By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
Dungeons and Dragons is more than a game.
For people like Michael Flanery of Moody, it is a source of literary inspiration. Celebrating the publication of his first novel, he says the D&D world gave him an appreciation for fantasy and the tools to create believable characters.
'My entire high school career was devoted to the paper-and-pen version of D&D,' Flanery said, grinning. 'I don't remember much about those years other than elves, wizards and orcs.'
He stopped playing D&D when he was 17 because he left home to serve in the military. But he didn't abstain from the fantasy world for long. His adult years found him an avid fan of online role-playing games.
'The more I played, the more I read,' Flanery said. 'Any kind of book I could get my hands on. And a couple of years ago, I was reading this one book and it was a particularly horrible book. I told the wife I could write one better than that, and she said, 'Well, why don't you?' It was kind of a dare, but I took her up on it.'
So Flanery started writing his first book, 'Dream Paladin.' It's a fantasy novel about five Holy Knights of the Church. They are all champions of good, but the men have different lifestyles, different careers and different regions of the country. 'None of the five has ever met, until they are thrown together by the hand of fate,' Flanery said. 'This is brought on by them mysteriously falling into comas in their world's reality and waking in another world torn by war and in desperate need of a hero.'
The group's adventures with magic and battle start after the men arouse from their comas.
'The setting is very much like D&D,' Flanery said. 'It's also like Tolkein's world in 'Lord of the Rings.''
For Flanery, writing 'Dream Paladin' was like a round of D&D.
'You have to plan out how you're going to write each character. And when you have five, that's more difficult than just one,' Flanery said. 'So just like in D&D, you jump into each character's scenario, get into the character's mind. You have his independent personality and know the things that have made that person who they are.'
So as Flanery writes, he's not himself.
'The characters' voices are inside my head,' he said.
He started describing two of the main characters, Marcus Williams and Allen Finche.
'Marcus is a big motorcycle guy, an ex-cop, real gruff,' Flanery said. 'But Allen, he's a small, meek guy, an accountant. The kind of guy you'd never think would be a leader.'
As he talked about Williams and Finche, Flanery said he never struggled in giving them life. His experience with D&D had given him ample experience in character development.
'In D&D, you've got to know the character you're playing inside and out,' he said.
There's no room for hesitation because the slightest hint of insecurity can lead to a loss of points.
D&D also taught Flanery that there is such a thing as 'too much' in fantasy writing.
'I don't buy into way out-there theories,' Flanery said. 'Things have got to be believable for the reader.'
His plots, for example, have to follow the rules of the world he's writing about.
'You can't write something that's going to make the reader put down the book,' he said. 'You establish what's true and right for the world and stick to that. And, like in D&D, your characters are not infallible; they can get hurt. That's an important thing to realize.'
Using D&D as a springboard into fantasy writing is not uncommon.
Tracy Hickman is an example of a man whose D&D fascination earned him literary acclaim, fame and fortune. Pyramid magazine named him one of the Millennium's Most Influential Persons in 1999. He's the author of the 'Mystic Warrior,' the 'Advanced D&D Ravenloft Module,' the Darksword trilogy, and Dragonhearth and Dragonlance series.
'The game is by no means stupid or evil,' said Hickman, a devout Mormon. 'It all depends on what you do with it. For me, it taught me how to channel my creativity and produce long-lasting storylines.'
It also engendered in him a love for words.
'Playing D&D gave me a strong foundation for a good vocabulary,' he said. 'Most of the words in D&D worlds come from Old English. They're not gibberish. It taught me the history of words and the roots of our modern language.'