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Torment, the novel.
An Interview with Ray and Val Vallese.

Editors note: Thanks to Ken Lipka, host of the Net Planescape Fiction Archive, for his questions in this interview. This interview first appeared in the Mimir@GenCon feature of
If this novel intrigues you, you may purchase it from the bookstore, or get it free by ordering Torment online. How were you contacted to do this novel? Was the choice to pursue this particular revenue stream driven by TSR or Interplay? How did you both get involved?

Ray Vallese: A friend of ours in the TSR Book Department called us up out of the blue one day and asked us if we'd like to submit a proposal for the novel. He mentioned that a few other people were in the running and thought that we'd be a good choice, too.

The offer was made to either or both of us, so naturally we decided to do it together. We put together our proposal and writing sample, then sat back and bit our nails until we got word that it was a go. did you prepare for this novel? (What inspirations/sources?)

Ray Vallese:One criticism we've heard of the other Planescape novels is that they weren't always true to the game setting, that the authors took too many liberties. Now, we personally don't agree with those criticisms -- we don't feel that books should adhere to every game rule and stat -- but we decided that we'd try our darndest not to break any PS rules with Torment.

We already had a lot going for us in that respect, since we already knew tons about the setting. But we still had stacks and stacks of PS source books by our side at all times, checking and cross-checking facts and maps and names and whatnot. We specifically did NOT re-read any of the existing PS novels, just to make sure that we wouldn't accidentally borrow something from them. these lines, as authors writing in an established setting, and indeed a pre-established plot, how did you deal with the established limits of your artistic freedoms?

Ray Vallese:This part was perhaps the most difficult. Writing in the established PS setting was no problem; as I mentioned above, we were having a blast poring through all the source books and making things jive. But following the pre-established plot was a bit harder; at times we did feel that we needed to take the writing in places we might not have gone otherwise.

We were sent a several-hundred-page document that outlined pretty much every step of the computer game, and while we weren't expected to adhere to it 100%, we were expected to stick to the main plot and characters, without introducing any new people or locations or elements. Throw in the fact that this book will be 70-80 pages shorter than a typical TSR novel, and that means that we had to mercilessly trim away the fat and focus only on the meat. (For instance, Xanxost the slaad was in our first draft, but he didn't make the final cut. Sob!)

Certainly, it was frustrating at first. But the book shaped up to be a roller-coaster ride of excitement and action, very true to the computer game and the PS setting both. We hope that fans of each will be pleased.


Val Vallese says: Once our main character began his journey and we had a clear conception of his characterization, it was sometimes hard to steer him through the established plot of the game, no matter how INTERESTING the next step was.

That was due to two reasons. First, there's so much that can happen in Planescape that we kept thinking of new possibilities. Second, once we had an idea of how he wuld think and act -- an idea of his character -- there were times that we had to write or rewrite explanations for it to make sense that he would choose the next step that he did. This didn't reflect the game material, only the situation of developing more three-dimensional characters with motivations, pasts, etc. out of a pre-established plot. what ways did you make the work your own?

Ray Vallese:On the most basic level, we got to choose the style of narration, tone of the writing, pacing, and all that good stuff. The main character has a few interesting flaws (other than being an amnesiac -- the guy's just down on his luck all around, poor sod), and since everything is filtered through his eyes and senses, it required us to adopt a certain style of writing.

For example, if the main character is the kind of guy who would happen to describe an astonishing event in a flat, even manner, that's how the writing describes it. If the main character is looking in one direction and doesn't notice something important happening behind him, the reader isn't privy to that information either and will be just as surprised by it.

Beyond that, we got to have fun fleshing out all the main characters and inventing whatever secondary characters we wanted to include. We also put a big twist in the ending of the book, so that people who play the game would be surprised by the novel (and vice versa). (Of course, since the fine folks at Interplay have already read our book, it's possible that they will incorporate elements from the book into the game, so that the two products match even more closely.) We also tried to poke a bit of good-natured fun at cliches that always seem to crop up in these kinds of novels.

Val Vallese says:Yes, we tried to have fun with it, especially with the character of Morte, a floating skull. There were numerous underground locations in the game that we had to use in the novel, so we had Morte complain (as regular people might) that he was getting mighty sick of spending so much time below ground (which in itself is odd, coming from a skull). When things slowed down a bit between scenes of big action, Morte whined that he was getting bored. As the heroes journeyed from place to place in search of information and kept being told to go find so-and-so instead, Morte groused about how they were on a wild goose chase across the multiverse. And so on., how did writing this book differ from others, such as PS supplements, you've written?

Ray Vallese:Well, we had to write it on an extremely tight deadline. For the first draft, we had about as much time as a TSR designer would normally have for a 64-page adventure or accessory (and we had no artwork, maps, etc. that counted toward our page count!).

So it was a lot more pressure. Plus, I always tended to write PS supplements in chunks, jumping around in the text and working on whatever I felt like at the moment. But since things were constantly changing in the novel, we had to start from page 1 and go straight through to the end (it would have done us no good to write the whiz-bang climax first if it would only end up changing later).

Finally, RPG supplements are supposed to focus more on communicating the basic info and less on dazzling the audience with clever prose. (Granted, that's not entirely true for the PS line, as many people have remarked that they've purchased PS products just to read them.) On the other hand, the way you write a book is just as important as what you're writing about. you have any personal goals that you were trying to accomplish with this book?

Ray Vallese:It's the first novel for either of us, so we're very happy to have had the chance to work on it together.


Val Vallese:My head has always been full of lots of images and colors and words, and fantasy is a wonderful forum for letting those things out. Planescape is especially open to possibilities, and even though some appropriately bizarre scenes and characters had to be cut (due to length, the editor's preferences, etc.), I'm thankful that our first novel was so kind to our imaginations. Yay weirdos! do you feel is the relationship between RPG, novels, and computer games?

Ray Vallese:I always used to think novelizations of movies were odd, simply because the best films usually take into account the visual nature of their medium and offer an experience that can't necessarily be captured in words. Try turning a David Lynch, Peter Greenaway, Terry Gilliam or Coen brothers film into a novel. (I suppose you could argue that the "best" films aren't the ones that are usually turned into novels.)

It's just as hard with RPGs and computer games, I think, but in a different way. So much of the enjoyment comes from the player's imagination and freedom to choose his own path that it seems like it'd be hard to capture that in print.

Clearly, when writing Torment we had to make choices as to what the main character would say, think, and do. We had a plot outline -- "Joe has to go to the Great Laundromat of Sigil and wash his undies" -- but we had to build everything else. Thus, someone who only plays the computer game will no doubt have a vastly different experience of what Torment is all about than will someone who only reads the novel.

The computer-game player completely controls the main character. The reader does not. the producers of the popular Diablo computer game released news of a Diablo AD&D supplement in the works. This is clearly a reversal of the typical flow of revenue streams solely from RPG to computer games.

Do you think Planescape pen & paper may see a surge in interest from this same direction with the release of the Torment computer game? What part do you believe the novel will play in this arena?


Ray Vallese:I sure hope that happy Torment fans decide to give Planescape RPGs a try; I know that the designers have tried very hard to make the game true to the PS experience.

The computer game features characters, monsters, and locations directly from the RPGs, after all. I think it's probably more likely that people will play the computer game and then seek out the novel, rather than the reverse, simply because the computer game is being marketed in a big way. On the other hand, there haven't been many novels for the PS setting, so fans of the RPGs may pick up the book and then move on to the computer game. It's hard to say. Let's all just hope that everything sells well and earns everyone scads of money and makes everyone happy.

Get the Torment novel for free by ordering Torment from Interplay direct!

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