Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Welcome to Lend Me Your Steel-Bearing Hand

A Brief Gaming History:

When I was 11, my dad bought me the Moldvay Basic D&D boxed set at a flea market in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. It was missing some of the dice (including the d20)*, but I took it home and fell in love with it. I immediately started drawing dungeons and rolling up characters. I didn't quite grasp the rules, but my enthusiasm more than made up for that. I ran my friend Doug through the included module--The Keep on the Borderlands, and the whole thing filled me with this sense of mystery and possibility that I never lost. Doug and I got our other friends involved in our games, and he and I switched off running them (he ran more than me, though). We moved on to Shadowrun, Marvel Super Heroes, Gamma World, GURPS and Call of Cthulhu through our teenage years.

After Doug moved I stuck with Call of Cthulhu, occasionally running it through college. I remained interested in RPGs, despite my inability to get it together enough to run them. I collected new systems and sourcebooks through the years, delighting in reading them and fantasizing about how great it would be to start running them again, but life got in the way of that, I guess. I was in school, was playing in a band, and being a 20-something, so gaming got put on the backburner. Even without running a game, though, I fell in with a group of fellow lapsed gamers culled from my involvement in the punk scene, and our conversations often fell into "man, we should really get a game going."

Years down the line, after losing my father to a protracted illness and falling into a debilitating depression, one of us finally stepped up and started a Call of Cthulhu campaign. My friend Kane ran several of us through the Masks of Nyarlathotep and it was brilliant. It marked the start of a new gaming group, a group I would go on to play with for the remainder of my time in Philadelphia.

In time, I got an invitation to join my friend Kettner's 3.5 D&D group. I didn't really know many of the people in the group and I was a little intimidated--I hadn't played D&D in years--but Kettner assured me I would be a great fit. It took a few sessions, but once I opened up it really clicked. I played my favorite character of all time in that game, Vistiek the Empty, and I was in awe of how brilliant the DM was. Even for a rules-heavy game like 3.5, Bonsky often just showed up to sessions with a few sparse notes jotted down in a pocket notebook. His ability to improv almost everything deeply affected me. I played in two of Bonsky's D&D games over the course of 5 years or so.

In 2012, my partner and I decided to move to Seattle. She grew up here and missed it and I needed a change of scenery. It was a hard move to make for a few dozen different reasons, but I kept coming back to how much I really missed my gaming group(s). I've always tended toward the shy/awkward end of the spectrum of social interaction, and unfortunately a lot of Seattle seemed to be about the same, so it was tough getting started here. I realized how great I had it in Philly, where there was this big group of gamers who I had a great deal in common with besides just gaming. I visited shops and gamed with very nice people out here, but lacked the sense of connection I needed to keep it going. So I decided to step up and start something myself.

For about a month I was convinced I was going to run a campaign based on Nightbreed/Cabal, picking up at the end of the movie/book and focusing on a small group of 'breed trying to survive in a hostile 1990's America while entrusted with the safety of a piece of Baphomet. I had a hard time deciding on a system, and I also realized my pool of players out here was pretty different than the people I gamed with back in Philly. I was recruiting folks with little gaming experience, so I decided I needed to do something a little more basic with a broader appeal.

Just before I moved my gamer friends in Philly started up a biannual meet up with like-minded friends from Pittsburgh, where we would rent a few cabins in a state park somewhere in central PA and just game for an entire weekend. My friend Mike Bolam, one of the most hardcore gamers I know, ran a Labyrinth Lord game. Not only will I always remember little Tony the Torchbearer, but playing D&D stripped down to its bare essence like that really stuck with me.

As I alluded to at the beginning, I've never been a rules guy. I can play games that are rules-heavy, but running games with too many rules just doesn't work for me. I get bogged down in mechanics and play suffers. It's why Call of Cthulhu was the only thing I felt comfortable running for so many years--the system just turns transparent in play and keeps the focus on the feeling of mystery and possibility I first felt when playing D&D as a kid (plus mind-blasting insanity and horrific death). Labyrinth Lord gave me a glimpse of that and offered the same stripped-down experience I was after. I got a hold of the Labyrinth Lord rules, found a copy of Keep on the Borderlands at my local Half Price Books, got my players together and DM'ed my first game in close to 24 years.

I've been running that campaign now for over two years, and it's probably been one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.

Why I'm Starting This Blog:

I've drawn a huge amount of inspiration from the OSR/DIY D&D community. The passionate, creative and fucking smart people out there sharing their thoughts and creations are a true boon to RPGs. The amount of stuff inspired by blogs, publications, or post that's wound up in my game (directly or indirectly) is staggering. I'm starting this blog to get in on that and share some of my own.

As I mentioned, I'm also a bit of a quiet/awkward guy socially--at least until you get to know me. I do great with people one on one, but get me in a crowd and I clam up. The same principle seems to apply to my interactions on the internet, too. I post a little bit here and there, but I'm reserved and often timid. Yet I still yearn to be a part of the community, so in a way this blog is maybe a way to simulate the one on one coversations I'm much better at. It’s a more intimate way for an introvert to reach out and connect with like-minded people.

[If you're not interested in feelings, skip this next part.]

Also, running my own D&D game has been instrumental in my own recovery from depression. It's hindered me for most of my life and taught me that the things I care about aren't worth pursuing. But my love for gaming goes deep, and the more I put into it the more I get out of it. Sessions where my players stop fidgeting and give all their attention to some NPC talking, where I get to see the looks on their faces when I pull some crazy shit out of my ass, where I'm left with a similar look on my own face when they pull some crazy shit out of their asses, where I get to see how far along they've come as players--all of this leaves me feeling euphoric, and it keeps me coming back for more. The most insidious function of my depression has always been its ability to strip the meaning out of the things I love and know to be true, reducing them to grey, hollow shells made worse by the fact that they still resemble things I once cared about. But this campaign hasn't once felt like that for me in the past two years, and that's monumental. It's a solid, tangible thing, and the fact it exists is incredible to me. I don't want to say D&D cured my depression, because I've been in therapy for a few years and I've been working at that in nearly every aspect of my life for the same amount of time, but I will say it plays a very important role. At risk of being a little feelingsy here, I will say that for the first time in a very, very long time, I'm able to look at life with a similar sense of mystery and possibility I first got when I started playing these goofy games. Dudes, that's huge.

What to Expect:
I've created tons of content over the past couple of years, some of which I've already used in my games, some of which I haven't. Monsters, adventure sites, dungeons, interesting NPCs, items, and the like. Lend Me Your Steel-Bearing Hand will primarily be a place to share that stuff and kind of give back to the community that constantly inspires me. I'm really into horror and heavy metal, so a lot of that stuff bleeds into my games. If that's your type of thing you're in luck.

I'll probably use it as a place to post play reports from the two campaigns I'm currently running, too. And on occasion I'll probably talk (in ways connected to gaming) about mental health and feelings, too, because I believe it's important to openly discuss mental illness in order to challenge the societal stigma still attached to it and because I am also made of feelings.

*In hindsight I'm pretty sure we rolled 3 or 4d6 instead.

This guy is the King in my campaign.