Article–Reflections on D&D novels

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Death_Mark_NovelBy Paco Garcia Jaen

A while ago I had a conversation with my mate Neal Freeman about D&D novels. Although I disagree with him, I can understand why he thinks that way. I have read all the Dark Sun novels published – some have stuck to my feeble memory better than others – and I must admit that they weren’t masterpieces.

For me they were decent and they served to illustrate and give some sort of context to the settings in which we used to play. I think it’s fair to say they were naive and lacked the gritty darkness that we didn’t have a problem instigating in our own games. Whereas we didn’t have a problem describing the horrible effects of battle and death, the novels were a bit more, how to say this… on the Disney side of life. They were more innocent. Tamer.

I was expecting the same when I started Death Mark yesterday. However, and just after 50 pages into the book, I have found myself many times thinking “can you say that!?” and “oh… bloody hell he’s an asshole!”

And I like it!

Then I thought who the author is. I don’t know the man other than the posts Facebook allows me to see, but one thing I can tell by those posts: Robert J Schwalb is talented, uncompromising, and brutally honest with both the setting he’s writing about, Dark Sun, and the reader. There’s no padding, no cushioning and certainly no Disney veneer.

His writing is fearless.

And I couldn’t help myself but wonder why we can read now this type of writing. Why is it that now we can truly come face to face with the reality of our imaginary worlds and our not so imaginary tabletop adventures.

I think the main answer is that the authors have grown older and more experienced. Not just more experienced in the writing craft, but more experienced in the self confidence that it takes to approach a book with this honesty and daring attitude of “this is what it is, deal with it!” that we haven’t seen in many other Dungeons & Dragons books.

My biggest criticism of this book after 50 pages? It’s not a hardback tome and I didn’t find it in my local book store.

Schwalb proves, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that compelling writing creates compelling situations that put D&D settings at a par with any other setting from more recognised and acclaimed authors.

Now the million book pages question: How do we get that word out and help bring those game to the forefront of fantasy book charts? Because that is where they belong.