I had just introduced myself to a legend. Jeff Grubb was one of the first ArenaNet devs I started talking to at the NCSoft Meet and Greet at PAX East. He recognized my name, and I apologized for being a thorn in his side ever-seeking answers to the deep lore of Guild Wars. It was just that this man had helped build a world so deep and mysterious that lore-delvers, like myself, were constantly trying to make sense of it all. This was not the first world he had touched, as Grubb had helped build many of the most famous Dungeons and Dragons worlds. Like all the ArenaNet developers I would meet that night he bled enthusiasm, his infectious laugh hinted at the fact he kept lore secrets that would drive Cthulhu mad, and it was apparent that, like the man said, Grubb contained multitudes.
I started off with a recent lore topic, the norn. The norn are a difficult race to understand because they do not think like humans (Tyrian or Earthen). Grubb said that it was important for the lore and story teams to think like the race they were working on. Grubb focused on the differences by defining a set of virtues for each race. The humans had the virtues of resilience, cooperation, and faith, which are fairly easy to understand for a fellow human; while the norn had the virtues of independence, legend, and passion. The teams kept these virtues in mind when using story and lore to further define each race.
I asked about Grimhilde in the official ArenaNet blog article, A Spirit of Legend, with regard to these virtues. The story contained in the article is about what humans would consider an evil or bad-hearted norn (Grimhilde) and an up-and-coming norn bent on revenge against her. Specifically, I asked Grubb on how norn thought of infamy. He paused for a minute because it wasn’t necessarily the right question to ask. Norn don’t really have infamy, which signifies ill-gotten or unwanted fame. Rather their virtue is legend. In A Spirit of Legend, Grimhilde had a legend by other norn. It didn’t matter that her legend was based on “evil” deeds because as far as the other norn cared, she was embodying norn virtues. The interesting part was that when she died, more or less, so did her legend because at the time of death she no longer incorporated norn values. Her legend was replaced. Grubb likened some norn legends to Ragnarök, and other Norse myths that have bitter endings.
Given that we now had a rapport going, I wanted to bring up my controversial take on the Sons of Svanir, where I likened them to a real-world, hate group. Grubb did not exactly say I was wrong, but he brought up a much tighter real-world example. One of the best Earth-human events where we might embody some of the norn virtues happens in Sturgis, South Dakota. The sleepy town of 6,000 bursts a hundred-fold every year at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally when all the free-spirited motorcycle enthusiasts gather for what is basically a contemporary moot. Yet, also attending are the so-called outlaw motorcycle clubs, specifically the 1-percenters. These clubs are not well liked for the bad image they bring to all motorcycle clubs, but they are generally tolerated at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally as long as they are not disruptive to others. The Sons of Svanir are very similar, and as long as they embody norn virtues, they are accepted in to Hoelbrak and moots. It’s when they lose those norn virtues, and set on the path to becoming Icebrood, that their legend as norn as ended, and they become foe.
Grubb was really excited to expand on the norn, and he was really happy to have seen the norn stock rise after norn week. Whereas before that week he saw people put norn in their third or fourth favorite race spot, he now saw many more people that had the norn race as full-on favorites. Grubb was really excited about the upcoming Guild Wars 2 race weeks, and hoped for similar situations.
I next asked about whether some mysteries would get lost to time as all the new stories and new mysteries would be brought to light. Knowing I likely would anyway, he quickly brought up the mursaat, one of the core enemies in the original Guild Wars Prophecies. The base answer is that they are not ready to close the doors on the mursaat, or many other mysteries such as the druids of Maguuma Jungle or the Seers. They want more stories to be told about these mysteries, even if they are no longer at the forefront of ongoing Guild Wars lore. Grubb wants other ArenaNet developers, some of whom are also huge mursaat fans, to come in to his office ready to share a story in-game. He usually asks a few questions to refine the scope of the story, but right now they want to be able to tell all those stories. Grubb feels that if they start answering hard questions, then many stories may not get told because the doors are already closed. Open doors facilitate creativity, he concluded, and that’s the kind of culture they want at ArenaNet. I really, really wanted discuss the Forgotten, but I felt the answers would be nearly the same.
Grubb also said that sometimes they just don’t have answers because ArenaNet themselves are not ready to close private doors. They have all the evidence, a tad more than we do, but that does not mean it is comprehensive to every question. When they feel it is time for a question to be answered, they will go seeking the answer in view of the evidence they had. This reminded me of the table-top roleplaying system the Mythic Game Master Emulator, where players create answers from information they know instead of answering it straight up. I remembered that in one interview Grubb had mentioned that he felt that killing Abaddon in Guild Wars Nightfall was the wrong decision. Clearly it closed doors that Grubb was not ready to close. Who knows what stories we would have received if the mad god had been redeemed instead of destroyed.
Finally, I touched upon parity of races with regard to lore for post-launch content in Guild Wars. Basically, how were they going to handle the fact that humans were everywhere in the original Guild Wars, and some playable Guild Wars 2 races are pretty native only to the Tyrian continent. Grubb said that the advancement of 250 years gave them many open doors to walk through, and these new opportunities provide new challenges.
A small crowd was beginning to form around Grubb both for autographs and questions. The Meet and Greet had just opened up to the public, and I still had tons of developers to track down. Hopefully someday I can sit down and have a relaxing beer with the legendary man, but I was pretty happy with our discussion. Sure, I did not get any long-burning questions answered, yet our conversation was more than just a Q-n-A lore interview. I want to thank him again for talking with me, and I am really excited to see what he and the Guild Wars 2 team has in store for us in the Guild Wars lore department.