In the next chapter of “When Dungeons and Dragons and Heavy Metal Collide: The Intersection of Gaming and Music,” New Noise Magazine speak to a trio of metal musicians and gaming enthusiasts that reside in Canada and England who are collectively known as “The North Hammer Saga.”
The North Hammer Saga are a self-described episodic, multimedia fantasy adventure encompassing music, art, and playable content for the world’s most famous tabletop roleplaying game – Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). The content is released monthly via Patreon and is 5th Edition-compatible.
The music of North Hammer the band varies from atmospheric, background music which can be played during a gaming session to ferocious, riff driven, Viking inspired metal. Songs like “Majesty” and “Wanderer” are battle driven epics of conquest and glory that demand blood be shed. Both band and content intertwine with each other to create The North Hammer Saga.
What came first? Was it gaming or an interest in music, specifically metal?
Andy James (Age 27): For me it was music. I definitely remember the pivotal moments where I found those first bands and one of them was through my guitar teacher. I came to him with an Iron Maiden song, I think it might’ve been “Number of the Beast,” and he handed me a flash drive with like 300 Iron Maiden songs on it, so, I spent the next few months with headphones on walking around listening to Maiden. Four months later, they came through my area on the Somewhere In Time tour, and it just changed my life.
Following that, I literally went into LimeWire, typed in metal, and apart from Metallica and Megadeth, I heard Lamb of God’s “Ruin” from their record As The Palaces Burn, and that one just sent me down the screaming path that opened up a whole new world for me. In terms of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), I didn’t discover it until a few years ago. I was in university at the time, so, tabletop roleplaying games was something I discovered rather recently but really connected with.
Chris Grenville (Age 33): So, for context, Alex and myself used to run a metal blog called The Monolith, so music for sure has been a huge factor with me. Bands like Converge, Opeth, Botch, and Cave In, these were the early heavy bands that I really got invested in. Later on, I had a friend who gave me a list of bands I should listen to, and it had Opeth’s Ghost Reveries on it, and I think Jane Doe and Glassjaw as well.
And like Andy, D&D didn’t come along for me until three or four years ago, and even then, it was very casual. In the last couple of years, though, it’s been pretty hardcore with me, the pandemic especially, has brought that to the fore.
Alex Carter: For me it was music, but I got into music late, so I didn’t have a lot of exposure to music in my childhood, I got into it as teen, and the band that I really connected with, that really moved me, was Rammstein. I remember this very well; I was at an internet café playing Command And Conquer: Generals, and whoever had control over the stereo in this place, just played “Sonne” on repeat for three hours, and it became the ear worm that dug itself into me.
I spent the next week trying to figure out what the song was. After that it was Korn and Linkin Park, but the band that really blew it up for me was Slipknot and their first two records. Regarding gaming, tabletop gaming, I got into that through Chris and Andy.
How did all three of you meet?
Chris Grenville: Myself and Alex met after university through metal blogging. I was writing for Heavy Blog Is Heavy, and we basically got acquainted through that, so it was very much an online friendship, and being in the same country helps. I was in London for university, and Alex lives in the East of the country, but it’s a small enough place you can get around easily.
Alex Carter: Yeah, Chris and I get around to seeing each other once a year or so.
Chris Grenville: Oh yeah, definitely.
Alex Carter: I work in a variety of different musical projects and travel quite a bit and do a lot of work in the U.S. and Canada. I ended up doing a project and becoming good friends with one of Andy’s best friend who’s also the producer of North Hammer, a very talented fellow by the name of Diego and I travelled to Canada to do some work with Diego, and that’s how I met Andy, that was 2019.
And then North Hammer came together as a band.
Chris Grenville: Yeah, within the last year, really.
I’m intrigued by this project because you’re producing music as North Hammer the band and have created D&D-compatible content as The North Hammer Saga, also. Both are interconnected.
Chris Grenville: North Hammer came about where we’d all get together once a week and talk for several hours. Andy had an idea in mind and some concepts he wanted to follow, and we started there. We broadened a few ideas out, brought in more detail in other areas, figured out how certain things would work, and began fleshing it out.
Anyone who has home-brewed their own D&D world knows that there’s a few points you have to hit for characters to interact with that world in a meaningful way, such as the pantheon of gods, how certain races and classes work, etc. We eventually reached a point where we were ready to release adventure modules alongside the music.
Andy James: I would say in more broad stroke, we wanted to create adventures that could be achievable, within a certain time frame, on a platform where we could release music over a long span of time. What I’ve always said about music is, everyone has favorite songs from favorite bands, and that’s how you develop your own personal relationship with it.
The same is true for D&D; everyone can do the same campaign, but every group will have a different story. We wanted to marry these ideas together where our music interacts with the modules on a platform that supports both the RPG aspect and music as well.
Chris Grenville: Ideally, our goal is to produce content monthly, that’s the aim. We have documents and spreadsheets of ideas that we’ve come up with during the last year we can draw from. In terms of what’s happening with non-player characters (NPCs) and weaving that into the music, which to be honest is the driving force here, all of that gets refined down into what you see and hear as the final product. At any given time, we’ll have something finished, something 50 percent done, and three different things 20 percent done.
Alex Carter: We’re always working on three to four modules at once, in little bits and pieces. The lyrics of the songs are written alongside the stories for the modules. If we go to the studio with our producer Diego, we might be working on three modules worth of songs or bits and bobs and various other things. This whole project, from the game to our music, feeds into each other.
Andy James: It feels more natural to work this way with a natural flow to everything as opposed to a start-stop kind of feel to it.
So, what comes first in the creative process, does the music that influence the game content, or vice versa?
Alex Carter: Andy’s a riff machine!
Andy James: Well first of all, thank you for that! It started out where I had a lot of songs already done, and the concept already in place, so it stemmed from that where we already had our feet firmly planted on the ground. I have a plethora of songs, a back catalog I pull from, but the music is also geared towards the context of the module, too.
The songs are 50 to 75 percent done, and I basically pull one I think would fit and begin molding it to the module itself. To answer your question, both the module and the song are partially completed at the start, but work together to complete each other in the end, that way we have continuity between all the facets as well.
Is metal the first choice of musical style when crafting game content?
Andy James: That’s a great question. I love doing all sorts of music, and you’ll see that each month we do an alternative version of our songs, and I like trying different things out, so we might do D&D to more meditative background music to play your campaigns by.
I’m willing to try anything from synthwave to whatever but metal happens to be what I’ve been doing with my other bands for over a decade, it’s something I know very well, and its best suited to my abilities at the moment. The metal fans and the D&D fans, there’s definitely an overlap, a crossover exists there and those are the people we’re trying to reach.
Chris Grenville: In terms of metal, North Hammer’s music is very folk or Viking inspired, and it’s quite a strong theme for what we’re producing with the roleplaying content. While it’s not implicit with Thor coming down and smiting people with his hammer or people going raiding across the seas, it does have strong ties to that area of the world and the music reflects that with big riffs …
Andy James: That epic, folk-fantasy kind of thing.
Alex Carter: It’s very Eurocentric, in that regard, but we put our own spin on it.
How much does modern pop culture feed into or influence what you’re doing with North Hammer?
Alex Carter: All three of us, especially myself, are massive media junkies, and I think that to some degree, you’ll always draw some influence from your surroundings. With us, we happen to like Vikings and that had nothing to do with the fact that Vikings happen to be popular right now; it comes down to what you like or don’t like and how that gets filtered through our collective lens into our music and modules.
Chris Grenville: A lot of pop culture we’re into does find its way into our writing. With the modules, we drop references into them for people to pick up on, Easter eggs, if you will. There’s a Monty Python reference in the second module, we’re dropping in song titles …
Andy James: Especially references to other metal bands, we’re not above doing that kind of tomfoolery!
New Noise Magazine: The North Hammer camp sounds busy. How can fans connect with you?
Alex Carter: The best way to stay updated with everything is to join our Discord server, which is growing by the way. We release content such as songs, alternate versions of songs, ambient music that can be played while you’re gaming as well as full gaming content as well.
The modules are all digital PDF content with really great, amazing artwork. I suppose if we saw a lot of demand for the modules, and it’s something people wanted, we’d absolutely consider doing physical content but right now it’s digital, zips, that kind of thing.
If you join our Patreon fund which is easy, there’s no fancy tiers or anything like that, it’s simply joining for $5 a month and for that fee you get everything I mentioned—the songs and the gaming content. And there’s always stuff happening in the North Hammer camp which is really exciting. The other benefit of joining our Patreon is that you get access to all previous content we’ve put out as well.