Interview with Troy Denning

Originally posted by zombiegleemax:

I found an old interview with Tro Denning that was on The Sands of Athas #8… is this what you were looking for Eric?

Interview with Troy Denning

Q. What was the inspiration for Dark Sun?
A. Actually, we started with the idea of designing a game-world for experienced DMs, where we could do all the things (such as play half-giants, have Strength beyond 18, psionics, etc.) that we weren’t allowed to do in normal settings like FR. Then we decided it had to be really different, deadly (it was, after all, for EXPERIENCED gamers), and visually exciting. After that, we sat down to discuss how we could accomplish all of that and began to brainstorm. Initially, we came up with a really strange version of Dark Sun where their were no elves, dragons, etc., but Mary Kirchoff (with Tim and I, one of the original planners) talked to some marketing people and realized we had made it TOO alien. We went back to the drawing board and put those touchstones in, but twisted the concepts so they would fit in DS. I don’t know about you, but I think this was definitely the right decision otherwise, the world would have been so alien that there was nothing to latch on to. Any semblance to the Burroughs Mars series is purely subconscious I’m a great fan of the series, but did not hold it up as a model while we were designing DS.

Q. Where is Dark Sun going?
A. I wish I knew! This is in WotC’s control, and-sadly-I don’t think they have any real intention of supporting it. There is the possibility of a few products, however, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Q. Does you have any future plans to write any more DS novels?
A. I’d love to, but again this is in WotC’s control, and I’m unaware of any plans to publish more.

Q. You stated in a post that you only free lances for TSR/WOTC, is this by choice?
A. I left TSR in '91 (I think) to write the DS novels, and we haven’t really talked about me coming back on board. Anything’s possible, but there’s nothing in the works right now.

Q. How did you get involved in working with TSR/WOTC on DS design and test playing?
A. I was one of the original designers. Tim Brown and I (who were both employed there at the time) were assigned the task of brainstorming a new world. Mary Kirchoff, who was running books at the time, said she’d like to be involved, and so we met over lunch once a week for a year to hammer out ideas. It was a great way to design a world!

Q. How did the design team worked with Brom? Did they tell him what to paint, or was Brom instrumental in developing the look of Athas. Also, did Brom read the Prism Pentad before painting the covers?
A. Tim Brown, Mary Kirchoff, and I spent about a year (meeting once a week for LONG lunches) developing the basic world of Dark Sun, then decided that we were ready to present it to the big muckities at the old TSR. Knowing how short management’s attention span is, however, we realized that we would need something VISUAL to sell them on the idea. We spent an afternoon wandering around TSR, trying to find something representative (without much luck), then dared to venture into the art room (the artists can be kind of cantankerous). Brom had a picture of a big blond woman with a weird looking polearm hanging on his wall (he had painted it at home on his own time just for fun); we took one look at the painting and knew that we had our Dark Sun artist. In fact, the woman was so DS that we decided we had to write her into the plot, and that is where Neeva came from!
Needless to say, we asked Brom if he would like to be part of the project, and he started to draw stuff that he thought was in the spirit, without any guidance from us. Many of the creatures and races in DS came from these drawings-we gave him complete freedom; he’d draw something, then Tim and/or I would find a way to make it fit. I think this turned out to be one of the great strengths of DS-you can’t imagine how much of it was created just by looking at Brom’s work and designing/writing something to fit. He did not, however, read the Prism Pentad before painting the covers (to my knowledge, he still hasn’t read the books-artists are more visual than verbal); we would give him an art order, then he would paint something, and we’d hassle him about it mercilessly-I’m surprised he didn’t strangle us, but we wanted everything to be perfect.

Q. What is the one thing you loves the most about DS?
A. It’s really hard to pick the one thing I love most about DS. It was the greatest experience of my professional life, and I think this world reflects my personality more than anything I’ve ever worked on (though I am working on a project now that may do so even more). To me, what makes DS special is that the bonus of deciding what is good and evil is placed on the players. As a famous Russian writer said, “the best stories are about good vs. good;” In this case, the PCs must decide what is good behavior in the context of very harsh and difficult circumstances-in this sense, I think DS parallels the difficult decisions that we must make so often in real life.

Q. What would you like to improve upon?
A. The one thing I would like to improve upon in DS? Easy-psionics! I think the fact that psionics is mandatory limited the campaign’s appeal to begin with, and is probably the single point most responsible for the fact that it’s still not being supported. Even in the later editions, psionics are a hassle to play with. Ready for some sacrilege? I’d even think about having only PCs and selected NPCs have wild talents-whenever I play, that’s what I do. BTW, I’m not saying that we should remove psionics entirely (can’t have a dragon or SK without 'em), just don’t let their clumsiness get in the way of the campaign.

Q. Out of all of your works, which is your favorite?
A. My favorite work is the Prism Pentad, taken in it’s entirety. It reflects my personality more than anything I’ve written, and even now, after writing MANY more books since DS than I wrote DS, it’s still what people at cons want to talk about most.
HOWEVER, I think the BEST books I’ve written are PAGES OF PAIN (Planescape) and CRUCIBLE (Forgotten Realms). This isn’t to say that I didn’t try hard with DS (I did, often sleeping only every other night for two weeks at time because I was so excited about it), just that I’ve written a million words since then and learned a lot.

Q. How do you handle criticism?
A. I look for what I agree with (good and bad) and ignore the rest. There are a lot of people out there who don’t read carefully, who miss the whole point, or who just plain like complaining- I’ll listen to these people after seeing something they write. Fortunately, there are MANY MORE careful readers who express intelligent criticisms, and these I always regard carefully. THANKS to you guys-especially when you identify something that needs improvement!

Q. What character(s) or settings would you most like to work with again?
A. All of them! But especially Malik el Sami ibn Nasser (from Crucible), all the DS characters (and some more I haven’t introduced you to), and Theseus (from Pages of Pain).

Q. Will there be more DarkSun novels?
A. I’m chomping at the bit to write them, but I don’t think TSR is going to do it. Right now, they’re not even sure they’re going to keep THE VERDANT PASSAGE in print.

Q. What about the rumours that TSR might possibly revive Dark Sun?
A. They’ve re-released the revised box set and are talking about possible product support, though there are many, many hurdles to overcome before that happens. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Q. Was Dregoth your creation or was he something that the later brand managers or creative folks came up with?
A. It’s hard to remember that far back, but I think he was somebody else’s invention (it happens). A safe rule of thumb-if it isn’t in the Prism Pentad or the first edition boxed set, it wasn’t my invention. If it is, it was my invention (or Tim’s or Mary’s).

Q. As the first person to really write out a psionics battle, how did going into uncharted territory feel?
A. I was lost-the first versions were . . . well, crap. Then I went back and decided to approach them symbolically, as in a hallucination, and everything fell into place. They were still a ***** to write, but at least they worked-and I had fun!

Q. Why kill off Agis, versus the foolish warrior types?
A. Because the good guys don’t always win-that’s one of the big differences between DS and “standard” fantasy, and I think one of its great strengths. But even more importantly, Agis was a static character-of all the characters in the Pentad, he was the only one who could not learn anything-basically because he had already found his moral center before the pentad began. He was important to have as the moral center early in the series, but later, when the other characters had to make their own decisions, his strength became his weakness-and in DS, weakness is punishable in the worst ways.

Q. Were you afraid the important inclusion of psionics would turn people off from Dark Sun?
A. No-when we made the decision to include psionics, it was the new thing under development and we thought it would be a selling point. We didn’t know about all the problems until it was too late to do anything about it, but even so, it’s hard to imagine DS without psionics- If it would have been up to me (and if I had realized it at the time), I would have just fixed the basic psionics rules and limited the application of wild talents to PCs and important NPCs-I think we got a little carried away spreading them as far as we did.

Q. Do you have maps of the cities not detailed in a supplement?
A. Sorry, not that I can find. Actually, I think everything I’ve done on DS has made it into print.

Q. Was DS a world TSR asked you to make, or one you had made on your own initiative (a la Ed Greenwood)?
A. Yes. Actually, TSR started talking about the possibility of a new world, then Tim, Mary, and I started developing one and sold them on the idea.

Q. Do you still actively campaign DS? If so, how far have you progressed?
A. Not actively, but occasionally. About fourth or fifth level. I like the low level stuff-it’s more challenging.

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