“We're all made of stories. When they finally put us underground, the stories are what will go on. Not forever, perhaps, but for a time. It's a kind of immortality, I suppose, bounded by limits, it's true, but then so's everything.”
― Charles de Lint
Thursday, December 12, 2013
The following is a true story, offered here as an introduction to myself and my view of the world. Spoiler alert: the good state and citizens of Arizona were not harmed in the creation of this blog entry.
* * *
I never meant to be investigated
as a domestic terrorist. I just wanted to run a D&D game.
I had been running campaigns set
in a homebrew world for about ten years, and I was getting a little burned out
on it and on traditional fantasy games in general. I decided that I
needed to work on something new to get my creative juices flowing again.
I started thinking about creating a new campaign world, but ran into an issue
right off: I could not find a map I liked.
I spent hours tweaking various
fractal world generators, to no avail. I tried freehand and gave up
because everything I drew somehow looked like a random number of amorous ducks
playing with oil paints. Finally, I decided to use (drum roll!) good old
Earth. OK, so, it’s a parallel Earth. This was good, I could live
with it.Less time mapping, more time
actually creating, right?
Wrong.Now I had to start naming things.Historical references, random name
generators, searches through the atlases of several different countries.Everything sounded terrible.I gave up, convinced that I’d burned out as a
GM.My creative engine was running like
a ’72 Pinto that was up on blocks.I
shelved the whole project.Then, a few
days later, I was setting up a printer in one of the offices I supported and I
found out that the woman getting the printer was the web crafter for the local
Somewhere in the back of my mind,
lights started coming on.Generators
began spinning, electricity began arcing up a Jacob’s ladder, and someone put on
the theme from Superman.My mind was racing the rest of the day.Fortunately, I work in IT, so it was really
easy to look busy and not actually be working on anything for the rest of the
day.By the time I went home, I had most
of a campaign planned.The game would
take place in a world where the SCA kingdoms really were kingdoms – a
high-fantasy world of chivalry and service.
Once I got home, I sat down to
work on my ideas.For background music,
I picked Leslie Fish’s ‘Serious Steel’ CD.It’s a collection of SCA songs, with a couple done by Joe
Bethancourt.The first song (the title
track) is one I’d heard before, and had always considered fairly amusing.It describes what happens when a nuclear war
breaks out while the SCA is holding the Pennsic war – a two-week long event
that attracts between 10 and 15,000 people.In the song, the SCA members become a force for good, an army of Might
for Right in a dark and lawless time.The last verse hooked my attention:
How can we not take up the steel, for to serve our people’s need?
How can we leave our land to fall to any bandit’s greed?
We have the skills to save our folk from whatever evil thrives,
Admit the truth: this is the chance we’ve hoped for all our lives!
Not a high-fantasy game.
A post-apocalyptic game, using
The Road Warrior with magic.Orcs with Mohawks on motorcycles.Drow babes in Hooters tank tops and leather
I was definitely in the
groove.Several days later, I had the
first story arcs planned and a good beginning hook.The players would begin as members of the
SCA, going to Phoenix for the Estrella War.The game would begin with them watching the collapse of society and the
outbreak of magic around the world.Now,
I needed maps.I headed for a nearby
major chain bookstore and snagged two topographic map books – the really good
ones – of Arizona for me to use, a road map and vacation guide for the players
to use, detail maps of Phoenix and Flagstaff, and a nice little “what to see”
tourist guide for the Phoenix area.I
headed for the cashier, gleefully plotting the utter ruination of the Valley of
“Going on a trip?” the clerk asked
as she rang me up.
“No, I’m going to blow it up.”
She looked at me with eyes so
large I thought she was about to turn into a Pokemon.Woops.
“Heh, kidding!Really, they’re for a role-playing game I’m
running.”I signed my credit card
receipt and tried to look casual as I left.I fretted for a few days, but no police came to knock on my door, so I
relaxed.We ran the first game and it
was a success, especially President Jesse Ventura turning into a dwarf during a
live press conference.
The following week, I was at my
desk surfing, err, finishing up a ticket, when the receptionist called me.I had visitors, could I please come up
front?I wasn’t expecting anyone, so I
asked who they were with.
Now, one of my co-workers was
applying to the Secret Service and I knew that I was down as a reference for
her.So, off I went, mentally reviewing
what I would say to best depict her as a person well-qualified for a position
of public trust.I greeted the
gentlemen, checked their IDs (FBI don’t have badges) and showed them to an
empty conference room.
“So, how may I help you?”
“About two weeks ago, did you make
a public statement threatening mayhem or violence towards the people or state
I couldn’t help it.I started laughing.Not quietly and politely, either.The VP of HR heard me and went to ask the
receptionist what was happening in the conference room.The phrase “FBI” really got her attention.
Back in the conference room,
neither agent appeared to be reassured by my response.The senior agent waited for me to catch my
breath and said, “Sir, I can assure you that we are not taking this statement
lightly and we do not consider it cause for amusement.We are assigned to the special task force on
domestic terrorism and you are the subject of a serious inquiry.Now, could you please answer the question?”
I nodded.“Yes, I did say I was going to blow it
up.I’m sorry, I was feeling jaunty and
I made a smart-ass remark.I was buying
the maps for a role-playing game I’m running.I do not now nor have I ever harbored ill intentions towards the people
of Arizona.”The senior agent smirked
just a little when I said ‘role-playing game’.He knew what they were.The
junior agent was looking at me like a pit bull with colic, though.I continued, “This is a post-apocalyptic game
set in Arizona and the desert southwest, but that’s all it is.”I focused on the junior agent.“Ever play cops & robbers when you were a
kid, or go to a murder mystery dinner theater?Same thing, only instead of saying ‘bang, you’re dead’ it’s ‘bang, roll
some dice to see if you hit and how much damage you do’.”
The VP of HR came in at that point
and the senior agent reassured her that all was well.At that point, he relaxed and told me what
was going on.Yes, as I had assumed, the
clerk at the store told her manager what I had said.He called the FBI and gave them my name &
credit card number.From that, they got
my current employer (I think the IRS was involved) and found out that my office
was just a few blocks from theirs and that they were going to drive right past
it on their way to lunch.Even though
they thought the report was probably a false alarm, they decided to drop in on
me ‘just in case’.
I told them – truthfully and
seriously – that I was glad that they had done so.I’m just a goofball gamer who was feeling
jaunty and said something stupid.I’d
rather see them investigate a hundred people who did something innocent but
stupid than have them miss one person who was not so innocent.They thanked me for my time, and headed off
My campaign ran for about five
years, thankfully without any other law enforcement incidents.I never had any repercussions from that
visit, either, until I had to apply for a DOD security clearance.A very nice lady from the Office of Personnel
Management came to interview me as part of my background check.Part way through the interview, she asked me,
“Have you ever done anything that would give people cause to question your
fitness for a position of public trust?”
“Does being reported as a possible
domestic terrorist and getting questioned by the FBI count?”
Maybe she gave me points for being
jaunty.I got the clearance.