That Fire…

It’s easy to lose sight as to why we enjoy the hobbies we enjoy.

Exhibit A: The Purpose of Blogging.

While I still don’t like the words blog or blogging, I love talking about the stuff I love. History, of course, has taken the priority since that’s what I teach. It’s no longer a hobby. And my love for nerdy hobbies like RPGs, wargames, and fantasy literature has waxed and waned over the years–especially RPGs.

Lately it has been gradually waning since (as far as I can tell) Pathfinder and D&D Fifth Edition became the dominant RPGs.

I still run RPGs, of course. I still have fun. The Expeditions in the Northlands campaign has been great. I love Dungeon Crawl Classics. Yet as more and more as time goes I feel like an outsider looking in when it comes to the RPG crowd.

The days of trepidatious excitement, where I’d work my ass off creating adventures and campaigns for my players for their enjoyment, have gone by the wayside. Now what I do seems routine.

I used to get really pissed if anything (or anyone) got in the way of a D&D session, or didn’t make it a priority, now I’m pretty casual. If players can’t make it to a game, or real life gets in the way, oh well. I’ll do something else.

Last weekend, while at CONjuration, an old friend reminded of that fire that used to burn bright within me. We ran into each other by happentance/coincidence/fate (as conventions are wont to do with attendees). Then she went around and told her friends I was the…

Legendary DM.

I hadn’t seen her in at least 10 years, but she was one of my players during the heady days of D&D Third Edition, showing up at my table, character sheet in one hand and her notebook in an another, ready for adventure, before (as these things go) real life got in the way and the entire group drifted apart.

Back in those days I ran D&D ever Sunday, hell or high water, unless the majority of the players couldn’t make it or I was indisposed (a rare thing). The campaign had to progress. The story must proceed. The grand narrative narrated. And if you, as a player, couldn’t attend at least 75% of the sessions, I’d ask you to commit or quit.

I’d put in the campaign house rules: This campaign is expected to last a year, can you commit to this? Casual players need not apply.

Unlike other GMs who started campaigns with a vague idea of where it was going, I had an endpoint in mind and would calculate how many sessions it would take to get there. And by golly I was going to have committed players who would cooperate to get there.

At the conclusion of one campaign, the players voted unanimously that I extend the campaign another six months. They weren’t ready for it to end. They wanted another season. And I gave them that season…

…even though I was ready to move to different system.

Everybody wanted to play D&D Third Edition. I grew to merely tolerate D&D 3e because players often spent too much time looking at their character sheets or their noses in a rulebook. I had to smack that system into submission to make it work.

But I made it work, because I had to.

Because my life sucked and I had nothing else going for me.

(Okay, in retrospect it might not have been that bad, but when you go through bouts of depression, as anybody with depression can tell you–if you bother to reach out and lend your ear–it seems that bad.)

At CONjuration 2019, I may have been known as a Legendary DM, but I earned it via three or four years of financial downs, unreliable automobiles, self-loathing, and settling for what I considered mediocrity. Never feeling like I was part of a group.

While I felt like a failure at other aspects of my life, game mastering was my gift to my players, to the world. I could do that, and I could do it well. While my fiction writing felt staid and cliched, I still had stories to tell.

If I went for a month without running or playing a game, you’d think I was in withdrawal from an addiction. I became tense. Couldn’t sleep. Irritable. And then when I’d get my fix, all was right with the world. Once, after a depressing holiday season working retail, I kicked off a Warhammer Fantasy Role Play campaign, and felt all that tension melt away. The buzz I had was better that any I could get from drinking (hey, next to alcoholism, RPGs are really cheap! And I was often broke so I couldn’t afford to drink anyway!)

Another time I had a D&D wizard incinerate a small regiment of goblin-worgriders. The DM had planned an epic battle between the party and those monster (like in the Lord of the Ring: The Two Towers film) but I ended it prematurely with a wall of flame followed by a couple fireballs and a flaming sphere. Damn that felt good. It was a high point in an otherwise crappy week (or month).

Is this a healthy way of living?

I’ve no answer to that except there’s worse ways of living.

RPGs aren’t (and I’ve wrestled with this time and again) a waste of time, so long as you spend that time well. So long as you find the right group of friends with similiar tastes while you remain open-minded to other experiences; the perfect RPG doesn’t exist, there is only what works for your circle of gamers.

RPGs empower. RPGs embolden. RPGs teach. RPGs reach out to introverts and the depressed among us show them they can be heroes.

RPGs offer refuge from life’s thunderstorms.

The same goes with fiction and wargamer.

I’m re-energized now.

And while I have no intention of returning to that near-bohemian lifestyle of my young adulthood, I must say that the passion is back, thanks to friends old and new at CONjuration.

That fire, which once burned low, is now rekindled…


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