Sunday, August 1, 2010

Eulogy for a Friend

One of my best friends passed away recently. I knew Rob since junior high school, but we got to know each other as part of a group of geeky high schoolers who played a lot of role-playing games combined with semi-nefarious activities, like building rocket launchers, setting off smoke bombs at school dances and other miscellaneous mayhem. It was all in good fun. Our friendship deepened and continued through college, where we were roommates, good friends and occasional gaming buddies. When I learned of his passing, the first question I asked our mutual friends was gaming related. What do you remember about his characters?

It might seem ridiculous, and we did so much more than game, but it struck me as a crystal ball into who he really was. I already knew him well, probably as well as anyone. I knew him better than my own brothers and probably even my wife. Still, I needed more. Who was he really? I needed some context to make sense of his passing. As well as I knew him, he was still somewhat enigmatic.

It was an interesting exercise, it turned out. While we all role-played flashy, heroic, often bombastic characters who vied for center stage, Rob never did. We remembered the first character he created when I joined the group, a thief named Ummmm. He couldn't come up with a name and when someone asked him what it was, Ummmm stuck. Beyond that it got fuzzy. He played rogues and support characters is all most of us remembered. We couldn't come up with their names, or sometimes only wisps of remembrance. Jim recalled a laid back Traveller character with a jump suit and ball cap. Stefan reminded me about Moleface Dogbrawl, but couldn't remember if Rob played him or someone else. I recalled some sort of samurai from Oriental Adventures. Not remembering his characters felt sad, but Russell put it into context:
"...he was like the bass player in a rock band. Always present, always constant, always necessary. Not always obvious, like the flashy singer or lead guitar. But without him you wouldn't have a complete band/party/group."
Rob was always the steady. He was the one you could count on to be there, whether it was gaming on a Friday night or an impromptu road trip to Vegas in The Beast, his old Dodge cargo van. The Beast was like the Serenity ship for us in the Firefly series, an ever present, important character with it's own strengths and flaws. Many Rob stories include escapades in The Beast.

Rob was the anchor for our group, and all the various groups that formed around him throughout his life. I can recall several, forming various overlapping Venn diagrams with him in the middle: his grade school pals, our  high school group (which doesn't have a name, and that's the story I'm sticking with officer), and his college friends.

He was such a steady influence, that I recall only a few times when he got angry. It was when someone imparted their personal drama on others, when his friends were made to suffer because of someones selfishness. Because he was so steady, when he was outraged it had such a strong effect that you couldn't help but stop and address the issue. I saw entire group dynamics change instantly, not because of his persuasive arguments, but because of his moral clarity. It's not something you can do, it's who you are. You made Rob upset. What the hell is wrong with you?

So maybe take a moment next time you're gaming and turn to your steady, your cleric or rogue, your quiet bass player and just thank them for being the anchor. Thank them for making it all possible. You never know if you'll get another chance.

Rob on the left during one of our desert camping trips

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