The Tragedy Of My Parents
My parents died unexpectedly of Carbon Monoxide poisoning in 2016. What does that have to do with RPGs? In short, everything and nothing. And that’s exactly the point of this post.
I was at work when I got the call. Both my parents are dead. My past seemingly is gone and out of reach. My lifelong friendships physically erased. I was in shock. Physically shaking. I couldn’t eat for weeks. Outbursts of crying. I was a mess.
And it took a while for that feeling to pass.
My Stages of Grief
There are five stages of grief commonly accepted among psychologists; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Without a doubt, after the loss of my parents, I hit each stage and hard. Some stages were a few days and other weeks. Some are ongoing or regress back and forth. The process is fluid, but for the most part. For instance, denial and bargaining were felt very early on. I rejected that I could no longer see my parents and would ask why them versus the plethora of actual bad people in the world. Anger and depression have been ongoing. It’s a wound that will not heal ever. In time, I expect it to become a tale like old people tell of their childhood. Where it is very real to them, it defined them, but to others, it might as well be a black and white photo of an age come and gone.
My First RPG Character Loss
My first character was a barbarian fighter from D&D 2nd edition. He was a burly man of average height, but his stature was unmatched. He had amassed riches beyond any character I had ever had even to this day and built his own fortification. His name was was Crossfire, and after one of his great adventures Crossfire harvested owlbear eggs and placed the hatchings in his home as protection. He was a man of many quirks and not to be reckoned with.
On his back, he would wield a double-edged battle axe. Small notches in the hilt displayed the victories of past conflicts. But, fittingly, it was his crossbow that he was most fond of. He could split an apple into two from across a field. His skin was that of hardened leather. He was a spitting image of Frank Frazetta’s Conan The Barbarian. What he lacked in his intelligence made up by being a true master of his art form.
My brother was Dungeon Master at the time, as he often was. He was a short curly haired teenager with braces at the time. He was four years my senior which led to me look up to him in more ways than just height. It was he who had presented me with such opportunities to allow Crossfire to succeed in all of his amazing triumphs. Against all odds, Crossfire campaigned alone and he never shared a victory with another. It was crossfire who made the world turn. Other people just lived in that world.
One afternoon Crossfire came upon a large hole in the briars. Queer noises could be heard rustling in the bushes. Crossfire clutched his battle axe preparing for close ranged combat. Out from the thorny bushes came a dozen large rabbits. These were no ordinary rabbits, though. They were three times the size of a normal hare with unicorn-like horns fiendishly protruding out of their foreheads. Most importantly, they had a crazy look in their beady red eyes as they charged forward. It was clear there would be no negotiations. An unnatural nature called them to action, and the lush forest clover was not on the menu for this encounter.
One by one they skewered Crossfire. Each roll topping the last until critical hits were scored sending Crossfire to his knees. The final blow seemingly insignificant, yet, still finding its mark in Crossfire’s leathery skin. The final horn settling between his rib cage. He never had a chance.
That was it. It was over. Just like that. My greatest champion downed by rabbits. RABBITS! I couldn’t believe it. I was baffled. Then, I looked angrily at my brother. Why would he put so many critters in one spot for me to fight? The action economy was flawed. The creatures were too powerful. I hadn’t even done anything stupid to deserve such a meager death by rabbit skewering. A death meant for some poor fool. Not a death of a king! I asked questions of my brother, pleading my case, but it was too late. Crossfire had fallen and there was not going back. All alone, in a forest next to a briar bush, the wild hares had brought down my king of kings.
I was bummed for quite some time. I was angry at my brother, but eventually, I learned to accept the fact that my favorite character was gone. And that was that. I had experienced my first loss of an RPG character, and it hurt.
RPG Character Loss
What I find most interesting is that the loss of a character will generate the same emotions, just to a much lesser degree. I had approached the death of my parents in much the same way, just over an arbitrary character. It wasn’t that the character was just a piece of paper, it was that I projected myself so deeply into the character. It was me. A piece of me had died that day! I had experienced all the stages of grief to the loss of a piece of myself written out on a looseleaf paper.
Of course, the benefit of losing a character is like dating. There are many fish in the sea, and adventurers are a dime a dozen. It was not hard to draft up a few new characters and set them off on their own journeys. Carving out their own destinies and creating heroic tales for me to remember for all antiquity. The memory of Crossfire faded and new stories arose to take his place.
I had learned a valuable lesson. At the end of the day, RPG characters are just scribbles on a piece of paper. There are other creative versions of you ready to be drafted up to explore the role-playing realms at a moments notice.
Real Loss vs. RPG
The loss of Crossfire pales in comparison to the death of my parents, as you might readily expect. You really can’t even compare the two. The similarity is that on the one hand I had lost a projection of myself and gone through the grieving process. On the other, I had actually truly lost my parents, mentors, friends, and heritage. You can’t just draft up new parents. You don’t adopt new lifelong mentors. And the memories of your upbringing are now limited to you and your siblings without your parents clarifying perspective.
The point is, whenever you play a persona, your mind makes it a very real part of you. It’s why method actors get so involved in their characters. Or why kids do pretend play. Or how the average avid reader get lost in a good book. It’s a choice of how you want to use your imagination. The characters become a part of you. You act them out. You roleplay their part and they reward you with stories and heroic campaigns that have never been written down. I always like to say, “We are just little kids who grew up.” We all like the stories, but we know they are just that.
But the loss of real people is very different. The bond between individuals is not the reflection of yourself projected on another person. That imaginary projection into a character is an illusion. Relationships are real. My parents were real. And all that I have left of my parents is the ability to conjuring up memories of ages that have come and gone.