An Apocryphal Story entitled
Copyright 1996 by Rich Staats
All characters, actions and “schtuff” depicted in
this story are fictional. Any resemblance between
the characters and persons living or dead is strictly
coincidental. However, the story is
dedicated to a real person. Someone whom
many will miss. Jon Roorda touched the lives of
many. He is remembered with fondness. Jon, this
one is for you. Caution, this tale might not be
suitable for younger readers. It chilled my blood as I
The flashing red and blue lights shimmered
brilliantly off the broken glass. The common room
lights were out with the power, and the emergency
lights did little to dispel the horror and gloom.
Leon’s body lay in a pool of what appeared to be
liquid tar in the bad, intermittent light. A jagged,
gory soda bottle lay to his side. The other gamers all
gaped on with dazed looks except for Russell who
cackled on to himself “the evil is dead; I killed the
infiltrator!” I shook my head in shock and disbelief.
How did it come to this? Where exactly had we
crossed the line between fantasy and reality?
I prided myself on running a good
campaign. It should have been good. I had
been doing it for years. The gaming world was big
and complex with plenty of detail. I had a wealth of
experience to draw on; as a member of the armed
forces, I had lived all over the world, experienced
foreign cultures from the inside, and conducted
patrols under hostile conditions. When I described
the party members’ hearts pounding in their throats,
I was describing something I had felt.
Maybe it was my own passion about the
campaign that translated into the players taking
things too seriously. Maybe it was deeper. Was I
responsible for this tragedy? I had commanded
hundreds of soldiers and had sent them into
dangerous situations --- sometimes to their deaths. I
had seen more than my share of young fatalities;
still, Leon’s death struck me as particularly
senseless, meaningless, and his death was not the
only one weighing on my soul in recent days.
As a commissioned officer, I was expected
to do my share of community service. Some officers
chose to work with the special Olympics or the
scouts, I was always drawn to the youth centers to
help with the youngsters there. Possibly it was
because I came from such a large family growing up.
I had forty some first and second cousins. As the
oldest of the lot, I was expected to help entertain
them at family get togethers. Games had been a
natural way of getting the kids together both in the
family and in the military bases around the world.
I was drawn to role-playing because of its
apparent connection with the occult. My
grandmother had claimed to be a witch, and my
uncle Otto had been a collector of the weird and
wonderful. One of his chests contained books and
scraps of paper with what Otto claimed were “spells
set down by his grandmother, a witch.” My
grandmother, Otto’s sister, had branded my foot
when I was twelve. She said it would give me the
control to “call up the powers.” Like all her ravings,
I dismissed this. After all, who could believe an old
woman who left 16 year old pizzas in her freezer
when she died? Even though I was active in the
Church, my interest in the occult did not diminish
What could be more natural than doing
wargames and role-playing with “my kids” in the
youth centers as I called them?
The years had produced a lot of success
stories. There were kids who got turned around in
school. I wistfully recalled one mom who had told
the recreation center director that I had to take her
kid into the gaming group. Things worked out. He
and his brother Chuck had gone from high school
dropouts to graduates with good jobs. I had been at
gamers’ weddings, graduations and confirmations. I
had even had a couple of my gamers name their
children after me.
I would have traded all that to bring Leon
I struggled to think of what was different
about this campaign. Why now? Why with this
group? Where did the descent into madness begin?
They were brighter than my average
gaming group had been. MIT tended to attract folks
who were bright and passionate about what they did.
Russell was the first one I met. Oddly, we
got to know each other at a church retreat. I was
“horn swaggled” into driving for the foray. (Most of
the congregation was composed of undergraduates
who had neither licenses or access to automobiles; at
all of thirty years, I was the well resourced “grey
beard” in the crowd.) Russell was tall, lanky and
blond. A standard activity at these retreats was to go
around the circle and describe yourself. When it got
to me, I mentioned that I played RPGs. Russell
came up to me afterward and brought up the fact that
his dorm had a core RPG group who had recently
lost its gamemaster. I volunteered to come over for a
session or two.
When I arrived at MIT, it was just another
assignment to me. I didn’t think I would have time
to do gaming, but I was separated from my family
(which was still at Fort Polk) and feeling pretty
lonely. Most important, I missed being around some
younger, lively people. The majority of the folks in
the military were under 25 years of age, and they
certainly knew how to have fun. My fellow “grad”
students tended to be a dour lot who focused on their
studies just to keep their heads above water. I wasn’t
feeling the same level of academic stress; so, I
agreed to meet Russell’s friends.
The group was fairly reticent when I
arrived, but when I pulled out my sound effects,
detailed maps and calligraphic handouts, the group
became more lively. I sized up the group and tried
to get a feel for the dynamics; anything can be
helpful in planning scenarios and getting sessions to
Russell was the group leader and had
clearly assembled those present. Russell was both
highly religious and a type AA personality. He kept
detailed notes and filed the group’s handouts in a
Leon was Russell’s roommate at the time.
Leon was heavy set and sported a half-hearted goatee
and an old, stained tie-dyed top. When Leon
laughed, you knew that someone had fallen for a
ploy of his and was about to be the butt of a joke.
Still, under his seething intellect, there was a kind
core. He was the kind of guy who would rip you up
with his sharp with and then give you the shirt off
Santiago sat to Leon’s left. Santiago was a
soft spoken, friendly man. His smile was disarming,
and Santiago tended to act as a moderating influence
on the group.
Harmon sat opposite me at the far end of
the table. He was short with quick eyes, and he
asked a lot of technical questions about game
The last member of the party was Pete. He
took everything in and swirled it through his
dizzying intellect. When he acted, you knew that
whatever objective he sought was caught in his grasp
just as surely as the sun would rise tomorrow. Pete
favored complicated plot twists and engaging, multi-
The campaign took off like a rocket. The
group drank in every detail. Every handout was
analyzed, and each NPC was treated as a valuable
clue in a complex mystery. The more time I put into
the campaign, the more information the group
wanted. I was getting calls three or four times a day
from the gamers asking about aspects of the
campaign and information their characters might
It was a heady time.
The players were drawn naturally into the
world. The actions inside its confines made sense.
There was an internal consistency. By the time the
campaign started, I had been running games in the
same world for twelve years. When I shut my eyes, I
could see the NPCs, hear the squeak of the wagon
wheels and smell the dust in the air. Pretty soon, I
could shut my eyes and see my players looking
around in the world too. The players started
engaging in conversations like “hey Russell, what do
you figure that field of purple flowers smells like? I
think they probably have a scent vaguely like lilac,
but with a bitter tang.”
It became obvious that the players were
spending a great deal of time outside the campaign
planning and discussing actions in the gaming
sessions. I got to be a little nervous about the
players’ academic averages and insisted that we
spend some time doing non-gaming related
activities. The players all came from a single dorm
at MIT, and pretty soon the other students in the
dorm began to be involved in our non-gaming
activities. Rather than interjecting more distance
into the gaming group, it cemented the group
members and I more closely together.
I started to withdraw from the campaign
once my wife and three children arrived. The gang
from the dorm helped me fix up a wonderful, old
captain’s house built in 1835. The place had ten
bedrooms, four fireplaces and a huge spiral staircase.
When we began our labors of love, it was not much
to look at, but as time went on, it was transformed as
sure as a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.
Our collective blood and sweat and tears
turned the brick, board and mortar into a home.
Although our gaming time went down, I
still did things with the group, and my eldest
daughter used to remark that the house as always full
of “moms and dads without kids.” It was a common
occurrence for me to come home from classes and
research and find my living room filled with five or
six folks from the dorm, playing with my children
and watching TV. The house became a home away
from home for the dorm members.
About that time, the marriage went to hell.
It started out subtlety like my wife kicking a
chair apart in front of me and throwing knives.
When my four year old started routinely placing
herself between her mother and me saying “Mommy
stop being mean to Daddy!,” I knew it was time to
do something. After trying counseling and other
options, it became obvious that one of us would have
to vacate the home. The police just laughed at me
when I told them I felt threatened. My lawyer told
me that there was no chance for me to get the kids in
Massachusetts as an active duty service member.
I beat a hasty retreat with as much dignity
as I could. That wasn’t much.
I threw myself into my studies and the
campaign. It became the Campaign.
I cried myself to sleep and made handouts.
I spent hours working on NPCs and encounters. The
level of complexity of the Campaign increased
About this time Leon approached me with a
novel idea. Feverishly, I turned the concept around
in my mind. Leon wanted to run a character who
was secretly part of the group the party was trying to
ferret out. In the end, Leon’s mission for his
character was to prevent the party from recovering
the Orb of Power.
The players were drawn into my maelstrom
of emotional energy. Some members of the group
began leaving notes for each other, hidden in the
dorm written in one of the languages of the
Some of the players became so involved
with the Campaign that intra-party strife caused
several of them to stop speaking together outside of
the sessions. Everyone knew something was up, but
no one could figure out what. The party knew that
someone or something had too much information
and seemed to be one step ahead of them. It vexed
them and tortured their spirits. Leon laughed a lot.
I gave up on sleep. I started writing title
articles for major journals. I ran colloquiums and
did seminars. And the Campaign ... the Campaign
... it became a mosaic of beauty, intricate and subtle
in its the parts, and the whole was breath taking.
I was producing work at a volume that
should have left me panting. Still, hard work is the
morphine of the soul, and I had a lot of sorrow to
drown. I called my eldest on her birthday, and she
hung up on me. I was loosing my children as
inexorably as the forces of Tim Hel were grinding
the Kingdom of Slotara to dust ... with a little help
There were conspiracies within
conspiracies. I plotted the voices the NPCs would
use. I ran sound effects till all hours of the night. I
took all the players suggestions, embellished them
and used them in the Campaign.
All the while the party circled closer to the
Orb of Power.
I came over to the dorm one night to find
Russell had barricaded himself in his room. I went
up to talk to him, and he let me in, revealing he was
about to burn the party contract. Our conversation
“Russell, why are you doing this?” “They
are violating the spirit of the contract! It means
nothing; it is just a scrap of paper.” “Russell, it is just
a game. Let’s go get some ice cream.” “It is not
a game. Can’t you see that! You can tell a lot about
a person from the way they play these role-playing
games. These people are evil! They have to be
With that, Russell lit the document on fire.
He must have soaked the contract in something
beforehand, because it burned in a sickly green
flame. (It was probably some copper salt.)
Russell apologized to the other gamers, and
things appeared to go back to normal. Leon in
particular went out of his way to mollify Russell.
That same night Leon called me on the phone to
reveal his next bit of brilliant intrigue.
Harmon’s girl friend dumped him the next
week, and he played his character recklessly during
the weekend session. Harmon’s grades dropped, and
his character became suicidal. He made some
mistakes, and his character was killed. Harmon
gave me the strangest smile as he walked away from
the session. He said he did not need to roll another
No one heard Harmon tie the rope to the
banister. No one noticed the sound of his body
trying to drop thirty feet and being stopped short at
twelve by the rope attached to his neck.
Everyone heard Kimberly scream that
morning when she got up to run that following
morning. Near as the coroner could tell, Harmon
killed himself at celestial midnight on Candlemas. I
didn’t show the investigators the strange note I got
in the mail from Harmon two days later. I burned
the circle and scribed runes and threw out the ashes.
I bathed for a long time that night, but the slippery
feel of the ashes would not leave my skin.
Santiago was Harmon’s roommate.
According to school policy, Santiago could have
taken a semester off with no penalty for losing a
roommate to suicide. But, Santiago declined.
Santiago did not want to miss the
The gaming time became more tense. It
was our solace and our hell.
We started to play three times per week.
Gaunt faces, hair raising escapes and feats
of self sacrifice and bravery dominated our lives.
I lost twenty pounds in two months without
trying. My children asked not to see me on
No matter what they did though, the party
members could never outmaneuver the forces of Tim
Hel. They were just too clever, or they were getting
help from a confederate.
Pete put the cleverly disguised clues
together. I thought it was over the session when his
character asked a divination that revealed a traitor in
I’ll never know what Leon did, but the next
session Pete and Leon both made a show of trying to
find the conspirator.
The air was filled with paranoia. Leon was
in his prime, but everyone was looking over their
shoulders. Party members came and went to the
sessions in groups.
They didn’t trust each other alone.
Santiago’s girlfriend left him. She said he
should marry the gaming group since it occupied all
Russell began to attend church three times
per week. He asked me to pray that he would find
the strength to do what must be done. Somehow,
Russell’s moods seemed to improve during the
gaming sessions. I asked Russell what was up. He
said I knew, but that he knew like God, I was always
fair. He would not be found wanting when the time
came he said.
The children’s mother won full custody and
moved out of the state. She left a note saying that
she wanted no child support or alimony. She never
wanted me to see or speak to her or the children
again. I felt a black pit opening beneath me.
I tried to stop the Campaign, but it proved
impossible. We did take a brief hiatus. Though, like
a junky hooked on horse, we crawled back to the
table, retching from our lack of will and indecision.
Pete announced in an understated way one
evening that he had figured out where the Orb
rested. He was right. I stopped the session after the
party made preparation for the journey. I wanted the
session where they found the Orb to be perfect.
As the session broke up, Russell asked what
special preparations the party members might have
made. I mentioned that as members of the Thaliban
Society of Light, they would most likely have fasted
before taking up the last leg of this holy quest and
surely they would wear white garments on the day
they brought glory to the forces of Light and Good.
Pete remarked as I departed that the end
was at hand, and all mysteries would be revealed. In
the distance somewhere heat lightning boomed
across the sky.
I made handouts the likes of which I had
never made before. I dug out some of my old uncle
Otto’s documents. Usually I mixed my inks. I was
particularly proud of a combination of scarlet and
green that looked like dried blood, but when I made
my documents that night, I didn’t cut corners. I
wanted everything to be perfect. I felt dizzy as I
inscribed the words on the parchment “O Magna
Porta! Adoramus tibi!” I looped and curled the
words into a mosaic, and it truly appeared magical as
I finished the last touches in burnished gold leaf.
The sky crackled angrily at me the night of
our last session. As I reached the doorway, I was
greeted by one of our movie watching regulars,
Pattie. She remarked “you sure are lucky! I thought
the skies would have opened up by now.” I waved
my hand absently and said “they can start any time
It began pouring outside. Pattie looked at
me queerly and helped me carry my props to the
All the party members including Leon were
dressed in white robes. They had glassy eyes. I
recognized the signs of fasting. I should have; I
hadn’t eaten solid food in three days at that point.
The session was high-strung from the start.
As the party entered the temple complex, the tension
grew. Each encounter brought the group to its feet.
The thunder shook the plate glass of the common
When the party found some potions, I gave
Pete and Russell some money to buy the group soft
drinks. I explained that it would not be a dishonor to
the gods to drink the healing draughts. Pete and
Russell had chosen some classy beverages in real
glass bottles, a commemorative edition of some type.
We all toasted their impending success that evening.
The party entered the final chamber. I
darkened the lights and set up props while the
players waited outside. I turned on the floods to the
strains of the Carmina Burana as the party entered
the common room in march order. I awaited them
dressed in robes of black, surrounded by a cloud of
The Orb glistened on the table before me. I
whispered a greeting to the group and raised my
hands to cast a spell. They made their rolls, but
none were quick or accurate enough to stop me. The
forces of darkness sent a thrill through my body as I
sealed the four corners of the room. Another wave
of attacks came, and I revealed that one of their
midst was a traitor. Leon jumped up to serve our
dark masters. As he came forward to seize the Orb, I
intoned the words of the spell on the parchment
before me. Russell and Santiago looked on in
horror, and Pete gave Leon a conspiratorial grin.
Leon picked up the Orb and turned to face
the remainder of the party. I finished the spell
which should have blasted them out of existence.
The lightning bolt blasted the window
behind me with a deafening roar, spraying me with
shards of jagged glass. My black robes protected me
from most of the lacerations, but the bolt knocked
me to the ground. The power went out at the same
time. I heard the muffled sound of Leon’s laughter
and then another glass smashing.
Leon’s laughter abruptly ceased.
I was still incoherent when the police
Later these servants of Thaliban detained
me again when some Quislings noted me carving the
sacred symbols of Tim Hel in my arms.
They hold me still, but these walls are
nothing. I could melt them with my gaze alone if I
wanted. But, I am patient. My time will come. Tim
Hel whispers to me that he will be pleased only once
I bring more sacrifices to him.
I play the games and give the answers these
puppets of Thaliban want to hear. Soon I will be
free to fulfill Tim Hel’s desires once again. Tim Hel
assures me all will be well.
I know he is right.
You see. I know everything.
I am God.
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