My Little Bro recently has always been interested in art, from when we were both little enough to squabble over rights to the most valuable, and therefore inevitably scarce, crayons in the box (red and black). He was also a huge fan of Bob Ross on PBS, and even tried emulating the Great Fro-ed One a few times after he (Little Bro) came up with the idea of asking for paints and blank canvasses for Christmas one year.
Anyway, Little Bro recently returned to painting as a hobby, and shook off the rust pretty quickly. Among other things, he painted a blue dragon in flight on an abstract background and gave it to the little guy as a gift, and said painting now hangs over the little guy’s dresser (and goes pretty well with the bedroom’s beige-and-blue color scheme, at that). So it occurred to me a month or two ago that I might commission a painting from my brother for myself.
Some other quick background facts to help this all come together: I am a fan of the classic “Dogs Playing Poker” painting, on levels both ironic and genuine. My fandom extends so far as to include other configurations of “X playing Y” that pay homage to the originator (which I just now realized is kind of like a pre-interwebs meme). As an unabashed geek who has devoted inordinate amounts of time to tabletop roleplaying games, it has crossed my mind more than once that “X playing Dungeons & Dragons” would be something that, should I ever run across it, I would be compelled to buy immediately. Little Bro, while never quite as consumed by it as I inevitably was, has also logged some time at D&D tables now and then and is certainly familiar with the tropes of the Tolkienesque fantasy adventuring game genre.
Hence, I asked my brother if he would paint me “Monsters Playing Dungeons & Dragons” on commission. He agreed, but insisted on making it my Christmas present rather than taking payment. And when he and my sister-in-law visited this past weekend, it was partly so that he could hand-deliver the finished product. Which is GLORIOUS. It’s the most detailed picture my brother has ever even attempted to paint, dense with game-specific details and a fair number of inside jokes, and he nailed all of it. It is an exceptionally nice addition to my dorked-out basement.
It also gives me a nice segue to tell another random anecdote that I’ve been meaning to share for a while. I’ve tried once or twice on this blog to explain how D&D and similar games work, what their appeal is to me, and so on. I may have even mentioned that I got into D&D at a young age, around sixth grade. What I haven’t necessarily highlighted is the fact that not all of the charms of pencil-and-paper RPGs were readily apparent to me as an eleven-year-old, which I have to believe is a fairly typical response. Specifically, the idea of inhabiting a heroic character’s identity while exploring ruins, fighting creatures of darkness, and generally experiencing an epic action story from within was greatly appealing and drew me to the games in the first place; on the flipside, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of running a game session myself, knowing ahead of time how the story was going to unfold, playing the parts of the villains and obstacles and exposition-delivering-gibbering-fools-who-might-actually-be-on-to-something, and so forth. Nowadays, I think I actually prefer game mastering over playing as a creative outlet, but back in my pre-adolescence it wasn’t so much that I preferred it less as that I wasn’t interested in the slightest.
And neither were any of my friends (told you my response was typical) which presented an interesting conundrum, because a Dungeon Master is really a crucial element to a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Furthermore at age eleven, not only were none of us interested in taking on the less fun, more demanding aspects of the game, but none of us were mature enough to suck it up and do it anyway despite the disinterest. It therefore took a minor miracle for us to be able to play at all. And that minor miracle was my dad.
I give my dad a lot of grief, both here and in real life (including talking to other people and talking to the man himself directly), about the many ways in which he made my childhood difficult and continues to be a constant worrisome presence in my mental landscape day in and day out (because I am a Gen Xer and that is what we do) but I have to admit, he did have his moments. When my friends and I wanted to play D&D in middle school, but none of us wanted to be the organizer and arbiter of said game, my dad could have reacted in one of three ways. He could have freaked out about devil-worship and whatnot and forbidden me to speak of it again. He could have blown it off as too bad so sad for me and suggested my friends and I figure it out ourselves. Or he could have volunteered to be the Dungeon Master, and that was in fact the option he chose.
It wasn’t really that huge of a stretch. I’ve alluded previously to my dad’s love for fantasy paperbacks, which is a big source of my own interest in the genre, and he was a big fan of Tolkien as well (because he’s a Boomer and he went to college between 1969 and 1973 and rediscovering The Lord of the Rings was what they did). He also, I’m guessing, had just enough of the thwarted writer/English graduate school dropout to enjoy the opportunity to mastermind a story-game. He got really into it, too. I will always vividly remember sitting around the dining room table with three of my classmates and my dad, the dimmer on the chandelier dialed down low, tall candles lit for ambience, as our very first gaming session began. My dad facilitated all of that, not because he had to, but because I really wanted him to. I gotta give him credit for that.