Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How Gaming Got Me to Read Books

Gaming is what got me to start reading.  When I was in school, I hated to read.  Hated it.  I would have rather tore the pages out of a 1st edition of The Hobbit and tossed them into a fire than read a single sentence.  I am not exaggerating.  Hated it.

Then I started gaming.  Our first D&D sessions were at the library until they kicked us out for some lame ass reason.  One of those 'just because' reasons.  Anyway.  After I got more and more into gaming I saw a couple of the guys carrying books with men with swords, women wearing as little as possible and monsters that looked angry.  I was reading adventure modules.  I was reading the DMG, the PH and the MM.  I started reading without realizing it. 

I was curious about the books, but I never learned how to read a book.  I knew how to read, but wasn't able to remember what I had read and would get confused on what happened.  I borrowed a friend's book Sword of Shannara to check it out.  I didn't like it.  I got halfway.  There were parts I liked, but lost interest quickly. 

I be-bopped to my local mall when there was still a bookstore call B Daltons and checked out the fantasy section and saw a cover of a book that I instantly loved.  It was the cover of Thieves World (pictured is the cover I like, Amazon didn't have a copy of it) edited by Robert Asprin.  I bought it immediately.  I was glad to see it was filled short stories.  Easier to digest.  But what I did, to get through the reading was take a notebook sheet of paper write down characters' names, their profession and their status, alive or dead.  This is the way I taught myself how to read a book.  I think part of the problem with starting with fantasy books was that some of the names were unpronounceable so I had a harder time remembering who they were.  But I really liked the stories.  I liked the interaction of multiple storylines and multiple characters from different authors interacting with a single setting and cast of NPCs.  And I think it was the first time I'd experienced a fantasy world that wasn't high fantasy.  There are no magic swords, wizards are as much cursed as they are powerful, and people actually had to buy food with shaved copper coins.  These characters were not riding into a dark tide of horror, but scrambling to get a few coppers during the day to eat, to find an anvil so he can continue his trade and painter who saw the truth in things.  It was cool and I discovered this is the type of fantasy I enjoyed.

The Thieves World books are always a favorite and first five are pretty good, but I can never get past book six and beyond.  Sanctuary loses its grimy magnificence and just become grimy.  I've probably reread the first book a half a dozen times.

Another book that I really enjoyed and one I don't hear about much is Michael Moorcock's The Warhound and the World's Pain.  Still one of my favorites today.  It has an interesting premise and hero.  I think this one is out of print, but sometimes you can pick up a copy at a used bookstore or ebay. What this one showed me is how to combine a fantasy setting with a mythology and make it work.  I was fascinated by the quest, the hero and setting.  Everything about it made me want to create this world and run someone through it.

I think the other series of books that influnced my young D&D days was the first three Dragonlance books.  I remember getting a promotional poster in a Dragon magazine and waiting for the first one to come out.  Tanis, Goldmoon and Strum were a great cast.  When the modules came out I thought it was fantastic that they mirrored the books, but when I tried to play them with friends I remember how it didn't work.  It was railroad time and I didn't know it.  I got frustrated because they weren't doing what the character did in the books.  They weren't acting like the characters in the books.  This is no good.  I learned a lot from that series.  

I began to read a lot.  And before too long I had jumped from sword and magic tale to Dostoevsky.  Eventually got a second degree in college in English Lit.  Who knew gaming would have that huge of an influence on me and get me to love I something I absolutely hated.  Now if can only get me to like peas. 


  1. Great post. I think that it had a similar effect on me. I could read but didn't read much more than comic books until I was in high school. I'm not sure what the first book I actully read was (I think it might have been Frank Herbert's Lazarus Effect or Assimov's Foundation - both given to me by my father) but I for sure remember reading the first three Dragonlance novels. I know some folks look upon those with scorn, but at the time, I was a 14 year old kid and they were a revelation. Up to that point, reading had been work. I could read, but I did not read books for pleasure. These changed my mind. I devoured them. I loved fantasy. I loved D&D. The games really fired my imagination. When I read my first fantasy fiction, it really opened me up to a lifelong love of reading. Thanks for sharing Tim.

  2. Hey, my wife and I love "The Warhound and the World's Pain". One his best stories, IMHO.

    And the best VonBek story.

  3. The Thieves World books are probably my favourite fantasy books of all time. That cover is what caught my imagination too.

    I still have the Chaosium box set waiting for me to find a group to use it with. It's time will come.

    The new books by Lynn Abbey aren't bad either. The timeline has moved on which makes the city a different place.

    I really should go back and read the original though.

    - Neil.

  4. Very cool post. Isn't it amazing how gaming expands your vocabulary, introducing such nifty terms as "melee", "initiative", "dweomer" and "phalanx."

  5. For me, not only did gaming stimulate my history in genre fiction, but also in nonfiction of various sorts including history, linguistics, and sociology.

  6. Both the early Thieves' World books and War Hound are WAY up on my list of favorites. Thieves' World was also an early read for me.

  7. I Absolutely love The War Hound and the World's Pain! I read and enjoyed the early TW books, many years ago. I recently completed collecting the original series and plan on re-reading them from start to finish. I enjoyed the early DL novels as well.

  8. Johnathan > Thanks. It's always interesting to look back and see how you got to where you are even in the small things.

    Ka-Blog!> Love it. Von Bek is the man.

    Neil > I recently received the box set. I've been looking for it for years. Would love to play in the streets of Sanctuary.

    Christian > It did. I needed to know what all those words meant. It made my dictionary useful for the first time.

    Trey > Absolutely. I started studying history and one great event lead me to the next and find the connection between them and all the great small things that fall through the cracks. It was a treasure hunt all its own.

    Ragnorakk > I'm glad to hear so many have read War Hound, I hadn't met too many that had and I just think its an awesome book.

  9. James > You snuck in while I was commenting to the others. Yeah those books are the foundation of my gaming style today. I learned what I liked what I didn't and some of what didn't work well for gaming.

  10. @Tim Shorts:

    Is that the painter who made Illrya's cards?

  11. It happenned to me the otherway around. I liked reading but couldn't find interesting enough stuff. which led me to read fantasy books.
    I find that history books work well too for creating ideas.