It may come as no surprise, but I am a veteran D&D player. I was there at the very beginning, owned the first-edition rulebook, and for a long time played the game exclusively with my brother Henry, long before we chose our separate paths.
To this day, I cannot look at graph paper without seeing the symbols I invented for secret doors, traps, sloping floors, the esoterica of a fantasy world I was sketching, one perilous space after another, onto an increasingly broad canvas.
Before I knew it, I had created a town. A road from that town led to a city. A port in that city allowed me to circumnavigate a continent. The outline of that continent made me contemplate a world, and in contemplation of that world I asked a fundamental question: is there a god?
Against type, I decided yes. It’s a fantasy world, so yes, let there be a god. A riven being who, recognising a darkness within itself, casts the shadow out and imprisons it within a world. My world. Then, having torn itself apart, the god goes mad and isn’t worth a pinch of shit to the mortals stranded on his now well-fucked world.
Anyhoo, I’ve always preferred tragedy over comedy. I yawned through A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but was rivetted by Iago. Stephen R. Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant were the correction I needed (after too much Tolkien) and Gormenghast‘s Steerpike finally tipped me over the edge.
As a bleak fantasist, I immersed myself in The Black Company, the Malazan Book of the Fallen, and so many others. Author Steven Erikson was, in fact, the inspiration for my blogging nom de guerre. I was there at the beginning of GRRM; The rest of you are just johnny-com-lately’s playing dress-up.
But in the background, behind all the noise and distraction, a D&D ‘dungeon master’ continued to flesh out his awful imaginary world. In the foreground, amid the noise and distractions, the nerdy boy became a man with #adulting shit to do.
One of my earliest reactions to religion, specifically the cult of Catholicism, came from the librarian at my highschool. Once a week, we’d take a quiet room in the library to play D&D at lunch. I don’t remember the name of the crucifix-clad bitch, but she banned us from playing, saying the game was “immoral”.
Catholicism is a breeding ground for paedophilia, so it was probably good that us lads absented ourselves from her sleazy, bespectacled clutches, but it left a bitter aftertaste. What’s “immoral” about D&D? Is chess unethical? Maybe Scrabble is heretical, and Uno diabolical?
So I read with quiet satisfaction, and a big middle-finger to a certain dead librarian, that D&D is back. Like all things once forbidden, it is enjoying a groundswell of popularity, and children new to the hobby are braying their opinions on the interwebz like they know something.
So maybe it’s time to dust off the rule books and roll a d6. One to three, there’s too much water under the bridge to try swimming back against the current to the camp amid the hemlocks where I left my sword (+3 versus undead). Four to six, and I’ll heft that sword and enter the crypt, because somewhere beyond the moaning horde is a cracked gem containing the shadow of a god.
And only a mad god knows what I’ll be able to do with that!