I blogged recently (on my random mescaline-addled blogspot) about inspirations that have guided my writing--and within that is not just my published fantasy work, but my YA sci-fi story currently lurking in a slush-pile somewhere nowhere near you. The blog noted the key influence of comics in my style, focusing particularly on the work of John Byrne.
But if I had to cite one key formative step in my writing there is no doubt that it would be role playing games, and of them all (and believe me I played almost all of them in the Eighties) it has to be Dungeons and Dragons.
This will come as no surprise to those who read Skulldust Circle, and indeed I know that at least one (if not most) of my six buddies owe allegiance to the frothing offspring of E Gary Gygax. This is the "I'm Spartacus" moment when they all concur....
[Echoes of fervent agreement as I level my Crossbow of Author Castrating +2]
I first observed the DnD phenomenon via my mate Nick Earnshaw's brothers' piles of DnD stuff. They were placed around his house, in little piles, under tables and cabinets- enticing mounds of graph paper, funny dice, rule books and modules. This was in c1981 and thus we are talking old school first edition AD&D here. I properly got into it when (a) I started on the Fighting Fantasy books and (b) got intrigued by The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Ralph Bakshi had released a cartoon of LOTR and i recall seeing a recovered LOTR book at my mate's house (and indeed, we later played Middle Earth RPG). I started, as many did, on Basic D&D, moving onto Expert and from that, Advanced. I spent my life savings (about £30) on the Dungeon Masters Guide and the Players Handbook, doing without the Monster Manual for year or so (creating many odd interpretations of the monsters found in that big table in the appendix of the DMG).
And the creativity began. We played a lot of the modules at first: The giant and the Drow ones (G1-3, D1-3, Q1) I ran with my younger brother. We played White Plume Mountain about ten times over (how cool was Black Razor? Like bloody StormBringer), Tomb of Horrors, one of the A ones (I forget which) and... as time went on, and the adventures got cooler, the UK modules and Dragonlance (and of course, Ravenloft).
But the real fun in the game was the real creativity--the writing of my own adventures, the generation of a campaign. Although through the Eighties we played dozens of other RPGs (Runequest, Traveller, Star Frontiers, Gamma World, Call of Cthulhu, Paranoia, Dr Who, Star Trek, MERPG, Toon, Judge Dredd, Bushido, Marvel Superheroes, Villians and Vigilantes, the time travel one, a gangster one too....) DnD was always my favourite. What we created changed with our tastes, or maturity and our outside influences. In the beginning it was daft, far-fetched, almost cartoonish--i recall a repeat-action crossbow that we loved in Hawk The Slayer, that half the characters had. Later we would weave together intricate campaigns, with fully realised histories.
Then I hit medical school, and we all moved apart in the country. Bar one or two sessions we all accepted that we'd not play again and, when wives and kids arrived, it seemed even less likely.
Around 5 years ago, bored one evening, i began to write a quick story about the characters we used to play with. I e-mailed it out to the guys and they loved it, and so I began to write a story as if we were playing the adventures again, with all the references to the characters histories.
It felt great, creating once more, breathing life into dialogue and action. The 300 pages the story ran to taught me a huge amount about writing, about structure. As it was concluding one of my mates, Ant, commented that I should tackle something brand new... something not related to our prior campaign.
So it began with a map... and now its a six book saga.
It took a while to escape the complete DnD influence. The first draft was very DnD style, with the magic derivative, and the characters almost having classes and levels! It took a bit of discipline and merciless use of the Red Pen of Sorrow +1 to tame the bias in the text.
But despite the modifications and moderations, it is unashamedly a book written by a DnD player (and Dungeon Master). I'm proud of that fact, and proud that I'm now starting a campaign with my kids (aged 10 and 8)... and White Plume Mountain awaits....
Over my next few posts I thought I'd bring it full circle. When I began playing DnD it inspired my reading of fantasy. The books I read then had a huge impact on me and I've continued my love of the fantasy classics that shaped the DnD games recently with a few books that I always meant to read. For fun I'm going to talk about them as i read them over the next six or so SkullDust posts I'm writing. Hope it'll be interesting fro gamers and fantasy buffs alike.