Me, Myself, and Artimea
Words by Lara Antonio | Art by Tej Tan
A local creative takes a stab at DnD and gets bitten by the bug
Daughter to Hicerio and Zeffarin, the King and Queen of darkness, respectively, Artimea is the sole heiress to the Underworld. All her life, she was trained in the magical arts of (draconic) sorcery in order to one day take up the mantle and guide the lost souls that have found themselves in the Underworld.
A week before her 18th birthday – the day she would have assumed the role of guardian to the Underworld, a hooded lady visits Artimea in her sleep and delivers an ambiguous message: “Save him,” she says, over and over again. And then Artimea sees a face of a man, enveloped in darkness: a dark-haired elf carrying a wooden bow with silver embossed into the white wood (almost celestial) and a cut across his cheek. Then: nothing. Artimea wakes that night with a cold sweat.
Was it a prophecy? Was it a sign? Was it just her subconscious?
She doesn’t tell anyone about her dream, but everywhere she goes she is haunted by this hooded lady. She never sees her face, but only hears her voice, over and over: save him. His face is etched into her memory – who is he? And what does she need to save him from?
Consumed by this dream, Artimea runs away from home on the eve of her 18th birthday, determined to find this man: the elf, with long, dark hair.
Artimea waking up with a cold sweat | Art by Tej Tan
There I was, in the middle of the workday, completely engrossed in writing my backstory. A writer by trade, I actually thought I had left the fictionist behind me back in highschool, when I decided I was going to be a journalist. And yet, there I was, sitting on my writing chair, thinking of what kind of character I would make Artimea and imagining the world she lives in.
As I write this, Artimea and I have gone on two adventures, one with the Scene PH team, and another short campaign with strangers-turned-companions: Savile, the halfling thief (with zero perception skills!) you always have to keep an eye on; Maximus, the warrior-tank-over-all-good-guy (who makes questionable decisions that somehow saves us all); and Kasula, the mysterious half-elf bard who always keeps the group in check as resident-mom-friend.
Obviously, I’ve been bitten by the bug. What bug, you ask? Dungeons and Dragons. That bug.
Artimea, Kasula, Savile and Maximus on their first adventure to Ivy Manor. Dungeons and Doodles by Jem
But what is DnD, anyway? To borrow words from long-time Dungeons and Dragons player, content editor and gamer, Matt Olivares, DnD is “A wonderful tabletop role-playing-game (RPG) that’s structured yet can be unpredictable at times.”
First published in 1974 and designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, DnD was created so that players can create and live out their own fantasy stories. In short, players gather around a table to build a story together, guiding heroes – characters they designed, personalized, and control throughout the game – by taking on various quests: whether it’s to save the princess, to find a dragon’s stolen, magical lute; or just to clean an old manor filled with monsters and mayhem for some gold. The twist? The dice – and how well (or badly) you roll – decide your fate.
“It’s really anything you want it to be.” Ciary Manhit, content editor, pop-culture aficionado, and former-theater practitioner, who has been playing DnD for over a year and a couple of months now, adds. “Other than being a different person, you can try out things that you can only dream of imagining!”
In many ways, she’s right. DnD is really anything you want it to be, and here lies the appeal for creatives: for writers, gamers, and performers. DnD allows you to…
Choose Your Own Adventure
…and tap into your creative side. Despite its initial inaccessibility, we see a lot of players from all walks of life flocking to the game, and that is especially true for the local creative community, who have found their way into DnD one way or another.
Streamer, gamer, and DnD dungeon-master Erika Villa-Ignacio (also my very first DM!) got into DnD during the pandemic. As a local creative, and a writer by trade, DnD has become a form of self-expression for Erika. “Every single other game that I play is very plug and play. There’s not a lot of involvement for me apart from my own personal skills. Which means that as long as I keep riding at the game, I get better at it. But the thing is with DnD it’s different because when you’re in the Dungeon Master’s seat, you’re the video game. You’re not a player. You’re the game. So what does that mean?”
“That means I have to learn an entirely new set of skills. I am no longer on the side of the table where I have to defeat the monsters. I am the monsters. I am all these challenges. I am the maze, I am the traps. So how do I make sure that experience is a fulfilling one for the party members without it being too difficult as well?”
Matt, who actually got into DnD at a very young age, shares the same sentiments. “Dungeons and Dragons was a creative outlet for me when I was a little skipper. I eventually got tired of just following modules cover-to-cover that I eventually just started making my own adventures while trying to adhere to the rules of the game.”
“It’s also pretty fun making characters, especially those who are very unlike me in real life. Using them in campaigns made by other people is exciting because, while you’re bound to the rules of their stories and worlds, the way your character behaves in and understands those worlds will depend on how you wrote your character.”
Ciary, who was introduced by a friend to DnD, got into the game because of her love for theater and role-playing. “When you’re a player and a DM, in both positions you’re really meant to imagine and write out your story. Whether you’re a DM and you’re writing what will happen to your players, or you’re a player and you’re writing your backstory, you can really dream up whatever you want to be.”
“DnD is improv,” she adds. “You really have to yes-and the situation. If the DM throws you a situation that you never saw or thought would happen… you really have to yes-and it. So even though in your brain you think yes i’m gonna figure out what the secret to the room is but you didn’t roll [your dice] well, you have to yes-and that. [My] theater background kinda helps with that. You’re able to think on your feet. It is improv. You can’t say no. You just have to accept whatever you get.”
Ciary Manhit’s DM set-up
Writer and theater and arts practitioner, Gabbi Campomanes, also got into the game thanks to a friend and has been playing and running her own campaigns since. “It’s so insane to me how much of my background in theater [gets used]. Everything that has to do with playwriting, everything I learned from school – a lot of that aligns with the things you’re encouraged to do when playing the game.”
“If you look at the character sheet, it’s literally like – there’s traits, strengths, weaknesses, and most importantly there’s motivations, objectives. When you make characters you have to ask them: the who, the what, the why… all those things. What is the background of this character? What is this character fighting for in this play? It’s sort of exactly what happens in Dungeons and Dragons as well.”
“As a performer,” she adds, “You have your yes-and. But, for me it’s really [acting on] top of mind, you know. Just say whatever’s at the top of your head and don’t get mad at yourself after for it. That’s what DnD is. You’re roleplaying but there’s no script. You just make shit up as you go long and you have to forgive yourself if you think that you’ve done something wrong. You have to trust that things that come out of your brain aren’t always shit and that they can contribute to the story.”
It isn’t just a writing or theater background that comes to play. Gaming – which comes as no surprise – also gives you an edge when it comes to DnD, Ciary explains. “As a gamer you understand the mechanics of the game. How dexterity, strength, or constitution – how those stats in DnD can play out. How to best optimize yourself. Gaming helps when it comes to how to strategize how you’re going to play out the combat scene or the role-playing scene.”
Players, One and All
There’s so much more to DnD than what initially meets the eye, and this is apparent in the types of players and styles I have encountered in writing this article. Some players use boards and figurines – they prefer to gather around a table and physically roll the dice to see what the fates have designed for them. Some are comfortable playing without the board and using “theater of the mind” – relying solely on their imagination. Some use technology, creating maps on Google Slides, using Discord bots like Avrae; moving their tokens around on a computer screen. Some stick to modules from the Adventurer’s League, and some like to create and run their own homebrew content.
Erika, who plays mostly by the rules of the Adventurer’s League and gets her modules from Wizards of the Coast, the official company that distributes DnD modules, explains, “Adventurer’s League (AL) is the RPG format of DnD wherein you make a character, you go on several different adventures, and you level up every single time. You also get rewards sort of right away. It’s very straightforward.”
On the other hand, Gabbi who plays and runs homebrew campaigns with her friends, explains: “Homebrew is when you make shit up. It is essentially a world or rules or content that you make yourself, as opposed to a published copy by Wizards of the Coast.”
What does it take to create homebrew content? “Usually you have an idea and you roll with it,” Gabbi explains. “Once, I ran a campaign where it was a house party – a Filipino house party,” she adds, sharing that for some campaigns that she ran, NPCs (non-playable characters) end up being Filipino because that is the world that we know and it’s natural to take from that.
“Do you want to live in this world? And do you think the people you’re making this for would like it? That’s how you come up with and think of writing those things, and that’s why you keep doing it,” shares Gabbi. “Writing up your own world – I never thought of myself as that kind of person ‘cause I always thought that was for fictionists. Fictionists are the world-builders. I was never that kind of person, but here I am. I spend all night naming cities and towns and planets, cause I love it.”
“There actually is a weird dichotomy between homebrew players and AL players,” Erika adds. “Homebrew players who go into AL for the first time are very surprised by the speed of the game. And the lack of free-reign to improvise and basically act as a character like this is theater. But, at the end of the day, it’s [just] a different format. It’s still a game.”
“There is no wrong way to play,” Gabbi shares, quickly adding: “as long as you don’t make other players feel bad.”
Discord and Dnd Beyond
What’s Not to Love?
With the evolution of Dungeons and Dragons over the years making the game more accessible, and with the freedom to play and exercise your creative juices; regardless of preferred playstyle, class, or race, these local creatives find that there is so much to love about the game.
“I love that DnD was able to hone my skills in a different way. I love that I have some background in game design now,” says Erika. “Even if I play within the AL format, wherein I usually get modules that are from Wizards of the Coast, I also have the freedom to change them up, mix them around.” To add to that, Erika says, “I play with a lot of skilled people – I’m privileged to have them as my players. So it’s been a great experience all throughout. I’m just lucky that they’re willing to give as much to me as I am to them and vice versa.”
For Matt, it’s: “the lore, world building, and the stories. I just love learning about fantastic worlds and why things are the way they are in them. I may not be well-travelled in real life, but I’ve travelled great distances in my mind. I also go back to it because of the camaraderie with friends. I think it’s amazing to go on imaginary adventures with buddies. Sometimes, hilarious things happen.”
Ciary, who makes playlists for all of her characters and actually listens to them to get into character before the start of a campaign says, “It’s the role-playing for me.” Coming from her musical theater background, she finds it enjoyable to use music to help her imagine the lives her characters lead and the worlds she will then navigate as these characters. “It’s such a fun game to play with people. You get to play a different character – you can be as shitty or stupid as you want to be. Sometimes, you think it would work. Sometimes, it won’t,” she adds. “When you end a session, you’re itching to figure out what will happen next. It’s just fun to imagine, honestly. It’s fun to imagine.”
Gabbi sums it up for all of us: “What’s my favorite part of the game? That’s hard! The role-playing is one thing. You can be whatever you want essentially. I don’t have any other opportunities to do my stupid accents, but I do them at the table.”
“I love learning new things about the characters – I love building characters. I love creating their emotional worlds. I like playing with my friends and having fun and making stupid jokes. It’s literally a fantasy world. You get to escape to said fantasy world. You don’t have to deal with the successes and failures of the d20 of your life.”
As for me?
A Love Letter to the 10-Year-Old Lara
When I was 10-years-old, I used to spend my time buried in notebooks upon notebooks of handwritten stories. Stories about shapeshifters, fairies, kids with wings, outcasts with superhuman powers; heroes of my fantasy lands.
I don’t remember their names, I wish I could, but I remember that they kept me company for years: on school days, during the summer break, on weekends. I held these notebooks close to my heart and lost countless hours writing up their stories.
Who would have ever thought that almost two decades later, I would find myself sitting on my desk, imagining a fantasy world, led by my own misfit-of-a-hero, the blue-blooded tiefling, heiress-of-the-underworld herself, Artimea? Much more, who could imagine that I would be living out those adventures with new-found friends and traveling companions?
Dungeons & Doodles by Jem
When I conducted the interviews with long-time DnD players – some of them now new-found friends – I found myself asking the same question: What is DnD to me, what has it become?
Sappy as it may seem, what I found in DnD was not only another way to pass the time – though it is another fun way to virtually spend Sundays with friends and feel less isolated during this pandemic – but (much like everyone else I interviewed) an outlet for my long-forgotten hobbies: the ex-performer, ex-fiction-writer, ex-everything-else.
In the course of a little less than four months that I’ve been playing and studying this world, I found a home for things I had set aside for now in pursuit of something “more practical.” A fitting love-letter to my ten-year-old-self (and to the future) that even in this day-and-age – the bleak year that was 2020 – heroes do exist, even if we have to create them.