Guest House: Writers Write
Renaissanceby JT Scott
June 1, 2001
Guest House: Writers Write
Renaissanceby JT Scott
June 1, 2001
I laid down my sword several years ago.
Well into my marriage, and finding a new daughter both at hand and under foot, I finally packed up my gaming books, dice, and figures, and set them aside for that almost mythical garage sale that inevitably accompanies adult life...
Of course, I never imagined not gaming, not in any real sense. Introduced to my first RPG nearly 20 years ago (D&D in the box), role-playing was a constant throughout grade school, high school, college, and even that 'quasi adult' period that lays in the shadow of your school years. Fortunate enough to find good groups and experienced players, I always had a weekend gaming session; a chance to adventure and explore worlds conjured up by a shared imagination, easy occasions to laugh and relax. It was never a big deal and I never tried to make it one; gaming neither ran my life, nor eclipsed other parts of it. Role-playing was a hobby - a wonderful, rewarding hobby, to be sure - but a hobby just the same. It was a 'pastime', a welcome respite from the workweek, and a weekend diversion with friends.
But as time itself passed, I found less of it available for my favorite hobby. And, to my own sadness, role-playing itself lost some of its luster. Gaming groups were harder to come by, and the quality of the gaming, and even the games themselves, left something to be desired. I couldn't put my finger on it then, but the allure of dice and books and painted figures simply dimmed, like the slow fade of a candle. Some who experienced a similar disillusionment laid the blame on collectible card games, others pointed at computer RPGs and video games; maybe, in my case, it was merely the process of getting older. - the tidal pull of adult responsibility and the increased demands of work and family.
Whatever the cause, the end result was a Saturday evening in winter, and a cardboard box and roll of tape. I found myself standing in a pile of gaming books and campaign notes, character sheets and dice (which I constantly plucked from my daughter's grasping fingers), remembering old adventures and reliving old memories. It took only an hour for all of my years of role-playing to be packed away, and only an hour longer than that for my daughter to fall asleep next to me on the couch, clutching an empty dice bag - a thieved treasure I couldn't bring myself to take from her.
Even after that Saturday evening, however, I never completely abandoned my interest in gaming. I followed information on the WWW, played M:TG when I could rustle up a game, and haunted comic and hobby stores, just to keep an eye out for what was new and popular. I saw Feng Shui (the first version), and dreamed up a campaign almost on the spot, going so far as to type out notes I knew I would never use. I stood in a game store in Virginia and flipped through Deadlands, discovering a dark and poisonous BootHill (a personal favorite), as full of gaming possibilities as its eponymous graveyard was full of skeletons. During this time I discovered a few other great games, but still little in the way of a gaming community. There was nothing to draw me back in, and no one available to persuade me.
During that period role-playing appeared tired to me, recycled, easily overshadowed by other diversions; it was grainy black and white entertainment matched against a digitized, colorized world. There were no pro-tours for role-playing, no 3-D card world of pixelized foes; TSR was a battered giant, mortally wounded and lumbering off to the elephant's graveyard of gaming companies, and pure fantasy - swords and sorcery and pulp adventure - had lost favor to edgier, darker fare.
There were still die-hard purists, of course, the old guard who kept to their gaming tables the way some people cling to old Commodore 64 and Apple computers, patching and updating their games and campaigns with home-brewed rules and FAQs. And I even found some of them, clustered on the cul-de-sacs of the Internet, far from the main thoroughfares. I enjoyed their conversations and debates, and seconded their complaints, but even these started to feel like oft-viewed reruns. So my books remained boxed, and my notes and ideas collected in the bottom of little-opened drawers and folders.
Two years ago I left the United States - an extended move to a foreign country necessitated by my work. Role-playing is unknown here, in this, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Electricity and water are luxuries, and there are no movie theaters or malls, and definitely no hobby or games stores. Even if I had wanted to role-play during my tenure here, I knew that there was no one to share my interest. Before stepping on the plane, active gaming was something in my past, and although that still saddened me, I accepted it as the adult I had become.
But during this two-year sojourn I maintained access to the Internet, and also, on a whim, indulged in some magazine subscriptions: Dragon and Dungeon, Inquest and Wizard - magazines that I had read occasionally stateside. Although I received them 4 weeks late (sometimes more), they became, and remain, a welcome reminder of home, and a constant reminder of my abandoned hobby.
And what a reminder they were! Through the Internet and these magazines, I followed the resurgence of D&D, the explosion of D20, and the overall groundswell of interest in gaming in general, and fantasy gaming in particular (look no further than recent interviews with Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Jonathan Tweet; or the plethora of computer fantasy RPG materials spotlighted these past two months). I've counted the wealth of new of websites, both professional and personal, and if my ad hoc figures are any indication, fantasy campaigns are flourishing, fueled by excitement over revamped favorites like Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms, and intrigue over new worlds with names like Ghelspad and Kalamar.
And, like many others, I found myself slowly, but surely, swept along by this new tide of enthusiasm - a new game, new rules, new ideas - and as result I splurged and ordered the core D&D3E books and several of the D20 products - enjoying each and every one of them with they finally arrived. Companies such as Necromancer, Sword & Sorcery, Privateer Press, and Fiery Dragon (simply to name a few) have helped to resurrect the battered giant - like clerics in my old campaigns, calling down a miracle and pouring life into the forever-wounded fighter.
I've found that my rekindled interest did not stop at D&D and the D20 products - the synergistic effect of gaming being far too great for that - but encompassed other intriguing games as well: Big Eyes, Small Mouth 2nd Edition, Blood of Heroes Special Edition, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and the smaller press offerings of Deathstalkers and Demon's Lair. I discovered the great little games Hard Vacuum and Fairy Meat, and now find myself anxious for all the new gaming releases scheduled for the rest of this year.
I've even grown nostalgic - I am old enough to do that now - scouring EBAY for old favorites, such as Top Secret and Villains and Vigilantes. The result of all this fervor is a closet full of new, and even a few, ancient gaming books, something that hasn't happened in eight years. And - much to my wife's amusement and dismay - more are on the way.
Is this a renaissance period in role-playing? I think it is. Even without playing a single session, I've rediscovered the excitement, fun, and sense of wonder that originally drew me to gaming. It's a wildly creative time in the role-playing industry, and I am glad I paid enough attention not to miss it. Some will argue that this period is not so unusual, that role-playing has been healthy and thriving all along, and that perhaps I was the one who changed, not the games themselves. There may be a grain of truth in such a charge, but I hope others who've stepped away from role-playing - who've boxed up their dice and sold off their books - return for another long look.
This 'boom' will bust, not every company with a shingle and website will survive the summer, much less to the end of the year, but this a great time to be role-playing now. So much so that I've thrown my hat fully into the ring, supporting each fledgling company that I can, buying up as much stuff as the wife will ignore, and hoping, just hoping, I can keep the candle lit longer and brighter this time.
Since I stored my old games away on that Saturday evening in winter, my workload has increased, I've had a second daughter, and I've gotten several years older. Yet, my enthusiasm for role-playing is at an all-time high. I haven't rolled a 'to hit' die or saving throw in years, multi-classing and feats are mere paper concepts to me, and I've never even created a character or seen a live example of gameplay for most of my newest games. But I've since discovered that you make the time for the things that are important to you, and I want to make time for gaming.
Now, I just need other like-minded individuals.
In June, I'll be returning to the United States. Moreover, I'll be returning to my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. It'll be the first time I've lived there in nearly 15 years. Life turns in cycle, or at least Robert Jordan thinks so, and maybe in my case it's true. Literally, and figuratively, I packed up a part of my life in a box, and now I can't wait to get that box open again. I've lost some time, but I think I can make up for it...
I know I am ready to pick up and dust off that old sword again...