Thursday, April 26, 2012

Things I never thought I'd say, part one: Dungeons & Dragons

So here's a simple fact of life: I'm a retired gamer. That's right, back in my youth I played a few roleplaying games. Strictly old school, of course. Not on a computer, not online, but sitting around a table with a bunch of friends and getting my geek on. Then for a while I wrote roleplaying game supplements, instead. I looked at that as sharpening my skills for becoming a novelist. Believe me, I thoroughly believe that every writer across the planet should always be looking for ways to sharpen their skills, and yes, that includes the ones I admire and eagerly look forward to reading. If you aren't improving, or at least trying to improve, you lean toward stagnation. I would rather not stagnate.

That said, I have had the misfortune of reading the occasional comic book based on roleplaying games. As a rule, they suck. Same with a lot of the novels that were written and I say that as someone who, yes, wrote a few novels based on roleplaying games. I'm pretty sure mine didn't suck, but on the other hand, I once again have a serious bias and am hardly the right person to judge that. And let's be fair, I haven't actually even attempted to read the stuff I wrote back then. Ever. So, you know, I could be misremembering.

So, used to write comics, used to write roleplaying game supplements...where were we? Oh yes, comics based on roleplaying games suck wind.

There are always exceptions.

A little while back while getting together with some friends of mine for dinner, I met them at my local comic books store. While we were waiting for the rest of the group to gather, one of my buds actually suggested that I should read the Dungeons & Dragons trade hardback edition that had just come out. I scoffed. I seriously thought he was joking. Turned out he wasn't. The book was called Shadowplague (Actually, Dungeons & Dragons: Shadowplague, but I think you can figure that part out yourself.), it was published by IDW Publications and written by John Rogers, illustrated by Andrea Di Vito. IDW I had heard of. Even though I don;t buy nearly as many comics as I used to, IDW manages to get a fair share of my money. In fact, I notice it's the same guys who keep convincing me to buy the IDW stuff. I might have to look into whether or not they're getting kickbacks.

At any rate, I took a chance and bought Shadowplague. It's actually a collection of six issues of the comic book put together in a really nice package that is designed to actually look like one of the old supplements for Dungeons & Dragons. They get points for that, because I'm just exactly enough of a gaming geek to appreciate the efforts involved and the respect offered in that packaging.

Yeah. I read the damned book in one sitting. Then after about a week, I read it a second time, because I enjoyed it that much. I also loved the fact that the back of the book actually has all of the gaming information to incorporate the sittings and critters created for the comic into the game if you happen to be a player. Seriously. And they did it right. Nice production values straight across the board.

Listen, everything I say here is purely opinion. As I've said before (And author Brian Keene and a few others before me) your mileage may vary. That said, the biggest problem I have always had with the older comics based on D&D was that the stories, artwork and production values normally weren't exactly top notch. I believe the phrase I used previously was "they suck." Maybe I'm being harsh. Maybe I'm misremembering. I'm not really willing to take then tome to go back and find any old copies and read them again at this particular moment. I could be wrong. I doubt it though. My opinions on many things change as time goes on, true, but not often for the better when it comes to that sort of thing.

That I read the book in one sitting says a good amount. That I read it again says more. Want to hear the serious praise from me? I bought the sequel when it came out. The second book in the series is called First Encounters (Yeah, yeah, Dungeons & Dragons: First Encounters) and it takes off exactly where the first book ended. And I read it in one sitting and was just as satisfied.

I went out to dinner on Wednesday with the usual gang of misfits. Charles Rutledge, coauthor, scoundrel, anglophile, comic artist, martial arts instructor and friend was there again. He and Jared (Evil man who works at comic store and makes me spend money) pointed out that the third book was now available. This one called Down. (Forget it. I'm not typing all that stuff again. Insert your own Dungeons & Dragons: Down right here.) I was busy yesterday. I was busy reading the damned book from cover to cover. And I liked it as much as the first two.

Sure sign that I am liking a series of books? I read them more than once. I read the first two again, enjoying the visit with now familiar friends. Then I read the third volume, chuckling at the wit of the author (well done humor in a book like that is touchy. You can go over the top and screw it up, or add too little and make a mess. So far Rogers is spot on.) and absolutely enjoying the consistently excellent art style of Di Vito.

Know what? I'm already eagerly waiting for the fourth book in the series. I could buy the comic but I won't. I prefer to read the entire story arc in one greedy siting and then read it again at my leisure.

Do I recommend them? Very highly. You can buy them here:





Or, if you're like me, you can go to your local comic store and support the guys who can recommend to you exactly the books you didn't know you wanted. In my case, it's these guys:

http://www.drnos.com/

They also carry books. They even carry some of my books. If they are carrying my books you can even ask them to have me sign them when I meet up with the guys once a week for dinner. Know what'll happen? I'll sign them. I'll even personalize them.

Either way, if you want to have a really good time getting your geek on, try the booms I mentioned above. IDW does several other Dungeons & Dragons books, but I haven't read them yet. Mind you, I just might you never know. 

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