I talked with Antoine H. over the weekend to learn more about his D&D-loving grandmother, her forest gnome druid Terminatur, and how their times adventuring in the world of D&D brought them closer together. If you haven't read the original, heart-wrenching Twitter thread, now's your chance. Below is an interview with Antoine H., accompanied by his grandmother's original art of her character, as well as art created by D&D fans and artists who were touched by his original story.
What inspired you to ask your grandmother to play Dungeons & Dragons?
My grandmother has always loved adventure stories. She read all the books she could find about real-life explorers and adventurers, and would lose herself for hours into coffee table books depicting far-off countries or seemingly otherworldly sceneries. So when my siblings and I were looking for someone to play Dungeons & Dragons with over the summer, I knew exactly who to ask, and I knew she would say yes.
Why did your grandmother chose to be a forest gnome druid?
When she created her character, we went over all the races from the Player’s Handbook together. I had to explain what most of them were; she was vaguely familiar with fantasy dwarves and elves, but it was the first time she ever heard of tieflings and dragonborn. When we read through the PHB description of gnomes, she said “Gnomes seem the happiest, they look like the good guys, I’d like to play that!”
Forest gnome was an easy choice; she made up her mind as soon as she saw they could talk to small animals. At the time, she had a big chicken coop with four hens and a goose. She had raised the goose from an egg, and it followed her everywhere whenever she went outside, responding to her voice. I think that’s why she found the racial trait “Speaking with small beasts” really appealing!
Finally, we took a look at the various character classes, and once again, the choice was clear; she had to play a druid. From the moment she chose to be a forest gnome, it was pretty evident that the main theme of her character would be the carefree, happy-go-lucky animal-lover type.
How did her character name come about?
The name was probably the funniest thing about her character, it always got a laugh out of people when we told that story. She spent an entire evening researching gnomes on the Internet, and I had also left the PHB at her house that night. She went back to it, read everything on gnomes, and really liked the fact that they lived in burrows. And what else lives in burrows? Termites! Well, not really, they live in mounds, but it was close enough. And he’s a druid, talks to animal, takes care of his plants, he just really loves nature. So, join together these two, “termite” and “nature”, and she names him… Terminatur. Dropping the final “e”, because it looks cooler.
We could not believe it when she told us her name and reasoning, it was just so incredible. We asked if she took inspiration from the Terminator, but she didn’t know about it. She knew who Arnold Schwarzenegger was, and maybe if we’d showed her the movie poster she would have recognized it, but in her mind, she had completely made that name up. Personally, I think she heard the name somewhere, and it came back subconsciously when she was thinking about termites.
She had a few other names ready, but we loved this one so much that we told her, “this is the one.” I wish I could remember what the other names were, but none were as glorious as Terminatur.
What was it like for her to learn how to play D&D?
It depends what part of the game we’re talking about. Learning the mechanics was definitely the hardest part, and it took a lot of sessions before she fully understood how skill and ability checks worked. She also never really got a grasp of the combat mechanics, and we had to explain to her almost every session how to use her attacks, and what all the numbers meant. On the other hand, roleplaying was a breeze. She understood right away that we were building a world and a story together, and that she could do and say whatever she wanted, as a character in that story. Clearly, for her, the roleplaying was the best part, and she would try to avoid conflict as much as possible. More often than not, Terminatur would still try to talk the monsters down when the fight had already broken out.
Illustration by Nikki Dawes (@nikkidawesdraws)
What was it like to run the games for her?
It was the best. I’ll probably never find another player like her. She was the most emotionally involved player I’ve ever seen. Every place I described, every encounter I put her in seemed very vivid in her mind, to the point where she was easily scared of some situations that should not have been scary for a 7th level druid, but definitely would be for a 75-year-old woman. When you have a player that reacts so strongly to your prompts, it’s easy to feel like you’re the best DM in the world.
What is your favorite moment playing D&D with your grandmother?
Honestly, all of it. I know that’s a bit of a cop out, but every time we played together felt like the best sessions we’d ever had. However, there is one particular moment that we often talk about, because it took everyone by surprise, and to this day we still can’t tell if it came from my grandmother’s natural reaction or her perfectly roleplaying her character.
The story needs some background: the members of the Circle of the Green Hand are summoned by fairy dragon-messengers that carry potions of teleportation. Every senior member can create its own potion that allows anyone who drinks it to be teleported to the member who made it. Meta-speaking, it was mainly a fun way to make my players drink weird stuff, because they had to drink the potion in real life too every time they wanted to use it. So, Terminatur is summoned by a senior member to investigate a volcano that should not be active but is starting to show signs of eruption. There are only two players that day –Terminatur, and Pierulad, our kalashtar sorcerer. They decide to go together, and both drink a small amount of the potion –in character, and in real life.
They are teleported to the volcano, where the senior member, an aarakocra wizard, explains the situation. He then flies away, leaving Terminatur and his companion to deal with it. They start to descend into the volcano, and Terminatur is visibly queasy. The deeper they go, the darker and hotter it gets. Seeing how stressed my grandma's getting, I lean on it even more. She's still smiling of course, I'm not trying to torture her, I knew she was enjoying the feeling of adventure. But I spend a bit more time describing the closing darkness, and the heat that's starting to feel unbearable.
All of sudden, as I'm talking, my grandma reaches for the remaining potion which still stood on the gaming table, and downs it in one gulp! Passed the initial surprise, we all started laughing uncontrollably, as Terminatur was teleported away from his party, leaving Pierulad in the midst of an active volcano without any means of quickly getting out since he had drunk all the potion. It took a lot of coaxing from the aarakocra to send Terminatur back to the kalashtar, who in the meantime was ambushed by magma mephits. In the end, the decisive factor to him coming back was that his friend needed help and was starting to get overwhelmed. Terminatur comes back, casts moon beam, and saves the day.
What was the most surprising moment that came out of this?
She surprised us a lot; mainly, I think, because it was her first real foray into fantasy, and she didn’t have any preconceived notions, nor did she have any point of reference to evaluate a typical D&D situation. Her frequent use of thorn whip always came as a surprise, because, while the other players could guess that a galeb duhr would take a lot more than 1d6 to go down, she didn’t. She learned this kind of thing by trial and error; in a sense, she acted like a really young player, because she never had any exposure to that kind of world.
This also led to Terminatur taking a lot of risks that could have easily been avoided! One time, he tried to befriend an Erinyes by stepping into the magic circle where she was imprisoned, to show that he didn't mean her any harm. The entire party held their breath. Luckily, it ended pretty well with the erinyes simply leaving when our dragonborn fighter broke the circle, thanks to a few good rolls and great roleplay from the players. I don't think Terminatur (or my grandmother) ever realized how insanely dangerous a move this had been.
Illustration by Antonio Demico (@antodemico)
What's the most important thing everyone can learn from your grandmother?
That’s an easy one: you’re never too old to try something new. That goes for a lot of things, but especially for D&D! She loved it so much, she was obsessed with it. I recently discovered, while going through her player stuff to pull out her character sheet, that she had a journal where she meticulously recorded her adventures. She would take notes during our play sessions on one page, and on the next page she would later properly write down the events that took place in our fantasy world. And it’s all written in character. I never knew about this; she was doing it solely for her enjoyment.
Imagine what a shame it would have been if she had never had the chance to experience that. So, folks, ask your loved ones if they want to play, because you never know what that might do for them. You have nothing to lose. My only regret is that I should have asked her sooner.