7/05/00: My Dinner with Dragons
by Pieter van Hiel

A few weeks ago, I was seated with my wife in a moderately swank resturant in our swinging home-metropolis of Hamilton, Ontario. Around the table with us were the owner of the local hobby and games store, her husband, two of her employees, and a fellow from Dream Pod Games' Montreal office. I was there in my official capacity as a writer for Sanguine Games, and roving ‘zine editor. Pretty slick company on the geek-o-meter you might think, but the best was yet to come.

We lesser RPG luminaries were awaiting the arrival of the guests of honour…no less than Margaret Weis and her husband Don Perrin. If you don't know the names, Weis and Perrin are a force to be reckoned with in the realm of RPGs, fantasy, and science fiction writing. Weis and her friend Tracy Hickman started the Dragonlance Saga, a series of books that has sold more than 20 million copies world-wide, and helped establish a setting that remains one of the more popular campaign worlds in Dungeons and Dragons. Perrin is a well-known author in his own right. He has also written for the Dragonlance books, and co-authors the Magforce 7 series of science fiction novels with Weis. They, along with Larry Elmore and others have recently released a fantasy RPG called Sovereign Stone.

Weis and Hickman were once close to the top of my favorite authors list. I read the first Dragonlance novels in the 8th grade, and liked them. I read the "Twins" trilogy in my first year of high-school, and loved them. As years went by, however, I found that the books no longer stood the test of time as faithfully of my other favorites. I began to realize that my enjoyment of them was closely linked to my role-playing game addicition, that perhaps I'd glazed over some of the rough spots in the writing in my enthusiasm. Nevertheless, I have fond memories of the series, and I occasionally pick up new books as they come out. And even though I've never read any of Perrin's stuff, the chance to hob-knob with two of the people who have influenced the RPG industry so much was exciting.

After about ten minutes of fiddling with cutlery and watching my wife's eyes glaze over as the guy from Dream Pod told her all about Metal Gear's revolutionary new story arc, our patience was rewarded.

Margaret Weis is a stylish, trim woman in her 50's with close cropped white hair. She has some kind of American accent I couldn't place. Kind of a mix between West Virginia and Ohio. She's a Wisconsin resident though, a state I've never visited, so perhaps they all speak like that there. She's very pleasant and open, though she maintained a very professional demeanour throughout the dinner. Don Perrin, on the other hand, is the stereotypical goofy-looking Canadian. Overweight, bearded, pleasantly homely, with a good sense of self-effacing humour and a lot of "ehs?" (Ed. Note - The author is also a goofy Canadian, albeit with only an occasional beard.) Perrin, a former Canadian Armed Forces Officer, looks and acts like Joe-Average role-player.

After dinner, they kindly consented to an interview. I had a list of questions prepared, but I decided to more or less wing it. I asked them to tell me about their writing, and their success. Margaret dominated the intervew, simply because of the way the table was set up. Don was way over at the end, and to answer my questions he risked setting his beard on fire by leaning over a candle. He put in his two-cents from time to time, but got deep into conversation with the two game store employees.

In talking about their work, it becomes quickly apparent that much of their writing success comes from their habit of incorporating their own life experience into their work. For example, in the Dragonlance Legends series one of the main characters must come to grips with his own alcoholism, a problem that is very personal for Margaret. Her own first husband was an alcoholic. She hopes that the characters in the novel might help the readers deal with this issue in their own lives, particularly younger readers. She hoped that one of the characters in the book, Tasslehoff, who has a very child-like personality, would speak to them. "It talks to kids who may be having to deal with an alcoholic parent," she said. She has always written this way. One of her first books was a history of Wild West outlaw Jesse James. She chose him as a subject because she can claim him as a distant ancestor, and her family has passed down stories from generation to generation. This desire for believable writing based on true life experience, in a way, brought her together with Don, who is her second husband. "I needed a co-writer with military experience, and he came down to help me out...it turned out we had a lot in common," she said. At the time, Margaret was being treated for breast cancer. As she puts it, "He fell in love with me when I had no hair. He made me laugh."

Don, who served in the Canadian army for several years, has also used his life experiences in his writing. His first Dragonlance book, Doom Brigade, deals with the adventures of an engineering battalion in the service of one of the villains of the series. "My idea of the Draconians were that they were faceless badguys... I wanted to make them more realistic, give them a face. I decided I wanted to write about a unit 'down in the guts,'" he said. He added that the occasional screw-ups of this fictional unit might have something to do with his military career as well. "I was a crappy solidier," he admitted.

Margaret agreed with Don, (about the faceless Draconians, anyway) and said that too often authors in the fantasy and science-fiction genre will create characters without real motives. "Too often with evil characters, no one even makes an attempt to make them realistic. They should have legitimate goals," she said. The advice applies equally well to role-players and game-masters, offline and on.

In addition to their writing, the couple owns a role-playing game and hobby store in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The store has become a kind of Mecca for gaming enthusiasts and fans of their work. They are happy with the attention and admiration of fans, but Weis admits that some people take things too far. She related a story about being approached by a man who wrote books of baby names. Apparently, the name "Raistlin" started to appear recently. Raistlin is the name of an evil wizard who is one of the main characters in the Dragonlance series, a fact which makes Margaret laugh. "I mean, you're being named after an evil wizard!"

Margaret has recently completed writing the first in a new series of Dragonlance novels with long-time co-author and friend Tracy Hickman. The series, Dragons of a Fallen Sun, is set in a fantasy world based on one presented in the game Dungeons and Dragons, and continue where the last Dragonlance novel, "Dragons of Summer Flame," left off. Although the Dragonlance saga has produced more than 30 books to date by various authors, Weis said that there is still plenty of room for expansion. "Definitely we see the world continuing on, but in a different direction," she said.

By this time, the hour was growing late. We all had to up early for a game-convention the next morning, and so the interview and conversation came to a close. And that's that, gentle reader. My dinner with Dragons.

Pieter van Hiel TRIED to run a Dragonlance campaign, but the players killed Tasslehoff and ate him.