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An Interview with Ray and
Co-Authors of TORMENT, an upcoming Planescape novel.
and Val Vallese, Planescape designers, where kind enough to indulge
us for an email interview. Though they will not officially be
attending Gen Con '99, they have lanned us more chant then you
can shake at with a dead cranium rat.
Ray is, as
many fans will recognize, the editor and designer of many Planescape
fan-favorites such as UnCaged: Faces of Sigil, which he
co-authored with his wife Val. (The books credit to R.V. Vallese
sneakily incorporates both their names.)
work in TSRs books department after Ray's employment at TSR, and
is obviously one of the better creative minds that have helped
bring Planescape's memorable characters to life.
interview is split into two (2) parts: a general interview and
a second, specifically focused on the upcoming novel, Torment.
may read to PART I or skip to
II: Torment, the novel.
note: all responses by Ray Valese unless otherwise noted.
long were you an employee with TSR, and how did you get into the
started work at TSR in June of
1994 and left in June of 1997 (just before WotC moved everybody
out to the Seattle area). Since that time, I've continued to do
freelance work for the Planescape line.
And as for how I got into the gaming business, well, I didn't
struggle for years and years to get my name known. I didn't go
to conventions and make contact with all the right bigwigs. I
didn't submit pieces to Dungeon or Dragon or do any of the things
that all the fans are always told to do. Instead, I saw a want
ad in the paper one day and sent in a resume.
it. Now, on one hand that could make fans grind their teeth, but
on the other, it should give them hope that sometimes it's easier
to break in to the industry than people think. (Of course, I had
the right degrees, background, experience, etc.)
did you get involved with the Planescape product line?
of the draw. As a new editor at TSR, I was assigned to the product
group that worked on Planescape, since at the time it was a fledgling
My first project was "A Player's Primer to the Outlands" (not
exactly a fan-favorite, but Colin, Jeff and I did our best), and
since I had no experience whatsoever with Planescape and very
little with AD&D, I had to learn what I was doing very quickly
I could tell right away that Planescape was where it's at (or
WAS at), and I knew with certainty that it was the game line I
wanted to focus on. It was just so cool.
freelancing for TSR for 2 years, what other projects have you
been engaged in, either RPG or otherwise?
edited The Product Formerly Known As "Servants of Light: The Celestials"
(now retitled "Warriors of Heaven," I believe), but the book has
gone through substantial changes since it left my hands, so I
can no longer say with certainty what it may or may not contain
when it finally is published.
I co-edited "Inner Planes" with Michele Carter. I co-wrote "Faction
War" with Monte Cook (and what a heap of controversy THAT book
turned out to be!) Val and I co-authored the novelization of the
Planescape: Torment computer game, due out in November (I think).
And we also wrote a Rogues Galley of NPCs from the book, which
will appear in Dragon magazine around the same time.
influences (music, philosophy, literature) do you recognize in your
don't listen to music when I write; I find it tends to interfere
with the writing rather than guide it. And while I can't point
to a handful of specific books as major influences I'm a big fan
of postmodern fiction, with all of its narrative trickery, unreliable
speakers, and linguistic playfulness.
I think that's why I like "Pages of Pain" so much. I love books
that play with your head like "Pale Fire" (Vladimir Nabokov),
"City of Glass" (Paul Auster), "Tristram Shandy" (Laurence Sterne,
I think), "If On a Winter's Night a Traveler" (Italo Calvino),
and a bunch more that I can't think of right now. And hey, in
case anyone reading this thinks I'm a big lit snob guy or something,
remember -- I read lots of comic books, too. Too many, in fact.
you role-play much in your spare time?
my what? Sorry, I don't understand those strange words you use.
I worked at TSR, I did indeed role-play in my spare time, usually
under the aegis of uber-DM Monte Cook (he's great!). And since
I had never really done it before coming to TSR, it was new and
exciting and lots of fun. I especially liked Monte's "Call of
Cthulhu" campaigns (we did one that was set in the 1920s and one
in the 1990s). But now that I'm no longer immersed in the role-playing
culture, I don't partake. And as I said earlier, I don't have
time these days, anyway.
any of the characters from Uncaged: Faces of Sigil inspired by people
you know? If so, which character(s), and how? (Thanks
to Jon Winter for this one!)
wife Val had as much to do with "Uncaged" as I did, so she's got
a few answers for you below mine. As for me, I can only think
of Harys Hatchis. We took the basic idea for him from "In the
Cage" but fleshed him out with the personality of Val's wheeler-dealer
than that, I'd have to say that we just made everyone else up.
A dull answer, I know, but thank goodness, eh? I'd hate to have
someone like Shemeshka for a friend or relative. (Actually, did
you ever notice the gender symbol in Shemeshka's stats? An error
introduced in typesetting, but a darned ironic one, given her
nickname. Sure, Planescape's alternative, but still . . .)
Cupgrass -- This is the name
of a weed found in corn and soybean fields. My dad's a farmer
and ever since I was but a spit of a girl, I'd heard the term
and found it particularly funny and wonderful, better suited to
a character in a book than to a spindly weed. This was my chance!
-- I had a lot of fun picking out names for characters. I'd pore
through a great baby names book, compile a list of finalists,
and then Ray and I would choose a winner. For the mephit, I loved
three similar names: Seamus, Xanthus, and Zenus. As I read them
out loud, the list of three sounded so musical that we said them
again and again and they blended into one.
Grixitt -- The first-person voice for this character came
from the desperate, obsessive voice that would edge into my head
when I couldn't sleep at night. Before I started in TSR's book
department, I was becoming even more of a night owl than I already
naturally was, staying up later and later and feeling more isolated
from others as I did things while (seemingly) everyone else in
the workaday world was asleep.
and Phineas -- I loved these guys; they're an amalgamation
of my guy friends from high school who were members of struggling
garage bands, all pale, angst-ridden poets who were so serious
and so funny at the same time. Writing those "Death" poems for
Morvun was TOO much fun.
note: We will hear more from Val in Part II of this interview.
is more hip: goatees or side-burns?
think both are well past their glory days, such as they were.
It's time for the rebellious youth of today to invent a new badge
of hep-cat coolness -- something appropriate for the millennium,
I think. Maybe the Mimir can sponsor a contest.
works have inspired may others to produce their own creations. Many
of these inspirations make their way to the net as fan-sites, such
as the Mimir.net. Do you ever frequent such sites? What is your
impression of them?
always fun to check out a good Planescape site, although I don't
visit any with any regularity. Most of them are filled with great
ideas, and I never want to read and absorb something and then
subconsciously use it later in my own work. It's better not to
read all the fan-created stuff. I do, however, read reviews of
PS products, try to answer questions -- things like that.
Mimir.net really is the best though, right?
sure! (I just wish Jon wouldn't hyphenate those words next to
the mimirs on his opening page. "Chat-tering" isn't so bad, but
"Expl-orer" just bugs me . . .) Actually, the Mimir is a truly
excellent site, and I would say that even if it WEREN'T sponsoring
note: Absolutely no money was exchanged in return for the rights
to conduct this interview. And if there was, we would vehemenantly
was your first Gen Con? What was it like?
first GenCon was August of 94, just a few months after starting
at TSR. I felt like I had been abducted by aliens and thrust into
an oddly fascinating biological preserve. It was an unexpectedly
large amount of work and an equally unexpectedly large amount
of great fun, and it helped me forge fast friendships with my
new TSR comrades (there's nothing like bonding through crises).
Was that the year that James "Scotty" Doohan was a guest? (You
have to refer to him like that, by the way -- it's the law.) We
had a great idea for a publicity stunt involving ol' Scotty, but
I can't talk about it here.
do you like to do at Gen Con?
of my TSR friends ached to have free time at GenCon so they could
walk around and soak up all the new games and dice and whatnot.
But since I wasn't steeped in that culture, I found that I enjoyed
working the show: running game demos, attending seminars, paying
$49.99 for a hot dog -- well, not that last part.
And when I wasn't on call, I liked to comb through back-issue
bins of comic book dealers, check out old movie posters, and search
for 50s sci-fi/monster videos (especially Godzilla, and I'm not
talkin' this newfangled CGI crap, sonny, I mean the REAL Godzilla,
the guy in the rubber suit, by gum! I recently heard that Toho
is going to bring back classic G for a new movie in 2000 -- hurrah!)
are you looking forward toward this year?
hanging out with friends that I don't get to see as often as I'd
like. Now that I no longer work for TSR, I get to be the bad influence,
encouraging my pals to ditch their assignments so we can hang
tips for first time Gen Con attendees?
Keith Strohm, who'll probably be spending a lot of time wandering
around the TSR area, and tell him "Ray says WOW!" Make sure to really
stress that last word -- make it not so much a shout as a growl.
Let's see how many wows he gets by the end of the show.
Editor would like to thank Ray and Val for their time given to this
interview, and for their hard work making Planescape such a pleasurable
To learn more about the creative work of this daring duo, scroll
down to Part II, where we learn more about their latest work: the Planescape
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An Interview with Ray and
Co-Authors of TORMENT, an upcoming Planescape novel.
II: Torment, the novel.
note: Thanks to Ken Lipka, host of the Net
Planescape Fiction Archive, for his questions in this interview.
were you contacted to do this novel? Was the choice to pursue this
particular revenue stream driven by TSR or Interplay? How did you
both get involved?
friend of ours in the TSR Book Department called us up out of
the blue one day and asked us if we'd like to submit a proposal
for the novel. He mentioned that a few other people were in the
running and thought that we'd be a good choice, too.
offer was made to either or both of us, so naturally we decided
to do it together. We put together our proposal and writing sample,
then sat back and bit our nails until we got word that it was
did you prepare for this novel? (What inspirations/sources?)
criticism we've heard of the other Planescape novels is that they
weren't always true to the game setting, that the authors took
too many liberties. Now, we personally don't agree with those
criticisms -- we don't feel that books should adhere to every
game rule and stat -- but we decided that we'd try our darndest
not to break any PS rules with Torment.
We already had a lot going for us in that respect, since we already
knew tons about the setting. But we still had stacks and stacks
of PS source books by our side at all times, checking and cross-checking
facts and maps and names and whatnot. We specifically did NOT
re-read any of the existing PS novels, just to make sure that
we wouldn't accidentally borrow something from them.
these lines, as authors writing in an established setting, and indeed
a pre-established plot, how did you deal with the established limits
of your artistic freedoms?
part was perhaps the most difficult. Writing in the established
PS setting was no problem; as I mentioned above, we were having
a blast poring through all the source books and making things
jive. But following the pre-established plot was a bit harder;
at times we did feel that we needed to take the writing in places
we might not have gone otherwise.
We were sent a several-hundred-page document that outlined pretty
much every step of the computer game, and while we weren't expected
to adhere to it 100%, we were expected to stick to the main plot
and characters, without introducing any new people or locations
or elements. Throw in the fact that this book will be 70-80 pages
shorter than a typical TSR novel, and that means that we had to
mercilessly trim away the fat and focus only on the meat. (For
instance, Xanxost the slaad was in our first draft, but he didn't
make the final cut. Sob!)
it was frustrating at first. But the book shaped up to be a roller-coaster
ride of excitement and action, very true to the computer game
and the PS setting both. We hope that fans of each will be pleased.
our main character began his journey and we had a clear conception
of his characterization, it was sometimes hard to steer him through
the established plot of the game, no matter how INTERESTING the
next step was.
was due to two reasons.
First, there's so much that can happen in Planescape that we kept
thinking of new possibilities. Second, once we had an idea of
how he wuld think and act -- an idea of his character -- there
were times that we had to write or rewrite explanations for it
to make sense that he would choose the next step that he did.
This didn't reflect the game material, only the situation of developing
more three-dimensional characters with motivations, pasts, etc.
out of a pre-established plot.
what ways did you make the work your own?
the most basic level, we got to choose the style of narration,
tone of the writing, pacing, and all that good stuff. The main
character has a few interesting flaws (other than being an amnesiac
-- the guy's just down on his luck all around, poor sod), and
since everything is filtered through his eyes and senses, it required
us to adopt a certain style of writing.
example, if the main character is the kind of guy who would happen
to describe an astonishing event in a flat, even manner, that's
how the writing describes it. If the main character is looking
in one direction and doesn't notice something important happening
behind him, the reader isn't privy to that information either
and will be just as surprised by it.
Beyond that, we got to have fun fleshing out all the main characters
and inventing whatever secondary characters we wanted to include.
We also put a big twist in the ending of the book, so that people
who play the game would be surprised by the novel (and vice versa).
(Of course, since the fine folks at Interplay have already read
our book, it's possible that they will incorporate elements from
the book into the game, so that the two products match even more
closely.) We also tried to poke a bit of good-natured fun at cliches
that always seem to crop up in these kinds of novels.
we tried to have fun with it, especially with the character of Morte,
a floating skull. There were numerous underground locations in the
game that we had to use in the novel, so we had Morte complain (as
regular people might) that he was getting mighty sick of spending
so much time below ground (which in itself is odd, coming from a
skull). When things slowed down a bit between scenes of big action,
Morte whined that he was getting bored. As the heroes journeyed
from place to place in search of information and kept being told
to go find so-and-so instead, Morte groused about how they were
on a wild goose chase across the multiverse. And so on.
how did writing this book differ from others, such as PS supplements,
we had to write it on an extremely tight deadline. For the first
draft, we had about as much time as a TSR designer would normally
have for a 64-page adventure or accessory (and we had no artwork,
maps, etc. that counted toward our page count!).
it was a lot more pressure. Plus, I always tended to write PS
supplements in chunks, jumping around in the text and working
on whatever I felt like at the moment. But since things were constantly
changing in the novel, we had to start from page 1 and go straight
through to the end (it would have done us no good to write the
whiz-bang climax first if it would only end up changing later).
RPG supplements are supposed to focus more on communicating the
basic info and less on dazzling the audience with clever prose.
(Granted, that's not entirely true for the PS line, as many people
have remarked that they've purchased PS products just to read
them.) On the other hand, the way you write a book is just as
important as what you're writing about.
you have any personal goals that you were trying to accomplish with
the first novel for either of us, so we're very happy to have
had the chance to work on it together.
head has always been full of lots of images and colors and words,
and fantasy is a wonderful forum for letting those things out. Planescape
is especially open to possibilities, and even though some appropriately
bizarre scenes and characters had to be cut (due to length, the
editor's preferences, etc.), I'm thankful that our first novel was
so kind to our imaginations. Yay weirdos!
do you feel is the relationship between RPG, novels, and computer
always used to think novelizations of movies were odd, simply
because the best films usually take into account the visual nature
of their medium and offer an experience that can't necessarily
be captured in words. Try turning a David Lynch, Peter Greenaway,
Terry Gilliam or Coen brothers film into a novel. (I suppose you
could argue that the "best" films aren't the ones that are usually
turned into novels.)
It's just as hard with RPGs and computer games, I think, but in
a different way. So much of the enjoyment comes from the player's
imagination and freedom to choose his own path that it seems like
it'd be hard to capture that in print.
Clearly, when writing Torment we had to make choices as to what
the main character would say, think, and do. We had a plot outline
-- "Joe has to go to the Great Laundromat of Sigil and wash his
undies" -- but we had to build everything else. Thus, someone
who only plays the computer game will no doubt have a vastly different
experience of what Torment is all about than will someone who
only reads the novel.
computer-game player completely controls the main character. The
reader does not.
the producers of the popular Diablo computer game released news
of a Diablo AD&D supplement in the works. This is clearly a reversal
of the typical flow of revenue streams solely from RPG to computer
Do you think Planescape pen & paper may see a surge in
interest from this same direction with the release of the Torment
computer game? What part do you believe the novel will play in
sure hope that happy Torment fans decide to give Planescape RPGs
a try; I know that the designers have tried very hard to make
the game true to the PS experience.
computer game features characters, monsters, and locations directly
from the RPGs, after all. I think it's probably more likely that
people will play the computer game and then seek out the novel,
rather than the reverse, simply because the computer game is being
marketed in a big way. On the other hand, there haven't been many
novels for the PS setting, so fans of the RPGs may pick up the
book and then move on to the computer game. It's hard to say.
Let's all just hope that everything sells well and earns everyone
scads of money and makes everyone happy.
finally, the big question, Jar Jar Binks: Lovable -but hairless-
Wookie stand-in, or waste of gigabytes?
didn't hate him as much as I expected to, given all the slams
I'd heard leading up to my viewing of the movie. Maybe that was
Lucasfilm's plan all along -- leak word that Jar Jar is a film-sinking
abomination, thus lowering everyone's expectations to rock bottom,
which then doesn't make the goofy gungan seem so bad when you
actually see him on the big screen.
all right: Waste of gigabytes. And isn't it strange what movies
have come to these days, with so much CGI? Movies aren't movies
any more; they're digital collages that can be tinkered with too
much, I think. Pretty soon a director won't need locations or
props or even actors; he'll just sit in front of his PC and do
everything digitally. It doesn't bother me with music -- I think
it's great that a guy like Fatboy Slim can turn on his PC and
build a whole album out of samples and layers -- but for some
reason, it really bothers me with movies.
guess I'm weird.
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