Looking Back on Yesterday

Recently, my life has taken a decidedly nostalgic turn. As a memory pack rat, I’ve kept a little under a decade’s worth of e-mails, journal entries, pictures, and chat conversations. After reliving those years by sitting in front of the computer and smiling—or sometimes scowling—a single question continued to rear its head: what pushes me to forge on and not just pack in my wizard’s hat?

I’m referring, of course, to the tumultuous times I’ve had with D&D groups.

Not every group is made in Heaven. Oh sure, I’ve had more good groups than bad. However, not a single group has split of its own volition. Each crashed and burned under the momentum of some external force, be it in-fighting, petty jealousies, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, or simple DM burnout.

Despite the bad memories—or perhaps in spite of them—I’ve returned to the well with the hope of starting my 30’s off with a mature, well rounded group of gaming adults. Fortunately, I didn’t have to start from scratch: Brian Jacobson and Cody Curry, freshly returned from their trip around the world, were ready to dive back in. They’d played 3rd Edition with me in 2008 and I was ecstatic that they were interested in getting back into gaming. Of course, this left three empty seats. Though the worst part about putting together a group is having to find five strangers, at least this time I would be starting off with some backup.

My process for vetting new players has evolved over the years, mostly due to bad expiences. Not to put too fine a point on it, I’ve met some crazies. Unfortunately, this has created a sort of D&D Survivor-esk feeling to the search. They must outwit, outplay, and outlast the competition!

This most recent venture saw me undergoing more effort than ever before. It started with a clarion call for 4th Edition gamers with one caveat: we weren’t going to game. At least, not for a while. Instead, we were simply going to hang out—eat some food, let some traditionally nerdy movies play in the background, and enjoy a number of boardgames. To this event, I purposely invited more gamers than I had empty chairs. From experience, I knew a few errant personalties would sink to the bottom and those people wouldn’t be asked back. No one was misled; everyone who came knew I had a limited number of empty seats available. I think everyone was just excited at the prospect of meeting new Portland gamers.

The way I look at it, I’m 31. I’m too old to waste my time with people I don’t like simply because I want so badly to play D&D. Janelle’s had to put up with me when I’m in a bad group and those weren’t pleasant times for either of us.

The board game meet was a success. Brian, Cody, and I found enough players to round out the group. Nevertheless, I wasn’t quite ready. You see, I’ve met people who were really fun to be around outside the game, only for them to suddenly turn into the worst kind of gamers at the table. Conversely, I’ve met people I can’t stand in real life, but are pretty awesome gamers. The problem is, when I game, I’m not simply looking for a bunch of strangers to come over, roll some dice, and then leave: I want a group of friends. I want people I can feel comfortable inviting into my home when I have children running around underfoot. People I’d enjoy hanging out with in town. People I’d want to invite over for the holidays.

People I’d invite to my wedding.

With all that in mind, I scheduled a one shot to be played; just a simple game with throw-away characters. It would let a few of the new guys—who had no experience with 4th Edition—get a feel for the rules, while simultaneously letting me get a feel for the new guys as gamers.

Well, I lucked out! Not a crazy among them. No rules lawyers, no wallflowers, no overbearing, game-controlling grandstanders, and no hulking, socially-retarded, parent’s basement-dwelling troglodytes. We’ve been hanging out pretty solidly for the last three months and everyone has integrated well.

Finally, after a year’s break, I’m ready to get back into gaming. Let’s see what happens.