Hanging Up the Dice Bag

By Rich Staats

Written from Iraq ...

After almost 30 years of flinging polyhedrons, world creating, and generally creating mayhem behind the Gamemaster (GM) screen, I am seriously considering hanging up the dice-bag. It is neither a rash nor a simple decision. Let me explain by first telling you what this decision is not about.

It is not burn-out. I've been in Iraq for the past year and have not done any role-playing gaming at all. Even when I went home for the brief respite of R&R leave, I did not do any role-playing.

It is not about joining a cult or suddenly waking up and thinking that role-playing is evil or anything of that nature. I still think that role-playing is a fine activity, and in fact I used role-playing techniques to help senior officials here in Iraq with decision making.

It has to do with my desire not to do something in haphazard fashion. I would not want to get behind the screen and do a mediocre or poor job. I have not lost my confidence in my ability to GM from a technical standpoint or my ability to speak to groups. I've been presenting to assemblies of disparate (and at times, desperate) individuals, entertaining and persuading the entire time that I have been in Iraq. I'm more confident in my ability to sway and entertain a crowd than before coming here.

It is It has been a difficult year. The bottom line is that I have lost most of the playfulness and spontaneity that I feel are necessary to be an enjoyable and effective GM. Who wants to sit at a table with a guy that can digress into a five minute discussion about the ghastly injuries the players find after a battle?

Many of you out there know me. (It is the nature of personal WWW pages. Most of the people that hit the pages know the person.) You would say, "Rich, you are one of the most positive people I have ever known. What could have taken away your playful and spontaneous spark?" I shall tell you.

It mostly has to do with conflicting duties. I am a single parent, and my kids have been without me for well over a year. That is bad in and of itself, but the situation degrades from there. I understand about being a soldier and having to go overseas. Got it. Yes, the current conflict is not what a lot of people signed up for, but I do recognize my duty to my nation and to my oath as an officer to obey orders and do the tour in Iraq. Since the day the orders arrived, there has been no doubt that I would do my duty and fight in Iraq. Some of you reason that my duty to my country in fact supports my duty to my children. To that I would say, "yes and no." Certainly seeing their father model honorable behaviors must be a good thing for the children. However, a long family separation is never good for children. There were tell tale signs on grades with social behaviors, etc.

After my return from Iraq ...

The situation when I returned home the situation was fair more complicated and ugly than I could have imagined. The mending process has begun. Some things will heal with enough time. Some things will never, ever be OK. Some relationships have been severed. Those that remain have definitely changed. I'm in the process of finding my way through all the changes and do the best I can to support those people and institutions that are important to me.

A key milestone looming for me in the next year is completing my duties as a single dad. While I will always be the children's father, their graduation from high school and moving out of the house represents an important rite of passage for them and life change for me. I want to focus as much effort on the Twins and their needs as I can muster (and they can reasonably stand ;-) as young adults) between now and their departure.

In summary, gaming is not the pleasant, creative outlet for me that it once was, and additionally I simply have to spend my time on high priority areas given the circumstances when I returned home.

I am not gaming now, and I would not expect to any time in the foreseeable future.

I need some type of creative outlet, but I think that I will focus on something more mechanical and structured like playing my musical instruments.

Summer 2008 ...

And the story continues ... I got back and found my family in disarray. I jumped back into my life with both feet. Some of the damage done to my family during that period will never be repaired. In addition to Joe commiting suicide, the kids' aunt killed herself and her five year old son. I was able to get the Twins to finish high school, but it has been tough. I made some tough choices. I want the kids to stand on their own and to be healthy and happy. That means tough love some times. Tough love only works though if you have a community behind you.

You would think that folks would have rallied behind the family to help us put things in order, but the reality was quite different. Honestly, I have chosen friends and partners poorly at some points in the past, and the consequence is that there are a few pernicious, negative, very negative people that have continued to do all that they could to prevent reconciliation and healing with the kids. If you take a reasonable look at what is going on in their own lives then you see that all the vitrol that is pointed towards me is just a reflection of the unhappiness in their own hearts.

The kids are all smart and capable. I know. I raised them that way, and in their heart of hearts they know right from wrong. They will all do well, and I love them and wish them the best as they make their way into careers and families of their own. I will always be here for them as they move onward. They will always be in my thoughts and in my heart.

In my own life, growth continues. I was promoted to colonel and have had two major commands since coming back from Iraq. As I write this, I am heading back to command my brigade up near Tikrit, Iraq. My Department at MITRE has achieved some amazing accomplishments. (Do a WWW search on ORmadillos.) While it has been a long struggle, most aspects of my life are very good right now. I remain happy and positive and productive.

So, where does that leave gaming? It was a big and happy part of my life for a long time. I have bought some RPG materials over the past couple of years, and I am in the process of packing it all away to go back to Iraq, to go back to combat, to lead young men and women into danger, to do my best to not have other families wrenched apart ... and in these things I am not entirely successful. Divorces are occuring, and families are being pulled apart. Husbands, wives, and children are suffering. While not directly responsible, I do feel that burden on my heart.

And, that really says it all.

The factors that drove me to contemplate hanging up the dice bag have remained a constant part of my life. I have done some role-playing and GMing, and my players enjoyed the sessions immensely. Still, the conflicted duties and feelings make role-playing less fun for me, and I do not want that to translate into less fun for any players.

With the advent of the new V4.0 of D&D, I see that RPGs have entered into the sixth generation as characterized by the line between the Massively Multiplayer On-line RPGs and table top games is entirely blurred. The games are simpler to understand and tend to be episodic. Like World of Warcraft where you can kill the same bad-guy twenty times a day forever, the new D&D lends itself to little adventures where the focus is on gaining more daily and combat abilities rather than on any plot line or sweeping tale.

Hasbro got it right. It is clear from talking to the younger players that this is what they want. My kids were raised on telling stories and listening to old radio shows and reading books. The old style RPGs worked well for them. The up and coming generations don't tend to have that connection to literature. They are not looking for growth or heroes that represent right and good. They are attracted to conflicted, anti-heroes and stories that talk about the shifting emotions that ultimately treat the characters like unchanging vessels that get filled with swirling lusts and dazzling angers, ultimately to be left empty. Read George R. R. Martin's Fire and Ice series. There are no heroes there. All the characters are capable of hideous acts, and ignoble death lies waiting at every turn. George got it right. His books are selling off of the shelves. George "gets" the current generation, and the readers love him for it.

And the circle continues ...

No, no I do not see any dice in my future. I will continue to run occasional sessions just to keep the creative juices flowing, but things will need to change significantly in my life before I can see role-playing being a significant hobby for me again.

Spring 2011 ...

The kids are all out doing great things. At the time of writing this, Kathy is finishing her second year of medical school in New York city. Ben is kicking in doors in Afghanistan as a lance corporeal in the marines, and Liz is finishing her second year of culinary arts training in Chicago.

I finished renovating the house sometime in the fall. The house is beautiful on the inside. (I'll need to paint the outside this summer.) Most of my non-pilfered personal items remain in storage. Life still remains in a state of uncertainty and flux.

Joy lies in the moment. I had played role-playing games on an irregular basis and played ones set in Zhalindor on at least an annual basis to keep the campaigning at least semi-active.

While I do not have all of my usual set of gaming tools at my disposal, e.g., calligraphy materials, craft items for props, references for random encounters, new languages, etc., I've bought a decent amount of support materials for Warhammer Fantasy RPG 3.0 and for D&D 4th Ed. The time to get a campaign going had arrived.

I started searching for ways to get a potential group together. It was through Meetup that I volunteered to run a one-shot for 4th Ed. D&D. It went from a one-shot to a nine session campaign at this point, and, from today's vantage, it looks like it will last for some time into the future.

Many of the reasons for hanging up my dice bag are still with me, but the break was always temporary. It ended up being for longer than I would have thought, but it is mostly over now.

Best wishes to all the supporters out there!

Main Site Index
Play by E-Mail and RPG Pages
More about the author