never forget your roots

While walking through Comicon three or four years ago, I stopped to look at one of those booths that's filled with a hundred different T-shirts.

Somewhere among the various superhero crests and clever nerd phrases and obscure sci-fi homages, I saw a fairly simple design: an Atari joystick, sitting atop the word ROOTS. I grinned and reached for it, and noticed that it was folded next to a similar design that replaced the Atari joystick with a classic NES controller.

"Of course," I thought to myself, as I felt like Old Man Wheaton, "for a lot of the damn kids today, the Atari 2600 is as relevant as black and white television or a transistor radio."

This thought triggered a trip in my mental Tardis to long afternoons spent playing Yar's Revenge and Megamania, and I ended up wandering away in a fog of nostalgia, forgetting to buy either of them.

A few months ago, I was preparing my dungeon delve for the Emerald City Comicon. Rather than pull something pre-made out of the Dungeon Delve book, I created something entirely new. Though I would eventually do the final revisions with Dungeon Tiles, It was the first time I'd designed and built an adventure since I was a teenager, so I started the way we did in the old days: I sat on the floor with some books, some dice (even though I didn't really need them), and used a pencil to build my dungeon on graph paper. 

While I sketched out the first few corridors, counting squares and carefully making my lines as straight as I could, my brain slipped into a stream of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey … stuff … and it used that memory from Comicon as a lens to look back through years and years of afternoons spent alone in the sanctuary of my bedroom, building and refining hundreds of dungeons with nothing more than some analog tools and my imagination. 

Earlier today, my friend Scott Twittered:

Nobody has created an online toolkit for drawing D&D maps? This is ridiculous. I'm using graph paper and pencils like a monk from the 1800s.


@pvponline Using graph paper and pencils to design dungeons isn't a bug, it's a feature.

I couldn't help smile to myself when I saw Scott's Twitter, because I knew that later today … well, in this case, a picture is worth 1000 words. Here's the idea I had so many months ago, turned into a T-shirt:


As I said I Twitter this morning, I'm especially proud of this one because it's relevant to my interests. If you like it as much as I do, you can get your own in basic, premium (which is a softer fabric, and a slimmer cut), and women's from Jinx.

91 thoughts on “never forget your roots”

  1. I’m noticing loads of Whoisms in your writing lately, I love it!
    Excellent t-shirt design. My roots don’t go so deep, I’m sad to say, but I bet there’ll be hundreds of geeks who Get It. (Or am I allowed to use grok yet? What geek level does that require?)

  2. I already (without knowing it mind you) have your shirt from the Shirt.Woot Derby… this is another to be added to the collective. By the by… loved the “stuff” Doctor reference.

  3. Oh. Em. Gee.
    I cannot completely explain but that instilled a breath-catching sense of nostalgia in me. I can remember being stuck during summer weeks in my parents’ hardtop trailer. With all D&D friends a hundred miles away, I wiled away the rainy hours drawing maps that no one would ever delve into.
    Thanks Wil.
    Also, I think we need an equivalent tee showing overland maps. :)

  4. YES! I knew about that months ago, but I have an NDA with WotC, so I couldn't talk about it. Suffice to say, I'm pretty excited to get my own copy.

  5. Your design reminded me of a discussion I had years ago with my D&D buddies… I was typically the DM and my graph paper designs always had natural walls, caves, etc. I remember looking at dungeon layouts my friends designed and all the corridors, rooms, and traps were always perfectly square, using a full square and never a partial. Your design reminds me how graph paper was used, often improperly, by both pro and amateur dungeon designers who just couldn’t get away from the straight line mentality.

  6. Sweet. That indeed brings back memories.
    I haven’t run a game for which I needed a (dungeon) map in a decade. Modern building plans, yes but the dungeoneerin days are behind me. We tend to play the political side of fantasy.

  7. Talk about roots. The kid found my old box for Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The game obviously, not the books. It’s missing the glasses and the fluff, BTW, but otherwise intact. Explanations ensued, much searching of the internetz and she’s now busy playing hhgttg via a site that has it running, and I’m trying to figure out if I have an OS that goes back far enough and will still run in Parallels to run it standalone here. Just remember…don’t forget your towel.

  8. Hello Wil. I came from the clown sweater post as I am entering the fanfic contest. I watched you on TNG as a child (I was born in ’83 so, yeah, young). I have read three of your current blog posts, and I now love you. Your Doctor Who references alone are enough to do it, but I shall now waste my entire day, and my FB posts, on your blog. That is all, have a nice day.
    oh, and QuiltingPoodles who posted above me: I have “don’t panic” tattooed on the inside of my left wrist. Praise be to Adams. *My* roots are not forgotten either. ((grin))

  9. What a phenomenal example of getting excited and making something. I have a lot of geeky shirts, but not a one captures the essence of my particular brand of geekhood like this one does. I cannot wait to get this.
    I was planning on holding out until all of your creations were unveiled and getting one of each. But my roots cry out. This one just can’t wait!
    Thanks again, Wil, for representing all of us so well; thanks for giving a voice to a group who sometimes has trouble finding it.

  10. I’ve been meaning to ask: What are the chances of a Wheaton’s Law shirt? I’d love an 8-bit clown sweater Wheaton with “Don’t be a dick” on it.
    Love as in pay for and give as gifts to people.

  11. I had Yar’s Revenge. Played Megamania over at a friend’s house while spending summer vacation at my parent’s in Saudia Arabia. Brings back memories. Now you can get the whole Atari 2600 console and a bunch of games all stored in one of the controllers. Think my brother still has the one he got a few years ago.
    Very cool shirt. We like your brain; it goes “ding” when there’s stuff. Lots of fond memories with graph paper and pencils myself. Something to be said about crafting a dungeon by hand. Sometimes old school is still the best.
    Always remember your roots, especially if you are an treant.

  12. Seriously cool shirt design. I’m curious about that “R” in “roots,” though. Can you only get to it from “off-map” – or have you had teleport traps installed?
    Speaking of traps, I’d love to hear Uncle Wily regale us woebegone tales of encounters with devious traps he’s set in his dungeons. When he’s not too busy, that is.

  13. Very Cool Wil! You always have a gig as a graphic T-Shirt artist, that is, if you get bored with the acting thing…very cool! I just picked up retro “Toaster” shirt and thought I was cool. Your making me re-think the T-shirt thing.

  14. Wil, fine, I’ll buy one of your awesome shirts. Sigh. =)
    Also, this anecdote hits home for me. As a teenager in the 90s, I managed our local gaming store and this brought back a rush of very pleasant and hilarious memories. Gonna surprise a few of my old buddies and send ’em along the shirt too.

  15. Well, to be clear: I didn't do the actual design work. I said to Jinx something like, "Imagine a sheet of graph paper, sort of receeding into a vanishing point toward the neck. There's a dungeon on the paper, and near the top the corridors spell out the word 'ROOTS'. I think it'd be cool if there was a pencil, and a couple of dice somewhere, too."
    Miguel Rojas took that idea, and turned it into the shirt that you see here. It's really important to me that he gets the credit he deserves for turning my idea into something awesome.

  16. Oh yes! I will have to get one of these for my husband/DM. He saw it and was thoroughly impressed. I do believe I saw a shadow of nostalgia flutter across his face. Too awesome to ignore. Thank-you Wil, your creation is a Nat20.

  17. Love this shirt!
    This one is definitely going to GenCon as is the Rules Lawyers shirt. Keep this up and I will have a new shirt for every day of the con. :)

  18. Thanks Miguel Rojas !!! It’s a thing of beauty no doubt. I’ll let you know when and “Wear” I see people sporting it. Great idea, and both of you should think tank more often!

  19. I might be slightly, modestly, worried about getting contacted by the lawyers who represent Roots apparel. This could be taken as trademark infringement. If it were anything except clothing (and for-sale clothing at that) it probably wouldn’t even come up. But “Roots” on a t-shirt is definitely confusing as to source, and that’s what trademarks are there to prevent.

  20. Way cool…a question though…does it say “2 HB” or “2 HD” on that pencil? 😉
    I’ve only ever been a casual observer to DnD (my few attempts to play the game for real were a bit disastrous)…but I read a lot of the books as inspiration when I used to program text based RPGs on my Mac. Even if you don’t play…just reading the books is fun…I’ve still got a few of them around somewhere…

  21. Ah, the d4, or as I call ’em, Caltrops.
    The shirt is definitely full of Win.
    Hopefully, should you ever make it to a sci-fi con in Michigan, I will be wearing it when I meet you.

  22. Looks awesome! And to think all of it started with a gift from your Aunt who knew you so well (ROOTS). I have never played D&D but this makes me want to learn and introduce it to my Son,who will be 10 in July. WELL DONE!

  23. After seeing your “my blade glows blue in the presense of rules lawyers” t-shirt post, I suggested to the creators of “Knights of the Dinner Table” that Wil and ultimate rules lawyer Brian Van Hoose have a convention brouhaha sometime in the future.
    I wish GoogleEarth had a function in which you could overlay the globe with a hexagon grid for wargames.

  24. I love that design.
    I just got rid of around 20 “nostalgic” t-shirts. Maybe I can make room for a new addition.
    Jelly Baby?

  25. This entry reminds me of the tragic loss of the four-page hex half continent map that I spent months, if not a year or two, making as teenager. Colored it in with colored pencils & made it all shiny & stuff.
    Now all I have left, after about 20 or so years, is a map of one of the kingdoms & one of the villages.
    Have no idea where the larger map went. Moved so many times, it probably just got lost in the shuffle. Maybe it’s mixed up in all my crap still. My mom did say something recently about one more box or bag leftover in my childhood closet after they converted my room into the master bedroom (& their bedroom into the amazing luxurious bathroom with the jet tub).
    What I’ve got left & the years of ruminations on a campaign have made for a lot of fun ever since I started DMing with 4th edition, though!

  26. WIl, I appreciate the designs a lot, but I live in Sweden. Most days of the year, I wear three layers of clothes on top of my t-shirts. How about some caps or hoodies?

  27. Such wonders have been wrought I felt, nay, was COMPELLED to wander down from my hermitage in the Darklands, where I have spent many mysterious and minacious moons in blessed seclusion away from the brayings, yammerings and scratchings of the Commonwealth.
    Word reached me even there from The Gygaxian Monks of Arneson who claimed to have witnessed the most terrifying and bedazzling bit of wizardweaving yet seen in more than a thousand years of Stone Reckoning. A magical totem with such staggering amounts of The Awesome woven into its very fabric that, if one were to don it, surely their might, measure and mien (not to mention their ability to win the affections of the occasional barmaid or Pleasure Faire princess) would increase to terrifying levels.
    No base, craven fool am I to sit idly be and watch such a wondrous, formidable gift slip from my grasp…yet again.
    Sold and sold again, sir!
    May the High Priestess of D’Amberville grant you her most powerful invocation to ensure that whatever beatific Muse has kissed your brow with so divine an inspiration it continues to bestow such blessings upon you.

  28. This is just an awesome design will, things like this make me regret no entering D&D world sooner that i did and having all this great memories many of you can enjoy today. Appreciate them, they are a very valuable treasure :)
    In the end is just a matter of time, i hope in 15 years ill be talking to my still unborn child about how incredible the 4th edition used to be XD
    PS: 2 awesome designs out of two bro, cant wait to see the others :)
    PS2: just in case you want to know, you have fans even in Venezuela! woot for international WilW

  29. Really takes me back to when I was a serious D&D player and DM. Drawing our own maps and creating our own adventures, playing every Mon & Thur evening. Buying InQuest for the maps and monsters to include in our campaigns. Good Times.
    (Roll a d8 for Nostalgia Check) :)

  30. Wil, when you roll, it doesn’t just some up 20’s. The 20’s have actually been replaced with the word AWESOME stamped in just for you. AND YOU CRIT CONSTANTLY.
    This shirt is one of my new favorites of all time. It works not only for the awesomeness of my years of RPG playing, but for the fact that I love drawing maps for our group. There is just something so much fun about creating places just for us that is a lot of fun.
    Well done, sir! Well done! I can’t wait for more shirts to come out and to get this one in the mail. Have an awesome time working on Leverage and we all look forward to the episode!

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