The new gaming cabal I'm part of gave me an opportunity to join Hexican's Ritual Madness Podcast on February 29, 2020.
Even though it was my 4th trip to the Podcast, this adventure eloquated a different passion of mine: gaming.
As you learned in my Grimspell Gaming post, I've been playing Dungeons & Dragons (and by extension, many other games over my three decades plus of gaming) since I was very young. Gaming is woven into the fiber of who I am, as you learn in this short (1.5 hours) but energizing discussion with the members of Grimspell Gaming.
Give it a listen by clicking on the banner image below, and join me as I champion Grimspell Gaming and gaming culture by subscribing to the Grimspell blog.
If you're a friend or have followed my blog for a while, you know of my passion around the hobbies of role-play and tabletop gaming. I'm also no stranger to computer and console video games, but my love of gaming stretches to a time before joysticks and gamepads. To a time when a digital network was science fiction. To a time when mythical Gary Gygax walked the earth.
When I was very young, my Dad got a job with the Department of Defense and relocated our family to Germany. I remember the trip from Texas to Deutschland in the early 80s relatively well. My first flight. Foreign signs and speakers. Packed Pan Am and Lufthansa planes. The smell of leather and sweat. Tears. Fears.
We were strangers in a strange land on a very strange trip that would take us away from American culture for five and a half years. Comforts of home were found in sparse supply on the Army bases we frequented. As DoD civilians, we weren't cool enough to get to live on base with the rest of the stationed soldiers and their families, but we were allowed access to military facilities. The Military PX and bookstore was where we did most of our shopping and socializing, connecting with other families on the same strange trip in the name of "Force".
I purchased my first Walkman there. My first cassette tape there (Megadeth's "Peace Sells", an ironic purchase at a military store). My first skateboard there.
So, the fact that my parents were able to find First Edition Dungeons and Dragons manuals and modules in a military bookstore speaks volumes for early appreciation of the game. They didn't know what they were buying at the time. The game of D&D was as foreign as the new land in which we lived.
What started as a way to entertain me turned into a hobby that has stretched over thirty years and has served as an engine of creative and professional evolution. At the gaming table and behind the DM screen, I grew up.
Take On Me
My brothers probably don't remember my early attempts at running modules when I was eleven. They were busy with Legos, G.I. Joe, Transformers and stuffed animals. At that early age, I didn't know the game yet, didn't understand the mechanics, nor did I own a DM screen. But I loved reading about the heroes and monsters, and rolling dice. Worthwhile video games didn't exist outside of an Arcade at that time, and the digital world had yet to be born, so it was easy to stay focused on mythical D&D content.
My loving parents continued to buy me D&D modules for a while, but soon interested waned as hormones raged. There were few kids on the bases where I attended school that were role-play gamers, and my attention gravitated towards girls, music and soccer.
I would be remiss if I didn't throw love at Netflix's "Stranger Things" for replicating the look, feel and complexity of being a pre-teen D&D gamer in the 80s. If you can picture me as part-Will and part-Mike, minus the gaming circle, malls and Mind Flayers, you'd have an accurate snapshot of this early nerd.
However, gaming was put on the back burner until high school.
Youth Gone Wild
My family moved back to the states in 1988, mostly so I could start High School in a familiar place.
But the U.S. wasn't familiar anymore, and I had developed an negative opinion of the military after being around it for many years. The bus I took to school was checked for bombs daily. I witnessed protests against the US presence. And after seeing the East-West wall and turrets and touring Nazi horror sites, I had grown to become a loner and outcast. When I started tenth grade at my new school in Sparta, WI, I disappeared into music, drawing and writing.
My high school friends were mostly the fringe crowd - metalheads, geeks and other relatively unpopular kids. After living so many places, I had adapted the ability to get along with others and bond fast, and late in my sophomore year, I connected with a group of young adults (and in some cases adults) that eventually became my first gaming group.
I have fond memories of that group, the adventures we shared, the marathon campaigns we undertook and the long days of dice, Mountain Dew and camaraderie.
Jason was our DM, and he wrote binders worth of material. Rich, Kurt, Dean, Ray and Mark rounded out the party. Rich was usually the spellcaster; Kurt, the healer; Ray, Dean, Mark and I were thieves, rangers and warriors of various classes. We lived in different cities, had busy lives and lacked rides, but still managed to make gaming happen regularly for years.
Cats In the Cradle
Then adulting happened.
Babies. Marriages. Divorces. Tragedies. Responsibility eventually called the curtain on gaming for many of us in my first gaming group.
As that party was ending, a new one was beginning for me. College gave my gaming passion second life as I became a regular participant at the UWGB Gamer's Club, and connected with a slew of new geeks and games. I played as many games as I could, ran games, and eventually rose to co-President of the Club. I helped coordinate and run their annual gaming convention, Chaoticon, and organized the first college dance run and sponsored by gamers, the "Gravedancer's Ball".
As President, I attended college seminars put on Christian local groups that painted D&D and metal music as Satanic, and defended gaming against their attacks.
After years of hiding the gamer side of me, I finally let my geek flag fly. Gaming triggered creativity that helped me acquire a Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing; gave me the confidence to act in productions as part of the Humanities Council; and instilled the professionalism to run effective meetings.
While I had set ablaze the gamer fire within, life would trample down those flames with personal tragedies that shook my ability to make gaming a priority in my life.
And it would be that way for almost a decade.
Return to Serenity
Gaming has been about connection and community to me. Gaming was how I grew up in high school, and how I found myself in college. It gave me the voice and self-confidence to tell stories, run campaigns and characters, and illustrate my content. It fostered strong bonds of friendship that last to this day.
But tragedy, illness and divorce became my reality. Fantasy is a foreign land when pain and failure are your constant, struggle and desperation are your companions. Like any adult, survival became my focus, leaving the wild wilderness of gaming to a "once upon a time".
The rise of social media brought me personal and professional success. It also created bridges to gamers and gaming communities that were sparsely connected until the proliferation of social media. Through Facebook, I made new friends and launched a new chapter of gaming in my life. In 2016, I ran my first 2nd Edition D&D game in decades. The Dew, the dice and the dungeons felt like home again.
It was an unsuccessful start at launching a long-term campaign, but foretold of a gaming renaissance in my life. My re-invigoration with gaming became less about Dungeons & Dragons and more about getting experience with different games, DMs and gamer personalities.
About connecting with a community.
About creating better fantasy content than I ever have.
About helping to lead a new gaming revolution and appreciation with my present skill, talent and experience.
A true union of creative storms.
It began with "Folklore: The Affliction", which my friend Harrington introduced me to. The tabletop roleplaying game had me hooked right away, and I was able to pull a gaming group together involving my friend Tyr that met regularly. The mechanics of gaming, the focus on storytelling and the visual awesomeness of the game sparked conversation about videocasting our games for edu-tainment purposes.
As I learned about the gaming backgrounds of my friends, I discovered synchronicities and similarities of path. I also recognized the skill, talent and experience of the members of our little gaming group. Harrington had developed boxes full of gaming content, and an insatiable interest in testing and running new games. Tyr and I were interested in the games, but weren't sure how we could find time in our lives to try them all.
Enter Grimspell Gaming. Our concept is to learn games and teach our audience how to play them, to share our experiences with the world via blog, video and podcast.
In order to make that concept come true, we needed other skills on the team. I approached my friends Hexican and Kevin, who have podcast and video experience and a love of gaming. Using Harrington's long list of games he wants to try, we developed a plan to produce and promote "Game Showcases" - a recorded walkthrough of a game each month.
Where it goes from here, only time (and content) will tell. It has become a powerful new outlet for my creativity and unification of my faculties, with the site and concepts for Grimspell designed by me and new blogs published by me regularly on gaming topics. Gaming has always been a trigger to greater things for me, and I can feel myself come alive in this new, nerdy world.
If you're interested in learning a new game, or want to see five venerable dudes stumbling through a new gaming experience, I hope you consider subscribing to and following Grimspell Gaming and our future endeavors.
(posted to The Grim Triune writer’s circle private exoboard by Oliver Drake, pseudonym of the late Ray Morris on July 20, 2004. I have not edited it or spellchecked this piece; it is was the final piece Ray posted to the message board, where he, Jason Graham and I were collecting content for a fiction trilogy project)
The suns began their ascent through the sky. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves that fell from the nearby grove of trees. Awakened by the sound of a flock of birds taking flight, the mysterious figure dressed only in a rust colored robe rose to his feet. He awoke lying in the grass next to a pond in the clearing of a thick forest of trees. He was quite disoriented, knowing he had never been to this place. “How did I get here?” he wondered. Then he realized he didn’t even know where he was supposed to be! “What is going on here?” he said to himself. Consumed by a feeling of panic, he searched desperately for a familiar landmark! Reaching up to run a hand through his hair, he realized he had none. Running to the pond he looked at his reflection and didn’t recognize what he saw. He was bald and had a tattoo of some sort on the side of his head, though he could not make it out. Absent- mindedly he rubbed the smooth stone that he held in his hand. “Where did this come from?” he thought to himself. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a reflection in the water.
(vision)The soldiers carried the coffin across the snow. The sobs of the grieving could be heard though he could not see them. It appeared to be a grand procession, with many men dressed in glorious armor. They trudged on through the snow never moving from their determined path. (end vision)
“Am I going crazy?” he thought to himself. “Visions, funerals, knights and through all of this, I do not know where I am?” Something, though he wasn’t sure what, was urging him to travel north. The woods were empty, not a single animal stirred. He traveled on in silence; then in the distance he heard the pounding of war drums. His walk had become a run, almost in response to his steadily increasing heart rate. As he got closer to the source of the pounding, he heard the clash of steel on steel and screams that seemed to come from all around him. His body continued on, though his mind was in a state of confusion. He ran as if possessed, ignoring the rocks and sticks under his bare feet. His lungs burned and his muscles ached yet he continued on until the forest gave way to an immense field that was consumed in utter chaos.
He looked upon the scene with paralyzing fear! What he saw was the army of a city desperately trying to defend its gate from the assault of an army of humanoid creatures, the likes of which he had never seen. This army was made up of scaled creatures with wicked long teeth and claws as long as daggers. What kind of creatures were these men fighting? The armored soldiers fought with a fury that was almost bestial. Swords flashed, axes swung, and arrows flew from every direction, and still the beasts pressed on. All the while he could see women tending to the wounded. He could hear spiritual chanting coming from all around the battle as if the healers and people of the town were singing a hymn: “urging on our defenders to fight even if it seems futile, we will emerge victorious if we only have faith”. In the middle of all of this there was a spectacular tree of majestic beauty! The tree seemed to be slick with sap as it ran freely down the trunk. The beautiful singing healers were collecting the sap as it cascaded down the tree. You could see them giving it to the wounded that were all around the tree. There were peasants fighting along side the soldiers with what ever they could find to use as weapons. Some had sticks, others had rocks and pitchforks; they cherished their beloved city and felt honor in standing next to its defenders. The mysterious stranger was trying desperately to make his way to the gates of the city, when he was surrounded by three of the vicious beasts. With out conscious thought he began the complex incantations of a spell. “Phatathanalasaz ashir verilosium” and before his very wide eyes the creatures screamed as they were bound in a stasis field unable to move. Astonished at what he had just done, he continued on his path, for he was being surrounded again. He saw guards fighting desperately to keep the creatures out, when a sharp pain exploded in his side! He saw the ground rush up to meet him and then there was nothing…but……blackness.
Seven figures stood above the unconscious man. They were the Druids of the Twisted Oak, who had been around since time on Ryvven began. They and only they knew who this man was. The druids were each a small fragment of Ryvven’s essence that was cast down to form the Great Tree of Creation. They are the only beings directly linked with mother Ryvven herself and the connection between Ryvven and the Temporans, Ryvvens eyes and ears on the prime material plane. The Temporans were a separate race created by Ryvven to govern the land, for if ever the balance shifted to heavily to one side or the other they would bring about the Prophecy of Renewal. The prophecy is said to bring the end to all existence!
There were no war drums, no battle cries —- only silence and a blinding light. He did not know whether he was dead or on his way to the other side.
(visions)“You are in neither of those places my son,” came a majestic voice filled with power and yet comfort. “You are in the Tree of Life where nothing can harm you. Rise to your feet Drythakmere, for your journey is only beginning. We have brought you here in an effort to help you, which I am afraid may cost us dearly!” “Why did you save my life?” Drythakmere asked with a shaky voice.
“Yes. I am sure you have many questions, but I am afraid we have few answers. What can be said is that you are in the kingdom of Vales, and as we speak, mankind is fighting for its very survival. The magics you exhibited on the battlefield run richly through your being, though they may seem foreign to you as of yet. As time goes on they will come to you with great ease. The stone you carry, The Druids Stone, is an ancient artifact that will lead you in the right direction. Your road is a long one and your trials will be quite dangerous, but know this Drythakmere: if you should fail, then the hopes of all existence perish with you! Your journey will begin in the most ancient of ancient cities. There is a warrior priest on that battlefield that you must find; his name is Father Sigeon Payne.” (end vision)
When Drythakmere opened his eyes he was looking upon what could have been the most beautiful creature ever created. He looked upon the healer with wonder, there was a sweet taste in his mouth. Drythakmere noticed the pitcher, which was filled with sap. He caught his reflection in the sap, and there was a flash.
(vision)The procession came to a halt in front of the pier. The lid to the coffin was lifted and there was a most brilliant light spewed forth. And as soon as it appeared the coffin lid slammed shut and the light was gone, replaced with an impenetrable darkness.(end Vision)
When he looked up, the maiden was looking at him with a sympathetic expression. Then she handed him a few vials that must have been filled with the healing sap of the Twisted Oak. She bid him a fond farewell and moved on to the next soldier who needed her attention.
Drythakmere sat looking at his surroundings, unsure of his next move. He was brought quickly to reality when the growls and screams of the armor-skinned creatures seemed to be getting closer. He noticed they were not completely without guidance; there were robed figures that appeared to be directing the monsters. Standing on the edges of the battle, there were six robed figures that were deep in concentration, apparently needing to concentrate to maintain control of the beasts.
He began to formulate a plan, “I must get to those clerics somehow.”
As he made his way across the field, he saw there was another man with the same idea. This man swung his mace like an extension of his own arm; he wore the robes of a cleric, but not like the ones manipulating the evil army. These robes were of silver and blue and seemed to match the armor that the soldiers of Vales were wearing. Reaching the beasts’ masters, both men converged on the group of robed figures with fire in their eyes. Drythakmere sent a ball of flame from his hand that engulfed the first man within a chamber of fire. The cleric smashed the next with a powerful swing of his mace. The robed figures noticed their brethren being attacked and summoned the creatures to defend them, but they arrived too late to save them. As Drythakmere used his magics, coming a little easier now, the cleric used his mace to dispatch the rest of them very quickly. They turned their attention to the krae-tin that were making their way towards Drythakmere and his priestly companion. The krae-tin were attacking themselves and anyone else that got in their line of sight. Without guidance they ravaged anything they could find. With their unorganized attacks they were quickly losing their superiority.
Though this battle was far from over, Drythakmere took this opportunity to meet this warrior who fought by his side. “Hello friend. I am Drythakmere and you are?”
“Well met, my name is Father Sigeon Payne cleric of the order of Aurric. I have spent many days traveling the land of Giengra, and have never met anyone who could throw magic with the power you have exhibited here today!”
“They said I would find you here, but I wasn’t sure if they were really there. It all seemed like a dream.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the creatures and they quickly got back to business. They were setting to defend themselves when out of the woods came the most ferocious battle cry they had ever heard. They looked and before their eyes a warrior dressed in the skins of an arctic bear tore through the krae-tin like a tornado. His axe ripped them apart with a fury all its own. They ran to his side and together the three of them decimated as many as they could get their hands on.
The soldiers and town folk saw the disorganized krae-tin running blindly, looking for something to attack while the archers set upon the castle wall targeting as many as possible.
All on the field were awestruck at the sight of a beautiful white steed carrying an armor-clad warrior on its back. His squire, who was trying desperately to keep up, followed the knight through the gate. All of the soldiers on the field saluted the pair as they rode by, but they appeared not to notice. The knight slew all of the creatures that got in his way. Riding away from Vales, he never looked back.
The party had killed all the creatures in their vicinity, and was regarding each other in amazement at how well they had fought together. They looked at the gates to Vales and realized this battle was far from being over. Hundreds of the krae-tin still fought the soldiers.
“What is your name son?” Father Sigeon asked as they made their way back to the battle.
“I am Arcturis Bighorn, son of Nydastramus Brig-Mist Chieftain of The Clan of the Talon, from the lands of Briggard.
“It is our pleasure to meet such a valiant warrior as yourself. I am Father Sigeon Payne of the order of Aurric, and this is Drythakmere. We too happened upon this fight and lent a hand where we could.”
Arcturis stood speechlessly staring at Drythakmere, and suddenly dropped to one knee and bowed his head. “You have the symbol of my clan painted upon your head therefore my axe and my life are yours to command. My father sent me from our village, to lend my axe to the good of all man. He was a very wise and powerful chieftain, and knew that our people were but a thread in the great fabric of life. There is a much greater evil at work then just these filthy creatures. My path led me here, and now it seems we share the same path.”