Monthly Archives: January 2014

D&D Turns 40

D&D is just a *little* younger than me. It turned 40 this weekend, and I’m 43. But it has been around for all the years I needed it, and I cannot adequately explain how important that was for me. But I’ll try.

I was first introduced to D&D in the summer of 1982. I was staying at my uncle’s house in Tennessee, the year of the Knoxville World’s Fair, while my parents took a trip to Europe. My uncle had a library at least as vast as my parents’ (and mostly with *different* books), and among them was the 1979 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. I was enrapt.

But that’s *all* the D&D he had, and he’d never played. I wanted to play, and he was willing to run a game, but he wanted me to “figure out how to play” so he could run it for me. There were lots of clues how D&D was supposed to work, but without a Player’s Handbook or Monster Manual, I saw there was a lot of information I needed to fill in before we could try anything.

So, I set to work. I created my own notes for classes, and weapons (which, I remember, included light sabers, space axes from the Lensman books, and the kligat throwing weapon from the Star Trek episode “Friday’s Child”). I have no idea how good the rules I cobbled together were – no copies survived leaving my uncle’s house that summer –but they were good enough for us to get a few games in. It is thus literally true that I was writing rules for RPGs before I had ever played one.

After that I only played at conventions for a few years, though I got all the D&D books I could lay my hands on. My mother initially worried that I would “bother” the RPG players at the cons, as I was 12-13, and they were mostly college age kids. As she tells the story, she took a GM aside at midnight one night and asked if I was a problem. “No,” he said, “his take on his character is interesting. Let him stay.” I was hooked. It was like reading the classic SF and pulp books I loved so much, but better. I survived on Tunnels and Trolls solo dungeons when I couldn’t get to a convention.

When I moved from the local elementary school to a middle school, my game books came with me. As a result, other kids into D&D (and T&T, and Star Fleet Battles, and Champions, and a slew of other games that were blossoming) would see me with my books, and ask if I played. I was a fat kid, an introvert, and socially awkward. Having some flag I could fly that made other kids come to me? Having a subject we could immediately discuss? Those were miracles that changed me. Roleplaying was my gang, and D&D were our colors.

High school was harsh for me, and I can honestly say I was miserable most of the time and considered suicide more than once. But RPGs let me explore ideas I was too afraid to discuss, helped me form a strong social support group, and let me make friends I am still playing with 25 and 30 years later. Nothing else came close to letting me deal with my pain, and learn something about bravery. And planning, math, history, grammar … I doubt there is any positive aspect of my personality I can’t trace back to D&D.

I met my wife through roleplaying, and discovered it was as useful for having something to talk to girls about as it was to make friends.  (At least, for the most interesting girls!) In time I learned that my ideas were developed enough I could be paid for them, and a career was born. I strove to be worthy of Dragon Magazine, and later was hired by Wizards of the Coast, where I made more friends with folks I’d have never met if not for this game.

My career has gone many places since then, and now I find myself acting as freelance writer and developer, and small-time publisher in my own right. That has brought ANOTHER whole wave of awesome folks I never would have met otherwise.

D&D gave me hope and direction as a child, and saved my life as a teen. It introduced me to my wife, gave me a career, and put my wife through college. There have been many games that have taken up more of my time for specific periods over the years, and now I spend more time with pathfinder than my original love, but it all goes back to D&D.

Happy birthday to the Dungeons. Happy Birthday to the Dragons. You helped define my life. Thank you.

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Why the Movie 2012 Makes Perfect Sense

The movie 2012 isn’t a disaster movie. It is a misunderstood sweeping supernatural epic about angry gods, failed shamans, and what kinds of sacrifices are needed to appease elder forces of dread.

Jackson Curtis is the last scion of a long line of shamans, mixing both many bloodlines of ancient Irish and Celtic origin and (somewhere in the woodpile) one of the last Mayan shaman bloodlines.

As his last name suggests, “Curtis” was destined to be a polite messenger, a harbinger of new things brought in with proper ceremony. When the Mayan Long Count calendar rolls over, shamans of his line were to help define what forces would describe the new age.

While that shouldn’t have actually happened in 2012, the Mayan gods are more driven by belief than math, so the erroneous common perception that December 21, 2012 is the date of the turnover drives their divine actions rather than a centuries-old accounting of days.

But when the Mayan Gods look to see how the Welcome Shamans have prepared for the new age, all they find is Curtis, and his only real work of storytelling (the main way shamans prepare society for the future) is a extremely unpopular book called Fairwell Atlantis. The gods of fire, water, and earth are angered by his total failure, and look to his story.

From movie’s viral tie-ins, we know this book is “This first person account of a disastrous flight aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis is nonstop suspense from the start. Opening lines are crucial in setting the tone of a story, and Curtis hits his mark running with, “I am watching Martin die in the pitiless vacuum of space.” This poignant blast from Captain and Chief Systems Engineer Troy Scottsman screams emotion and vulnerability in the harsh environment as his Flight Commander drifts slowly away.

On the outside, Farewell Atlantis is a hard core science-fiction-mystery-adventure novel with larger than life characters. The premise of a Galactic Alignment has played havoc with gravitational forces as the planets cue up. The proton bombardment on planet Earth’s thinning magnetic field in the wake of excessive solar storms brings uncertainty to the future of mankind. As the space shuttle orbits the doomed planet Earth, a saboteur prevents the crew from helping those on the ground.

So, taking their cue from his “shamanistic” description of the new age, those gods seek to destroy the world, and kill Jackson Curtis himself, in keeping with the first line of his book. Their powerful psionic and divine energies create readings so bizarre that the scientists who try to understand them are driven mad, resulting in nonsensical ramblings about neutrinos and other crazy theories that SHOULD tell the audience that science is being killed by supernatural forces too horrific to comprehend.

The Mayan Gods of Air, however, decide they *like* Curtis, and seek to save him. Air is the thing most dearly needed in his book (about a spacecraft), and his description of “solar storms” in the story are taken as an appeasement by the Air Gods on the power of storms. So they send him warning (if dangerous) winds, buoy up his airplanes, and divert debris from crushing him at the last second.

In the end, the Mayan Gods accept the Great Arcs and those who die just outside them as living sacrifices and new temples, and end their divine rampages. (And apparently SOME shamans in Africa are still doing *their* jobs, since the continent is largely spared).
When seen in this light, everything in the movie makes sense.