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.
Check out my first Grimspell Gaming blog, highlighting Infinite Black's Elder Dice Kickstarter products, entitled "Elder Dice That Are Infinitely Awesome"!