brentJanuary 24th, 2015, two years ago today, was the last game session the Oak Hill Dungeons & Dragons Club shared with one of our oldest and dearest friends — Brent Smith.

We were running two campaigns at the time. In the early session Brent played a human rogue named Artis and in the late game he played a human wizard by the name of Delarius (a play on words, by combining delirious and hilarious).

On that particular evening, a Saturday, Brent’s son Kasey had come along to watch us play. It was the boy’s 12th birthday and I remember him being excited to start playing with us soon. My own son was already a part of that early session and Connor and Kasey were becoming fast friends.

It was a thrilling game, with tensions mounting as the party found their way into the ancient ruins beneath the city of Crowhaven, discovering the insidious machinations of a demonspawn wearing the face of a nobleman’s son.


Brent and I took our respective children home and returned for the ‘adult’ game. It was an amazing night, fraught with epic conflicts and a dangerous delve into the catacombs beneath the Lighthouse Stable. There were traps aplenty, orc marauders, and nasty critters from the Underdark…

After the late game, we stood outside on the sidewalk, rehashing the night’s high points, discussing each others plans for their characters in both campaigns, and the inclusion of the young ones. Brent and I also talked about my plan to renovate Connor’s bedroom and he was eager to lend a hand.

As the night came to a close, I hugged my friend and told him I loved him for the last time.

A few days later, Brent had a bad reaction to changed medication and died in his sleep. He was only 48 years old.

I feel the weight of his passing every day. Brent and I had been friends for 43 years. We all miss him terribly.

Our sons now play their own weekly D&D game, building the kind of lifelong friendship that we had shared. I think Brent would appreciate that. I know I sure do.

I see a lot of Brent in Kasey, now turned 14. It tempers the pain of his passing somewhat.

Each time the Club gathers, we feel his presence still with us. He and the characters he played are still talked about. Though Brent has sailed on to Valinor, his mark upon each and every one of us remains.

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   😉

Rock & Roll20


Exactly one year ago today, the 8th of November 2015, the Oak Hill Dungeons & Dragons Club played our first game via Roll20. Since then, I have logged about 500 hours on the site. There are lots of pros and cons, but it has grown on me.

Being able to get together from the comfort of our own home has been a godsend. Mike, who lives in Louisiana, can now play regularly, and Steve can pop in from Chicago far more easily than making a round trip eight-plus hour drive down twice a month.

Roll20 could never replace all of us getting together around a table, but it’s a terrific substitute. Yes, there are technical glitches and we stumble and fumble about generally for 30 minutes to an hour every session just getting the communication square, but once the audio gremlins are vanquished the world falls away and we’re in the game.

I really appreciate the Fog of War and Dynamic Lighting effects. The online record sheets are terrific from both a player and DM perspective. The built-in music and sound effects are transportive. And let’s face it, digital tokens and battlemaps really do elevate the game in an affordable fashion.

Would I prefer an unlimited budget and a weekly in-person game complete with painted miniatures and elaborate Dwarven Forge sets? Yes. Yes I would.

Roll20 is so much more than just the ‘next-best-thing’ though. It’s magic at your fingertips… and that’s enough for me.

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.