The second of the two-volume 10th Anniversary omnibus edition of the Forgotten Realms series R.A. Salvatore’s War of the Spider Queen was released today, and like my fellow Spider Queen Paul S. Kemp, that’s moved me to some recollections of the long, winding, often confusing, sometimes frustrating, and ultimately glorious road I traveled with that series from concept to now.
This is the series that I want them to remember me for—at least as an editor at TSR/Wizards of the Coast. It was the hardest I ever worked, and though there were a few books (all by R.A. Salvatore, not coincidentally) that I worked on there that sold better, this was the one series I loved the most and its success has meant the most to me—and not only because I’ve shared in it, financially.
Let’s do this in random-thoughts style, kinda like Paul did:
The idea came from Greyhawk . . .
It seems like a million years ago, but was more like twelve and we were publishing a series of novels set in the Greyhawk D&D setting, which were novelizations of the classic AD&D adventure modules. We began a trilogy based on the G-series, which was collected as Against the Giants, and when the first author fell out for reasons I honestly don’t remember, Paul Kidd picked up from there for Descent Into the Depths of the Earth, carrying over characters he created for his White Plume Mountain novel, and ending up in Queen of the Demonweb Pits. This was the set of modules that introduced the drow to D&D canon, and the module ended with a confrontation between the player characters and Lolth herself, in the Demonweb Pits. It’s understood that if you want to really finish the module, you have to kill Lolth, and we wanted the novel to have a satisfying ending, so that meant Lolth dies at the end of that book . . . right?
Well, that got me thinking: If Lolth dies in Greyhawk, is she dead everywhere? If she’s dead everywhere, she’s dead in the Forgotten Realms world, too, then, and so what becomes of the drow, who have built their entire society around a Lolth-centered matriarchal theocracy? Sounded like a novel series to me.
At the same time, we were looking for a series that could use the sales strength of R.A. Salvatore to help kick some of our new FR authors up a notch or two in sales—to bring them into the territory that was then occupied by Ed Greenwood, Elaine Cunningham, and Troy Denning. Lolth dies, drow go nuts . . . well, that had Bob Salvatore written all over it.
I won’t belabor the point that Bob went into himself in his introduction to the first omnibus, but eventually I talked him into it, even though before that I was told by the head of the RPG team that no, just becuase Lolth dies in Greyhawk, that has no effect on anything in the Forgotten Realms. Okay, then, but it was still a good idea, we just needed to tweak it a little.
How the authors were chosen . . .
All six of us had written in the Realms before, and as I said above, the business goal of the series was to elevate some of the third-tier FR authors up to the level of Greenwood, Cunningham, and Denning, so all three of them were excluded from the running—they didn’t need the sales boost that Bob’s name would provide. So, who then?
Rich Baker was turning out to be our best “in house” author—this is a guy with tremendous chops and all the D&D “street cred” you could ask for.
Richard Lee Byers had blown me away with a short story and then again in subsequent books.
Everything I said about Rich applied to Thomas M. Reid.
Lisa Smedman, like Byers, had proven herself as a member of the so-called “Sembia Seven” as a storyteller to be reckoned with, and with substantial RPG “cred” of her own.
We suffered a bit over the last two, and right about the time the pending release of the first book was putting increased pressure on us (who is “us”, by the way? That would be then managing editor Peter Archer, Executive Editor Mary Kirchoff, and me) to get the last two authors seated. Then my friend and partner-in-crime Jess Lebow was laid off in one of the rounds of post-Pokémon downsizing and I got all pissed off. I wanted him to write Book 5, but then, maybe in an effort to calm me down, maybe because they thought this all along, they asked me to write it, and sorry, Jess—love ya, man—but I couldn’t say no. Based on the huge sales of the video game, and even though the book itself was not what I would consider a creative success, I had sold a bunch of copies of Baldur’s Gate, so there was a business case to be made for including me.
I wanted Mel Odom to anchor the thing—Mel is a great writer, and a great friend, and I knew he would do the homework necessary to take all the details of five huge books and wrap the whole thing up nicely. He agreed, and the series list in the first edition of the first book still has his name on it as author of Resurrection.
Why did he then suddenly drop out? I don’t even remember. I never asked him if he regretted it later, especially after seeing Paul Kemp on the New York Times best sellers list. And I won’t ask now.
Enter Paul Kemp—another of the Sembia Seven. Paul wasn’t on the original list because of the high hopes we had for the Erevis Cale Trilogy—we had our fingers crossed that Paul would hit that middle sales tier on his own, and also, how many of the Sembia Seven could we recycle into this new series? We already had two. But then, no Mel, deadline approaching . . . I knew I worked well with Paul, and I knew he had the skills to wrap it up—I made the case for him and everybody, including Bob, signed on,. The rest is history.
The series bible was 102 pages long . . .
This was the document that helped everyone stay on message, and by it’s final version, dated December 1, 2003, it passed the 100-page mark.
Here’s the text of the first page:
War of the Spider Queen
The series will run six books, releasing between 2002 and 2005. Each book’s first printing will be in hardcover, with a paperback reprint to follow six months to a year after the hardcover release.
The books are intended to be read in order—this is one big, six-part story. The series starts with the sudden disappearance of the drow goddess Lolth. Since the drow’s matriarchal society is at heart a Lolth-based theocracy, when the priestesses lose their ability to cast spells and seem to have completely lost touch with their goddess, civil war results.
The series protagonists are tasked with not only finding out what is wrong with Lolth but doing something to return drow society to the status quo.
The Six Books
Book 1: Dissolution
by Richard Lee Byers, July 2002 (paperback reprint, April 2003)
Book 2: Insurrection
by Thomas M. Reid, December 2002 (paperback reprint, December 2003)
Book 3: Condemnation
by Richard Baker, May 2003 (paperback reprint, May 2004)
Book 4: Extinction
by Lisa Smedman, January 2004 (paperback reprint, February 2005)
Book 5: Annihilation
Philip Athans, July 2004 (paperback reprint, August 2005)
Book 6: Resurrection
Paul S. Kemp, April 2005 (paperback reprint, early 2006)
R.A. Salvatore will be writing short prologues for each book and will also be reading outlines and manuscripts of all six books. All authors’ primary contact will be Phil Athans, who will work with Bob to refine story and character direction to maintain the overall vision of the series and the sanctity of the dark elf archetype.
And here’s the table of contents:
The Series 1
Quenthel Baenre 2
Pharaun Mizzrym 4
Ryld Argith 8
Valas Hune 10
Halisstra Melarn 13
Danifae Yauntyrr 16
Nimor Imphraezl 19
Book 1: Dissolution 21
Book 2: Insurrection 27
Book 3: Condemnation 33
Book 4: Extinction 44
Book 5: Annihilation 49
Book 6: Resurrection 50
The Authors 51
Complete D&D Character Stats 56
Style Guide 95
Rich Baker volunteered to work up complete (Third Edition) D&D stats for the major characters, and that was no small task, especially since these were very high level characters, but that proved essential with things like what spells the spellcasters could cast (the D&D equivalent of how much wood can a woodchuck chuck), what magic items they had, what they were immune to (or effectively immune to), and so on.
The style guide section included stuff like this:
A priestess of Lolth who is not a matron mother, and who is not the highest ranking priestess in attendance, should be referred to as “Mistress [first name].” The highest ranking priestess of Lolth in attendance should be referred to as simply “Mistress.”
If there is more than one matron mother in attendance, only the highest ranking would be referred to as simply “Matron Mother.” The others would be called, “Matron Mother [House name].”
Example: If you’re in a meeting with the matron mothers of Houses Baenre, Barrison Del’Armgo, and Mizzrym, and three priestess: Quenthel Baenre (the Mistress of Arach-Tinilith), Xorra Del’Armgo, and Greyanna Mizzrym, you would address them as follows:
Triel Baenre: Matron Mother
Mez’Barris Armgo: Matron Mother Del’Armgo
Miz’ri Mizzrym: Matron Mother Mizzrym
Quenthel Baenre: Mistress
Xorra Del’Armgo: Mistress Xorra
Greyanna Mizzrym: Mistress Greyanna
I love that kind of stuff.
We forgot Quenthel was dead . . .
I’ll finish up with this one, since I’ve outed this before. We went ahead under the assumption that Quenthel Baenre would be in charge of Arach Tinilith at the start of the series, and no one on a very big team remembered that she was killed, by Drizzt, in an earlier book. As luck—and it was luck, believe me—would have it, though, Elaine Cunningham was finishing up, after years left hanging, her own drow trilogy. More luck: the FR timeline had progressed some years between where her Liriel trilogy was set and the “present day” of the Spider Queen series. And yet more luck: Elaine’s trilogy happened to have a drow priestess sent to the Demonweb Pits. One furious phone call to Elaine: “Have Lolth send someone back with her, someone that surprises everyone—I’ll explain later!” Elaine added that, and Quenthel was resurrected. Whew.
I could go on and on for hours, but that’s time better spent reading the series itself, which you can now get in three forms: