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Doug Niles: Wizards' Conclave and Beyond

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Dragonhelm chats with Douglas Niles on Wizards' Conclave, 20 years of Dragonlance, and more.

Dragonhelm: How did you get your start at TSR, and more specifically, in Dragonlance?

Niles: I changed careers from teaching high school to game designer when I was hired by TSR in 1982. (I had been a DM for several years, having learned about D&D when I had Gary Gygax's daughter Heidi in my class as a student.) I was not one of the original designers on the DL project but when the company had a string of extensive layoffs in 1984, I became Tracy's design partner on the DRAGONLANCE. My life's goal had always been to write fiction, and TSR gave me the chance, first in the FORGOTTEN REALMS line and later, when I wrote Flint the King with Mary Kirchoff, in the world of Krynn.

Dragonhelm: Dragonlance is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. What are your thoughts after being involved with the setting for so long?

Niles: I feel kind of awed, and humbled, to have been involved in a setting and story that has developed such a powerful and devoted following. I am continually astonished at how many DL fans pay close attention to all aspects of our immense, shared world. Sometimes, it's even kind of intimidating! ;)

Dragonhelm: Out of all the Dragonlance products you have worked on, which one is your favorite?

Niles: My favorite would have to be my current project, the EMPIRE TRILOGY. (Lord of the Rose is book 1, completed this summer.) This is the first time I have been able to write a complete trilogy in the DL line, and I am delighted at the opportunity to do something of really epic scope.

Dragonhelm: What are your high points working with Dragonlance all these years? Any regrets along the way?

Niles: High points include working on the histories of the great races, most notably in writing The Dragons and The Kagonesti. I do sometimes regret that there isn't more time to do these books, so that I can re-familiarize myself with all the pertinent details about the world that are in publication.

Dragonhelm: Your background as a game designer is evident in Wizards' Conclave, especially in regards to spells. How does your gaming background help in your writing, and how does your writing background affect your game design?

Niles: Game design affects my fiction in two different ways, as I see it. First, design requires a great amount of research and familiarity with technical detail, and this familiarity can help a great deal in descriptions and actions. (especially re: combat). Second, writing for adventure games—e.g. module design--is great practice for planning plots, settings, conflicts, and even characters. In my career, I more or less moved from game design to novelist, so I didn't have a lot of fiction experience when I did my game design. However, in both cases, the best products are generally the ones that tell the best stories, and I always prided myself on writing game adventures that were in fact stories, not just settings.

Dragonhelm: Do you currently play any role-playing games? Which ones are your favorites?

Niles: I don't play any longer. When I did, AD&D and AD&D second edition were far and away my favorites.

Dragonhelm: One of the elements of Wizards' Conclave that stands out is the relationship between High Sorcery and Wild Sorcery. Tell us about the relationship between the types of magic, how they're similar, and how they differ.

Niles: In the wake of the War of Souls and the return of godly power, the practitioners of the two kinds of magic inevitably automatically became rivals--even to the point where wizards who study the Three Orders will no longer call themselves "sorcerers". While both draw upon unseen and mysterious powers, godly magic requires discipline, study, and memorization--i.e. intellectual strength--while wild magic remains an inherently natural and intuitive power.

Dragonhelm: Tell us about Coryn. She seems very powerful for such a young age. Is she the next Raistlin?

Niles: Coryn's ultimate potential remains unknown. The idea for the character came from Margaret Weis, who originally termed her a magical "Mozart"--that is, someone whose natural talent just amazes and frustrates other, older and more experienced practioners, who had to work much harder to attain their skills. I don't believe she will succumb to the lust for power that so consumed Raistlin. She does have a role to play, including a romantic subplot, in the Empire trilogy.

Dragonhelm: Tell us about Coryn's magic. She seems to be able to do things with magic that no other wizard can.

Niles: While I realize that Coryn gained a lot of power very quickly, I have been quite surprised at how people seem to take her as some kind of super-mage. (On an internet discussion group, some posters seemed to think that she violated every rule of magic ever established for Krynn.) Coryn needs to study spellbooks like everybody else (granted, I didn't write a lot of scenes where she sat around and read her scrolls--my editor would have killed me!) Her inherent talent allowed her to absorb some spells by learning to read her grandmother's spellbook, and she was able to perceive variants of spells by watching other wizards--she learned how to eavesdrop on a cone of silence after hearing Jenna cast the spell a couple of times--but it is my understanding that she is still bound by all the restrictions of godly magic that apply to everyone else.

Dragonhelm: Dalamar and Jenna used to be lovers during the Chaos War era. Now it's nearly 40 years later, and Jenna is now an old woman while Dalamar doesn't appear to have aged much. How do you characterize their relationship?

Niles: Intense rivalry tainted by bitterness on both sides. Dalamar of course is still handsome and virile, but Jenna has long since ceased to be impressed by such traits. They realize that they need each other, however, in order to further the cause of godly magic.

Dragonhelm: In the novel, you establish Kalrakin and Luthar as former Knights of the Thorn who left the knighthood, and took over the Tower of High Sorcery at Wayreth on their own. Why would they go this route, rather than taking control of the Thorn Knights and organizing a mass assault?

Niles: In AD&D terms, they are very chaotic, and much prefer to work alone. To "organize" ANYTHING is an anathema to these guys, most especially Kalrakin.

Dragonhelm: Willim the Black sent shivers up my spine when I first read about him. How did he come about, and will we be seeing (no pun intended) more of him in the future?

Niles: I'm glad you, um, liked him. He and the other vignette characters were fun to create--I was just trying to imagine what black, red, and white robed wizards would be like after going decades without their power, and suddenly feeling ancient abilities awaken. Willim and the others are all out there now, doing their thing on Krynn, but I don't know of any specific plans to use any of them in the future. However, now that you mention it. . .. ;)

Dragonhelm: What of the other characters from Wizards' Conclave? Will they be showing up any time soon?

Niles: Coryn plays an important role in the Empire trilogy. I can't speak with specific knowledge about any of the others.

Dragonhelm: What do you feel are the toughest challenges facing the Wizards of High Sorcery? Likewise, what challenges will sorcerers be up against with the reformation of the Orders?

Niles: The wizards will probably have to work hard to gain new recruits, and then train them with some urgency. Given the lifetime of humans, there are very few of them around from before the Age of Mortals. The sorcerers will probably have to worry about being persecuted, even hunted down, by the wizards.

Dragonhelm: What can you tell us about the new book Lord of the Rose and the Empire Trilogy?

Niles: The setting is Solamnia, a few years after the War of Souls. While the Solamnic orders of the ancient realm have managed to kick out the Dark Knights, who ruled until the end of the War of Souls, their hold is tenuous. Fortified cities like Caergoth and Solanthus are more like individual fiefdoms than part of any real "nation". I introduce a mysterious warrior who roams these lands seeking vengeance and power. The nature of his quest I have to leave unspoken at this point, since that is revealed only during the course of the book. However, it does involve the acquisition of a new kind of power, based in technology, not magic. And I think it is safe to say that this warrior is very different from any hero I have ever written about.

Dragonhelm: Will we be getting a closer glimpse on the Solamnic government in this new trilogy?

Niles: In a word, yes. It's not much a government, at the start of the trilogy. But just wait. . . .

Dragonhelm: The Empire Trilogy was formerly known as the Rise of Solamnia trilogy. Why the name change? Will we be seeing the formation of a Solamnic empire?

Niles: I don't know why the name was changed--both titles work. And, even though he doesn't necessarily realize it in book 1, my protagonist will have a hand in returning Solamnia to some status resembling an empire. (Note that that an empire is fundamentally different from a kingdom.)

Dragonhelm: What other projects are you currently working on?

Niles: I have two other irons in the fire right now:

ONE) I have started my third alternate history military thriller with my co-author Michael Dobson. After writing Fox on the Rhine and Fox at the Front (following the premise of a successful assassination of Hitler in July of 1944) we are starting on Downfall: MacArthur's Invasion of Japan.

TWO) I have also finished my first science fiction novel, to be published by Tor next year. Based on the HG Wells classic, it is titled: War of the Worlds: New Millenium.

Dragonhelm: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.

Niles: You're very welcome--I appreciate the opportunity!