11 November 2014

You Were the First Goonie...

  I might have met Grady T. at one of the Millennium Con game conventions I've attended over the last 15 years or so.  I've played with a lot of folks at Millennium- many games.  I make it a point to try something I've not played every year in addition to old favorites.  It's possible I attended for over a decade and never rolled dice with Grady.  Grady passed away in 2013, and his wife and friends appeared at Millennium Con that year with part of his collection for sale.  A gamer's history, the sum total of his hobby, piled like a dragon's hoard along a wall in the dealer's room.  I purchased a few miniatures last year, being short on funds.  I made a mental note of how sad it was that someone possessed of such an amazingly large and broad collection had passed away.

  This year, more of Grady's collection appeared at Millennium, and Bobby and I perused it on Friday night, each selecting a couple of books from the extensive pile of Battletech books.  The piles got bigger, and bigger...  The Star League sourcebook.  MechWarrior 1st Edition.  All the House books.  Almost every issue of Battletechnology Magazine.  Scenario books.  The Clans : Warriors of Kerensky.  Hundreds of dollars worth of Battletech books.  An entire history of the line, from the earliest combined rulebook, The Battletech Manual, to the end of the MechWarrior 3rd Edition era.  I also found some other items of interest to me - GDW's Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, plus two Xenozoic Tales trade paperbacks.  R. Talsorian's Dream Park RPG, along with all its adventure modules and the GM screen.  I began to realize that in many ways I did know Grady- his collection was a lot like mine.  Niche games most folks had never heard of, like Dream Park and C&D.  He had a love for Battletechnology, something I have always wished had continued past it's 30-odd issue run.  He was a player that loved not only the miniatures, but took the time and money to collect all the background material and universe books- even those that had no game rules or new units in them.

  As we looked through his extensive collection of miniatures, I saw the collection I would love to have - Napoleonics, WWII in several scales, Renegade Legion, Battletech, Cav, model kits, Warhammer 40,000, spaceships I couldn't begin to identify...  I saw and purchased some beautifully painted Macross 1/200 destroid kits with the intention of using them as large Battletech miniatures.  I saw so many things I wished I could have in my collection when I came across something that made me stop in my tracks - a set of Napoleonic figures that were primed and glued to a tongue depressor.  Now, folks who have never painted minis like this might not recognize why someone would do that - it's a technique to make the miniatures easier to handle in a group while you are painting their probably uniform color schemes.  Painted minis are projects done, unpainted minis are projects not started, but minis primed and on the stick- Grady was working on these when he passed away.

  I don't know how Grady died.  I didn't think to ask, and that's an odd question to ask the widow disposing of her husband's collection in any case.  She did tell me he had been collecting and playing for 38 years- I'm 39.  He's been at the hobby almost as long as I've been alive - probably longer, given that some folks play a bit before they dive into a significant collection.  His wife told me that she knew most players got into one system and played the heck out of it, but that Grady played so many she couldn't keep track.  Looking at his collection I had to agree.  I told her I was in awe of his miniatures collection and that the ones we were purchasing were going to go toward the use of our Battletech Club, and pointed her proudly to the RDG logo on my shirt.  As we talked, I mentioned how I had many of the Macross kits unassembled and unpainted in storage, and that Grady had done such an amazing job- perhaps I would now be inspired by these finished kits to complete the ones I had purchased.  I told her of the painting station I had at home that has yet to see anything painted thanks to parenthood and graduate school.  She asked my age, and then told me I sounded just like Grady at 39, and that I would find the time to paint those kits if I really wanted to do so.

  I took that comment for a casual compliment from a vendor to a customer, but it would later resonate more with me.  I returned home, and took stock of the books and miniatures I had purchased from Grady's collection.  For some reason, I had picked up a his copy of The Battletech Manual, even though I already own one, and was the 1987 combined rulebooks for Battletech, Aerotech and CityTech- meaning that it is quite deprecated at our current game table.  Still unsure of why I purchased it along with the more valuable, collectable books I did not already own, I picked up the copy and found it had a stack of tournament scoring sheets tucked into it, along with an order form for a long-defunct historical miniatures company.  Opening the book, I found Grady's name written inside in orange ink, along with a block of notes written inside the blank cover.

"Pg. 27 DEATH from above
  (Base 5) + (+3 Attacker Jumped) + (movement modifier of target)"

What followed was a summary of how to adjudicate a DFA attack.  Looking at these words, I could see that Grady and his group encountered this situation often enough to make careful notes in an easily located place on how to resolve a Death From Above attack.  I began to page further through the book, and found on Page 10 a system of highlighted sections and notes in both green and orange ink permeated the text of the book.  From the location of these highlights and notes, I was soon able to get a feel for the rules most often referenced by Grady's group in their games- I began to feel quite connected to these players decades ago and their enjoyment of the game I grew up loving.  When this book hit the press I was in middle school, playing the Battletech boxed set and reading Battletechnology Magazine. 

  Reading this rulebook and absorbing the meaning of the notes, the highlights, the references...  I feel like in some way I knew Grady - or at least I knew what kind of gamer he was.  He had a true love and enjoyment for Battletech, and in the bargain he had collected some of the less well known games I have had on my reading shelf for years.  He didn't limit himself to historicals - as many historic miniature players do.  He didn't look down his nose at science fiction or fantasy, on the contrary he had everything from skeletons to Space Marine Dreadnoughts to a Commonwealth Fluttering Petal class fighter... 

  I have found this entire experience emotionally moving.  I've had these feelings before- the occasions for this impression are two.  Once was when I was standing on the deck of the Battleship USS Texas, BB-35, in the shadow of the foreward 14-inch turrets.  As I placed my hand on the turret armor, the most solid surface I can recall touching, I could feel a connection with my great-grandfather Seaman 1st Class Roland W. Froehlich.  Papa had been a coxswain of an infantry landing craft during the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  Many of Papa's shipmates were from little towns around central Texas, La Grange, Winchester, Halletsville...  When they saw the Battleship Texas shelling the Japanese-held islands, they considered it a good luck omen.  Standing there under those guns, knowing they had safeguarded my great-granddad and his crew, I felt a connection through time by touching the turret. 

  This same impression came from visiting Space Center Houston and placing my hand on the Apollo capsule that is on display inside the visitor's center.  That hull, the surface of which betrays the journey it made to lunar orbit, has been farther from home and returned than any manned mission in the history of space flight, and it is right there, within arm's reach, tangible, real.

  In the same way as the space capsule and the centenarian warship connect me to history, holding this book and taking stock of the passages that were important to its previous owner, I feel a connection to Grady T.  I know the contents of his collection, in part, and that collection of books and miniatures will continue to entertain gamers through my home games and those of the Royal Dragoons and its affiliations with STARFLEET and the Royal Manticoran Army.  Grady's legacy will continue to do what gaming books and miniatures are meant to do, and I hope that wherever Grady may be that brings a smile to his face.

  Here's to you, Grady.  Just like One-Eyed Willie was declared to be The First Goonie, I have come to consider you a fellow Dragoon.