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A Look Back and Farewell

Written by Nicholas - Published on January 30, 2010

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

With a swell of emotion, I am saying goodbye. After more than a year, over a hundred articles, eighteen videos, two game systems and one supplement, I am leaving Dungeon Mastering. While I’m extremely proud of the work I have done here, Dungeon Mastering started without me and will continue after I am gone. I will be watching just as eagerly as everyone else to see how the site grows going forward.

Some of you may think I’m being too serious or self indulgent. After all, it is only 14 months of writing on a gaming blog. Gaming is just a hobby that we do to pass the time and hang out with friends. Well that may be true, but tabletop gaming has meant a lot to me throughout my life. It has helped shape me into the person I am and get through rough times. I think my personal story is worth sharing, if you agree then please press on. If you think I have an over inflated ego, feel free to ignore this and continue on with our normal game advice content.

The Beginning

My D&D origin story starts 10 years ago. I had just turned 13 years old and was starting middle school, had no friends and spent huge chunks of my time playing the original Everquest. My dream in life was to be a writer and I was already scratching out some very basic fantasy stories. I was only dimly aware of Dungeons & Dragons but keen to check it out. As luck would have it, my aunt took me out to the mall to select a birthday present. We stumbled into a board game store and I discovered, stowed on a bottom shelf and deeply discounted, a 2nd edition D&D starter set. It wasn’t until much later that I found out it was banished there because the 3rd edition had already released. I didn’t know or care about any of that, Dungeons & Dragons was right there in front of me! I pointed it out to my aunt and she bought it as my gift. To this day I don’t think she has any idea what she started for me.

Of course, I still had no friends to play it with so I was left to read the rules and look at the maps for myself for a few months. Eventually in school I was paired up with a boy just as shy and awkward as myself. Once we actually began actually speaking I found out he was also interested in D&D. I brought in my starter set and our adventures took place during school lunches and free periods. We messed up all the rules, handed out massive amounts of xp and treasure and in general just had a really great time. Looking back on it now I release that it was pure escapism for both of us; I was getting away from loneliness and he was hiding from his stepfathers illness and eventual death. At the time it was just the most fun I’ve ever had.

Soon more people were pulled into our antics and things eventually settled down. I had my first proper gaming group, my first proper campaign and my first proper friends. At 13 years old I had was I thought was the epiphany of my lifetime. I don’t want to be a writer anymore, I want to make D&D!

The Low Point

Fast forward through my high school years. New faces show up at my gaming table and old ones fade away. We start playing new games, expanding into D&D 3.5, Burning Wheel, Mutants and Mastermind and others. It’s obvious by now that this whole gaming thing isn’t going away anytime soon. The dream of being a designer doesn’t fare so well. I drafted some over complicated systems that never saw play, but eventually the whole thing was discarded as a child’s notion. I thought I was as likely to become a fireman or an astronaut as a game designer. Unfortunately I had no ambition to replace it with, so I entered the local college confused and rudderless. Eventually I settled into a Political Science program because it had the bits of history that I like without all the nonsense. Of course, I still had no idea what I was going to do after college.

To make matters worse, during the summer of my second year in college I underwent surgery to correct a birth defect¬† on my feet. The surgery was intended to ensure my fully mobility through my adult years and it may do just that, but it didn’t matter at the time. The surgery left me unable to walk for 3 months and heavily medicated on painkillers. The infection that came along with the procedure meant the incisions had to be opened several more times, I was forced to wake at all hours to give myself IV antibiotics and I was nearly constantly being subjected to cleanings and dressing changes. Following all of this was a period of getting around with a walker and then with a cane. I still consider this the lowest point of my life. I mention all this because all I would look forward to during all of that were the two time a week I got to hang out with my friends playing tabletop games.

During that period my older brother joined my gaming groups. He was always interested in the hobby, but I think he believed that hanging out with my friends would be a bit too weird. Helping me get to my games provided him the excuse he needed to jump in and I got to see my same passion for the hobby from the outside. Once I healed he just kept coming to games and eventually was just one of the guys. It was satisfying to me that after years of looking up to my big brother and following him around I got to expose him to something great.

A New Purpose

Speaking of my older brother, being a few years older than me he was now dealing with the problems that were looming for me. Specifically, what to do with yourself once you graduate college. He settled on joining the Navy and becoming an officer. I started researching it myself and found it wasn’t a bad gig. The Navy would pay me for finishing college and I would be ensured a job once I graduated. So trailing my brother by a few months I began the long process of paperwork, medical exams and physical training. I remember being more energized than I had been in a long time, I had a purpose again.

Things went on like this for 6 months before the news came down. My brother was in, I was out on a medical rejection. The surgery that was supposed to make sure I could do anything I want was keeping me from doing the one thing I really wanted. Now I was right back where I started from. It was the summer before my final year of college and I had no plans and no ambitions. I took a good hard look at myself and found the one thing that I have cared about consistently my whole life, gaming. It struck me like lightning, the old dream reborn as a new purpose!

I am going to be a game designer.

The Final Year and Dungeon Mastering

4e had just come out and it was dominating my gaming table from launch day. I had sent in a few terrible pitches to Dragon magazine but aside from that I really had no idea how to make my dream a reality.  Suddenly something arrived in my email box. The latest Dungeon Mastering newsletter, a subscription I signed up for entirely because they were giving away a 4e core book set, but had taken to reading. This was a very special article though, because it announced they were looking for a writer and it was even a paid position! I submitted my application, pouring out my ambitions to Yax and attaching an excerpt from one of my terrible pitch articles to back it up. He wished me well and told me he would check it out. A week later I saw that Janna was named as the new writer for the site. Well, something got into me that day because their was a fire in my blood. I shot off a quick email to Yax telling him that I was would write for the site for free for 6 months, an absurd boast, and then he could see if I was worth paying. He told me that he would settle for a month trial and decide from there. After his reaction to my first article I knew that I had the job.

Through my work at Dungeon Mastering I improved my writing, learned to handle criticism about my work and became a better dungeon master myself. I devoted all of my idle brain energy to thinking about gaming. My day job and final year at college became really a background to what I thought was important, gaming. Writing for a blog is a marathon, not a sprint. I needed to produce content if I was feeling inspired to write or not and I’m very proud that in my time at Dungeon Mastering I never missed a deadline or asked for time off. I know that writing endurance is an essential skill I must continue to cultivate.

It was during this time that my brother finished his Navy training and was leaving home for good. I remember that moment vividly. I was the only one at home when he was packing the last of his things and heading out. I hadn’t really done or said anything to him. What do you do in that moment? I wanted to give him something that would mean as much to him as it did to me. Finally a thought struck me, he had not bought his own D&D books yet, he always shared mine. I grabbed my 4e Player’s Handbook off the shelf and walked up to him. I handed it to him and said a few words that I can’t recall, hoping to sound nonchalant about the whole thing. Gaming is something that we shared in all forms growing up and I wanted to give him a bit of it to take with him.

And that’s just a little bit of what gaming means to me.

Now I want to hear your stories. How deep does this simple hobby run for you?

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

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