This October, “Skullkickers” writer Jim Zub expands his fantasy resume with IDW Publishing’s “Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur’s Gate,” the first “D&D” miniseries from IDW to take place within the new 5th Edition of the classic tabletop RPG. With a video game series that begin in 1998 selling millions of copies, “Baldur’s Gate” is one of the best known “D&D” franchises of all-time.
Zub is no stranger to fantasy RPGs turned comics, having previously written Pathfinder for Dynamite, but he has a special relationship with “Dungeons & Dragons,” calling the game the reason he became a writer in the first place. CBR News caught up with Zub to discuss his work on “Legends of Baldur’s Gate,” and the writer revealed which fan-favorite characters will return and gave insight into both his passion for “D&D” and his experiences with the new 5th Edition of the game.
CBR News: Jim, what is “Legends of Baldur’s Gate” about?
Jim Zub: “Legends of Baldur’s Gate” is a “Dungeons & Dragons” adventure story set in one of the most well known fictional cities of all time. I wanted to create a bombastic action-packed tale that harkens back to the kind of classic sword & sorcery excitement I remembered in the “Conan” or “Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser” series.
Specifically, it’s about an elven Wild Mage named Delina who’s trekked to Baldur’s Gate to find her missing brother. The mystery of his disappearance ties in with larger forces mobilizing throughout the Forgotten Realms and the webs of intrigue that make Baldur’s Gate such an interesting and dangerous place.
Will any classic “D&D” heroes or villains be making an appearance?
Quite a few of the characters in this story are brand new so readers can jump on board without having to know the lore or history of the Forgotten Realms, but we are bringing back Minsc and Boo, cult favorite characters from the original “Baldur’s Gate” video game series.
Minsc is a brain-addled ranger obsessed with righting wrongs and protecting his friends and he takes… um, well let’s just call it “advice” from his loyal animal companion… a hamster (according to him a “miniature giant space hamster”) called “Boo.” Minsc and Boo are beloved by many fans of the original Baldur’s Gate game series and I’m thrilled to be able to incorporate them into our comic story. They add a maniacal energy to it all that’s well in line with most “D&D” game sessions.
How did you get involved with the project?
Back in March I spoke to Ted Adams, head of IDW, about tackling other projects for them and “Dungeons & Dragons” came up in conversation. This year is a huge one for “D&D” — it’s the 40th anniversary of the game and they’re launching the 5th Edition of the game rules. It’s the perfect time to launch a new comic series to tie in with the celebration and bring new people into role-playing and fantasy adventure. I’m really pumped to be a part of it.
What’s it like working with artist Max Dunbar?
Max and I had been talking about working together for over a year but finally the stars came into alignment here on “D&D.” He’s an incredible collaborator and consummate professional. His artwork reminds me of classic Art Adams or Todd McFarlane with expressive characters and fine line detail. It’s a really good fit for the fun action story I’m putting together.
How does “Legends of Baldur’s Gate” tie into the upcoming new edition of “D&D” and “Tyranny of Dragons?”
The events of “Tyranny of Dragons” are happening concurrently with “Legends of Baldur’s Gate” and the big changes happening to the Realms will definitely be reflected in the comic. That said, I wanted to make sure people could pick up the comic and get a complete story without needing to know the nitty-gritty of “ToD.” If you are following the game material you’ll see more of the bigger picture and appreciate how it fits in, but it’s not required reading to enjoy the comic all by itself.
When did you start playing “D&D?” Who was it that got you hooked?
I’ve been playing “D&D” since I was 8 years-old. My older brother and cousins introduced me to the game and the combination of storytelling and game play really struck a chord with me. As I grew up and moved behind the DM [Dungeon Master] screen I learned how to create plots, come up with memorable characters, and invent interesting scenes, so in a lot of ways “D&D” is the reason I’m a now a writer. I still think tabletop RPGs are some of the best entertainment money can buy.
What are some of your favorite memories playing “D&D?”
A lot of my earliest adventures were pretty straight forward “kill the monsters, get the treasure” kind of stuff, but I do remember the first time I learned about character alignment and how that could change the game. I really wanted to play a paladin, a righteous warrior of good, and my brother made sure I understood that I couldn’t just tear through bad guys and take everything the way I had before. Making conscious decisions about what my character would do and his motivations definitely changed the game for me. It was the difference between “roll-playing” and “role-playing.”
Have you ever taken a moment from a tabletop session and transformed it into a comic story?
“Skullkickers” isn’t a direct retelling of RPG stories but it incorporates some character elements and baddies from my high school campaigns. “SK” is my warped love letter to sword & sorcery and “D&D” is a big part of that.
In “Legends of Baldur’s Gate” one of the new characters I created for the story shares a name with one of my old “D&D” characters, although he’s different in many ways. The original was a happy-go-lucky bard and the comic version is a fast-talking thief.
Most RPG adventures entertain the participants but are paced oddly for other forms of fiction so it’s not something where you could just take a game session as-is and make it into a comic. I’m trying to give the comic story that fun sense of “anything can happen” that permeates the best RPG sessions, even though I do have the story all planned out.
Do you still “D&D” to this day?
I’m usually the DM nowadays, so my characters are all the supporting cast bolstering the players. I’ve run some 5th Edition sessions with friends to get a handle on the new rules and that was a ton of fun. My work schedule is pretty crazy right now but I’m hoping we’ll be able to keep the campaign rolling even if we can only play sporadically.
What do you think of the new 5th Edition?
It’s going to sound biased coming from the guy writing the new comic, but it’s genuinely great. There’s a solid balance of storytelling and rules without either one overpowering the other (like it sometimes has in the past). It’s streamlined without losing the essence of what I think longtime players expect from “D&D” and its legacy. It’s easy to teach new people but has complexity as you level up. All in all, it’s really sharp.
What are you favorite “D&D” settings and worlds?
I grew up playing a lot in the classic Greyhawk setting so I have quite a bit of nostalgia for that one, but my favorite setting is the reality-bending glory of Planescape. I think it pushes the envelope in terms of locations, mood and design more than any other setting in “D&D’s” history. I would absolutely love to write some Planescape-set stories if the chance ever came up.
Any plans for future “D&D” miniseries with IDW?
All of us on the team are hoping we can keep “Legends of Baldur’s Gate” going and continue the adventures of this particular group of characters. We’ve already started brainstorming ideas about where things could go after “Tyranny of Dragons” wraps up, so my fingers are crossed that it all comes through.
What’s going on with your two ongoing series, Image Comics’ “Skullkickers” and IDW’s “Samurai Jack” at the moment?
“Skullkickers” will be wrapping up next year with an over-the-top final story arc called “Infinite Icons of the Endless Epic”. It’s the culmination of all the ridiculous elements we’ve put into the series all slamming together. If it succeeds it’ll be one for the ages and if it fails, it’ll fail so spectacularly that readers everywhere will stare in awe at the crater we leave behind.
“Samurai Jack” continues to defy expectations. Our original five-issue miniseries keeps getting renewed and we’re cleared through to at least issue 20 now, which feels great. Our current storyline, called “The Quest of the Broken Blade” is a real game-changer. Andy Suriano and I are digging deep to deliver a story that threatens Jack in a way that hasn’t been done before. The response so far from fans has been wonderful. After that we’ll be doing some done-in-one and two-part stories and then, if we continue past #20, we’ll put together another big five-part storyline.
Between “Wayward,” “Skullkickers,” “Samurai Jack,” “D&D,” “Conan/Red Sonja” and a couple other projects percolating that haven’t been announced yet, it’s exciting and frantic times here in Zubville.
“Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur’s Gate” #1 debuts October 15 from IDW.
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