Learn by Play: Tomb of Annihilation the cast of Encounter Roleplay walk you through how best to tackle the latest D&D book. Each week taking on a different aspect of DMing & Playing, the cast will pause...
We spoke with Ernest Cline, who manages to pack the Tomb of Horrors into his novel!
Editor's Note: We originally spoke with Ernest Cline back in October, 2011. So with the release of the trailer for Ready Player One, we thought it timely to revisit this discussion!
Ready Player One largely concerns "The Hunt"—a global search taking place within the virtual world of OASIS; whoever wins the hunt not only gains control of the OASIS itself but also its creator's vast fortune. Enter Wade Watts, a young hunter in search of the prize, armed only with his extensive knowledge of 80's trivia (the celebrated culture for the OASIS's creator and essential for solving the hunt).
Author Ernest Cline visited Seattle earlier this month, as part of his book tour for Ready Player One. At the Seattle stop, Wil Wheaton—who narrates the audio version—also participated, lending his voice to the reading. Afterwards, Ernest was able to visit the Wizards of the Coast offices.
Wizards of the Coast: Given that the first key to the hunt in Ready Player One is hidden within a virtual recreation of the Tomb of Horrors, we have to ask about your own experiences within Dungeons & Dragons. Were you simply referencing the game, or did you play yourself back in the 80's? Any other RPGs you may have played?
Ernest Cline: I played AD&D regularly all through my teenage years. It was an essential part of my youth, and I think it also set me on the path to becoming a writer. I was lucky enough to find a group of friends in my small hometown who were also obsessed with RPGs, and we got together every weekend (and all summer long) to play AD&D, Car Wars, Champions, Role Master, Space Master, or Star Frontiers. Those guys are all still my friends 25 years later, and whenever I get back home to Ohio, we get together and roll some dice.
Wizards of the Coast: What might you be playing now, game-wise, in any medium?
Ernest Cline: The last game I played obsessively was Portal 2. I also recently splurged and bought myself an original Black Tiger coin-op cabinet on eBay and I end up playing it whenever I want to avoid work. Which is most of the time.
Wizards of the Coast: How did you decide on the Tomb of Horrors as the place to hide this key? Of course, it is a good choice, given the dungeon's infamy, but had you ever played through the adventure yourself?
Ernest Cline: Yes. Several times. And every single time it killed our entire party! But we always kept coming back for more, because we considered that module the ultimate challenge, devised by the great Gygax himself. Every hardcore gamer who played D&D back in the day remembers playing through the Tomb of Horrors, so I knew I wanted to pay tribute to it in my novel.
Wizards of the Coast: How much of the material in the book—the songs, the games, the movies—were you personally a fan of (in other words, I suppose, how much of yourself might be in the character of the OASIS creator, James Halliday)? And how much research did you need to undertake to brush up on the Atari 2600 version of Adventure, or Wargames, or Family Ties—in other, how much of yourself was there in the character of Wade?
Ernest Cline: I'm a longtime fan of nearly everything mentioned in the book. I made Halliday my age and gave him all of the same obsessions as me, because that allowed me to pay tribute to those things in the story, which made writing it a lot of fun. I also did it out of pure laziness, so I wouldn't have to do a bunch of research. Instead, I just drew upon all of the pop culture already stockpiled in my own brain.
Wizards of the Coast: Whether more Wade or Halliday, can you still name your favorite Thursday night lineup of shows on NBC?
Ernest Cline: Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, and Night Court!
Wizards of the Coast: Favorite Saturday morning cartoon?
Ernest Cline: Dungeons & Dragons, of course!
Wizards of the Coast: Why the 80's? Not just for Ready Player One, but do you feel there's something to this decade that resonates so strongly with today's geek culture? Even for people that weren't even raised in the 80's?
Ernest Cline: I also feel like the 80s was the Dawn of Geek Culture. That was when most of us got our first home computers and video games consoles, and it was also the golden age of movies, with Destined-to-be-Classics like Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Ghostbusters coming out every summer. So I think it's natural for geeks to be fascinated by the 80s, because the roots of our culture can all be traced back to that decade.
Wizards of the Coast: Is it surprising to you that elements of 80's culture have become such widely know relics or memes—especially in an era before the internet and widespread propagation of memes was even possible? Or was there simply a narrower culture that we all shared back then?
Ernest Cline: I think you hit the nail on the head. There were fewer movies, video games, cartoons, and TV shows to be obsessed with back then, so a lot more people shared the same passions. Now there is such a constant influx of awesome stuff, there's no way to keep up with it all, and the average geek's passions are much more eclectic and varied than they were back in the 80s.
Wizards of the Coast: Do you think that people, especially "kids these days," will look back at the current time with the same sense of nostalgia? Will there be similar memes that everyone will collectively remember, or has culture become too diffuse?
Ernest Cline: I think every generation always ends up being nostalgic for their youth, because it's human nature. We look back fondly on the 80s the same way our parents were nostalgic for the 60s and 70s. Kids These Days will probably end up being nostalgic for the 2010s. (You know, way back before everyone had flying cars, personal robot assistants, and nanotechnology in their bloodstream.)
Wizards of the Coast: While Ready Player One is already written as a screenplay, any thoughts for continuing the story in some other fashion? (Minor spoiler ahead!) With the completion of the hunt, there seems more story potential as far as what ultimately happens next with, and within, OASIS.
Ernest Cline: I definitely have a desire to tell more stories in the RPO universe, but those ideas are still pretty nebulous at this point. I feel like the OASIS is the ultimate storyteller's sandbox, and I know I won't be able to resist setting more adventures there in the future. Stay tuned.