Years ago, I was somewhat hurt by it, being as I never wanted Elminster to be anything more than the “old storyteller” figure, the mouthpiece in a DRAGON article that let me say “There’s talk around the village of trolls being seen in yon ruins” as opposed to the omniscient author style that in those days would have forced me to say: “There are two trolls in Room A and one lurking behind the coffin in Room B, and their hit points are . . .”
In play, he did much the same thing; he was the mind-wandering, irritatingly whimsical old man who could OCCASIONALLY be of help to PCs, or who would come wandering along to save their behinds almost by accident in a dungeon when they’d gotten near death and knew no way out - - but who would become VERY irritating, very fast, if they started to rely on him to do anything for them.
It was TSR who wanted me to portray Elminster at GenCon (after an early seminar in which I’d demonstrated how I played quite a few Realms NPCs, voices and mannerisms and all), and it was TSR who wanted me to write novels about him (left to my own devices, I would NEVER have used him as a main character, only as a sort of briefly-seen, often-absent Tom Bombadil-like supporting character). Instead, he’s become the “signature character” that my book editors always demand I write about (just as Bob Salvatore is always asked for more Drizzt books), presumably because there’s a silent majority of book-buyers who LIKE to read more about him.
The gamers who say he always gets the girl and therefore must be my Mary Sue/Bobby Sue character are entirely missing the point; I created almost ALL of the major Realms NPCs, of all ages and races and genders, and when I did so was a skinny young nerd without a beard. :}
Left to my druthers, I would never have had Elminster at center stage, so the accusation that he upstages Player Characters would not have arisen (and never has, in my “home” campaign). He was certainly over-exposed in Realms products, for a long time more or less by company directive (I poked fun at that in one of my books, in a narrative where El doesn’t appear at all, EXCEPT when a character grumbles that he always shows up to save the day or at least take all the credit for doing so, and on cue, I had a portrait on the wall change its face to Elminster’s and wink at the reader, unnoticed by any of the characters in the story).
I think a lot of the anti-Elminster stuff started (long ago) because Greyhawk fans and Dragonlance fans saw the Realms as “replacing” their worlds, and wanted to attack its main characters. As a greedy gamer who wanted ALL the settings supported (I was a fan of both those settings) and who saw far more of what went on inside the company than most “just plain gamers” out there, I never saw the Realms that way at all, and understood far more about sales and how THEY influenced what got published than the fans who wanted to fight setting-versus-setting wars.
These days, I often encounter very young gamers who sneer at Elminster without ever having read a word of one of my novels about him - - which means their dislike of him is an opinion they’ve picked up from older gamers and adopted so as to be “one of the gang” or “cool.”
I would quite cheerfully never write another word about Elminster, if I could still go on writing about the Realms. On the other hand, ELMINSTER IN HELL is the one Realms novel (of them ALL, not just mine) where senior sf writers I respect greatly have made a point of telling me how much they liked it; one of them even said, “You almost committed literature, there!”), and in my recent novels - - the new one that’ll appear in 2010, in particular, entitled ELMINSTER MUST DIE! - - I’ve been using him to explore what it means to get old and feeble and nigh-powerless, and face death or falling from prominence or both.
On the other hand, I’ve had Realms writing assignments I liked less than writing about Elminster - - like writing about Volo!
11. As a setting, the Realms has a reputation for being "epic," with world-shattering events and grandiose plots. Yet, based on your old articles and the anecdotes I've heard in various places, your home campaign seemed very "localized." Is that an accurate description?
Yes, my home campaign is always focused on the PCs, and was always very down-to-earth. After twenty real-time years of play, the most powerful of the Knights of Myth Drannor (the main band of PC adventurers) reached (gasp!) 9th level. However, they really LIVED and earned their levels, and had great fun doing it, and I made sure the Realms always seemed “alive” around them by having lots of news and rumors of events going on several kingdoms away, in the background. There were plots atop subplots atop conspiracies, but nothing “Realms-shaking.” No gods slaughtering gods, nothing like that - - that’s a function of the published Realms, and decades of “arms race” one-upmanship amongst authors and game designers (some of the former and all of the latter on staff at the publisher, at the time), all trying to have a bigger and better epic. The first two editions of the game “played best” when PCs were 3rd to 12th level, and that’s the “sweet spot” that my players never left. They weren’t interested in character stats, but they WERE interested in their characters achieving fortune, influence, and success (NOT fame) within the game world, on a local level (“No thrones for us, but we can by gum govern a dale better than anyone else!”) . . . and luckily, that’s what I was interested on, too.
However, hand me a novel writing assignment, and sure enough, I was supposed to write NOT about a stable boy or minor courtier, but about the royal family, and not about Joe Lackspell, but about Elminster. There’s no blame to be assigned here; because everyone making the decisions was striving for what would be most popular and therefore sell best; I just disagree about how quickly one should scale the heights of power (I’m more about forty years of slow “power creep,” heh heh).
12. Are there any Realms-related topics you've never had the chance to discuss in your published work that you wish you had?
Sure, lots of them. Trade routes, major commodities traded and the entire system (warehouses, who ships stuff and how, who hoards or attempts to control local prices, how much guilds and nobles profit thereby, are dragons and other powerful, long-lived, intelligent monsters influencing or taking part in trade, and so on). Where are certain goods produced (and are therefore plentiful and cheap) and where are they most scarce and in demand (therefore both expensive and in short supply).
Too much detail to some gamers, sure, but if a DM’s job is to entertain his or her players, and my players LOVED having “day jobs” outside adventuring, and making investments, and going shopping, and playing local politics, and manipulating guilds and local traders for their own profit, than that’s information that sure needed exploring for my own game; why not share it?
I once tried to get a Sword Coast merchant shipping game (sail your ship or fleet up and down the coast from port to port, moving around these little cards that are cargoes; even if you don’t want to play it, you can use it in a D&D campaign to keep track of voyage times, available ships in port, where someone you’re chasing who bought passage aboard a ship is, and so on) into DRAGON as a special inclusion, but it got nixed on cost grounds.
Also, what are the daily lives of non-humans like elves, gnomes, halflings, kobolds, et al like? The furnishings in their homes? Their cuisine, how they store food and treat wastes, their stories (books? ballads?); all of that.
And the big one: what’s it like to be a priest in the major faiths of the Realms? Creed, taboos, what you wear, how you live, church aims and directives, what those in power high in the church are REALLY up to, where your daily living comes from, ALL the religious rituals, both daily and special festivals/special rites; all of that. A cleric/priest should be a LOT more than a “fighter who can heal.”
13. What projects are you working on nowadays?
I mainly can’t say, due to NDAs (contracts forbidding me to talk), but it’s no secret that I’m working on a new Elminster novel (working title ELMINSTER MUST DIE!) for publication next year. Or that I’m co-writing a series of rules-neutral roleplaying game supplements from Goodman Games, ED GREENWOOD’S FANTASTIC WORLDS. The first volume, covering castles, keeps, and fortifications, should be out next spring, and future books are planned on world-building, city design, mythology, and more.
My novel “Falconfar” (the third and concluding book in the FALCONFAR trilogy) should be released in March 2010 from Solaris (just purchased from Black Library by Rebellion, and published in the United States by Simon & Shuster).
I’m writing a new column of short “usable in your campaign” Realms pieces in DRAGON (in the D&D Insider part of the Wizards of the Coast website), and have a short story, “The Many Murders of Manshoon,” in the forthcoming (January 2010) Wizards of the Coast anthology “Realms of the Dead.”
I also have an essay in the forthcoming “Family Games: The 100 Best” (edited by James Lowder and published by Green Ronin Publishing). My short story “A Good Night To Watch Detroit Burn” was JUST published in the post-apocalyptic sf anthology “Grants Pass” from Morrigan Books, and I wrote a eulogy for Gary Gygax (creator of the Dungeons & Dragons® roleplaying game) and a short story, “Saving The Elf Princess Again,” for the recent DAW anthology “Gamer Fantastic,” edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes.
I’m just finishing editorial work on ED GREENWOOD PRESENTS WATERDEEP, a series of mass market paperback original novels by other authors (some of them novices), set in the city of Waterdeep in the “new” (4e, post-Spellplague) Realms. All of the books (including titles from rising stars Steven Schend, Jaleigh Johnson, Erik Scott de Bie, and Rosemary Jones) have impressed me, thus far.
I’m also having fun contributing creatively to KOBOLD QUARTERLY, to a new sf combat card game called HEROBITS, and to the “Pathfinder” game rules and associated Golarion fantasy world setting from Paizo, Inc.
There’s a lot more, but I can’t talk about it yet. By the way, as a Canadian, I wince at all the “Ed Greenwood” this, and “Ed Greenwood” that; to those disgusted ay my hubris, please remember that PUBLISHERS choose titles, not writers (I think the only Realms title of mine that has yet gone straight into print unchanged was “Spellfire,” and it got swiped immediately by the publisher for use for a card game!).
14. Do you still get the chance to roleplay?
I do, though I’m so busy juggling a day job (I have worked in public libraries for thirty-five years now) and a busy writing career (usually I manage to publish two or three novels, half a dozen short stories, a dozen or more game columns or articles, and a few gaming sourcebooks, every year) that I have less and less time to sit down and really enjoy long play sessions. At conventions, I often run one-shot Realms adventures, and of course participate in various hush-hush playtests of forthcoming game scenarios or rules.