As you approach the door to the cluttered dwelling of the old bookkeeper, Abraheim, you begin to wonder what rabbit hole the scatter-brained story teller has thrown himself into today. When you go through the door, you are startled to to see the old man, wearing a horned helmet, a toy sword poised as if he is about to go into battle with some invisible creature in front of him. He wheels around and bursts with joy when he sees you!
“Thank the gods! My call has been answered!” He promptly throws you a toy sword and beckons you to aid him in battle with the imaginary beast. Swingly wildly at the air, he nearly topples the stacks of books scattered throughout the room. He begins to back whatever foul beast he thinks he sees into a corner.
Turning to you, he yells “Quick, the time is nigh! Help me deliver the final blow!” Without regard to your actions, you see the old man, with his ancient, bony legs and hunched back, jump as high as his muscles will allow him and swing his sword down onto a pile of crumpled parchment.
He breathes a heavy exhale, slowly straightens himself up, and turns back to you. His horned helmet is cocked on his now sweating brow. He pushes it up and gives you that familiar smile.
“Thank you, my friend. I could not have defeated it without you. Neverind what it was, just know that it is gone, and you have helped, and I am in your debt.”
The old man sets the sword down on a table, but keeps the helmet on. He motions for you to follow him to his desk.
“You see,” says Abraheim, as if finishing up some point he was making before you arrived, “it is always good to have someone you can count on.”
The frail old man lowers himself into his rolling chair and scoots it up to his desk. THis time, you seem to have caught him in the middle of one of his projects; or, rather, in the midst of his fall down a rabbit hole. The desk is covered with old Dungeons & Dragons manuals, character sheets and dice, along with an assortment of other sourcebooks and novels. As you study the desk, you notice that there is an overwhelming amount of books with the word “Dragonlance” on the front.
“Companions.” Abraheim points at one of the books, Dragons of Autumn Twilight. “Companions” he repeats. “That’s where this rabbit hole is taking me, I believe.”
“Are you familiar with this?” he says, pointing to the book again. “Or what about this?” He shuffles some papers out of the way to reveal a giant, leather-bound copy of Lord of the Rings. “Or this?!” he says as he points a remote to a large projector screen. The trailer for the Netflix series Stranger Things begins playing on the screen. “Or maybe this?” he clicks the remote and a Twitch stream of Geek & Sundry’s Critical Role appears.
“All of these, and countless more, are stories of companions. And they have led me to believe one, simple thing. Adventuring is best done with friends.”
He begins flipping through the pages of Autumn Twilight. “This book is truly exceptional at showing this. From the first pages to the very last, and into the sequels and prequels that followed, relationships between the main characters are established, developed, tested, shattered, rebuilt, and tested again. Each character, be it the empathetic Tanis Half-elven or the brooding mage Raistlin, has a relationship with each of the other characters. Their strengths, their weaknesses, quirks and personalities play off of each other in a way that makes it seem almost real — like any normal group of friends.”
He gives a soft sigh and smiles.
“But those are part of what makes any story a good one, right? So why this book, you might be asking yourself. Why did this book send the crazy old goat down a rabbit hole and get him acting all mushy gushy and sentimental? Well, I’m glad you asked” He smiles up at you. “And honestly, I was going to tell you anyways.”
“The thing about this book that makes the characters seem almost real, is that they were! No, not in a ‘non-fictional’ sense, but in a sense that these characters had real people behind them.” Sensing your confusion, he continues. “Let me explain.”
He then produces the core rulebooks for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
“The authors of most of the Dragonlance novels and campaign source material were Laura and Tracy Hickman, and Margaret Weis. They played Dungeons & Dragons! The characters and events that appear in many of the first books were inspired by actual players and what occurred in an actual game!” Abraheim throws his hands up into the air in a fit of excitement “Most of the characters in the books, their words and actions, were inspired by what actually happened around a table with friends! Junkfood, dice, banter and all!”
“Now, I’m sure that this is not necessarily unique to this series, fiction is based off of real life all the time. But there is something about this story, something about knowing that there was a real game going on behind the scenes makes it that much more intriguing.”
“When one of the characters in the book fails at trying to make a jump or an attack on a monster, you can see someone around a table covered in maps and character sheets, giving the middle finger to the dice that just fumbled their roll. Everyone else groaning, shaking their fists in frustration. When a character accomplishes something great or unexpected, you can imagine a different scene of that person gleefully celebrating their natural 20, the tablemates around them cheering and laughing.”
“The banter, the arguments, the failed plans, and the miracles — with knowing that these things actually happened with real group of people engaged and invested in the same imaginary world, easily doubled the enjoyment I got out of the book.”
As the old man speaks, he gets closer and closer to the edge of his chair in excitement. He looks almost as if he is about to jump out at you by the end of his little speech.
“The game that these people played is forever immortalized in the pages of these books. The imaginary universe they shared was made real for them and millions of other readers. And that, my friend, is truly amazing. I do not feel that this story would have had the same effect on me had it not been for this knowledge. Had I not known that the companions that were adventuring in the book were the companions that were adventuring around a table in someone’s basement, I might not have cared as much about them. Alas, I cannot know, because the fact that this story was based off a real campaign is what drew me to this particular rabbit hole.”
“As I read Dragons of Autumn Twilight, I imagined two stories taking place in two very different worlds, connected by the shared imagination of a group of friends — of companions. Perhaps that is how I always thought of my D&D groups, or any circle of friends I was a part of. And perhaps that is why I enjoyed this story so much.”
“Understandably, it will not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is by no means the best story ever told, and that is an extremely subjective judgement anyways. But I do think it is worth your time to check out.”
“Is your interest peaked? Well, unfortunately the hour is late. Come see me again soon and we will talk more about these companions and the epic world of Dragonlance. Until next time, my friend.”