By Jeff Grubb December 23rd, 2010 Writing is a small world. Game design is similarly so. Those who do both move in a very tight little orbit, so it should be no surprise that many of us know each other. This is a roundabout way of saying that Edge of Destiny author Rob King and I go way back. Today we’re going to talk to Rob about the new Guild Wars novel, but I want to share with you why he was the perfect choice to write Edge of Destiny. Rob and I first met at TSR in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, home in those halcyon days of Dungeons & Dragons. Rob was initially a games editor and designer, but quickly moved over to the books department, both as an editor and as an author in his own right, his first novel being Heart of Midnight. Rob also wrote original work – his “Humors” – short essays in the pre-Internet blog era. We would come in from work and there would be short, short pieces of poetry, fiction, and other thoughts on our chairs. Sometimes they were amusing. Sometimes they were enchanting. Sometimes they convinced us that Rob could be found in his cube late at night, disassembling and reassembling an automatic rifle blindfolded. The Lake Geneva area was an archetype of a small town, so we ending up hanging out together, going to lunch together, gaming together, arguing together, and on one occasion, being involved in multiple car mishaps in a single night together (but I digress). More importantly, Rob was the founder of the Alliterates, a group of writers—most of whom shared experience with TSR’s shared worlds—that would get together, smoke cigars, drink, talk about writing, and complain about editors. That group survives to this day, with its original group and a West Coast branch, and while neither group smokes cigars, we still drink, write, and complain. One of the big things about Rob was his ability to dig deep into his subject. He embraces the world he is writing about and falls in love with it. That last is a vitally important part of any writer, particularly one faced with working in a world with many creative hands. He was deeply involved in Ravenloft and Planescape early on. And in the first new novels for Magic: The Gathering, he delved deep into the world to bring out its core ethos (I will freely admit I was the one who taught Rob how to play Magic). That ability to dig deep into the heart of a project extended out to one of the largest shared worlds of all: Arthurian fantasy. In his Mad Merlin trilogy, Rob mixed traditional Camelot tropes with Celtic mythology and the Council of Nicaea to produce an amazing volume that shows you can shed new light on the eldest of stories. And this is another skill of Mr. King: He sees connections that others miss. So when the time came to find writers for the Guild Wars novels, we needed an author who could juggle five main characters, write his story in the world of an as-yet-unfinished game, and who could entertain and delight. I suggested Rob. And we were not disappointed. Edge of Destiny is a wonderful and important book for Guild Wars 2. In Ghost of Ascalon you got a lot of history of the world. This is about the history of Destiny’s Edge, one of the mightiest groups of heroes in Tyria. These are the characters you will meet in the game from almost the very start, and this is the story of who they were, how they got together, and what happened next. And it is brilliant. More importantly, in developing the outline, Rob came to us and said “you know that important plot point? It should happen right here in your timeline.” And we looked at the plot, and we looked at the timeline, and we said, “Yes, that’s EXACTLY when that should happen.” And it was made so. That’s the sort of thing that Rob brings to these projects. Rob King changed the world. Character histories morphed and flowed and improved. Relationships evolved and became richer. Disparate ideas came together in the crucible that is Rob’s writing and gelled to make a better novel, and a better world. J. Robert King contributed to the Guild Wars 2 game, which is a great testament to a novelist, who is often chasing after decisions made long before he arrived on the scene. Part of it is because he’s a good writer. Part of it is because he sees connections. And part of it is because Rob is passionate about what he writes, whatever his subject is. He has taken Tyria and internalized it and lived it and made it a part of his life, and he’s created a great book in the process. And yes, his child’s hamster is named Rytlock. An Interview with J. Robert King Q: You’re no stranger to writing for existing fantasy properties, having written Ravenloft, Dragonlance, Planescape, and Magic: the Gathering novels, to name a few. Recently you’ve explored Arthurian and Sherlockian mythology in your books—what made you come back to shared-fiction writing? Why Guild Wars? Rob: I signed on to write a Guild Wars novel—my first shared-fiction novel in six years—because I knew the people who were involved. First was Jeff Grubb, a brilliant author and game designer who was one of the charter members of the Alliterates, a group of writers I formed. Next was Ree Soesbee, a terrific writer and game designer whom I had worked with on the L5R series of novels. I couldn’t have picked a better team to work with. They were novelists in their own right, so they knew the job I was taking on. They were amazing game designers and editors. They were professionals and friends of mine who had worked in numerous projects with me in the past and were now invested in this amazing thing called Guild Wars 2. Q: Did you play a lot of Guild Wars to prepare for the book? Rob: Absolutely. Guild Wars itself was no small part of the attraction for this assignment. I hadn’t actually been a player when Jeff approached me, but I bought the game, and my sons and I began to play—and we were blown away. The realism of the setting, the decision-making that happens throughout, the battle sequences, the fact that it is interactive and free—all of these things made me realize I was lucky to be involved in this world. Although I was a novice with the world, I wanted to know everything about it and began playing it and even began horning in on conference calls meant for other authors. Soon, I received a 400-page bible document for the world, but was warned that it would keep changing and evolving, and I was directed to the official and unofficial wikis for information on all things Guild Wars. I drank it in. Q: ArenaNet brought you onboard to give your own interpretation of their own iconic characters. What perspective or new take did you bring to the world of Tyria? Rob: The ArenaNet developers invented the five iconic characters as well as Snaff, the glue that held them together. They provided me all kinds of information and images of these characters, but I couldn’t write about them until they were mine. And the team gave me the creative freedom to make the characters my own. I wrote the norn warrior Eir by drawing on my superego. She’s an artist at heart but a warrior by necessity, seeking to end evil and bring forth beauty. Eiri s tragically uncertain that she can accomplish either. I know that feeling. Her constant companion is the dire wolf Garm. Instinct is often wiser than thought, and Garm is that instinctive wisdom. He doesn’t understand the complexities that drive his master, but he loves her and knows she is the alpha. My portrayal of Caithe came out of my innate idealism. It is easy for me to write a character who wonders why the world isn’t more reasonable and good. Caithe desperately wants to bring such a world into being. She also longs to connect to others, and Destiny’s Edge is the first group that she does that with. Zojja is the young genius, the prodigy. I had a bit of that growing up; feeling like a freak among my peers and a charming oddity among adults. Zojja believes she is better than everyone else, which most people take as arrogance, though for Zojja it’s just truth. Of all the iconic characters, though, Logan is perhaps the most like me overall. He’s got high ambitions, but he’s pragmatic. He’s always felt a bit embarrassed that he is not a white knight, but the life of a scout fits him better. Then, as events unfold, he becomes the thing he once aspired to be—even though it fits him badly. Rytlock. Rytlock. Rytlock. I love Rytlock. My son named his hamster Rytlock. He’s the id—the rough-and-tumble monster who fights hard and laughs hard and loves more deeply than anybody else in the group could. In the first drafts of Edge of Destiny, Rytlock was funnier and raunchier than he currently is, but I’m glad the team reined me in. Fart jokes go only so far. Q: Talk a little bit about your approach to the story of Destiny’s Edge. What was your inspiration for portraying the team? Rob: Actually, it was the Beatles. During one conference call, Jeff Grubb told me I needed to write the story about how the Beatles met and became epic and took over the world and then broke up. That analogy was perfect. It told me that these iconic characters had to be epic at the same time that they were real. They had to be living legends. They had to have tremendous ability but also tremendous vulnerability. They had to do what nobody else could, and pull it off with talent and moxie and nerve. That’s why I wanted the reader to meet each character individually, then see them come together slowly into smaller groups, and then watch them become the legendary team of Destiny’s Edge. So, the thing about the Beatles was they not only wrote and performed the best music, but they were each guys you’d want to know. Separately they were awesome, but together they were unbelievable. There’s definitely that dynamic about Destiny’s Edge. All the heroes in it are cool in their own rights—Eir, Logan, Rytlock, Zojja, Caithe—but you get them together, and they are more than the sum of their parts. They complete each other. Rytlock is the older brother Logan wished for, and Logan is the young packmate that Rytlock seeks. Zojja and Eir are both born to lead, which is why they fight each other, and which is why Snaff gets along so well with both. Caithe is the ultimate outsider who finds that she fits with this one ridiculous group, and when the group disbands, she’s the one who struggles to bring them back together. As you can see, these heroes connect to each other and complete each other in ways that make them amazing—make them the Beatles of Guild Wars 2. Q: Now that you’ve played around in the Guild Wars 2 sandbox, what race will you be playing when the game launches? Rob: Charr, definitely. Especially a charr like Rytlock. I love the idea of being tough and gigantic, yet having a heart of gold. I love the idea of playing a character who was a villain in the last release of the game, but turns out to have a certain rugged charm, even nobility. I love the fact that Ascalon was stolen from the humans in the last release, but when you take a step back, you see that the humans stole it from the charr beforehand. And, of course, I’d get to bash things. Thanks a lot, Rob!