Wednesday, July 1, 2009

D&D and Me Part 1

Any who know me will tell you that I am an avid D&D player. D&D is of course, Dungeons and Dragons, a role-playing game originally published by TSR, and currently published by Wizards of the Coast. It is not the only role-playing system I have used, but it is so iconic that almost all of the role-playing games I have been involved in have been referred to as "D&D". The sole exception is the Star Wars RPG which is referred to as the Star Wars Game(s) though they are still noted as happening on "D&D night". This blog series will cover some of my memories of past games and my involvement with my biggest hobby.

First let me begin by saying that my love of Fantasy and my love of D&D are hopelessly intertwined but still very separate things. My love of Fantasy started with such influences as He-Man, Star Wars, and Saturday morning cartoons, not to mention C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Lloyd Alexander. My love of D&D started with a Nintendo Entertainment System.

We were living in Amarillo and I was about 8 at the time (give or take a year). My older brother Derrick had come to live with us (this is another story in itself, but the short version is he is my half brother who moved in with us when he turned 18 and his mother no longer had custody). Derrick got a job at a local video store which rented Nintendo Systems and games. We didn't own a Nintendo because my mother thought it was a waste of money (she was wrong) and was worried that my younger brother Daniel and I would vegetate in front of it if we had one instead of playing outside or reading (she was right). Several of my friends had Nintendos, including two families on our street, so I knew what I was missing. Unfortunately I was often cast as the observer because, hey, it wasn't my Nintendo. I used this injustice to lobby for a Millwee Nintendo, but the bill never made it to the floor as it was crushed time and time again by my unsympathetic mother. Derrick, to be kind to his much younger siblings, occasionally brought one of the rental Nintendos home for us to enjoy. He would always bring 2 games with it, and one day he brought home a game titled Simon's Quest.

Simon's Quest was the sequel to a game called Castlevania, and nobody I knew had it. I loved it. The premise is as follows: when defeating Dracula in the first game our hero Simon was cursed. Now he must gather Dracula's remains and resurrect him and defeat him once more to rid himself of his curse. The game remains one of my favorite video games to this day. It had a good story. It had puzzles. There were towns where people lied to you, and shops where you could buy better equipment. The more you played, the more powerful your character Simon became. It was amazing, and it also had most of the elements of a pen and paper RPG though I didn't know it at the time. I didn't beat the game although Derrick brought it home more than once. I can still remember the triumph when, years later and now a Nintendo owner, I finally beat it. At this point I have played the game through about a dozen times, and am over due for another.

We moved to Sugar Land in the fall of 1989 and I did not re-adjust well. My mother noticed a lack of friends and my unhappiness and that Christmas we got a Nintendo from Santa, with a suggestion from my Mom that I try to start a Nintendo Club. Again, my transition to Sugar Land and the effect of the Nintendo Club is for another blog, for my purposes here the important part is that I now owned a Nintendo. Simon's Quest was acquired and beaten as mentioned above, and I quickly began searching for similar games. Zelda, Dragon Warrior I and II, Metroid, Final Fantasy, all were devoured hungrily along with others. Simon's Quest had sparked an ember of interest that blazed into a roaring fire, and I began looking outside the world of Nintendo for my Fantasy game fix.

Sometime during my fifth grade year, I can't remember exactly, I discovered a book. My mother regularly took me and my brother to the library, we would cycle like clock-work through 3 or 4 different branches, and on one of our library trips --in a four sided rotating rack of mouldering paperbacks-- I found a book titled Dragons of Spring Dawning by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I had read some science fiction at this point, but most of my "fantasy" reading had been confined to the classics and mythology. Dragons of Spring Dawning was a surprise. There was reference to sex, and betrayal. Characters died seemingly meaningless deaths. The bad guys were evil. Not evil because the author told us so, but evil because the author showed us so. Even the victory seemed Pyrrhic. The book was the third in a trilogy and of course made references to events in the first 2 books which I had not read at the time. In a way it was fun for me, trying to figure out what had happened through hints and comments spread throughout the book. It turns out that this trilogy was (loosely) based on the notes from D&D campaign the authors had been in. It was also published under the label of Dragonlance, which was published by TSR, the publisher of D&D.

One day in the fifth grade I was over at my friend Matt's house attending his birthday party and he looked around and said, "Hey guys, want to play a computer game?" Now Matt had an Apple 2, and as far as I knew the only game for the Apple 2 was Oregon Trail. Doubt must have flitted across my face because he look at me and said, "Come on Jacob. It's like Dragonlance." Well, that sold me. A few minutes later the six of us were clustered around Matt's drab grey Apple 2 playing a game called Curse of the Azure Bonds. Azure Bonds was a computer game published by, wait for it, TSR and was basically Dungeons and Dragons rendered into computer code. You could create up to six characters, and everyone at the party created their own. It was meant to be a solo game; instead we gathered around Matt and instructed him what we wanted our personal bundle of pixels to do in a fight. It was an extremely slow and tedious way to play but I loved it. I felt an innate connection with my 30 or so pixels on the Apple 2 screen; both a sense of proud ownership and vague personality displacement. It was great. I was being picked on at school and never seemed to do anything right socially but here I was portraying a character that was killing monsters with a knife.

Maybe it was all those Saturday morning cartoons; maybe it my fascination with all things Star Wars. Maybe it was the books that I gravitated towards. A love of mythology and folklore that persists to this day. Whatever it was, that afternoon clustered around Matt's computer I felt right at home. And I knew that I had found something that I could excel at.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Every time I think I've hit rock bottom, someone throws me a shovel.

I am trying, have been trying to find a teaching job. Recently I found out that Austin High had an available opening in the Theater Dept. It turns out that the Head Theater teacher there was my theater teacher for my freshman year at Dulles High. I emailed him, letting him know what I've been up to and that I was interested. I got other people to put in good words for me too. Called in as many favors as I could, and then promised favors away. Anxiously I waited for a reply from him, or a call from the principal to interview. A week went by. Suddenly, the job posting was removed from the district's website. No phone call. No email. I'm crushed. The worst thing about it is that he didn't contact me. I didn't expect him to remember me, but with the effort I went through, and the "good words" that were supposedly put in on my behalf, you would at least expect a "sorry, he position's been filled email." Would have taken 2 seconds to write.

I have had such a struggle to make it even this far with my quest to have a teaching career that when I saw this posting I felt like the stars had aligned. This will be it I told myself. The reason why it's been so hard, the reason why no one will give me a shot is because I am supposed to have this position.

I am sick of red tape. I am sick of applying online. I am sick of being reduced to an applicant number. I'm sick of state requirements. I'm sick of rules and systems that assume that I am the lowest common denominator. I'm sick of feeling like my BA is worthless because I majored in Drama. I'm sick of watching people that I am smarter and better than get moved ahead of me because they have a piece of paper I don't. I'm sick of hearing why are you doing this? You obviously should be way beyond this. You are too amazing to be here. I'm sick of hearing wow you'd be perfect! Too bad you don't have <insert bullshit requirement>.

I was a long term biology sub at Kempner. The department head loved me. The staff had such respect for me that when the Honors Bio teach was absent, they got a sub for me instead so that I could supervise the Honors fetal pig dissection. An observing teacher, herself an honors bio teacher, was amazed at my grasp of the anatomy and my ability to direct the dissection. Guess what? I only had 1 high school biology course, and I barely passed (because I didn't apply myself). The science department head at Kempner desperately wants to hire me. To teach any science. She even offered me the honors physics classes. But she can't. Why not? Because they won't let me take the subject test to be certified. Why not? Because I don't have enough college hours in science. Well, I don't have any college hours in medieval weaponry, but I dare anyone to challenge my knowledge. My personal mythology library is more extensive than my former University's is, and by far. The example could go on, but I think I've expressed my view.

I am just so frustrated, and disappointed, and...

I'm supporting a family of four. I don't have time to go back to school, much less the money. I know I need to just pick myself up, and keep on going, and wait for that next opportunity. But right now, all I want to do is punch somebody in the face.

I'm an Ogre

Valerie: Stop being mean!

Jake: You were mean to me!

Valerie: Don't be mean to me when I'm mean to you!

Jake: ....

Friday, May 29, 2009


Me: (to Jonah) Looking good bubba.

Val: Wait what? What did you call him?

Me: Huh?

Val: Our children are not "bubbas".

Me: I don't... what?

Val: Do not call our children "bubba". They are not "bubbas".

Me: I was being affectionate, not assigning a nick-name.

Val: Be affectionate with other words.

Me: Me calling our 21 month old son bubba casually once in the kitchen is not going to turn him into a fat unshaven hillbilly in greasy overalls.

Val: Yes. Yes it is. No "bubba". We have no "bubbas" here.


Val: How the job hunt going?

Me: It's... going.


Me: It's going.

Val: You need to hunt. Hunt! You are a hunter, so hunt! Me, I'm a gatherer- I need to shop. Let me be a gatherer! Hunt!

Me: OOOOOOkaaaayyyyy....

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dream Journal: Reoccuring Nightmare

As stated previously I rarely remember my dreams, to the point where I don't know if I even have dreams most nights. There is one dream that I remember clearly to this day however. It is a re-occurring nightmare that I have had three times in my life. The first two were when I was very young (roughly 4 and seven) and the most recent was when I was in college. It was exactly the same each time I dreamt it, and here is a description of it for prosperity. Like most dreams it is hard to describe completely. Even if it could be described fully the description still wouldn't be that scar, but it was very scary for me to experience. This is a nightmare, and one that affected me enough that I remember it clearly years later. But as nightmares often are, it hardly seems scary in the telling. For those of you who believe you have the knack of dream interpretation, dig in, and feel free to leave your hypothesis in comment form.

It is night, and there is a violent thunderstorm raging across the sky. I'm in an airport. This airport is on an island in the ocean, the whole island being a plateau with sheer rock face all around. The airport covers the top of the plateau, so that it seems that the outer walls of the airport turn to rock that descends into the sea. The sea is whipped into a fury, and waves rise up to crash against the airport in explosive slaps. I am inside in a large room where people come and go. The walls are completely glass windows streaked with a constant torrent of rain, and the dark view of the outside stands in sharp contrast to the floor and ceiling which are white. The storm and thunder are muted inside the building but strangely the people make no noise as they move around me, all in a hurry to be somewhere. I am young, about four years old (the age I was when I first had this dream I think) and I have been separated from my parents. I lost them, or they left me in the movements of the throng. I look around with a sense of displaced shock and then accept the fact that my parents are not around. I find myself staring at the window, watching with unease the flashes of lightning that reveal the violent rolling of the dark sea. To the people around, moving purposefully across the white floor, I seem to not exist. I am not an obstacle, point of interest, or out of place. Suddenly I am aware that I have some one's attention, I can feel the focus of their eyes between my shoulder blades. Slowly I turn from the window and gaze back into the milling people. As a few of the throng moved a man is revealed. While the other people have a washed out look to them -severely muted colors- this man is in full color. He is wearing a disheveled tan trench coat. He is staring right at me. He has reddish hair that at one time was combed back but now has untidy strands sticking out. His face is gaunt and he is so fair that his skin is almost transparent. When I say gaunt I don't mean skull like, but like there is not an ounce of wasted flesh on his head (If I had to cast this dream using actual celebrities I would use William Atherton who played Environmentalist Walter Peck in Ghostbusters). But the most striking, unnerving, and compelling feature are his eyes. He is slightly bug-eyed, they stand out of his face more than they sink beneath his brows, and neatly bloodshot- the veins are clearly defined without any redness of the whites. The center, the irises, seem to glow slightly with an inner light; not an actual glow but just a fierceness of color, that color being a swirling of red green and yellow. I am frozen by those eyes and a wave of fear chills me from the inside out. I think to myself his eyes are the color of madness. He extends his hand, beckoning me towards him and I get a sensation of wrongness from him; he is unnatural. The room is full off washed out people, constantly hurrying about all around us and yet there is a feeling of intimacy as if he and I are the only ones in the room. None of the others acknowledge him or me. He speaks, his voice sounds like granite shot through with neon, a baritone registered upward by insanity, and the pitch of his voice is unstable. His words are slow and drawn out, his mouth opens fully with each word, his lips never collapse to cover his teeth. He says, "There's something I want to show you." I know that whatever it is I don't want to see it, and I know I'm going with him. The dream shifts.

I am outside the airport. The storm that was muted inside the building rages around me in full fury, the wind and constant pounding of the waves is a constant cacophony that assaults my senses. Red haired madness man is there leading me, and behind me are two large broad shouldered men in dark clothes that I somehow know work for him. Their features are non-descript, cast in the darkness of the night. We are on a path that is cut out of the sides of the plateau, spiraling around it beneath the airport. I can see clearly, it is lit with the dark blue light of a cloudless night with a full moon in spite of the massive storm rending the heavens above me. We press on through the rain, leaning into the wind, feet gaining firm purchase on the packed dirt of the path. Occasionally a wave crests the side of the path drenching us further and pushing us up against the rock face. We continue on and eventually the path dead ends at a wooden shack made of old weathered ill-fitted boards. Red haired madness man turns to me, eyes burning, hair plastered down on his skull, rivulets of rain running off of his face. He reaches out a skinny hand and points to the shack's door and says, "In there"; his insane voice clearly audible through the roar of the storm. Slowly I move towards the shack. The door opens for me. Inside is a stone altar and I lock eyes with a glowing yellow skull sitting on top of it. Lightning flashes, there is an immense crack of thunder, and then...

I wake up.

Dream Journal: Zombies

I so rarely remember anything about my dreams that I feel compelled to mention the stuff I do remember.

Last night's dream went like this:

Most of the world was turned into zombies. Not shambling undead thirsting for "braaaiiiinssss"; these zombies looked like people and moved like people except for 1) they relentlessly tried to infect the un-infected, 2) could infect you simply by touching you, and 3) the irises of their eyes were completely black. They did not seem to have high thinking, just ran around in search of the un-infected.

So the few survivors that my group was aware of were holed up in my paternal grandmother's house. In real life she is deceased, and the house in my dream was not her actual house, but according to dream logic it was and had always been her house. In short it felt like her house even though the floor plan and decorations were different.

So this group was only a handful of people, I wanna say eight but definitely less than twelve. We had some kind of barricade around the house. We also had a bunch of round black pellets, about the size of a coffee bean, that when you threw one at a zombie, it burst into a small thin black cloud roughly as big around as a basketball. The struck zombie would then fall over dead. No blood or explosion or anything, just kind of collapse and become inert. Part of the dream involved me defending the barricade but no more that five or six zombies would approach at a time.

I don't remember who was in my group specifically except my grandmother was one, and one was an amalgam of my son Jonah and my brother Daniel about the age of three or four. I remember having a conversation with one of the guys in the group who was having a spat with one of the girls, and explaining to him (from an authority position) that he had to make up because for all we knew this was it and nobody else was alive so we had all damn well better get along. This conversation implied that, while it hadn't happened yet, the group was going to have to split up into mating pairs at some point.

Then my grandmother had a big meal laid out on a table in the kitchen with a large bird (turkey?) as the main course, and we all sat at the table to eat. I remember thinking that Jonah/Daniel was asleep in his bed at that time. There was a new girl who had recently found the sanctuary of our group and she complained about the meal and I thought "really? The world may have ended and your complaining about a huge thanksgiving-esque meal?"

This dream had a yellow feel, and the events were tinted yellow. A good portion of it I had an observational view, i.e. I did not see through my eyes but saw it as a really intimate small theater stage view, though there were portions that were first person perspective.

And those are the details that I can remember about my dream.