Battleground Interview with Paul S. Kemp

“Deities, Demigods, and Small Folk”

Paul S. Kemp Discusses New Forgotten Realms Novel in The Sundering Series: The Godborn

Interview by Alfred O. Cloutier

Battleground Games: You’ve stated that The Sundering isn’t a retroactive continuity fix, but it does appear to be a philosophical reversal, a looping back to Forgotten Realms’ “essence.” What is this essence and how was it lost?


Paul S. Kemp: “Lost” overstates things, I think.  I’d say the Realms wandered a bit off the path for a while, experimented with psychedelics, joined a commune, tried out multiple marriage, and, well, it wasn’t all it had hoped.


To me, the Realms is a classic fantasy setting and – and this is important – it’s rooted in optimism and permeated with an exuberant sense of adventure.  Now, that doesn’t mean it’s all unicorns shitting rainbows – far from it – but it does mean its core is, in the end, hopeful.  It has a dark side, of course (every book I’ve written in the Realms explores that dark side) but the darkness doesn’t define the setting and hopelessness is not the keystone.  Hope is at the foundation of the realms, optimism, a glorious sensawunda.


BG: Do you think the changes made to Forgotten Realms for 4th Edition D&D were positive for the overall popularity and growth of the campaign world?


PK: I honestly don’t know.  I think on balance it *probably* wasn’t good for the popularity of the setting, but I’m on the outside looking in, so that’s speculation. In terms of growth, though – there’s a shitload of great material and development that came out of 4E (e.g. the development of the Dragonborn).  So there were (and are) some quite excellent aspects of 4E that enriched the setting.


BG: You intended The Godborn to be a trilogy, but it has been folded into The Sundering series. How did that change the way you wrote the story?


PK: It actually didn’t change much at all (other than making it longer).  I’d outlined the first book in the proposed trilogy and had a pretty firm notion about where I wanted the trilogy to end up (though I hadn’t gotten into the details of how I’d get there).  In the end, I found that telling that story in one, longer book, worked exceptionally well.


BG: Are there details, storylines, characters, etc. hidden in this arc that couldn’t come out because of space restrictions?


PK: There weren’t, no, for the reasons I just rambled about above.


BG: Do you have a formal metaphysics for Forgotten Realms, i.e., do you have a guide as to what interactions are for “souls,” “spirits,” “gods,” and “mortals?” [I always loved the old Basic D&D to Immortals path, and from looking at some FR materials, it looks like this type of path is used in the campaign world.] For example, does every PC race have a “soul” and a “spirit?” What happens to these when they die?


PK: Well, the Realms has its own metaphysics and I don’t mess with them much.  My job (when my stories have need for it) is to make them mysterious and wondrous.  I did this with a scene at the end of MIDNIGHT’S MASK (the last book of the Erevis Cale Trilogy) and it seemed to resonate strongly with readers.   I’m being vague here in the interest of avoiding spoilers.


BG: Why is it the case that “dark heroes” seems to resonate with audiences? Batman, Drizzt Do’Urden, Ari Marmell’s Widdershins and your Erevis Cale, rogue antagonists are very popular, why is that?


PK: You think Drizzt is a dark character?  I think of Drizzt an archetypical heroic character.  Entreri is a different kettle of fish, of course.


Anyway, I don’t think whether a character is dark or light has much relevance to popularity.  Superman’s popular, after all.  Whether the character is compelling is the point.  At any particularly time, there’s always a lot of dark characters who are popular and a lot of noble/light characters who are popular.  What they all share, I suspect, is that they’re compelling.


Now, that said, I think there are sometimes sentiments afoot in the zeitgeist that make one kind of character (dark or light) resonate with the audience more readily.  So, when world events have featured a recent atrocity, and folks are feeling fearful, or in need of vengeance, you might see dark heroes a bit more popular than would be otherwise.  But eventually that fear or need for vengeance passes and you see the counter movement – an open desire for a more hopeful future, which is reflected (to some degree) in a noble/light character.


BG: Is Vasen Cale going to be a dark hero? How did you go about developing his character?


PK: He has elements that are dark, but Vasen is more in the vein of noble character.  He’s self sacrificing and, in some ways, an idealist.  He has his father’s blood, of course, and that creates some internal conflict for him, but he’s very grounded in his faith and the fact that shadows bleed from his flesh is not going to shake that grounding.


In terms of how I developed him:  I did it she same way I do with every character.  I create the relevant facts of his background (in Vasen’s case:  He’s Erevis Cale’s son, but was raised in relative isolation among an elite order of holy warriors who serve the God of the Sun) and build a fairly detailed psychology for him from there.


BG: It’s been said that an author can’t transcend their own intellect with characters (it’s impossible to write a character smarter than yourself). I don’t necessarily agree with this, but how do you personally write from the perspective of a demigod, or a deity?


PK: That’s a weird thing for someone to say.  And if it were true, we wouldn’t have Sherlock Holmes, since I’m sure Conan Doyle didn’t have Holmes’ IQ.


The simple fact is that authors construct the reality through which the characters move, and and to give the impression of great intelligence to a character, an author need only have them see more deeply into events, better anticipate the moves of their adversaries, etc., and authors can do that because they built the events and the various characters’ responses to them.


BG: Will your book be one of the stories about the “iconic heroes” involved with The Sundering, or will it be more about regular folk “trying to get by?”


PK: Both, and that by design.  Riven and Telamont and Rivalen are probably iconic, and they provide the story with the broad, panoramic view that such powerful folks often take.  Vasen, Gerak, and Orsin, on the other hand (all of whom are new characters, first introduced in this novel) take a smaller, more personal view.  The dynamic between the two types of characters is fun to write.


BG: What is it about Forgotten Realms that attracts you, and inspires you to write in this world?


PK: First and foremost the sense of exuberant adventure I mentioned above.  I love that.  I love it’s detail, it’s richness, and I love that despite all that detail and richness there are innumerable areas and corners of the Realms in which an author can elbow out some space of their own and build something new.  It’s just a lot of fun.


BG: Go through your typical day of writing. How early do you get up, how many hours do you write, how many times you do throw the tennis ball against the wall?


PK: I have a dayjob, so I tend to write in the evenings after the kids go to bed.  There’s no magic to it.  I grab a whiskey, sit in my library and start writing.  That’s about it.


Paul S. Kemp is a graduate of the University of Michigan-Dearborn and the University of Michigan law school. When he’s not writing tales in Ed Greenwood’s magnificent brainchild, he practices corporate law in Detroit.
Alfred O. Cloutier has contributed to Dragon Magazine, and has edited for a number of other gaming publishers. He can be found at