Monday, May 19, 2014

Writing Influences: Dungeons & Dragons

Wizards of the Coast recently announced that the fifth edition of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game will be arriving this summer. A starter set is coming in July, with the core rulebooks arriving in August. I am extremely excited for D&D 5e, and seeing as I have kids who will be 8 and 11 when the new rules arrive, I am really looking forward to introducing them to a game that has had a profound impact on my life.

I’ve blogged before about my love of RPGs like Mass Effect, and my desire to design my own tabletop roleplaying game. I even attended the Dungeons & Dragons Experience (DDXP) convention in 2008 and covered the impending launch of the 4th Edition of D&D for Secret Identity.

But I haven’t really talked much about the impact that growing up with D&D has had on my writing. Everything about my writing is in some way connected to my love of the game I first discovered when I was about 10 years old. I bought a copy of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules (the red box) from a friend’s brother for about $10, and fell in love. One of the most brilliant aspects of that edition of the D&D rules was that it began with a Choose Your Own Adventure-style story that explained the rules. The notion that I could play a game with others that was similar to the books I was obsessed with blew my mind. As I delved deeper, I found entire worlds to adventure in with my friends, or read about on my own. A lifelong love of D&D was born.


Dungeons & Dragons was the genesis of my lifelong love of sword and sorcery--I read the Dragonlance Chronicles before I’d even heard of The Lord of the Rings. D&D shaped the types of video games I was drawn to, from The Legend of Zelda in 1986 to the Mass Effect trilogy of recent years. And D&D most certainly shaped my writing, just as much as my love of ‘80s horror movies and H.P Lovecraft.

My first experiences creating adventures for my friends were in many ways my first real writing experiences. I had to create a story that was worth my audience’s time, because they weren't just going to listen to me tell the story, they were going to live it, and chance it, and help me tell it. Running a D&D game was my first experience with characters running off in different directions than I had initially planned. In D&D, it happens all the time, and as the Dungeon Master (DM), you have to adjust the story accordingly. When that happens now in my writing, I’m never afraid of it, as I’ve had years of practice.

Probably the biggest influence that D&D has had on my writing is that it has instilled a love of world-building and creature creation. Everything I write has at least one of those things, if not both. The Parted Veil series (Courting the King in Yellow, Private Showing, Lovecraft’s Curse) has progressed from kind of a creature feature set in our world to a series that is beginning to explore other worlds as well. Part of the reason the series has evolved this way is because of the D&D nerd in me that needs to find out more about the strange places my characters visit, and what horrors lurk in the shadows of those places. Using the Dreamlands of H.P. Lovecraft as a starting point, I’m taking things in more of a dark fantasy direction as the series continues. I’m having a blast putting my own spin on the Dreamlands, and I’m pulling on my D&D experience quite a bit as I go along.

So even though I don’t get to play as much these days, I will always pick up a new version of D&D, as I want to support the creative inspiration that in many ways led me become a writer.

Not to mention, fighting dragons is a lot of fun.