Dungeons & Dragons to Hack & Slaughter

I was musing in the car why I write the kind of things I write. I’ve always written ever since I was a kid, that’s true.  But then my writing got a big boost in the late 1970s (yes I’m that old) when I became a dungeonmaster writing stories for Dungeons & Dragons games we played round my house. It was my house, so I was going to be the Dungeon Master, and to be honest the other players were happy for me to take the lead and pull the stories together. These days, you buy ready made glossy modules made by Wizards of the Coast to high production values and scripted by good, professional writers. Then, you just put any old thing together. My stories didn’t exist in a coherent world, they kind of emerged like blips of light on a dark continent. We knew what was going on in the ruined city we found ourselves in, or that tavern wherein we brawled (in story at least), but we didn’t know the bigger picture.  The fun of dungeon-mastering was its creativity. I could create whatever I wanted and the players had to go along with it.  All this aside, the wonder of RPGs is that they really are interactive stories where more than one person twists and turns what’s going on. It’s a pity that the html novel, or the multi player novel never took off in my opinion. Maybe it will one day.

Then I gave up D&D, went to University, then London.  Wrote some novel length stories, many were rubbish, but one, my Tragical Comedy Zventibold! (named after a character in a pen and paper, play by mail fantasy campaign that I was part of at one time), yes, this Zventibold! still tickles me (though, truth be known, few others.) It would be wrong of me not to try and give it a push. I bow my head in shame but here it is: Zventibold!

Anyway, I digressed again. Blame my butterfly mind.

So I found myself leaving London by a long and convoluted story that I won’t bore you with, but I ended up living in a caravan (that is a trailer) one cold winter in the middle of a field on a remote Welsh farm. It was here that I learned to love Twin Peaks while freezing my rocks off and hugging my beloved cat Mungo (who once peed on my head, but that is another convoluted story I won’t bore you with.)  Later, things straightened out. I moved to a house in a new part of Wales near Welshpool and one day I was going into the town library when I saw a notice stuck on the community board about a group called Hack & Slaughter who promised Cthulhu Style live role-playing.  This was in 1991. I was intrigued. The first story, whose name I forget was set down a real actual Welsh slate mine at Brynceiriog.  We had to go in character and dress up in 1920s garb. We paid a fee for this I should say.  So one summer evening, we turned up at this Welsh slate mine and were greeted by two men – Mr Hack and Mr Slaughter. They were fully in character and they explained that while digging in the mine, the men had opened a shaft into unknown depths and then the men started disappearing. There were rumours of a horrible thing down the mine. There were other strangers there and the mix of strangers meant we didn’t know who to trust. We were able to find some blank firing guns, which were really loud (this is why I have tinnitus today – many years of shooting monsters in rooms without ear protection). Down the mine, the lights went out, things came to get us – zombies and in fact a Dimensional Shambler (you who know your Lovecraft / Call of Cthulhu will be familiar with one of these). It’s no spoiler now, as Hack and Slaughter are long gone.  They were hippy type guys who didn’t have proper jobs but their storylines were fantastic and engaging. Their props – the latex zombie for example, were wonderful. But they just couldn’t put on the “games” regularly enough to satiate my demand for horror. The thrill and the adrenalin of shooting at some monster coming up from a mine…

We did one at Halloween in a remote Welsh farmhouse. One of them lived there and the accommodation of this ancient 2-300 year old farmhouse, lit only by paraffin lamps and real coal fires and peopled by cast of the truly weird friends of Mr Hack and Mr Slaughter, was woeful. It had a hole into the cellar. So you could feel the cold October wind blowing up from somewhere. They would go to great lengths with their props. They even wallpapered over a room so that we couldn’t find it at first and when we hacked into the room, there was Ed the Zombie in a bath of blood…

I still remember, blazing away at 3 am with my replica Walther PPK at three werewolves emerging from the cellar, the cold breeze welling up behind them, hardly seeing them but knowing what they were. My God, how scared I was. How thrilled. The essence of horror. I’ve read books, seen movies, gone to haunted houses, but nothing was like that.

Hack & Slaughter fell apart shortly after. Drugs may have had something to do with it, I don’t know. But I needed a fix. So with Evil Steve (to differentiate him from Mushroom Steve) I founded The Dark Door. The Dark Door is still going and you can find their events here.

I wrote most of the storylines for our live horror games from the first game “The Ghosthunt” in April 1992 – set here  in 1925-  right through until my kids were born and I think I wrote my last game in winter 1998 – a classic, complete with a padlocked coffin, screaming sound effects (I loved making those), green slime, guns, smoke, pyrotechnics.  After that I did games sporadically as a free agent, running a fantastic one  “The Auction” at Charleville Castle, in Co. Offaly, Ireland. The best ever venue.

I got quite carried away with all that, reliving the memories.

The point of the blog was why I write what I write.  I think the great wonder of being a Dungeon Master and then being the Games Master for what in effect was a live Call of Cthulhu game was the immediacy. There’s your audience right there – you can see the terror on their faces. I could get them to run like maniacs for their lives, and see it happening.   I don’t care what you write – horror, romance, action, fantasy, erotica – what you want is to instill emotion in your readers by the power of your words. That’s it. I’m a megalomaniac, but I only ever wanted to entertain people, so don’t judge my megalomania too harshly.

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