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"From the very beginning, in creating this world via roleplaying, it was always an even exchange. I made up characters who interacted with his storylines, and [Esslemont] did the same with his characters acting in my storylines, so everything in the Malazan world has both of us in it."
―Steven Erikson[src]
"[Kellanved] was my character while Steve played Dancer, and sometimes he and I would just spend the whole night arguing as [Kellanved] and Dancer over what to do, while, in the meantime, nothing got done! It was all immense fun (and we would cackle gleefully by the way)."
―Ian C. Esslemont[src]

The core foundations for the Malazan novels of Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont were born in the role-playing game sessions they began at Canada's University of Victoria in the 1980s. The two were flatmates while attending the college's creative writing program and shared similar interests in history, archaeology, and anthropology. They started with Dungeons & Dragons, but soon found the game system "too mechanical and on occasion nonsensical" so they moved on to GURPS (the Generic Universal Roleplaying System), which offered the spontaneous narrative flexibility they were looking for. Although role-playing games tend to be designed with the idea that a single referee guides the actions of multiple players through an adventure scenario, Erikson and Esslemont played one-on-one sessions with each alternating as referee and player.[1][2] Erikson says he ran a "very narrative, dialogue-heavy, often action-less style of game" that forced characters into moral quandries.[3]

The early Malazan games ran for three to four years and largely covered the backstory of the foundation of the Malazan Empire. Many members of the Malazan Old Guard were game characters created with characteristics and roles delineated by the gaming rules. Erikson says, "This all became the grounding of the fictional world we then created, and those who have gamed will see the basic gaming elements at work in our tales. To be specific: the Malazan Empire was founded in a tavern called Smiley's in an island city: its core of players were a balanced party of sorcerers, fighters, assassins, thieves and priests." [4] The pair integrated their intellectual interests by gaming the deeds of Malazan's 'great people' and examining the effects of their actions on both the conquered and the conquerors. Then they would replay or expand on these events by taking on the roles of the soldiers caught up in the wake of their leaders on both sides of the conflict. In this way they covered the Malazan invasions of Quon Tali, Seven Cities, and Genabackis that led up to the beginning of the first published Malazan novel, Gardens of the Moon, as well as gamed the general events of that book itself.[5][6][7][2][4]

Gaming went on to form a general timeline for both Erikson and Esslemont's books to be filled in with additional characters and storylines created by each author.[8] Erikson estimates that perhaps as much as twenty percent of the novels come directly from their original gaming sessions.[9] Esslemont states that almost all of the books in the series were gamed to at least some degree, although some such as Blood and Bone were derived from "talked-through sketches and events." But the gaming details used in the books "represent only a fraction of all that material".[5]

The authors' style of one-on-one gaming is one reason why character duos are so prevalent in the novels (Shadowthrone/Cotillion, Quick Ben/Kalam, et al.)[10] However it was also not uncommon for Erikson or Esslemont to play multiple characters simultaneously. Erikson recalls playing the roles of Rake, Caladan Brood, and T'riss in one series of games.[3] They were also not above departing from game rules when it served the overall story. Esslemont says "we drove the true gamers mad with our blatant disregard for the mechanics of the game. We neither of us cared for what the dice said and preferred instead the unfolding of poetic truth. Excellent, inspired, or entertaining role-playing always won out over the dictates of the rules."[5] Although Erikson has revealed that some key story points were left to chance. "Believe it or not, the clash of two major characters in Toll the Hounds was decided on a single roll of the die. If it had gone the other... well, I shudder to think."[7]

Erikson and Esslemont mapped the world collaboratively with Erikson outlining most of the continents. Esslemont says there were times he was handed a "blank continent" which he "then filled out with peoples, cities, civilizations, and such. Usually who was 'running' that game determined who would fill in the map. For example, Steve ran me in north Genabackis and so filled all that out. Then, later, I ran Steve in south Genabackis and filled out all the south."[6]

Both men continued gaming even after they were no longer roommates, but career opportunities soon took them to different parts of the world. Erikson continued one-on-one sessions with his friend, Mark Paxton-Macrae, creating the story of Karsa Orlong. He also refereed a more traditional game with five players whose characters formed the basis of Fiddler's squad in the Bonehunters and who helped guide the events of the final books in this part of the series.[11][8]

Erikson says he no longer games as more recent efforts have shown that gaming "draws from the same sort of creative energy that writing does. And so if I'm writing on a novel, I've got no creative energy for running a game, and if I'm running a game, then the novel suffers."[12]

Spoiler warning: The following section contains significant plot details about the entire Malazan series.

Gaming Elements found in the Malazan NovelsEdit

Below are the characters and events that Erikson and Esslemont have specifically tied to their role-playing sessions in their writings and interviews. It is by no means a complete list.


Characters played by EriksonEdit

  • Anomander Rake[13] -- The first character Erikson ever rolled up and played in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Erikson played the character through game after game and "lived and breathed the guy".[14]
  • Bauchelain[15][16] -- Invented along with Korbal Broach for a friend's game. The game was short lived as the friend "found them too scary to deal with."
  • Caladan Brood[3]
  • Cotillion[17]
  • Dancer[17][18] -- Erikson says Dancer was "the first time I ended up playing the straight-man...to one of Cam's characters [Kellanved] in a game, and oh, it was good fun."
  • Fiddler[4][19]
  • Iskaral Pust -- Invented for the novels, but later used as a non-player character in the games.[3]
  • Kalam Mekhar[4][19]
  • Korbal Broach[15][16] (see Bauchelain above)
  • Kruppe -- One of Erikson's favorite characters to play "especially since he hardly ever did anything."[3] "[Kruppe was a] character I rolled up, and on spur of the moment elected to make him... the way he is."[20]
  • Manask[7][21] -- A "300 pound thief...who instead of picking the lock, walks through the door, physically."
  • Murillio[4][22]
  • Quick Ben[4][19]
  • Rallick Nom[7][21] -- Created by Erikson, but first run in a game as a non-player character by Esslemont. Erikson and other players first encountered Rallick outside the walls of Darujhistan. Rallick was a "serious bad ass...he scared the crap out of us."
  • T'riss[3]

Characters played by EsslemontEdit


Characters played by Erikson or Esslemont (but unspecified)Edit


Characters played by OthersEdit


Characters played only as Non-player charactersEdit

  • Toc the Younger -- Erikson says he does not "recall if Toc was ever a rolled-up character, more likely he was an NPC."[28]


Events from the novels that were gamedEdit

  • The plot of Gardens of the Moon was largely shaped by gaming:
    • Erikson says, "the events in the city of Darujhistan leading up to the night of fete were all gamed" with the action broken down into small groups. For example, Kruppe, Coll, Murillio and Rallick formed one group while Whiskeyjack, Mallet, Fiddler, Hedge, Quick Ben, and Kalam formed another.[7] An entire campaign was dedicated to Whiskeyjack and the squad infiltrating Darujhistan.[29]
    • Unbeknownst to Erikson, Esslemont based the game grouping of "Coll, Murrilio and Rallick, with Crokus thrown in" on the Three Musketeers.[6] Erikson has also stated that Crokus did not appear in the games, but was invented for the books.[30]
    • The Fete at Lady Simtal's estate -- The affair was fully gamed including Kruppe, his face smeared with pastry, meeting Anomander Rake.[7]
    • Rallick facing Turban Orr -- An encounter whose resolution depended on a roll of the dice.[7]
  • The city of Darujhistan was invented and mapped by Esslemont.[31]
  • Anomander Rake's visit to the Isle of the Seguleh and recovery of the Tyrant's mask -- Esslemont says he created the island to take a "cocky" Rake "down a notch or two". Rake "barely escape[d] with his skin! It was a hilarious night of gaming."[13]
  • Erikson played Anomander Rake, Caladan Brood, and the Queen of Dreams in games run by Esslemont in a setting that originally was not "'Malazan' in the sense of what we now call 'Malazan.'"[32]
  • The creation of the Malazan Empire came from a campaign run by Erikson featuring Esslemont as Kellanved with Dancer played by Erikson. These events had not been depicted in any novel as of 2008.[32] It is unclear if they are the same events depicted in Esslemont's Path to Ascendancy books, but in a 2018 interview, Erikson said the prequel series covered "the stuff we actually gamed so that's a lot of fun for me [to read]. I get to tap in and see what he's up to, and how he remembers things versus how I remember things, and then how these things change for the purposes of fiction."[33]
  • Kellanved and Dancer’s conquest of Seven Cities[7]
  • Dassem Ultor's Siege of Y'Ghatan --Erikson says "we were doing squad by squad for the assault, building by building engagement, in a kind of Black Hawk Down style (before the film ever came out)."[34] See also the Y'Ghatan battle map below.
  • Malazan conquest of Quon Tali[5]
  • Blackdog Forest campaign -- Run by Erikson for Esslemont involving the Malazan campaign on Genabackis before the events of Gardens of the Moon.[6] Some of the first maps created by Erikson of the Malazan world featured Blackdog Swamp, Mott, and Mott Wood.[32]
  • Karsa Orlong's story in Book 1 of House of Chains -- Erikson says he dragged his player "through hell" and that later events involving Binadas Sengar on the Silanda were dictated by the "immense frustration" of Karsa's player and surprised even Erikson.[11] Karsa's companions, Bairoth Gild and Delum Thord, were inventions for the novels. In their gaming sessions, the raid on Silver Lake was conducted by Karsa alone.[35] In fact, Karsa's player "seriously balked at his first venture down into the civilised lands."[28] Erikson began the game by having Macrae's character approached by his friends announcing that "it's time to go down into the valley and kill children." Without understanding what the term meant to the Teblor, Macrae "went through a horrible existential crisis."[36]
  • The fate of Lieutenant Ranal in the aftermath the Battle of Raraku and the ambush with Corabb's desert warriors that precipitated it.[37]
  • Jheck -- Played a central role in gaming events that are now only "ancillary history" per Erikson.[38]
  • The many deaths of Rhulad Sengar -- Erikson said he gamed this scenario to "create a rather unusual sword that upended the seemingly perfect gift it offered" and question "what would it be like to die over and over again?"[39]
  • The duel between Anomander Rake and Traveller at Darujhistan[40] -- This may be the event Erikson referred to when he said, "Believe it or not, the clash of two major characters in TtH was decided on a single roll of the die. If it had gone the other... well, I shudder to think."[7]
  • The Bonehunter campaigns as experienced by Fiddler and his squad, who were all gamed by individual players.
  • The confrontation between Surly, Kellanved, and Dancer in Mock's Hold depicted in Night of Knives. (See Ian Esslemont's account here).

Gaming events that have not appeared in the novels (yet)Edit

  • Kellanved and Dancer's hijinks at Smiley's -- Esslemont remembers "one particular immortal exchange between us (one that has yet to see print) wherein I explained that the paranoid Kellanved, then owner of a bar named Smiley's, was spying and listening in on his employees by drilling holes in the floor of his office over the bar. Later, Steve had Dancer come upstairs, see Kellanved with his ear pressed to a hole and his bum in the air, and promptly kick him across the room."[42]

Author mapsEdit

In August 2018, Steven Erikson posted some of his original hand drawn Malazan maps on his Facebook page.

Significant plot details end here.

An official Malazan RPG?Edit

Erikson and Esslemont have discussed making an official Malazan game book to allow fans to play their own adventures in the authors' world. In an April 2016 interview, Erikson mentioned that he and Esslemont had talked about the possibility with Steve Jackson, publisher of the GURPS system in which Malazan was born, and Jackson seemed "amenable" to the idea. Erikson said he could see a GURPS-based game proceeding as a crowd-funded project. The authors' long gestating plans for an "Encyclopedia Malazica" would serve as the foundation for the book. Erikson suggested he and Esslemont would "be happy to write little aspects for atmosphere...conversation, dialogue between characters, that kind of thing", but that the bulk of the organizational and game mechanics work would have to be done by trusted partners. Both authors are currently too busy with writing projects to take on such a project themselves.[21]

External linksEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. Erikson Q & A - Part 6 - YouTube (link no longer works - video made private)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hello Reddit, I am Steven Erikson. Please Ask Me Anything - Reddit (2012)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Ask Steven Erikson Your Crippled God Questions - Tor.com (5 November 2014)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 The World of the Malazan Empire and Role-Playing Games - steven-erikson.com
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Ian Cameron Esslemont Answers Your Return of the Crimson Guard Questions - Tor.com (15 April 2013)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 A Conversation with Malazan series authors Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont - Tor.com (29 October 2010)
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 Questions for Steven Erikson on Gardens of the Moon? Start asking! - Tor.com (27 September 2010)
  8. 8.0 8.1 Hello Reddit, I am novelist Steven Erikson. Please Ask Me Anything - Reddit (2014)
  9. Hello Reddit, I am Steven Erikson. Please Ask Me Anything - Reddit (2012)
  10. 10.0 10.1 Steven Erikson Answers Your Midnight Tides Questions - Tor.com (9 March 2012)
  11. 11.0 11.1 Steven Erikson Answers Your House of Chains Questions - Tor.com (23 November 2011)
  12. The Grim Tidings Podcast See 13:50 (dead link)
  13. 13.0 13.1 Ian Cameron Esslemont Answers Your Orb Sceptre Throne Questions! - Tor.com (3 June 2015)
  14. Anomander Rake and Point of View - stevenerikson.org (7 July 2018)
  15. 15.0 15.1 Interview: Malazan Book of the Fallen author Steven Erikson - The Void (13 March 2011)}}
  16. 16.0 16.1 In the Dragon's Den: Interview with Steven Erikson Part 2 - The Critical Dragon (21 April 2016)
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Steven Erikson Interview - Pat's Fantasy Hotlist (6 April 2011)
  18. In the Dragon's Den: Interview with Steven Erikson Part 1 - The Critical Dragon (18 April 2016)
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 An Evening with Steven Erikson by Nerdaí Irish Nerds - See 19:15
  20. Interview: Steven Erikson, Author Of The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Sequence - blogcritics.org (14 April 2011)
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 The Grim Tidings Podcast (dead link)
  22. An Evening with Steven Erikson by Nerdaí Irish Nerds - See 18:20
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 23.4 23.5 23.6 Hello Reddit, I am Steven Erikson. Please Ask Me Anything - Reddit (2012)
  24. Steven Erikson Facebook post 31 January 2018
  25. An Evening with Steven Erikson by Nerdaí Irish Nerds - See 18:44
  26. In the Dragon's Den: Ian C Esslemont Interview - The Critical Dragon (14 April 2016)
  27. Ask Steven Erikson Your Bonehunters Questions! - Tor.com (27 June 2012)
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 Hello Reddit, I am novelist Steven Erikson. Please Ask Me Anything. - Reddit (2014)
  29. Read for Pixels 2016 Interview See 1:35:50
  30. An Evening with Steven Erikson by Nerdaí Irish Nerds - See 18:24
  31. An Evening with Steven Erikson by Nerdaí Irish Nerds - See 18:13
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 The True Gods of Shadow: A Steven Erikson Interview - Jay Tomio (3 June 2008)
  33. Interview with Steven Erikson - The Fantasy Hive (1 November 2018)
  34. Steven Erikson Facebook post 21 August 2018
  35. Steven Erikson Facebook post 9 April 2018
  36. An Evening with Steven Erikson by Nerdaí Irish Nerds - See 20:20
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Steven Erikson Answers Your House of Chains Questions, Part 2 - Tor.com (2 December 2011)
  38. Steven Erikson Answers Your Dust of Dreams Questions! - Tor.com (11 June 2014)
  39. Hello Reddit, I am Steven Erikson. Please Ask Me Anything - Reddit (2012)
  40. Ask Steven Erikson Your Toll the Hounds Questions - Tor.com (see comment 29 section 12)
  41. Steven Erikson Answers Your Reaper’s Gale Questions! - Tor.com (16 November 2012)
  42. Ian C. Esslemont on Collaboration - Tor.com (2011)
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