In a matter of weeks, months, it has become a different world. Even within the confines of speculative literature and what’s oft referred to as nerd or geek culture, there have been big changes. For instance, disappointing to those of us who had planned to attend this year, Howard Days in Cross Plains, Texas, has been canceled, as have hundreds of conventions and gatherings across the globe. Closer to home for me, a board member of Rogue Blades Foundation, a nonprofit publisher focusing on all things heroic, we have had to push back to 2021 publication of the book Robert E. Howard Changed My Life (though The Lost Empire of Sol is still expected to be published next month).
Now don’t think this is grousing, complaining. I’m merely pointing out how some of the world has changed of late. For that matter, some of the changes aren’t all bad.
As a writer and editor, I normally work from home, so all this isolation most of us are having to contend with of late isn’t new to me. What is new for me is that everybody else is home. Including all my online gaming buddies. And most of them don’t seem to be working at home. Which means they have lots of time for Dungeons & Dragons. Which means I have lots of time for Dungeons & Dragons. And other games. Which means I’m getting less work done than usual.
It’s my own fault, really. As I write this, I’ve got a game tonight, tomorrow night, another in three nights, and a pal who is trying to get me to join yet another game. Plus, my old gaming group in another state from 20 years ago is now, finally getting serious about gaming online. I mean, why not? Most of them have the time, after all.
So, gaming. Online or at the table. Often enough Dungeons & Dragons, but plenty of other games are options, a favorite being the old Marvel Super Heroes FASERIP game. Lots more could be said on this topic. But since I’m a board member of Rogue Blades Foundation, I thought I’d talk about tabletop role playing games, literature, and heroes.
I’ve been filling out character sheets and rolling dice for at least 40 years now. My very first RPG character came into being at a meeting of my junior high school’s D&D club. That seems like a looooong time ago. Heck, it was a looooong time ago.
Anyway, I don’t remember that first character, but I do remember one thing that drew me to the idea of sitting around a table and playing a character with other people, and that thing is heroism.
I was a writer before I was a gamer, having drawn and written my own comic books as early as six years old. I’d even written two short novels by the time I was ten. So I was familiar with the basic, though juvenile, ideas of heroism.
A big draw to me concerning writing had been the ability to not only experience stories and heroes, but to be able to create my own stories and heroes. Literature provided this, as did my own early writings, but relatively speaking, it is a slow process, at least compared to the instant gratification of sitting at a table (or staring through a computer monitor) with friends to create worlds and characters. Writing is also a mostly solitary practice, which is great for us introverts, but is not the same as working or playing with others to create an experience.
At a gaming table, real or virtual, we get to experience not only comradeship, but we get to make our own heroes together. We get to be our own heroes. We make memories together. We make history, even if it’s just local history, our own history. For who hasn’t tales of games from yesteryear? Tales of daring do and fun and silliness? Tales of heartbreak? Of love lost? Of enemies vanquished? Of betrayal and love and hate?
Of heroes. Great and small, powerful or weak, human or not, brave or not … heroes.
In these times of fear and isolation, heroes can be made. Real heroes, fictional heroes. Either way, we need heroes. They help to show us the way to a brighter world, to the better parts of ourselves. They provide examples of the best of us.
If you are one of the isolated, or if you’re one of those who is essential and has to face our frightening world every day, then you need heroes. You need a shining light, and that’s where heroes come in.
If you are one of those out there in the public every day, keep in mind that you are a hero. You might not feel like a hero, you might feel tired or scared or even angry, but always remember you are doing what the rest of us either can’t do or are not allowed to do. In many ways, you are on the front lines.
Still, when you’re not on those front lines, you’ll likely need a temporary break from reality, a breather, some fun. In that case, and for those of us who are isolated and can’t get out, there are plenty of options in this modern world. Movies and television shows of heroes abound, as do short stories and books. But don’t forget about those tabletop role playing games. Don’t forget about Dungeons & Dragons, about Pathfinder, about Star Frontiers, Dragonquest, Traveller, Deadlands, Paranoia, Shadowrun, about all the games that have been out there for decades.
Right now, some of you are already heroes, even if you don’t realize it. But all of us, we can watch or read about or play our favorite heroes. Even if not in real life, we can build memories by shining as the best examples of the best of us.
During these dark times, be your hero.
Because you’re an example to the rest of us.
Ty Johnston is vice president of the Rogue Blades Foundation, a non-profit organization focused upon bringing heroic literature to all readers. A former newspaper editor, he is the author of several fantasy trilogies and individual novels.