The Birth of an Avatar


The Birth of an Avatar

Once upon a time, I was 19 years old. 

It was 1999. My roommate and friend Morgan and I were both die-hard Star Wars fans. We had just finished up the first Star Wars Celebration in Denver, Colorado just a couple hours south of where we lived in Greeley, which was several days of pure bliss for junkies like us, filled with meeting actors and authors and getting autographs and spending way more money than we should have on officially branded schwag; I spent 700 dollars just on Legos.

It was also while standing in line for the toy store to open that we started talking with these guys behind us about D&D and then the Star Wars pen-and-paper game, and that led us to talking about this new game that had just come out called EverQuest. Which is another story entirely.

Needless to say, we were pumped for The Phantom Menace. Not only did we purchase tickets to the midnight showing at our favorite theater in Loveland, Colorado, but we also purchased tickets to every single showing of the movie on the official first day of release. I spent several weeks making my own lightsaber out of PVC pipe fittings from Home Depot, and I had some knee-high laced boots from my SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) days, which I also used at the Renaissance Festivals in southern Colorado when they rolled through. My mom had sewn a cloak for me once upon a time, so I was set.

I went as Qui Gon Jinn, and my buddy Morgan went as Darth Maul. Our goal was to arrive there as early as possible on the day of the midnight showing and be the first in line. We packed our gear, donned our costumes, and off we went.

Ahhh, shitty old photos. My mother dug this up and sent it to me at some point, and she has the physical copies of the newspaper set aside somewhere.

Tim in Star Wars Costume

Imagine our surprise when we arrived to find someone had apparently had the same plan as us, and had beaten us to the punch! For there in the parking lot of the movie theater was a rugged guy in his late 20s with a green Tacoma, camper shell providing ample shelter from the elements, camping gear and cooler at the ready, a long-haired warrior companion (a dog named George who was our faithful companion at every step of the journeys that followed) at his side, 75 pounds of lean muscle and intelligence.

We quickly bonded, and over the rest of the day as hundreds of other fans began to line up, we discovered that we had a shared passion of all things Star Wars, fantasy, science fiction, camping, the outdoors, and most importantly, Dungeons & Dragons. Accounts vary, but for somewhere between 8 and 10 hours we were an undefeated team who conquered all challengers at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, and Morgan and I eventually wound up on the front page of the local newspaper for our costumes and enthusiasm (I think my mum has that newspaper saved somewhere, even).

I found out that he lived in the same town as Morgan and I, and within a matter of days we were hanging out again. Soon after that, a D&D campaign began, and it was here that the half-elf Ranger known as Renfail Fuwar was born, alongside his cousin, the Elven Mage/Thief, Charis.

That summer was a whirlwind of D&D campaigns that would start at seven or eight in the evening and go until seven or eight the next morning. Every moment outside of work, I delved into the world that we were creating as we played. At one point, the company where I was working had a few months in between contracts, and I spent just about every single day hanging out playing D&D, along with weekend treks up into the Rockies to camp up above Fort Collins in the Buckhorn Canyon area, where we hung out with a local band, Switchback, as part of their support group, also helping to build a stage up in the mountains for one of their get-togethers.

He was also a film buff, with hundreds of VHS tapes that we poured over during breaks in between D&D sessions, classics like The Guns of Navarone, and Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards. And of course his version of the first half of the Lord of the Rings, and other brilliant gems like Willow.

I’m hazy on the timeline at this point, but at sometime over the next couple of summers I moved around a bit due to work, and he eventually moved back to Seattle to pursue a career that eventually led him to Microsoft. Despite the distance, we often met up via telephone to continue the campaign…ahhh, the days before Skype and video calls and etc.! Eventually, adulthood caught up with both of us, and by 2003 I was starting to make my multiple-trips-per-year to Bulgaria ahead of my eventual move there.

I made two road-trips to Seattle over the years: once around 2002 when I came out for a couple of weeks and we binge-played our campaign from where we had left off, and then another shorter trip on New Year’s of 2007, where we had a couple of days of binging before I headed off to live overseas and began what eventually evolved into my life abroad pursuing the digital nomad dream of traveling around while working remotely.

That was the last time I saw him in person. Several years went by, and we communicated via email, first every few months, and then finally once a year, and then finally nothing for a few years in between. I was living across the globe, then down in Mexico, and the waves of life had separated us.

Until by chance I received a message last fall saying, “Hey man, my wife and I are coming down to Cancun! Let’s catch up!”

They came, and we had a jam-packed 48 hours last week. Imagine my surprise when I was presented with the very figurines that I had played with all those long years ago, and the memories came flooding back, not without a few emotional moments where tears were shed.

Renfail & Charis

Renfail Fuwar has since become the avatar that I use in every game I play. Most times he is a Ranger. Sometimes he is a Thief. The persona has lived on throughout multiple games and multiple incarnations, and he is an integral part of The Saga of Lucimia storyline, despite not being one of the main POV characters in Volume I. Those of you who have read the chapters in The Story So Far have already met him, and he has a larger role to play throughout the entirety of the Volumes.

I had played D&D prior to the campaign that spawned Renfail, and I had already put the early stages of the world of Lucimia into action over various short stories and doodled maps and character outlines, but it wasn’t until I played with my friend Ted that I learned the art of storytelling, and the art of learning to play a reactionary style of D&D where hybrid rules gave way to a story that was controlled largely by the outcome of the dice.

Instead of playing a module, or adhering to a narrative and strict storyline that other DMs I had played with chose to use as part of their campaigns, Ted’s way was far more organic. There were vast cities, epic landscapes, and centuries of lore behind everything, but every single element was played out according to the dice. It was also here that I learned the dangers of the wild, and the realism that became etched into the campaigns.

Pack mules were easy targets for bandits, wyverns, and giants. I lost more mounts than I care to talk about before I learned that it was much safer to travel on foot, at least in the earliest stages of the campaign before my characters had gained enough strength to really fend for themselves. Savage monkeys attacked us in the night and carried off half our gear one time. Alignments changed as Renfail killed innocents to rescue his wrongfully-accused cousin, and over the course of the campaign the characters went from Chaotic Good to Chaotic Evil, with Charis choosing to replace one of her eyes with the Eye of Vecna, and Renfail himself replacing one of his hands with the Hand of Vecna.

That hybrid style stuck with me, and over the years I’ve DMed my campaigns in a stylized manner, melding elements of 1st edition D&D and 2nd edition AD&D. The first full iteration of the world of Lucimia followed with a campaign I ran for some of my high-school friends. You’ll also see elements of this showing up in the mechanics for the Saga of Lucimia, with pack mounts and mules being killable; you must protect your mounts and pets if you want them to stick around. You cannot simply rez them to bring them back.

Which brings me to the secondary reason I wrote this post.

The Volume I first draft has finally been completed (Version 1.0).

We’re sitting at 202,025 words spread out over 33 chapters as of this morning, February 2nd, 2017. Revisions start in a couple of weeks after Valentine’s Day, during which I’ll be adding around half a dozen new scenes, and adding official terminology to replace generic names like Relics and the Scholar’s Guild (which will remain as-is, but with some old-world names attached for continuity and lore). I’ll also be fleshing out a few of the side characters (like Arrow and Slip). That will finish off Draft 2.0.

Then, we move into Draft 3.0, which is where I tighten language, cut and snip as needed, change things around if necessary, then hand it off to beta readers. Then, I’ll see if any additional changes need to be made. If there are, we move into Draft 4.0, which will move us to the “ready to ship” phase (for the book, not the game).

On the development side, I know people are burning with questions, but we’re still in “dark” mode. We’re shooting to have a build available sometime in the spring of 2017; once we have an actual timeline laid out for it, we’ll let everyone know, but we’re not rushing things. In the meantime, the first draft of the Volume I storyline is done, which is a huge personal weight off my shoulders, as is frees me up to work on other things, and it also gives our lore team (Elloa and John) the chance to start picking things apart for in-game storylines above and beyond the general world lore.

Stay tuned!