Tuesday, 28 February 2017

And, They’re Off!

Last week I touched on our homebrew campaign at the BTGC, and how I am using our actual winter season to guide the weather and its inherent challenges in the world of Port Haven.  This week I will touch on a specific way in which the Muskoka winter wonderland has had a direct effect on the story of our group of heroes…

Snow and wind go hand in hand.  I mean really, wind and weather are found lurking together, wandering down our streets early in the morning, knocking over trash bins and stealing our gnomes.  The movement of air and pressure systems across the globe carry moisture and temperatures to the various locales of our planet as dictated by the sun and moon and the currents of the ocean.  The planet cares not for the gnats that thrive upon it, only that it keeps spinning and circling the star at the centre of our tiny galaxy.

Muskoka weather is not particularly extreme.  Our lowest temperatures in the deepest of the cold winter are around minus twenty two Celsius, and our hottest and most humid summer climate can be in the upper twenties above zero Celsius.  Our humidity is high most of the time, and with Georgian Bay close by, we can get all manner of exciting weather to help remind us that we are not in control.  We have had as much as four feet of snow in a twenty four hour period come down, but that’s not what I’m talking about this week.

As an aside, I am not a winter person, but this is not strictly speaking, a rant blog.  There are Angry GM’s for that.

I was struck one day by the landscape of our jobsite after a particularly blustery bout of ice pellets, freezing rain and wet snow which was driven across the landscape by a fierce wind.  As the precipitation fell to earth, the wind carried it across the terrain like a sandblaster in a desert.  It carved drifts and swales into the land.  The trees and earlier drifts took on the roles of the leeward obstacles, and the frozen moisture was bent and shaped into elegant contours of glittering crust, rising and falling through the trees like waves frozen in time.

It was rather beautiful.  I still dislike winter, but I would be willing to enjoy such a view from the comfort of a warm room.

My partner waxed nostalgic of his memories surrounding days like this.  He said that as a child growing up in rural Ontario, if the snow had a crust thick enough, he would drag his bicycle out of storage and ride it through the trees.  Imagine a skate park, if you will.  Go to the shallowest pool and envision a bike wending its way from one side to the other.  Down into the pool and up to the lip, turn and descend once more.  Clearly these drifts were not that deep, but if they were firm, the bike would glide through the trees, sliding and turning in childish delight.

And as we stood and exchanged stories of winter adventures and the innocent exuberance of youth, I had an idea.

Since I am using real weather to dictate the climate in the game, why not have a similar winter blast assault Port Haven?  And what would a city do if it was such a meteorological event that the streets themselves were filled with this icy landscape of luge-like conditions?

Clearly, they would have a race.

As I developed the idea, I used the party’s input to create the governing system in Port Haven.  Since we had decided that our little Port metropolis sprang up out of a need to move goods up the coast and inland along the river network, we knew that a monarchy of any kind didn’t make sense.  No nobles would waste precious resources trying to settle an untamed land filled with nomadic barbarian and Orc tribes, never mind the other more dangerous hazards that lurked in the mountains and forests of the area.  A duchy or fiefdom was also out.

Intrepid and devoted business men and explorers, mercenaries and men and women of the wild would be the ones to establish this business beacon of the north.  So, the group decided that a governing town council would be the ones to run the show.  These would be the most powerful business interests and investors in Port Haven.  These would be the ones who owned the ships and riverboats that kept goods moving along the coast and into and out of the deeper darker continent further inland, past the dangers that prevent more traditional overland travel from safely reaching their destinations.  The landowners and real estate moguls with all of the warehouses and title deeds.  An oligarchy, with a figurehead representative who relates with the town’s population, makes decrees, and kisses all of the necessary babies.

Back to the race.  The group bit into it mostly because it sounded like fun.  I gave them the opportunity to design their own sleigh, spy on and mess with the other teams I had created, and also gave each of them side quests and encounters to accomplish these goals, including researching the best routes, and coming up with the cash necessary to outfit themselves and their sweet ride.

Over the course of three sessions they did their dirty work.  They asked if I wanted to know about their plan or sled design, and I said no.  This would have taken my fun away.  I would always rather be surprised by their plans, than able to however unconsciously plan to foil them.

They managed to intimidate one team (the “legitimate businessmen”), and sow dissent in the the Orc team as well.  A failed attempt to intimidate as well as spy on the dock workers’ team was a bit of a setback, but they made up for it by completely deceiving the wagon wright who was making their sleigh come to life.  He had agreed to do so if they managed to get a letter to his lady love, whose affections had been forbidden by her father, a very important man.

That was one of those moments all GMs relish in roleplaying games.  I asked the group what he did for a living that would make him so successful that he would not approve of his daughter being courted by the best and most successful wagon wright in town.

Moneylender?  They said.

I mentally jumped out of my seat with glee and promptly made him the city’s humble but powerful underworld leader.  It was also an opportunity for a character to make use of their back story in the group’s first attempt at legitimately delivering the letter.  It didn’t go well.

In the end, the rogue crept in at night and stole a reasonable expression of her interest, and the young craftsman set about his task.

I set up a three legged race.  Not like that.  The first leg was a fairly straight forward ride through Reektown, where we knew all of the candlemakers, tanners, blacksmiths and other odious artisans would be assigned.  Each character was able to act and contribute to the race, and I ran the four teams they competed against.

Players will be players, and the dice flew as skill challenges were made involving ever filling water pitchers, harpoons and eldritch blasts against the dock workers team (the Slippery Scales).  They pulled ahead and passed through the first leg in third place, entering Cross Ways.

I came up with Cross Ways simply to ensure that the race wasn’t just a straight luge run to the docks, where the finish line waited.  I decided that it would be fun to have a section of town where the streets ran perpendicular to the natural flow of the rest of the roads.  Most port towns have their major travel arteries flow towards the port itself, allowing easy inland traffic to and from, and in most cases, it just flows.

Crossways is a section of Port Haven where for no reason at all, every street and artery flows against that natural design.  Because I said so.

Whipping through the narrow streets where no road lasts for long before running into the side of a building, the group tangled with other teams, while one member of their party who had been stationedthere all along, harried the Orc team, eventually knocking them out of the race.

They came to the final leg tied for first place.

The final leg was through Market town, or what is commonly known as “The Bizarre.”

Due to the fact that Port Haven would attract a variety of people from all over the civilised coast further to the south, and also based on the idea that even some of the more savvy indigenous races nearby would give the “big city” a shot, I felt that any market Port Haven would have would be incredibly diverse.  Thus, the colloquial play on the word bazaar.

Any manner of food, item and service can be found there, as long as you are willing to pay, and believe it has a chance of being legitimate.  Buyer beware exists everywhere, even in fantasy.

Flying along tight alleyways crammed with booths and through open markets and stalls, the team took on the last two teams to emerge as the winners.  Some of it might even have been fair.

It was a fun session, with frantic dice rolls and a timer I used for each leg.  The story opportunities given to me by my players’ deeds and deceptions will keep things humming along for a while yet, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Filling in the Blanks

It’s been a little while since I have spoken about our new homebrew campaign.  In fact it’s been a couple months, and that was back in the great halls of The Mad Adventurer’s Society.  Perhaps it is time for an update on how things are going in Port Haven…

Just to bring you all up to speed on what Port Haven is, I have to give a little bit more from before that.  Before this new campaign, I had been running the Princes of the Apocalypse campaign for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons for over a year.  We were halfway through and the bounce had gone out of our bungee.  Being a community gaming organisation, the player roster changed so many times that there was very little character investment in the overall plot, which had reached the point of crawl, rinse repeat anyways.

We flat out ditched PotA.

And with a brand new table of player characters, I decided to start a homebrew.  Except I had no ideas for a homebrew, nor time to create one.

So I let the players make it up.

They wanted to be somewhere a little wild, but with a bastion of civilisation.  Near a coast, and with a variety of temperate terrain to suit a variety of adventure locales.  The characters they had made lent themselves well to a nomadic tribal society.  A goliath ranger, half orc barbarian, a tiefling runaway warlock and a storm cleric to name a few of the six players I have.

We managed to sketch the broad strokes of the countryside and its inhabitants in just a session or two, and have since then been filling in some of the more general details.

One thing I have really enjoyed has been my decision to let the weather of the real world govern the climate in the world of our port city.  It’s winter in Muskoka, and unlike more popular destinations in Ontario like Toronto, we have an ample amount of snow on the ground around here.  So every week as I contemplate the encounters I’m planning, I pay attention to what is happening outside.  Working very closely at times with the outside as a carpenter, I am never that far, and am very conscious of how temperature can affect mood and performance, and how multiple layers of clothing feels when you move and bend, twist and walk.

I was anticipating regular Survival checks and Constitution saves as we navigated their adventures, but lucky for the party it has been a fairly mild winter.  Not without snow and extreme weather, but certainly lacking the brisk -25C temperatures we are used to in January and February.  Lucky sods.

I let other matters inform our adventuring as well.  Christmas is always a holiday worth capitalising on in the world of role-playing games, and I feel I did OK in this regard.  The group was looking to hire themselves out, having just cast off their employment as local militia/constabulary toughs, and I had a desperate young man engage their services.

He was from a fairly new logging settlement and had come to Port Haven hauling the final shipment of cord wood and lumber for the season.  His brother was supposed to arrive a day or two after, but hadn’t shown up.

After discovering the empty settlement and spending a tense night searching amongst solstice decorations and strange wooden dolls, the group set off to find the missing people of Timberfell.  I didn’t want to specifically use Santa, Jack Frost or Krampus, so I blended all three into a demon who wanted to put the settlement and then the whole north into perpetual winter.  Demons don’t understand food stores and the necessity for the seasons to change, but all these humans think solstice is so great, why can’t they just celebrate forever?  What a great gift for the demon to give the world?

They did indeed save Timberfell and return to Port Haven to collect their profit.  Since then I have had to take a few absences, and my friend Shayne was there to take the reigns, filling in with prequel adventures and a side quest or two as needed.

And as needed, we have begun fleshing out more details, and as needed I have been attempting to sow the seeds of an overarching plot to get the players tangled up in.  And thus far, it has been a good experience.  The players’ backstories are giving me plenty of fodder to be sure.  Everyone has come up with enough of a history and origin to give me some good plot hooks, and to tailor certain encounters to appeal to certain backgrounds, but as the PCs navigate these encounters, they are themselves shaping how my story will go.

We start a story.  I establish the scenario and give the group time to formulate a plan.  Due to the fact that our port city is only conceptualised in the broadest strokes, they have every avenue available to them when it comes to where they can go and who they can talk to.  Locations, NPCs and their relationships with those people are up for grabs.

You would think this might be viewed as an easy or win button situation, but that’s where I come in.  The Dungeon Master’s role is to create and referee the challenges the party will face, so I do my best to add an element to these people and places as they arise.  Which usually means putting some kind of roll to the group.

The party is currently adventuring at level four.  They are no longer a wet behind the ears troupe of rat slayers, but they are certainly not the epic heroes the city needs.  However, my players are not very lucky.  They just don’t get stellar roles all the time.  So when they go off to have a chat with the local dreamleaf dealer, or bribe the quartermaster or try and pass along a suitors’ gift to the moneylender’s daughter, things just have a habit of not going their way.  Low roles or bad choice of skills to use have kept things challenging for my little group of would be heroes, and given me no small source of story for them to enjoy.

The challenges I am facing as a DM are as they have ever been since forming the Bracebridge Tabletop Gaming Community, and even further back to Game On when it was open.

Mostly time and regular attendance.  Time will ever be a factor, since we game once a week and for only a few hours at a time.  This stretches certain scenes to the breaking point and throws off my schedule if the PCs make things unnecessarily complicated, which they inevitably do.  I am trying to make each minor story no more than three sessions, and any major plot movement take up no more than six.  That means three weeks to complete the fun stuff, and six weeks to go through anything major.

I set a time limit of April/May to end this campaign, so that means I have to get a move on.  After this is done, I am looking forward to getting back into FFG’s Star Wars system, as it has been too long since I have been able to run a campaign there, and the variety will do the table good.  Keeping things fresh.

Attendance is just a thing I can’t control.  Sam has trouble getting a consistent ride, Morgan seems to be working a lot of Thursdays, and sometimes I get extra players from another table whose plans just fell apart for whatever reason.

The thing you have to remember about running a gaming community is that people are paying you.  It is very rare that I can just call off a night due to lack of attendance.  If I have two or three players, I am running something.  The problem comes when those two or three people are not the ones who would benefit directly from the story being played out, or they are people who have not been involved at all!  The best laid plans of mice and men, indeed…

Yet so far, we have been lucky.  Things are treading along quite well compared to the previous campaign, and I hope that the group’s very real involvement in creating their world has played a role in motivating them to attend.  Shortly I will accelerate the meat of the story, now that they have had a chance to reach a certain level of camaraderie and teamwork amongst the table.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The 25th Hour, and the Courage to Use It (Originally published on the Mad Adventurers Society)

This past week, I have been unable to find the time necessary to put together the piece I wanted to write. It's a big enough subject for me, that I didn't want to just bang out something at the last minute. So here is a piece I wrote a long time ago on the nature of time and how we can squeeze one more hour out of the day when we really need to...

As years pass and responsibilities increase, free time is absorbed by real life like The Nothing consumes every imaginary world you’ve ever traversed on a flying dog.  Finding the time to indulge in whatever pastimes you enjoy becomes an exercise in herding kittens.  What we end up doing is holding a lottery, where we cast off the smaller pleasures in favour of the things that we really enjoy and that contribute to the balancing effect that hobbies have over the stresses and rigors of our days of toil.

If time (or lack of) can act as walls closing in on the average tabletop gamer, preventing them from enjoying their hobbies and interests, what is an intrepid enthusiast to do to mitigate that conundrum?

The 25th Hour

There is a book somewhere with this title.  Apparently, there is a movie of the same name.  I have even heard that both of these are very good things to pass your time consuming.  What I am talking about has nothing to do with either of these things.  Let’s move on.

The first time I heard the concept of the twenty fifth hour was from one of my many musical influences.  I can’t remember whom exactly to credit with the idea, but the concept is simple:  

There is a secret twenty-fifth hour lurking in the corners of every day, and if you find a thing truly important and absolutely need time to do it, the twenty-fifth hour is there for you to make use of after all of your other duties and commitments have been met.

This hour could involve some simple exchange of scheduling.  Instead of taking an hour to answer emails or check facebook, you sit down and have a good long look at your character backstory and compare it to how your sessions are going.  Does it all fit, and what changes do you need to make?

Sometimes the twenty-fifth hour is hidden throughout the day in smaller chunks.  Five minutes here and twenty minutes there, you contemplate the contents of the tournament deck you are preparing for an upcoming con, making notes on which cards need to be in the deck, and what cards are upcoming in the next expansions and how will they affect your strategies going forwards.  The twenty-fifth hour involves sacrifice and dedication, because you need to focus on gathering those small moments throughout a day or night and compile them into blocks of time where the reward is that extra opportunity to work on what you are passionate about.

For me, the twenty-fifth hour lurks at the beginning or the end of the day.  A long time ago, I needed more practice time on the bass guitar.  There were techniques and scales that I was learning as part of my own voracious appetite to expand my knowledge and understanding of my instrument and music as a whole.  These approaches to the bass were not a part of my usual musical vocabulary as it applied to my band.  As a rock/metal cover band, slap/pop techniques and jazz scales didn’t show up nearly enough in our set lists.  What that means for a musician is that you have to practice and explore those things outside of your usual musical routine.

I didn’t exactly have tons of free time sitting in heaps around me.  Besides my normal practice routine learning and maintaining proficiency in our library of songs, I had all of the previously mentioned responsibilities of adulthood breathing down my neck.  Home, wife and child were all things that I wanted and needed to pay attention to, no matter how much my brain was masticating the application of seventh chords over a II-V progression through the circle of fifths.

I needed more time, so I resolved to get up earlier, and/or stay up later.  You may think this is silly, or you may wonder why it took me so long to figure it out.  However, simply decreasing your hours of rest is not the healthiest choice.  We have all heard over the years how our bodies, minds and souls need rest to be healthy and navigate the perils of the day.  How else will we recover hit points?!  The powers that be, and game designers are not wrong, so I caution you to be honest with yourself when examining your rest patterns, and make healthy choices.

I discovered with some conscious experimentation that I require (read: absolutely NEED) seven hours of sleep a night to function in a productive, safe and sane manner.  There are certainly times when I get less or more, but on average I aim to meet that seven hour goal, because I know that it is appropriate for me and my lifestyle.

After I established how much sleep I needed, I tacked that newfound extra time on to the parts of the day where it would do the most good.  This turned out to be the morning.  Up at five everyday, to make coffee and sit down with my bass in a quiet corner of the house.

That was definitely the benefit of scheduling my time in the morning.  Silence.  With everyone else asleep in the house I had free reign of that hour, without hearing “Daddy” or “Honey” on never-ending replay breaking my concentration and drawing me away from my studies.  That was the time that I needed to devote to learning new aspects of my instrument and expanding my base of knowledge in musical theory and how that weave of talent works in different genres of music.  Mission accomplished.

How does this apply to gaming?   Easy.  Exchange bass and music for games and gaming.  Wouldn’t it be nice to study up on your latest campaign in a quiet house with a fresh-brewed cup of java?  Not your thing?  Fine.  Headphones playing your preferred music and a pot of tea, or your favourite anime and a smoothie.  It doesn’t matter.  Once you find that extra hour, it’s almost like a cone of solitude, a bubble of space/time seemingly separate from the rest of your life where you can hyper-focus your efforts towards a thing.  It happens that way because you have made that special, extra effort to prioritize that block of your day for that singular purpose, somehow segregating it from everything else and drawing your full attention towards it.  Remember my “woodshed” analogy?  you are in it.  And away you go.

The twenty-fifth hour can be helpful as an emergency measure if you just haven’t been able to study up on your game between sessions.  There have been weeks where all of my worldly responsibilities have just been too much for me to hit the books and prep upcoming encounters for my group.  It was a real challenge to prepare when we were playing 4E D&D, and I had to find an extra hour quite often, but that’s a distant memory now, and we don’t need to dwell on it.

I have even on occasion used my twenty-fifth hour in the hour right before our session started, staying in my car outside of Game On (our FLGS at the time), and vigorously cramming stat blocks and NPC notes before allowing myself to exit and make my way inside.

We’ve all been there.  Desperately seeking the extra bit of time that we need to prepare for a session or read up on rules, etc. before our games began, and defining an extra hour of a day and making other apparently small time sacrifices in an effort to create that chunk of space to get there.  Establishing that block as a definite thing and calling it a Twenty-fifth Hour can help to draw your brain into the necessary state of mind to reach your goals as a GM and enjoy the effort spent, which helps to reap the rewards in the form of a great session for all and more time spent enjoying what you love.

But what happens if that extra block of time has to be taken in the wild?  What if those who choose to ignore your weird little hobby are forced to confront it head on, and what if you are content to separate those elements of your life for your own peace of mind, but this time it just can’t be avoided?

Just Do It.

I ran into this exact problem a few years ago while running a D&D Encounters series on top of my usual campaign arc.  For those unfamiliar with Encounters, it is an adventure series published by WotC and distributed to participating stores and their in-store groups.  From a certain starting date, each group plays through one encounter per week, usually over twelve weeks, and completes a story arc that leads to the next adventure.  This is all well and good, but at that time my group was really enjoying our homebrew, so after each official encounter we would switch settings and play as much of our regular game as we could for the remainder of the evening.  As DM, I thought it would be easy to study one encounter a week for the serial game, and still maintain all of the information I needed to run our usual game.  Of course, this was fourth edition, and I was just plain wrong.

As a DM for fourth, you had to maintain a seemingly mountainous mental list of abilities and special attacks and conditions and ohgodicanttakeitanymoreimsogladfifthishere.  Phew.

I ended up behind the eight ball on game day having not spent enough time to confidently run that evenings’ session.  I had a choice to make:  I could study in the parking lot.  Like I said, I’ve done that before, but the job site I was on was a fair drive from the store, and would only leave me about twenty minutes before the session to fit a lot of stuff in my head.

The second choice was to grab that encounters book and put it in my lunchbox, whipping it out in front of everyone, with my yogurt whatever else I had stuffed in there.  Fantastic depictions of struggling dwarves and meticulous maps and numbers and arcane symbols there for everyone to see.  People knew I did something every Wednesday night, but were content to file it under “weird stuff Rob does that we don’t get” (I also listen to weird music, have a seemingly bottomless well of obscure music and movie trivia, make constant TV and movie references, and generally have an odd and ridiculous sense of humour that may or may not lead to dancing around and behaving like an idiot.  Normal geek behaviour that is lost on a lot of the people in my life.  Sigh.  Nobody gets my art.).

I had to go with option two.  And that’s when I had that revelation that I was in my mid-thirties and that I was still behaving like a child when it came to the things that I loved.  I was still hiding my interests because they weren’t common or understood by some people who populated my world.  I was still deferring to that group when it came to what was acceptable to talk about in casual conversation.  I realized that if I chose to wait until the end of the day to study up, I would be under prepared and it would be because I was putting social discomfort and fear of others’ disapproval before what I liked doing and the necessary commitments that I made to ensure everyone else had a good time.

In a lot of ways I was very mad with myself for feeling this way.  I enjoyed working with these people, and we had a good time all around.  If I sought their approval or validation, it was because of the jobs we were doing together (remember, I’m a carpenter.  We build houses).  I only needed them to be satisfied with my workmanship and not what I did when I left work.  That’s not to say that I would go to work and boast about our orc-slaying exploits on the tabletop, daring any cynics or non-believers to question my undying loyalty to polyhedral dice.  Just that I shouldn’t have to hide it just because I’m the only one interested.

So I wadded up the adventure book and sandwiched it in next to my leftover roast beef and made my way to work.

At first break I very casually pulled out my snacks and book, poured my tea from my thermos and opened to the appropriate page.  I didn’t really start reading, because I was immediately aware that conversations about hockey and hunting and yard maintenance were dying off around the room as people noticed that it wasn’t a magazine I was reading, but something altogether different.

To my great delight and even chagrin, I wasn’t mocked or derided like a nerd in a school yard.  I was asked questions about what I was doing.  They were curious enough to listen until they understood just enough to know that I wasn’t under the impression that I would be conjuring flames or summoning demons anytime soon.  I was different enough already that me pulling D&D books out of my lunch box just wasn’t a shock to them.

I explained that I was studying and needed to get as much done before the end of the day as possible, and after they were satisfied with the concept and mechanical explanations of how the whole thing worked, they respected what I needed from my twenty-fifth hour and left me alone, returning to their own conversations about the things that were important to them.  The hobbies that filled their own spare hours.

It’s common knowledge now that I run a community gaming group, and that I have spent Wednesdays and/or Thursdays for the last few years engaging in what is a niche hobby, but really no different than someone who has a weekly poker game, or coaches youth hockey.  I don’t fly my geek flag in defiance of the norm, it’s just a thing that I do, like everyone else.

That’s not to say that I don’t have moments of insecurity.  It’s a lot of fun when someone new starts at the company and is confronted by my interests.  The casual, comfortable attitude of everyone around me is inspiring, and at the end of the twenty-fifth hour, it’s just me and my hobby, and I’m smiling.

The twenty-fifth hour is there for anyone devoted enough to find it.  Sometimes loving something and being committed to its pursuit means putting yourself out there in uncomfortable situations.  It is worth it, if you are willing to make the necessary sacrifices, and sometimes you can be pleasantly satisfied with the results, making it all worth the risk.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

This is Forty

This year marks my fortieth turn around the sun.  What does that mean to me?  What deep and timeless wisdom can I pass on to the rest of the world?  To be honest, I’m not sure, but that might be the best lesson I’ve learned…

Birthday, Cake, Birthday Cake, Dessert

Since my last birthday, things have changed a bit.  I have played bass in a community production of the Rocky Horror Show and through that, renewed my interest in local theatre productions.  Which means that when my local band was put on further hiatus by a member's’ sudden and unfortunate back injury, I auditioned for a role in one of Huntsville Theatre Company’s upcoming productions, and got the chance to do the part.

Last year, myself and a fellow by the name of Dorian took it upon ourselves to organise three local X-Wing tournaments to bring the space boat playing community of Muskoka together.  Again, I made lots of new friends, and through that, we organised a trip to attend the recent Regional Tournament in the city of Toronto.  It was quite a day.

My wife and I took a trip to Mexico for the first time with a group of close friends, which was also a first.  While I didn’t make any fast friends per se, I did talk to a lot of people, and the experience itself was amazing.

As a standard of measure for the year leading up to my fortieth birthday, it was pretty darn good, and the milestone itself gives me pause for reflection.

I’ve received a lot of jabs from a variety of sources about this number and what it means.  Being a male, I’m used to the playful, derogatory comments of my peers, and working in residential construction makes that double.  We have an unfortunate culture of affectionate insults and jibes, and I am just as guilty of participating in it as those around me.

As it turns out, it doesn’t bother me.  This forty business.  It is essentially, a number that represents the average middle of my life, provided I first make it to eighty, and then don’t bother to go too far beyond that.  Apparently, while I am not yet over a certain hill, I command a charming view of the descent.

Yet more than anything, I am excited by the prospect of what is to come.

First, I’m glad that after so many years of floundering around as an adult and trying to get it all together that even at middle age, nobody really knows what they’re doing.  They can stamp and sulk all they want, but there is no definitive guide to being an adult, just constructs and obtuse directions, ever-changing societal norms and shifting taboos of accepted rites and procedures.  Just like high school, real life is like an old note binder, full of crumpled and torn notes mismatched and unorganised, with only small sections laid out in any kind of system of reference, with scattered sticky notes in a variety of colours, coded to a form lost long ago.

It’s comforting to know that I didn’t miss the meeting.  That we’re all in this together...Ish.

Turning forty, I am even more comfortable in my geekery.  I have zero time to hide my habits from the world.  Like a vegetarian, I proudly rampage through the streets, declaring my love of hobby board gaming and tabletop role-playing games to the world.  I defy anyone to chide me for my love of Star Wars or Tolkien.  I happily bring small filler games with me wherever I go, knowing that somehow, somewhere, someone will ask to play…

All right that’s a bit extreme, but you get the picture.  I’ve written a few times before about lunch break talk and water cooler chat.  Everyone else discusses plans which follow the popular or common pastimes of the world we live in.  In idle chat, the worlds of organised and outdoor sports get thrown around.  Whole days are devoted to world championships and the get togethers to enjoy them.  I have no interest in these things, so I always keep a tight lip and try not to make real eye contact.  And in the past, I have always demurred from discussing Star Wars movie marathons or guys’ weekends playing epic D&D.

Now I offer a brief overview of the Bracebridge Tabletop Gaming Community and what we do, or acknowledge my sons’ growing interest in the Edge of the Empire Star Wars RPG system.  And at forty, I no longer do it with the defiance of the last few years.  I’m no longer silently challenging people to question my hobbies.  It is simply one of the things that I do for fun, to get away from the slog of adulthood and the mundane, which at times permeates the real world.

At forty, I have reached the point of no longer apologising for who I am.  Now I’m still a Canadian, so that really means I just apologise less, but it still applies.

As I rehearse for this play, I am being reminded of the concept of balance in all things.  We are currently rehearsing three nights a week.  I go to game night one night a week.  Each of my two children travel to various lessons and such two nights a week each.  I have a full time job.  This does not leave a lot of fully attended family time.  So I have discovered now that I am forty that life is not supposed to be that hectic.

We work to live, we don’t live to work.  We can’t be constantly racing from one appointment to the next, scribbling everything down in calendars synced across devices while we fling emails and texts out into the stratosphere.  There needs to be time where you sit silently and wait.  Just stop, and take it all in.  Take something in that is not important or necessary.

Maybe play a game?

Having a hobby is so important to us as  people.  It’s a goal to strive towards as we careen through the day.  It can be a social thing like gaming, a family thing like camping or the chaos of group meal preparation, or a very private thing like my sister, who plays the drums alone in her basement.

Hobbies and interests of any kind are a form of escapism.  They are a way to de-stress from the rigors of the world.  In a role-playing game, players take on the roles of fictional characters who are exploring fantastical worlds and fighting in great conflicts for the betterment of all.  Tabletop gamers play a multitude of different categories of games both alone and with others as a way of forgetting about the things that keep them up at night.  So much the better if they can talk and laugh with others while they play, no matter whether it’s cooperative or competitive.

As I am now fully forty years old, I am more comfortable in the skin I am in than I have ever been before.  I am an old shoe, worn around the edges, but a perfect fit.

This does not mean that I will grow complacent in my coming years.  There is more time that needs to be staked out to spend with family and friends.  There are so many more games to play, and new faces to meet playing them.  There is always struggle, but I firmly believe humans are meant to struggle.  We can’t just rest on our laurels and fade away, it’s not how we’re built.  To strive onward is when we begin to shine.  We need to push against our hardships in order to fail and learn from our mistakes.  It’s how we grow.

There is an idea in some circles of teaching known as the three stages of learning.  It states that in the first stage, you don’t know what you don’t know.  The second stage is described as knowing what you don’t know.  And the final stage is knowing what you know.  I feel like I’m smack in the middle of the second stage.  As much as I have learned many things in my last forty years of existence, the most important thing I have learned is that there is a whole universe of things out there yet to learn, and while it can be a scary place, it’s OK.  With the right people around you, and staying true to the things that you love which give you respite from the challenges of your life, you will be just fine.