Thursday, August 22, 2019


Rain, meet parade.

So I was at DragonCon 40 this past weekend, the first gaming convention I've been to in SIX YEARS (I didn't even realize how long it'd been until I went back through my archived blog posts this My approach...and my experience...was very different from my prior two ventures into con territory. For one thing, I arrived Friday and stayed overnight at the hotel (sans family...they gave me the weekend off). For another, I went there with absolutely zero intention of running a game or hawking some product. For a third thing, I staked out most of my events ahead of time, and unlike prior years I spent almost no time with the "indie gamers" and invested all my attention in D&D...old school D&D. I was able to get into four games...three B/X, one Holmes basic...for a grand total of sixteen hours of gaming over two days (I didn't attend Sunday). Which is about thirteen hours more than I've played for at least a couple years.

And as I sat in my hotel room Friday night, I found myself thinking: Maybe I am too old for this. Maybe it is time to stop playing this damn game. Maybe I have outgrown it after all. 

Such was the ennui that had gripped me by the end of the day.

But the feeling didn't last. I was fine by Saturday and had a very enjoyable day. And despite some negative thoughts that continue to percolate (aren't there always negative thoughts 'round these parts?), I'm not quite ready to chuck the hobby out the door.  Not quite.

Still, it may be useful to consider what exactly led me to that particular mental space. The DMs were all competent in their running of the game. I may have had quibbles with their particular style or procedures (based on my own expectations of game play), but they weren't terrible...not even bad, really; "serviceable" is, I think, the best term I could use to describe them. The folks sitting around the table (many of whom appeared, with me, in multiple games) were all nice, experienced, and engaged participants. The adventures were fine...some were better than others, being more to MY particular tastes, but there was fun to be had. I had fun.

I had fun. I did...

I don't know what it is. Even now, at this moment, I feel the ennui lurking around the edges of my consciousness, like something just out of sight of my peripheral vision. It's not a palpable feeling, the  way it was Friday night...that was something that just hit me like...I don't know what. Like some heavy blanket of "I-just-don't-give-a-blank-anymore" dropping over my whole world view. That pressing feeling has receded way, way back into the background now, perhaps drowned out by other pressures and concerns occupying my attention.

But it worries me. I mean, what the hell was that?

This is what I do. This is what I want. D&D gaming is what I write about, what I read about, what I research shit in aid of. Playing the game is something I've been sorely lacking in the last few years, and here I finally had the chance to play, not just once but multiple times...and suddenly I felt ready to shit-can it? What the heck is wrong with me?

A couple days ago, I started reading the most recent post over at the Tao, and my head started swimming half a dozen paragraphs in. I had to break away from it because it was giving me something akin to a panic attack. Later, calmer, I went back and re-read the whole thing...I've since read it three or four times. I'm not sure these paragraphs completely describes me, but they sure hit awfully close to the mark:
How many of us, as we get into our 30s and 40s, are beginning to wish we'd never encountered the game? ...look around. You can find hundreds of D&D bloggers coughing up their last post, expressing their helpless lack of interest, the cold reality that they're just getting too old to play the game any more. And a horde of others who still "want to play" but can't quite bring themselves - after an absence of years - to get back into it. 
This isn't the reaction that an endlessly fun activity produces. I won't find fanatical skiers talking about not skiing or foodies deciding to purge themselves of cookbooks; car fanatics don't quit going to car shows "because the crowds are different now." The crowds aren't different. We're different. It's not the same game for us anymore...because we aren't 17 anymore... 
Once upon a time I was fairly "fanatical" about fencing. I even entertained some delusions about competing at a high level. But certain life events got in the way, and I ended up not putting in the necessary work or making the necessary adjustments I needed to make. And at some point I said, jeez, this is frustrating as hell, and I'm just not that young anymore, and my knees are shot-to-shit, and so I quit. That was probably close to fifteen years ago and I still miss much so that just in the last few months I've found myself looking for a fencing salle that I can join, trying to figure out a way that I could "make it work" with my schedule/finances. Not because I have any more delusions about what I might accomplish...just because I want to do it.

Sometimes...much more rarely...I feel that way about other things that I've given up on: acting or singing, for example. Being a middle aged guy, I've tried out and discarded many things over the years, had many hobbies and interests, most of which have fallen by the wayside. Just part of getting older, right? But being a gaming fanatic has been my identity for so long!...that I honestly can't believe I'd ever entertain the possibility of chucking it. Of getting rid of the books I've held onto for decades, across multiple moves, across different countries and different continents.

Hell, I brought my original copies of B/X to DragonCon this year...the same ones I've owned since 1982. The same ones I had with me in Paraguay for years. At this point, they're like some sort of relic or talisman; they'll disintegrate long before I ever give them up.

And yet, I think something has changed for me. Maybe it's the same thing I was blogging about back in May, that desire I have to elevate or evolve my game to something more mature, more "advanced." Maybe I'm still hungry for gaming, but straight B/X gaming does little to satisfy that hunger any more.

Or maybe I'm just not satisfied in the role of player...maybe I just miss being the Dungeon Master. Maybe.

Anyway, that's about the only angst I experienced at this year's DragonCon (thank goodness!). I'd like to write more specifics on the games themselves, but that'll have to wait for another post; tomorrow, perhaps. I just had to get this one out of my brain first.

Later, gators.


  1. "Or maybe I'm just not satisfied in the role of player...maybe I just miss being the Dungeon Master. Maybe."

    This might be a maybe for you, but it's something I realized is definitely true for me. I cannot be a player. I don't enjoy it at all. I don't know why, but if I'm not running a game, I simply am not engaged. I don't like any character I make, etc.

    Whatever it is with you, I hope you can figure it out.

  2. It's possible that we recognize the nostalgia factor goes missing as we get older. I mean nostalgia as in "recapturing that fun anticipation of the unknown" that occurred so often in our youth.

    D&D, in any form, was primarily (for me) about that joyful mystery when I played it. Will my character survive? What challenges will they have to go through? What will we find? The excitement of the unknown was a huge draw. Now? Well, we pretty much know the general lay of the land. Excitement is more difficult to come by. There's a sense of "chore" to everything, no matter how fun.

    There's a sense of "been there, done that...maybe it's time to move on". It occasionally hits hard but it's not fatal to keep at it. Nor is it fatal to move on. It's more a recognition that this is not *really important*, even if we enjoy it and spend so much time on it. Then again, there's nothing wrong with continuing either.

  3. I honestly feel, JB, that a person could feel more that they grow with the game if there was a way to define that growth. Instead, I believe that people are growing PAST the game. The game doesn't keep pace; you go to a game con and it's the same game, but you're not the same JB. And you can't go back.

    I could interpret this wrong, but it sounds to me that fencing worked to the reverse; the problem with all physical games is that sooner or later we don't have the body we need to keep up with the love. But if you could go back and fence, I feel sure that the literature and the training the teachers could offer would give you enough for your mind to keep going, even if your body didn't.

    I loved football, soccer and baseball as a kid; I was on the baseball team that won the city-wide championship in 1977, when I was 13. I played football and soccer like a fanatic; being bruised was an everyday thing. But I can't play tackle today. I can't run as far as the endzone today, not safely. Those are games that I have to accept are in my past, and not in my future. And anyway, those games satisfied my aggression, not my mind.

    But unlike my body, I'm gaining Int and Wis as I shed Con and Str. I need mental activities that keep pace with my experience and my judgement. B/X isn't enough. Hell, any game except the way I play it isn't enough. I don't have ANY nostalgia left. The way old me played in 1981 was moronic. I couldn't stand to play with 1986 me as a DM. I'd hate him for being so damned ignorant.

    pugbuddy says, "been there, done that" ... but then he equivocates with the word, "maybe." Smell the coffee. It IS time to move on. That doesn't have to mean out of role-playing, but it does mean out of your former way of thinking. You're not old JB; and however hard you try, you'll never be old JB again. You're new JB.

    I like new JB. I believe in him. That's why I read this blog. Time you started believing in him too.

  4. We become emotionally attached to things which come to us when we are most emotionally susceptible to them. The rock and roll of your youth will always sound better than this new crap, or whatever. Your first real girlfriend haunts your dreams.

    We do have to put away some of our old toys. For me it’s comic books. I would love to collect them again but the stories and art are dismal now. They’re not the same.

    And some toys we can still play with, even if we’re not using them as directed.

    It’s OK to write and think about games without playing them. I play but I would be perfectly happy to enjoy D&D and the OSR ethic if I couldn’t get a game.

  5. I think there is a natural ebb and flow to how people play and think about the game. It started out relatively simple and then people house ruled the crap out of it, making ever more wonky and complicated systems. Rune Quest, Talislanta, and Empire of the Petal Throne are all examples. This eventually happened to D&D itself. Then there is a desire to simplify. I think 3e is an expression of this. So is 5e. Then we house rule the crap out of it and things get wonky and then we want to simplify again. I see nothing wrong with either instinct. I say recognize it and embrace it. Regardless of whether you are at a stage of simplification or of channeling the wonkiness, there is fun to be had.

  6. I agree that "there is a natural ebb and flow to how people play and think about the game" and that if gaming is not working for you, maybe you should consider taking a break. It sounds like you've been doing that already, in terms of not playing more than 3 hours in 3 years.

    I didn't play D&D at all for most of the 1990s, and had a great time playing, running, and designing/working on other games, in non-D&D genres. I came back to D&D via 3.0's return to the dungeon/to Greyhawk (a victim of marketing, I was!), and migrated back to AD&D 1e after burning out on 3.x's crunch/complexity. I don't regret moving away from D&D then, and still enjoy playing other games (although I don't do so as often has I would like).

    Perhaps you need a little more space/time off? Or perhaps you should start to DM again; or play/DM a different, non-D&D/non-fantasy game; or whatever makes you feel better (fencing?). I'm not trying to solve your angst for you, but to suggest that taking a little time off to get some distance from the angst may be worthwhile. Then do something fun that gives you no angst, whatever that may be.

    My grandmother used to say "Do what you can, and forget the rest"---meaning don't give yourself grief over things you can't do/can't change; and if you can change it but decide not to, don't beat yourself up about that either.

    Perhaps you need a change, or a little peace and quiet to figure out the root of your discontent.


  7. I see these comments are going to be an exercise in magical thinking.

  8. I will always love BX but in the 42 years I have been playing it I have learned a LOT of things about myself,others and rpg's that Gary and the others just didn't have the time to learn when they made it.

    BX is a great game, but it's not where i am at now.

    I learned a lot about what makes different parts of the game fun and what doesn't. What sounded great 1 year in and 5 years in, isn't the same as what is great at the game table 40 years in.

    We have moved past it, of course we did. They didn't have 50 years of playing BX before they released it. They couldn't have known the things we do now.

  9. I can very much relate to what you describe; I experience something kind of like this periodically, actually. What helps me quite a bit is pacing and variety. In addition to playing RPGs, I have a number of adjacent interests - wargames, boardgames, writing fiction - as well as not-so-adjacent; hiking, etc. And I am fortunate that I have passionate intellectual interests that I get to explore for my day-job. All these give me various things to throw myself into and thus make RPG-player/GM not so much 'my identity' as one of the core things I keep returning to. Each break helps me rediscover that I'm someone interesting and interested even when I'm not working on RPGs, and each break also helps restore my enthusiasm when I come back to RPGs as my focus for a season.
    I'm talking about my experiences here, not yours, so I hope it's clear that I'm not telling you what will fix your experience; my spiritual tradition there is the idea that stepping away deliberately from something good for a little while, and often, is necessary in order to use and enjoy that good thing well, in ways that do not become unhealthy. In my own experience, I've found it useful to step away from RPG stuff now and then for a little while, quite deliberately, in order both to enjoy RPGs more when I'm back in the zone, and to make sure I remember that I have a very meaningful identity beyond my hobbies.
    All best wishes. I enjoy many things on your blog. :-)

  10. Eh, my experience is different than Alexis's, it seems. The people I know, who are in their 30s, 40s, and even 50s, who are into gaming are still into it. I've got two game groups these days, which is a major improvement over the previous several years where I hadn't gamed in far too long. I know a couple of people in those age brackets who are picking up gaming for the first time after spending years wondering what the rest of us were going on about, and they are loving it.

    Anyway, if you've lost your inspiration, you can either stop or you can try to find it again. In the former case, you'll have to work around what used to be something of an identity, you won't be a gamer any longer. In the latter, you'll have to figure out what it is you're missing. That's all. No big principles or life cycles.

    When I was a young gamer, I knew some of the old wargamers who were happy to play into their advanced years. It's no different now.

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  12. whatever you do, don't get into Magic the Gathering hahahahah. No worries man, life has many things to enjoy. You'll be back into d&d eventually if the gods will it, the important thing is that you enjoy what you do today.

    1. I doubt I'll ever "get back into" MtG, though I have been playing with my son the last couple days with HIS cards, so that he has an opponent to whup up on him.
      ; )

  13. Good advice in the comments. I'd say recharge those batteries somehow. Maybe you need a break, a different game, a new project, or altered perspective. Something. Hard pass on the near death experience.

    Thundarr had to energize his sun sword when it grew faint. You must do the same. Good luck, hoss!

  14. Interesting to me is that everyone is focused on you and your mental state or development as a person. No one is commenting on the con games you were in. I have next to no con gaming experience, but there have been enough times gaming with strangers to know that it usually doesn't gel. And the game sessions can be fun, but not satisfying.

    Maybe the problem is simply that you're in a funk. But you might want to try and analyze or at least ponder those game sessions that left you feeling that way.

    And I also keep telling myself I'll get back into drumming and/or archery one of these days... Gaming is still going strong for me, though.

    1. I discounted the con games because he felt pangs of ennui before the convention. But you're right about those types of games being less than satisfying. Not for everyone, of course, but some of us.

    2. Reading again, and JB can confirm or dismiss this, it reads like he did play at least one game on Friday, before the pangs of ennui set in. He gamed over two days, but not on Sunday.

    3. Yep, that's true. And that Tao blog post was after the convention, too. I guess I was talking about the pre-ennui sensations that are harder to define. I've been there, many of us have. Questioning one's faith springs from a million little things. And then something happens to tip the scale.

    4. The "pangs of ennui" set in on Friday night *after* two games but *before* Saturday (in which I played two more). I haven't had a chance to speak about the games themselves; I do plan on writing a (belated) blog post on the subject, if only to cement the memory of the experience. Just been busy this week.

    5. Would you say that you felt something akin to ennui or malaise before that weekend, regarding the hobby?

    6. @ Venger:


      That’s what was so disconcerting...I was EXCITED to play. I was jazzed, rev’d up, etc. it was all I could do to keep a reserved facade. It was only afterward that I found myself thinking “maybe I’m done.”

    7. Hmm, that's interesting. The many times I've felt similar things there have been telltale signs before it all came crashing down.

      Maybe you put pressure on yourself for some reason? But that's weird if you're not the GM. I don't know.

  15. JB I thought you contributed a lot as a player and appreciate you being there. It was a good experience running Holmes for me after 35 years. But, like you, I played 16 hours at Dragonflight from Fri-Sat and that is about the max that is fun for me. I still find joy in the game, but there is a point of diminishing (or even negative) returns. Great meeting you!

    1. Thank you, Andy: that’s very kind of you to say. I really enjoyed my foray into Holmes.
      : )

  16. Just another thought. Having just turned 60 I find my love for gaming undiminished. However my patience for going to Conventions and sitting at one of those round white table clothed tables in a room with 20 plus other gaming tables to play some canned run on rails adventure the GM read the night before is greatly diminished (having trouble hearing in such an environment doesn't help).

    1. Mmm. It wasn't until (perhaps) the second day that the noise of other tables was even an issue.

      I do have a new thought or two on the subject of this blog post that I might get to in the next few days.