haven’t seen Ridley Scott’s Prometheus yet, but I’m suspicious. Not so suspicious that I’m willing to write that first sentence without using the adverb, but I am wary nonetheless. Any story that has to go backward in time in order to tell us more has already run its course. The end has already come and gone, and the storyteller, without anywhere else to go, has to tell us about what led up to the story we like so well—which essentially means that what we thought was the beginning is not the “real” beginning. Most of the time, in my opinion, it’s better not to know.
In the case of Prometheus, it turns out that the movie is not a prequel, but instead it is another story told in the Alien universe. (Is this the same universe in which Alien and Predator face off? I sure hope not. As surprised as I was by the outcome of Jason vs. Freddy, I don’t want any reminder of those ridiculous mash-ups.) In fact, initial intelligence suggests that Prometheus is actually good. It stands on its own as a story, and if you know the Alien story, the experience is that much more enhanced. Again, I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t judge. I’ll believe it’s good when I see it, but until then I will remain dubious.
From Aliens to the Realms
The idea of Prometheus (if it is indeed as detailed above) is what we start with for every shared-world novel we publish: Stay true to the established lore while allowing our writers the latitude to tell the best stories they can. As readers, we need to be able to recognize Faerûn as a setting, and get a taste for the flavor of the Forgotten Realms while reading a satisfying story. Additionally, it’s nice to know that the story matters to the Forgotten Realms, or at the very least that the Forgotten Realms matters to the story. I think the least satisfying shared-world stories fail in that respect. I might enjoy a story for what it is. It might have good characters, well-described action, a solid three-act structure, even an admirable or distinct writing style, but if it could just as easily take place in Winesburg, Ohio, what’s the point? I think we all agree that, whether we’re reading Forgotten Realms, Star Wars, or Warcraft, we want to know that the story and the setting are represented more or less equally. We want to know that it matters to the world.
So, when author/game designer Richard Baker (Prince of Ravens, a Forgotten Realms ebook original) came to us with the idea of writing a new Jack Ravenwild novel, we knew we wanted it to matter to the Forgotten Realms. The last time we saw Jack it was some one hundred years prior to the current in-world timeline. City of Ravens, the first Jack Ravenwild novel, was published twelve years ago. Would this really work? One of our concerns was whether or not it was intellectually lazy to bring him back. Are we so out of ideas for new characters and storylines that we need to recycle old ones?
As soon as Rich gave us the initial pitch though, we realized just how unfounded those concerns were. Jack is a great character. He’s got such a distinctive point of view, and Rich writes him so well, that we knew it was unfortunate to let him fall by the wayside because we chose to make the time jump in 4th Edition. But we also knew that we couldn’t just bring him back without a proper event—without something larger to justify his “resurrection.”
Enter the Rise of the Underdark.
The Return of Jack Ravenwild
Asking Rich to figure out how Jack’s return would be affected by (or might affect) a larger event such as the stirring drow gives the story much more meaning than a generic Jack Ravenwild. Additionally, it gave Rich a great idea and a plausible scenario from which to bring Jack back—an idea that struck a good balance between setting and story.
While in some sense, Rich does go back in time—he’s mining the past for good ideas—he moves the story forward for the character, and does so in an area of Faerûn that hasn’t received much attention since the introduction of 4th Edition. Jack gets to go back to Raven’s Bluff where things have obviously changed quite a bit. Not only does Jack have to invent a new life for himself, he has to do so in an environment that is both familiar and foreign at the same time. And there are still some complications from his old life left over to make it difficult for him to adjust to this brave new world.
And of course, there are the drow.
In fact it is their effort to gain control of the mythal beneath the city that releases Jack from his magical prison, and they aren’t too happy with him once he shows up and starts trouble among his fellow captives.
What I especially like here is that there are a few different elements colliding to create the tension in the story: the ghosts of Jack’s past (he is imprisoned right alongside his archrival, the Warlord Myrkyssa Jelan, and the wizard guild that captured him in the first place), his present schemes to rise above his station, and finally the nefarious plans of the drow. I really think Rich hit on a winning balance. This is definitely the Forgotten Realms—familiar and magical—and it’s definitely a great character arc with humor, action, and adventure. Perhaps what’s most important is that fits into a bigger picture, one that spans multiple expressions of Dungeons & Dragons.