Q&A with Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos, authors of The Adventurers Guild 


Zack and Nick were kind enough to answer Amanda’s decidedly geeky questions about fantasy, games, and writing. Their first book, The Adventurers Guild, is now available. You can read my spoilerific review here and enter a giveaway of the book and swag (provided by Disney-Hyperion) here.

How does Dungeons & Dragons (D&D)—both the game and your experience with it—influence the series?

NICK: D&D was a huge influence. In particular, Zack and I started this book hoping to recreate, as writers, the sort of improvisational, collaborate storytelling magic that happens at the gaming table. We always go a little above and beyond in our games, writing out elaborate backstories for our characters, seeding villains and themes we hope our GM will pick up on and run with. Working on a novel together, and a fantasy novel in particular, felt like a natural side quest, as it were.

ZACK: TAG also takes place in a world that’s reminiscent of D&D, and other classic fantasy settings. It’s a world full of knights, wizards, and monsters, except in this story we give it a bit of a post-apocalyptic twist: The monsters have won. Hundreds of years ago, a merry band of adventurers had one of their own perform a disastrous ritual, flooding the world with supernatural horrors. Through magic and muscle, the adventurers were able to save their own city — a trade hub called Freestone — but civilization as they knew it ended that day.

The adventurers became known as the Champions of Freestone, establishing a rigid guild system to bring order to a city on the brink. And the four most prestigious guilds were fashioned on the Champions themselves. So the society in our book is actually built around these archetypal fantasy “classes”: knights, mages, healers, and rogues.

Does being a gamer help the writing process, and being a writer help at the gaming table, or does it bring complications you didn’t expect? Did you find yourself statting out the characters in the book or imagining dice rolls, and if so, was that helpful and/or hindering? What are some of the differences between being an author and being a GM/player?


ZACK: The only way being a GM has hindered the writing process is that both are so much work! But honestly, I feel like it’s helped us a lot. Tabletop gaming has taught us to be flexible in our storytelling. To roll with the punches (or sword thrusts, or fireballs) and seek out inventive solutions to problems. When I GM, I do sometimes have to watch out for railroading — forcing the players down a particular path for the sake of narrative. In a book, it’s important that the story feels coherent, if not linear. But part of the joy of tabletop RPGs is that anything is possible.

NICK: In creating characters, both the protagonists and the supporting cast, we did think along the lines of statting them out and even assigning them classes. It’s not as obvious as a character declaring “I’m a rogue, she’s a fighter” — but if you’re familiar with these systems and these archetypes, you’ll definitely see it!

That was helpful in a few ways. First, it ensured we didn’t make any one character too super-awesome. The best characters are good at some things, bad at others; the best adventuring parties pull together characters with varied attributes. Second, it helped us coordinate the fight scenes. We know who our tank is and what she’d try to do in a fight with monsters, even if they don’t ever call her a tank.

We stopped short, however, of actually imagining the book’s scenes as encounters in a game. While rolling for initiative and taking turns is a logical way to handle combat at the gaming table, we felt it would make for stilted storytelling in a book.

How long have you been gaming, both together and on your own? Do you play any other tabletop RPGs?

NICK: We discovered D&D together ten years ago, and have been playing weekly ever since. It was an instant obsession. Our longest single campaign ran about three years, and the characters from that campaign get name-checked in our book. (In fact, they’re the very “merry band of adventurers” who effectively ended the world 200 years ago!)

Over the years, we’ve tried out and enjoyed a lot of other RPGs: Mutants and Masterminds, Dragon Age, Dresden Files, plus scores of other non-RPG tabletop games. But we always return to D&D before too long.

(Full disclosure: I edited all the books in the Dresden Files RPG series, although Nick didn’t know that!)

Tell us a little about your characters…

ZACK: I write Zed. He’s a sweet, anxious kid with an innate knack for magic, from the elven half of his parentage. The elves of TAG live in their own separate city, but every now and then they send representatives to make the dangerous trek to Freestone. Zed’s mom fell in love with his father during one of these visits, but he died on the journey back home, leaving Zed completely disconnected from that side of his heritage.

In gaming I love playing mages where it’s not totally clear who’s in charge: the character or the mystical forces they’re employing. Classes like sorcerers, warlocks, and wild mages are my favorites, and this is Zed to a T. As the story develops, we’ll see him pick up some exciting abilities, but of course they come with ominous complications.

NICK: Whereas Zack plays magic users, I tend toward sneakier types. Even when I’m playing something other than a rogue, I end up giving my characters roguish qualities.

So for TAG, I write Brock, a charming, impulsive kid who quickly finds himself in over his head when he’s conscripted by the Shadows, the dark underbelly of the prestigious Merchants Guild. These are the thieves and assassins of Freestone, and they want eyes and ears inside the Adventurers Guild. Brock can’t tell anyone about his true purpose, not even his best friend, Zed.

What’s your process for writing together?

ZACK: We’ve tried to treat it like a game as much as possible. After some worldbuilding, Nick and I created our viewpoint characters — Zed and Brock — in much the same way we might for a tabletop RPG. We began from there in alternating chapters, just inhabiting the world we’d created through their eyes. At first we played pretty loose with things, inventing characters and crafting the story as we went along. But eventually we realized we might, in fact, need a plan haha.

Lots of anxious outlining followed, but it still sort of feels like a game that we’re playing together.

What were some of your favorite fantasy books when you were younger?

NICK: I loved The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and when I read The Dark Is Rising, I was so obsessed that I convinced a classmate to learn Greensleeves on the piano (that song features prominently in the book). Mostly, though, I was reading super-hero comics and non-fiction books about Bigfoot and UFOs. Yes, I said non-fiction.

ZACK: I was a big fan of the Redwall books, and still have a soft spot for animal fantasies because of them. I also adored The Hobbit, though The Lord of the Rings was a bit too advanced for me until high school. I wish I had discovered Diana Wynne Jones as a kid, because she’s brilliant and her magic is 100% pure fun.

But Animorphs is the series that truly got me reading. Though TAG is a fantasy, it’s certainly influenced by what I loved most about that story: an ensemble cast of kids who are drawn together and sometimes struggle with complicated questions, even while saving the world.