Sovereign Press Interview
Sunday, June 15, 2003
We talk with Jamie Chambers and Chris Coyle of Sovereign Press about the Dragonlance d20 line!
Tell us a bit about yourselves, and how you got involved with Dragonlance.
[Jamie Chambers] My father began role-playing in the early 1980's, first playing in a campaign set in the World of Greyhawk. He would come home from his game sessions, telling me exciting re-caps of his group's adventures. In 1982, when I was seven years old, I found some older boys in the neighborhood who were playing D&D. I created my first character, Winston the Wonderful (a magic-user) and played for a couple years in nonsensical hack-and-slash dungeons--loving every minute of it.
A few years later, I became very interested in running games of my own for friends my own age. My father came home from our local game store (DR. NO'S in Marietta, Georgia!) with the first two Dragonlance modules. I got a group of friends together and ran the original adventures for nearly three years. I got my hands on the original trilogy and I quickly fell under the spell of the tales of Krynn spun by Weis and Hickman.
Many years later, my interest in gaming, fantasy fiction, and Dragonlance in particular had never faded. Just after graduating high school I discovered the GEnie Online information service which was the online home for TSR, Inc.--the publisher of the AD&D game and Dragonlance. I became a TSR Online staff member and president of the online gaming club known as LAMP. My duties with the club and the TSR Roundtable put me in contact with many authors and game designers--including Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.
I began attending conventions, including Dragon*Con and GenCon, and started meeting everyone in "real life." During this period I developed a reputation (at least with some!) as a Dragonlance guru, frequenting a number of online forums and mailing lists. I became very flattered as Margaret Weis would sometimes e-mail me to help her research specific details from past Dragonlance material.
To make a long story a bit shorter, I became involved in Tracy Hickman's Starshield project, which was exciting and taught me a lot even if it ultimately did not succeed. As Starshield faded away, a new project called Sovereign Stone was in its infancy, and I let the creators know I'd love to help out however possible. As I made my way through college, I went from being a playtester to webmaster, to adventure author, to convention demo coordinator. I also struck up a terrific relationship with the authors, who are wonderful people that I'm grateful to call friends.
After college and a year or so of working in corporate America, I received a phone call from Lake Geneva. Sovereign Press was pursuing a deal to acquire a license to produce Dragonlance game products. I was asked to come on board, to help with Sovereign Stone and to eventually be the lead designer for Dragonlance once the deal came together. I said quickly said yes, and moved my family from north Georgia to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Fast forward another few years and the licensing deal was a success we were able to officially announce in March 2002. I was able to recommend my friend Chris Coyle as an additional editor and game designer--heading Sovereign Stone and assisting on Dragonlance. We completed the Dragonlance Campaign Setting for Wizards of the Coast and Age of Mortals as the first Sovereign Press product of the line. Now I'm eagerly looking forward to the release of both books and the production of many more exciting products!
[Chris Coyle] My involvement with Dragonlance began back when I was 12. For Christmas, my mother had purchased the complete set of Chronicles for me. After reading them, I fell in love with them (and read them until they fell apart). A few months later, when I was in the book store looking for more Dragonlance books, I saw a large hardbound that read Dragonlance Adventures, which got me started on the path of Dungeons & Dragons. As a military brat, I moved around a lot, living in a lot of different places. Fantasy novels and games became something that I could easily take with me, and something that I could use to make friends. I carried this with me even out of high school, when I joined the Navy and traveled overseas. Little did I realize that some of the friends that I would make would eventually become part of the RPG industry. Once I saw some of my friends entering the industry, I realized that if I also wanted to become part of the industry that had always been of great interest to me, I needed to get off my butt and put my nose to the grindstone. Within six months, I had produced two adventures for a company called Monkey God Enterprises: Song of Storms and At the Edge of Dreams. My very first published product, the adventure Song of Storms, was nominated for an ENnie fan-award. Once Sovereign Press had gained the Dragonlance license, they were looking to hire a new editor and writer. I was available, they were impressed by what I had accomplished so far, and after a meeting, I became part of the Sovereign Press family, and thus my life came full circle: I was now working on the very line that had gotten me initially interested in Dungeons & Dragons!
What events led up to Sovereign Press getting the license for Dragonlance gaming?
[Jamie] I did not become part of the process until after Margaret Weis, Don Perrin, and their agency negotiated the deal. Once we knew everything was going to happen, I was asked to join a meeting with Bill Slavicsek and Ed Stark at the GAMA (Game Manufacturer's Association) Trade Show in Las Vegas in March of 2002. That meeting laid the foundation of our company's work on the Dragonlance Campaign Setting ("DLCS") and what would follow.
Who has been working on the Dragonlance Campaign Setting and Age of Mortals books? Any familiar faces, such as Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, or Jeff Grubb? What about the artists? Will we see any works by Larry Elmore or Matt Stawicki?
[Jamie] I wrote the initial outline, revised through work with our colleagues at Wizards, and assigned out projects among the writing team. The in-house writers for the DLCS were Margaret Weis, Don Perrin, Christopher Coyle, and myself. We were lucky to not only have great professional resources to draw upon--with insights into specific characters and events provided by Douglas Niles, Jeff Grubb, Jean Rabe, Richard Knaak, and other authors, but also the amazing help of the Dragonlance Whitestone Council--those who kept Dragonlance gaming going even during the dark years between SAGA and Third Edition!
Tracy Hickman generously wrote the Introduction to the DLCS and made himself available to my questions. While he was not directly involved, he supported our efforts and I really worked to preserve as much of his vision for Dragonlance as I could. I truly admire and respect Tracy, and wanted to hold on to as much of the magic he had created as possible.
We are going back to some familiar names in the way of art. Larry Elmore, Matt Stawicki, and Jeff Easley will be creating all of our covers. The DLCS and Age of Mortals also includes art by Elmore and Easley. I think fans will truly love to see Larry's last portrait of Laurana in the DLCS and his portrayal of Fizban in the DLCS! Jeff Easley once again brings the fearsome dragon overlords of the Fifth Age to life in full color!
[Chris] One of the things that we've worked hard at, something that Margaret has stressed from the get go, is that we need to establish a closer relationship with the authors and artists of Dragonlance than has ever happened before. Margaret's at the forefront, and her touch is on every product. Tracy and Jeff both have been incredible fonts of information, as have many of the other authors as well: Jean Rabe, Jeff Crook, Doug Niles, just to name a very few! Artist-wise, we immediately contacted artists who had helped to establish the distinctive look of Dragonlance. Larry Elmore and Matt Stawicki have already done cover art for our products, and some of their art also graces the interior of some of the books! We have Jeff Easley working on some incredible covers for our campaign trilogy of adventures. We've also tried finding new artists to bring into the fold, artists whose work could stand beside that of the artists that have gone before them. For the most part, I'd like to think that we've accomplished that.
When designing Dragonlance for 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons rules, you faced the challenge of having multiple game systems as predecessors, including two editions of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rules as well as the SAGA game system. How did this affect the upcoming Dragonlance Campaign Setting (DLCS) sourcebook? Was there any conflicting information, and if so, how did you handle this?
[Jamie] Dragonlance has had lots of conflicting information and continuity problems, both in and outside of game material. We had to make judgment calls for some situations, and others we leave to the imagination of the fans.
Chris proved to be an amazing resource during this process. As a speed reader, he plunged through many Dragonlance novels--both ones he had read years before and those he had never seen before. A combination of this, the insight of the authors, and other research tools helped us wade through the confusion and produce a consistent vision of Dragonlance.
[Chris] I guess the question really shouldn't be 'was there any conflicting information,' as pretty much everybody knows that there has always been a lot of conflicting information in Dragonlance. That's one of the things I've heard from people as to why they don't like Dragonlance at all. Our job was to go in and try to make the conflicting information work, try and unravel the complicated Gordian Knot that is Dragonlance. Having available to us many of the authors involved in Dragonlance really made things easier. We hit the books, asked many questions, and have hopefully separated the wheat from the chaff and produced the best Dragonlance yet!
What races are fans able to play with the DLCS?
[Chris] With the DLCS, we tried to include all of what we considered the "core" races of Dragonlance. The races that everyone associates with Dragonlance: Civilized & Nomadic humans, the core elven races (Qualinesti, Silvanesti, Kagonesti, and both the sea elf races, the Dargonesti and the Dimernesti), the core dwarven races (mountain, hill), kender, gnomes, the Irda, minotaurs, centaurs, half-ogres...the list goes on. Most importantly, however, we introduce for the first time, draconians as a PC race—the bozak and the kapak!
[Jamie] We know that draconian PCs will be a big hit with the fans, including favorites of many from past editions such as the Irda. AGE OF MORTALS introduces the half-kender for the first time in official game product.
How did the classes of the D&D 3rd edition game come into play with the DLCS? Will we be seeing the bard, monk, paladin, or sorcerer in the DLCS? Any new classes or prestige classes?
[Jamie] Every class is available to play, though we do make note that monks and paladins should be rare. Bards use primal sorcery in Dragonlance, which means that they cannot cast spells prior to the Fifth Age.
We have two new core classes in the DLCS--the mystic and the noble. The Age of Mortals introduces the mariner. We have lots of prestige classes in both books, allowing you to play Knights, Wizards of High Sorcery, and Legionnaires. We also have specialty prestige classes, including the dragon rider, nomad shaman, and master ambassador.
[Chris] At its heart, Dragonlance is a D&D world. Always has been. I think that's why the SAGA system (as interesting a system as it was) alienated quite a few fans...they wanted it to be (A)D&D, not a card game. So, with that in mind, we stripped Dragonlance down to its core and rebuilt it around the new 3rd edition (and now the revised 3.5 edition) ruleset. Luckily, we worked very closely with Wizards of the Coast, including Jeff Grubb, while we were working on the DLCS, so we were able to finally come to a comfortable middle-level. It was a lot of give and take, and in the end, I think that everything works out nicely. In the DLCS, we introduce the mystic, the divine counterpart of the sorcerer...and there's a ton of prestige classes! The Knights of Solamnia, the Knights of Neraka, the Legion of Steel, and Wizards of High Sorcery, just to name a very few!
The DLCS is the initial campaign sourcebook for Dragonlance. What, then, is the Age of Mortals book?
[Jamie] The Age of Mortals is an ideal companion for the DLCS, providing information for both players and DMs of a Fifth Age campaign. It's also a great companion to the novels of the Fifth Age and the War of Souls trilogy. It really sets the stage for a lot of the exciting things that will soon happen in both game products and novels!
[Chris] The Age of Mortals is the first Dragonlance Campaign Setting Companion. While the DLCS gives the basic tools for anyone to play in a Dragonlance game, and though it gives the tools necessary to play in any era of Krynn's history, it assumes that the campaign will be in the modern time (post-War of Souls). Those who are well-versed on Dragonlance can easily set a campaign whenever and wherever they want in Ansalon, but for those who want more ironclad rules on specific eras, we came up with the Companions. Age of Mortals is the first Companion, focusing on the Fifth Age of Krynn--the world as it was following Weis & Hickman's Dragons of Summer Flame through the end of the Weis & Hickman War of Souls trilogy. The timeline is expanded; the role of various races is explored more thoroughly, along with the roll of magic, which is greatly different from any other Age of Krynn.
What portions of the Fifth Age will be covered in Age of Mortals?
[Chris] All of it! Although the primary focus is on taking the world forward, we cover rules for playing in any time frame within the Fifth Age. From rules concerning the Dragon Overlords and the rise of the Ogre Titans through the introduction of Sorcery and Mysticism and the effects on magic during the War of Souls. With the rules in Age of Mortals, you can play during the aftermath of the Chaos War, during the Dragon Purge, during the War of Souls, or in the time following, the current timeframe.
How did you tackle sorcery and mysticism?
[Jamie] Sorcery and Mysticism really evolved over the course of design, with a lot of back and forth between Sovereign Press and the Wizards of the Coast. Ultimately the decision was to keep the sorcerer class almost completely untouched, with the mystic written as a divine magic counterpart to the sorcerer.
Those who would like their mystic or sorcerer characters to match a bit closer with the SAGA game material should check out the Citadel Mystic and Academy Sorcerer prestige classes in Age of Mortals.
What other products can we expect beyond the Age of Mortals book?
[Chris] A whole slew of products are coming in the next year alone, not even touching upon what we have planned for our second and third years! Following the Age of Mortals book, we have the Dungeon Master's Screen, the first part of an epic Dragonlance campaign adventure trilogy, the Key of Destiny. Then there's the Bestiary of Krynn, The Towers of High Sorcery, Specter of Sorrows (the second part of the adventure)...and year two will begin with The War of the Lance! That's right, we have planned an incredible second Companion book that will focus entirely on the era that is one of the most beloved eras of Krynn's history, the era that started it all!
[Jamie] I'm currently very excited about the Towers of High Sorcery sourcebook, due out in January. It features an exciting new cover by Larry Elmore, and will deal with a lot of cool material--including new spells, magic-using prestige classes, and magical items. It will also map out and describe all five of the Towers of High Sorcery and provide rules of creating and administering the Test for wizard characters.
Will Sovereign Press be addressing the War of the Lance and the events in Legends?
[Jamie] We are planning a huge Companion sourcebook on the War of the Lance, that will incorporate a lot of source material derived from the original modules and novels. Another product will follow based on Legends, and will deal with time travel and the post-War of the Lance era.
Will we see a sourcebook on the lands of Taladas? If so, will the materials on James O'Rance's Taladas website factor into this?
[Jamie] A Taladas sourcebook is certainly a possibility, though it would probably be at least a few years away. We really like a lot of James O'Rance's material, and we would probably use it as a great resource during the course of such a book's design!
Will there be any preview chapters of the upcoming sourcebooks?
[Jamie] Certainly! I believe Wizards of the Coast is putting up sample material for the DLCS in magazines and their website. Sovereign Press has plans to put up sample material, so keep your eyes open!
Will there be any sourcebooks detailing the various organizations of Krynn? Will we be seeing any new organizations?
[Chris] Starting with the Towers of High Sorcery, we will be focusing on some of the unique organizations of Krynn, beginning with one of the keystones: the Wizards of High Sorcery. From there, you can expect to see sourcebooks describing the Holy Order of Stars, the Citadel of Light, and the Knighthoods. There are a few new organizations as well, but you'll just have to find them in the pages of the books!
Unsung Heroes states that psionics do not exist on Krynn. Has this been re-examined with the new 3rd edition Psionics Handbook?
[Jamie] We have left psionics completely unmentioned in our Dragonlance material and is not presented with any of our creatures or NPCs. Anyone is free to incorporate psionic rules with Dragonlance, but they will not be present in material by Sovereign Press.
What are you most proud of with the new Dragonlance d20 line?
There's not an aspect of my work that I'm not proud of. I feel that this is some of the best work I have done to date. Working on Dragonlance has challenged me to exceed myself, to rise above the challenge of producing work that can stand proudly beside some of the incredible work that has gone before. But, just between me and everyone reading this, personally, I'm most proud of my adventure, Key of Destiny, so far! I got started in the industry writing adventures, so now that I've grown as a designer and a writer, I can bring what I've learned from Margaret and Jamie and the other Dragonlance writers I've had the honor of working with to create what will hopefully be ranked as one of the classic adventures in years to come!
[Jamie] I am honored to be working with this amazing team of contributors. It's hard to nail down any one aspect of these books as the best, as we worked so hard on everything! I cannot wait to actually see these books in the hands of the fans, and get feedback on everything we've been working on for over a year!
What other projects are you currently working on?
[Jamie] I am managing the entire line of Dragonlance products, and I'm currently preparing adventures that will be run at the Origins and GenCon conventions this year and later published in magazines such as Game Trade and Games Unplugged. The Dragonlance Dungeon Master's Screen and accompanying 32-page booklet is well underway, and will feature a gorgeous original painting by Larry Elmore. After that I plunge into development on the Towers of High Sorcery while Cam Banks and André La Roche develop the Bestiary of Krynn, and Chris finishes up Key of Destiny.
[Chris] Right now, most of my time is consumed with finishing up Key of Destiny, planning the second part, Spectre of Sorrow, and keeping up with my editing of Sovereign Stone products, like Kingdoms of the Sword and Stars: The Dunkargans & Karnuans. I like to keep busy, so I've also done some small freelance work, but right now, Dragonlance and Sovereign Stone are my life.
Any message you would like to convey to Dragonlance fans in regards to d20 Dragonlance?
[Chris] Really, just one: Remember, Dragonlance is a labor of love by many different people, each of whom had their own ideas and views on the world...Krynn's big enough for all of them!
[Jamie] Dragonlance has lost some fans over the years with changes in editions, game systems, and major epic plot changes (such as the Chaos War and War of Souls). I would encourage those fans to give our products a look, for they may rediscover the magic that drew them into Krynn in the first place and find adventure in whatever era they choose. Read, play, and have fun!