I am so excited to be talking Dungeons and Dragons with Zack Argyle, author of the Threadlight series. He’s an incredibly talented writer, as well as a fan of D&D.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me! Will you talk a bit about the Threadlight trilogy?
Of course! I wrote this series as something I would enjoy reading. It takes inspiration from some of my favorite authors: Anthony Ryan, Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, and Brian Staveley, but also takes the theme of family, which is important to me, and brings that to the forefront.
The story originated while thinking about the parents of the chosen one. If they knew when the child was a baby that it was key to saving the world, what would they be willing to do to keep that child safe? But also, what if they failed? Chrys Valerian is a father who will burn the world to protect his family.
When did you start playing ttrpgs?
I joined Pinterest as a software engineer in 2015 and shortly after found out that they had a few D&D groups. One of them had two of my teammates, and they invited me to join. None of us work there anymore, but I do still play with those two teammates who invited me, even though we all live in different states! That group is the three of us and our wives, currently running the Ghosts of Saltmarsh 5e campaign.
Has gaming inspired you in any way?
Being a dungeon master is what gave me the confidence to go all-in on this years-long storytelling adventure! There was a particular moment that I’ll never forget.
Each of the players provided me with backstories at the start of the campaign which I used to weave into the greater arc of Storm King’s Thunder. One night, on the streets of Gauntlgrym, the party had just defeated a powerful foe when a high level member of the Zhentarim faction—their greatest enemy throughout the campaign—appeared. The man dropped to a knee in front of one of the players, then bowed and whispered, “First Lord.” The players gasped. Those two words changed everything in the campaign. It changed the player dynamics, the plot focus, and the tone of the story.
Since you weren’t there, it probably seems like nothing. But in that moment, I knew that I could write a compelling story. I knew that I could take complex arcs and weave them together to create moments of awe. Shortly after, I started seriously writing Voice of War.
As someone who has been on the player end of a moment like that, I absolutely get it. My husband once ran a campaign in which he wrote separate visions for each player of how their character would die (if the visions were correct). They ranged from sweet and satisfying to violent or completely unexpected. Mouths dropped open. One player teared up. It was such a cool moment!
On the opposite side of that, has publishing books made you more confident in your gaming?
It’s actually quite interesting. As a character, I do think it has helped me be more confident in creating and role-playing more complex, interesting characters. On the other hand, there is an added pressure now when I am the dungeon master for the story to be great! Which is a lot of pressure for something that’s supposed to be fun! The same goes for writing. If you publish a book that people love, there is a lot of pressure to make the next book better. If you succeed, the pressure is compounded for the third book. In a way, it’s given me a bit of empathy toward Patrick Rothfuss. With the acclaim of his first two books, I’m sure he’s freaking out about ending the series well. Same goes for popular TTRPG personalities, like Matthew Mercer (Critical Role) or Griffin McElroy (Adventure Zone). The pressure on their shoulders as DMs is insanely high.
I never would have thought of it that way, but that makes perfect sense. Although, when it comes to the next book in your series, I really don’t think you need to worry. 🙂
Are there any parts in your books that are a direct result of a D&D campaign?
I’ve reused a lot of names between campaigns and the Threadlight series. My first D&D character was Sir Atticus Endin, which led to the Great Lord Malachus Endin. There were also characters named Alverax and Corian. But none of the plot points have yet to be taken from a campaign.
I’ve noticed that many great fantasy authors play D&D. Do you think there is a connection between gaming and writing?
If you enjoy being a dungeon master, which requires a ton of hard work, worldbuilding, juggling of complex scenarios, as well as a wild degree of creativity, then you almost certainly enjoy writing. It doesn’t surprise me at all that so many fantasy authors love TTRPGs!
What are some similarities and differences?
Extensive worldbuilding, characterization, magic-filled fights, and mysteries are all quintessential building blocks of both.
Does gaming help with writing creativity or vice versa?
True role-playing—I believe—does help your writing, because it forces you to learn how to think and make decisions based on the perspective of another person. If you can learn to put yourself into the mind of a character that does not think or act like you, then you will be that much better of a writer.
What do you love about gaming?
For me, it’s the camaraderie. I love being in a situation where people can let down their defenses, where they can be silly, creative, dorky, anything. Mix that in with moments of unpredictable, collectively-inspired storytelling, and it’s just wonderful fun.
I totally agree! I love that you mention the storytelling being collectively-inspired, because it is such a group event. You could take the exact same campaign and play it with two separate groups and the stories would end up being two completely different stories. Do you have a favorite character class, or do you like to mix it up?
Definitely love variety! I’ve played a Gnome Barbarian (Corian), Changeling Sorcerer (Alucard), Tabaxi Rogue (Boots), Human Paladin (Atticus), and Vedalken Druid (Keltrovac). My two current characters are a Firbolg Wizard (Marsh) and an Eladrin Rogue (Rael). I have no shame, so I’ve also done different character voices for each one.
Oh, kudos for the firbolg! I actually had to look that one up. I have yet to do the voices for my character myself (I’m working up to it). The amount of creativity that can be put into making a character is one of my favorite things about D&D. The sky (and the DM’s final word) is the limit!
What first drew you to writing?
I’ve always loved storytelling. Despite having a degree in electrical engineering, I actually started out my college career in Journalism. Fifteen years later, the itch to write never left me. Mix that in with my love of learning and trying new things, as well as an unhealthy dose of stubborn tenacity, and here I am with a full-time hobby job.
Is there a particular gaming memory that always makes you laugh or smile?
There was a moment in one of our campaigns where the party really grew attached to one of their traveling companions, a hill giant named Moog. One session, Moog had been captured and was going to be killed, mostly as a way for me to simplify the campaign. The sorcerer in the group said “No!” and rushed to save her. I only allowed it because he said he had a spell called Tree Stride that allowed him to move one mile per minute through the forest. He got to the hideout, blasted the captors, and then quickly fell to the floor dead. While rolling for death saves, he rolled a nat 20, got up, and killed the captors, saving their friend. It was already an epic moment that became even better when we realized that he’d mistaken the spell, and he did not actually have Tree Stride—he couldn’t, it was too high level. The sorcerer and Moog became best friends after that, and we still laugh about the wonderful mistake.
What would you say to someone who hasn’t played before but is curious about it?
Do it! Find a group you can feel comfortable with, and just have fun. Play a character that acts just like you would if it helps, then, when you’re ready, try a new character that is wildly different. The friendships you make and the fun you’ll have outweigh any of the fear of getting started. Make it happen!
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