Slowly, you step into the old throne room of the castle, your footsteps echoing back at you as they bounce off of the arched ceiling twenty feet above. The room extends ahead of you, an abandoned hall covered in a layer of dust, empty save for two rows of massive pillars. The air is cold, stale and still. As you progress forward between the pillars, your torchlight reveals the end of the hall, bringing the throne into your view. The grand seat of stone sits upon a wide pedestal of marble, in front of a tattered wall tapestry, flanked by time-worn statues depicting demonic knights. And then, in the illumination of your torch, you notice it: the king’s remains, a cobweb-covered skeleton sitting upon the throne, his hollow eye sockets somehow staring directly at you.
Perhaps I didn’t describe it quite that well at the time – I was fifteen years old – but I can still recall the magical feeling of excitement that I felt when I ran my first custom dungeon. I had only been playing Dungeon & Dragons (D&D) for a couple of years, but I rapidly took on the responsibility of learning how to be the Dungeon Master (DM) for our group. It took some trial and error, and by the time I mastered it, most of my friends had either moved away or “outgrew” the game. What I didn’t realize at the time was that being a DM was more than just an enjoyable pastime for me; it was actually preparing me to become a writer of several styles and multiple media, molding me into a multi-class wizard of the pen. Before mapping out the explanation for this, I present a little background for the D&D impaired.
D&D is a type of game called a pen-and-paper role playing game (RPG). This is as opposed to the video game genre, RPG, the only kind that most young people have heard of these days. Indeed, the legends of old are true: people used to actually sit around a table together, write on paper, interact face-to-face and even use their imagination to play games! Well, some of us did. Those that did not called us nerds and weirdos, which is, of course, what we were. And most of the time, we secretly preferred being weird and nerdy. D&D was one of the few ways for the social outcasts to get together, be themselves and feel good about their quirky ways for once.
In a game of D&D, everyone around the table plays his/her own character, except for one person. The chosen one is the DM, and he/she acts as a storyteller and referee of the game. The DM describes the story and setting to the players. The players then “role play” the actions of their characters accordingly, the DM determines the results of those actions, and the interactive story continues to unfold in this way. That is the essence of the game, in a nutshell. To be the DM was essentially to be in charge of the whole world in which the game takes place, to know the ins and outs of all the places, people, creatures and events that the players’ characters may encounter.
There was something about being intimate with an entire fictional world that I found (and still find) utterly fascinating. Learning the layout of the land, getting familiar with the characters and how they affect the story, plotting out potential gameplay scenarios – it all intrigued me to the point of obsession. I wanted to learn everything about the world that I would be unraveling, so that I could be the best DM possible and better prepared for how the players might play. This required a lot of reading, not just of the D&D material but also of my own extra research. I was determined to be thorough, and I needed to be clear on all the details of the game, which sometimes used words I hadn’t previously known. D&D is probably the sole reason why I know what an alcove or an acolyte is. To this end, being a DM increased both my vocabulary and my interest in reading.
After running a few D&D games successfully, the inevitable followed: I created my first custom dungeon. I was able to start from scratch, designing everything – the maps, encounters, characters and storyline – from my own imagination. It was the ultimate plateau of nerdy weirdo satisfaction. Being the DM in a game of your own creation and running it with several players is like being a god in a socially awkward universe. Much of that gratification comes from the great amount of work it takes to get to that point. My first dungeon was small, consisting of about thirty pages of notes. Yes, that is small for a D&D game if you’re a thorough DM. It took days of brainstorming, weeks of reading and a month of writing to finish. Eventually, as my obsession with creating and writing grew, I designed an entire kingdom (in game terms, a campaign). My first dungeon became one of numerous locations within the kingdom of my campaign, all of which were tied together by an intricate story scribed by yours truly. I devoted so much time to writing that I flattened out the index finger of my right hand from holding a pen so often.
Constructing my campaign became a personal passion, pleasurable even in the absence of possible players. A good eighty percent of my campaign was seen only by my eyes. This DM would not be deterred. In fact, my obsession oozed into other parts – nay, every part – of my life. The concept of “making it my own” actually changed the way I enjoyed other hobbies. I was no longer satisfied with merely reading a book, listening to music, watching a movie or playing a video game. I wanted to write my own everything!
Over the years, I have done exactly that, acquiring an impressive array of literary achievements since my days as a DM. I have written hundreds of songs that have been recorded and distributed around the world. I am the author of two self-published books, one of short stories and the other of poetry. As a freelancer, I have penned a number of informative articles and editorials. The film screenplay and video game script I wrote just for fun. In addition to all of this is my own fictional world, eighteen years in the making and still a work in progress, currently around three hundred pages of material. To this day, I continue to write on both a personal and a professional level. An obsession with creating and “making it my own” remains with me, driving my passion as a multi-faceted writer, and I owe it all to being a DM in D&D.