CDS Books, a year-old subsidiary of distributor CDS, will publish a line of original novels based on Sony Online Entertainment's five-year-old interactive game, EverQuest. EverQuest was the first 3D "massively multiplayer" online game in North America and is still the largest, with more than 430,000 subscribers. Bestselling SF author and EverQuest gamer R.A. Salvatore will edit the series, along with an in-house editor.

"The first time I played [EverQuest], I realized this world would make a great book series. It's a big, pervasive fantasy world," Salvatore said, adding that he plans to pattern EQ books after early titles in Wizards of the Coast's Forgotten Realms series, for which he created his best-known character, the dark elf Drizzt. "We have a base [of EverQuest fans] out there. It would be great if we could expand beyond that base and bring some new people into the game."

CDS and Sony are offering the writers, who are well known in the SF/fantasy genre, a higher royalty than is traditional for franchise-based books, enabling them to spend the time necessary to create memorable characters and good stories. Noting that many novels based on interactive games are "marketing extensions and nothing more," Sony Online's director of PR, Chris Kramer said, "we see this as an opportunity to add another layer of complexity to our world." (Other EverQuest licensed products include comic books, trading card games and action figures.)

CDS plans four titles for this year, according to associate publisher Hope Matthiessen, with the first, The Rogue's Hour by Scott Ciencin, out this summer. Scott Weick will write the second book.