Archives for August 2013

Open Your Dork-hoard!

Elf and Dragon

Ethan Gilsdorf (author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks) and I are embarking on a new website together called Ethan’s memoir about rediscovering his teenage love of both D&D and J.R.R. Tolkien blew me away with its honesty, humor and unabashed dorkwad-heart-on-sleeve spirit. After reading an article that Ethan wrote in The Boston Globe called Bilbo Baggins Will Save Us All I knew that I had to contact this kindred spirit. He ended up doing an interview with me for about The Wisdom of the Shire, and after that we struck up an email friendship.

In one of the first emails that I wrote to Ethan I sent him a photo of a miniature dragon that I had painted in 1982 and had recently pulled out of a moldering box. Ethan replied, “Lots of similar folks out there, aging geeks like us with a hankering to dust off their figurines.” Almost a year later, after exchanging some great images of “dusted off figurines” from various Twitter friends, it dawned on us that we should start this new website: a nostalgia nexus for all things Dungeons and Dragons including figurines, dungeon maps, books and even photos or movies of people playing the game back in the day.

D&D had a huge influence on my life back in the late seventies. I played the game for the first time when I was ten years old—two years before I read Tolkien. My friend Brad Hanson (Brad are you out there?) introduced me to the world and opened the floodgates of my imagination. He acted as Dungeon Master (the person who narrates the adventure) and guided by the story and map that he had created I entered an underground labyrinth with nothing but a virtual sword, my wits and a handful of crazy-looking dice. I returned five hours later, emotionally drained yet inflamed, after battling things called Orcs and Lurkers and Beholders . . . and bearing a bag of gold and a magic ring (sound familiar, Middle-earth fans?). D&D inspired me like no video game ever would. It was more real to me because the adventure was being played out in my head. And when I first started reading The Lord of the Rings I was primed and ready for Middle-earth.

The world of tabletop gaming was a refuge for us freaks and geeks: the zitty kids, the skinny ones and the fat ones, the weirdo with glasses or bad teeth or a combination of several of the above. None of that mattered, because the man or woman we had named on our Player Sheet—the avatar that lived in our minds . . . the one that was represented by that little painted figurine of a wizard or a fighting man or a paladin—that was who we were, at least for a little while, and the terror of being a kid or having your family fall apart or whatever was happening in the real world just disappeared. In the classic X-Files episode Jose Chung’s  From Outer Space one of the characters—an uber-geek of the highest order—tells Fox Mulder smugly, “I didn’t spend all of those years playing Dungeons and Dragons and not learn a little something about courage.” Every time I hear that line I burst into laughter. It’s so ridiculous, but it’s also strangely true!

Soon after my initiation into D&D I got into painting the tiny lead figurines that were made to serve as avatars for the players and the characters. Painting “figs” as my buddy Daniel and I called them became an obsession from the age of twelve until about sixteen: the age that you realize you can either spend the rest of your life painting lead figurines or start going out with girls! (I chose girls.) I had an old jeweler’s magnifying glass that I used when I painted the 25mm (1”) tall statues. I wanted my figurines to have details like pupils in their eyes (a pin works really well to achieve this, I discovered). I looked down on friends who slopped paint on their figs without any artistry. Each figurine would take me about six hours to complete. My hands were so steady when I wielded my brush that I probably could have become a famous surgeon…or a sniper! Years after acquiring this skill my first real girlfriend asked me to paint her toenails for her and I did a masterful job. She was blown away. I owed it all to painting figs! (The below image was my paladin character–Sir Eredin and his buddy Silverfax–painted in 1982. And yes, I admit that I was painting miniature unicorns.)


Before I went to college I put all of my painted creations in a box. Over a quarter of a century later I dug them out again—so that I could show my eight-year-old son. He became entranced by the figurines and wanted to know all about Dungeons and Dragons. We embarked on our own adventure of the mind this summer, with me serving as a benevolent dungeon master. My son had never had so much fun playing any game before and now begs me to set up new scenarios for us to play. I started buying old figurines on eBay and my boy and I have been painting them together. And I even found a complete set to fill the missing box of Halflings that I wrote about in another blog called Life Is Like A Box of Hobbits. What kind of fool would sell this?!!!


So Ethan and I are looking forward to seeing what people around the world discover in old boxes in their garages, or stuffed away in their parents’ basements. If you want to submit an image to us send it to share(at) Don’t be afraid to open up your Dork-hoard. For beauty is in the eye of the Beholder (Damage/Attack: 2-8).

By the way, I ended up marrying that young woman whose nails I so delicately painted. And she and my son are happily watching the Two Towers (Extended Edition) as I type this blog. Being a dorkwad has its benefits.

Follow on Twitter @dungeondorks

Order my book The Wisdom of the Shire or listen to a sample of the audiobook

(Below are some new “figs” that my son and I have painted together.)

New Figs

Editing: Make Your Book Better!

(The cover of my next novel, coming June, 2014)

I muse on my other blog about what it’s like editing a book with a big publisher. You know what? It’s awesome. Read on…