The Shadow of the Past

Four years ago today, on the 5th of January in 2013, a group of friends came together for a game of Dungeons & Dragons. This was no ordinary gathering. These now balding and graying men had once, years before, slung dice together as teenagers and young adults, but those days were now a part of a shadowy past.

Months previous, I had posted on facebook that getting your old D&D mates together for a game was the modern equivalent of getting the band back together. Shaun thought it was a great idea and we discussed making that innocuous comment a reality.

We set out contacting as many as the ‘old gang’ as we could, inviting them to attend a reunion game for old time’s sake. Shaun made arrangements for us to use Ali-Caters in Marion and there we met — Mike Duncan, Brent Smith, Joe Strunk, Doug Gentry, Shaun Keenan, Steve Congdon, and myself — seven grizzled tabletop warriors, returning to the fray once more.


It was supposed to be a one-time reunion, but it has turned into a monthly game now for four years running. It’s been amazing reconnecting with these gentlemen, rekindling old friendships, and embracing once more the game that brought us together so many years before.

So, today, I raise a horn not only to those who sling dice with us today, but to those who sat with us in that distant shadow of the past.

Skál, Dog Brothers and Sisters. May your dice ever roll true.


The DM’s Oath


You’d think that with a new year dawning and all it would be apropos to have the first post of 2017 be light and positive. Well, that was the plan until I saw this “DM’s Oath” floating around facebook.

I could ignore it. I could look away and pretend it doesn’t exist, but where’s the fun in that?

Let’s dissect this thing, shall we?

I will run the game, not the players or their characters.

On the surface, this isn’t too bad, but I suspect this entire list was written by someone with very little practical Dungeon Mastering Experience. The fact is, sometimes a DM has to prod his characters and keep them on point.

I will coordinate the game with my players in all ways.

No. Absolutely not. Never. I am more than willing to discuss your character with you, to adapt your ideas into character backstory and such. I will even listen to your aspirations for your character, but a Dungeon Master is the storyteller here. Yes, D&D is all about co-operative storytelling, but the DM is the author and the players are the characters. Your characters influence the story and the narrative, but never forget who the Shaper of Worlds is.

I will run the game fairly for all my players.

Nope. I won’t  take an oath to this either. Why? The story comes first. Sometimes rules must be fluid to accommodate the narrative. Sometimes the dice need fudged. Sometimes a monster needs nerfed or buffed. Fair is relative. The only rule I adhere to is make the game entertaining and keep everyone engaged.

I will reward role playing, not punish a lack of it.

Poppycock. If you sit down at my table, I expect you to be immersed in the world. Good role playing will most certainly be rewarded. But if you’re checking out, intent on your cell phone, television, or what have you, chances are your character is going to feel it.

I will take responsibility for the safety and comfort of all my players.

There’s no room for bullying or being disrespectful, but I can see how a rule like this could get out of hand. I consider the people who play at my table members of my family. We look out for each other. If we have a guest, they will be treated with the same courtesy all my players experience.

I will not play my own character.

Ridiculous. Non-Player Characters are a necessary part of the game. Every one of them is my character.

I will remember that this is just a game.

If you truly believe that then you’re playing it wrong   😉

Fantastic Fourth

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve been revisiting D&D’s 4th Edition lately and I’m starting to think I may have given it a bad rap.

Here’s the deal: I started playing Dungeons & Dragons in 1978. I drifted from original flavor to extra crispy and settled into 2nd Edition for pretty much the long haul.

I bought into 3.0 & 3.5, but didn’t care for it. It was too “super-hero/high-fantasy” for my tastes. By the time 4th edition came along. I just wasn’t interested.

The thing that made me turn my nose up to 4th edition was, primarily, the demand for miniature play and we just never played that way. Ever.

Every group, from junior high through post-college, was strictly theatre of the mind.

Then we had a reunion game in 2013 and began playing monthly and, for whatever reason, I brought out minis and battlemaps. I was all-in on that stuff.


Maybe it was because I had a young son and those maps and minis captured his imagination. Maybe it was just that I had noticed just how good pre-painted minis, maps, and set pieces had become. Maybe it was because I got a thrill out of crafting sets and designing elaborate scenarios with these newfound toys. Maybe it was all that and more…

So now, here I am, looking at 4th edition with fresh eyes. Oh sure, there’s a lot of bloat, and I still can’t stand tieflings and dragonborn and all that… but the game itself, the nuts and bolts and maps and miniatures and all the rest… yeah, I think I get it.

4th edition has a lot to offer. There is plenty to mine for my 5th edition games. Buying used and ONS 4th edition’s all the rage in the Freeman house.

Conn’s DMing now and he’s all about the bells & whistles. 4th edition had lots of that. The maps alone are worth the price of admission. For the rest, your mileage might vary.

I think the biggest issue, looking back now, is that Wizards of the Coast marketed the thing wrong. With 5th edition it seems they learned from those mistakes.

I’m now glad 4th edition existed. I’m even more glad that I’ve found a way to put that stuff to use.

Happy Birthday, Gary Gygax!

“You are not entering this world in the usual manner, for you are setting forth to be a Dungeon Master. Certainly there are stout fighters, mighty magic-users, wily thieves, and courageous clerics who will make their mark in the magical lands of D&D adventure. You however, are above even the greatest of these, for as DM you are to become the Shaper of the Cosmos. It is you who will give form and content to the all the universe. You will breathe life into the stillness, giving meaning and purpose to all the actions which are to follow.” ― Gary Gygax (July 27, 1938 – March 4, 2008)


Nine Crowns

Nine Crowns of Willen


Some preliminary world-building on our next campaign world, slated for a January 2017 launch which should coincide with the 4 year anniversary of out reunion game.

It’s a little more Martin than Tolkien at the onset as I’m looking to make things, particularly magical things, have a bit more value, be a bit more wondrous and awe-inducing.

D&D, and Pathfinder, by and large, have been huge, high fantasy, super-hero romps and I think it’s high time for our group to get a little dirty. I want to see more wheeling and dealing. I want consequences for their actions. I want to smell the market and feel the sting of the sword cut…

Here’s to hoping we can pull it off.

Addendum: Someone asked about “the Great Ice Shield”, wondering if it was akin to “The Wall” in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice & Fire.

The answer is ‘no’. The Great Ice Shield refers to two things. 1.) the “wall” of cold that grips the north making habitability a dicey proposition; and 2.) the shield wall of the northern barbarians who have carved out an existence in that brutal landscape.