I get a lot of questions about where my stories came from. I’ve talked about this a bit in the past, but I figured it might be fun to dedicate an entire post to the subject.
So, let’s get into some more details. Be warned – there’ll be a lot of personal history that doesn’t have a ton to do with anything book related early on in this. I like to wax nostalgic a bit, and there’s some context that may be valuable to the people who are interested in my core inspirations.
In 1995, I was eleven-years-old and already a huge fan of role-playing games.
My first introduction to anything RPGish was probably The Legend of Zelda in around 1987-1988. (Fans can get into endless arguments about if Zelda counts as an RPG, but the Japanese commercials call it an action RPG, so let’s go with that.) It was the first video game I took a serious interest in – I remember watching my older brother play it for hours and hours before I finally gathered my Courage and picked up the controller. I was enthralled, and I remember my excitement (and confusion at the strangeness of the genre shift) when Zelda 2 came out.
At around six, I was introduced to D&D in the form of introductory board games designed for new players, then the actual book-and-dice style (specifically, 2e) a year or so later. It was in this time period I got involved with D&D PC games as well – things like the Gold Box games like Pool of Radiance, which I played on both the NES and PC, but never finished.
At around eight, some of my older friends convinced me to read the Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. This led to an early-life infatuation with D&D fiction, primarily Dragonlance, but some Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, etc. It was also about this time that I was introduced to Final Fantasy, which would go on to be a life-long favorite. The Final Fantasy branded Gameboy games – which were actually the first SaGa games and Seiken Densetsu games, but branded differently for the Western market – were huge influences on me.
The Super Nintendo era was good to RPG fans – we had sequels to Zelda and Final Fantasy, as well as numerous things that I got to see for the first time, like Ys (which had been around for a while, but not on the NES in the United States). It was also around this time that I began tinkering with Unlimited Adventures, a tool designed for building D&D adventures for the PC based on the style of the Gold Box games. I learned that there were resources for this – art packs, that sort of thing – on America Online, as well as a new online Gold Box-style game called Neverwinter Nights, and I got involved in both. Peripherally to that, I got involved in AOL’s online chat role-playing, in a setting called Rhydin.
So, this brings us back around to 1995. At this point, I was playing on the SNES regularly, and also tinkering with Neverwinter Nights, etc. I’d also been recently introduced to fantasy anime in the form of Record of Lodoss War, and I was watching a bunch of live-action fantasy stuff, like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess.
At the end of 1995, I met fellow future author Mallory Reaves at a friend’s birthday party. If you’re looking for an event that was the spark of my setting – presumably so you can go back in time and create a hilarious timeline branch by preventing it – this would be the place to start.
We bonded over our love for sparring and Xena and exchanged AOL screen names. This led to online role-playing together, which, in turn, led to the creation to some of the first characters that would serve as the foundations for the setting as a whole.
(Book readers have heard about both of the first two characters, but haven’t actually seen them yet. They probably will soonish.)
In the next year, I was introduced to live-action role-playing through the International Fantasy Gaming Society (IFGS). I played two PCs (player characters). One of these was intended to be a younger alternate universe version of Vaelien, who I’d already created through online chat role-playing games as a major antagonist by this point.
The other was the hapless Jonan Kestrian – constantly underpowered an in over his head. He remains one of my absolute favorite characters to this day.
At this point, I began to plan to run my own IFGS games in my setting, which I simply called Mythralis at that point. The name came from the fictitious metal mithril, as well as a nod to Myth Drannor, a fallen kingdom in the Forgotten Realms that served as a part of my early inspiration. I eventually did run a couple games ostensibly with Mythralis inspiration, but they were basically tiny one-day events with minimal plot, just some Mythralis trappings.
This time period is when I created characters like Aayara, Jacinth, Salaris, and a lot of the other big names. Salaris was notably intended to be a replacement online role-playing PC because my original core character had gotten too overpowered.
Most of the main story of the setting was built in the early 2000s. When I was seventeen, I’d just finished my AA degree, and I transferred to the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) to finish my Bachelors Degree. During my two years at UCSB, I ran a D&D 3e campaign.
This D&D campaign was probably the next most important part of the evolution of the setting into something serious – so, time travelers, here’s another thing to break.
From this campaign we got locations like the Dawnbringer Spire and major antagonists like Botheas (although he’d been previously named and never seen – Jenn Lyons , now the author of the Ruin of Kings and a variety of other awesome books – actually gave me the name, so thanks Jenn, even though you probably don’t remember that particular incident). It’s also where we got our first hints of Rendalir and the Sun Eater (then called the “Nightmare Dragon”) and a ton of other major characters. Mallory was one of my PCs, playing both her “main” Mythralis character and others, and this is also when we first got characters like Ishyeal Dawnsglow (played by Andrew Warren) and Wrynn Jaden (played by Carly Thomas) as other PCs. Mallory and Rowan Noel, one of my other closest friends and PCs, helped me out with early maps of the setting, character designs, and weapon designs.
I continued running my game for about a year after I graduated, after which I got my first full-time job working for Blizzard Entertainment as a QA tester for World of Warcraft. I had already written for several tabletop game books in the Warcraft RPG line at that point, so I hoped to work my way into writing for Blizzard. I did get to do some writing while I was there – you can find some in-game books I wrote lying around, and some old web articles and short stories – but I never landed a full-time job writing for the company. My major creative outlet during this time was more LARPing – both playing and running my own games in the Mythralis setting.
This point is where I got close to a lot of the people who became inspirations for some of my characters, or later played characters that I’d made. Ira Ham ran the umbrella organization that I ran most of my games under, for example, and he also played Lars Mantrake in my own games many years later. Joslyn Field played a character that served as the primary inspiration for Velas Jaldin. Rob McDiarmid played Taer’vys Ironthorn, who I consider to be the iconic representation of his entire faction. Shannon Kirkwood NPCed as an absolutely terrifying Aayara.
Eventually, to pursue my dreams of writing, I left Blizzard with the intent of getting a book deal for my first book.
I failed spectacularly. I wrote a few other books in this time frame – supported by an incredibly amazing partner – and those also failed to garner any interest from publishers.
Notably, this time period – around 2009-2011 – is also where I first fleshed out things like dominion sorcery, essence sorcery, dominion bonds, and many of the other magic system elements that would become core to the setting.
More important characters were created in this time frame. Kieran Brewer played Lydia Hastings. Michael Kelly played Lucas, who got a blink-and-miss-it mention in WOBM3 and will be extremely important in the future. Jess Richards played Tabetha Rasa, a character with an impact on the setting much larger than can be explained here, but Vellum is involved. Many, many more characters that you’ll see in the future were also created around this point.
Anyway, I kept running games. I eventually got back into the gaming industry, working my way into game design for Cryptic Studios, and kept running my LARP. I also kept writing more (unsuccessful) books. Eventually, I shut down my own LARP and approved a prequel spin-of prequel game, Rendalir Remembered, which detailed the events on that planet. I played in that as a PC, and I’ve incorporated some elements of it into my books, including some characters like Akadi (played by Trevor Gittelhough, one of the game runners.) Some of the Rendalir elements came from my own earlier games, like Vendria and many of the deities, but the game runners for Rendalir (Dani Lee Collins, Emily Gittelhough, Trevor Gittelhough, and others) fleshed out the setting incredibly. You can think of Rendalir as being my analogue to Krypton – it was just backstory in the original series, but they made it real for their own.
Finally, I eventually moved to working for Obsidian Entertainment. It was at that time that I finally decided to self-publish one of my books – Forging Divinity. Obsidian was super supportive and even mentioned my book in some of their Pillars of Eternity backer newsletters, so I owe them some thanks for their early support.
I also owe a great deal to all the people who supported me by allowing me to use the characters they played in my games, my early beta readers and editors, and all the people who made that first book possible.
Forging Divinity was written to be backstory for the many games that I’d already run, and the War of Broken Mirrors as a whole is much more clearly connected with my early games than the other series.
Arcane Ascension, on the other hand, came from several factors. I knew that one of my characters was leaving the continent at the end of WOBM3, and I needed to prepare for that. The genesis for Kaldwyn came from several sources. One part was a magical school setting that I’d discussed with Jess Richards while I was living up in Northern California at Cryptic, where characters would be connected with magic items and both the person and object would change as a result of their connection. Another was reading the web serial Mother of Learning, which was a huge inspiration for my general style for Sufficiently Advanced Magic. Games like Trails in the Sky, Ys, and SaGa were other major inspirations. Finally, the main characters came from PCs that Jess and I played in a different LARP – Cobalt Nightmares – which I adapted and changed significantly for my books. The original Corin – or, rather Corwin – was a professional magical duelist with an abusive father, and the original Sera was the more-accepted sister. Notably, the missing brother plot also came from our backstories, with Justin Green eventually playing the missing brother as a NPC.
There was an Arcane Ascension LARP, too, but that was actually after the first couple books came out – it was something I ran for my personal friends privately. From this, I developed the setting further, and we saw the first appearances of characters like Reika (played by Mallory Reaves) and Dawn (played by Carly Thomas and Joslyn Field).
There’s a lot more to be said, but I think that’s a long enough exposition post for today. Once again, I hope everyone has a happy holiday!