I was 12 or 13 when I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with a couple of friends of mine who lived nearby. Bookstores and hobby shops in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin not only carried a full line of D&D products but other fantasy roleplaying games as well. I played, I collected, and I obsessed, a journey that continues today. In high school I was playing D&D every weekend and increasingly, my world began to center around heavy metal and roleplaying games.
My first concert was Ozzy’s legendary “Bark at the Moon” tour in ’83. The flood gates soon opened up with Dio, W.A.S.P., Priest, Maiden, etc. Going forward, it was more gaming, more concerts, more rock N roll and considerably less studying. At 16 I received my driver’s license, got a job, and spent more money than I saved at local record stores buying rock t-shirts and making the holy trek once a month or so from my hometown in Belvidere, Illinois to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to visit the Dungeon Hobby Shop that was owned and operated by the Gygax family.
If that name sounds familiar, it should. the late Gary Gygax created Dungeons and Dragons as well as his own company, TSR, Tactical Studies Review. The Dungeon Hobby Shop I used to frequent was located in a two story building in downtown Lake Geneva. The Dungeon Hobby Shop occupied the ground floor while TSR had offices on the second floor of that building. Those were formative times because it brought me to this juncture in life where I’m writing about games and music, both of which are alive and well and stronger than ever.
Undoubtedly, Dungeons and Dragons has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity due in part to shows like The Big Bang Theory and the Netflix TV hit, Stranger Things. It’s also because several high-profile Hollywood actors, directors, etc., that dungeon master their own campaigns and adventures with other famous friends, often stream these game sessions via tech outlets, Twitch and Dischord, for the world to watch.
In the last few years a trend in the metal community has emerged with a wave of bands that have taken creative inspiration from Dungeons and Dragons and other fantasy roleplaying games, as well as books and movies of this genre too. Not only are these musicians cranking out high fantasy, high volume rock N roll, they’re serious, dedicated gamers passionately connected to their art and the games they play. This is a look at their individual stories.
In part 1, we speak to D&D royalty, Luke Gygax, L.A.’s groove bards — Gygax, Greyhawk, Temple Of Void, and Throne of Iron.
Name: Luke Gygax. Son of D&D creator, Gary Gygax
Alignment: Ultimate Gamer
What character do you play? I am in a new campaign with my friends from Desert Storm. I am playing a 5th level Tortle Druid named Cheldunne.
What game is this character in? D&D 5e
What year did you begin playing Dungeons and Dragons with your dad Gary Gygax, your brother Ernie, and the rest of your family?
I rolled dice and hung out at a young age, but I believe my first character of my own was in 1975.
How did D&D make the leap from being a game to becoming an 80’s phenomena?
Interesting question. I would say a lot of that was due to the “satanic panic” that occurred in the late 70’s early 80’s. James Dallas Egbert III, I believe the gentleman’s name was, he was playing in some underground steam tunnels beneath his university. He was 16, a prodigy, and he went missing.
The rumors were, he had fallen into a dark coven, or had been sacrificed, you know, something horrible, so there was all this panic that went with it, and parents were being warned not to let their kids play this satanic game because it has demons on the cover and magic spells inside, so of course that made D&D wildly popular. It was taboo.
And speaking of music, this was a time when Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne were being attributed the responsibility of kids committing suicide because of the music, their lyrics, which obviously is a bunch of poppycock and certainly in this world there’s people who are troubled and listen to heavy metal music or they may have played Dungeons and Dragons, it doesn’t mean it’s the proximate cause of whatever bad thing happened.
And, Rona Jaffe published Mazes and Monsters based on the Egbert incident.
Right, of course, and the movie had Tom Hanks in it. I just watched it last year, as a matter of fact.
Why do you think Dungeons and Dragons has enjoyed such a resurgence in the last decade or so?
I think technology plays a role. For example, people are tuning in to watch other people game and I think what that helps to do, is, it takes away some of the fear of looking at these rule books and the funny looking dice and being intimidated by them. There’s also that social interaction people are watching, problem solving techniques being used as well as the storytelling aspect, which is very, very important to D&D.
Music is all about that, and heavy metal tells some great stories! All of us older nerds have now become adults, so you have director Peter Jackson, he’s a gamer, Jon Favreau and The Duffer Brothers who do Stranger Things telling stories, and Favreau, he’s on a tear, he’s killing it! He’s a gamer also. Actor Joe Manganiello, besides doing Critical Role, his home game has Vince Vaughn in it, Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine, and other Hollywood people as well. All of these creative people, especially rockers, all got their feet wet in gaming whether it was D&D, video games, etc.
Let’s talk about rock N roll in your life. Has it played a role with you, if not as an adult, as a kid?
I lived in a place called Clinton Wisconsin. Alpine Valley Music Theater wasn’t too far away, but I wasn’t a big concert goer. Starting in about 6th grade I started liking heavy metal, so AC/DC was one of my favorites then.
My dad brought me back an EP after a trip from London, it was Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast and the album cover was amazing!
So, high school for me was Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, they were kind of my staples, and of course other styles of music too. My brother Ernie was more interested in bands ranging from Rush to Chicago and Yes, so I’d hear things like that in the house too.
Tell me about the guys from the band “Gygax” when they contacted you about using your last name as their band name.
I was like, “huh, cool, there’s a band named Gygax, I wonder if they’re any good?” They were kind of enough to send me some of their music and I listened to it and they were pretty good! I came down from Northern California a few years ago, and the band is based in Ventura, and I actually got to meet them and chat with them and hang out for a bit. I eventually had them play at the gaming convention, Founders and Legends 2, it was great.
I still text with their lead singer, Eric Harris, he said he was inspired to write some new songs after watching a series of adventures I did with Mike Murrells, who was DM’ing (Dungeon Mastering) with Joe Manganiello playing Arkhan and me playing Melf. We did two or three adventures in that series, which I’d like to play again.
And this has become a whole new subgenre of heavy metal with bands who are both gamers and musicians.
It all goes back to storytelling. We love to tell stories, we love to roleplay, it’s fun to step into the role of the hero, or the villain if you prefer. If you can learn how to put a story together and entertain your friends, that’s pretty satisfying. Now you’re all sharing something. And if you’re into music, you most likely will wind up sharing that as well.
Check out Luke Gygax on Facebook here
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More information about Founders and Legends Con can be found here
Name: Eric Harris, bass and singer
Alignment: Epic Metal
Band Name: GYGAX
Active since: 2014
Age: XXXVIII (38)
What character do you play? “I currently play a Cleric of Cayden Caliean named Est Volkara”
What game is this character in? Pathfinder
Do you remember when you discovered gaming?
I think I was like five years old when Nintendo and Atari were coming out, and that piqued my curiosity for gaming. When I was in middle school, we weren’t allowed to read or own any Dungeons and Dragons books because of the whole “satanic panic” thing that was going on at the time. There were a few of us that knew how the gaming engines worked, so, we’d draw our own characters and assign stats to them and play that way, kind of secretly. So, for me, gaming goes back a long way and since then it’s just been a myriad of playing all kinds of things since then.
I got into Magic: The Gathering when I was in the band Skeletonwitch on tour. The drummer was always playing i, and I was curious, and wanted to learn. So, I’d just get super stoned and we’d play in the van and it was fuckin’ rad! The other guys in Skeletonwitch weren’t into gaming, in fact, they’d probably rip on anyone who did, but the drummer was a young kid, (Derek Nau), and I was really close with his group of friends and they were all gamers, so I did a lot with them.
Tell me how you came up with your band name. It’s a famous one in the gaming world.
We got our band name Gygax from a good friend of ours, Martin DiPedro, who booked a lot of underground metal shows in Los Angeles. We went out to lunch one day and he was like, “there should be this band, and it should be all about Dungeons & Dragons and stuff, and it’s all thrash metal, and call it “Gygax.” I was like, “fuck that’s so good! But I’m taking out the thrash metal aspect” and that’s how we came up with our name.
I think it was during our first or second record when I contacted Luke and Ernie on Facebook and let them know that we had made records using the Gygax name. They were both very receptive to it so I sent each of them records and then Luke contacted us about playing the Founders and Legends con he does.
Not only was it the greatest thing ever but we’ve been friends with him since. That was the day we met Satine Phoenix, Stefan Pokorny and a slew of other cats that just came through there. Stefan was cool, he was like, “Hey heavy metal, that’s rad!” and I’m like, “yeah, let’s hang out,” all before Covid-19 hit. It was a great time.
Have you always been tuned into gaming and metal, specifically, how one may influence the other?
Metal and gaming have always gone hand in hand for me. Even when I was with Skeletonwitch, and I was hanging out with Mullet Chad (Derek Nau), we were listening to Dio and I was paying attention to the lyrics and thinking that it was all like Dungeons & Dragons type stuff.
With us, on our first record, we have a song about a Planeswalker from Magic: The Gathering, and one of the new songs we’ve written recently is based off my character, a Cleric I’ve been playing for about a year and a half now, with a group in Pathfinder.
For me I feel like Dungeons & Dragons has inspired so many things, music to games, especially video games with the storytelling arc and narrative aspect. That shit all started with people sitting around a table and doing things by paper, very analog.
Did you consciously set out to incorporate aspects of gaming into your music or did it just happen?
Yes, when I was in Gypsyhawk. I found myself wring a bunch of songs based on the books of Dune by Frank Herbert, as well as Song of Ice and Fire, before Game of Thrones came out as a TV show. And again, that was a book I got into from the drummer of Skeletonwitch. The more songs I wrote with fantasy themes, the more people really liked it, rest is history.
Purchase Gygax’s High Fantasy and other releases here
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Name: Rev Taylor, vocals
Alignment: Soaring Fantasy Metal
Band Name: Greyhawk
Band has been active since: 2018
What character do you play? No current campaign, sadly, but my last character was a level 5 Bard/Rogue named Coomb.
What game is this character in? D&D
What was your first gaming experience?
I must’ve been like 14, I had a few friends that were into it, we played 3rd Edition of D&D. I had a lot of friends that were into DM’ing and I probably played more games than I did D&D itself. I was into a game about vampires based in contemporary L.A., it might’ve been Vampire the Masquerqade. I got deep into that for about a year and a half, that was when I was 16 or 17.
Later it on I really dug Wushu which was less dice rolling and more about the narrative and storytelling. With D&D, I had a friend who would DM for me, it was just the two of us and really about my character wandering around and getting involved in situations, kind of a scenario thing, that was a lot of fun.
What about the band’s name, “Greyhawk?” That’s definitely D&D related.
The name “Greyhawk” came about just throwing names around, kind of riffing, and when we decided on the name, it was kind of cool since it was the name of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting. We thought it’d be a cool form content match because as the lyricist I wanted to do a classic sword and sorcery set and image for the band, so it fit well plus it was a cool call out for D&D as well.
I got into metal right around 13 or 14, death metal and such, Opeth and Amon Amarth around then. Fairly recently I circled back and got into the Dio stuff, which for a vocalist like myself, is really interesting to me. When I joined Greyhawk I started getting into Accept and more hard rock stuff which I hadn’t been too familiar with before.
Tell me about your writing process. Where’s it coming from, creatively?
I like writing in a fantasy idiom because the images therein have a lot of power, like the archetype of the “warrior,” the “wizard,” “the sword,” “the castle,” they all have this really cool mythic power that connects with our psyche. It’s why I’m attracted to both metal and gaming in general, and what makes a really good metal album or campaign, the ability to take you on this intense inner journey.
There’s definitely a Tolkien influence both on and in my lyrics. I don’t like to make it too obvious but if you read or listen to our lyrics, you’ll know it’s there. On our first album, there’s a song called “Wisdom of the Wizard” that’s a tribute song to Ronnie James Dio but also refers to Gandalf as well. The idea behind it was to kind of meld Dio and Gandalf together into this wizard figure.
From your point of view, where do you think the resurgence of classic or traditional metal is coming from? Coincidentally, it’s also the same area where the roots of fantasy & epic metal are rooted too.
I think writer Robert E. Howard has had an influence on this resurgence of traditional metal because there’s a lot of bands that draw on Cimmerian mythology and those visuals, and bands like Eternal Champion and Gatecreeper really do it well.
I’ve noticed that a lot of the archetypes in this mythos are the “strong man warrior versus the evil wizard.” When I write I try to subvert that a bit and make the protagonist a wizard hero that doesn’t necessarily have to win by force. The blade, the sword, being a central image to a metal album has been done a lot so I try to work around that and do something a little bit more subtle to give characters other than the traditional “warrior” some attention.
Purchase Greyhawk’s Keepers of the Flame here
Follow Greyhawk on Facebook here
Name: Alex Awn, Guitarist
Alignment: Death / Doom Metal
Band: Temple of Void
Band Has Been Active Since: 2013
Record Label: Shadow Kingdom Records
What character do you play? Baldrek Goldhammer, fifth level Dwarven Sorcerer
What game is this character in? D&D 5e
If you’re not playing a game and you’re a minis painter, what minis are you currently painting? I’m currently painting a Black Legion army for 40k. They are the Bringers of Decay warband.
What age did you become involved with Dungeons and Dragons, and was it D&D first, or another RPG?
I’ll tell you, but there’s a bit of a gap. As a kid, I remember watching the D&D cartoon show in the 80’s, and that was probably my first introduction to the game, my first awareness. And tangentially, if we can broaden it to wargaming and things like that, that was maybe around the time I got HeroQuest and Space Crusade.
…But that was my introduction and certainly heavy metal was happening at the same time and I remember in Scotland seeing the “Can I Play With Madness” video, and … by ’92, I was 12 and Fear of the Dark came out and I was all in with Iron Maiden. So, you get exposed to stuff bit by bit and fast forward, it wasn’t until like a couple of decades later that I actually, the love for metal continued, but the D&D thing, wargaming, it was always tangential, it was always with me but in the background and then I met someone who … was playing an Eberron campaign, D&D 3.5, he lived a couple of miles away and he invited me over and taught me D&D, that was 4-5 years ago.
I played a few games with him, but it just wasn’t the best gaming group for me. I reconnected with an old friend of mine, through hardcore and punk, and he was really into being a Dungeon Master, and he wanted me to game with him, and he was playing 5e (AD&D, 5th Edition), so we started up and I got my brother into it, got a few friends, now my wife plays as well, and we’ve been playing this campaign now for the last couple of years… a mishmash of published D&D modules. Right now we’re in Waterdeep.
Tell me about writing lyrics for the band. From what creative wellspring does that come from?
As for Temple of Void, Mike writes all the lyrics so I can’t get too deep on that subject. But earlier on he pulled inspiration from the likes of Poe, Robert E Howard, and various cult horror movies. He would re-tell the tales through his own lens. Part of Temple of Void is picking from different mythos and bringing them altogether, everything from World of Warcraft to Robert E. Howard to Poe.
Mike is a great storyteller. So even if it’s a famous tale, he puts his own spin on it. He would also pull from global folklore and mythology. There are a couple songs where he delved into some classic Dungeons and Dragons territory. The song “Ceremorphosis” comes to mind. One song is about the Mind Flayer, for instance. And on the last album, The World that Was, the album title was a reference to Warhammer and The-World-That-Was. The Age of Chaos before the Age of Sigmar.
The final song on the album tells the tale of the End Times as seen through the eyes of a dying solider. However, when you look at Temple of Void as a whole, our mythos is writing itself. Our mythos is evolving. Our mythos is a melting-pot. We carve our own story in blood as we stand on the shoulder of giants. We’re not “just horror” or “just Warhammer” or “just D&D” or “just anything.” If you look at our album covers and read our lyrics, you can start to piece together threads that tie it all together. More like Iron Maiden than Bolt Thrower.
As the band progressed Mike started to write a bit more metaphorically. So right now we’re at the point where he’s exploring more of his own inner dimensions. He’s looking in, rather than out. The last album had a song called “Self-Schism,” which on the surface was a graphic and horrific tale of someone literally cutting themselves in half. But it was also clearly metaphorical. And now as we’re getting ready to record album number four, I expect the lyrics will continue to explore our inner dimensions through a horrific lens, rather than re-telling famous tales of terror and the supernatural.
Have you thought about doing something unique, like writing and including a game with upcoming vinyl releases?
That idea has been something that’s been kicking around inside my head, I haven’t broached it with the guys yet. Specifically, I was thinking about asking the guy who’s our dungeon master for games, to write a D&D module we could include with our next album, but like I said, I haven’t talked to the guys in the band yet.
Take us into your hobby of painting miniatures (minis), you’re quite committed to it.
I paint almost exclusively Warhammer 40k and Age of Sigmar models. I do this because the sculpts are amazing. I’m really into the lore and generally just love the Warhammer community, too. But my primary reason is the quality of the sculpts, as well as obviously the subject matter. If i want some gnarly barbarian looking dude…Age of Sigmar has me covered. If I want some sci-fi then I paint a space marine. I have a Slaves to Darkness army I’m working on for AoS and a Black Legion Brings of Decay army for 40k. I’ve worked up my own space marine chapter and might call them the Ultramegamarines as an homage to Soundgarden.
I’ll also design my own characters with Hero Forge and have them 3D printed. I’ll do this for my D&D games if I don’t have an off-the-shelf model I want to use. I actually designed a model to mimic the cover art of our first album, had it printed, and painted that up.
Saturday night at my household is “mini painting night.” I paint minis w/ my wife and one of my best friends, Eric. He used to play in Temple of Void. We listen to all kinds of shit when we paint. Typically, we just take turns streaming stuff from our devices to the speakers in our room. It’s rarely metal. We listen to a lot of post-punk and shoegaze, grunge, some rap, some drum-n-bass. I often laugh at the disconnect between the gnarly mini I’m painting and the music we’re listening to at the time. The point is, it’s a time to check out new music and turn one another on to stuff we haven’t heard.
Buy Temple of Void’s The World That Was here
Follow Temple of Void on Facebook here
Name: Tucker Thomasson, vocals and guitar
Alignment: Dungeon Crawling Metal
Band: Throne Of Iron
Band has been active since: 2018
Record Label: No Remorse Records
What character do you play? Erik Wolffang, level 6 paladin
What game is this character in? D&D 5E
When did you start gaming?
I actually didn’t start playing till my mid 20’s, but I was exposed to it from age 10. I had an older cousin who played and he had his first edition books laying around, and I inherited those when he went off to the Marines.
I grew up in a really small town with no one to play with, and I still live here, so I just read the absolute hell out of those books and I think it just planted the seed for what would become the band I’m in. At the same time I was reading those books and looking at the somewhat awkward illustrations inside them, there was a weird cross pollination happening inside me. I was getting this idea and notion that this is what gaming is or was and at the same time this is happening, I started getting into heavy metal.
I had access to VH1 Classic and they had an 80’s metal video block and that was my introduction to it, through 80’s heavy metal. Because of my circumstances I didn’t really start playing D&D till my mid 20’s. Because of the pandemic, I’ve been playing 1-2 games a week now, mainly with my buddy Brian Profilio from The Budos Band. He wrote a campaign and dungeon masters me, Paul Seymour the artist who did our album cover, Adam from Wartroll miniatures, Tim Granda who’s making the Planet of Doom movie that’s been in production for quite a while now, and Mike from Raven’s Horn merch company.
Let’s talk about how gaming has influenced Throne of Iron.
It was all of that reading I did with those D&D books as a kid and then getting into 80’s metal. What happened, was, it kind of sat and germinated in my brain for a decade and a half, ‘cause Throne of Iron didn’t start till 2018 and Corwin Deckard, our guitarist, he and I came from similar backgrounds but he played more tabletop games than I did. He definitely grew up in more of an 80’s metal environment because of his dad. In fact, he has vivid memories of driving around in his dad’s beat-up truck listening to W.A.S.P., I mean, it’s so crazy, Cory’s dad is like a caricature. he’d drive around listening to W.A.S.P. while running a karate dojo out of his basement!
Throne of Iron got kicked out of Gen Con. How did that happen?
The Gen Con story! Well, Throne of Iron got kicked out of Gen Con in 2019. We were slated to play, and I had it all worked out, so when I went to do the event submission I kind of bent the rules a bit because there isn’t an application for musical events, but I know they exist there. I entered all the information in by the book, power requirements everything, we completely changed our live setup. For example, our drummer had an electronic kit and we had it so we could plug straight into a PA and be as loud or as quiet as we needed to be. Our application got approved, and we were stoked, because I’m pretty sure a heavy metal band hasn’t played Gen Con before, but I could be wrong.
It was surreal, we had to fight for parking in the garage underneath the convention center, it cost us like $78 but we finally got our space. We go up our two elevator rides, scope out the room we’re slated to play, figure out a plan to load-in, do it pretty quickly since we’re scaled down, set up and get through two songs before we get shut down. This is like a half hour before we’re supposed to be done because of noise. And literally, all it would’ve taken is for them to have asked us to turn it down and we could’ve done that, because of the way we had modified our live setup.
From a creative standpoint, where’s the band coming from?
Lyrically, we’re mainly coming from a love of fantasy period, and some of it does come from games I’ve played, games Corey’s played, and just experiences that relate from there. A lot of it is also coming from this band meta I’ve built up in my head before I even started Throne of Iron, like there’s an alternate universe of us in 1982 or ’83, doing this band. And that’s just something that’s in the back of my head in terms of how I approach things lyrically and aesthetically with the album art. The creative spark for me comes from movies quite a bit. I love Heavy Metal and the Ralph Bakshi movies also.
You do a show on Twitch, right?
I’m on Twitch with John Bultena and we do a stream on Monday nights called Heavy Metal Dungeon Masters where talk about DM’ing, metal and all that can spin off that. When we do our twitch streams, we just usually do it over a Zoom call. I also game on Thursday nights with my friends over Zoom as well. All rolls are done on the honor system.
Buy Throne of Iron’s Adventure One CD here
Follow Throne of Iron on Facebook here
Check out Heavy Metal Dungeon Masters here