Living the Dream

I was editing last night until just before I crashed and went to bed. So naturally, I spent all night dreaming that I was editing.

In the dream, I was still doing the editing I’d actually been doing before crashing and going to bed, so that in the dream, I had just continued to edit a little bit more without going to bed.

At one point in the dream, I looked up to see the time, and realized that I’d worked completely through the night. It was now 6:30 a.m., giving me exactly one hour to sleep before I had to get up and start editing again.

But then in the dream, I realized that I was dreaming, and that I hadn’t actually worked all night. So in the dream, I made a blog posting talking about how I’d been editing just before I crashed and went to bed, then spent all night dreaming that I was editing, then realized I was only dreaming.

I now have absolutely no idea whether I’m awake or not.


It Was Forty Years Ago Today

Forty years ago today, I had absolutely no idea Dungeons & Dragons existed. Hey, I was in elementary school in a small town of two thousand people in the middle of the Canadian wilderness and had one channel on the TV; cut me some slack. Thirty-nine years ago, we got a second TV channel. Thirty-three years ago, D&D was broadsided into my consciousness like I’d taken a 2x4 across the frontal lobes. (There’s no connection between those two things; I just like to tell people I only had two channels of TV growing up to see their looks of horror.)

I had seen D&D around, but we never connected. In high school, my friends and I read a whole lot of fantasy and SF, and we read a whole lot of comics, and we played a whole lot of board games, including a number of Avalon Hill titles. I was more about the Kingmaker; the rest of the party were into laboriously recreating World War II minute by minute. But any time I was in a bookstore or toy store, I would cruise the game shelves just to see what looked interesting, and I had thus seen the Holmes D&D Basic Set (called “the Blue Box” among the initiated) a number of times between 1977, when it came out, and 1981, when I played for the first time.

(I know the Holmes Blue Box isn’t actually blue. The rulebook inside was, though. Don’t worry about it.)

I can remember actually taking the Holmes Blue Box off the shelf and reading the back cover copy more than once. But I never took a chance on it, because as interesting as it sounded, I could never quite figure out what Dungeons & Dragons was supposed to be.

And so as is the case with a lot of people who play D&D, figuring out what the game was became a matter of hearing about it from someone who had already played.

In eleventh grade, Kevin (one of the aforementioned comic-and-fantasy-reading friends) left our small town of two thousand people in the middle of the Canadian wilderness and moved to Vancouver for a year. As we kept in touch by phone and the occasional letter (ask your parents), Kevin would share with us tales of the strange wonders he was seeing in his new life, like Conan writing home from Arenjun to his yokel kin on the Cimmerian frontier. I can remember one of those phone calls in particular, and Kevin talking like he was recounting the story of having scaled the Tower of the Elephant as he said, “I’ve been playing this game called ‘Dungeons & Dragons’…”

The first chance I ever had to play the game was a on trip to Vancouver to see Kevin, with another of the party (Dave) in tow. When we saw Kevin, D&D was the first thing he started talking about, with broad explanations of what the game was, and how it was played, and it’s like you’re a character in a book, and one player is making up the story of the book, but all the players are writing the action, and no, there’s no board, and no, you don’t really win the game, it just kind of goes on, and… you know what? I’ll just show you.

However, there was a problem with Kevin showing us the game, insofar as where we were together and talking about it, he didn’t actually have the game with him. But he showed us anyway, using the rules as he remembered them, and distilling them down to a simplified system we could actually grasp, and tearing paper into squares to make numbered chits in lieu of dice, and sketching out a dungeon off the top of his head. I don’t remember a lot of the details, except that I’m pretty sure Dave and I were both playing fighter/magic-users, because swords and lightning bolts got a workout at different points. I remember treasure chests and traps. I remember giant rats and flaming oil. I remember a dragon in the final cavern.  I don’t remember how we beat it, or even if we beat it, because it didn’t matter.

The reason it didn’t matter is that I remember, even as we were playing — even from the first moment that Kevin described us standing on a hillside staring into a passageway leading down into darkness — that the way I was feeling right at that moment was something I’d never felt before.

After the long journey back to Cimmeria, I picked up a copy of the Holmes blue box. I can still remember the feeling of reading it for the first time, in my bedroom in the dark of one of those awesomely lonely winter nights you get in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. I remember the feeling of slipping inside the game as it was laid out for me. Not just internalizing rules for movement and attacks and spells and monsters, but actually going to a place where those things were real. I got that same feeling again when I read the AD&D Player’s Handbook for the first time a couple of weeks later, courtesy of a guy named Mitch, who Dave saw reading it in the library one lunch hour.

(Some time ago, I relayed an anecdote regarding me, Kevin, Dave, and Mitch in the context of the Tomb of Horrors super-adventure I cowrote for Wizards of the Coast. I still think the anecdote is awesome.)

I’ve been gaming ever since that strange no-rules session with Kevin, the Holmes Blue Box, and Mitch’s Player’s Handbook in 1981. I’ve been writing professionally since 1992. I’ve been working as an RPG editor and designer since 2004. I stopped gaming for a long stretch when the demands of real life got in the way of my free time and sapped a large portion of my imagination and creativity. I got back into D&D shortly after the advent of 3rd Edition, when the philosophy underlying the Open Gaming License seemed like the herald of a renaissance of creativity in gaming.

But even through the years when I wasn’t playing, when I was struggling to create even as I was making stupidly good money doing it, I never forgot the feeling that comes of standing outside the yawning mouth of a cavern, with a friend at your back and a weapon in your hand and a world full of evil to defeat. I’ve never forgotten the feeling of falling into the game to become a part of it — not just being a reader or a player, but being a character in a world so real you can touch it.

Some of the best moments of my adolescence and of my professional life have revolved around Dungeons & Dragons. The game as we played it — as characters striving to prove that the actions of individuals taken in concert can thwart the darkest forces of fate and monstrous inhumanity — has inflected every word of fiction I’ve ever written— both fantasy and nonfantasy; during the times I was gaming and even when I wasn’t. Some of the most important friendships I continue to nurture can draw a line back through the game.

Like a lot of people, I can say with complete honesty that Dungeons & Dragons not only changed my life — it saved my life. D&D is the best training ground I know for storytelling. It’s an ongoing experiment in how to layer meaning into creativity. It’s entertaining and maddening and life-affirming and frustrating and rewarding in a way different from any other entertainment I’ve ever partaken in.

D&D is a lot like life that way. And having D&D at the center of my life means more to me than these or any other words can tell.


Sidnye (Queen of the Universe)

Sidnye Dupree was going on thirteen years old when she broke the Bishop’s nose with a dodgeball and dreamed the dream of the shooting star. But even if she’d known then what was happening to her, it would have been far too late to stop it…

Kids! It’s time for another installment of Scott’s ongoing “Will you pick a freaking genre and just stick with it, jackass?” writerly sweepstakes. Today’s entry: YA speculative fiction. Because it’s Sidnye time.

Life is complicated enough when you live full-time at boarding school because your parents are dead, and when the other students around you are mostly idiots, and when you’re doomed to spend the rest of your existence in cafeteria detention because you just can’t stop annoying the people in charge of your life.

But that’s when you discover the headaches you’ve been having aren’t just a part of being thirteen and feeling the weight of the world hammering down on you. That’s when you realize the dreams you’ve been having are more than dreams, and the people you thought you were closest to are less concerned with caring about you than with keeping you from knowing the things they don’t want you to know…

• • •

The first in a series of… well, hopefully a few, Book 1 of “Sidnye (Queen of the Universe)” is out as an ebook on Amazon now, out in trade paperback in about a week, and on all the other usual ebook sites in March. Owing to some strange quirks of the editorial process, Book 2 of the series will be out next month. Book 3 will be out next year like I’ve been told is normal for most writers. Because I’m all about the normal.

• • •

Even as she closed her eyes to try to escape the screaming, Sidnye remembered the dream.

Sidnye rarely remembered her dreams, which made them unique enough that she recognized this memory at once for what it was. The image split the fractured darkness of her sight, unfolding in her memory the way ice crystals spread across winter windows. In the dream, she was scared and she was moving. Darkness rose around her as she ran. Image fragments shuffled past her like the fast video cuts Emmet liked to use, no scene held onto long enough to figure out what it was. Then around her, a flare like dawn erupted from the shadows, brighter than anything she’d ever seen before. Pillars of light pulsed fast, heat and cold crashing in.

Rising slowly above her, Sidnye saw a thing that couldn’t possibly exist. This was the thing she’d been dreaming of when she woke, and which had frozen her voice in her throat. As it uncurled from shadow, its six legs gleamed like black steel. Its eyeless head jutted out from no neck, looming over her as she fell back, arms up as if she might protect herself that way. The thing’s insect shape was steam and darkness, a haze clinging to it as it slammed toward her, too fast for her to escape…