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Friends Who Play Together, Stay Together: How playing D&D led to publishing our own comic book series

This week sees the release of A House Divided: The Accursed Inheritance of Henrietta Achilles by Haiko Hörnig and Marius Pawlitza. We have an exclusive essay by Hörnig about how he and his co-creator first met all the way back in middle school playing Dungeons and Dragons—and how that experience directly led to the publication of their own comic book series.

“Friends Who Play Together, Stay Together: How playing D&D led to publishing our own comic book series,” is a funny and sweet look at how the collaborators’ current success can be directly traced back to their middle-school RPGs

When you are 12 years old and able to draw passably well, you quickly become the “kid who can draw“ in your class. I was that kid in my class, and I liked my role. I would scribble in my school books and draw caricatures of our teachers to the amusement and applause of everyone (except the teachers). Life was good. A year later, I met Marius and everything changed. Marius was the other kid who could draw at my school. Problem was, he was way, way better than me. Naturally, I hated his guts.

I met my new nemesis through a mutual friend who was looking to start a Dungeons & Dragons group at our school.I was already vaguely familiar with the concept of role-playing games. When I was 8 years old, I had found a strange game in our garage. The box was a bright yellow with artwork of Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, the Thing and Captain America punching through the cardboard lid. The game was called Marvel Superheros and it was a roleplaying game where you could create your own superhero and experience any kind of adventure—the only thing needed was your imagination! Well, at least in theory. The other thing you needed was a bunch of other 8 year olds willing to spend their afternoons reading a near incomprehensible dense rulebook. Which, to my great disappointment, didn’t happen.

So when the chance presented itself to play D&D, I pounced on it! We played whenever and wherever we could, even at school during lunch break. I was a chaotic evil fighter/priest of Malar, the god of the hunt. Marius was playing a lawful good paladin. Naturally, our characters hated each other’s guts. Meanwhile, I started to realize that maybe, just maybe, sharing the “kid who can draw“ role with someone wasn’t such a bad thing. Marius drew dozens of maps and monsters, crests and coat-of-arms and, of course, our characters. That didn’t just mean less work for me, it also meant everything looked way cooler! We quickly became best friends.

Above: Our first D&D party as drawn by Marius, age 14. As you can see, our early adventures were quite… gory.

Life went on, and when Marius eventually left school to start an apprenticeship, the D&D group slowly disassembled. A few years later, Marius reached out again. It was because of a D&D game. He had recently joined a new RPG group and they were looking for another player. Naturally, I said yes. After gaming for a few weeks, we wondered how we could have ever lost touch in the first place. We never stopped playing again.

Above: Characters from our long standing Vampire – Requiem campaign. This time, I was the DM and wove an intricate plot which the players chose to ignore.

Call of Cthulhu, Vampire, Shadowrun, Star Wars, Warhammer Fantasy, Dark Heresy—no matter the game system, creating characters and crafting adventures became a cornerstone of our friendship. And by graduating from players to dungeon masters, RPGs even taught us how to tell stories: how to create tension, how to subvert player’s expectations, and how to hold their attention.

We were both in our twenties when we started our first webcomic, Selektive Erinnerung (Selective Memory), a gag-based weekly strip. At this point, I had long accepted that I’d never be as good as an artist as Marius, and so I concentrated on the writing part. But as great as making a quick funny strip was, there was an itch Selektive Erinnerung couldn’t scratch. Both of us had long dreamed about making something bigger. Something that was equally inspired by the dungeon raiding campaigns of our youth and classic animated movies we both loved.

Above: Marius did this illustration to commemorate the end of our most recent campaign, Rise of Tiamat, that lasted from 2014 to early 2020. Yeah, that’s me as the DM next to the dragon heads.

After writing hundreds of D&D adventures for our friends, thinking about plot and character arcs and writing elaborate backstories, I felt well prepared for writing a longer story. In the back of my head, an idea had been forming. A story about a girl exploring a gigantic house, much like a dungeon from a D&D adventure, filled with monsters and mystery and magic.

From the very beginning, Marius was game. He sat down and churned out page after page of beautiful concept art. Slowly, A House Divided began to take shape.

When we started working on the first part of the story, The Accursed Inheritance of Henrietta Achilles, it became apparent how great it was to have a shared shorthand for expressing ideas.

In the story, our hero Henrietta learns that she is the only living relative of the deceased Ornun Zol, a notorious wizard who leaves her a gigantic, magical house. When Marius and I talked about the kind of person Ornun Zol was, we frequently used D&D terms to describe him. “He must have been pretty high level, right? What kind of schools of magic did he use? Is he more of a transmutation kinda guy? Did he have an arcane focus?” Marius even went so far as to write up a whole character sheet for him!

In a way, making A House Divided felt a lot like coming full circle. We’re still creating characters and crafting adventures. I’m still playing make-believe with my best friend, the kid who can draw way better than I ever could. And we don’t plan on ever stopping.

Haiko Hörnig is a writer of screenplays and graphic novels. He lives in Frankfurt, Germany, where he writes for various clients and works with his friend Marius Pawlitza on their fantasy series A House Divided. The first book, The Accursed Inheritance of Henrietta Achilles is available wherever books and ebooks are sold on April 7.

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