The Dragon Returned — A Cullen Bunn Story
by Anton Kromoff
Welcome to the table.
I’m currently traveling to conventions where they have me speaking at panels about accessibility, publishing, and tabletop game design. These sorts of things are a lot of fun and I love meeting new people, talking to other creators, and seeing what makers and craftspeople are creating. My absolute favorite part of traveling out and about is getting to hang out with my friends I normally only get to see through Zoom on game night.
We are currently spending a week in the company of one of my favorite people on the planet, Cullen Bunn. A prolific writer and novelist whose work spans all media with notable projects including Harrow County (Dark Horse Comics), The Empty Man (20th Century Studios), Blood Born: Lady Of Lanterns (Titan Comics), X-Men, Deadpool, and so much more.
Not only is his work universally known and loved, but he also happens to be a regular player at my table and in secret circles is known to be a master of clever cantrips, dizzying double talk, and a green flame blade that will sneak up on you and decimate your best-laid plans. I kid you not, many a tough encounter has been laid low by this man’s out-of-the-box thinking and high dice rolls.
Now Cullen has been playing TTRPGs since the days when you had to write numbers on the dice. His knowledge of monsters, settings and forgotten tomes could fill a library. In all that time playing he has collected not only a treasure trove of handbooks, novels, and modules but also a lifetime of stories. He has allowed me to share one of my favorites with you.
In the early 1980s around the ripe old age of 10 years old, Cullen founded a D&D club that had begun to meet regularly at the local library. Now I don’t know if you have ever played D&D with a bunch of kids around that age but in my experience, if you were trying to keep them “library quiet” you would have an easier time controlling a small army of goblins under the effect of a mass haste spell.
They were fairly quickly banished from the library grounds and had to set up shop at the local Boys Club. Cullen had been gifted the AD&D Deities & Demigods (1980 TSR) for Christmas that year by his parents and had been studying through the pages learning the abilities of various gods and monsters to unleash them upon his players. If you have not had a chance to reach it, this book is a phenomenal bit of classic AD&D history that includes two of my favorite unsung NPCs, Ningauble of the Seven Eyes and Sheelba of the Eyeless Face, sorcerous advisers to the legendary Fritz Leiber characters Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
Cullen was always putting pen to paper to take notes or doodle something, a habit he still has to this day, and had been drawing dragons and outlining stickers including the gargoyle sticker he picked up from the K&K along the inside cover of his Deities & Demigods handbook. Now there are a whole lot of things one could know about Cullen Bunn, but one of the things I know for a fact is that the man is one of the kindest souls to ever wander this planet, and in true Cullen Bunn fashion, he allowed a friend of his to borrow his book.
Of course, this friend then let someone else borrow the book, and soon the book was lost to the sands of time. Life continued on as it tends to do, and Cullen’s parents bought him a new copy to replace the one that was lost. Kingdoms rose and fell, dungeons were explored, dragons dealt with, and a multitude of adventures were had.
A handful of decades down the road, in 2002, Cullen was scrolling through eBay as one does when one has a lifelong need to collect bound paper and he comes across a listing for a 1980 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons copy of Deities & Demigods. There, in the picture of the “damage” to the book are outlines of a gargoyle sticker and a drawing of a dragon. Instantly he was aware of what hand had left these marks, they were his very own drawings coming back to him from across time and space. So he clicked the buy now button and waited… knowing that what was once his, would soon be his again.
In this hobby, so many of us over the years have lost parts if not the entirety of our collections. Parents selling off things left after players leave for college, Satanic Panic claiming many of the 70s, 80s, and early 90s content in fire and brimstone, I myself lost the majority of my Dragon Magazine collection to a flood in my apartment back in 2013. I’ve heard so many stories from so many members of our community about things they once had and how they wish they could find them again.
There is a section of the community that is focused on buying up the classics to flip and resell while Pop Culture is currently focused on the hobby but so often I find that those who have been playing all their lives see these books as tangible artifacts filled with stories and concepts that fuel our childhood imaginations. Nostalgic time capsules that take us back to memories shared with friends who now live far away or who may no longer be with us and a time where our biggest fears were surviving Kos and his Berserkers and things like medical test results and car repair estimates were not even a shadow lurking under the table.
Until next time, may all the books you lent that were never returned find their way back to you safe and sound.