This week saw the launch of a Kickstarter campaign for Chaotic Neutral, a new fantasy adventure comic inspired by classic roleplaying games. Created by writer Mark Sable and artist Chris Anderson, the 48-page first issue is also accompanied by an adventure module that allows readers to get in on the action. To celebrate the launch of the Kickstarter, Sable has penned an essay for The Beat reflecting on the important role that RPGs have played in his life, and how Chaotic Neutral pays homage to the games of his youth. Check that out, as well as a preview of the project, below.
By Mark Sable
CHAOTIC NEUTAL wouldn’t exist without role-playing games. Both its story and included adventure module are inspired by old-school fantasy RPGs.
But the more I think about, I wouldn’t be a comic book writer without RPGs.
I was a comic book collector before I was a comic creator. It wasn’t all that different with games. As a kid, I picked up every RPG I could get my hands on. Dungeons & Dragons (the Red Box basic set), TSR’s Marvel Superheroes Role Playing Game, West End Games Star Wars RPG and many, many more.
But before the advent of the Internet, it was hard to find players. And RPGs, like much of geek culture, was not considered cool in the 80s. That was made worse by the fact I was painfully shy. As a result, I’d rarely play or run games with others.
I’d play the early computer RPGs like Pool of Radiance and Champions of Krynn, but my only opponent and companion was the Commodore 64. Sometimes, I’d play solo the few solo adventure available – The Ghost of Lion Castle for D&D, Thunder over Jotunheim for Marvel. They captured the mechanics of RPGs, but not what makes them special.
When I couldn’t find the rare solo module – which was most of the time – I’d still roll up characters. I’d create my own dungeons, maps…entire fictional worlds and campaigns that no one else would see.
I’ll be honest. I felt like a fraud. I knew that playing with others was the whole point of a table-top roleplaying games, and I was doing it wrong.
It wasn’t until 2014, when Fifth Edition D&D came and took the world by storm that I finally had the confidence to actually seek out games. I dipped my toe in with play-by-post games on the Board Game Geek message boards. Then I started showing up at local comics and game stores to play one-shot games with strangers. Those experiences felt interactive, but not much more so than a video game.
Finally, I built up the courage to run my campaign. It was a life changing experience. Suddenly, I saw the true power of role-playing games.
As a writer, I was used to creating my own, hermetically sealed worlds. Paracosms that only I knew about. As a player, I was acting out a role, pretending to be someone else in a world of someone else’s creation. But as a Dungeon Master? Together with my players, we were creating our own stories, our own worlds.
The best storytelling and world building came not from some elaborate plot I’d laid out, but when I let the players make choices I could never have dreamed of. Then instead of trying to steer their characters towards my goals, I’d allow their choices to guide me.
If the players dispatched a foe or thwarted trap I thought was certain would kill them, I’d reward them for their ingenuity…while plotting even more devious challenges for next week. If the players journeyed to someplace not on the campaign map? I’d create a new town, dungeon or plane of reality on the spot. If the players killed an important NPC (non-player character)? I’d invent a new one (usually someone who wasn’t happy their friend or family member were killed).
The sum of all these actions and reactions was a story I couldn’t have created on my own.
I’m certain that being a Dungeon Master made me a better comic writer. Comics is a collaborative medium. Between writer and artist, colorist, letterer, editor, publisher and sometimes audience.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I experienced a career renaissance not long after I started my weekly D&D campaign. I started listening more to my collaborators, more often saying “yes and…” and improvising off of their contributions rather than strictly adhering to my carefully constructed script.
So, was I doing the whole role-playing game thing wrong when I was a kid, sitting by myself with my rulebooks, polyhedral dice and character sheets? Was I doing myself and the hobby a disservice creating character’s I’d never play, drawing maps I’d never show anyone, entire worlds that I’d never share with a party? I suppose a lot of people would say that I was.
But so what if I was doing it wrong? Let’s put aside that would be cruel to my younger self. Every writer and artist has stories and drawings they’ve never shared. Without the hours and hours I’ve spent luxuriating my imagination, I’d never have become a writer.
CHAOTIC NEUTRAL is a celebration of role-playing games. Yes, it celebrates swords and sorcery, but most of all, it celebrates the feeling that anything is possible – whether you play RPGs or not.