Fantasy and Gaming
Fantasy literature and fantasy games are and will always be intertwined. Certainly, fantasy fiction predates Crossbows and Catapults, Warhammer, Thieves World, Dungeons & Dragons or Magic: The Gathering, but for many readers fantasy games—even if you didn’t play them growing up—were a gateway to novels of similar subject matter. The reverse is true as well. Many a reader has been introduced to the world of RPGs after falling in love with the tropes found in so much of the best fantasy.
I vividly recall the roleplaying section of the used bookstore I used to visit with my grandmother. The beckoning artwork of countless modules, compendiums and rulebooks was impossible to ignore. But a seven-year-old (this one, anyway) doesn’t know where to start, and is too shy to ask. So I moved onto the books that had the same logos.
I still asked for the games, though. And I was lucky enough to get them.
I love D&D, but I can count on one hand the times I’ve actually played with a serious group. Reading a book is, by and large, an individual endeavor. Sure, you can read aloud. Or join a book club or message board. But when it comes down to brass tacks, the act of reading is a solitary one. Playing a game is not. Games—be they of the board, card or pen and paper variety—are by their very nature are designed to be played with others. They are social experiences; something to be done in a group—either cooperatively or competitively. And not everyone had that group growing up.
Regardless, since the age of seven, I’ve always had a copy of the D&D rules laying around the house. I had the Red Box. I had the white AD&D set that you could get in binders. I had a tolerant father that would make countless blank copies of character sheets at his office. And I had dice. So many dice.
Over the last 30 years I’ve bought fantasy card games based on Lord of the Rings. I’ve bought DragonLance and Forgotten Realms maps and modules. And I’ve read them like books. I’ve considered them source material for the novels I love. I’ve rolled countless characters, created lists of spells and equipment, made maps on graph paper that were more elaborate than any school project—and yet I rarely played the game itself as intended.
But I still I consider D&D to be integral to my love of fantasy.
If I saw that TSR logo, I had to have it. I had to know what secrets were between those two covers—regardless of how many critical hit tables I needed to wade through to get them. What I didn’t know then, but realized over time, was that fantasy games (played or not) planted a seed of creativity that is still growing today. They were catalysts for creation, as opposed to the more passive experience of reading a novel. Even when you’re not playing with a group, RPG character creation can be a rewarding storytelling exercise.
Like many “uncool” things from my childhood, tabletop RPGs have moved more toward the mainstream. Fantasy as a genre is more popular than ever, and so are games. In a world where actual person-to-person contact is becoming increasingly rare, many have turned to games as a way to maintain a social connection that can’t be replicated via text or Skype. Podcasts of D&D sessions including comedians, authors and other celebrities are readily available. Role-playing games are no longer instantly derided or lambasted as borderline-Satanic.
I’ve introduced my own kids to basic tabletop roleplaying games and it has been a great experience. It allows them to use their imaginations, practice their reading and math, and learn how to have fun with a pencil, paper and some dice as opposed to an electronic device. My hope is that as they get older, they will value creativity and storytelling and they won’t feel self-conscious or “different” because of it.
Fantasy gaming and fantasy fiction continue to evolve in tandem. The two are inextricably intertwined. Both mediums will continue to grow in popularity as shows like Game of Thrones and movies like the upcoming Star Wars relaunch inspire a new generation to create new ways to explore the genres we love. And that is a good thing.