Writer and gamer Matthew Beard is the author of The Last Garrison, a fantasy adventure novel set in the world of Dungeons & Dragons. Beard and I recently spoke about the difference between cliche and tradition, the enigmatic life of a writer and killer crow-people.
You’re a tough guy to get hold of, Mr. Beard. Where are you and why do you maintain such a low profile?
I split my time between the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. Am I tough to get to? I do try to stay semi-active on Twitter and on Tumblr. Ah, but maybe you tried me on a Wednesday. I’m either playing or DMing to Doom Metal on Wednesdays. (DMing to Doom Metal is trademarked, by the way! Do not attempt to steal my idea. Feel free, though, to DM to, say, Goth Metal, though.)
The Last Garrison is the essential adventure tale: a lone voice in the wilderness sees danger coming and eventually the community must band together in mutual defense. How does one find a medium point between cliche and honoring classic story archetypes?
It’s all about the details of the character, I think. The endangered village and the misfit heroes who protect it is, indeed, a very old story. A familiar one. One can’t help but be drawn to the familiarity of it, and the satisfaction of having the weak prevail over a stronger foe.
My hope, though, is that the characters in The Last Garrison are new enough, and the way they interact is new enough, to stand apart. That, for example, the way The Last Garrison concerns itself with the relationship between fathers and sons—even when the fathers and sons are not biologically father and son—adds something new.
Rather than going with orcs and goblins as your bad guys, you chose kenkus. What is a kenku and why go with such an obscure monster?
True story: a few years ago, I was walking to a grocery store and was followed for three blocks by an angry crow. He dove at me several times. I was, I should point out, not the only one walking the route. I returned from the store the same way I had gone. Again, I was not the only one walking that route. Again, I was the only one the crow dove at, followed, cawed at. They remember faces. They hold grudges. They have those modified (evolved) reptilian (dinosaur) features. I don’t know. I used a fictional version of the crow—the bipedal birdmen kenku—and tried to kill a mess of them to settle a grudge, maybe?
I like their ability to mimic, too. And bird flocks can be menacing. And a flock is called a “murder.” And they croak. What’s not to love?
This novel is part of the D&D franchise. Do you have much experience with the game? What is you favorite class and race to play, if so?
I have quite a bit of experience. I’ve played within the last week, in fact.
I owned the Basic set when I was young. Expert. AD&D 1st Edition. Unearthed Arcana. Somewhere back home, I have the original Deities & Demigods—the one with the Cthulhu and Michael Moorcock pantheons in it.
I’ve had a few favorite characters over the years. There’s a part of me that, given a choice, will go Dexterity over Strength. I did love a good 1st Edition Thief-Acrobat or Ranger. With 4e, I was sort of taken with the Avenger. Religious nut, big blade, no armor.
Why should readers who don’t play D&D care about this novel?
I’m not sure. I’m not sure if I need them to care. In a way, the book is, bound together and covered in a badass illustration, a love letter to a thing I loved to do when I was a teenager. I really loved to play D&D. I loved the way it fed my imagination. I look back now and can say without hesitation that I am a writer because I played D&D. No doubt in my mind at all. I have published other things under other names. I would never have done so without D&D. I wrote this book to thank my younger self for putting up with the rolled eyes of folks who thought my hobby was geeky. If no one else cares, I’m probably going to be okay with that.
That said, I think it’s a good adventure tale. I think people will like it. I hope they read it. It’s just that the moment I held a copy in my hands the first time, it was pretty much “mission accomplished,” for me.
What’s next for you?
Writing-wise, we’ll see. I’m playing Wednesday, though. My Tumblr will be updating with pictures that night.