We continue our exploration into gaming and metal as well as touching on the influence of videogames and the rising popularity of live streaming platforms that serve dual purpose as online communities for both gamers and music fans to play and socialize in.
We also throw down a conversation with rock fan and D&D royalty, Ernie Gygax (son of Dungeons and Dragons creator Gary Gygax), crush some metal – Wisconsin style – with Lords of the Trident, and worship at the altar of NWOTHM with Knights of the Forge.
Name: Ernie Gygax
Alignment: Ultimate Gamer
Age: Revered Elder.
“It’s a lot of fun to be in this rare position of being one of the few surviving Greyhawk players, picking up the dice bag, and carrying on the tradition that dad (D&D creator, Gary Gygax) started.”
“I am not in a regular campaign. Sometimes, to test out high level things, I will create Tenser or Erac’s Cousin. We’ll put it together for a fun little gathering with other people and their medium level characters in Greyhawk. We never advance beyond 14th level. I think 13th level for Rob Kuntz, as a lord, and my 14th level was gained due to an artifact. Otherwise, I didn’t earn experience for 13th level. I like or prefer to play if I have a group of people I can gel with, that works well. However, when you have nothing but a chaotic group, then I’m rooting for the monsters to get rid of the garbage so we can carry on in a smaller scale, enjoying ourselves.
Tell us how Dungeons and Dragons evolved from a complex wargame played by adults in the 70’s evolved into the commercial beast it became in the 80’s.
D&D began as a game for wargamers. When we started doing the “basic” sets and selling them through Toys ‘R Us, that’s when it was geared towards kids and we started making things simple. Before that, with the three-book set in the brown box and later the white box, and the supplements, it was definitely something that was better played if you were going to learn it, and then buy the books after. The basic set was meant to be simpler and more understandable by the layman and young person. The year that the “Satanic Panic” happened, we quad’d in sales, in other words, we went from two million sales to eight million sales that year.
Into the ‘90s and early 2000s, D&D lost a step in buzz and popularity. Why do you think that happened?
I think the market was flooded in mediocre products. The people that were in charge and pumping out materials weren’t gamers anymore. Once my dad was forced out of TSR, it was a steady decline into shit.
And now within the last five years or so, D&D has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. What in your opinion has contributed to that?
4th Edition was a huge failure but 5th edition D&D was a big success. They went back to 1st and 2nd edition a little bit and then simplified and allowed you to be more heroic. They made it where it’s not as dangerous and focused more towards the common individual. Before there were lessons to be learned, and insight to be gained and now it’s more die rolling, more of it was D&D was. Plus there’s also a lot of people coming out and talking about their love for Dungeons and Dragons and the adventures they run, especially high profile celebrities. I’m not a 5th edition fan, my brother Luke plays it with his daughters while I’m still 1st edition D&D myself.
Let’s talk about music for a moment. Lake Geneva isn’t far from Milwaukee and Alpine Valley Music Theater. Did you go there for concerts?
Oh yeah, lots of concerts, sure. Boston, UFO, Chicago, others I can’t remember! I’d often get thrifty tickets from some beer distributor, or something like that. I’ve seen bands in other places, like Heart in Florida. Eurythmics was a fun show at Alpine Valley. I met a girl there, it was fun. Growing up I was into 60’s rock, metal, Black Sabbath, that whole thing. I dug metal because it was a way to meet girls back then.
When I lived in L.A., I used to go to Doug Weston’s Troubadour back in the 80’s when I lived in Beverly Hills. It was a lot of leather, a lot of chains, a lot of studs on people! When you went in they frisked you and there was a big ole guy behind bullet proof glass with a shotgun! The girls had spiky hair and leather and studs, it was great. I never went to the Whiskey, though. I also went to Madame Wong’s West and other places. I did hang out with some bands, but it was in Lake Geneva, later on.
When I lost my TSR occupation I delved into a form of business that is prohibited by law. Some of the bands I mingled with at the time was, let’s see, I got high with Boston, just some doobage backstage with them. I had a connection with a roadie so who knows what other stuff might’ve happened, I didn’t party much beyond that. I was with a girl who went back with the band, I didn’t, so she was kind of a groupie I suppose. So you could say, I’ve lived in mansions and hippie houses, all different layers.
I also shook hands with Jerry Lee Lewis, I partied a little bit with Ricky Nelson. I was dating Nelson’s promoter’s secretary and at the time Lewis and Nelson were doing shows in Vegas and I’d go to Vegas to see them. They were getting paid $5000 a day to do two shows but Jerry Lee Lewis and Ricky Nelson had to pay their bands themselves.
Let’s take this conversation one step forward with music. From your perspective, how do you see the intersection of gaming and metal or gaming and rock N roll?
With the band Gygax, for example, they were fans and they contacted us and asked us if we had any problems with us using your dad’s name as an homage. We didn’t. I’ve heard their music a little bit, I don’t have a turntable anymore. And we can’t have them at Gary Con because we don’t have a place for a rockin’ band to play unless its outside and most gamers don’t want to leave the zone to see the band. They want to concentrate on their games or tell war stories and reconnect with friends.
And some of those friends might be celebrities.
Joe Manganiello. He’s a big D&D gamer. He made contact with my brother and I DM’d him once at Gary Con. He’s a pretty good player, definitely power gaming, like 5th edition and 3.5.
In terms of gaming, what’s in the forefront of your mind right now?
Getting back to in person gaming, the feel of how all of this started. So, there’s three things I need to mention. Gary Con, may it soon be in person again, hopefully. Next is the Dungeon Hobby Shop museum here in Lake Geneva and there’ll probably be two tours per year to Lake Geneva with Geek Nation where I’ll be fraternizing with everyone, running games, and just having fun. Plus I get tipped out, a little cash always helps!
Follow Ernie Gygax on Facebook here
Name: Fang VonWrathenstein, Barbarian Vocals
Alignment: The Most Powerful of Metal
Band Name: Lords of the Trident
Active Since: Dawn of time, but short hiatus from 1342 – 2008.
What character do you currently play or normally play? Bard or Barbarian!
What game is this character in? D&D 3.5. I also play Vampire the Masquerade
How old were you when you started gaming, Dungeons and Dragons or other games?
Oh wow, I’m wracking my brain on this one. I think I might’ve been 8, 9 or 10, something like that, when I ended up with a copy of HeroQuest, and you better believe I ended up backing the hell out of the kickstarter for the new version of HeroQuest! I saw that and I was like, “Oh my god, I’ve been missing my gargoyle piece for 20 years, I can finally get a new one!”
With D&D, I was probably 12 or 13 when I started playing with my friends, I did that for a little bit and then jumped over to Vampire The Masquerade for most of high school. In college I got in with a few groups of players. One group was playing D&D version 3.5, another group was doing D&D 2.0; I mostly stick with 3.5e. and finding the right group is the real stickler.
Has the pandemic cut into your gaming schedule?
At this point with the pandemic, I’m really not doing anything right now. I really enjoy the social aspect of getting together with people and playing in person and I know a lot of my friends are doing a lot of stuff over Zoom, but I haven’t really found a group that clicks and fits in with my schedule.
Aside from wanting to play a certain type of character, since the pandemic hit, I’ve been busier than normal. We’ve been putting out a new video every single week now since March. So we’ve been doing that, we’ve been doing livestreams, like 6-7 livestreams a month, and a lot of those livestreams are me playing old Sega CD videogames.
Most of the streaming is public but some streams are specifically reserved for our Patreon backers where we hang out in Discord and answer fan questions. We put a ton of work into Patreon, in fact, we are the #1 most funded metal band on Patreon. I’ve actually done a few talks at several music conferences on setting up Patreons, things that work, things that don’t. I’ve helped like 10 or 12 bands one on one setting up their Patreons and they’ve done really, really well, so it’s been a lot of fun.
Speaking of staying busy, setting up and running “Mad With Power Fest” took up quite a chunk of time prior to the pandemic as well, correct?
Oh yeah. Mad With Power Fest is our yearly pinball, arcade and power metal festival we hold here in Madison, Wisconsin and it’s usually in late August. Our next one is scheduled for August 27 & 28 of 2021. It was born out of a love for power metal, heavy metal and gaming in general. The fest has been very, very successful, we sold out in 2019 and were on track to do the same in 2020 and then the pandemic hit and shut it all down. The good news, is, we’ve taken the 2020 lineup and moved it to 2021.
Of particular interest, we’ve got a bunch of gaming specific bands on the bill like Master Sword that do Zelda songs, they take the Zelda soundtrack and write words to it, we have Bit Brigade, a band that doesn’t have a singer but does have a lead speed runner where this guy speed runs like an old Nintendo game while the band plays and a lot of the other bands we booked have gaming connections as well. With Lords of the Trident, we have songs about gaming also, it’s something I don’t have to reach too far to do.
Did the members of Lords of the Trident make a conscious choice to incorporate gaming into music or did it naturally happen?
I think for someone my age or younger it isn’t that hard of a creative choice. For people who have grown up with gaming in their lives, and consuming that medium, living and breathing inside that medium, it’s just what we do. The swords and sorcery component, as well as the gaming aspect, creeps in because it’s part of who we are. As a band we didn’t hold a meeting and say we were going to do this, when we got together this is what came out, this is what poured out of us.
Are you a big reader of fantasy fiction?
For me personally, I’ll read every once in a while, I enjoy it, but I can’t say I’m a big reader. I’m more into movies, videogames, that kind of stuff. I’m not a voracious reader by any stretch.
Have you made the trek to Lake Geneva to check out the Gygax, TSR, and Dungeon Hobby Shop locations?
I haven’t, and I probably need to since I game and I live in Wisconsin. Madison isn’t that far from Lake Geneva.
What’s your opinion on fantasy roleplaying games, especially Dungeons and Dragons, enjoying a resurgence in the last few years?
A couple of reasons. The people who enjoyed those games when they were underground, or gaming that was thought of as something nerdy or socially outcast people do, are now in creative positions of power where they can write this genre into stories, and movies, and take a look at Netflix with “Stranger Things,” that comes to mind immediately, and all of a sudden people are now looking at gaming differently, it doesn’t have a stigma attached to it any longer.
And then viewers who are watching “Stranger Things” are thinking, “wow, these kids are playing Dungeons and Dragons, I wonder what’s it like to play, it looks kinda cool, maybe I should try that.” The main reason its becoming more mainstream is that D&D is becoming so much more normalized in media, video games included. Jocks and sports guys and grandmas, they’re all playing different kinds of games now and it allows them to experience different aspects of gaming like card decks, and videogaming and roleplaying games.
Check out the Lords of the Trident website here
Lords of the Trident on Twitch
Lords of the Trident Patreon
Name: Paul Hissam, Bassist
Alignment: Heaviest of Metal
Band Name: Knights of the Forge
Band has been active since: 2012
What character are you currently playing? Nurgle and Dark elves
What game is this character in? Blood Bowl
How did you get involved in gaming, do you remember what age you were?
We were more into Warhammer when we were 15 or 16 but got into D&D on a more casual basis, very awkward DM sessions, no real clue what to do. With me, I was probably around 11 when I got into the Dragonlance books, so, somewhere around ’95 or ‘96. And I was a fan of both fantasy and sci-fi as well. We all stumbled into Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, maybe 4th or 5th grade. I had a cousin who was big into D&D, Rolemaster, and he had shelves of Dragonlance books. It was really Draglonlance: Legend of Huma, that’s where it started for me.
When and how did Knights of the Forge get started?
Me and Sam started what would become Knights of the Forge right around ’08. We had a band called Circle of Iron, a handful of songs carried over. I ended up moving away, he had kids, you know, life happened. Ironically a few years later me and Sam started playing together in his barn, of all places.
It was right around 2012, 2013, we were getting ready to go see Manowar in Atlanta and decided we’d crush out a few songs, make a CD-R, and hand them out while we were down there. Problem was, a blizzard hit Atlanta and everything got cancelled. Good news, we crushed out this demo and shared it with a bunch of people and got a lot of grass roots interest for it. We brought Sean in and became a three piece for a long time, went back and forth with drummers, we brought Paul in as lead guitar player and that’s basically where we are now till COVID-19 hit.
Who came up with the name, Knights of the Forge?
Originally, we had been Circle of Iron and didn’t want to carry the name over. We were into the fantasy stuff, big into Warhammer at the time and it just so happened that both Sam and I are metal workers and Sam actually works in a forge. We were talking back and forth one day at work and came up with the name.
Tell me about the games you’re currently into or playing now.
Me and Sam both play Blood Bowl – The Underworld Creepers a lot. Neither one of us have the time commitments any more to do a massive Warhammer campaign anymore, so, Blood Bowl is a little more accessible. There’s a community around here and Blood Bowl tournaments, it has the RPG element and the miniature aspect to it. A game can be an hour or two tops, versus a big Warhammer game which could be all day.
The guy that does all our artwork, he’s a local guy and big into D&D and does this big campaign with his friends. He’s moved everything online and has tried to get me and Sam to join. It’s just been a while since I’ve done D&D, though, I’d need somebody to show me again. Our drummer Sean, when he was younger, he was big into Vampire the Masquerade. It was something I never got into.
How does gaming feed into the creative aspect of Knights of the Forge?
We have a few songs, for example, “Heretic Council” has ties to the Inquisitor characters from Warhammer, it’s loosely based on that. We have another song we recently wrote about Conan, for example. Musically we’re as guilty as any other band in terms of, this section of song is the galloping across the field with your sword raised high part. Gaming comes up specifically, in a Warhammer context but we’re more fantasy inspired overall.
Does the fantasy component enter from a literary aspect or a film / TV show context?
For me personally it’s literary. The Dragonlance stuff, Forgotten Realms.
Why do you think D&D and metal have converged the way they have, artistically, over the last few years?
D&D, like metal, has never gone away. If anything, it just goes underground then re-emerges in. Nerd culture has enjoyed a spike in popularity from the Marvel movies, Batman, The Walking Dead, the way these movies and shows have brought people to comic books. Magic: The Gathering has really had a hand in keeping gaming alive too. And then all of this stuff just crosses over where you have sci-fi fans crossing over into something else, that kind of thing.
With D&D and metal, and I’m still trying to figure it out, there’s always been the underground bands like Bolt Thrower and later Gwar, and the guys from Gwar have always been into gaming. It just seems like there’s always been a connection between music and gaming and such and now we’re seeing bands combining the two together.
For me personally, I’m still trying to figure it out but it works for us and our friends in Children of the Reptile and Throne of Iron, especially Throne of Iron who have like an entire record about D&D. We’re also big video game guys too.
Sam and I have also talked about getting on Twitch or Discord and streaming our miniature painting or Blood Bowl games or just chit chatting about games and metal in general. Streaming is definitely something we want to tie into our music. Sam and I have also discussed creating our own custom miniatures, now that 3D printers are a thing, something we can hand paint and sell as merch or give them away to friends and fans who’d appreciate them.
Check out the Knights of the Forge on Bandcamp
Follow Knights of the Forge on Facebook here