With his high fantasy novel Descent: Legends Of The Dark: The Gates Of Thelgrim (paperback, Kindle), writer Robbie MacNiven is returning to the realm of Terrinoth for his second epic fantasy novel based on the board game Descent: Legends Of The Dark. In the following email interview, he explains where he got the idea for this second trip, as well as his plans for a third.
To start, what kind of game is Descent: Legends Of The Dark, how do you play it, and what kind of world is the game set in?
Descent: Legends Of The Dark is a co-operative dungeon-crawling board game powered by an integrated free app. You lead one or a group of heroes as they go up against all sorts of baddies. The game comes complete with gorgeous miniatures and 3D terrain. It really is the complete package.
The wider setting of the game is the fantasy realm of Terrinoth, in the world of Mennara, where classical tropes and new twists are writ large. It’s a great place to both explore and adventure through.
And then what is the connection between Descent: Journeys In The Dark and Descent: Legends Of The Dark?
They’re essentially a continuation of one another, at least setting-wise, just with different game mechanics. Both tell the tale of Terrinoth over time.
So then what is Descent: Legends Of The Dark: The Gates Of Thelgrim about, and how does it connect to the game?
It’s set in the same world, though it doesn’t directly include the same characters or events as the current board game. It follows a trio of heroes from Descent: Journeys In The Dark, expanding their background and that of the famed Dwarf city of Thelgrim.
Who came up with the idea for The Gates Of Thelgrim?
It was a joint discussion. There was a brainstorm meeting where Fantasy Flight Games [the publishers of Descent: Journeys In The Dark] mentioned they might like a story set in Thelgrim. That was a catalyst. I liked the sound of it, so I went away and came up with a plot which they then approved. I don’t think there was much alteration, besides swapping one hero for another to make the character dynamic stronger.
It sounds like The Gates Of Thelgrim is a fantasy story.
Yep, I’d say it’s definitely fantasy, specifically high fantasy or “swords and sorcery.” This a little smidgeon of the horror genre in there. too. Spooky shadows in dank tunnels and all that.
Now, Descent: The Gates Of Thelgrim is the second Descent novel you’ve written, and the third overall. You previously wrote Descent: Legends Of The Dark: The Doom Of Fallowhearth, which David Guymer followed with Descent: Legends Of The Dark: The Shield Of Daqan. How familiar were you with the game before you agreed to write Fallowhearth?
A little, though not a great deal. I’d played the game, but I was only aware of the most basic lore. It was a little intimidating to dive in given it was my first non-Warhammer book, but I quickly grew comfortable and familiar with the setting, and now I love working in it. There’s so much to explore as a writer, I find myself constantly coming up with potential new stories and plot-lines.
So, are there any connections between The Gates Of Thelgrim and The Doom Of Fallowhearth?
Bar a few easter eggs they’re not directly connected. The idea is to build up and expand the wider stories of Terrinoth, rather than focus on one single set of characters. They all take place in the same realm, and follow a similar pattern based on adventure and fantasy tropes, and also all happen in roughly the same time period, but that’s mostly it. I knew with Thelgrim I could focus on those characters and the story I wanted to tell without worrying about the specifics of the other novels.
You are also writing the fourth Descent novel, Zachareth, which is slated to come out April 5th of 2022. What is that novel about, and how, if at all, does it connect to The Doom Of Fallowhearth, The Shield Of Daqan, and The Gates Of Thelgrim?
That novel follows Baron Zachareth, one of the setting’s most enigmatic characters, looking at his rise to power and the events that made him what he is in the current timeline. Like the other stories, it’s more or less stands alone, but is also part of a spinoff series looking at the setting’s bad guys.
Also, why isn’t it called The Something Of Something? Seems like you’re breaking with tradition.
As part of a sub-series we’re going with different naming convention, partly to help differentiate it from the main line of books that share the setting.
So as far as influences go, was Descent: The Gates Of Thelgrim influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games other than Descent?
It was pretty heavily influenced by the Moria scenes in The Fellowship Of The Ring. That and some classic Saturday morning-style fantasy romps like Xena: Warrior Princess.
As we’ve mentioned, The Gates Of Thelgrim is based on the game Descent. But do you think someone who is a fan of fantasy, but not of this game, would enjoy Thelgrim, and, more importantly, understand it?
Yes, I think (and hope) they’d still enjoy it even if they had no previous knowledge of the Descent setting. All of the books are written to be a gateway into the world, and I hope that even if someone isn’t hugely into the fantasy genre, they could enjoy the story and be drawn in by it. There should definitely be no barriers if someone hasn’t played the game or isn’t familiar withDescent.
Finally, if someone enjoys Descent: The Gates Of Thelgrim, what fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next? Oh, and to keep things interesting, let’s assume they’ve read The Wheel Of Time, Game Of Thrones, and The Lord Of The Rings already.
Apart from all the other Descent books, and the excellent RPG book Genesys: Realms Of Terrinoth that [Descent publisher] Fantasy Flight Games have released, I’d have to recommend the short story “The Tower Of The Elephant“ by the great Robert E. Howard. It’s one of the early Conan tales, and is in the book The Coming Of Conan The Cimmerian. It’s one of the original dungeon crawler stories and part of the foundation of modern fantasy.