When someone writes a novel that’s connected to a video game or a movie series or a line of frozen desserts, you expect that they would be familiar with the game, the movies, and the sweetness. But in the following interview with writer David Guymer about his epic fantasy novel The Shield Of Daqan (paperback, Kindle) — which is based on the Descent fantasy board games — he admits that not only was he not familiar with Descent before he started writing Shield, but that his unfamiliarity kind of helped.
I always like to open with a plot overview. So, what is The Shield Of Daqan about, and what kind of world is it set in?
It’s set in the world of the Descent board games, which is a very recognizable medieval fantasy setting to anyone familiar with Faerun, Middle-Earth, or the Warhammer Old World, but with enough of its own mythos to keep it fresh and reward you for reading beyond the rulebooks.
The events of Shield Of Daqan take place in one corner of that world as it’s threatened by war and famine. Essentially, it’s a book about heroes: what makes a hero, what a hero will do, and what a hero won’t do, to defeat evil.
The Shield Of Daqan sounds like it’s an epic fantasy tale. Is that how you’d describe it?
Yeah, I’d probably go with that. I’ve recently embraced my identity as a Swords & Sorcery writer too, so we’ll pop it in there as well.
The Shield Of Daqan is the second book inspired by Descent. How does The Shield Of Daqan connect to both the game and the previous novel, The Doom Of Fallowhearth by Robbie MacNiven?
My understanding (and there’s at least a 50% chance of my being wrong here) is that these books are set up to transition the state of the world from that of the old Descent game to the new Journeys Into the Dark. Characters like Baron Fredric, Andira Runehand, Trenloe the Strong, who need to be put into certain places for Journeys Into the Dark, then get the opportunity to adventure their way to where they need to be.
I wrote under the assumption that Doom Of Fallowhearth therefore takes place more-or-less concurrently with Shield Of Daqan. They both take place in different parts of the world though, so there’s need to read one in order to understand the other.
Who came up with the story for The Shield Of Daqan?
I came up with a ton of initial ideas to bombard my editor with. But, in the end, it was Fantasy Flight Games who gave me the story and the characters from their game that they wanted to see. Other writers might disagree, but I quite like being given a bit of a framework to then be creative with and build a story around. It helps control my wilder flights of fancy. It helps that editors clearly do their homework and seem to know their authors strengths and weaknesses better than their authors do (certainly better than this author…) and assign their work accordingly.
In constructing the story for The Shield Of Daqan, did you talk at all to Robbie MacNiven about what he was doing in The Doom Of Fallowhearth, given that it came out just a few months prior?
I knew Robbie pretty well already, as we both write for Black Library, so we did speak a little bit when we pitching ourselves to the then-nascent Aconyte Books. We didn’t talk so much about it once we’d started actually writing though and (shock admission warning!) I still haven’t read Doom Of Fallowhearth. He hadn’t finished it while I was working on Shield, and by the time I’d finished I had reading to get through for the next project. Such is the burden of the tie-in writer. If there should be another Descent novel in my future, and I hope there will be, then I’ll look forward to my chance to catch up.
It’ll be a shame in a way through: writing Shield absolutely from fresh, with no other work to build on or judge myself against, was incredibly freeing, and I’ll miss it.
So how familiar with Descent were you before you signed on to write The Shield Of Daqan?
Not at all. I picked up a copy of the Realms Of Terrinoth RPG book, which I read twice through and loved, and wish I had some friends to roleplay with, but I still haven’t got my hands on a copy of Journeys Into The Dark. I do sort of want to paint some Daqan models in my novel’s colors.
Do you think being unfamiliar with Descent helped at all?
I think it did. It’s not an experience I’d had before as my main gig is writing for Warhammer which is a setting I’m steeped in, so this was new. Like I mentioned earlier, coming in fresh was really liberating. It felt like I had a bit of license to create new lore and explore how the world operates beyond the dungeon-crawling remit of the board game.
As you alluded to already, The Shield Of Daqan is not your first published novel. You’ve previously written such Warhammer and Warhammer 40K novels as Headtaker and Gotrek & Felix: Slayer. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Shield Of Daqan but not on anything else you’ve written?
The only thing I can think of here is that I was re-reading Lord Of The Rings at the time of writing this. It was actually the first time I’ve read it as an adult, having first struggled through it when I was 12 or something, and found it to be a complete revelation. I could feel the influence of those books coming through in the way I chose to describe the world.
Another nod also goes to The Faithful And The Fallen series by John Gwynne, which is where the idea for my chapter structure came from. George R.R. Martin does the same thing, but I read John Gwynne first so he gets the credit for it.
How about such non-literary influences; was The Shield Of Daqan influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games aside from Descent?
Oh, probably tons of stuff, but none of it conscious. At least not that I can remember. Any episodes of dragons blasting open fortresses probably owes something to Game Of Thrones though.
So, has there been any talks of incorporating element of The Shield Of Daqan into Descent?
A little, yes. I made the decision to change the name of one of my villains part way through, but then had to change it back again as he had been written into Journeys Into The Dark. There might be more, but I’ll have to wait until I’ve got the game to find out.
Having said that, though, do you think someone who’s enjoyed your other books would enjoy The Shield Of Daqan if they’re unfamiliar with the game?
I think they would, but then I would say that, because I’m here to sell books. Suffice to say that although the worlds are different, it’s the same guy behind the curtain pretending to know what he’s doing, and if you like what I’ve done in Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000 then chances are you’ll enjoy Shield Of Daqan, too.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Shield Of Daqan, which of your other novels would you suggest they check out next and why that one?
This was a tricky one for me to just answer so I cheated a bit and cheekily looked on Goodreads to see which of my books were best-rated.
Hamilcar is one of my favorite creatures. He’s the (highly unreliable) narrator of his own story, an immortal warrior of the God-King, Sigmar, beloved by those he fights for, but suspected to be just a little bit of a self-aggrandizing fraud by his fellow Eternals. Court Of The Blind King takes a lot of what I learned from writing Hamilcar to tell the story of a complete antihero whose been robbed of a throne he was totally unsuited for as he sets about winning it back. The bit I most liked about that one is that it’s about a race of elves (or aelves in Age of Sigmar-ish) who live under the sea, so I got to work in some wonderful world building and leaps of imagination to show how that kind of society might function.