26 June 2017

A DM Looks At 42

  Well, here I sit at 2320 on my 42nd birthday reflecting on where I am and where I'm going.  Today was understated and a bit uneven as birthdays go.  My son Zane has been having issues with spending all day every day with his sister in our summer care arrangements.  She's six and gets on his just-turned-eight nerves.  My wife is dealing with thyroid issues that leave her constantly tired, and make it far too easy for her to become angry or moody.  All together, it's not a recipe for calm or relaxing.

  One if my first thoughts upon turning 42 was that I'm now past the age of a starting Traveller character unless I rolled boxcars for my fifth term re-enlistment.  I was reminded by my old friend Andy that yes, on this birthday I'd have to roll 8+ or lose a point of STR and END, and 7+ to save DEX.  Aging bites.  That got me thinking... what would I look like as a Traveller character?  I imagine something like this:

Specialist-4   UPP 676AC6   Age 42 5 Terms      Cr not much
  History-2, Admin-1, Computer-1, Electronics-1, Instruction-1, Recruiting-1, Tactics-1, Carbine-0, Pistol-0, Foil-0, Ground Vehicle-0

  So, where am I now, and where do I go from here?  Ten years ago I had only my AA in Communications, no kids, no time in uniform, and no direction.  Today, I have two children, three degrees, did a year of active service after two trying to lose the weight in the Texas State Guard before college and parenthood got to be too much, and now have an opportunity to teach and publish.  I've now instructed professionally in both a military setting and a college setting, both experiences of which I am immensely proud and for which I am grateful.  I just finished off my birthday night by playtesting both our early rules for the Love Letter to Battletech that Bobby and I are writing for Evil Beagle Games, and my own OSR Mecha Rules that I hope to publish under our own imprint to toss my love of the OSR movement into the ring for others to enjoy.

  As I discussed in previous posts, I feel like I've found my tribe in the denizens of North Texas RPG Con- my gaming club, The Royal Dragoon Guards, fit in perfectly there.  We are all gamers, and we want to spread the love of gaming.  NT is where we do that.  But that's not all we do.  We just finished running International Tabletop Game Day at Austin Community College, and we helped with  a couple of events called Level Up! where we represented the tabletop community through Swords & Wizardry and Ogre and other games while the Student Life volunteers represented the video game side of things.  I've found that my hobby passion lies in teaching about games, teaching how to play games, basically spreading the history, lore and practice of our hobby.  One of my greatest joys is running roleplaying games for my son and my goddaughters.  Kaylee will probably play, too, when she's old enough.  I loved teaching new folks about gaming at the college, and teaching veteran gamers about the MechWarrior Universe.

  I was dreading this birthday.  One year closer to the end of the line.  Summer of 2015 I had a serious anxiety attack that screwed me up something terrible.  Anxiety and depression were never a thing for me- I had down days, but not anything close to clinical depression.  Somewhere during our struggle to adopt Zane and Kaylee, I broke.  My LCSW tells me she believes that the point at which I broke was when our CPS weenie was trying to relocate the kids so he could close their case, and I went into fight-or-flight mode and laid out for CPS, the court, and everyone else involved just why the kids needed to stay where they were.  She says the threat of losing my kids was close, psychologically, to a mortal threat.  Like, my brain interpreted the threat of the loss of the kids in the same way as if they were in danger of bodily harm.  I developed something akin to hyper vigilance, except instead of constantly looking for snipers my brain is constantly waiting for the next thing to go wrong, the next phone call from the school, the next catastrophic problem with the house, or a car, or an appliance.  I can't disengage and relax.  I freak out over the smallest body changes- I actually had my doctor run a bunch of needless cardiac tests to make sure I wasn't having heart problems.  It was all in my head.

  But something happened over the last few months.  My anxiety and depression have started to ebb, they are still there, but not effecting me in the nearly crippling way they have been.  My mind has started to accept that I'm going to be here for a while, and that I have something to offer besides bringing a mundane paycheck home to my wife and kids.  I discovered the talents my friends told me I have aren't just my friends being nice.  I do actually have some small talent with words, and with game mastering, and with public speaking.  I taught one semester of college, two sections, and I was put forward for a Teaching Excellence Award.  Damnit - I'm good at this.  Good enough to strive harder to make wordsmithing and teaching something on which to concentrate with a real hope of accomplishing something.  Not just a hobby, but something I can do with confidence in a professional manner.

  To walk with me on this journey I have the best party of adventurers ever assembled.  In addition to my wife, who has always supported me in my attempts to further my education, teach and write, I have my wonderful kids, my loving birth family, and the family I have hand-picked and chosen over the years.  I have so many friends that are brothers and sisters.  I am humbled by the bond we share, there are so many amazing people in my life it would be impossible to name them all.  Sufficient to say I am godfather to the children of two couples, and there are two sets of godparents to my kids.  We help each other out when finances are tight.  We crash on each other's couches.  We stand together when life gets tough.  Some are decades-old veterans of many campaigns that I have known since childhood.  Some are brand new friends I've met through our Geek Cruises or NTRPGCON.  Some are fellow gamers, others are the architects of the first generation of RPGs sharing their friendship and wisdom with me.  With such a support group cheering me on, how can I fail to step up to the plate and swing for the fences?

  So, where to go from here?  I'm going to keep being the best dad and husband I can, and focus on bringing home that paycheck while not worrying so much about the other BS that goes on at work.  All the energy I've spent doing that I'm turning toward looking for teaching opportunities in all sorts of ways.  Libraries, museums and rec centers - see if history of tabletop or video games would be of interest to their students.  Circulate my CV around to all the colleges I've already hit, and then some.  Double down on my current writing projects and get something out the door- something good.  Start giving back to the gaming community that has given me so much since I was eleven years old.  My identity and my core self was shaped so completely by tabletop games I owe a good percentage of who I am to those very games.  The games that kept me thirsty for knowledge and learning, taught me how to build and maintain teams and friendships, how to think on my feet and solve problems and so much more.

  I took a leap today.  For my 42nd birthday, my BFF Randi took me to DC Tatts in Round Rock where I had the ampersand from the 1983 BECMI Red Box inked on my right arm in the "combat patch" position.  It is there because I feel I served with the gamers in the culture wars of the 80s and 90s.  During the Satanic Panic, during the times when nerds and geeks were rideculed, beaten up and ostracized, I was in those trenches with all the other misfits and outcasts.  We weathered that storm together, huddling in our places of refuge and fighting back with our imaginations and the strength of our camaraderie.  And today - in 2017 - I look around and see that the culture war was one we haven't completely won, but we sure as hell didn't lose.  So today, at 42, I affixed the seal of my tribe to my shoulder in the place that says "I stood with those who had no clique, those to whom popularity and acceptance would prove elusive, with those who endured the jabs, verbal and otherwise, of their peers. I stood with them, and created a place where they could thrive.  And as I grew older, I ensured that place was available to the next generation.  And the next.  And I continue to spread the acceptance and safety of tabletop gaming as best I can.  My table is open to all.  To do otherwise is to fly in the face of everything I and my fellow geeks have endured to come as far as we have."

  Jimmy Buffet sings of being born 200 years too late.  The cannons don't thunder, there's nothing to plunder.  I used to feel that way.  I used to feel like I was born too late, or too early.  But the OSR renaissance is now.  Tabletop is making a comeback now.  My kids, who I fostered to adopt, need me now.  My godchildren, four girls and a boy, need my counsel now.  My age was something I came to hate- a symbol of how long I screwed off, complacent in a dead-end job.  Well, screw that.  I made something of my life by sheer force of will - Parent, soldier (briefly), scholar, and soon to be author/game designer.  I'm just getting started.

  Maybe 42 is the answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything.  Let's see if we can't keep up the parenthood thing and the writing thing and see where we are next year.


  1. As a fellow Gamer with Mileage on him (46) this is a pretty on point Post about how the world happens despite our best efforts. My own experiences have been different and still very closely mirrored in my own way. At this age bracket you usually have had your 'perspective moment' and your 'introspection moment' and have come to many of the same conclusions.

    It irks me how often I find parallel experiences now that I look back because everyone wants to think they are trailblazers in their own corner of the world and while we all do it our own way, the path is eerily familiar .

    I am happy to hear that there are others like me out there. Similar 'Class' if you will :)

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  3. Eh, you young whippersnapper! I'm 7.5 terms into my adulthood, and all I can say with certainty is that there's always more to learn, to do and to become. At 48, my life is way better than it was at 42, and I hope that another six years shows me the same continued improvement. For what it's worth, you are doing an amazing job, and I am honored to call you friend.

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  5. It irks me how often I find parallel experiences now that I look back because everyone wants to think they are trailblazers in their own corner of the world and while we all do it our own way, the path is eerily familiar

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    1. Star Trek (TOS of course) would call this Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Development.

      We all found the same solutions independently.