Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What Do You Keep Coming Back To?

I distinctly recall hearing the idea of the importance of stuff you keep coming back to twice in my life. I may have heard it before, but two times really stick in my mind. They seemed to "sink home" if you will.

First Time: I worked for a successful business owner when I first got married. I had gotten fairly close to him and he would occasionally share bits of "wisdom" with me. At one time I knew he was considering a hefty investment and had been struggling with it for several months. He came to me one day and explained he had decided he was going ahead with the investment. He said he had learned that in trying to decide if something was "right", "prudent" or "wise" there was always something to be said for it if it kept coming back to your mind again and again. He felt like he had really deeply pondered the idea and that it "just wouldn't leave him alone".

At the time he told me this I was somewhat dubious. I mean some people wrestle with doing some rather inappropriate or even wrong things for a long time and it certainly "keeps coming back to them", like some sort of evil obsession. But I knew right off this is not what he meant. e was talking about choosing between two good things. There were different ways he could have used his money to profit--both had risks and both had about equal payoffs. He had weighed the options carefully, even let it be for awhile when the right answer didn't seem to be forthcoming. But one of them kept coming back again and again. That was one way he knew he had to act on it.

Second Time: I was reading a book about training horses. I'm not a big equestrian, but I do have two daughters and we do live in the country. Twice now we have owned horses, and well that's why I was reading a book on training horses. I'm much more of a cat man personally... But that is not my point here. In the introduction the author was writing about hobbies, and how time consuming horses were. He was asking the reader to really weigh in their minds if horsemanship was something they wanted to pursue, simply because horses take so much time and effort and if you're going to do it, you need to be really sure that you love it. He used himself as an example and said he had done different things in his life, pursued other interests and did enjoy them--but he always came back to horses. There it was again. Always coming back to something. He said that was a sure sign that something was really a part of you, something you couldn't put down. Your life would be incomplete without it. He felt that way about horses. Obviously I didn't, and neither did my daughters--we own no horses now.

So What's My Point?

Well, if it isn't obvious by now, gaming is. No matter what I try and pursue, what I try and replace it with, I always come back to gaming. I write; I study philosophy, history, religion and spirituality; I fly-fish; I tie flies; I draw; I play music; I hike; I fence; I do martial arts; I watch way too many sci fi/fantasy/horror movies; and on and on and on. But nothing holds my interest like gaming.

Of course, that could go without saying. I run a gaming blog. I've started others. Well, set them up. But have never posted more than two posts to them, and still pull them off line. I'm just not as passionate about anything else like I am about gaming. But lately I have been thinking about this even more. If you read my last few very sporadic posts you probably know that I'm struggling attending a regular group. I'm busy, I'm tired, I'm blah blah blah. The fact is I really miss gaming and it's starting to affect me in not so good ways. As the wise guru Jack Torrance in The Shining said "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." And dull doesn't even begin to touch it.

So, besides my endless campaign creating which never seems to quite go anywhere without players to spur me on, I have begun perusing my modest library of gaming books. I think I own something like 20 to 30 different games. Most are fantasy and most are out of print.

That's when the thought occurred to me. Which one do I always go back to? Which ones are "a part of me" and which ones are just passing fads. Admittedly this could be subject to my moods at the time, but which ones call me back again and again and again? This is what I came up with:

  • Fantasy is the clear winner, with horror a distant second
  • AD&D 1e & HackMaster 4e is probably the first
  • But HackMaster 5e is a very close second
  • After that Basic D&D begins to look good, especially the Lamentations of the Flame Princess variety
  • And close on its heels comes another basic version: Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG
  • I would place Adventures Dark & Deep next, but see it as more of an "addition" to 1e
  • And Castles & Crusades becomes my default for a lot of games just for ease of use
  • After that it becomes a bit fuzzy and Call of Cthulhu gets pulled off the shelf more than others
I will say this. I NEVER pull my Pathfinder, 3.5 or 4e books off the shelf. Unless maybe I'm going to play a game with them. I have even wondered if some of my reluctance to commit to the latest group I found has been hampered because they are playing Pathfinder. It's more than a little likely. But my desperation to play and my giddiness caused me to accede to this--my bad.

What really interests me today is why HackMaster does it for me? I mean I know why I pull AD&D off the shelf. It's my roots, my foundation, the yardstick by which I measure all other things gaming. But I'll admit, though a bit reluctantly, that when I read AD&D nowadays it doesn't leave me super excited to play it. It's fun to read, and I appreciate it for other reasons, but I see it in a slightly different light now. Don't get me wrong, I would _so_ much rather play it than Pathfinder or most of the other games I own. But something in the game doesn't quite capture the "feel" of playing the game. Forgive me, but I have frequently fallen asleep re-reading the AD&D rule books. And frankly a lot of the way the rules were composed had little effect on the "way" we played the game. How the heck to I reconcile that?

Which makes me consider the books I like reading. I like reading HackMaster books. I laugh out loud, can anticipate how a rule will play, and revel in the "mood" and "tone" that the book conveys. In a lot of ways it conveys the "feel" of the way I used to play. I also like reading DCC RPG and LotFP, but moreso because they remind me of the genre of weird fiction that I so love. I recently explained to my brother that those games are highly evocative and appeal to my at times dark fantasy, horror tinged sensibilities--but I would hate to actually live in a world like that. That's actually very important to me. From early on in my gaming life I dreamed of passing over into the fantasy world of my dreams. A world like GreyHawk of the Flanaess. Where, great wonder, magic and danger abides. Though I love reading about them, actually living in a Poe/Lovecraft/Smith world is not an exciting prospect. So yes, I pull them off the shelf, DCC and LotFP, and I love their writing, their weirdness, their uniqueness and their strange fantasy milieu, but I can achieve that to some degree in any world. In a world where there are also safe cottages in benevolent woods, good fairies and protective druids, noble knights and honest kings. Where I can share a cup of tea in a hobbit hole but still adventure off to face the dangers of a true fantasy world. 

Anyway, that explains why I am drawn to those others, and perhaps why I am so drawn to HackMaster. Hackmaster provides me with the living embodiment of the "way I used to play". I'll admit the rule changes in 5e make me nervous, leery even. But I can see why they are there, they make sense, and if I could play them I could begin to get a real feel for them. As for now, I just keep being drawn back to them, to HackMaster--again and again and again. 

A Relocation

***This is a relocation from my About Me page that I thought would be more appropriate as a blog entry. This entry is best taken in context, not as a permanent statement on me or my gaming but feel it worth preserving. So I have decided to relocate it as a blog entry. It was written about January of this year.***

An Update (2014)

My blog has been a great source of solace for me over the years. Though I certainly am not the world's most regular blogger, I go through periods where I post daily, sometimes multiple times a day. Then months of silence, usually due to changes in my life that slow me down in one way or another. 2013 was one of those periods. I have went though a lot of life changes. I took a job I never wanted at the urging of those around me as a public school administrator. Which meant finishing my masters degree and getting my advanced certification in school supervision. As I type I am still in the middle of this. What it meant for me was that my gaming life would be put on hold while other things took priority.

The saddest part of this for me was that it meant my gaming club at school had to be cancelled. I urged the players to carry on without me, to find a teacher who would support them. I even looked for a teacher to take over myself. Sadly nothing happened. They gamed some on their own, but largely the unity and camaraderie that was the gaming club died. And I didn't game anymore which was probably the hardest part of all. (Slight update on this: My daughter is now in that school, and tells me there is an ongoing Pathfinder game meeting after school--good for them!)

I managed a few games with my family and children. And looked desperately in my small community for other gamers that might be willing to get together. I formed a few online Skype and G+ games that fizzled out before they began. I read my books, wrote campaign notes, and waited. Then I found a group through online gamer meet up sites that was local and eager to try and get a game together. We were going to play Pathfinder, which I was willing to do, even though it isn't my favorite game. But we no sooner than got started, about our third of fourth game, then I started having real life intrude. My college classes were demanding, and my new job took so much time away from family that I was missing more games than I was making. Pretty soon and I simply told them to carry on without me. They waited for some time to see if my schedule would calm down, when they simply decided that it was best to carry on sans yours truly. I don't blame them, but it was still hard to hear that I'd been replaced. (Another update: they would love to have me play again as soon as I get the time :-)

So I find myself now in a place where gaming seems scarce, and I'm not sure when things will calm down. I contemplate changing careers frequently. But when your in your forties and have given the bulk of your professional life to one career it's not an exciting prospect. I'll be honest. I have been dealing with some depression, stress and anxiety lately. Traits that runs in my family, but I have learned to deal with both medically and cognitively. It's not something I hide from anymore, so I can talk pretty openly about it. And admit when it is making me simplify my life. It has driven me from my blog, and other things I love as well. There have been times when this exacerbates my depression, but I am learning that it is just a part of how this change is affecting me. That I need to simplify and redirect my energies into other pursuits that I love and make them my gaming world. I am trying to embrace this new phase in the story that is mine and deal with these issues as well. I know I am happier when I am gaming in some way, but my life allows for little space in which that can happen in any traditional way. 

I am up every morning at five, and rarely finish my day before nine. I also deal with some heavyweight crap everyday in my office at school. I am by nature an introvert, and the revolving door that is my office, and nonstop ringing of my phone and avalanche of important emails I handle every day leave me feeling spiritually swamped, emotionally drained and physically exhausted. I am the type that carries these things around with me. If I don't decompress I implode. But I am a family man, with wonderful children and a loving wife that need my attention as well. As my children age they are doing more and more in their own lives and need support and my presence and attention. So even when I can get home in good time, life continues and I owe time to other obligations even more important than my job. And it seems there is always homework to be done for some college class or other.

I'm sure at this point I sound like a complaining wimp. I don't want to give that impression. I am very blessed, and enjoy the wonderful life I've been granted. Nothing comes for free, and to enjoy the life I do it requires sacrifice, nurturing and attention. The whole reason I bother sharing all of this is that there may be others out there in similar situations that this might help. Times when things you love to do have to take a back seat to life. These are times for reflection and for recalibrating in order to take care of yourself as well as the things that matter most. Which is exactly what I've done and why as of 2014, my blog has begun to take a different turn.

I am now focusing on creating gaming material and other related creative endeavors that I will be sharing with the world. I have tons of things I scribble out in meetings, draw and doodle on my professional development notes, read while I am attending conferences, thing about while I am catching up on the endless paperwork, and flesh out and complete when I am finally in bed at night by lamplight, when the house is asleep and my mind is still actively churning with the stresses of my day and the only way I can escape is to step through the magical gateway that is gaming and let my mind run free. 

It's funny too. I recall a time similar to this when I was younger and in junior high and high school. I could never seem to get enough gaming. We would try on the bus home, for a few minutes after school when our parents would let us, and we didn't have chores or homework. Weekend games were a blast, but rare as we lived scattered throughout town and getting together wasn't easy. So what did I do then, as I sat in Algebra, or Latin class, or World History, or Honors English? I created. I was more prolific during those times than ever before. The short stories, poetry, games, monsters, magic items, castle and dungeon designs, art, and ideas piled up in reams of spiral bound notebooks. I had never tried very hard at school, doing well at school came naturally to me. So I hid my Conan comics behind my textbooks and read adventure stories while the teacher droned on in front. I created gaming and other fantasy, horror and sci fi related material endlessly in hours of mindnumbing school lessons. The only respite we had was lunch time when we would gather together in the library for a twenty minute brain jam session of what we were planning for our next game.

So it's time to do that some more. My games may be a little far and few between now, but creativity doesn't have to. I am also learning Tunnels & Trolls and planning on a solo campaign that I will chronicle online. I have always known T&T did this, but never got into it, seeing it as inferior to the real thing. Almost as "cheating" somehow. But now, I get it completely. For those who have no way to game, no outlet for that need, this is the next best thing. It is in fact brilliant. From what I understand it is somewhat like choose your own adventure books from my youth, but with gaming worked in. I am excited to start giving it a whirl. After a while I may even start creating my own.

So that's where I am at right now. We'll see how it goes. Well, it is already going, I just need to start sharing it on my blog again, as my imaginative meanderings might be enjoyable for others out there in the gaming dimension. Who knows? Life may settle down again. I realize now the days of my gaming club worked so well because it was so convenient for my life. I simply stayed an extra hour at work and it was a natural extension of my teaching every day. It was a brilliant and glorious blessing and I am even more grateful for it now that it is gone. Maybe there will be some possibility like that in the future. I certainly hope so. But for now, I am where I am and am trying to embrace it.

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