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Tales From the Tavern Interview with M.T. Black

NOTE: the opinions expressed in interviews are those of the guests, not necessarily those of

Today we talk to noted RPG creator and author M.T. Black. You can find his work at and at

Let's hear what he has to say!

When did you first create the world of Iskandar (Celos)?

I have been creating imaginary lands ever since I was a child, and I've drawn many dozens of world maps over the years. Iskandar is in some ways a culmination of that creative energy, and there are some elements (like the Isle of Dawn) that first appeared in worlds I created as a teenager. I started seriously compiling things into a consistent world about 4-5 years ago.

The Emporium of Wonders

When did you decide to publish the Iskandar books, and which one came first?

I made the decision about the middle of 2020. I was publishing on the DMs Guild at the time and enjoying some success as a Guild Adept. But some smart people convinced me that I really needed to own the IP I was creating. So I made the decision to shift from creating for the Forgotten Realms and start publishing my own material in my own world. It was quite a sacrifice, as I really enjoy writing for the Forgotten Realms and there were some fun projects I had coming up. But it was 100% the right decision and I quickly fell in love with publishing my own world and material. The first official Iskandar book I published was The Book of Wondrous Magic which was a magic item collection. I was on a bit of a magic item bender at the time and I thought it would sell, though it deliberately was light on Iskandar lore.

What are some things that players might get from Iskandar that might be missing in some other fantasy RPG settings?

That's a hard question because there are so many settings out there nowadays, and I think it's challenging for anyone to point to any element and say it's 100% unique. I think people will find that it works well as a classic D&D setting, while still feeling quite different to something like Greyhawk or the Forgotten Realms. The races are mostly unique to the world - there are no elves or dwarves for example. It's noticeable how fresh this makes a setting feel. Players will also encounter a really coherent city they can use as a base camp, and a surrounding province that makes sense. There's a lot of research that went into that that may be invisible to casual readers, but I do think the verisimilitude helps players and DM alike.

As a practical example, some published settings will have a major city somewhere, and then the nearest settlement will be a village a few miles away, and then nothing until the next major city. This makes no sense if all that land is being farmed! And so, in the province surrounding my mega-city of Iskandar, I note that there are nearly 300 settlements of varying sizes, from tiny thorpes up to walled towns. I've privately named about a hundred of them though I've only properly documented about 10 or so. But it gives things a surprising depth, and it means that disasters and threats aren't continually happening in the same place.

Another thing about my setting is that the world map itself is quite small compared to many others. One of the advantages of this is that I've been able to create a really solid and coherent history that plausibly covers the whole setting. That doesn't mean I've figured out every little detail - far from it! But there is a coherence that I sometimes miss in some published settings, where it feels like regional events are always happening in a vacuum. One final thing to mention is the faction system. I'm convinced that factions are a very powerful way to direct play, and I've defined about 50 of them so far, though I've only published half a dozen in detail. In my own campaign, they really drive the action.

You’ve published adventures in the world of Iskandar as well as sourcebooks. Do you have a favorite adventure?

Oh gosh, I really like all of my little adventures and I could make a case for any of them! There's a lot I like about Old Town Saga, which I kickstarted last year and have delivered to backers, though it's not yet out on DTRPG.

There are a lot of Game Masters out there who’ve created some impressive fantasy settings. What advice do you have for those thinking about publishing their settings?

The most important and challenging thing to do is to find an audience. It is vital to have an email list and to build it up - I can't emphasize this enough. Using a platform that combines blog/mailing list is a good idea. Start to publish bits of your work for free, get people interested, get their email addresses, and then you have an audience for when your first book launches. Creating a quality RPG world is difficult, but marketing it well is even harder.

Besides Iskandar sourcebooks and adventures, you’ve also written advice books like The Anatomy of Adventure. Which did you write first and how did one type of book influence the other?

I published the first edition of The Anatomy of Adventure back in 2020, and it really summed up many of the lessons I'd learned writing adventures for WOTC and the DMs Guild over the previous few years. It's influence over Iskandar was fairly significant but also invisible, in that the same lessons that I wrote about in AoA were also being applied to the adventures I was writing for Iskandar. I kickstarter a second edition of the book last year, and it was double the length and is now available on DTRPG.

What do you have coming up (if you can tell us about any of it?)

Yes, my next kickstarter will be called Iskandar Adventures and it is a collection of five adventures set all over the province. I have thoroughly playtested all of these adventures with the help of over a hundred volunteers, so they are really polished. DMs will pick these up and be able to start running them very easily, but they will also find they do a lot of heavy lifting for them. And, as always, they are easy to transfer to your own fantasy setting. I really look forward to publishing this book!

Thanks, M.T.!
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