First, a little musical accompaniment.
On Monday, May 15th, I ran my last game for the Lewisville Public Library. It’s been a place I’ve visited almost every 1st and 3rd Monday for around 10 years. I started out with a group of 4 running 50 Fathoms with Savage Worlds once a month. At its height, probably about 5 years ago, we were averaging 12 players each session and running a game every Monday night.
Over the course of the last decade, scores of players have come and gone. I’ve seen some kids start out in middle school, only to leave for college. It’s been amazing.
During my tenure, those players have explored the worlds of 50 Fathoms, Castle Ravenloft, Athas (Dark Sun), 17th Century France (twice!), the Weird West of Deadlands, the Sword and Sandals world of Aros, the pirate-infested seas of Théah, a mysterious monster-filled island, an abandoned carnival haunted by evil clowns, Pinebox, Texas and East Texas University, the world of Warhammer 40k, the dungeons beneath Hogwarts, and the forelorn peaks of Moldavia and the Palace of the Vampire Queen. I may be forgetting a few. Most of these were played under Savage Worlds, but we also explored Ubiquity, Rogue Trader, Cthulhu Dark, 7th Sea, 4th edition and B/X Dungeons and Dragons for a time.
Since we are right on their doorstep, Reaper Miniatures came out three years in a row to run miniature painting workshops. Each one was well attended by an enthusiastic bunch of teens who got a look into a different side of the hobby.
It’s not something I’ve done alone. All along I’ve had the assistance of my close friend and co-GM, Joe, who was given the terrible task of being the unbiased, heartless tactical brains of many of the monstrosities the kids faced. I’ve also had other GMs take part in the program, running games on my off nights. Despite what you might think, none of those other GMs ever stuck around. I don’t know if it was the stress of having to run a large group of relatively green (and sometimes rules-adverse) players or just the drudgery of having to show up. For whatever reason, they didn’t get it. If they understood the mission of the program, they never fell in love with it the way Joe and I did.
We outlasted THREE youth librarians who were wonderful ambassadors and understood what we were doing and gave us all the space we needed to do it. They were always eager to print something up at the last minute, provide some prize support for some crazy contest, or invest in materials for the program. See, we had a policy: come as you are; no materials or experience necessary. You could play our games from the time you turned 11 til you graduated high school and never buy your own dice or rulebook. We had everything covered. And chances are, after the second year of the program, the Lewisville Public Library was footing the bill.
And they weren’t the only ones! During our decade-long run, we’ve enjoyed support in the form of encouragement and materials from Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Triple Ace Games, Reaper Miniatures, and 12 to Midnight! Even when I thought they’d be too busy, these people gave up their time and efforts to help us pull off some big project or contest. These guys and gals are fantastic folks – if you aren’t supporting these companies, you should be!
Another highlight was presenting with Youth Librarian Elizabeth Hanisian at the 2011 Texas Library Association meeting in San Antonio as part of a panel on gaming in the library, then running a Savage Worlds demo for those who attended. While the attendees were supposed to sample a little bit of everything being demoed, we became a lot of people’s last stop as their valiant musketeers carefully made their way through an old tenement crawling with monstrosities.
But things began to wind down in 2010 with the birth of my daughter. Then, in 2012, just days before the birth of my son, we moved from Lewisville to Dallas proper, turning my 5 minute commute to a 40+ minute grind through rush out traffic. In 2014, my co-GM was married and moved west of Fort Worth, making his commute (already an hour and change) all but impossible. Then my parents’ health took a turn that required more attention. So when the previous Youth Librarian Liaison told me she was leaving to pursue a teaching career, I knew it was time to call it a night. After all, if you couldn’t tell from the activity around here, the kindergarten school schedule is brutal!
So Monday was our last game session. We had a full group: 10 kids and 1 adult (a dad who used to game), and of those we had two whole families playing. They put an end to an Unseelie unicorn, captured the head of an anarchist cell in Paris, and learned the identity of perhaps the most dangerous sorcerer in France! And thanks to a convenient Christmas Sale at Triple Ace Games, I was able to put a hardcover copy of All For One: Regime Diabolique into the hands of a very excited 12 year old girl (she won 1st place in our adventure writing contest – and no, I wasn’t one of the judges) and told her the rest of the adventure was in her hands.
I’m not sure how many of these kids will still be rolling dice at the table in six years, but that really isn’t the point. The point has always been to give a group of teens the kind of gaming experience I wish I had been able to have at their age. Back when I was futzing around with world building for D&D but had no real idea how to run a game or manage a campaign. Joe felt the same way, and we led by example. We always encouraged, always looked for ways for the kids to contribute, and always tried to introduce them to different aspects of the hobby. We showed them miniature painting, skirmish level wargaming, adventure design and world building. We rewarded ever step.
Do I think some of these kids will become life long gamers? I know at least one will. That at least one person will fall in love with the hobby and build on it because of something we built. And that makes all the hard work, all the late Monday commutes, all the collaborative sessions, all the investment worth it.
To all of you who helped, contributed, or managed a game for our program, THANK YOU! To those of you who sat at the table, rolled dice and helped us tell some amazing stories, BRAVO! We hope you enjoyed every minute as much as we did. To all of you who I’ve spoken with on this subject over the past decade, who was inspired to take a turn at running games for kids at the public library, ROCK ON! To anyone who is reading this and thinking, damn that sounds like something I should do, DO IT! It’s a labor of love that pays off if you have patience and drive to nurture it and grow it.
It has been a fantastic and fun 10 years. But that era must now give way to something new.