As an editor at Wizards of the Coast I get all sorts of interesting mail. I’ve gotten letters from convicts that would curl your hair. One guy serving what must have been a major felony sentence in Texas offered to write a book for us but warned me that he couldn’t write it fast because it was so noisy in prison, but that he would put a lot of time into it—he had nine years. Wildly inappropriate (at least for a publisher of fantasy fiction) book proposals are an almost daily occurrence—like some guy’s memoir of his days as a minor league baseball player and countless works of “vampire erotica.” I once got a fan letter for my computer game novelization Baldur’s Gate from a kid who must have been seven or eight years old, hand written in pencil, which told me I wrote good monster fights, but that the book should have had more monster fights. Well, there’s no pleasing the monster fight fans.

But sometimes I get letters from perfectly normal, coherent people with entirely reasonable and appropriate requests. Unfortunately these are a bit of a rarity, but maybe because they’re so rare I get a chance to set aside my busy schedule and reply. Just yesterday I received a letter from an eighth-grade girl in California. She plays the Dungeons & Dragons game with her family, and identified me as someone she should interview for a school project on the subject. Maybe it’s because she’s the same age now that I was when I first encountered the Dungeons & Dragons experience, maybe she just randomly happened to catch me on a good day, but I sat down and answered her eight perfectly reasonable questions. Then I thought, heck, why not share that with everybody. This was my response to her . . .

I received your letter and request for answers to a few questions. It’s great to see a family out there playing D&D together, and I’m happy to help support that in any way I can!

Here are my answers to your questions . . .

1. How did you first learn about D&D, and was there anyone who influenced you to play?

I first learned about D&D when I was the same age as you—I was in eighth grade and my friend Bob bought a copy of the old basic set. This was the summer of 1979, actually between eighth grade and my freshman year of high school. The first time we played it, I rolled a character, just using 3d6 in order, and ended up with my highest score in Intelligence. Since we didn’t know anyone who had already played it we just followed what the rules suggested so I ended up as a magic-user (what we now call a wizard). It took us a while to figure out how to read the 4-sided die, but once we did it turned out I had only one hit point. Not sure exactly what this meant, I headed off into the dungeon—yup, just me, all by myself, a 1 hp magic-user with no armor and one spell. I encountered a skeleton. We rolled initiative and the skeleton won. It hit me, and I died. From that example I was convinced that D&D was the worst game ever, and we didn’t play again until we started high school a couple months later and met a few new friends who had been playing it for a while, and with a little more thought put into it. They quickly set us straight and I haven’t stopped playing since then!

2. Was there any memorable adventure your character went on?

Way too many in the last 30 years to count, actually! I was just talking with a co-worker here, though, about a time years ago when my friends and I were still playing the first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules, and playing through the original Giant series. We were well into Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, facing off against a group of frost giants who stood on the other side of a deep crevasse, throwing boulders at us. My dwarf fighter, Borgazdin Broadhammer, threw his dwarven thrower warhammer, and thanks to the DM’s home-brewed critical hit system, I managed to come up with 140 points of damage on that one throw, singlehandedly destroying the frost giant with one hit. That was pretty cool.

3. Do you prefer to be the Dungeon Master or just a character?

I’ve always been drawn to the roll of Dungeon Master, but I play, too, and have probably been a player as often as I’ve been a DM over the years. I’ve always been a writer/storyteller at heart and so the roll of DM has a strong appeal to me. Also, the DM gets to keep playing no matter who’s turn it is!

4. Do you play regularly scheduled games?

I do. Every Monday afternoon I run my own campaign, set in the Forgotten Realms world. The characters just turned seventh level and are facing off against undead in the wastelands of Thay. On Wednesdays I play in a different ongoing game during our lunch hour where we’ve been slowing working our way through Keep on the Shadowfell.

5. What race and character class are you and why?

In the Wednesday lunch game I’m a human cleric of the Raven Queen, mostly because my beloved gnome illusionist was killed and the party really needed a cleric. I’ve always had a soft spot for gnome illusionists and have played at least five of them over the years, but all of them have met tragic, early deaths, occasionally at the hands of fellow players. What does that say about me?

6. Do you paint miniatures, create dungeons, or even get into character with costumes or life-sized weapons?

I have painted loads of miniatures over the years, but have to say that the new pre-painted plastic miniatures are easier, faster, cheaper, and don’t require so much time and effort! Though my own campaign is set in the Forgotten Realms world, I’m creating all of the adventures for it—I love creating my own adventures, maps, and even monsters. But I’ve never worn costumes or done any kind of live action roleplaying. I tend to get a little shy, and don’t have much of an acting streak!

7. At school, or ever, were you ever teased for playing D&D?

I was teased at school for all sorts of reasons, but I don’t remember D&D being one of those. I’m old enough, and started playing early enough, that when I was in high school most people still didn’t know what D&D was so there really wasn’t a stigma surrounding it yet. No one who was inclined to tease us really had any idea we were playing D&D or that it could be something to tease someone about. Now that celebrities like Stephen Colbert, Vin Diesel, Mike Myers, and the bands Barenaked Ladies and My Chemical Romance, have all “come out” as D&D players, I’d be surprised if anyone is teasing people for playing D&D anymore. If they are, there are some names you can throw back at them!

8. Do you plan to play D&D for a while to come?

You bet I do! I’ve been playing D&D for coming up on 31 years now, and I can’t imagine why I’d stop. I’m having just as much fun playing D&D—twice a week!—now as I ever have. So, I say: D&D forever!

Hopefully you’ll feel the same way in 2040.

—Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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1 Response to PHIL’S MAILBAG

  1. Adaram says:

    This is awesome! I am really glad you did this for her! Congrats to the girl and her family too! That must be a lot of fun!

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