Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Right to Dream

No I am not talking about simulationism…B/X play is all about the “step on up,” anyway.

No, I want to relay an anecdote from my past that has naught to do with role-playing but a bit to do with where my mind has been wandering.

They say it takes a thick skin to be an actor. I consider this to be a half-truth. It takes f’ing BULLET-PROOF skin to be an actor…at least if you plan on making a living at it. Sure luck helps: being in the right place at the right time or being born with the right look or right connections. But mainly, it’s about being bullet-proof.

Now there are other, extenuating reasons why I didn’t pursue my acting after college (I won’t go into ‘em all right now), and I am far from bullet-proof, but I am incredibly thick-skinned. Astrologically, I am a Scorpio, and while I am as sensitive to criticism under my crusty shell as any of the water signs (Cancer and Pisces), I also have a Scorpio’s ego which goes a long way towards reinforcing my psychic defenses. But I’ve known others who weren’t so stubborn, nor care-free.

One guy, call him "Phil," was in my graduating class, and the only other male to graduate that year with a degree in dramatic arts (‘course, there was only four of us total that year). And oh man did he want to be an actor. And oh man was he terrible. Just terrible.

He was so bad, and he was so damn sincere that other folks in the drama department felt well and truly hurt on his behalf. And when he was drunk (as actor-students often are…at the ends of show runs, for example) and he would ask us, “tell me honestly, do you think I can make it?” and we knew, we KNEW he wasn’t bullet-proof, wasn’t even CLOSE…ugh, what the hell were we supposed to say?

Now some of us (like me) were in the department because we truly wanted to be in the theater and performing arts and were serious about our craft. But I don’t think ANY of us besides Phil (including me!) had any delusions that we were bound for fame and fortune. None of us were talking about moving to Los Angeles or New York, and at the time Seattle was the #3 city for theater anyway (and by now, may have passed up Chicago for #2).

But Phil wanted to shoot the moon. In our last show before graduation, he somehow managed to find Tom Skerritt’s phone number. Remember Tom Skerritt? From Top Gun and Growing Pains (or whatever that sitcom was that he was in)? Well, he lives (or did live) in Seattle at the time. And Phil got hold of him and begged and pleaded for him to come to our show and see us perform.

We were actually running TWO shows that quarter…I was starring in A Sleep of Prisoners by Chris Fry, and Phil had a fairly substantial role in a Phoenix Too Frequent. I actually got fairly rave reviews myself, but as my show ran 2nd (right after intermission) and most of the time we’d only be playing to a small handful of people in the audience (the students that were forced to attend for their art classes)…most of the crowd hit the door after Phoenix.

I remember the night Tom Skerritt was supposed to come. Phil was SOOO excited…he talked incessantly about it before hand, and was totally pumped up (I, on the other hand, was listening to Green Day on the headphones to get jazzed). At intermission and after the second show ended, Phil prowled the lobby looking for Skerritt, to no avail. Either he, too, had snuck out at the break, or (more likely) he simply failed to show to a production of college students in a venue that wasn’t even a theater (this was long before Seattle University opened its multi-million dollar dedicated theater in conjunction with Intiman).

Phil was crushed. And at the after-party he got very drunk. And you could see...I could see…that deep in his heart he knew, he KNEW it was all a pipe dream. For him anyway. And it was a crushing, crushing defeat.

And was that even the truth? Who’s to say that if he had simply continued to act…in anything and everything…and continued taking training and lessons that he wouldn’t get somewhere? I certainly don’t know…but the last I hear Phil had long given up the acting dream and was pushing papers around a desk, just like me. The guy wasn’t bullet-proof; hell, he wasn’t even thick-skinned.

Why am I relating all this? ‘Cause working on the B/X Companion, trying to stand on the shoulders of giants (and I don’t just mean the Founding Fathers…I’m talking about ALL the game designers and publishers that have actually created amazing material), sometimes I wonder if I am completely self-delusional myself...just like Phil. Am I fooling myself that anyone is going to like what I’ve written or want to play (let alone purchase) my product? Even if I throw money into this production, am I going to sell five copies that get universally panned and spit on around the internet?

Shit…is MY skin getting thin…like my hair line?!

F That Noise. I ain’t bullet-proof, but I’m familiar with this particular mind game. I AM going to put out the best damn product I can, period. I am in unfamiliar territory, but I’m going to try to be humble and ask others for help, as I can. Hell, I BELIEVE in this product…I AM willing to put some money where my mouth is. These scary shadows flitting around the back of my mind…well, hell, I don’t think ANYone is truly immune to worry and second-guessing. But it’s part of the cross of being an intellectual that I over-think and go down roads of self-doubt.

Folks, I’m going to do the best I can…that’s all I can do. I, too, have a right to dream. Sure it may be big, ambitious, and Lord Knows unrealistic, but it’s my dream and it’s a pretty one. I’m going to enjoy it as much as possible and I really, really hope some of you want to come along for the ride.



  1. The fun part is in the creating. even if you only sell 1 copy and it gets universally panned on, everyone knows critics pan everything that isn't specifically their cup of tea. Enjoy the moment of completion and ride it on to your next project, no mater how this one does.

  2. James, you are entirely right. If I was waxing a little melancholy at the end of yesterday, it was mainly because I was coming off three ten hour work days with only 9 hours o sleep in between. I got to bed early last night and am feeling much better.

    I've written earlier that this is as close as I ever intend to come to writing a "fantasy heartbreaker" (to use another Forge term). I love B/X D&D and don't find any need to "fix" it or add skills or mess with the magic system. It is what it is, it does what it does. This book is simply my idea of a way to complete it, aimed at taking the game to higher level play.

    OH and it IS getting published, one way or another. I put too much work into the thing. There are other "companion" projects that are already on the market and/or getting ready for release...if I was going to throw up my hands in despair I would have done so already. Fact is, I like mine.
    ; )