Although most of my writing is in the horror genre, my first breakthrough publication as an author was in the roleplaying games industry. In fact, I owe a debt of gratitude to roleplaying games, and to the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) fan community, for helping me get where I am today.
I first picked up polyhedral dice in 1984. It was summertime, I was living in North Bay, and my friend Clinton had bought the pink box edition of D&D. I knew nothing about it beyond the cartoon that I watched on Saturday mornings, and of course the anti-D&D hysteria (which I thought was a load of crap even then) but the dice looked cool and the idea of playing make-believe with imaginary characters complete with stats, treasure, and the prospect of UNLIMITED POWER appealed to my 10-year-old self. I didn’t last long in “The Keep on the Borderlands”, but I’d been bitten by the bug and kept playing, on and off, for the next ten years. I went on to play many roleplaying systems, but D&D remained my favourite.
By the mid-90s I was in university. The original D&D game had been discontinued by TSR, and I no longer bought gaming products because nothing really appealed to me. So I ran a campaign using what I had, and figured I would just keep on playing until my books fell apart. Then I discovered the Internet, and the online fan communities – and that’s when I started writing. I hadn’t met anyone in Ottawa who was interested in my version of D&D, but there were tons of people in Italy, Brazil, Australia, the US, and other parts of Canada who were devoted fans. I got to know them, and before long we were collaborating on online writing projects to expand the campaign settings we loved so much, but which were no longer receiving official support. Years passed, our writing improved and we published our work online in fanzines, and I daresay we eventually were writing adventures and gaming sourcebooks that were of the same calibre as what we once bought in gaming shops. Such is the power of devoted, mature fans.
Somewhere along the line I looked at the sheer mass of what I had written, and thought, “Why couldn’t I make a serious go at this?” So I studied the small presses in the roleplaying markets, realised that adventure modules were sought after, and began hunting for opportunities. I made my first sale – The Secret of the Callair Hills – to Expeditious Retreat Press in 2010. That first professional sale gave me the confidence to keep going. Solstice Publishing bought my novella “The Tunnelers” in 2011, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Although I became less active in the gaming community as I devoted more time and energy into writing short fiction, I never forgot my roots. I still wrote occasionally for fanzines, ran my own D&D campaign (still going strong), and ran D&D games at local conventions. A second gaming module – To End the Rising – was published in 2013.
And now Expeditious Retreat Press has bought the rights to a third module – “The Crocodile’s Tear” – which I ran as a playtest at a local gaming con this Spring. I was thrilled to receive the news, and I can’t wait to see the cover art. It’s an adventure solidly in the style of Indiana Jones – recovering a treasure from an exotic locale, complete with traps, ancient menaces, and a curse. There is an immense satisfaction with writing and running an adventure module and seeing how engrossed the players get into the storyline – it’s a kind of connection that fiction can’t achieve, in my view.
And it’s why I doubt I’ll ever abandon my gaming roots, regardless of how far I go as a writer.