In this month's exclusive interview, designers of the new Forgotten Realms accessory Races of Faerûn discuss avariel as player characters, lost lairs, and the advantages of writing from a distance.
Wizards of the Coast: A great deal of research must go into preparing an accessory that further details a world already so well developed. In fact, Eric, some of your previous projects form the foundation of this book. Was it confining or liberating to have so much previously published material in existence?
James Jacobs: For me, it was pretty helpful to have all the prior stuff to draw on for inspiration and ideas. I didn't want to just "cut and paste" the info from all the old sources; I think it's always better to have new stuff in a book rather than "old" stuff. Often, something I'd read would trigger an idea for something new to include. At the same time, though, I tried to make sure that anything new I came up with would fit in and mesh with what's already been said about a particular race; the elves, in particular, were trouble because there's been so much written about them already.
Matt Forbeck: I didn't have much experience with the Forgotten Realms before working on this book, but it was fun doing the research for it. I actually like working in well-established worlds, as there's so much out there to help spark ideas. Sure, you can't write whatever you want, but I enjoy the challenge of making my notions mesh with those of the writers who have gone before me.
Eric Boyd: I've always found it liberating to work in a shared world. For me, a great deal of creativity derives from building off the work of others, attempting to reconcile and blend apparently divergent efforts into a coherent unified whole. I particularly enjoyed working on the Humans chapter, as that forced me to build from nearly every Realms product ever published.
Wizards: What new material can players who've campaigned in the Forgotten Realms for years now expect to find in Races of Faerûn? And what from the past has been dusted off and thoroughly updated?
James: Two major races from previous editions that haven't really been detailed yet in 3rd Edition are the avariel and the orog. The avariel had already been detailed fairly extensively in 2nd Edition, and I tried to remain as close as possible to that version while at the same time updating them to take full advantage of the 3rd Edition rules. Orogs now have a much more definitive place in Faerûn, rather than just being "tougher orcs." Another really cool thing in the book is the definitive return of elven High Magic, which is fully compatible with the Epic Level Handbook. It's pretty potent stuff. Oh yeah . . . and glassteel is making a comeback too. Whoo-hoo!
As for stuff that's brand new, there are a LOT of new spells, feats, magic items, prestige classes, and even some new monsters that are making their first appearance in D&D. There are also entries in the book for some of the new races introduced in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. Overall, the mix of brand new stuff and updated stuff is quite good, I think.
Matt: I'm not terribly familiar with everything that went before, but I ended up making up a great deal of the stuff for the less-common races nearly out of whole cloth. Hopefully there are some pleasant surprises for people in there.
Eric: Details of the individual human ethnic groups are brand new, although the seeds of this chapter had been planted in scattered sentences buried in tens of previous products. There's also plenty of new information about the dwarven races and how they spread across Faerûn.
Wizards: What's been part of the Forgotten Realms setting up to now that simply had to go away, as it didn't work well in the new system or jibe with the overall vision for Races of Faerûn?
Eric: Very little of consequence. One of the strengths of the Forgotten Realms setting has always been its internal consistency, and, from my perspective, that internal consistency is only strengthened in this project.
James: One of my favorite things about 3rd Edition is the fact that it's about what you can do as opposed to what you can't do. For example, it always annoyed me in prior editions that if you wanted to play an avariel PC, you got hit with some pretty significant disadvantages to balance out the fact that you can fly. They had all these restrictions that ended up making them the worst flying creatures in the game, it seemed . . . to the point where their main advantage over other races actually ended up being a disadvantage. With this version, those disadvantages get turned into non-game-mechanic flavor; they still exist and can provide for some fun roleplaying material, but they won't keep your character from doing what he's supposed to be good at. The advantages are instead balanced by setting the race's ECL [effective character level] higher.
Matt: I agree that the ECLs helped a great deal. We were able to focus on making each race as cool as possible without worrying about if it balanced out with the standard races. The ECLs take care of that detail for us.
Wizards: With multiple designers, what's the creative process like in pulling together a project like this? Do you divide up the races and each designer goes off to develop, or do you work together on each race, or does one person design then the next person expands on the design?
Eric: For this project, Rich Baker assigned individual races to each designer. (That said, I couldn't resist throwing a few ideas over the wall, including a few elven prestige classes, and some other racial equipment.) The project was then given a unified look and feel by the in-house design staff to resolve any differences among our approaches.
Matt: As a freelancer who lives in Wisconsin, I had absolutely no contact with my co-writers. I dealt exclusively with Sean Reynolds and Rich Baker instead, and they drew up the book's outline and parceled out the individual pieces. Although I don't normally like books written by many isolated people, the structure of this book actually leant itself to that kind of approach. I could write about gnomes, for instance, without having to worry much about tramping over Eric or James's toes.
James: I came in at pretty much the tail end of the design process to work on two chapters (elves and orcs), so I ended up designing in my own little bubble. I'd turn in my work to Sean Reynolds, and he'd go through it and fix all the stuff that was broken (or more often, make some suggestions to me on how to fix them), and then I'd go over it again. Once everyone had their pieces of the book all done, R&D got to go through and make sure that the pieces all fit together nicely.
Wizards: How do you playtest a project like Races of Faerûn? What's the curve by which you judge if the lightfoot halflings are adequately balanced against, say, the ghostwise halflings?
James: You kind of have to go with your best guess at the start, and then there's a lot of comparing of abilities with other, established races. I wasn't part of the actual playtesting of the new races, but I'm sure that they all spent their time in the hotseat.
Matt: The balancing determinants here are the ECLs of the various races. For these, many were already set by the time the book was assigned. I set others by comparing the creatures to those who already had ECLs, and this seemed to work fine. I understand Wizards started reworking all of the ECLs pretty substantially right around this time, though, which I expect will show up in Savage Species and the RevisedMonster Manualthis year.
Eric: I tried to design a sample character for each of the prestige classes I came up with. Moreover, many of the ideas came out of my home campaign, where they were "vetted" by my group of players.
Wizards: What were you hoping to include in Races of Faerûn that simply didn't make the cut?
James: Originally, the idea was to have example lairs in the book for several of the races, similar to how they included villain lairs in Lords of Darkness. Ultimately, I believe that these lairs all got cut to make more room and to help focus the book more on the races themselves.
Eric: I would have liked to have seen more feats, magic items, and prestige classes ("crunchy bits"), as I'm a great believer in variety for PCs and NPCs. That said, there are a lot of such crunchy bits that did make the cut, so there should be plenty of new game material for players to chew on.
Wizards: Is a follow-up book of some sort likely?
Eric: I would love to see a follow-up book focusing on individual nations as opposed to races, so that one could more easily differentiate between a Sembian shield dwarf and a Cormyrean shield dwarf, for example.
James: It looks like the two lairs I did for the book might see the light of day as a web enhancement here, so that's cool.
Wizards: So, you're about to develop a new character for play in Faerûn, and you have this book in front of you, full of lots of new options. Which race do you find yourself gravitating to, and why?
Matt: Playing a shade would be fun, although it would have to be the right sort of campaign. They have such a cool backstory to them.
Eric: I would like to play a human, probably Tethen or Chondathan. There's so much more roleplaying fodder now to roleplay differences among the various human cultures.
James: Hmmm . . . that's a tough question! I'd actually probably go with either a halfling character ('cause I've always been a halfling fan) or a human. In fact, that's one of the things I really like about Races of Faerûn: Humans don't get the short end of the stick. There's a lot of really cool stuff about various different human nationalities; they really feel like different cultures. And the avariel are pretty nifty too. I'd probably have to play a character with Leadership so I can get a cohort, so I don't have to limit myself to just one race.
Wizards: What is each of you working on now?
James: I just finished writing the second adventure in the Dungeon magazine "Adventure Path" series, and I've got a few fairly large projects in the pipeline for the Wizards website (including the dusting off of those two lairs for the Races of Faerûn web enhancement). I've also got a bunch of monsters that I designed or updated in the upcoming Fiend Folio I'm really looking forward to seeing how the art for them turns out!
Eric: Currently I'm working on a series of Dungeon adventures set in the Forgotten Realms. Third Edition revealed so many new possibilities, it has really inspired me to tell many new adventure stories.
Matt: I wrote a good chunk of Unapproachable East, another Forgotten Realms book due from Wizards in May. For Decipher's The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game, I wrote TheFellowship of the Ring Sourcebook and most of The Two Towers Sourcebook; I also edited Fell Beasts & Wondrous Magic and Moria, all due out this year. I'm currently writing a Dungeons & Dragons novel for Wizards for next year. Meanwhile, I'm plugging away at my new job as the director of the adventure games division of Human Head Studios. If you want to check up on me more regularly, you can stop by my website at www.fullmoonent.com too.