Thursday, December 12, 2013

Razing Arizona

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.
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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  Historical references, random name generators, searches through the atlases of several different countries.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 SCA barony.
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 D&D rules.
The Road Warrior with magic.  Orcs with Mohawks on motorcycles.  Drow babes in Hooters tank tops and leather chaps!
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 the Sun.
“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.
The FBI.
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 of Arizona?”
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 to lunch.
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.


  1. Damn, I wish I'd been around for that campaign. It sounds like a hoot! Coincidentally, I lived in Arizona for the last three years, in a little place called Estrella. How's that for coincidence? Very interesting story, Bryan, although I'm sure you have others that are even more interesting, if not necessarily suitable for a public blog.

  2. Too funny, Bryan! Thanks for sharing, and the campaign sounds like it was awesome!

  3. Great story! But what's the SCA? I tried googling it, but that didn't really clear things up. :)

  4. Heather, the SCA is the Society for Creative Anachronism. It's a group of medieval recreationists who try to preserve the skills, romance, and chivalry of the middle ages. It's great fun, especially if you like costuming or hitting people with heavy sticks.

    1. Ah, that makes sense! I didn't think it was the Society of Cardiovascular Anesthesiologists or Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, but thought I'd better make sure.

  5. Hilarious. I would have laughed my head off at them too.

  6. As writers, I bet we're all on a gov't list somewhere, only a step away from the FBI knocking on our door for things like researching how to rapid-reload a shotgun, rifle, or bazooka! I loved your story! You're blog is looking very Spartan though. You really need a bunch of widgets for Followers, links to all your other places (like FB and GR), and some pics or text announcing your forthcoming book. Take a hop over to my blog and feel free to email. (Both addy's should be on my profile). Or you know how to find me on FB :-)