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Critical Hits

You Can't Spell Gaming Without Aging... Unless You're Senile and Can't Spell

by Dave Smith
Aug 16,2004

 

You Can't Spell Gaming Without Aging... Unless You're Senile and Can't Spell

It should come as no surprise that I have no news about Critical Hits, other than that I'll be sending query letters to agents this weekend. I turn 25 on the 14th, and one of the ways I plan on celebrating the quarter-century mark is by finally attempting to interest a handful of reputedly well-connected strangers into representing my newest novel. Naturally, I have no illusions about immediate success, but then again, I think Critical Hits is good enough to eventually raise an eyebrow or two, so I'm not completely endorsing pessimism.

Axis Mundi Sum went on sale on my birthday last year, which was a pleasant instance of synchronicity; however, I doubt that anything of equal magnitude will occur this year, unless, say, all my friends have secretly been pooling their money to buy me a 1970 GTO Judge, or the collection agency decides that I'm not worth hassling anymore. Instead, if all goes well, I will spend the early part of my birthday afternoon playing Call of Cthulhu with a couple buddies. Then I may see Aliens Vs. Predator, despite harboring considerable worries about the quality thereof. Eventually, I'll end up on my back porch with more friends, a sufficient supply of cold beer, and a selection of foodstuffs destined for the grill. Conversations will be had, BACs will rise, and I may even receive a couple of presents. When I hit the sack, I bet I'll be a happy man.

I'm excited about playing Call of Cthulhu. I haven't gamed in several months, ever since the Conan game I was part of fell apart in the face of conflicting schedules. Matter of fact, I haven't played in a regular game since my junior year of college, when I participated in a larp. While fun, running around playing paper-rock-scissors can't compare to sitting around a table with a fistful of dice, a character sheet, and the appropriate books. Hell, you don't even need a table; for the first few years I gamed, my buddy and I- it was usually a two-man operation- sat on the floor, and it was fine by me. When there was a slightly larger group, such as those of us that played Call of Cthulhu, we still splayed out on the carpet, rolling our dice atop rulebooks. Well, the rulebook: to this day I own no more than four CoC supplements, although my AD&D Second Edition collection is respectable.

I started playing Dungeons and Dragons in either 1989 or 1990. While visiting my uncle's parents in Maine, I visited a bookstore and spied the classic red-boxed Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, which my aunt purchased for me. I spent a good deal of my free time that summer reading the manuals, and soon bought the Expert box. I eventually met a couple of other kids who joined in to play a handful of suitably juvenile, albeit fun, games.

When I moved to Texas in 1991, I met Brad Plumb through my brother. Brad introduced me to Prodigy and its myriad gaming resources, and I introduced him to AD&D. Until I left the country for points south in 1994, Brad was my staunchest role-playing companion, testing new games and continuing old ones. Ever since then, I have gamed less and less, and despite participating in many an excellent adventure with many people over the past decade, I still look back upon middle school as the golden age of role-playing.

I can't say that I outgrew gaming, because I didn't, and I doubt I ever will. Nevertheless, as I've gotten older, I've found that I have less and less time for gaming, and not because I'm a busy man- far from it. When I was younger and more friendless, role-playing was the most social outlet I had, but as time passed, more opportunities became available to me, such as writing. I've been writing, so to speak, since I was a bespectacled, seven-year-old towhead, but with age, I've grown to enjoy trying to tell stories on my own, and spend my time with others in different pursuits, many of them far more ridiculous (and, bafflingly, more socially acceptable) than role-playing. I will freely admit that getting drunk and smoking too many cigarettes often has less value of any kind than a night spent spinning tales with the aid of dice, but here I sit with as many, if not more, nights of alcohol-fueled debauchery to my name as gaming sessions, and certainly more than nights or days spent at the keyboard writing. Logic and reason often play a lamentably small role in choices regarding my personal behavior.

It makes sense that different times in one's life call for different pastimes, but in my case time hasn't diminished the allure of my youthful gaming, nor has it removed any tarnish from certain bleak episodes of pseudo-Bukowskian behavior. While only children would consider twenty-five old age, the march of years has become more and more apparent to me: I am getting older, and as I do, I look back upon my childhood with increasing fondness and honesty. In the not-so-distant past, I wished that I could return to the simplicity of eighth grade, when my afternoons and weekends were spent in Ravens Bluff, Waterdeep, and 1920s New York, or, later in life, the quiet suburban home of my dad, a mere stone's throw from where I lived in middle school. It didn't take terribly long to realize that such nostalgia is exactly that, but it did take a while to turn it into something creative, namely Critical Hits. While not a full-blown nostalgia trip, Critical Hits indulges the best aspects of my past, while tempering it with an idealistic vision of the future- not necessarily my future, but one I could envision being a part of. It is only because I drifted away, no matter how reluctantly, from gaming regularly, that Critical Hits, and even Axis Mundi Sum, could exist. (It should be obvious that I don't view role-playing as some sort of detriment to writerly creativity, nor as an insidious anti-social ball and chain. If either of these was the case, I wouldn't have half the friends I do, and I sure as hell wouldn't be writing this column for you, dear readers.)

Twenty-five. As I've said, it's hardly a ripe old age, but it's nevertheless old enough to make me think. Twenty-five is certainly a lot different than thirteen, or nineteen, or twenty-one, or even twenty-four, at least when you take the time to consider how much you've changed- or, God forbid, stagnated- over the year or years. It's easier to apply smaller increments of time such as months to things outside oneself (a roleplaying campaign, the run of a comic book, a relationship), but that is what makes self-examination so fascinating. Years flow like water, and before you know it, you're floating down an estuary of history; another look back reveals that you're actually in the river of Time itself, and, if you've learned anything, you kick back and enjoy the ride, stopping along the way to take notes, have a drink, or find some folks with whom to temporarily escape it all with a roll of the dice and a turn of the page. Aging, it turns out, is not the tragedy that so many believe it to be.

Take it easy, fellow gamers, writers, dreamers, thinkers, drinkers, and humans, and keep quaffing those potions of longevity. I don't know about yours, but mine tastes like beer.

Dave Smith
dave at axismundisum dot com
http://www.invispress.com/AMS

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