Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Wonderful Journey

When I was ten years old, I was living in St. Augustine, Florida. Surrounded by beautiful scenery, white sand beaches, ancient Spanish forts, and smothered by sweltering heat that a New England-born out-of-towner might never acclimate to was an interesting environment to grow up in. It was at this period of my life when I was first exposed to what would become a life-long hobby: tabletop RPGs.

The first friend I made living in St. Augustine was Taylor. He was a year older than me, into video games, computers, comic books; all the things I had enjoyed having in my life. Late into our friendship, Taylor would introduce me to his tattered old copy of Dungeons & Dragons in a battered old red box with dice that had crayon scribbled into the engraved numbers to make them more legible. I was too young to really appreciate what I was being introduced to, at the time, but Taylor's explanation of make-believe, fantasy, dragons and adventure was tantalizing. It was everything I liked about playing with action figures cranked up to eleven. It gave me something to draw in between the margins of my homework and daydream about in my spare time.

My introductory experience to D&D is a hazy memory of goblins, a dungeon, and my very first character named Karrn. I don't think Karrn had any personality to speak of, I don't think he was anything other than a pregenerated stack of numbers stuffed into plate armor that I got to choose the name of. But for about two months Karrn was my personal avatar into a world of fantastical worlds. Unfortunately, it was not to last.

Just a couple months after learning about Dungeons & Dragons, my parents split up and I moved back to New England with my mother. I eventually forgot about Taylor, forgot about D&D, but kept the fascination with making little maps and imagining stories of dragons, caves, and plunder. It was this initial exposure to D&D that got me into fantasy novels, and when my new school proved to have a treasure trove of classics from Lord of the Rings to Redwall I devoured them as fast as I could.  I craved the interesting world-building, yearned for the excitement of a good, fantastical story, and never really stopped between books to contemplate the source of this new hunger.

Two years would pass, and I would catch some school-mates playing D&D during recess—I recognized it right away from the crazy polyhedral dice—and watched over their shoulders for a few days before asking if I could join in. For a little while I was back in the frame of mind I had found in Florida, but I was older and getting more interested in developing a story rather than just gleefully hurling dice while imagining Karrn massacring his way through a horde of goblins. I started to come up with character stories, imagining where they had been before their adventures, where they were between them. Suddenly I wasn't just drawing pictures in the margins of my homework, I was writing whole stories in them.

As the years passed, friends grew apart and classes changed I lost touch with the first real gaming group I ever had. By the time I was a Freshman in High School, I'd turned my interest in storytelling into writing and illustrating my own comic books in my spare time. It was around then that a close friend of mine introduced me to a Senior he'd been hanging out with, and told me all about this fun, interesting game he'd been playing.

Dungeons & Dragons came back into my life.

But this was different, this wasn't just dog-eared copies of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books and a bunch of lined paper, I had been brought into something more involved. It was a box, not unlike the red box that the old 1st Edition D&D I'd played back in Florida came in. But this box had striking art of a desert wasteland on the cover, of humanoid insect men with bone weapons under a blazing red sun. This is how I was introduced to my first Campaign Setting, how I was introduced to Dark Sun, one of the most creative settings published by TSR in their run with D&D.

This was where it all really began, because after a year our Senior friend graduated and bequeathed his Dark Sun boxed to my group as a gift, and we were adventuring across the wastelands of Athas with reckless abandon. It was also here that I became my group's de-facto DM, and it became my responsibility to craft stories, manage the back-end of the game, and keep my players invested and interested. It was a thrilling experience, and when I began DMing Dark Sun in 1994 (just a hair's breadth away from a whopping 20 years ago, as of the time of this writing) I began my long-time obsession with a hobby I will never put down again.

From 1994 onward I developed my interest in tabletop gaming. I created long, sprawling stories that played out in basements and living rooms throughout High School. The game evolved as I grew older, my maps became more colorful and detailed, bringing with them my passion for illustration and cartography. I drew full portraits of important characters. I even started making mix-tapes (then later mix CDs) of video game and orchestral music to use as backdrops. Eventually, I started veering away from pre-published worlds and began crafting entire worlds of my own, building mythologies, histories and entire game systems in the hobby that had become my passion.

In my time I delved into other tabletop game systems, but always came back to D&D. I stuck with it through the dramatic revision to 3rd edition when TSR folded and Wizards of the Coast picked up the rights. I stuck with it through turbulent changes and eventually shifted to its spiritual successor—Pathfinder—when it became clear I didn't like the direction that Dungeons & Dragons was going as a game system in its later years. To their credit, my original gaming group from 1994 stuck with me until 2005, 11 years of continuous storytelling and world-building. A few people we picked up along the way towards the end of the 90s still game with me today, and I'm proud to still meet with them nearly every weekend.

Now, an adult in my 30s, I've taken another step forward. This year marked my initial foray into freelance writing for the hobby I've been passionate about for more than half of my life. Working for Paizo, the company that publishes Pathfinder, has been a dream come true and I've only just begun to really experience all there is out there and what the freelance writing lifestyle will be like. But I'm excited, I'm here, and I'm going to share my anecdotes, inspirations, and creations through this blog to anyone who'll enjoy listening.

It's been an wonderful journey so far, it only makes sense to share it.

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