Wind Riders of the Jagged Cliffs questions for Monte Cook

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Wind Riders of the Jagged Cliffs questions for Monte Cook

Postby Eric Anondson » Wed Oct 21, 2009 5:39 am

In the following link Monte Cook responded that he'd entertain dredging his memory from 1995 about his role in the Dark Sun product The Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs.

viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2713#p35509

Monte, thanks for offering to take swings at these questions. I don't intend on getting in to too much minutiae, but more (I hope) grand sweeping things.

I've heard that many projects for RPG settings have a unpublished "handbook" of material meant to guide authors in a direction those in charge want it to eventually go. That authors are sometimes even told when they are given a project that there is some info that while the author is made aware, that it can only guide the writing but must never find its way into print for the public.

When you were given this project, were you given a skeleton around which you could fill in blanks? Or were you allowed to invent wholesale? If you were given a few points that had to be in the book, can you recall what exactly you had to work in they way you were told and what you invented yourself?

I recall reading when Chaositech came out that the source material came from your employ with Iron Crown. Chaositech fantasy biotech bears striking similarity to Windrider's lifeshaped technology. Is thematic overlap here total coincidence? Or did you borrow inspiration from the ICE days?

How much direction in describing halfling biotech did TSR's Dark Sun planners give you? Did they even tell you there had to be biotech, or did you come up with that?

Regarding the terrain, did you, or anyone above you, come up with a geologic rationale for a hundreds of miles long sheer vertical cliff over 10,000 feet high?

Athas has a comet that returns about every 70+ years, called the Messenger. Author Lynn Abbey posted on the DS Mailing list many many years ago that she was told the Messenger was really a space craft with Blue Age halflings in it in stasis. The Messenger crashed on the planet, and that were Dark Sun allowed to continue that the halfling occupants of the space craft would become a plot point for the setting in the future. As the author of the most significant Athasian halfling book, were you told anything about the truth of this matter?

Was there anything that you wanted to include that was edited out?

Was there anything you wish you would have written differently? Included a little more focus on something, reduced attention on something, put in something you feel was missing completely?

If you could have written another Dark Sun product on anything of your choice during the AD&D era, what would it have been?


Thanks for your attention Monte!
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Re: Wind Riders of the Jagged Cliffs questions for Monte Cook

Postby MonteCook » Wed Oct 21, 2009 7:32 pm

Well, first of all, I think you may have some somewhat romantic notions about TSR and game design in general. Lots of people have asked me over the years if there are secret documents or what have you regarding their favorite games or settings. While it would be cool if there were, there very rarely are. (Such a thing is far more common for shared world novels than games. For games, the campaign setting product is basically "the bible" for the setting.) There just isn't a lot of time (or reason) to come up with lots of material that no one will ever see. You might, for example, put a secret in the campaign setting product that you intend to reveal in a later product, but even this doesn't happen much. Most of the time, if you've got a cool idea, you put it in the book you're working on.

There also weren't really mysterious overlords in charge with a secret direction they want things to go in. For my Mystara project, for example, the Creative Director was Andria Heyday and I also got a little bit of advice from Bruce Heard, the original author of Glantri. For Windriders, I had a few conversations with Bill Slaviscek, the author of the revised Dark Sun campaign setting. But that was really it. I had what the campaign setting guide said about the windriders and the sourcebook's title given to me. From there, I was mainly on my own. (My editor also had some general input, of course.)

When you refer to "Dark Sun planners," you're really talking about the Dark Sun group, made up of a creative director and a few designers and editors. Basically, if you were working on a Dark Sun project (like I was at the time) you were a "Dark Sun planner." To tie this back into what I had been saying in the other thread about Glantri, the reason that I had (some) directives was because I was brand new at the job. I hadn't been around long enough to be a part of the planning, I was just handed the project cold on my first day at the job. That wasn't really the case with any project after that. That's not really how TSR usually worked, at least in the 90s.

Bits of Chaositech were based loosely on a project that I created whole cloth for ICE called Dark Space. The rights of Dark Space reverted back to me by the time I did Chaositech. Windriders was certainly influenced by the research I'd done and ideas I'd come up with while writing Dark Space.

The campaign setting mentions biotech, so I had to put biotech in. Not that I minded of course. It was fun.

I don't remember anyone discussing a realistic premise for the geography of the Jagged Cliffs. It didn't seem that high a priority in a world with dragon kings and magic that drained the life from everything.

I also don't remember anyone talking about a spaceship with halflings. At one point, I think we discussed having a time travel adventure someday where you'd go back to the Blue Age and halflings were running everything. Or maybe it was the idea that the halflings from the past would come back to fuel some adventure. The specific spaceship thing could have been an idea that came along later. You know, when you mention Lynn, I can see that from a novelist's point of view, the campaign setting probably does seem to have a secret group of planners, but in reality, it's just the designers and the editors.

I guess what I'm ultimately getting at is that it was all very casual and the designers were given a lot of creative freedom. As a part of a product group (like the Dark Sun group, the Planescape group, etc.) you got to help plan for future products, advertising, and all sorts of things. As an individual designer, you had almost total control over your current writing project. The creative staff had far more autonomy and control at TSR than at, say, WotC.

Regarding things being edited out or anything I wish I could have added, there's rarely anything significant that ends up on the cutting room floor in game products. If something big does get cut (usually for space) you put it in something else. Again, I know that's a boring answer, but it's the truth.

It would have been fun to do more with Dark Sun. Maybe an adventure? I don't know.
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Re: Wind Riders of the Jagged Cliffs questions for Monte Cook

Postby Eric Anondson » Fri Oct 23, 2009 1:34 am

"Well, first of all, I think you may have some somewhat romantic notions about TSR and game design in general."

Romantic? Not sure. Certainly maybe a distorted notion. ;)

"Lots of people have asked me over the years if there are secret documents or what have you regarding their favorite games or settings. While it would be cool if there were, there very rarely are."

I asked about this because I recall the freelance author of the Mind Lords of the Last Sea accessory stating that he was requested to write up a significant chunk about a psionic academy, with lots of new rules for psionics, to appear in the box. The entire section was excluded without him being told, he discovered it by opening the published product. One hears it happen once, in a significant way, and one ends up wondering about it everywhere if even a small bit!

"The campaign setting mentions biotech, so I had to put biotech in. Not that I minded of course. It was fun."

For me, I sincerely appreciate this. It pushed the bounds of fantasy deep . . . farther than I can recall anything TSR created. It went well into the territory of sci fi. I always felt that Dark Sun worked best when it evoked John Carter of Mars' Barsoom.
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Re: Wind Riders of the Jagged Cliffs questions for Monte Cook

Postby Big Mac » Fri Oct 30, 2009 1:53 am

Eric Anondson wrote:When you were given this project, were you given a skeleton around which you could fill in blanks? Or were you allowed to invent wholesale? If you were given a few points that had to be in the book, can you recall what exactly you had to work in they way you were told and what you invented yourself?


One thing that I noticed about Dark Sun was that it seemed to go against TSR's trend of allowing for crossover connections. TSR had stuck in a number of things that would allow people to take PCs from one setting and dump them in another. The ultimate crossover connections were the Spelljammer and Planescape settings, where D&D was put into a single big multiverse. As a Spelljammer fan, I really looked forward to seeing how Dark Sun would fit in, but instead I got the impression that a Dark Sun crossover was something that was strongly frowned upon.

Was there actually any sort of anti-crossover policy for Dark Sun, or was that just how things happened to work out?

MonteCook wrote:Well, first of all, I think you may have some somewhat romantic notions about TSR and game design in general.


At least a romantic attitude is better than the "Wizards of the Coast eats babies" attitude that I've seen from people who don't like 3e (or 4e) or some random D&D product they didn't like. ;)

MonteCook wrote:Lots of people have asked me over the years if there are secret documents or what have you regarding their favorite games or settings. While it would be cool if there were, there very rarely are. (Such a thing is far more common for shared world novels than games. For games, the campaign setting product is basically "the bible" for the setting.) There just isn't a lot of time (or reason) to come up with lots of material that no one will ever see. You might, for example, put a secret in the campaign setting product that you intend to reveal in a later product, but even this doesn't happen much. Most of the time, if you've got a cool idea, you put it in the book you're working on.


Well, we already know (from other authors) that binding techniques meant there was a 4 page multiple for TSR products. We also know that Allen Varney had a chunk of his SJ adventure trimmed out of the final manuscript and that he has it sitting at home on a floppy disk that won't fit into his current computer. We also have heard of entire D&D products that never went to print (like GH's Ivid the Undying). So I think there must be a lot of people out there suspecting that you have got some unpublished content for some of your early TSR work. (I think by the time of 3e, the Web Enhancement format was well established. And I've seen plenty of freebie downloads on your personal website*. So I think it would be far less likely for you to have unused content for 3e.

* = Thanks for this free stuff, by the way. I really love the way that certain people and certain organisations, have ensured that customers get access to stuff from the cutting room floor and stuff that an author thinks of afterwards.
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Re: Wind Riders of the Jagged Cliffs questions for Monte Cook

Postby MonteCook » Fri Nov 06, 2009 4:45 pm

"I always felt that Dark Sun worked best when it evoked John Carter of Mars' Barsoom."

Me too.

"Was there actually any sort of anti-crossover policy for Dark Sun"

No. We mentioned it in Planescape along with everything else. Crossovers from setting to setting were controversial. Some designers liked it, some didn't, but these feelings weren't confined to one product line group or another that I remember.

"Well, we already know (from other authors) that binding techniques meant there was a 4 page multiple for TSR products."

Sure. So any designer worth his salt learns how to write to those specific lengths. Basically, it was a 32-page multiple. Products were 32 pages, 64 pages, 96 pages, etc. These multiples, in printing, are often called "signatures." It's the most economical way of printing, or it was at the time, using the kinds of presses in use. It's still pretty common. Also, keep in mind that the editor and perhaps even more the graphic designer have the ability to make a shorter manuscript longer or visa versa. Lastly, if you've got six pages of material (or whatever) that got cut from a product--in itself a pretty rare occurrence--you usually found a way to stick it into something else. Wasted work is, well, wasted work.

Here's a fun little trivia bit. Around 1999 or so, my wife (TSR editor and WotC brand manager Sue Weinlein Cook) worked as a manager of the WotC website, and she basically invented the "web enhancement." However, while it was often touted as "cut material," the truth is that most (but not all) of that stuff was created specifically for the web. It's more "bonus material" than "cut material." Same was true of the free downloads on montecook.com.
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Re: Wind Riders of the Jagged Cliffs questions for Monte Coo

Postby Big Mac » Fri Dec 11, 2009 1:51 am

MonteCook wrote:"Was there actually any sort of anti-crossover policy for Dark Sun"

No. We mentioned it in Planescape along with everything else. Crossovers from setting to setting were controversial. Some designers liked it, some didn't, but these feelings weren't confined to one product line group or another that I remember.


Thanks for the clarification on that. I have always felt that the two types of thing were going on.

MonteCook wrote:"Well, we already know (from other authors) that binding techniques meant there was a 4 page multiple for TSR products."

Sure. So any designer worth his salt learns how to write to those specific lengths. Basically, it was a 32-page multiple. Products were 32 pages, 64 pages, 96 pages, etc. These multiples, in printing, are often called "signatures." It's the most economical way of printing, or it was at the time, using the kinds of presses in use. It's still pretty common. Also, keep in mind that the editor and perhaps even more the graphic designer have the ability to make a shorter manuscript longer or visa versa. Lastly, if you've got six pages of material (or whatever) that got cut from a product--in itself a pretty rare occurrence--you usually found a way to stick it into something else. Wasted work is, well, wasted work.


I don't know if you follow all the various fan netbooks out there (as there are rather a lot and some of them are a bit sketchy), but I've got to say that I'm getting more and more impressed by the way that fans are emulating not only the professional house styles of out of print products, but also creating art design that often beats the sort of thing available back in the TSR days.

Adlatum Campaign Setting has a real "Dragonlance feel" to it and there are people out there (like Thorf, who writes on this forum) who have reverse engineered the typesetting style of many of the out of print campaign settings.

It wouldn't surprise me, in the slightest, if some of the people making products aimed at the early grognoid market didn't create products to signature lengths, even if they were only going to be made as a PDF download. I think it is the sort of "cherry on top of the cake" detail that could make something feel more like a "lost TSR product".

MonteCook wrote:Here's a fun little trivia bit. Around 1999 or so, my wife (TSR editor and WotC brand manager Sue Weinlein Cook) worked as a manager of the WotC website, and she basically invented the "web enhancement." However, while it was often touted as "cut material," the truth is that most (but not all) of that stuff was created specifically for the web. It's more "bonus material" than "cut material." Same was true of the free downloads on montecook.com.


Nice factoid. I can imagine this post being cited from a Wikipedia article about "Web Enhancements"! :lol:

I actually think that Web Enhancements are a fantastic marketing tool - that every RPG publisher should be copying.

Firstly, they allow potential customers to see a sample of your house style. A lot of the RPG shops I visit (in the UK), now put shrinkwrap around most RPG books. So a Web Enhancement can be the first thing I see that helps me decide if I think your books look great or awful.

Secondly, they encourage people (who may not currently be customers) to visit a website (to read the Web Enhancement). The Web Enhancemet is something that is essentially a fully working product (albeit a small one). And that "completeness" will give the content guerilla marketing appeal. Essentially, D&D geeks will see cool stuff and send links to their friends. I'm not sure that Viral Marketing was well known when Web Enhancements started, but they are a successful form of the advertising method. (Even the out of print downloads at WotC work as viral marketing...to an extent, as there are some 3e fans out there who grabbed these and tried to convert them to the newer rules.)

Thirdly, they reinforce the customer's purchasing decision. I've bought Ghostwalk, but when I go and grab a download for it, I feel that I've got more for my money than the 222 pages in the hardback.

Fourthly (and this is related to my second point) a Web Enhancment actually provides some content to fill up a publishers website and make it look more active. The webpage will contain keywords that a search engine is going to index and the enhancement itself may pull in the odd random visitor, who isn't interested in the enhancment itself, but who goes on to look at other content on your website.

I think that most people probably just ignore all these aspects, just think of Web Enhancement as "cool free stuff" and fail to realise what an outstanding concept your wife invented. It is so brilliantly simple, that it seems obvious now, but it would never have been possible in the day of Classic D&D. It has come along to embed itself in the lives of RPG fans...just like mobile phones have embedded themselves into the lives of a wider community of people.

I'm so used to them now, that when I see a website without them, I feel that there is something missing when I go to a commercial website that "fails to provide them". Basically the bar has been raised.

I even am starting to think that fan websites, which are doing so well with their netbooks, should be revisiting the out of print products that are not given any official support, and start to make Unofficial Web Enhancements for them.
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Re: Wind Riders of the Jagged Cliffs questions for Monte Coo

Postby willpell » Sun Dec 06, 2015 8:55 pm

I continue my necromancy binge to say this - TSR or even the branch of Wotco that handled D&D may not have done much of "secret documents", but they definitely exist on the Magic side. I did freelance flavor text writing for two MTG sets (before pissing everyone off and ceasing to get the invites), most notably one called New Phyrexia. I still have the New Phyrexia handbook sitting on my computer at home (no longer connected to the Internet in any way, and it should probably stay that way), and it's full of concept art and story details that I never managed to get into print. I can't ever share any of that info with anyone, since the NDA I signed is effective in perpetuity and Hasborg employs the scariest lawyers they can get. But I get to privately treasure that knowledge, and perhaps to use it as a source of inspiration for my own works, as long as I do a really thorough job of filing the serial numbers off and creating something that is indisputably original.

As to anti-crossover policies, they may not have officially existed, but I would definitely say that it's extremely possible to "ruin" Dark Sun by allowing too much crossover. How would the setting ever retain its distinctive feel of desperation and grittiness if, say, a gigantic Spelljammer came down with an entire ocean of water on board, or a Gate opened up to Sigil and an army of Guvner researchers poured out, beginning a comprehensive campaign to analyze the reason why magic is impeded on Athas - and deduce how to un-impede it? These issues apply to any CS to some extent, but Eberron wouldn't really be ruined forever if Dragonlance brushed up against it; Dark Sun seems like it has by far the most to "lose", thematically speaking, if suddenly its people have more options for making their lives not suck.
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