Conor Murphy, lead singer of the post-rock band Foxing, says that Dungeons and Dragons is his favorite thing in the world “because you get to be a lawyer to your friends, who are having this reawakening of their imaginations in front of you.” When I bring up Dungeons and Dragons, though, he gets audibly excited. “I feel like I’ve only been able to talk about music in interviews for a long time,” he said over the phone. Foxing has a new album called Nearer My God coming out August 10th, and he’s been talking to press about that, but he’d rather talk about roleplaying games. “This is the only thing I actually wanted to talk about,” he said.
Foxing is a four piece band from St. Louis, Missouri, that makes loud, moody music about loss, self medication and a kind of conflicted spirituality. Their upcoming album is sad and sometimes haunting, though upon first glance track titles like “Lich King” and “Gameshark” stood out to me. Despite these track titles, Foxing’s music isn’t all that nerdy, unless you’re the kind of person who likes to get into long arguments about whether or not the “emo revival” is a real thing. In speaking to Murphy, I quickly realized that despite how serious and emotional Nearer My God is, Dungeons and Dragons and all the goofiness inherent in tabletop roleplaying games is as big a part of his life as his music.
Murphy first started playing Dungeons and Dragons when he was eight. “It was me and a friend and his older brother,” he said. His friend’s older brother set up an escape room situation for him and his friend as a kind of crash course introduction to the game. He was hooked right away, and bought a player’s handbook. “But then nobody wanted to play. So I just gave up on it a little bit. I had the player’s handbook and I would read it all the time, but I didn’t know anybody that ever wanted to play.” He got into other nerdy pursuits like Magic: The Gathering and video games, but he didn’t find anyone else who wanted to play D&D with him until much later in life.
“Years and years later our friend Matt, who was our roommate and tour manager for a while, like, let it slip that he plays and loves Dungeons and Dragons,” Murphy said. After that, the band would get together and play.
“I just remembered how incredible the feeling was playing the game,” he said. “And then I just started to DM myself. Since then we’ve just been playing as much as possible.”
The first time the band all played together, they were on tour, which Murphy says is “very difficult to do in a van.”
“The first time we did that, we played a home brew… that is an unofficial political intrigue book where they basically just give you a bunch of examples of things you can do to make political struggles,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to do that when you’re in a van because it’s more like you’re doing diplomacy versus doing actual combat rolls, which is really hard to do if people are driving because, you know, nobody’s able to actually see the board.”
Murphy said that everyone in the band are already big nerds—all of them like fantasy stuff and play Skyrim—so Dungeons and Dragons wasn’t a hard sell. Since then, more and more of his friends have gotten into the game, sometimes in unusual ways. Like a lot of D&D players, they’ll have times when things get pretty sloppy. Once, Murphy said, around 12 people came over to his place and wanted to play: “It’s just a nightmare to try to get everybody on the same page.” Another time, some of his pals came over with ecstasy and suggested they play while rolling.
“The hardest thing about DMing for Dungeons and Dragons is that you’re struggling with the balance between trying to get everybody to actually play your campaign that you’re building or to follow the module that you’re reading from, and then actually letting everybody play the game that they want to play,” Murphy said. “So for instance, when everybody’s on ecstasy, everybody’s like, ‘who’s this NPC, I want to flirt with them.’ The fact of the matter is I don’t want you to do that. I’d rather you actually play the campaign, but at the same time I recognize that you’re having fun doing this.”
Some of the experiences that Murphy has had playing D&D have made it into the music he makes. One song from the upcoming album, “Lich King,” references when his friend, who played a ranger, lost her animal companion to the titular lich king after she failed a roll on a power word kill, which is basically an instakill spell for animals in a certain range.
“She was crying from it. It was a really sentimental moment,” Murphy said. He’d written another song called “Power Word Kill” on a record he released as the solo act Smidley last year. “Those two songs are connected by that. These two things together made the most emotionally compelling thing that we’ve ever put together in D&D.”
Murphy even enjoys the messier sides of DMing. “When people get into stupid arguments, it’s like, that’s so cool that everybody’s getting aggressive and mad at each other about something that they created themselves. It reminds me a lot of writing music. We get in arguments in Foxing all the time about songs that we create and about the direction of the song that we’re making.
“You sometimes you gotta step back and remember that it’s so cool. We’re not just bickering with each other about, like, a political thing that’s out of our control. We’re bickering about a creative thing that like, you know, we’ve imagined together,” he said. “Even with a pre-made [D&D] module, these [modules] are pre-made things that can never be played the same way. That is like a monument to human imagination to me.”