Dungeons and Dragons became a tool. Not right. A path. Again not exactly it. Maybe a blade? Yeah, let’s go with that. Dungeons and Dragons became a blade that I used to lance all my blisters and festering wounds. It was about 2002 when it began to mean something else. It took shape in the throes of my worst therapy into a weapon to fight back the worst of it all with.
It started when I ran the barbarian game. This started the mountain culture I write about in Legends of the Exiles. That game was fine and everything was good until Peter Redfist became a focus. Here we have a little boy raised to be a leader. He is fearless and powerful and unapologetic. He is treated fairly by his people, and he has a father.
This is where things really get exciting. Peter had a father named Flak Redfist and Flak is flawed. He is not a perfect man. He is also a great leader, but he will not let himself get in the way of his kid. This becomes an issue.
You can’t see it yet. I’ll take you a little further down this path. Peter is the hope of the Mountain. He is the one able to unite all the tribes and nations of the barbarian lands. He is trusted by everyone. Loved by everyone. And Flak is a flawed man trying to raise a king.
I’m still not being clear enough. Here it is with a bow on it for you. The Mountain sits in unrest. None of the nations trust each other, and they are at war all the time. They are trying to destroy each other, when one kid rises to unite all these broken pieces of a people and make them one loving, prosperous unit.
And I am telling this story while trying to fix a shattered mind and find a leader for it. Trying to find a way to cope with, build a life around, and smooth down the edges of a mind at war with itself. Peter becomes the hope for my future. Flak is the flawed man trying to prepare his son to heal them all.
I had no future at this point. I was a man outside of sanity. A man whose only goal was to make it to the next day. To fix what was shattered and to try to find a way back to Bekah. I was Flak trying to make myself into a Peter. When I figured this out, Dungeons and Dragons became important.
We started playing every week. Every Saturday I would prep for the game to start around seven. We would play until about four in the morning. And while we played, I would try to figure it all out. I created scenarios that mimicked abuse I had suffered. They fought that evil back. I created villains based off the darkness of my past. We fought them back. I set up, then destroyed, one horror after the next. And then I would go to Steven and unpack the game, break down everything I had felt about it, and build a new understanding. Dungeons and Dragons started to heal me.
Then things heated up.
We moved straight from the Mountain to the Manhunters. The concept was simple. A band of heroes and heroines who are sponsored by the crown to hunt down the worst criminals and villains in the nation. With this concept I created monsters like the ones I had faced in my life and I created heroes to fight them all back. Rayph Ivoryfist became the architect of my future. He fought all my demons and showed me how to control my past and how to categorize it, shuffle through it and command the parts of my mind that were out of control. His leadership skills became the focus of my life. How do I find a leader in my mind capable of controlling everyone but still lenient enough to let them all express themselves? With a crew of wild, powerful, and capable individuals, I began to build a team out of a group of alters who had no system and had no leader. The creation of the Manhunters was the beginning of my healing.
We then moved on to the Trimerian Knight game. This was where I developed a training regimen for the powers in my mind. I honed them and focused them into distinct members of my inner society who had jobs and responsibilities. This is when my alters were given a place. They were organized and became task-oriented. Shade was given the running of the games. They all had certain responsibilities to see to in order to rest.
What had been a group of alters in pain and thrashing became a tight team of individuals empowered and utilized. Without the Trimerian Knights game, the alters within me would have continued to wander. They would have continued to bump into each other. But as Shade ran that game, he began to line everyone up and make a future for us all.
These three games were played over the course of about two years. And when we got as far as the Trimerian Knight game, things had become regimented.
The gaming group had been pared down to Siren and Bekah. As much as they disliked each other, they were able to set it all aside to create characters I could use as a focal point when telling these stories. We did not play that game with anyone else and when we played, it was not play. All of us knew by my outbursts, the times I would break down and cry, and the true horror of the games I was running that I was working out my issues.
Dungeons and Dragons had given me a life in middle school and high school, and now it was saving my life as a man. It was mending my shattered mind and giving me a place to rage, to weep, and to heal. The undeniable odds I placed against my players was one thing, but the weight of the responsibility was an entirely different matter.
Imagine you are asked to play a game that will be an analogy for a man’s sanity. You are asked to enter his worst nightmares and suffer the horrible things he will throw at you, and you have to be right. You have to deal with the weight of it every day. You have to be a hero in the artistic and demented art he is creating. One misstep from you could cause him to tumble into a pit of despair. Cause him to lose hope. If you fail to save a character he has placed a great deal of importance on, it will toss him into a depression, or maybe even break him for days, if not weeks.
When he is ready to play, you need to play. It is therapy for him. So you have to be there anytime he needs you. Now you are playing at hours nearly unbearable. Nineteen-hour games where you stop for half an hour before you’re back at it. Days and nights, you give up to this way of life, never knowing if one wrong word or even one bad roll of the dice will cause this nearly insane man to tumble off the edge of reality.
Dungeons and Dragons took over the lives of three people, and those three people fought a war with analogy and symbolism for a man’s future.
Thinking back on it now, I can’t imagine the pressure those two women were under when they sat to play those games. The sheer weight of my future hanging on every decision, every action they chose.
One day, it became too much.
We had made it through the Mountain, the Manhunters and the Trimerian Knights, and I said I wanted to run a game through Hell. I had ideas of what the land of Torment and Loss would be like. I needed to express it, and I needed to see it.
The importance of this game could not be overstated. The darkness I was living with was real and hideous in my mind. It was trapped and being felt by only me. Every second of every day I walked through a personal Hell. This would give me a way of expressing it, of vomiting out all the horror of my life. This would be a way of ripping the darkness out of my heart and holding it up to these two people. A way of freeing myself of some of the worst of my emotions and letting them all play out before an audience.
This would be the most important game I would ever run.
Okay now, before I blast Siren, let’s take a minute and see why. We were using the characters they had played through the Trimerian Knights campaign. These were characters they spent half a year building. They had toiled for every magical item and every ability. They had become these characters in a real way, and they felt a responsibility for them. These characters had become part of them.
The first thing that happened in Hell was the character taking a permanent hit. They would be weakened for the life of the character, and that weakness would never be healed. Also, while they were in Hell, a demon would take their place. A demon who looked just like them with all their same items and powers would be loosed in the world of man to run wild and hurt everything it wanted to. All of the character’s loved ones would be exposed to this demon.
Well, Siren decided it was not worth it and she said no. “I’m not playing this game.”
I took the hit like a blow to the chest.
Bekah dropped into silence and I looked at Siren with shocked eyes. “What do you mean?”
“I worked hard for these abilities and I care about the relationships that my character has made and I am not okay with throwing all of that away. So no, I’m not doing this. You have to find another way and make this easier or I am not playing.”
I threw her out. I threw them out. I didn’t know what to do. I had been given the chance to express the true horror of what I was going through, and it had been taken away. I screamed into my pillow. I shut off all the lights and I knew in that moment that I would have to face it all alone. I was trapped in my Hell, and no one was coming in to see it or to burn with me.
Bekah will not tell me what exactly was said. When the two of them reached the parking lot, Bekah pulled Siren into the gazebo of South Towers and they “talked.” Strong words were used. I’m sure that no threats were issued, but Bekah got vicious. Her message was simple.
This man needs to scream. He needs to throw out some of the darkness he has trapped inside of himself, and he needs to not be alone with it. She told Siren to get her mind right and get over it. Not to put a character over my sanity. Bekah said this game was the only thing that mattered in the world to me. It would heal me or break me based on how they played it, and they had no other options. This game was going to be played. Bekah told Siren that when Siren left, Bekah was going to go upstairs and beg me to run the game with only her. “He is going to play this game, with you or without you.”
The playing conditions were rough. They had to sit in the other one’s seat. Siren had a section of the couch and Bekah had a section of the couch that they had been using for over a year. They had to switch, throwing off the rhythm of the room.
I had background music playing. From the kitchen came one playlist filled with happy, cool songs that made a person feel good. From the living room, I had different music. Hard, angry music that called for blood and a clenched fist. These two outside influences created an atmosphere of confusion that made it hard to concentrate.
The TV was turned to static. Okay, so you might not know this, but television used to come across the air as stations, not through the internet. There were channels on your television that did not have shows on them, and when you were tuned into one of these channels, a white and gray and black static would hiss at you. It colored the room in a chaotic kind of light that was distracting and off-putting.
Under these conditions we stepped off the road of man and entered the home of my demons. I showed them things, things I could never talk about now. Smilin’ Jack ran a lot of that game, giving his horror and his fear to both of those women. I pulled from a lot of sources for the content but none of it was as bad as the original scenes and settings that my mind created.
Siren walked through that Hell and fought everything I showed to her. She faced it all and she saw the demented and disturbing images that were trapped in my head. She took the blistering abuse of my rage and my hate, and she fought it all back under confusing and disorienting conditions. She saw the face of horror as shown to her by a shattered and screaming mind.
For that, I thank her.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 2: Normal Street.