Being an author isn’t all fun and games—but it sure has its moments.
Last month I had the privilege of presenting in front of a few 7th- and 8th-grade classes at St. Mary’s Springs Academy. While prepping for my spiel, which explained how a guy who didn’t read much as a kid ended up becoming an author, I dug into the roots of my storytelling tendencies.
Which means I had to admit that I was a nerd who played with LEGOs through high school.
Long story short, I don’t think I’d be the writer I am today if I hadn’t bought my first Dragonlance book as a sophomore (see also “Battling genre bias with the magic of an open mind”) and if I hadn’t already been such a big fan of LEGO, which allowed me to perform my medieval fantasy worldbuilding in the real world.
Thanks to those plastic castles, customizable minifigs, and plenty of time for playacting, I sculpted epic settings, compelling characters, and thrilling battles inspired by the sword-and-sorcery stories I was devouring each day. A fair number of those early explorations survived decades and many edits to appear in The Renegade Chronicles. Even after all these years, I can’t help but envision the LEGO representations of Klye Tristan and his motley band of rebels when I reread those books.
As a tribute to the analog origins of my storytelling, I even created a few minifigs of characters from my second series, The Soul Sleep Cycle (see also “Storytelling can take many forms”). I recently did the same thing for the protagonists of The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot, but not solely for nostalgia’s sake.
No, I actually had a practical purpose this time: playtesting!
During The Curse of Er’Mah’Gerd’s playtesting phase, I’m simultaneously running the adventure for two separate groups—one comprised of family members and another for family friends. If time permits, I’d love to do a third run with additional friends.
Going into playtesting, I had almost everything ready to go, including all encounter details, character stats, spell mechanics, and maps. However, none of those would do me much good without figurines to represent the player characters (PCs) and nonplayer characters (NPC), which includes potential allies, enemies, and other supporting cast members.
Many dungeon masters (DMs)—or game masters (GMs), if you prefer—use small plastic minis especially designed and themed for tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs). You can even create your own customized minis thanks to websites like HeroForge.com. However, the cost adds up quickly, and because I loathe painting, the price tag would’ve been even higher for pre-painted options.
Fortunately, I had a much easier and cheaper (and retro) solution at hand, and so I dug out my old tub of LEGO minifigure pieces and got to work!
Granted, TTRPG minis need only roughly represent reality, so I probably didn’t need to spend four hours making my minis look as cool as I could with the parts at hand (which included actual hands). But it sure was fun. Here’s the lineup of heroes:
Imagine these adventurers walking toward the camera in slow motion. From left:
Sir Lady Larpsalot; Elvish Presley; Brutus the Bullheaded (can you believe I don’t own a minotaur head?); Master Prospero; Tom Foolery; and Edgelord Grimdark, the newest member of Good Company.
Playtesting has been a lot of fun too, though I shouldn’t be surprised. “Play” is in the name, after all. And while tabletop gaming isn’t precisely the same as my pre-writing playacting with plastic figures, I suppose both are forms of interactive storytelling.
Add to everything the fact that those old Dragonlance books were based on Dungeons & Dragons games—the granddaddy of all TTRPGs—and I can’t help but feel that my fiction has truly come full circle in the best possible way.