Veterans Day: Let Me Tell You A Story

It has been a while, but today I feel a return to this is needed. Every Veteran’s Day I will thank folks I know who served. Heartfelt Happy Birthdays are given to Marines I know. This year I want to do something different. This year I want to tell you a story.

hallofheroesBefore Gamehole Con this year I had an idea. Make a banner with Hall of Heroes on it. Where folks could come up and write down the names of the characters that didn’t make it back from an adventure, or (more importantly) the names of players they had lost from their game tables. What does this have to do with Veteran’s Day? Well, the motivation behind it.

Several years ago I met someone at Encounters (the precursor to Adventurers League). He was a student at the UW completing his degree after a 6 year stint in the Army as an infantryman. He had done at least one tour in Iraq. I was looking for more butts to fill my game table, and we seemed to get along well. So he joined up.

Blaine played with our group for his entire time in Madison. After graduation he took a job in Chicago. He and his wife (they had married during the time he was playing with us), moved there. Before leaving, he had gifted us with his megamat, Orcus figure and some of his books. Though he said he had no use for them where he was going, I assured him the library would always be there for him should he change his mind.

We also took a trip to Gander Mountain to go shooting before he left. He was genuinely surprised at how good of a shot I was. Maybe because he knew I was horrible with distance viewing – especially without my glasses. I assured him I was born and raised in Wisconsin and had actually been a hunter for a while.

With his character Guthryn, we had this thing. He would do an area attack against everything in a zone. This was the days of 4th Edition, and he was playing a crossbow shooting rogue sniper. He would roll his attack and then spent time doing all the math involved on his damage. As he was doing that, I was picking up the figures for the minions in the zone – flunkie monsters with only 1 hit point. Once all the math was done, he would look up at his figure in an empty room and simply say, “Son of a bitch!”

It was such a thing with us that we kept track of the times it would happen. That and the art of being taken out by an aura without ever being attacked directly (this edition, it would be more like an environmental effect or lair action), were his two things as a character.

Speaking more to him as a person, he would post images to social media of the cakes and treats we would make for our game nights. The time I made the melting chocolate cakes from our cruise, he posted that with something like, “This is how my DM treats us every week. What do you got?”

Well one day I had made ghost cupcakes. They were baked and served in foil “cups” shaped like ghosts. I had explained the the players a couple of times that night that I had filled them with a cherry caramel from our trip to Door County. Everyone was into it and dug in. Blaine just nodded as he was working on his character. As soon as he took a bite, he looked up with a distraught look on his face. With a sullen voice he said, “Awwww… what’s in my ghost?” Apparently the surprise texture squigged him out as he didn’t hear either of the times I explained what the cakes were filled with.

While he hadn’t gamed with us as long as some of my friends, he had quite a volume of great stories that revolved around him and his interactions both in and out of our game.

Still you might be confused. We all have friends like this. A staple at our table. Why would this inspire the banner mentioned above?

This year, after returning from a three week anniversary cruise with my wife, we found out that Blaine passed away unexpectedly at the age of 29. So early on in the travels, I believe his memorial service passed before we were back in the country. So I broke the news to our group, and we toasted him with shots of the best whiskey served in Casa de Zombie. (The kids at the table got juice in their glasses.)

As I stated to the room at 8am Friday morning of the convention, during the dedication of the Hall of Heroes, he was a son, a husband, a veteran, a gamer and a friend. It was my way to ensure he made it to the convention with us.

During the 2015 Rock n Roll Hall of Fame inductions, Laurie Anderson said that a person dies three times. The first is when their heart stops. The second is when they are buried or cremated. But the final time is the last time someone says their name. Someone from the crowd echoed “Lou!” just after that line.

hallofheroesfinalAs long as we have our stories, they are never truly gone. And for me, this was like our gamer version of the Ghost Feast. We set a table for him, so that he knew his story was being told. So he could rest.

This Veteran’s Day, I choose to thank the young man who served our country with honor and distinction, brought the same dedication and honor to our campus, and was a great friend to everyone at our table. I thank him, his wife and family. And let them know at least once at every convention I work at (and several times a year at our home game table), we tell a story of this larger than life figure.

hallofheroesdedicationI haven’t decided, but I think I will be asking my wife about housing the banner in the large garage in our retirement property we just picked up in Door County. The question is, who will take the next one on as a ward? And who will serve as that banner’s dedication?

Another Hit to Art

There are many times when celebrity deaths are lamented in social media. I recognize it happened. Maybe post a tweet on it and call it a day. Like recently when Lemmy passed away. Yes, I was a fan and it was a sad day. I recognized it and moved on. Not today.

When we lost Robin Williams to depression and an incurable disease it hit me hard. Dead Poets Society was a huge influence on me when I needed it. I was extremely good at math and physics, but I loved the written word. The performance as well, provided the writing was good. That movie convinced me along with the words of Polonius from Hamlet. To some, they were his only true words of value… “To thine own self be true.”

Robin Williams (in the form of John Keating) was my Captain. “…if you’re more daring, O Captain, My Captain.” David Bowie was my king. No teen growing up in the 80’s wasn’t aware of the movie Labyrinth. And being a multi-classed geek with specialties in drama, choir, gaming and creative writing, Jareth was both siren and muse.

Also in college I spent time doing side jobs as a DJ as well as having a Sunday night radio show on the college station. This meant I had developed an eclectic taste in music long before we had things like Pandora or Spotify to cultivate it. I had metal and rock because I was a kid of the 70’s and 80’s. I had 80’s pop music because I was working every dance the school put on due to my involvement with Student Council. Reggae and funk was introduced to me at my dojo by my Sensei. Punk and Alternative (which a lot of Bowie fell into) was picked up from older siblings of friends, or at the radio station.

I remember the first time I started digging through the vinyl at the station in college. My roommate Doug and I tag-teamed our show. We had similar tastes in music, and while he loved spinning the records, he wasn’t a fan of taking on air. That meant we had time to dig. We found copies of Queen records (A Night at the Opera was a huge one for me), a CD of the Clash’s Greatest Hits (CDs were brand new back then and we only had like a dozen), and copies of Diamond Dogs as well as Scary Monsters and Super Creeps.

To that point, Glass Spider (from Never Let Me Down – his recent release) was on the top of my Bowie list. I knew he had a long career before that, but didn’t have access to it. Thank you liberal arts colleges of America. You offered me more access to the music of tomorrow than I’d had previously. Well the music of today (for that time) and of tomorrow.

We used to play a game. How fast could we scare the guy doing the Christian music show before us out of the station. You’d be surprised some of the things that got him running. Like the Screaming Blue Messiahs song “I Wanna Be A Flintstone.” I can’t remember which, but I distinctly remember wondering how anyone could be freaked out by the Bowie song we played at the intro one week. It may have been Heroes if memory serves.

But here we are twenty five years later. It’s a Monday. And now, cancer has taken family members, friends, my best friend and four legged brother Aladdin… and now it’s taken my King.

I answer this injustice as I did last time. Fuck Cancer.

But I cannot end on that. It focuses on his death, not his life. Let’s end on the note I kept repeating to myself the weeks before and after losing Aladdin. “We all have jobs to do.” For all of us, our job today is… Let’s Dance.

The Church of Punk Rock

I just heard the news today that Lemmy passed away after an all to short bout with a very aggressive cancer. Though Motorhead is more heavy metal, there are a lot of similarities to punk. More so, as I reflected on a man that influenced music for so long, playing still at his age, I considered one of my favorite spoken word poems from Neil Hilborn called Punk Rock John.

Specifically the lines as follows;

John told us, “the church of punk rock was always open. If you wanna pray, just crank up the stereo until your ears bleed. If you wanna pray, just grab your brothers and sing. Sing out of tune, sing the wrong words, just sing… LOUD!”

This also leads me to remembering the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductions from last year. Lou Reed’s wife Laurie was giving a speech for the rocker who had passed away. She spoke of the idea that a person dies three times. The first is when your heart stops, the second when you are buried or cremated and the final time is the last time someone speaks your name. From out in the crowd you’d hear yells of “Lou!” and she even lead the room in a call of his name at the end of her speech.

For an artist, I propose an adjustment to the third death. I pose that the final time a person dies is the last time their name is spoken, their novel read, their painting admired or their song played.

Today while I work I intend to pray at the church of metal. I will turn my iPod (the modern day stereo for you kids to young to get the reference) and turn it up until I can’t hear shit. And you can bet that Lemmy will be pulling the baseline more than once today.

Reflections of a Mute Dungeon Master

In considering telling this story, I was looking into whether to put it on this blog or over on my gaming blog (which I use mostly for campaign notes in our home game). Understanding that many people that would read it on this one will have no connection to me in the gaming world, and likely have no idea about the community and pastime of Dungeons and Dragons. But when have I ever shied away from scaring the normals?

GHC-mapSo this weekend was Gamehole Con. A “new” gaming convention in Wisconsin. (It is in it’s third year of operation.) And for my money, one of the best run events I have been at. Any problems we experienced had nothing to do with the convention. Like when a DM had a car breakdown on his multiple-state drive to get there. Nothing the convention could do about that. So we dealt with it.

If the worst problem you are facing is that your events were sold out (as Adventurers League was all day Saturday and Sunday), then count it a good day.

In an effort for full disclosure, that really wasn’t the worst problem we had. Technically one of the DMs lost his voice as he was still recovering from being sick. I jumped in and ran his next slot for him so that he could drink some tea and rest his voice. So by the end of the night I was losing my voice. It was a vicious circle that hit a good number of us. Even one of the players at my table had lost his voice. Not “con crud™” but definitely not the optimal situation.

final-countdownOf course there were the instances of awesome. Like watching DMs jump in to help cover slots where they could. Not everyone can just wing it. But those that could were backed up by those willing to jump into slots that they could run. The “winging it” didn’t end there either. I watched one DM run a mod as a single player adventure to make sure the one person who showed up with a ticket to his game Friday night had fun. I even ran two players (both playing non-combative characters) through a challenging module to make sure they got their event in and had a good time.

Sunday, as we were all reeling from the lack of sleep, nursing raspy voices, I found evidence of the reason I not only volunteer at events, but often run more than I play (I played one 2 hour slot this past weekend). One of my players from a previous day bought me coffee for all the hours and work I put in to make their games go off. Another bought tea for me (and her husband as he was the previously mentioned player who lost his voice) so that we could make it through the last game of the weekend. And yet another came back for Sunday with the infamous “crit or shit” die from the Studio 6d6 booth even though he saw the horrible luck I was having with mine.

I also watched as a player took his Players Handbook around asking for the DMs that ran a particularly good game for him to sign his book. It was somewhere between the last day of high school and being a celebrity. It was also the first book I’ve signed where my son has signed it as well. In fact I think he was the player when I gave my name and DCI number at the beginning of the session for their logs said, “Oh, are you related to Nick?” (A running gag in my family, and the topic of another blog.

owlbear-gaggleI also picked up a first for the convention in their first plushie. Other than food, it and their first adventure (signed and numbered by Ed Greenwood) were the only purchases I was able to make. In hindsight, I probably would have tried to fit in a demo and probable purchase of Three Pillars the ghost investigating card game from Scare TV. I am a fan of some of the ghost investigation shows, so it would have been a natural fit. Not to mention there was a promo card in our con bag offering Gamehole Con as a location. And after 30 hours of DMing (not to mention several of printing and prepping adventures on the fly), I felt like I was haunting the venue.

There were some interesting highlights from my games as well.

  • A group of 4 players. Two guys and a husband and wife. The wife was playing a male drow and her husband a female drow. The characters were brother and sister as opposed to spouses. The other two guys were drow as well, one female and one male. (I accused them of trying to break my brain at 8 in the morning.)
  • That night, for the final slot, they were back at my table only now the remaining male drow was female. I had my first character in a game that was a transgendered drow rogue.
  • The Carnival. My mod I ran on the fly (read through it in about 15 minutes), was a carnival gone wrong. The table had 3 brand new players, including one kid who was probably around 10 years old – plus or minus. So I couldn’t go full American Horror Story. But it was pretty close. I even had one character trying to protect the villain as she had gained an infatuation with the ringmaster through a developed insanity effect. (Gotta love season 3 mods!)
  • One of the Critter Community players jumped in on the one mod we were running with banshee in it. He was the player at the table to take the “token” which made him the primary target in the final fight. Dropped him and the cleric to 0 hit points with the banshee scream. Had I not been so tired, I might have consoled him with, “At least the door wasn’t locked.” (Inside joke for fans of Critical Role.)

Storytelling 101: Keeping it 100

After the impromptu story yesterday, I felt the jolt of November starting up. It used to get me looking to the fields on the way into work, clutching at the key pocket in my jeans to see if the spare round for my rifle was stashed there or not. These days its more about coffee, talking stories with NaNos (or WriMos… everyone has a different name for it) and storytelling.

keep-it-100_percent-tee-design1If I am going to “keep it 100” (see The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore), since my Aladdin died, I have been off in my writing. I made it to 50k last year, but I don’t feel it was anything I could use. As for this year, I have had a slow start to finishing up a middle grade story I’ve been throwing stones at since late spring. This November I want to not only hit the 50k but produce 50k of workable story. Something I can sell, produce, or at least print.

The going belief is that if you can exist without telling stories you’re not a writer. So does that mean I’m not a writer? I don’t think so. My storytelling outlet has been gaming this year. Role Playing is like storytelling without all the writing and editing. Well, some of the writing. Players get away with little to no writing.

To explain, allow me to tell a story. Several years ago (like seven or eight), some guys were talking in my building. Right outside my office. “Dude, I’m bringing D&D back!” (Said sarcastically, of course.) I stick my head out to ask if it went somewhere. They kind of chuckled at me and commented on how I was probably that guy at work that still played D&D.

“I haven’t played D&D for years,” I said. Of course when I was telling that to my gaming group that Sunday they looked at me rather confused. Understandable as we were setting up the D&D game for the week. Even more so  when I informed them I didn’t lie at work.

“I don’t play D&D. I’m the DM. I run it… you guys get to play.”

Being the DM is like leading a group storytelling exercise. I throw things out there, the characters react to them, and we all tell a story together. It was one of the things that lead me to wanting to become a writer in high school. Granted there were more impactful motivations that fit the traditional model, but gaming was part of it.

This past week the show Critical Role (on the Geek & Sundry Twitch channel) lost one of its actors. Not entirely sure why he had to leave the show, but he did. It made me think of all the changes my groups have gone through over the years. The gaming group from the above story only had two players in it that are still in my game. Of course one of them is my son, so that is nearly a given. Though the other player has his 13 year old daughter playing with us now.

For those young writers in training and the older ones alike. My strongest piece of advice is to Keep in 100. Own your weird and flaunt it proudly. Most of the genre writers I know have some serious eccentricities to them. And frankly I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Why charity? And why cancer?

There was a video call for stories on Stephen Amell’s Facebook page. It was part of the 2nd anniversary of the Fuck Cancer campaign. I apologize in advance if you were looking for the “family friendly” version of the story, but that doesn’t exist. At least not for me.

Cancer has taken a lot from me. Mostly personal, and somewhat sharp in nature. Also, it has been throughout my life. It started just after I was born. It didn’t take my mother from us, but it did take any further siblings from my sister and I. Not that I knew any better, I was a baby when it happened. I can’t imagine what it put my parents through.

In July a few years back it took my father-in-law from us. Indirectly, as he already had a heart condition, but the cancer was getting worse and no doubt weakened him. My wife is the kind of person that remembers those dates. Every July was rough for her.

aladdinAbout a year and a half ago (also in July), cancer hit home again. This time it took our dog Aladdin. I know it seems odd to include him in this list, but he was my companion and our family’s protector and mascot for fifteen years. At sixteen years old, he was older than the twelve years that breed averages. And now I’m the kind of person that remembers those dates. July 17th, 2014. The first time I had to call and ask a doctor to euthanize my dog. I didn’t make the appointment for my childhood dog.

Losing him wasn’t just a direct hit for me, but it also screwed up my writing for at least a year. I felt like I lost something more than just a friend. So I gave to gain something back. I gave food to a dog shelter. We adopted a rescue dog from that same shelter. One that really needed a specific kind of home that we could provide. No young kids, and no other pets. And time. Additionally, we gave to cancer charities. Kids cancer, research, individual families dealing with the trials of cancer. All of it.

Last Christmas, during the first Sinceriously campaign I bought the original fuck cancer shirt for the family. My wife, son and I all have one. When the second one came around I bought in again. As I have for similar charities, such as the Extra Life campaign we just went through.

What does the Fuck Cancer Campaign mean to me? It is me telling cancer I have had enough. I have several friends and yet another family member dealing with cancer. Frankly, you can’t have them. Not if my donations and those of my friends and family have anything to say about it. It may only be a shirt here and a marathon there individually, but if enough of us stand up and say “No More”, it will be a deafening roar.

Prepping for November

Between reviews, writing, a new puppy and the day job website relaunching on a new service (which NEVER goes as well as they say it will), I have been out of the loop for a while. I’ve also been having problems bouncing back from the slump I hit over a year ago. I hadn’t factored how much the loss of my old man puppy would hit me. Now, I am looking to swing hard at this NaNoWriMo. Which means breaking the routine I have inadvertently set up at home.

This past week I brought home flowers from shopping for my wife. She asked me why and I told here there were a couple of reasons. First and foremost was that one simply does not get a Sweetests Day present for one lady in the house and not the other. It’s simply not done. (More on that later.) Additionally (and more to her liking) was that with about 10 days until her office Halloween party I figured the flowers would be good and wilted and just right for their party. Her department at work does Halloween in a huge way. I don’t get our Walking Dead string lights back until November.

naptime-gingerTo speak towards the questions that are out there… yes, we are strange people. Our Halloween decorations are our Christmas decorations. Which makes this time of year awesome for the woman in my Sunday gaming group with the fear of zombies. Also, yes… I did buy a Sweetests Day present for Ginger, our fox terrier rescue. To be fair, it was a set of scalloped foam stairs to make it less stressful for her to get up on the couch. (She has a knee joint problem she was born with.)

While they work great, I did find out I bought them a bit too big. Which means we put them up by the bed (we have a rather tall European pillow top mattress), and decided to get a smaller set of the same ones for the couch.

What does this have to do with NaNoWriMo? Everything. Because hopefully a present to make her days easier will keep her from getting cross with me for being out so much. Halloween weekend I am going to a Milwaukee area game con for a day, NaNoWriMo midnight that night, and then write-ins that Sunday. The next weekend I am running 12 hours or more of D&D each day at Gamehole Con. In addition to my 2k in words. Tesla Con is two weeks later. Between that will be our donation weekend push for NaNoWriMo. Then Thanksgiving. We’ll end with the wrap party in early December.

Keep in mind the Day Job™ is still there. As are my reviews. And the Sunday game group. (I have already told the Adventurers League guys I will not be running a table that month.)

franz-kafka-quotes-sayings-non-writing-writer-insanityWhat is the lesson to learn here? Especially for those new to NaNoWriMo? (Besides insanity being a benefit sometimes…) Time management is everything. This is a one month challenge. Out of college (for more years than I care to remember) I worked 80-90 hour work weeks between two full time jobs. My day off was Sunday going in to the bagel shop I managed in the morning until around 11am before driving off to my D&D game with a friend who was renting the other half of our duplex. It kept me sane. Well, sane-adjacent.

Can everyone do this schedule for the month? Probably not. But pushing the limits is what showed me that I was capable of doing it. Were I a corporate goon, I would likely be spouting off some leadership training nonsense like “work smarter, not harder.” But thankfully I am not. I will tell you thought to challenge yourself this coming month. Its the only way you can truly surprise yourself with what you are capable of.

See you all at the word wars, Halloween Night… midnight… central time zone.