness will probably become one of their staple sourcebooks for years to come.
Wizards: Of the major organizations, which do you feel will add the most to the environment in terms of gameplay opportunity?
Jason: That's very difficult to say, because several organizations will make a big impact on the campaign environment. So, I refuse to pick just one! Instead, I'll name several: the Red Wizards, Zhentil Keep, the Shades, and the Night Masks.
Wizards:Fair enough! And of the minor organizations, which was your favorite to create or expand upon?
Jason: I really enjoyed the opportunity to flesh out the Kir-Lanan Gargoyles. James Wyatt invented these beasties out of whole cloth for the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, and I found it a pleasant challenge to expand on what little we knew about them in order to make them useful to the DM -- and alarming to the player characters! Because the deities of Faerûn are so omnipresent, I found it highly intriguing to work out how a race that worships no deities at all would be able to not only exist, but also thrive.
Wizards:Lords of Darkness introduces quite an appendix of "tools of evil," among these a handful of new spells. What's the process for developing a new spell? How can you as a designer be sure it isn't too powerful or too weak? Is there a "playtest" equivalent?
Jason: Remember high school algebra class, when the teacher insisted that you had to "Show all your work on a separate piece of paper?" Game design, and in particular monster and spell design, is a little like that. You start with what you know -- in this particular case, the existing spells in the Player's Handbook and the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting -- and then begin experimenting. Sometimes it's possible to eyeball the relative power level of a new spell. For example, let's say that we're creating a new spell that adds a +5 bonus to a given die roll. We know that such a spell is probably not going to be a 1st-level spell, because even a brief glance at the 1st-levels spells in the Player's Handbook tells us that a bonus of that strength would be very unusual for a spell of that level. Then we compare the new spell to others at differing levels, trying to find its most likely level. Then we begin playtesting it under several different conditions. At some point in the design process, we ask our fellow designers for their expert opinions, and that often proves to be the most valuable and decisive step in creating new spells.
Wizards:What was held back or left out of Lords of Darkness? Why was that
Jason: Both Sean and I wrote more material than could be included comfortably between the covers of the book, and I have no doubt that most or all of it will make its appearance either in future books, or on the Wizards website as enhancements. But I can't reveal the particulars because that would be telling, wouldn't it?
Wizards:In the end, then, what was the most satisfying part of working on this project?
Jason: Apart from wading into all that gloriously creepy evilness up to my neck, you mean? I would have to say that it was the opportunity to collaborate with Sean K. Reynolds. Sean is a consummate professional, and one of the most respected names not only in Forgotten Realms design but D&D as well. He was always available when I needed guidance, or when I wanted to bounce yet another idea off someone. I don't think that a day went by when I didn't learn something new about the Realms or game design from Sean, and it's an experience that I will value for the rest of my life.
Wizards: Of all that you contributed to Lords of Darkness, what are you most proud of?
Jason: It's a tough choice, but in the end I have to say that it would have to be the Shades. I would like to ask all the players out there who will soon run up against this organization to please, one day, find it in their hearts to forgive me.