40 years of D&D through the eyes of authors
Dungeons and Dragons celebrates forty years this year.
I started playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in high school. We would gather at a friend’s house around lunchtime, order pizza, and play until dark. My first character was a druid, who used a silver sickle and immediately used it to tell an overly friendly character to back off.
As an author, I frequently write about my characters, whether it’s backstory, or little stories, or adventures. At the same time, D&D has introduced me to a wider world of science fiction and fantasy literature and I like to think has helped improved my writing.
I was curious about how D&D had influenced some of my other writer friends who happened to be roleplayers.
Jaym Gates is the Communications Director for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA), a freelance publicist, editor, and author.
Misty Massey is the author of Mad Kestrel and numerous short stories.
Gail Z. Martin is the author of the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of the Necromancer series, and the Fallen Kings Cycle.
Laura Haywood-Cory is an Associate Editor at Baen Books.
1) What was your first introduction to D&D? (And When?)
Jaym Gates (JG): My first knowledge of it was when I was a kid. I grew up in one of those scary right-wing, super-Christian environments that believed D&D was Satan’s tool, and we had several books explaining why it was so awful. Read those cover-to-cover and came to the conclusion that it was quite awesome.
Misty Massey (MM): When I was 15, my mother went off to a professional convention and brought me back a book she thought I’d like: the first edition Player’s Handbook. I had no one to play with at the time, but I read that book cover to cover, over and over. By the time I found a group, I could quote it to you.
Gail Martin (GM): Friends in high school would get together on a Saturday and play all day. Classic D&D.
Laura Haywood-Cory (LHC): My first introduction to D&D was in high school, 1985, and it was AD&D. The same boyfriend who introduced me to Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books offered to be Dungeon Master for an AD&D game with me, his twin brother, and a friend of theirs. I was the only female in the game. My character was an elven magic user, and our first adventure was the Temple of Elemental Evil.
2) How long have you been playing D&D?
MM: 1979. Junior year of high school. I finally found a group to play with. Two of the folks were in my class, and the DM was the older sister of one of my friends. We got together on Saturday nights and played in their den. We all had characters of good alignments, so I learned a great deal about working together to bring about a desired outcome. I played with them until I went off to college, where I put a note on the cafeteria bulletin board asking for a group to let me join. Dangerous, I know, but I was lucky enough to again find another gaming group. This one was much different from my hometown friends. There were evil characters and plots against other members of the party and thievery…it was AWESOME.
GM: My husband had been playing D&D with his cousins before we got married. Afterwards, we played with them until we 1) had kids, and 2) moved away. Sadly, that kind of spare time just hasn’t been available between kids, writing the books, and running a business, but I have every intention of organizing all the games at the nursing home when I’m finally old enough to be carted off there!
LHC: I played D&D for all of my senior year of high school and for a year or so in college. Then, some friends, including my future husband, corrupted me to the dark side of points-based character generation RPG systems instead of random roll-based character gen, and I quickly converted to HERO System/Champions. I’ve dabbled in D&D a few times since; played in a 2nd ed D&D game long enough to know what THAC0 means, and played in a D&D 3.5 game for a bit. So while I’ve moved on from D&D proper, playing tabletop RPGs has stuck with me — I’ll be 46 next month and am looking forward to getting back into a Fantasy Hero game that’s been on hiatus for a few weeks.
3) What is your favorite type of character to play?
JG: Fighter/tank/armored behemoth, which is great until the GM is pissed at you for drowning one of his NPCs and zaps your fully-armored self with lightning…while you’re standing in a pool of water. I love being the damage-absorbing sort who kind of hangs back until the big battles and then just mows through foes.
MM: Thieves. (Yes, I know, they’re called Rogues now. I don’t care. *grin*) I love trying to be sneaky and sly, especially because I’m not at all like that in real life.
LHC: My favorite type of D&D character to play is some sort of magic user or healer.
4) What challenges have you faced playing D&D?
JG: My RPG life is cursed. I can schedule 20 board/card game nights a month and get all of them, but schedule one RPG and every single participant has something happen to them.
MM: I’ve been lucky. Only once did I ever run into gender discrimination with gaming. Between receiving my book and finding my first group, I attempted to join a group of guys at my high school. The first time I went to a game session, I’d already prepped a character — a fighter/cleric who wore armor and carried a mace. They laughed and told me girls couldn’t fight. They were okay with me being a cleric, because I could heal them, but they didn’t want to let me do anything else. I took my books and went home immediately because I wasn’t going to stick around with a bunch of jerks. It wouldn’t have been any fun. And the whole point of gaming is to have fun!
GM: More orcs than I can count.
LHC: I haven’t had a lot of issues from fellow gamers. Especially when I was first getting into it, female gamers were such a rarity that we were given warm welcomes and made to feel at home, and the other players were good at helping me understand the rules, even if I never did become a master at min-maxing. There was sometimes a little bit of “Oh, you’re only here because your boyfriend is playing,” but once they realized that no, I was playing the game because I wanted to be playing the game, then I was treated as just another part of the group.
The main challenge I had, and it’s specifically linked to D&D since there weren’t many other RPG systems out in the mid ’80s, was that my mother was convinced that D&D was a tool of Satan and that I was going to burn in Hell if I didn’t quit playing. For this I squarely blame Patricia Pulling and her group BADD (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons), a book by one Jerry Johnston called The Edge of Evil: The Rise of Satanism in North America, and Rona Jaffe’s novel, Mazes & Monsters, that got adapted into the Tom Hanks movie and led to people all over the country internalizing the stereotype that gamers are freakish loners who get lost in steam tunnels and take the game way too seriously.
It’s my fervent hope that this issue primarily affected those of us who are Gen X gamers; thankfully the “Satanic panic” of the ’80s and early ’90s has faded, and role-playing games don’t seem to get that knee-jerk “Evil! Bad!” reaction that they once did. But I was a teenager and young adult right smack in the middle of the Satanic Panic, and my mom fell for it, hard. For example, our copy of Johnston’s book had the section on D&D highlighted, dog-eared, and underlined, and it was very clearly aimed at me, since neither of my siblings played RPGs.
It was actually helpful for me, then, to move to playing Champions in college; when my mom would call me up and ask if I was “still playing that ‘evil D&D,'” I could tell her in all honesty that no, I was no longer playing D&D.
That said, when I had to move home for a year after college, I left all of my gaming books, dice, and character sheets with a friend, until I could get my own apartment.
5) What’s your favorite D&D memory?
JG: My first actual D&D game was at Gen Con, and not only was it all pros, it was That Special Kind of Pro, with a fairly straight-laced GM. We were told that we’d be playing characters that matched the players’ genders. Right off, Peter’s rogue was a cross-dresser always sneaking off to check his makeup, Ari’s wizard was trying to defeat monsters with puns, and my character entered every delicate situation with “I try to hit them over the head with my giant sword.” The GM was chugging whiskey within moments.
Or, within that same game, the look on the DM’s face when I stuck his kobold NPC headfirst into the water to see if it was booby-trapped. “Why would you DO that?” Needless to say, that’s when he fried me with lightning.
MM: There are so many! This is the first one that comes to mind: I’d been playing a neutral evil half-orc/half-gnome cleric/assassin named Kestrel (no relation to the pirate!) She’d fallen in love with a shipbuilder (NPC, which meant he was being played by my RL husband, the DM) in the town the group was adventuring in, but he didn’t want a lover who moved around all the time, so he’d broken things off with me and agreed to marry the daughter of a local landowner instead. I was so angry and heartbroken, I hatched a plan to make sure the wedding never happened. I inveigled myself into the daughter’s household, convinced her we were friends, then murdered her and burned the house down.
No, it wasn’t nice at all (evil, remember?), but you should have seen everyone else’s faces when I pulled it off. Glorious. And yes, I eventually won back the man of my heart. But that’s another story.
GM: I think my favorite memory is having been so immersed in the story and the action that I kind of “woke up” six hours or so later with absolutely no idea of how much time had elapsed, feeling as if the adventure had been real.
LHC: A favorite memory comes from an Oriental Adventures campaign; I was playing a wu-jen (a sort of magic user). I forget what happened but I started laughing and couldn’t stop, and one of the other players, in character, asked mine what was so funny. I looked down my nose at him and said, “The things which amuse the wu-jen are far beyond your comprehension,” at which point the rest of the group cracked up, too. It’s a “you had to be there” moment, but it’s stuck with me after all this time. 🙂
6) What do you think you learned from D&D that you might not have picked up otherwise?
JG: I’m not sure it was D&D-specific, but a game is what you make it. D&D is THE heroic fantasy cliche, but you can make something absolutely unique out of it if you have the right people.
MM: I learned how to work with a team and how to blend my ideas with those of others to make a perfect plan. I learned that sometimes you get a better result by trusting your buddies than you would alone (although sometimes it’s a good idea to ditch them all and take the treasure for yourself, too.) I learned that it’s okay to stand my ground and fight for what I believe, even if I lose and have to go along with the group anyway.
Most of all, I learned that you never, ever assume that the groaning sailors shambling all over the deck are zombies. Sometimes they’re just under a spell.
GM: I really got a sense for the teamwork needed in a quest adventure, which translated both to fiction and to real life. I also learned just how creative people can be in inventing stories to amaze and amuse, and how inventive folks who don’t always consider themselves to be “creative” (i.e. engineers, math majors, programmers, etc. as opposed to artists, writers, etc.) really are and how they need to give themselves credit for that! And I get the gaming references in pop culture!
This video goes rather well with the topic, Natural Twenty by the Blibbering Humdingers
And Mickey Mason’s “Best Game Ever”
LHC: One thing that D&D taught me is that I’m much more interested in collaborative efforts than competitive ones; it’s why I used to not like convention or tournament-style gaming. It always felt too much like I was competing against the other players–because I was. To this day, I’m very much a fan of collaborative games over competitive ones like Monopoly or Risk. And in real life, I’d much rather work on something as a team, rather than trying to be a general barking orders and having people say “How high?” when I shout “Jump!” So what I’m saying is that I’d make a lousy drill sergeant. 🙂
In conclusion: gaming is fun, and learning teamwork is good. Play on!