Fantastic Dreams: The Immersive World of Verminaard

Verminaard, the dragon highlord of Pax Tharkas, on his huge red dragon Ember

Verminaard was a random find through my massive combings through Bandcamp. Wardens of a Light-Starved Realm had a black and white cover depicting a classic fantasy tableau which looked ripped out of an old RPG manual. Since then, the creator for Verminaard has been immensely active on the Facebook group and has been seeking advice, sharing wisdom, and participating perhaps more than most. Wardens of a Light-Starved Realm recently saw a limited cassette run and support from small labels.

The creator for Verminaard is also a big collector and player of role playing games, something that we discuss frequently. Wardens of a Light-Starved Realm may have not initially grabbed me as much as other records but through the creator’s approachability and his deep love of fantasy and lore, the album and the world of Verminaard has become a personal favorite. We both meet in some strip mall at a game store between our residences. We are sitting at a table in the back between figurines and a stack of rulebooks on wobbly tables. It may not look like much but once we get out these character sheets and dice and settle back in these folding chairs, these walls with will soon melt away.

Let us begin first with you name. For those unaware of Dragonlance, who is Verminaard of Nidus and how did you come to adopt the moniker?

Hello! Verminaard is, as you stated, a character in the Dragonlance series by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman. We see him in the book Dragons of Autumn Twilight as the commander of the Red Dragonarmy and a cleric of the dark goddess Takhisis. He was initially prophesied as having the power to stand against and banish darkness, being the last in a bloodline of great heroes, but from a young age he was corrupted by Takhisis in order to make sure that those prophecies wouldn’t come true. I chose to take up his mantle, so to speak, for a number of reasons. Chief among these is simply my love of Dragonlance; while a lot of peoples’ gateway into fantasy are the works of Tolkien, the Dragonlance books were what sparked my undying interest in all things fantasy. Though I have since discovered the works of other greats, Dragonlance will always be the nostalgic, familiar place that I can fall back to. I am also intrigued by his corruption, which indeed seems to be a big theme in Dragonlance, with some parallels existing in my mind between Verminaard and the (much more famous) Lord Soth. Both had the chance to do tremendous good in the world, and both fell from their great heights into tremendous evil.

How did you become aware and involved in making dungeon synth. does your music experience expand beyond the dungeon synth style or even predate your work as a dungeon musician?

I would be lying if I could claim like some others that I come from a long lineage starting with Mortiis. I’ve always loved similar genres, though – neoclassical darkwave in particular was probably my first musical love other than metal. I discovered that genre through the group Dargaard, completely unaware of its roots in black metal. I eventually figured out, however, that they and a lot of other bands were branching out of black metal roots, which of course led me down that rabbit hole to find some of my favorite bands like Summoning. Once I became very entrenched in that aspect of black metal, which I still am to this day, it was only a matter of time until I stumbled upon dungeon synth – if I recall correctly, the first actual dungeon synth album I listened to was Lord Lovidicus’ “Trolldom.” From then on, I’ve been falling deeper in love with the genre every day for years now, working backwards to find acts like Mortiis and Depressive Silence.

It is sort of interesting knowing you both as a dungeon synth musician and as a “normal” person via Facebook. Do you friends and family know about your work in dungeon synth? Are they aware of this community that exists in the ethereal realms of the internet.

My close friends are aware that I create dungeon synth, and they provide me with a lot of support even if they don’t particularly “get” or like the genre, or any of its related genres for that matter. My family is aware that I create music of some sort, but don’t really have any idea of what type it is, other than it falls somewhere in the nebulous realms of what they term “computer music.” Neither my friends nor my family are in any way involved in the dungeon synth community, myself being the only such musician they really know of. Sometimes, though, a friend will hear me playing something and ask “who is that,” and I can try once again to reel them in!

Is there a big underground DS scene from your home town or anyone else who you can bond with in real life over this type of music?

Sadly, no, not really for any of my favorite genres, be it dark ambient, dungeon synth, darkwave, or black metal. People have noted I’m very active in the dungeon synth Facebook community, and that’s due largely to the fact that the internet is my main way of connecting with people who share my musical passions. Despite being kind of “isolated,” I can still be a part of this global community that loves the things that I love, and that’s awesome.

Very recently your album Wardens of a Light-Starved Realm was released on Lighten Up Sounds for distribution following a brief self released run. How has the reception been for your debut.

The tape release of Wardens of a Light-Starved Realm has been a lot messier than I intended it to be, so I guess it’s a good learning experience for me. Basically, I decided I was going to make a small, home made batch of 24 tapes to sell to the friends I had made in the community. Shortly after I started working on this, Wulfune Worxx contacted me, wondering if I was interested in a tape release of Wardens…, so I figured sure, these will probably have more of a production value to them because they have a lot more resources than I do. At some point, the Wulfrune Worxx release became a joint release between them and Out of Season which should be coming out the next time Out of Season updates, if I’m correct. Once that got all figured out, I was contacted by Lighten Up Sounds for an order of 5 tape copies of Wardens. I didn’t have the actual Wulfrune / Out of Season j-cards yet, so I sent Lighten Up Sounds 5 of the home made batch I started initially. So, the version you can get from Lighten Up Sounds is from the home made batch. The Out of Season / Wulfrune run is a completely different thing.

I have been blown away by the reception that Wardens…has received. When I made the album, I expected it to mainly be of interest to me and a few close friends, but a lot of people seem to really like it, and I’m very grateful to them for the support that they have shown me. The biggest thing I can think of that has been “controversial,” if you can even call it that, is that some people were less than thrilled with the intentionally fuzzy production I gave it. Despite that though, I still can’t quite believe that so many people are out there that want to hear new things from me. Just yesterday Wardens was uploaded to the Atmospheric Black Metal YouTube channel and has somewhere in the ballpark of 1.5 thousand views and has been getting a very good reception there too, and I’ve seen a spike in Facebook likes and album sales since it was posted. It’s kind of surreal.

You have put yourself out there as a big fan of role playing games. Does dungeon synth have any relation to your RPG hobbies. Were they connected at any point?

Very much so! While I personally am not a fan of playing music at the gaming table, when I’m sitting down to write music, the very first place I go in my head to draw inspiration is from my experiences in RPGs. Afloat in Seas of Temporal Mist, for example, is directly related to some time-hopping shenanigans on the highest floors of an abandoned wizard’s tower. Those Who Stand Against the Fallen was initially composed as “background music” to a famous scene in Dragonlance, which I guess is related to RPGs through association since Dragonlance spawned from D&D. It was about a certain Knight of Solamnia’s stand at the High Clerist’s Tower.

Give me some of your favorite systems you like to play and run. What about any systems you have always wanted to play but never got the opportunity to circumstances to start.

My favorite systems? Oh, so many…for ease, I’m going to mainly stick to fantasy RPGs. I’m also going to avoid obvious answers like D&D, because everyone already knows about them.

I currently GM a semi weekly Dungeon World group, and it’s a phenomenal game, IF you know what you’re getting into. It eschews a lot of the tactical nuance of other games and adopts a more narrative approach. It also imposes a rather strict set of rules on the GM, which at first seems weird, but if you give it a chance, it keeps the action flowing beautifully. It’s a system suited very well to improvisational play. You can prepare things, and even tables and such for dungeons, but it’s not really a game to be mapping out every square inch of a ruin. 13th Age is another favorite in the more narrative style (though it is a bit more rules heavy than Dungeon World), and Torchbearer is fantastic for old school dungeon crawls.

I’ve never had a chance to play The One Ring yet, even though I’ve been collecting all of the books. I’ve read through it several times, the art is beautiful, the rules seem great at reinforcing a Tolkien feel, and I’d love to play or run it some day. My group has shown interest in it, so if (when) we decide we want to switch to something new, The One Ring will probably be it. I also own Symbaroum and haven’t had a chance to play it yet, but it seems very neat, and the setting is just brimming with possibilities for exploration. I’ve also been hearing tons of good things about Blades in the Dark, though I haven’t picked it up yet, and Shadows of Esteren has caught my eye a few times but not enough for me to pull the trigger quite yet.

Systems I love that are genres other than fantasy include Call of Cthulhu, Stars Without Number, Eclipse Phase, Delta Green, All Flesh Must be Eaten, The Strange and Numenera. One could argue for Numenera being science-fantasy, but it’s distinct enough for me to not want to just lump it in with fantasy.

Lets say we finally meet and play a few sessions of any RPG. What is the character you always like to play. Lets start with classic fantasy. What are you playing?

In classic fantasy, I am more likely than not playing a cleric or a paladin / antipaladin. In fantasy RPGs, I love interacting with the pantheon, if there is one. One of the things that initially drew me to Dragonlance was how fleshed out, varied, and unique the pantheon is. Being granted powers by the gods can work in with so many character concepts, from a young cleric fresh out of his cloister or what have you and seeing the world for what it is, to a megalomaniac who bargains with evil to heighten his own power, never expecting the day where he will be put in his place…

Lets say you are the DM and I want to play my cocksure yet hazardous Paladin character, what type of world is he entering and what types of dangers is he facing?

He will be entering a world where morality cannot be seen in shades of black and white, so the danger is going to be more of an internal struggle than an external struggle. Sure, you’re a mighty warrior – your sword strikes true more often than not, and your armor is shined to a polish. But what about your spiritual armor? What will you do when your code of honor demands that you follow the law when you know that the law is not right? Will you break your vows and risk your knighthood, or will you stay on your perceived righteous course, with the thought that you should have done something differently hanging in the back of your mind? A paladin carries a very strong burden in the vows that he takes, and I think that a lot of people forget that. Someone playing a paladin needs to constantly be given chances to interact with their code of conduct.

There have been lot os player archetypes for tabletop games over the decades. Lets take D&D Fourth edition archetypes with the The Actor, The Explorer, The Instigator, The Power Gamer, The Slayer, The Storyteller and The Watcher. What type(s) do you usually embody when you sit down at a table. Also what types of people do you want when they play your game?

Interesting question! I didn’t know that D&D 4 actually “codified” these types, though I’ve seen all of them – I never really played 4th edition D&D, I went to Pathfinder and then to 5th. I would say that I typically am a blend of Explorer, Storyteller, and Actor. I probably embody Actor less than the other two, though, being that it’s rare that I actually talk in first person. I will sometimes, but I mostly describe what my character does in third person, unless it’s an important interaction that I need to have more control over. I will admit that I do like a good fight, but fights should have some sort of meaning behind them revealed by Explorer, Storyteller or Actor – unless you’re decidedly playing an old school megadungeon crawl or something, in which case, give me the Grimtooth-esque nonsensical traps and dangerous monsters!

As to the types of gamers I want at my table when I’m GMing (and I usually am), I try to make room in my games for all of the types in the group. Before I begin a campaign, I always sit down with a group and ask them “what are you all looking for out of this game” and then tailor it to what they want to see! I always try to be flexible if these wants change, as well. The only type of player I will have friction with is the Power Gamer, but only if they’re exceedingly annoying about it or try to second guess my rulings or rules lawyer me or something. I also lament the Watcher, but I hope our enthusiasm will rub off on them and I try to engage them!

finally, let us talk about my fictional Dungeon Synth festival. I have already gotten mostly “no” and a few “yes” on whether or not it could be possible. Since its in the realm of fictional, lets say it is at a castle and we already have all of the acts lined up plus various RPG sessions. I am looking for a name for this festival. What name do you think could act a lightning rod and capture the imaginations of people?

Hmm, you’re putting me on the spot here! A name for a dungeon synth festival? Perhaps “The Minstrel’s Moot?” I do love my alliterations!

Alright now we have a name. What types of games do you think people would be into? Do you think many of them would have the patience for OSR like B/X or 1st edition AD&D or do you think they would want to tell more stories like with Dungeon World or some more light systems?

I think that at a festival like this, lighter systems would probably be appreciated, much like how a lot of people like to play them at conventions. It’s a lot easier to explain to newcomers how a system like Dungeon World works than it is to explain to them how THAC0 works! If someone wanted to break out a crunchier game I’d be all for it, but I doubt it.

You mentioned to me before how you do not plan that far in advance for releases. What does the hazy future look like for Verminaard. Can we expect a followup to Wardens of a Light-Starved Realm sometime before the close of the year?

I can say with about 75% certainty there will be some sort of further release from Verminaard before the year ends. As to when that will be, I have no idea. I tried to hop right back into making music after I released Wardens, but I found myself suffering from a bit of writer’s block that I’ll hopefully be able to shake off soon. What I can say is that the next release will not be nearly as bombastic as Wardens. I’m taking a big step back in my songwriting and taking a lot of influence from acts such as Erdstall and Loremaster – long, hypnotic songs are more what I’m going for. There’s also a lot less use of brass and much more of a focus on things such as harps, bells, and woodwind instruments. It will be more laid back for sure!

Tags: , , ,
Categorised in: