Self-Reflections from D&D: Art

Growing up, I was never really one for appreciating art. Mine has always been the realm of numbers and logic. I never really “got” art, and didn’t attribute much to it other than being something nice to look at, or simply something that our collective society decided was of particular value without consulting me. I never got an emotional reaction from looking at a piece of art. It’s not that I’m some emotionless robot. I think it was just because I wasn’t exposed to art that touched me specifically. That has since changed, and let me just say, when it hit, it hit hard.

An entire day spent in the Louvre. That was a good day.

I don’t think I can attribute my newfound appreciation of the arts to any one thing, not even D&D. I imagine that it was the sum of different things I was exposed to, the cooperative storytelling of D&D, the prose of Jane Austen and Patrick Rothfuss (“Pride & Prejudice“, and “The Name of the Wind” respectively), and the tunes of “Hamilton“. All these things, and perhaps the age and experience to actually be able to appreciate their message and meaning, contributed to this newfound appreciation of “the arts”.

And this is what I’ve learned. Art for art’s own sake is probably not for me. But what is important to me, is art as a form of self-expression and self-discovery.

As opposed to the cold “efficiency” of numbers and logic, art offers the levity and space for reflection. Did this piece of art elicit a reaction from me? Why? What was it about this painting, song, or performance that touched me? Why do I now feel compelled to produce something of my own? What aspect of myself can I inject into what I’m creating? And what does this entire process of creating art, teach me about myself?

Truth be told, I wasn’t even supposed to be talking about art this week. We had a wonderful “Player Profiles” entry lined up. But we recently learned that a cultural institution, in our home city of Hong Kong, has recently come under some difficulty. Grappa’s Cellar, a bastion of live music and performances has been slated to be converted into a food court. This has sparked a petition to protect Grappa’s, off the back of it being a space for arts and culture in Hong Kong. This was what got me thinking about the importance of art, the importance of having a space to express it, and how my experience with D&D has, and continues to, shape my perception of art.

One can’t talk about art without also talking about the process of creation. The two go hand-in-hand.

I’ve recently been working on a new D&D adventure for our introduction sessions. And while my process is a bit different than most, I couldn’t help but catch how much of myself I found in the characters I was creating. Not that any of them were carbon copies of myself, but that I had injected into each of them an trait that I saw in myself, or wanted to see in myself.

My brothers and I (obviously, I didn’t ask for permission to post this particular picture)

I introduced an older female sibling, whose primary motivation was to protect her brother and sister above all else. Perhaps this is my subconscious reminding me that I could always do better as an elder brother.

Another character I have been developing is a very sly, cold, and calculating individual. Someone that’s constantly looking at how to manipulate the situation his advantage. And how ultimately it would be these facets of his personality that would lead him to ruin. A lesson that these qualities that I’m so proud of, can also be a double edged sword.

Or how Kasperle, The Glowing Fool’s tavern keeper, just wants to help everybody in anyway he possibly can. And how he is my own desire to make some type of positive impact, personified.

Kasperle will do anything in his power to help others.

Ultimately, I do think of what I’m doing with D&D as a form of art. It’s storytelling. And while it’s not the “literary art” that many people would typically expect, it elicits an emotional reaction from me. Both when I prepare for a session, and run one for my players. And at the end of the day, that is what art means to me. Something that causes an emotional reaction, and makes us stop, and think.

P.S. If you haven’t already, please do check out the petition to save Grappa’s Cellar. Any D&D player will tell you how important it is to have a space for games. And Grappa’s is no different for the musical arts. We all just want a space to play, we should try and hold on to the ones that we have.

Dungeons & Dragons has a had a profound impact on me. Through the last three years of playing this game, I’ve gone on epic adventures, laughed, cried, and made new friends. I’ve learned a bit more about storytelling, myself, and life in general.

“Self-Reflections” is a series about what I’ve learned as a DM, player, and all-around D&D nerd.