An interview with the authors of Dungeons & Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History
Having recently read Dungeons & Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History, I was left with quite a few questions about this magnificent tome. Lucky me when I had a chance to interview the authors of this book: Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson and Sam Witwer.
How did you come by the idea of writing the book and how did you become involved?
This book began with an amazon search somewhere around May of 2016. As a lifelong fan of Dungeons & Dragons who had just begun playing again, Kyle wanted to buy a book about the game’s storied art and history, but that tome didn’t exist… yet. He decided right then that he wanted to create it.
There was one problem: he was a “storyteller” by trade, but had never written a book, so he didn’t know where to begin. He had recently read Michael Witwer’s Empire of Imagination, which cinematically detailed the life of D&D founder Gary Gygax and decided to reach out to gauge his interest in collaboration. Kyle was close with his brother Sam Witwer and knew Michael peripherally but had never had a proper conversation with him. Michael was thrilled by the prospect and quick to partner. We both knew a venture of this magnitude would only benefit from a team of authors – one that could comprehensively tell the fabled game’s long history from as many angles as possible. We were quick to add the indispensable Jon Peterson to our team – a veritable expert on the history of modern gaming whom we all learned from daily. Completing the council was Michael’s brother, and Kyle’s good friend, Sam Witwer (actor and fellow Star Wars / D&D fanatic), who had significant experience as a Dungeon Master across several editions.
When Michael reached out to his contacts at Wizards of the Coast, he was thrilled to report that they had gotten a separate inquiry of their own from Ten Speed Press regarding a desire to partner on a licensed book. Wizards arranged the connection between the author team and Ten Speed, who shared in the team’s enthusiasm, and we were off.
How long did the entire process take? What was the hardest item to obtain?
The project itself took about two years, but that was built on the back of previous research that goes back well over a decade, specifically research done for Jon’s 2012 Playing at the World and Mike’s 2015 Empire of Imagination. We’re all pretty much lifetime players also, so you might say it took a lifetime. We struggled to make some of the connections we needed to get access to a few key pieces of artwork, and that really came down to the wire. But in the end, we got nice captures of the original art for all five wrap-around Advanced Dungeons & Dragons hardcovers. Getting the whole set of those was a big priority of us and a huge win, but it took some doing.
What are you the most proud about for the book?
We’re proud that the book has something for everyone. No matter when you came into the game, last week or in the 1970s, we want this book to show you your D&D, and the place where your D&D fits into the history of a game that has transformed popular culture around the world. In this respect, I think we were able to tell a previously untold story–the complete 45-year story of D&D as told through its incredible visuals, from original art and draft materials to advertising, product and arcane ephemera.
How has D&D influenced your day to day life?
D&D teaches you to think on your feet, to have a ready response to surprising turns of events. You have to master the art of playing well with others, getting consensus on tough decisions where people aren’t always aligned on your goals. Also, you learn to check everywhere for secret doors, which has actually led to some pretty interesting stories! As a team of actors, writers and directors that grew up with the game, there’s no doubt that it has helped us to conceptualize and tell stories.
How does it feel to contribute in such a large way to the history of D&D?
It’s not really about us. I mean thanks for thinking of us that way, but this history is about the people who made this game, who made its art, and the fans who have embraced it over the last forty-five years. Really, it’s our privilege to be able to bring the book back to that community and to see so many people connect with it again.
Do you ever plan on creating your own tabletop roleplaying game?
No, I don’t think so. The good people at Wizards of the Coast are doing such a fine job, why wouldn’t we just leave it to the experts?
There are still many people who have yet to try D&D, do you have any advice for them?
It’s easy. To start, you don’t really need to know much about the rules, you just have to have the desire to play. If you have the opportunity to play with an established group, you figure out pretty quick that you just talk to your Dungeon Master and explain what you want to do: in response, you’ll hear what happens. Once you’ve got the basic idea of how you play a character, then you can start getting more into the rules for different types of characters and monsters. If you are totally new to D&D, you can certainly get the gist by watching one of the many popular streaming shows such as Critical Role or Maze Arcana. Once you gather a few friends together, anything is possible! It seems daunting but it’s really not.
Who is your favorite character to portray or if you are a DM, what kind of DM are you?
Jon: Personally, I like to play characters who have a lot of problems, who have to struggle against forces they’ll never entirely understand, and who probably won’t make it in the end. Maybe it’s just because my real life is so pleasant.
Mike: I tend to gravitate toward theatrical characters such as bards–usually less combat-oriented characters and more story-driven. Let’s put it this way, if my party is the A-Team, I like to play the role of Face. But I’ve also enjoyed playing paladins (when the ability score rolls allow) and mystics/monks.
Kyle: If I am a DM, then I see myself as just another participant in the story. I am not eager to agitate the narrative in one set direction. I prefer to hear the table and collaborate. I truly look at the game as collaborative storytelling with friends. In terms of playing, I love wizards. There are so many spells at your disposal and you can take the character and their story in infinite directions. However, I am currently playing a Gloom Stalker Ranger / Rogue of Wood Elf descent named Aether Hollowglow and having a splendid time doing so! I had never played that class before so it was refreshing to try something totally different.
Sam: I suppose, like Gygax, I’m a Robert E. Howard guy. I like grit and always play fighters. Usually, though, I’m the DM (or GM). I love smooth, fast rulesets that put storytelling first above crunch. The story is what it’s all about for me.
This was a true delight to read, thank you all. My review for the book can be read here.