Wednesday 5 October 2022

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS to get two new novels to tie in with upcoming movie

Dungeons & Dragons is getting back into the novel market, at least tentatively, with two new novels commissioned to celebrate the release of the feature film Honor Among Thieves in March.

The two books are called The Druid's Call and The Road to Neverwinter, written by E.K. Johnston and Jaleigh Johnson respectively. Both books are set in the Forgotten Realms world, as is the movie, and will be set before the events of the film. The Druid's Call tightly focuses on the character of Doric, the tiefling druid we saw wildshifting into an owlbear in the trailer, whilst The Road to Neverwinter explores how the rest of party got together and headed for Neverwinter in the first place, and is a much more direct prequel to the film.

E.K. Johnston is a newcomer to the franchise, having previously written a series of stand-alone novels and contributing to the Star Wars setting with the novel Ahsoka (2016) and an additional trilogy. Jaleigh Johnson is a D&D and Forgotten Realms veteran, with five previous novels in the setting to her name: The Howling Delve (2007), Mistshore (2008), Unbroken Chain (2010), The Darker Road (2011) and Spider & Stone (2012).

More than two years ago, I noted the bizarre decision by Wizards of the Coast to terminate the extremely lucrative D&D fiction line several years earlier. Starting in 1984 and running until 2016, first TSR and then Wizards of the Coast published some 623 novels and short story anthologies set in the various Dungeons & Dragons campaign settings. These books shifted vastly in excess of 100 million copies (probably closer to 200 million) and made best-selling superstars of R.A. Salvatore and the team of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, whilst authors like Paul S. Kemp, Elaine Cunningham, Troy Denning and Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood did very well indeed. The novels were credited with bringing hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of people into playing the D&D tabletop game.

However, Wizards of the Coasts' corporate overlords, Hasbro, were apparently always unhappy with running a publishing arm, despite it being an incredibly successful one, as it did not fit in with their core business model focusing on toys and games. After the launch of D&D 5th Edition in 2014, they decided to terminate the publishing business and switched instead to licensing their worlds to third-party publishers. But the cost of the licence was so extortionate that publishers felt it was not worth the effort of publishing authors even like Paul Kemp, Elaine Cunningham and Ed Greenwood, who were usually guaranteed at least a hundred thousand sales in hardcover and much more in paperback and ebook (and these are not chump figures at all). Only R.A. Salvatore seemed worthwhile, and between the end of 2016 and just a couple of months ago, the only D&D-branded novels still coming out were additions to Salvatore's Legends of Drizzt series, with two new trilogies being published. A couple of months ago, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman joined the party with the first book in a new Dragonlance trilogy.

Whether this is a limited marketing event solely related to the film coming out, or it might be the first signs of a wider publishing effort to bring more D&D novels to the shelves, remains to be seen.

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