My first interaction with the world of Dungeons & Dragons came early—I was a young girl, stealing my older brother’s Monster Manual to flip through the bright, illustrated pages with my fingers spread over my eyes. The Beholder was one of the scariest things I had ever seen. (Genuinely, nothing needs that many eyes or tentacles!!!) But I was also fascinated, maybe even mildly obsessed with the wide range of creatures, spooky and otherwise, in the book. I got out of my tracing paper and started to learn the shapes and details of these monsters, committing them to memory so I could then draw them later all over the brown paper bags tightly enfolding my school textbooks.
It’s probably no surprise that a few decades later I would wind up developing a series for THE Dungeons & Dragons all about misfit monsters and misfit humans. Many of these tabletop roleplaying games, with their dense, thick books of rules and lore, seem totally unapproachable. Intimidating. With the D&D Dungeon Academy books, I’m trying to remove that barrier of intimidation. At the heart of these books (First with Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed! and now with the sequel, Tourney of Terror) there lies a simple concept: The quirk that makes you an outcast can ultimately become your greatest strength.
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This is a concept that is also fundamental to good tablet gaming—whenever I sit down to create a character for a new D&D campaign, my first question is: What makes this person different? Most recently, I played a sorcerer of mysterious origin, faithful to a somewhat sinister mushroom god, her entire life spent in hermetic service to this fungus deity. She finds other interesting but doesn’t necessarily folk like them. She is helpful and kind when and only when it plays into her mission of spreading mushroom spores across the land. Is she off-putting? Absolutely. Bizarre? Yup. Do I love her? Oh, yes. She’s different, complicated, with passions and interests that are uniquely her own.
I took this same approach when collaborating with the Dungeon Academy team on our cast of monsters. In D&D it can seem like rules are rules, but all of these creatures (and our human, of course) break the expected mold—Hugo is an owlbear, and owlbears are known for being ravenous carnivores. Our Hugo, however, is a devoted vegetarian, having witnessed dear environmental devastation at the hands of other owlbears. Snabla, a diminutive kobold, is trying to live up to his father’s impossible legacy. And there’s a mimic, Bauble, who should be extremely deadly. Bauble, however, can only transform into nonlethal objects. Most importantly, our main character, Zellidora, is a human girl masquerading as a minotaur, caught between two worlds, trying to understand her place in a universe that insists monsters and humans will always be at odds.
Our characters in many ways break the rules of Dungeons & Dragons, and that’s okay. It’s essential. I would argue that breaking and bending the rules is the point of tablet roleplaying games. And, let’s be honest, life. With the Dungeon Academy series, we have the perfect opportunity to show young readers how their own differences are considered weaknesses by some, but that those value judgments are wrong. There’s a very important rule in tablet gaming, perhaps the most important rule of all, and that’s The Rule of Cool. In D&D, the Rule of Cool is about creative problem solving, it’s about encouraging players to think outside the box, and embrace what isn’t text, but subtext. It rewards imagination. It rewards approaching the game with an unexpected perspective. I don’t spend hours and hours every week preparing a table session for my players hoping they will do exactly what I predict, I prepare with the knowledge that they will bring their own values, experiences, and personalities to bare, and completely blow me away with their solutions and choices. Surprise, acceptance. Surprise, acceptance. That same cycle is core to the Dungeon Academy books—these characters are not what they first seem, they surprise you—with their life stories, with their abilities, with their personalities, with their limitations, and then the reader comes to see why that’s special. Special and heroic. Surprise, acceptance. It’s no different than the cycle of meeting new people, discovering how they will surprise you, and growing to love them for it. And it’s no different than the cycle of finding out new things about ourselves–scary at first, sometimes terrifying, but then we see the importance of approaching life with an unexpected perspective.
The text of the Monster Manual would say that owlbears, mimics, and kobolds are not your friends. Monsters are monsters, and monsters would never accept a human among them. The Rule of Cool says: forget the text, embrace the unexpected.
D&D Dungeon Academy: Tourney of Terror is available November 1!
 I was really, REALLY not expecting them to roll well enough to convince two Ewoks to tag along for the rest of their Star Wars adventure, but here we are. Ridiculous! I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Meet the author
MADELEINE ROUX is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Asylum series, which has sold over a million copies worldwide. She is also the author of the House of Furies series, and several titles for adults, including Salvaged and Reclaimed. She has made contributions to Star Wars, World of Warcraft, Critical Role, and Dungeons & Dragons. Madeleine lives in Seattle, Washington with her partner and beloved pups.
About Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Academy: Tourney of Terror
From New York Times bestselling author Madeleine Roux and acclaimed artist Tim Probert comes the second installment in the original Dungeons & Dragons middle grade series!
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In the second installment of the Dungeon & Dragons middle grade series, something BIG has come knocking on the gates of Dungeon Academy! The undefeated Waterdeep Dragons have arrived for the Tourney of Terror games, which happens every fifty years and features every monster’s favorite sport: Goreball!
The Dungeon Academy Flumphs are outnumbered, outsized, and outmonstered! But our hero, Zelli Stormclash (a forbidden human, secretly disguised as a minotaur), is no stranger to impossible odds. Just a few weeks ago, Zelli and her crew, the Danger Club, came face-to-face with a maniacal necromancer and his army of undead!
If this wasn’t enough to raise scales Zelli’s reoccurring nightmare of a dark entity annihilating her world may be more than just a bad dream. Something sinister is lurking in the halls of the academy, and only Zelli seems to notice. But when Zelli uncovers a dark past hidden beneath Dungeon Academy, she unlocks something that will concern everyone at school, every dragon at Waterdeep, and everything within the Forgotten Realms.
Get ready for humor, heart, magic, and adventure as middle graders and beyond learn to embrace who they are, accept others’ differences, and discover the hidden secrets that dwell deep within themselves, and within Dungeon Academy!
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/01/2022
Series: Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Academy
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post