The GeeksverseIDW’s Dungeons & Dragons Writer John Rogers

IDW’s Dungeons & Dragons Writer John Rogers
Published on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 by

John is the writer of the ongoing D&D as well as creator of TNT’s Leverage tv show..

Kitty’s Pryde: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. I’m a big fan of D&D in comics form, never been a big pen & paper player though, and I was excited to see that IDW would be bringing it back to comics. I really enjoyed most of the old DC titles and was hoping that I’d enjoy IDWs just as much. I actually am enjoying it more.

You were involved with writing one of the modules for the recent 4th edition of D&D, on which the comic is based. How did you get involved in that project and did that lead you to writing the IDW comic?

John Rogers: Actually, it’s the other way around. IDW contacted me when they were launching the books, since I’d written for comics and the new 4th Edition Manual of the Planes. I’m also pretty out about being a gamer on my blog and in interviews, so Denton Tipton (my editor) gave me a shout.

I chose the “Core World” book to do, because I had a specific style agenda in mind. The modules based on the comics were adapted afterwards by D&D writers.

The 4th edition is pretty different from the old rulesets that I had some familiarity with. Are you an old school pen and paper gamer?

I know THAC0. I had the Red Box.

Besides the Feywild module, how much research was involved before you started writing the first issue? How much of the comic world did you create?

We set it in Fallcrest, because I wanted to tie it to the base world used in the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide. I actually had to create The Staggered Goat, the pub my team hangs out in, because Fallcrest originally didn’t have a crappy enough bar for my adventurers.

I considered it kind of the challenge to write in the world Wizards created, and then expand on the ideas to create more, ah, “story space” I guess is the best word for it. Its basically DMing.

How involved is Wizards Of The Coast?

They approve every issue and all artwork, along with the style. They’re very cool about giving me my artistic freedom even as they make sure nothing creeps in that they don’t want to accidentally become canon. For example, I could create a new bar in Fallcrest, but than I had to go to the Fallcrest map in the DMG and pick what building we’d say it was in. We once had a very amusing back-and-forth on exactly what phrase a goblin would use in describing a Halfling … not exactly something I though would happen in my career.

One of the comments I had read on the message boards prior to the first issue was how “generic” the characters and their classes were. This person had been hoping for some more unique and varied races and classes. My feeling was that this allowed the focus to be more on the character instead of the class. How did you develop the characters and decide which one was what class?

That was absolutely the intention. I think one of the things that threw people was that I wasn’t writing this comic for D&D fans. I mean, I hope they like it, but this was, for me, “Fantasy 101.” Most RPG players read a lot of fantasy fiction, and a comic is just not going to compete with the intricacies of that world-building. Know what your medium is and isn’t capable of. Not that there isn’t complex world-building in some comics, but that just wasn’t the style I wanted to do.

The comics were for the casual comics reader who would pick it up and say “Ah, okay, elf, dwarf, swords, cool, this is fantasy…” and they read it and say “Hey, this is funnny and fast! I want to read more!” The example I always use is that my Dad has never read a fantasy novel in his life, but he loved the Lord of the Rings movie. Goal One was making this fantasy comic super accessible.

Which character is your favorite?

I bounce between Bree and Adric. Bree because she’s just so brutally cynical, she’s fun to write. Adric because he’s very much based on my brothers, who served in the military — very funny guys who are also equipped to deal with crisis.

Probably my favorite aspect of the book, and it’s strength, is the interaction and banter between the characters. It feels like a bunch of friends sitting around the dining room table. Are the personalities based on anyone? Who is the easiest character to write? Who is the hardest?

No one’s based on any one human, but are definite types. I work hard to make sure each one has his own voice, his own attitude to whatever situation they’re in. There are times I’ll write something, and then think “No, no, Varis would say that, not Khal,.”

Adric’s the easiest for me to write, because I just know that kind of guy inside and out. Tisha’s the hardest primarily because she’s the sanest, and also has secrets she can’t share with the rest fo the group. Figuring out how to hand those out at the right pace, that’s tricky.

Adding to the “around the dining room” feel of the series is the random encounters. How do you approach writing this series? Are those things you plan on putting in prior to sitting down or do you go with the flow?

Honestly, the “random encounters” are there to give Andrea DiVito something cool to draw while Adric talks to you in the caption boxes. Most of the combats are tied tightly to the plot.

Each larger arc is plotted out, and I know each issue advances the plot by, say, X amount, but then each issue kind of happens. Nothing’s written in stone — I discovered the second arc really needed an extra issue to resolve, and IDW was kind enough to sign off on that change in the timeline.

You’ve also created and write the TNT drama Leverage. How do you approach each project? Is writing for tv different from writing for comics?

Nothing is like writing for comics. It’s the hardest business in writing. You have to write, shoot, and edit in your head for every panel and every page. I can write — and I’ve found this is pretty standard for every guy I know who does multiple mediums — TV and movies twice as fast as I write comics, from a sheer page count stance.

LEVERAGE is different because we need to tell a complete story in each episode, and we’re bounded by budget and reality. There are the commonalities to all storytelling — who wants what? why can’t they have it? why do I care? — but they’re very different.

What’s different about writing an RPG Module then comics and television? Is the process and structure different?

I haven’t done a lot of adventure writing, to tell the truth, but having GM’d, I’d say the main thing is that in an adventure you create possibilities for the characters to make choices, while in comics and television you make those choices. When I’m writing LEVERAGE, say, and Eliot’s going down a hallway, I don’t have to worry about what might be in those rooms he’s walking past. I KNOW he’s not going to go in there. On the other hand, players have an amazing way of finding the bit of the adventure you didn’t quite figure all the way out.

With the game writers handling the conversion of the characters to 4th Edition playable, has there been an instance where you read the rpg write-up and it’s not what you had envisioned?

Not really. We’re using the Essentials Rules to build the characters for game use, so there’s not really the opportunity for some weird feat from an expansion to come flying at you. I like the builds, I think they’re very streamlined and match up nicely to how the team plays.

The big thing is, in comics you’re not going to have the magic item collections you’re going to have in the game. The team succeeds because of their wits and talent, not by having the right sword. So assume we’re playing the variant with automatic bonuses every level.

The series is relatively new, besides the Staggered Goat, has there been a comic’s concept that will, or has, made it’s way into canon in the 4th Edition DMG? One of the things I really liked about the Forgotten Realms when it launched was how some of the characters were in the novels and the game world itself. It made it more immersive and interesting in knowing that I could read about an adventure Elminster was involved with and the DM could easily and seamlessly add Elminster into a campaign. Will Adric or any of the others become “official” canon?

That’s up to Wizards. Some of the offhand stuff I did for THE MANUALS OF THE PLANES wound up being expanded on in DRAGON magazine, so I definitely enjoy adding to my favorite hobby that way.

The “official canon” on the Core World is very light. They try not to weigh it down. You can already play Adric and the team in your campaign, though, thanks to the conversions in the back of the books!

Has there been anything that Wizards Of The Coast hasn’t allowed?

No, they’ve been great. A couple art corrections, and they asked me to use a creature from the MONSTER MANUAL once when I’d just cooked up something similar on my own. But honestly, it’s a great licensing company.

The series is definately accessible to non-gamers as you don’t need a working knowledge of the game rules to enjoy it. Do you try to keep the actions and abilities of the group in the comics within the rules of the game?

There are certain things — Tisha uses her Pact Dagger when she’s casting for example. You’ll recognize a bunch of the spells when they’re thrown around. But if I want magic to do something, or for a character to use a cool maneuver in a fight, I just assume that I’m using a power or exploit and what’s in the book is how the imaginary player described the action.

The next arc after the Feywild is dealing with Khal going back home. Will the next couple of arcs focus on the individual group members or will this serve as a break between major adventures?

I’m more focusing on arenas in the D&D world I find interesting. The first arc was a straight-up fight-in-a-pub leading to a dungeon crawl. The second is in the Feywild and Feydark. The third adventures is in dwarven mines and ancient caverns. The arc after this explores Adric’s pirate past. Looping through all this are clues to several major background mysteries in the world.

I’m also interested in the city itself as a setting. The parts we got in the first arc has shown that Adric and the others have had run-ins with the city’s guard and rulers. Will the series spend time in the mean streets and back alleys of Fallcrest and will the supporting cast be expanded?

There’s a stand-alone set in Fallcrest coming up for issue #16, and we’ll be back there for a while early in the second year of the book.

Where did the idea for Leverage come from?

To be honest, Chris Downey — the other creator — and I were drinking in my garage one night and talking about two things: the failure of recent heist shows, and how there weren’t a lot of shows like, say ROCKFORD FILES, which were shows we watched with our dads.

At the same time, Dean Devlin was developing a team show for TNT. I wish I had a better story about how we worked on the concept for years, but the truth is that Dean and I had lunch, mentioned our interests, saw they crossed over, and developed LEVERAGE for TNT. Wrote it and sold it in two months.

You’ve done alot in tv and cartoons as well as comics. What started you on this path? Did you always want to be a writer?

No, I was actually studying to be a physicist, and was writing as a hobby. I wound up doing stand-up to learn how dialogue worked, stumbled into doing stand-up for a living, and then backed my way back into writing, for television. Never did use that Physics degree.

Which project, in the different mediums, was your favorite? Which one do you wish you had a chance to do-over or try something different?

For TV it’s LEVERAGE, although JACKIE CHAN ADVENTURES is something I’m very proud of. BLUE BEETLE in comics; although I really love doing the D&D comic, Keith and were doing something that mattered by writing Jaime. I think you can see the impact he had by how popular he’s become both in comics and in the cartoon shows. For movies … eh.

The do-over? GLOBAL FREQUENCY now that I have the juice to get it on the air. But that’s probably never going to happen.

How did your colloboration with Keith Giffen on the new Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes, come about?

DC was killing the Blue Beetle as a character during INFINITE CROSSOVER ELEVENTY-MILLION, and basically offered to Keith: “Hey, this is going away, but as a courtesy, you want to do something with it?”

Keith wanted to do two things: a Hispanic character, and a superhero from the ground-up story. No “hey, I got super-powers, now I’m instantly in the JLS.” There’s a lot of body-horror in BLUE BEETLE if you go back and look at it.

He didn’t necessarily want to do the whole run on the title, though, so he was kind enough to invite me to co-create. He had read some of my screenplays, liked them, and knew I wanted to move into comics. So for a year I learned how to write comics from Keith Giffen. Which was pretty frikkin’ awesome.

Did you enjoy his appearance in Smallville?
That wasn’t really Jaime, no offense to SMALLVILLE.

Thoughts on DC’s The New 52?

I think there are some great titles being done by some very talented writers and artists. There’s definitely going to be a bump in interest — but how much of that is new reders, and how much are fallen-off readers returning to the fold, well, we’ll see. The digital prices are still way to high when compared to prices on the Kindle, which is de facto America’s virtual bookstore.

The answer will really come in about a year, when the press coverage has worn off and we can see whether this bent the arc of comic numbers up.

Any chance of seeing a Leverage comic anytime soon?

Maybe, maybe.

Thanks to John for taking the time to talk with us. Be sure to pick up the latest issue of Dungeons & Dragons, pick up the first volume in trade hardcover and watch Leverage on TNT.

Read the Pryde’s review of the lasted issue of Dungeons & Dragons here.

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