Exclusive Interview: “Descent: Legends Of The Dark: Waiqar” Author Robbie MacNiven


With the novel Waiqar (paperback, Kindle), writer Robbie MacNiven is taking his fourth trip to the realm of the fantasy co-op dungeon-crawling board game Descent. In the following email interview, MacNiven discusses how this tale explores the life and times of the game’s Great Necromancer.

Robbie MacNiven Descent Legends Of The Dark Waiqar

You did a good job of explaining Descent: Legends Of The Dark in the interview we did about your novel The Gates Of Thelgrim. What then is Descent: Legends Of The Dark: Waiqar about?

Well, as the title suggests, Waiqar is a novel focusing on what many would argue is the main villain of the Descent setting, the great necromancer and schemer, Waiqar, looking at his background, motivation, and how he ended up where he is. It’s the latest of three books that each tackle a different villain from the main game. The first, out last year, was Zachareth (about the ruthless, morally gray Baron Zachareth of Carthridge), while Waiqar is the second, and the third has yet to be announced (but work is in progress).

How does it connect, chronologically and narratively, to both the game and the other Descent novels, especially the one that precedes it in the series, David Guymer’s The Tower Of Nerek, and your most recent Descent novel, Zachareth?

Waiqar finishes just before the events of the latest edition of the Descent game occur, though it has flashbacks to a much earlier time. That puts it about a decade or two after the events of Zachareth, and pretty close to The Tower Of Nerek (though I’m not 100% certain on the timeline for that one). It occurs slightly after the events of my other two Descent novels, too [The Doom Of Fallowhearth and The Gates Of Thelgrim].

When in the process of writing your Descent novels, and specifically Zachareth, did you come up with the idea for Descent: Legends Of The Dark: Waiqar, and what inspired its specific plot?

Fantasy Flight Games [publisher of the Descent game] and Aconyte [publisher of the Descent books] came to ask me if I would write about the villains of Descent, and how could I say no? Everyone likes the baddies, right? Seriously though, it was very exciting to be asked to write some of the most iconic characters in the setting.

Regarding the plot, I already showed the early “origin story” of the first villain in the series, Zachareth, which mostly takes place while he’s still a child up to when he’s a young man just coming into his power. For Waiqar, I wanted to jump in more at the present day, letting us see the Great Necromancer as he is just before the main events of the current game kick off. From there it was just a case of building a narrative around some of the coolest elements relating to the character, and teasing out the important moments from their pre-existing background.

Waiqar is very close to Waqar, an Arabic word for “honor” or “dignity” that some Muslim parents in South Asia name their sons. Is this just a coincidence or should we read anything in to this?

That’s very interesting, I must admit I wasn’t aware of that. As I wasn’t the one who came up with the name, however, I can’t claim credit.

Descent: Legends Of The Dark is a fantasy game, so it stands to reason that Waiqar is a fantasy story. But are there any other genres at work in Waiqar‘s story as well?

It’s perhaps no surprise that, in a story about an undead necromancer, that’s a fair bit of low-key horror. Descent also has a well-constructed, rich pre-existing background, so delving into that and deciding what to show and what to leave unsaid also felt a bit like writing historical fiction, in a good way.

Moving on to the always loved questions about influences, are there any writers, or specific stories, that you think had a big influence on Descent: Legends Of The Dark: Waiqar but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not your previous Descent novels?

I can’t say I delved deep into new literature for this one. It was intimidating writing it at times because he’s such a big character in the setting, but I felt it was important to give him my own voice, if that makes sense, and not feel constrained by the idea that I was going to make or break this figure in the eyes of the setting’s fans.

How about non-literary influences; was Descent: Legends Of The Dark: Waiqar influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?

There’s definitely a lot of pop culture undead stuff in there in general, albeit low-key in terms of direct influences. Like a lot of Fantasy fans, I have vivid memories as a kid of being enthralled by the fight scene between Jason and the skeletons in Jason And The Argonauts. There’s a bit of He-Man‘s Skeletor to various characters too, as well as some shades (no pun intended) of the skeletal spirits in The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King and the Mummy in, well, The Mummy. The latest undead action I’ve seen on-screen was the fight against the Draugr in the Northman, which was awesome.

In the aforementioned interview we did about The Gates Of Thelgrim you admitted that you were only a little familiar with Descent: Legends Of The Dark before you wrote it. Has that changed at all?

I certainly feel that I’m much more comfortable with Descent now. After four novels (and counting) it’s the second-most time I’ve spent in any fictional setting, after Warhammer 40,000. I really feel like I’ve become familiar with how things work (though sometimes I still have to read up on the magic systems.), and every story I write for Descent I find myself enjoying more and more.

As you said, Descent: Legends Of The Dark: Waiqar is not directly connected to your other Descent novels, except by setting. But if someone was to read them in the order they came out, is there anything extra they’d get out of Waiqar?

I don’t think I included any Easter eggs pointing towards The Doom Of Fallowhearth or The Gates Of Thelgrim (though I might have), but there are definitely some minor moments that link back to Zachareth. Since Zachareth occurred before Waiqar in the timeline, it would make sense to read them in that order, though that’s certainly not required.

Based on the interviews I’ve done with other authors of Aconyte books, it seems like everyone tries to write theirs so people who don’t play the games can understand and enjoy the books. But given that, what will someone get out of Descent: Legends Of The Dark: Waiqar if they have played the game?

Hopefully they will experience a deep-dive into the psyche of the setting’s biggest bad guy, as well as those surrounding him. It’s interesting, because time holds very little meaning to these particular villains, just because of their undead nature. They feel like they have all the time in existence to plot and scheme, but Waiqar isn’t content to just wait for circumstances to deal him a good hand. It’s a chance to get to know him, especially through the flashback scenes, which open a window to a time when he was still a living mortal, giving us some understanding of how he ended up where he has. That was probably my favorite aspect when writing it.

Speaking of which, do you think Descent: Legends Of The Dark: Waiqar could work as an add-on to the game?

I think so. Who wouldn’t want a variant of the game set in the festering marshlands or exploring the vast, crumbling crypt-fortress of Zorgas? There’s so much necromantic fun to be had for adventurers, and so many ways to die.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Descent: Legends Of The Dark: Waiqar?

Only that they should be ready for some skeletal scheming, and that the backstory for one or two of the characters might surprise them.

Robbie MacNiven Descent Legends Of The Dark Waiqar

Finally, if someone enjoys Descent: Legends Of The Dark: Waiqar, and they haven’t read any of your other ones, which would you suggest they read next?

As mentioned, I think Zachareth is probably the best place to start. I also really enjoyed writing that one too, so if someone enjoyed Waiqar I think they’d enjoy the villainous Baron Z.



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