So, now that everybody has their patch, I can post about this! Art had learned to play D&D at an afterschool program in middle school in the spring of 2015, and he’d been keeping up at our local game shop, the Wyvern’s Tale, over the summer.
I was excited when he invited me to come, because it was an activity we could do together, but also because it was something I really enjoyed as a kid. My friend Rob Shroyer’s older brother was into the game, and I guess he taught us to play in 1979, because that was the Christmas I got the Basic Set (in the box with chits instead of dice because TSR couldn’t source enough dice for the holiday season). I played whenever I could harangue people into playing (I was almost always the DM). In 5th or 6th grade I got Sean Osner into the game, and in 7th and 8th grade Rob and Shane Ander and Jason Smith and I played a ton. In high school I would get Shane and my brother Michael and his friend Chris and I don’t remember who else to play, and I DMed some for my brother Doug and his friends.
When I went off to college I decided I was going to be a more Serious Person and be less of a nerd. But I’ve found out over the years that a lot of my friends were also closet-D&D players. What a waste!
Anyway, Art & I played the introductory chapters to Out of the Abyss in the fall of 2015. Fifth Edition D&D was a revelation for me. It felt like the old game I remembered, but with improved mechanics. The rules were much simplified, without endless tables to look up. Characters were created more carefully, with backstories and interesting abilities (and most of all, without the likelihood that they will die before reaching 2nd level–AD&D 1e was a brutal, deadly game at low levels!).
Then in January 2016, my friend Ian Gould started running Princes of the Apocalypse every Wednesday night at Wyvern’s. I played a dwarf wizard named Khagnarr Deepfire. Art started at a different table, but soon joined us. A kid Art’s age named Will played another wizard named Fumblemore (who we’d played with in Out of the Abyss). Ian really hooked me early on by giving my character a book about a lost Dwarven civilization that was supposed to be located in the vicintiy.
Because it was an open table, we had lots of different players week to week. Sometimes one of the other DMs (like Jason or Reuben) would play. Sometimes a regular named Andrew was there, sometimes with his adult daughter Becca. Sometimes friends of Ian would sit in. But I tried to be a constant presence and give the adventure some shape and continuity. There were enough people trying to show up regularly that the table was always full.
But in May, Ian had to go back to Chicago to finish his doctoral work. The campaign felt like it had barely started (when you only have 2 1/2 hours a week, and not always the same characters, progress is slow). I volunteered to take over as DM, because I wanted to discover the secrets of this buried Dwarven realm; I wanted to keep playing. Ian gave me great advice: figure out what is fun for each individual player, and make sure to give that to them.
I was really rusty, having not been a Dungeon Master in 25 years or more. The first week was a bit of a disaster, really. But I quickly got better. One of the new regulars, Michael, was a rules prodigy who helped keep the table running smoothly. Plus, his character was a dwarf, so I was able to pass along the plot thread of discovering the ancient dwarven kingdom of Besilmer.
Summer of 2016 brought some new regulars: Ivan, a really creative player from Venezuela, and Alan and Jo, a father-daughter team who were brand new to D&D. And then one of our regular players, Mark, stopped showing up. Turns out he took a bunch of pills, held his family hostage with a gun, and overdosed. He’d seemed like a normal guy. I turned his character into a backstabbing villain.
With the coming of fall, our table was always full, and we had so many regulars that it became a problem when new people came wanting to take slots of regular players. Preston was the last player to become a regular. After that, we talked it over and decided to stop playing Adventures League and become a closed, private game. Me (as DM), Art, Will, Andrew, Becca, Jason, Michael, Ivan, Alan, Jo, and Preston. Not everyone made it every week. At this point, I think Becca was mostly in Savannah. Will would go through spells of regularity or not. After the Mark incident, we all felt the need to get to know each other better in real life, and we made a real intention of being friendly and supportive toward each other.
Right at this turning point, the party decided to leave the adventure and go visit the city of Waterdeep for supplies. I had to admit their plan made sense, but it was way outside the scope of the reference materials I had. So I did a lot of quick studying about Waterdeep and a bunch of related stuff. And I figured out how to make stuff up and follow my players’ interests and priorities. I started seeing into the future, how different plot lines could connect. And I started to have SO MUCH FUN.
As an aside, I have always been the sort of person who makes up stories in my head constantly. People, places, plots … I’m just always daydreaming them. For a long time I thought that meant I ought to be a writer. Like the old saw “you know you’re a writer if you HAVE to write.” But I never liked the solitude of writing, and I never had much desire for the selling of writing, especially after having seen how the sausage gets made. But role playing games are PERFECT for what my brain just naturally loves to do. I can’t believe I went so many years not understanding that and eschewing the very thing that practically harnesses my daydreams.
It was in Waterdeep that I named the party “the Fist of Besilmer.” Since then we’ve created 2 more parties of characters in a web of interconnected campaigns. We’ve kept playing every week for four years, with no end in sight. Ivan moved to Florida, Art moved to Durham (and now Raleigh), and Jo will be off to Vermont this fall. But Becca and Will are back as regulars. We don’t see much of Michael these days, but I hope his schedule will allow him to rejoin us eventually.
I had these patches made to give all the party members. Jason designed a coat of arms for Besilmer years ago. He said: The script reads, in Dethek: “ULLEN BURAKIN AR XOTH UNDIVVER” which roughly translates to “walk the passageway from lore to the future”. The colors of the bridge are Purple and Gold (justice/sovereignty and good will/generosity) while the shield is Red (military might) and Blue (strength and loyalty).
I could go on and on about my D&D campaigns, but they are more exciting to me and my comrades than to anyone else, because we lived through them. We created those cinema-perfect moments. We walked the passageway from lore to the future. And the real treasure we found was the friends we made along the way.