Every now and then, we come across a tabletop gaming project that’s too epic to ignore. One of these is Durin’s Anvil, a lovingly-crafted custom gaming table inspired by Lord of the Rings. It stands as a shining example of real-life Dwarven craftsmanship, and a testament to its creator’s love of fantasy and D&D.
We sat down with Scott Ismail of Paladin Woodworking, the creator of the table, to talk about his work, his inspirations, and becoming a new GM.
What started your love of tabletop RPGs, especially D&D?
Scott: I first played D&D way back in high school and then some in college. I took about a 25-year break from it, but with the rise of Critical Role and the general resurgence of the game in the community, I felt the itch to try to pull together a group to play, and that kicked off a fantastic two-year campaign. Just recently I’ve decided to try my hand as a DM for the first time, and I’m having a blast.
You clearly have a burning love of Lord of the Rings. What do you love about the series?
Scott: I first read The Lord of the Rings when I was a teenager, and I don’t think it’s an overstatement to call it a lifelong passion ever since. I find incredible inspiration in the richness of the world, the great beauty of Tolkien’s prose, and the depth of the history of Middle-Earth…after reading the LoTR probably 25 times, I never fail to find something new, significant or interesting that I missed all the times before. It’s just a remarkable achievement.
Your latest masterpiece is Durin’s Anvil, an all-in-one gaming table inspired by Tolkien’s Dwarves. Tell us a bit about what inspired you to create it!
Scott: As I mentioned, I knew for a while that I wanted to give running D&D a chance…I was also greatly inspired by the furniture and products that the folks at Wyrmwood Gaming have been putting out for years, and I decided to take a shot at a custom game table design.
Part of my process for a large project like this is to try to think of a story or place it into a world that interests me, and Middle-Earth was a logical choice. As I’m a particular fan of the Dwarves of those tales, I decided to make a “Dwarven Conference table” and that decision informed many of the eventual design aspects.
Tell us a bit about your design philosophy for the table, and what you’re most proud of.
Scott: The base is made to look like the base of a Dwarven column as seen in Moria, the table is very geometric and angular, and all curves are intentionally avoided. I also used heraldry and symbols from famous factions in the War of the Ring (both good and evil) to decorate the table. Trying to look at the table from a Dwarf’s perspective was fun, and I think it opened up a lot of creativity.
I think what I’ve been most proud of is the incredible reception it’s received. I posted it on the DnD subreddit, and a few hours later it was #1 on the front page! The folks at Wyrmwood Gaming also came up to Maine to check it out and make a video of it, which was definitely the highlight for me.
What tools, books, or other materials are absolutely essential when you sit down to run a game?
Scott: I’m really still learning to be a DM, but I’ve found that the fantasy reading I’ve done over the years (not just Tolkien) really helps and inspires a lot of plot twists and story-driven features of the campaign…stealing is helpful.
I will also say that I’ve devoured Matt Colville’s “Running the Game” series of videos on YouTube. I think he’s excellent and really enjoy his advice on DM’ing.
Do you have any advice for other Game Masters on how to take their games to the next level?
Scott: …one big lesson I’ve learned so far is not to put all the pressure of creating a story and world on my own shoulders. It’s easier, turns out better, and is more fun for everyone involved if the DM sits back sometimes and lets the players roleplay themselves in to new and creative situations which are often far better than anything I could have come up with.
What’s a dream project you’d love to build in the future?
Scott: I would like to finish off my game room and and really make the whole environment feel like it’s out of a scene in Tolkien’s work, with the table as the focal point. I think it would add a lot of ambiance for the players…I just need to figure out how to do that!