News: When Dungeons and Dragons and Heavy Metal Collide: The Intersection of Gaming and Music, Part 3

We wrap up this three-part series by speaking with celebrity dungeon master and Black Sabbath afficionado Stefan Pokorny, discuss the influence of videogames and console gaming as well as delving deeper into Twitch and Discord with Adventure Time enthusiasts and death metal gamers, Summoning the Lich, and cap it off with a chat about black metal and D&D with Transcending Obscurity Recording artists, Sarcoptes.

stefan pokorny
Photo Courtesy Stefan Pokorny.

Name: Stefan Pokorny                                                                             

Alignment: Ultimate Dungeon Master

Age: 54

What campaign are you currently DM’ing?
I run mostly celebrity livestreams in my homegrown world of Mythras.

What game edition are you currently Dungeon Mastering?
I run AD&D, First Edition.

Tell me about discovering Dungeons and Dragons and rock’n’ roll music.
Kiss was my first concert, Madison Square Garden. I think I was 12 or 14. I had a parent / guardian bring me. Way back in the 70’s. But I think I was 9 or 10 when I discovered Dungeons and Dragons. I was at a 3-month sleepover camp, Camp Mackinac, the archery counselor, Doug, was the Dungeon Master (DM). In fact, he was a member of The Judges Guild, and he was teaching us how to wear an arrow quiver and the basics of archery, but he was also telling us D&D and how we should try it out and next thing you know we’re in a log cabin, all of us kids, and we’re playing.

It was fascinating right from the start and at the time I was reading Lord of the Rings, so it was like a double whammy, you know, and the rest is history. That was it. After that I was thoroughly integrated into the whole fantasy thing.  When I got back to New York I was eager to find the books. Shortly after that the Players Handbook came out, then The Dungeon Masters Guide, and I started creating my own worlds. I kept going, on and off.

When I was 15 or so, I was really into art, painting and drawing, so that took over. Then I went to college, the Hartford Arts School in Connecticut, and brought my D&D books with me and I had the whole dormitory floor playing Dungeons and Dragons, all the freshmen. I was drawing maps, just obsessed. I like to say I minored in Dungeons and Dragons in college.

I was big into Frazetta but not so much Boris, I thought he was a copycat. In fact, I was at the opening of the Frank Frazetta museum in the Pokonos when his family opened that museum there. I saw him there but didn’t talk to him, my mom did, though. She tried to convince Frazetta to give me private painting lessons! I couldn’t believe she did that, haha! He declined.

But in terms of rock and metal, I had all the Blue Oyster Cult records, Black Sabbath, in fact I saw the Black and Blue tour with BOC and Sabbath. It was a great time to be alive in the city. You had comic books shops and artists and writers and all the music happening because it was still affordable then.

Now its all doctors and lawyers because it’s this upper level money-wise people that can do it. But back then, all of that pop culture was swirling together. You had Black Sabbath, the movie Heavy Metal and its kickass soundtrack, the movies Conan and Fire and Ice. It all just came together back then.

How has music influenced how you game or how you approach gaming?
Right now it’s a lot of sound effects. I once used a Motley Crue song “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room” during an adventure that took place in a cavern. The players discovered a bunch of ale down there and drank it with some trolls. It was an unexpected but wild, fun time. Music and gaming comes together when I sculpt, though. I can’t not sculpt without blasting heavy metal!  Blue Oyster Cult, Guns N Roses, Ozzy, Sabbath.

And the thing with BOC, was, they had this connection to writer Michael Moorcock. He did lyrics for “Black Blade,” really great stuff. And as an artist, the BOC covers drew me in too. So did Iron Maiden. Those covers were amazing and then you’d hear the music and wow!

It’s not heavy metal but the Yes covers were great too, very otherworldly just like their music. I used to dig Tangerine Dream also. I just discovered Hawkwind, as a matter of fact! Josh Bishop, the director of the Dwarvenaut turned me onto them as well as Pentagram too.

Which one do you think has influenced you more as an artist?  Music or movies?
Both, it’s all in the mix, the melting pot of creativity. You throw in some Frazetta, you throw in some Black Sabbath, throw in some Motorhead and back in the late 70’s in New York City you end up with someone like me.

Or David Bowie
Yeah, exactly, all of these people gravitated towards New York and art and everything the city had to offer.

Stefan Pokorny’s company Dwarven Forge.

Follow Stefan Pokorny on Twitter. 

Photo Courtesy Sean Zimmerman and Sarcoptes

Name: Sean Zimmerman, Bass / Guitar / Keyboards

Alignment: Blackened Thrash

Band Name: Sarcoptes

Active since: 2008

Age: 41

Character name and level you play or have played:
My best character was Gribblixx, a Gnome level 10 Thief and level 9 Illusionist.

What game is the aforementioned character in?
First edition AD&D

Give us a little background on your band, Sarcoptes.
The band started 2008. I met Garrett Garvey (Drums, Vocals) at a concert through a mutual friend. He was telling me how he and his friend, a guitarist, had been jamming together in his garage, and then a few months later I called him and that’s how he, Gar and I started out. I was originally on bass, Gar was on drums, and this guy was doing guitar. It was Emperor covers, Dimmu Borgir covers, and we did a few rehearsals like that and then the guitarist just bounced, he disappeared, but he left his amp behind, which is good because I didn’t have an amp at the time. So, Gar and I continued.

We’d meet up every weekend and do covers and eventually we started talking about original songs and I mentioned to Gar that I had two songs that had been written for another band I was going to do and those two songs wound up being on the first full length album we did. And honestly, that first period was five years of jamming, writing songs and not really going anywhere. Eventually I said we need to do something, so we did a two song EP with a local guy, it got our feet wet, and then we did our full-length album though Cimmerian Shade Records which generally got good reviews.

It was through that record and Cimmerian Shade Records that I got in touch with Kunal Choksy (Transcending Obscurity Records) who at the time was doing promotion for various bands and labels at the time. Once we did the new EP, I got in touch with him and submitted it to his label and he got back to me and we got signed, that’s how that happened.

We have a two-release deal with him which includes the EP and a full length, which is done, it’s been submitted, I’m just waiting on the artwork for it to be done. Once that’s done everything will start going faster. But that record was recorded in 2019 and it features guest guitarist Bobby Koelble from Death, who played on their Symbolic album, he does a few lead guitar solos, they’re fantastic, very melodic and virtuosic, he’s such a super clean guitarist.

In terms of the black metal genre, how did you get into it, what piqued your interest?
I got interested in metal right around 1994 and like most everyone, it was through Metallica, the gateway band, and the Black Album, and if someone had thrown Deicide at me back then at that time I would’ve said, “what the heck is this?” The Black Album took me a couple of times to really get into it and then I started going into Metallica’s back catalog and that led into heavier stuff like Slayer, Cannibal Corpse and then I found older stuff like Ozzy, Sabbath, and Dio.

As you keep looking and searching that lead me into black metal and the gateway band for me was Cradle of Filth because they were popular and accessible enough which led me to Emperor and Dimmu Borgir and eventually I wound up finding and liking the truer black metal like Mayhem, Satyricon, Immortal which led me into the more obscure stuff as well. It was probably 1996, or close to it, that I started listening to Cradle of Filth. I was 16 at the time. Before metal I listened to a lot of classical music which led to classic rock, hard rock and eventually Metallica.

Are you gaming now?
Right now, no, but I had been doing a lot of online gaming before during the pandemic it was interesting, I had fun, but you definitely lose some of the core tactile experience of gaming in person. I enjoy the social aspect of doing it in person, in fact, I’ve made some pretty good friends through gaming.

We were online gaming through “hangouts” doing Dungeon Crawl Classics, it was really cool, the game is an homage to original D&D before AD&D but it’s way more complicated with the dice you use, critical hits, critical fails but it’s a lot more brutal. We also played Mutant Crawl Classics which is a more updated version of Gamma World. It was pretty cool.

How old were you when you first discovered gaming?
It was through the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon that TSR had on TV, that really drew me in with dragons and monsters and magic. My mom bought me all the toys and somehow or other, I managed to acquire the Monster Manual and being a little kid and trying to figure out the numbers and stats and its bewildering. I understood hit points but psionics and stuff like that, I had no idea, but the pictures really captured my imagination. My friends and I would make up our own adventures and rules and that’s how we played.

When I played a more formal, official version of D&D, that was many years later with the 3.5 rules. My roommate was into Magic: The Gathering and I played it when I was younger and one day, he told me had friends coming over to play D&D and I told him I didn’t know how to play but wanted to and that’s how I learned. From 3.5 I got into Pathfinder and believe it or not that led back to me and my friends playing First edition Dungeons and Dragons, which I love, that’s the game for me. And we play a lot of the old school TSR modules.

Does gaming creep into the music of Sarcoptes?
Our music is primarily real-world stuff like wars, pestilence, the darker aspects of human nature, so D&D doesn’t really influence it. What I have noticed, though, is that gaming taps into the same neural center that songwriting does, you get that same dopamine release.

In the last few years there’s been a trend where D&D has made a solid comeback through TV with Big Bang Theory and Stranger Things and Game of Thrones. Why do you think that happened?

Because Dungeons and Dragons is the godfather or grandfather of all that is nerd culture, if you’re into comics or magic cards or Marvel movies, you’re eventually going to be aware of it. Even if you’re not playing it you’ll know about it because it laid the foundation for everything I just mentioned. It paved the way for all of it to happen, including modern day video games.

I also think there’s a big nostalgia factor that’s played into D&D’s resurgence as well. Now that a lot of us are older, we look back on our playing days back in the 80’s and 90’s and if you have kids you share that experience with them as well. There’s also the aspect with the Marvel movies and especially cosplay that’s brought a ton of people into the nerd flock and comics and gaming as well.

Sarcoptes on Facebook

Sarcoptes at Transcending Obscurity Records

Sarcoptes Bandcamp 

Summoning The Lich
Photo Courtesy Summoning The Lich

Name: David Bruno, Vocals

Alignment: Fantasy based death metal

Band Name: Summoning The Lich

Active since: 2017

Age: 29

Background: Videogames, Anime and Fantasy

What’s the origin story behind Summoning The Lich?
The band was created late 2016, we didn’t really announce ourselves until 2017. The band was started by our guitarist Ryan Felps who came to me and asked me if I wanted to do something with him, a death metal band with fantasy elements. A lot of our influences have been gaming, books like Lord of the Rings or Dune, or anime or whatever, and I found that interesting, and little did I know that he was also approaching other artists in the area and trying to assemble a group of likeminded individuals.

As we embarked on our journey, we realized that our shared passion for gaming, anime, and fantasy would serve as the cornerstone of Summoning The Lich’s identity. we sought to create a sonic experience that would transport listeners to a realm where darkness and fantasy intertwine. When you go into the fantasy world of your favorite video game or anime you ought to seek for katana at some point. As Japanese katana is an authentic and famous weapon among gaming and anime fans. With their swords forged in musical fury and our souls ablaze with creativity, Summoning The Lich emerged from the depths, ready to conquer the stages and summon a legion of devoted fans to our otherworldly realm.

All of us have different backgrounds regarding our fantasy and gaming interests, but we all united in the fact that we wanted to form a death metal band with a heavy fantasy element, that was something we all wanted to do. Our goal Musically, was, we wanted to create death metal that we’d like to listen to, something that had a modern sound, as well as having a more accessible, traditional songwriting structure. The songwriting for this new album was finished in 2018 but due to a bunch of different factors, the record is just now getting released through Prosthetic Records on February 26.

We recorded the album on our own and when we had it finished, we shopped it around. We’ve been playing in and around the St. Louis MO area now for the last 15 years and have basically built up a large network of people over that time in the industry.

One of the promoters here, Collin Reagan, turned us onto PinUp Artist Management and Collin was the one that fielded Joel and PinUp Artist Management our EPK page and it wasn’t long before he contacted us and wanted to bring us aboard and shop our record around and that’s how the deal with Prosthetic Records happened.

Let’s talk about Twitch and Discord, two popular streaming services that engage both gamers and musicians. What’s your take on either or both?
So, Twitch I think is really interesting and the content creators and metal guys we’ve been watching have been really interesting like Matt from Trivium, obviously, The lambs, Dean and Claire – Dean from Archspire and Claire from The Hallowed Catharsis, we follow them, they’re both active on YouTube and Twitch. They do an amazing job of engaging with their fans and we’re fans of them, anyway. I wish I had more time to devote to Twitch but right now I’m a 29-year-old with a 20-month-old, so I don’t have a whole lot of time.

Discord, for me, has been a great way to socialize and it’s how I’ve kept my sanity these days since we don’t have shows, and we don’t congregate with people who are into gaming and metal. Discord has really helped fill that “social” void with me. Gaming culture really helped build Discord, but I think it’s evolving into something more than that.

Do you remember when you discovered heavy metal?
It was between 5th and 6th grade, that summer, hanging out with some kids and someone had a Zao album and I thought it was the coolest thing, just the next level of heavy. I had listened to Linkin Park and P.O.D. before that but Zao blew me away. Then I bought Frail Words Collapse by As I Lay Dying and that was great, so, it was that era, 2003-2004, the metalcore – hardcore genre.

My introduction to straight death metal was a local band called With Blood Comes Cleansing, a deathcore band, and then I saw Suffocation with Shadowfall, It Dies Today and Still Remains – I lived in Atlanta at the time. And nothing seemed as heavy to me as the death side of the metal scene.

What was your introduction to gaming?
My introduction to gaming would’ve been arcades, probably. I was really big into the Gauntlet games — Gauntlet Legends, Gauntlet Dark Legacy. In terms of PC gaming, I was really into Warcraft III and God of War, but I didn’t have a console, but my friends did, so that’s how I played for a long time. During this time in my life, with D&D, I didn’t have many friends that played, or, had siblings of friends that played, and I was just too young, they didn’t want to hang out with a little kid, but I did have interest in it. I did play a lot of Magic: The Gathering, for about 3 years, pretty extensively.

Now with D&D, I was hoping to play more when touring but since that isn’t happening, we have had a lot of drunken attempts in the past that were pretty loose and not real professional, but I really love the concept of it, I love the idea that you’re weaving a story through an adventure where a dungeon master guides you through it, just the whole imagination aspect of it draws me in.

In terms of the band and D&D, I’ve played with Ryan, our guitarist, as well as our artist, who’s the biggest player in the group, and our bass player. Those two play a lot. Our bass player has done a couple of campaigns and has this Bard character that’s just silly but loves to play him, he’s just max’d out on charisma, and that’s just it, that’s who he is.

Our drummer is more into console gaming, he grew up on and still plays his Genesis, Sonic and Metroid, a lot of racing games. Ryan isn’t so much a gamer but is a huge consumer of fantasy in terms of movies and novels. He’s a huge Harry Potter fan, just encyclopedic, same with Lord of the Rings cinema, movies and books.

For me, Lord of the Rings played a massive role in my upbringing. From an early age my parents had me read Lord of the Rings, they always encouraged me creatively, especially from a writing aspect, so I always had an abundance of new fantasy books to read, and then growing up I watched a ton of anime going all the way back to the VHS cassette days, 3rd grade maybe.

Tell me about the Lich concept behind your new album, United In Chaos. That’s definitely a gaming reference.
At first, the idea was that we’d be a fantasy inspired band with elements from other fantasy properties and I know a lot of people might insist on being wholly original but the way I see it, I’d like to pay homage to all the writers, etc. that inspired me, however, just as touches or sprinkles as a nod to these awesome authors and creators within my own original work.

At first the record was going to be a bunch of songs that were kind of like disjointed tales, sort of comparable to, say, Grim’s Fairy Tales, but as I continued, it started becoming much more, and I’m a sucker for concepts and such.

As for the name, Originally it was going to “Vermithrax” but that was already taken, I’m a huge Adventure Time fan, I can’t speak enough volumes about how much I love that show, and unfortunately I’ve probably spent more time listening to Dan Harmon play Dungeons and Dragons than I will ever play D&D.

There was an episode in Adventure Time, Season 4, about a Lich, so we came up with that name, and that led to “Summoning The Lich” and we’re from St. Louis, so the acronym for Summoning The Lich was STL and that fit.  Everything just kind of fell together and I knew I had to write something about a Lich and that writing happened over, about a three-month period, where the record went from disjointed songs to an entire concept.

I’ve already got a trilogy in mind for this, and that’s how I approached the band with this idea. But the challenge in all of this, was, writing from a fantasy standpoint but still keeping the material digestible and catchy, getting the hooks in there.

Lyrically, I think what works in our favor is that the songs aren’t linear stories per se, all the songs support the main storyline but differ in the sense that some might be about world building where events are happening in other places as well as songs that are stories, tales, fables happening inside the universe of the Lich that may or may not be true but have been passed down over generations.

From a musical standpoint, that also allows us to change up what we’re doing from a musical perspective to match what’s going on inside the song itself, it’s a good way to break things up and stay fresh.

Have you considered taking your songs and turning them into RPG adventure modules as well as writing up your trilogy concept and creating a resource book for RPGs as well?
Yes, I have a ton of interest in doing that! The second one, the resource book, is something I’ll have to seek the aid of some more experienced gaming enthusiast to get help with, but the modules, yes, that’s something I’m going to get working on asap, probably mid-March to April and really bear down and try to develop. I have a lot of head canon and tons and tons and tons of notes and get it down in a codex for everyone to be able to digest.

There’s so much of this world that I’ve developed that can’t be conveyed just through the music. An interesting thing that we’ve done, is, with our merch we’ve developed four trading cards of characters from the first three singles we’ve done, and the fourth character is from the fourth single we’ll drop on the day the album comes out. The cards just give you more background on what’s going on with the universe I’ve created itself.

What do you think has led to the resurgence of D&D in the last five or so years? What’s fueling it?
Like the popularity with anime, it’s nerd culture being accepted and embraced by the mainstream. It’s probably a multitude of factors but the people that are getting into these writer rooms and getting these development deals are the same ones that played it back in the 80’s and 90’s and they know this genre better than anyone, and now they’re in a position where they can sell this culture, and I get it. I think as long as the quality of the writing and the ideas behind it stay top notch, this community will only grow stronger.

Purchase the new STL record, United In Chaos here. 

Summoning The Lich on Twitter 

Summoning The Lich on Facebook 

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