Thursday, June 13, 2019

Top Ten Best Books, As Self-Selected By Their Author

A few people have asked me to identify, out all the material I've worked on and or written, my top ten favorites. Ok, that's a fair question. But it's a hard one. Not so hard as picking just one favorite, which is probably, "Whatever I'm currently working on!" Still, it requires me to take a little time to think about it. My credits bibliography has grown a long tail over the last 25 years, so can I possibly pick just ten? Maybe. As an exercise in self-reflection...

So alright. This is my stab at choosing the ten favorite books that I've written myself, in no particular order (other than from most recent to oldest). Plus a little curation to go with each. This is a blog, after all!

Numenera Discovery and Numenera Destiny, MCG 2018. Working on these books, and Numenera Destiny, in particular, was a monumental effort. Coincidence I went to the hospital the day after turning over my contribution? Probably, but it makes a good story. Given Numenera's central place in the MCG product offering, and how much I love science fantasy, this choice picked itself. How can't you love a setting set a billion years in Earth's future? (Obviously, this is the second edition of an earlier book I had nothing to do with; but this one adds an entirely new volume, which I was very much a part of, as was the entire MCG team, a group of harder-working, talented, and kinder people I've rarely known.)

Jade Colossus: Ruins of the Prior Worlds, MCG 2017. My love of dungeon crawling goes back to dungeon geomorphs of 1E fame and the random dungeon generator in the 1E Dungeon Master's Guide. In many ways, Jade Colossus is a love letter to that system in the first DMG, because it debuted the Ruin Mapping System, which is 40+ pages of crazy random dungeon generation fun (and it's what we based our new Ruin Deck on, too). NOTE: A 5E conversion guide for Jade Colossus is going to be made thanks to our Arcana of the Ancients campaign!

Art: Lie Setiawan
Gods of the Fall, MCG 2016. What can I say, I poured my heart and soul into this, and I was blessed with a new artist to the MCG stable, Lie Setiawan; and a graphic designer/art director Bear Weiter, both of whom brought this book to life in a way I could have hardly hoped for. Combined with my message of "take a broken world and try to fix it" (as newborn gods in a fantasy world where the old gods all died out in a catastrophic event) definitely stars on this list.

I had a somewhat lighter schedule in the two months leading up to writing this book, which allowed me some time to really think about what I wanted to say, and better yet, brainstorm with the MCG design team as well as my amazing partner, Torah Cottrill, who really helped me define what a true catastrophe in heaven might look like. To learn more about Gods of the Fall, check out this Gods Of The Fall FAQ.

Art: Matthew Stawicki
The Strange, MCG 2014. I left wizards to write a science fiction novel where I could explore another explanation for the Fermi Paradox using the accelerating expansion of the universe as an underlying clue. What's dark energy? Well, some say it's a realm known as the Strange...

Things didn't go exactly to plan because my friend Monte asked me about it, then suggested we write a game for it together. Which we did, launching two entire MCG game lines, the first being The Strange! (Which in turn set the stage for the Cypher System itself, building off Numenera.) It took a little while, but the novel that launched it all was finally published, too...

Lo and behold Myth of the Maker.

D&D 5E, WOTC 2014. D&D RULES! (I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to be directly employed by TSR and then WOTC for ~18 years writing mostly D&D.) A lot of transition occurred at Wizards during the very long development period of this fabulous project. And after putting several years into it, I ultimately left a year before publication. Obviously, the D&D design team hit it out of the park, and I'm lucky to have been part of it for as long as I was.

Sword of the Gods, WOTC 2011. Though this two-book duology (Sword of the Gods and Spinner of Lies) faced several publisher-and-market-related issues resulting in them being my poorest-selling books out of all the numerous Forgotten Realms novels I'd previously published (noted in the side-bar to the right under "My Novels and Short Stories"), the duology also represents my best novel writing work at that time. They benefited from all the previous years of mentorship and editing advice lavished on me by Wizards' novel publishing department, especially my editor Susan Morris. That department was dissolved just as I was finishing the first book and starting the second (hinting at those issues I mentioned). But despite it all, these are probably my favorite novels... though see my thoughts about The Strange (and Myth of the Maker) above. Though, hey, call out to Darkvision, ya'll.

Expanded Psionics Handbook, WOTC, 2004. I love psionics so hard my car vanity license plate is PSIONIC and it has been since October 2004 when I got a Prius (which I still drive today). I also wrote an earlier Psionics Handbook for 3E, but this expanded edition really brought the rule system forward in a meaty way that lots of people really enjoyed. I know I did.

Art: Todd Lockwood
The Sunless Citadel, WOTC 2000. So many hours of thought went into planning this one, up to and including the name itself (which came to me on a long road trip), the nature of the threat at the center, and all the many and varied kinds of encounters that would go into it. At one point, 3E designer Jonathan Tweet asked me if I would please change the name of my new evil plant creature from twig-wight to something else, because by his lights, "wight" meant undead. Made sense; I called them twig-blights instead (an even more fitting name). And hey, look, DMDavid has it noted as a favorite, too!

(I'd count the follow-on modules I wrote for this adventure path as part of the evolving narrative that started in Sunless Citadel, which is Heart of Nightfang Spire and Bastion of Broken Souls.)

Return to the Tomb of Horrors, TSR, 1998. You know how I got handed this plum of an opportunity? Because everyone else's schedule was full, and that's how things happened at TSR back in the day. Well, I recognized that opportunity was knocking, and I spent every waking hour imagining how this would play out. Though it all sort of crystallized when I sketched out the overall shape of the adventure on a legal pad: Necromancer outer shell, original tomb, mouth/gate leads to a cursed city of sleep, and there to the negative energy plane and the fittingly titled Fortress of Conclusion.

Art: Jeff Easley
Gates of Firestorm Peak, TSR 1996. The one that started it all, baby! I've talked a lot about this over the years, most recently here on my blog. Plus, external validation (on a top 10 list here) is always nice! Though lots of people never really realized it, this was supposed to be a "Player's Option" adventure, using special rules that the bulk of D&D players probably didn't have. So, I adopted an adventure format that was aimed primarily at anyone who had regular D&D rules, plus a few additional considerations for those using D&D Player's Option material for each encounter. That ended up working really well. Most of the people who bought and played this didn't use Player's Option rules. The few bullet points appended at the end of each entry for Player's Option aficionados didn't bother anyone.

Late Mention: (The following book was published after I wrote this article).
The Stars Are Fire, MCG 2019. Since working at MCG, I've written a huge number of gamebooks. A few of them are more "special" to me, including The Strange, Gods of the Fall, and now this new book, The Stars Are Fire. This sourcebook allowed me to explore my lifelong love of science fiction, and give homage to my special appreciation for hard science fiction, too. I included all kinds of resources for GMs wanting to run a science fiction RPG one-shot or campaign, and given that it's a 224 page book, those resources are extensive.