Comic Book Curious

Living with a Graphic Novelist: Dungeons & Dragons

November 18, 2022

I have lost the man I love. He has fallen into a dungeon of dragons and may never return. Alex, my too-cool-for-school partner, has carefree hair, flashy sunglasses, and a square jaw covered in a 5 o’clock shadow like a Hollywood heartthrob. I often look at him and wonder how his movie star stride ever moved in my direction. I also often look at him and wonder if he remembers he is from a small, rural city in upstate New York, far from Hollywood, where he spent his youth consuming an abnormal abundance of bowling alley chicken fingers to pass the time. On this night, he became someone unrecognizable, a nerd transfixed by a game of Dungeons & Dragons.

An image of Erin and her friends playing Dungeons & Dragons

Credit: Erin Edwards

We sit at the table accompanied by our trusty roommate, Gabe and a new friend, Kasey. We crack our knuckles and Topo Chicos, stretch and stare each other down in preparation of the Wrath of Ashardalon. Gabe pulls out miniature hero figurines for us to choose. He then carefully displays piles cards – Treasure, Monster, Hero, Power, and Encounter cards – all 200 of them. Then, he sets out the many sheets of interlocking dungeon tiles. Next, the shuffling. The 20-sided die. The tokens. The coins. The chips and cigars. Finally, Gabe reads the plot.
A heavy shadow falls across the land, cast by a dark spire that belches smoke and oozes fiery lava. A cave mouth leads to a maze of tunnels and chambers, and deep within this monster-infested labyrinth lurks the most terrifying creature of all: a red dragon!

It is clear that words matter; that every card has been crafted with witty alliteration and vivid adjectives. It is safe to surmise that any child who grew up playing D&D has a robust vocabulary and a much greater advantage in the Spelling Bee. The thoughtful contents of the game provide the imagination you may fear you are lacking.

There we are, thirty minutes later, already exhausted and slightly inebriated, standing on the same tile in the dungeon, ready to begin. Kasey rolls and makes a move. A new tile is laid, and our first monster card is drawn. A seven headed serpent joins us in the dungeon. We each begin attacking. Defeating said monster is manageable. How simple. This game is easy and slow. I get why people enjoy this so much - just sit back, relax, take in the elegant words of the cards, and sip some seltzers with friends.

Two rounds go by and the dungeon grows, as do the number of beasts. We are taking hits left and right on monster attacks. This seems unfair. What the hell. We start bleeding quickly. Kasey nearly hemorrhages but we use the healing coin to rescue him and keep his heart beating. Aha, the necessity to work as a team has arrived. There is no other way to win the game and once again the world of science fiction has united people in a way I never saw coming.

An image of the pieces and the board for Dungeons & Dragons

Image Credit: Erin Edwards

When we arrive to foreign territory in the game, we turn to our veteran Dungeons & Dragons guide for the answer. But, comic book writer, Gabe, doesn’t seem to know the rules. “Create your own adventure,” I remember him saying in the kitchen a week prior. I understand that completely now. He has been creating his own rules to this game since childhood. I wondered, “How many times has he played?” He’s been making up his own rules since childhood it appears. Alex, eager to be team captain, methodically reads the rulebook. When there is ambiguity, we decide together as a team what seems fair.

Attack and move, move and attack, or move twice. We proceed and have some luck defeating the amount of monsters required to win the game. “YES! We are free!” Only issue is we each must safely exit the dungeon and continue to roll the die, potentially inciting new monsters. Something tragic occurs; Ashardalon arrives in the dungeon. My heart sinks, similarly, to a time my team cheered at the end of a championship basketball game only to find out there was still one second left on the clock and the other team had the ball. We discuss sacrificing a team member to defeat the big red dragon, but even that won’t guarantee saving the rest. Captain Alex gives his speech, “We entered into the dungeon as individuals. We united as a team. We can’t leave anyone behind.” I’ve seen this leadership from him before – the time we forgot to plug our catamaran and started sinking, the time our inflatable kayak popped on a Class IV rapid and I lost a paddle, the time a water moccasin swam within inches and I feared for my life, to the time I needed rescuing from depression while oceans away - but never did I imagine, in a million years, that a tabletop role-playing game would provoke such valor.

We needed a miracle. Gabe lofts the die into the air. I would like to tell you it moved in slow motion, that I held my breath, that you could hear a pin drop, but honestly, it happened fast. He rolls the die. We look at it. He says, “Well, whoa.” I say, “Wow, a 4.” KC says, “Nice, man.” Teetering on complete nerdom, Alex jumps out of his chair, pumps his fist, and yells, “Yeaaahhhhhhhh, buddy! That’s good stuff! That’s what we needed Gabe! Let’s go baby! We won! Take that Ashardalon!”

I want my Hollywood heartthrob back. Really, I do. But, who am I to say “no” to his request to play D&D again? However, I’ve been in the cold, damp dungeon for hours with that scary Ashardalon and only care to go back if I can rewrite the script. I hear there are Dungeon Masters who can help with that…

Stay tuned.

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