Secrets from The Secretist: Doug Beyer
When you have a chance to ask folks at Wizards of the Coast questions, you don't turn it down. Last week I sent a few questions in for Doug Beyer, one of the many members of the Magic creative team and writer of The Secretist series of novella. Thanks to some help by Mike Linnemann, MJ Scott, and Nick Vigabool, if you want to know more about the creative processes at Wizards you'd find these questions (and answers) enlightening!
Wizards does a lot of world building. Where do you generally start: the planet and landscape, nations and people, more setting specific elements?
What really comes first is the theme of the setting: the central idea that makes this setting different from all the others. The landscape, cultures, and other elements of the world are all there to serve and express that theme.
For example, Innistrad is a world that captures the spirit of Gothic horror, and that theme drove decisions about what it looked like and who peopled it. Because of the theme, we knew we wanted Innistrad to have village-dwelling humans beset by supernatural horrors. Once we knew the people and the conflict of Innistrad, we went about thinking, "What would this world look like? What's depicted on the basic lands? What kind of architecture do the cities and villages have?" We built a dark, moody setting of foggy forests, misty moors, and hapless hamlets to reinforce the theme. Then other trappings followed suit -- the Avacynian religion, the orders of monster-slaying cathars, the history of the plane and the role of the vampire Sorin, the Helvault and the nature of Innistrad's prominent moon.
The theme gets you rolling. Then once the main structures are in place, details come along to spackle in the gaps, and the world starts to come to life.
What are the three most important things to "get right" when adding a world to the Magic multiverse?
First, make sure your idea is broad and rich enough to support hundreds of cards across all five colors. We have tons of ideas for worlds, but many of them end up not being used because they are too narrow in concept. A world made entirely out of elemental fire sounds pretty cool, and maybe it has firecats and fire rune magic and fire unicorn warlords -- but what does a basic Island look like on that world? What is a green 4/4 trampler on that world? What does a damage prevention spell mean on that world? The setting has to encompass a minimum threshold of variety and richness in order to be a proper Magic plane.
Second, make sure you choose your humanoids carefully. We grit our teeth and wring our hands every year when deciding what races are in and what races are out. The Gothic-themed Innistrad had neither elves nor goblins; the storybook plane of Lorwyn had no humans; the savage world of Zendikar had no vedalken; and meanwhile, the cosmopolitan Ravnica has all of the above. Humanoid races are a powerful way to demonstrate the set's theme.
Third, be sure the world is in motion. It shouldn't be a museum, a collection of static facts that sit there under glass. Magic's worlds are embroiled in conflict, often on the brink of a major change. If you imagine a plane's entire history, think about what the most revolutionary or formative or exciting point of that history might be, and open the story just before that moment.
What do you find more interesting from a creative perspective: returning to and expanding on an existing world (Ravnica, Mirrodin) or creating a new one (Innistrad, Zendikar)? Why?
"Do you like butterscotch or salted caramel better?" I mean, slight edge to butterscotch, but any day where I get to have either is a gold-star day. They each have their own challenges, but at the end of the day it's fun work whether we're creating something new or expanding and renovating an existing plane.
When we come up with a world from scratch, we get to set down all the basic rules of the plane, fill it with creatures like we're setting up a zoo, design the helmets, whatever. When we return to an existing world, we get to reopen all those decisions from the first go-round, bring back old favorites and create new spins on what was known before, create a new conflict that grows out of the old, redesign those helmets, whatever.
The creative team works so hard on style guides, is there any plans of releasing older ones to the public?
We often showcase the cool bits from the creative "bibles" we call style guides or world guides. If you poke around on magicthegathering.com you can find bits and pieces of world guide content going back as far as we've had world guides. Not all of the older ones are as web-ready or public-friendly as today's world guides, though. These days we are much more aware that the world guide has to serve multiple purposes beyond educating our artists and writers on the look and feel of the plane, and one of those purposes is to show off the setting to the public.
We're all reading The Secretist Part Two. What is Doug reading?
I've been reading all kinds of stuff lately. Literary fiction like The God of War by Marisa Silver, who writes gorgeously and who's a master of mind-blowing analogies, and because I'm obsessed with abandoned areas like the Salton Sea. Supernatural YA like Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, which also happens to feature sarcastic people who read each other's minds. Neil Gaiman's American Gods, because it seemed like a hole in my brain's bookshelf, and because I liked the premise of global gods set against the kitsch and culture of Americana. And Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? because I think Mindy Kaling is hilarious.
When can we expect to see The Secretist Part Three released? Will that be the end of Jace's story on Ravnica?
Dragon's Maze: The Secretist Part Three releases May 21. That final part will conclude this particular story, but it will have an impact both for Jace and for Ravnica going forward. I'm bursting to tell you more, but I can't spill anything else about it yet -- I hope you all check it out!
Thanks again to Doug for his time and insight making this happen. The Vorthos among us will always want more, but it was great to make this happen.