Grimspirations #2: Dungeons & Dragons

The game that launched a thousand careers, slayed millions of kobolds, and made staying at home drinking copious amounts of soda fun, Dungeons and Dragons is definitely one of the top Grimspirations of all time. To celebrate International Tabletop Day (April 29th) I decided to put together a post about how Dungeons and Dragons inspired me in multiple ways, including most of my interests to this day. Shit, if not for Dungeons and Dragons, the Philip you all know and love might be still shoveling chicken guts for a living. But let’s not get into that.

On The Grim Tidings Podcast, Rob and I have had multiple guests tell us the impact role-playing games, particularly D&D, had on their lives. Some even famously wrote books for D&D worlds (including R.A. Salvatore and Richard A. Knaak). Suffice to say, I devoured dozens of Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance books back in the day. A sprightly young Phil was seen 9 times out of 10 with a beat-up paperback in his grip. These included the adventures of Drizzt, the Heroes of the Lance, Huma, and many others. I wasn’t inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien like many in the generations before me, but by the worlds influenced by Tolkien. I’m one of the sad few on Earth that has never read Lord of the Rings. I’m one of those lowly “saw the movies” guys.

But let’s not get too far off track. I want to talk about a few things that heavily influence me even today that were directly caused by my days of playing D&D.

Writing

The obvious one, I wouldn’t be writing jack shit if not for D&D. I had a friend introduce me to D&D back when I was a teenager and I spent most weekends of junior high and high school staying up late and playing marathon sessions. I eventually transitioned from a Player Character (PC) to a Dungeon Master (DM). This is what led me to get bit by the story-telling bug.

I spent many hours at my early part-time jobs (during breaks) designing campaigns and plotting out small maps. I had dozens of little memos folded up in my pocket that I’d doodle on whenever I got even a small window. I was literally working for the weekend. I always looked forward to how my players would react to what I had in store.

I never really had “loot monger” players. Fortunately, they enjoyed the role-playing aspect more than endless battles. The battles I did throw at them usually meant something because I worked hard on making them hate the people that they occasionally ran into. Monsters were around as well, but I never did the standard dungeon crawl kind of games. The players seemed to like that, so I rolled with it.

Then the games ended. People went off to different universities, I went off to university, and no one really played anymore. I tried other groups, but nothing really clicked. That’s when the foray into writing really began.

I never used any of my D&D ideas for stories, but I’d be lying if I said DMing had become an addiction, an addiction that transferred over to writing. The folded memos were no more, replaced by notebooks full of ideas and a desktop crammed with Works-in-Progress.

At some point I hit the “fuck it” point of my life and decided to publish some of the stuff I’d written. I decided waiting around for things to be perfect wouldn’t work. Just like that wouldn’t work when I was DMing. I had players waiting for a story. Surprisingly, I have people interested in the next Splatter Elf tale. So…addiction sated.

Game Design

A few years ago I had a revelation while teaching. It was: “If I make classes I’d have fun doing, then maybe other people would like them, too.” This meant games. A shit ton of them. I started cutting up cards, collecting tokens, dice, and all sorts of things to make games out of. Students started to like my lessons and lit up when they learned we were playing a game. That’s when I knew that game design was something I had suddenly gained interest in. Now, I have to go back to my D&D roots because without them, I would never have even thought about playing games in my classes. Game designing also brought me to one of my new favorite hobbies, card/board games. I have about 20 now that I’ve bought in the last three years or so. They help me come up with new ideas not only for classes, but also for my own games. That’s right, I design games now also. Woo hoo.

Without D&D, I wouldn’t have one of the things I enjoy most in life, something I can share with friends and my wife. It’s awakened new creative impulses in me that have lain dormant for a while. Making card games for classes and myself (for possible sale at some point?) have become the new folded memos of my 30s.

Reading

Ah, reading. It’s something I’ve done a lot of, but unfortunately is never enough. I always feel guilty for getting behind on reading. Mostly because I know the amount of work authors put into their books. Yet I’ve realized that this is never going to end. The To Be Read Pile is like eating a Sisyphean doughnut. The more I eat, the more it grows. That said, most of what I read is fantasy. That’s because of, you guessed it, D&D. I’ve always been interested in magic, swords, and the like, probably dating back to when I was in elementary school reading Greek mythology every day. Why did I do that? I was bored after school most days and I had a library at my disposal.

I read fantasy not necessarily for the escapism like some may do, but to remind me of what I love. I love the fantastical, the weird, the unexplained. And I think that comes from watching a party get butchered by a beholder, or seeing a blue dragon get its head sliced off by a vorpal blade, or even my main villain get turned to dust by a Disintegrate scroll. These are fond memories that really happened. With friends. Memories that I still hold dear.

OK, this is getting less grim. Uh, unicorn throat rip. There, that’s better.

In any case, I think those of us that have played D&D have been inspired by it in multiple ways. Those who still smile at the glimpse of an old 2nd Edition book or marvel at the ungodly stats of the Tarrasque. We will not go quietly into the night. Unless we’ve had too much caffeine. They we’ll howl and curse.

But those of us that create have that addiction. We must create so we do create. And I owe that in part to Dungeons and Dragons.

Now roll that trusty d20 and see what you get.

  1. You trip on your guts down a staircase into a pit of ravenous jackals.
  2. Your shield breaks and splinters in your face. Now everyone calls you Dumbass Shield-Face.
  3. Your pegasus shits on your tent.
  4. An owlbear eats your last can of beans, flattens your wagon, and kills your cleric. In that order.
  5. A pack of wights drains the piss out of your levels.
  6. A necromancer raises a were-boar from the dead. Now you have to fight an undead were-boar. Ha ha ha!
  7. A thief steals your bag of holding and sticks in another bag of holding.
  8. You trigger a Stinking Cloud trap. Now you smell like ass.
  9. You get Melf’s Acid Arrow right in your junk.
  10. A big ass umber hulk crashes through the wall, screams “Oh yeah!” and then douses you in acidic Kool-Aid.
  11. An elvish fighter/mage/thief throws nuts at you.
  12. A wild beholder appears. You pee a little.
  13. Oh, you found some treasure! It’s the Hand of Vecna! Oh…
  14. The party wants to split. The DM sighs.
  15. A Hill Giant and a Frost Giant get it on near your tavern. You are not amused.
  16. A bard keeps playing the same song over and over and it vaguely sounds like “Let It Go” from Frozen.
  17. A paladin mistakes you for an evil priestess and smashes your toe with his warhammer. You need new shoes.
  18. Rust monsters.
  19. Mountain Dew river.
  20. Someone walks in and laughs. “What you guys playing?” “D&D” “Oh yeah? Who’s winning?”

Thanks.

-Philip Overby

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